My wife Sally and I were
just settling in for our usual nights TV-watching when the phone rang.
That was unusual. We rarely got calls that late. Probably a robo
call, I said. Then I saw it was from my brother Jake. Id left a
message on his answering machine about two weeks ago. I picked up the phone and
said, Hi, Jake.
Esther. Esther was Jakes second wife of some 20
years. Hed met her when hed retired to Florida. We were in
California so it was eleven in Florida, late. I immediately had a sinking
good. Jake had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The
doctors gave him six months. That was two months ago. He was in the
hospital but now hes back home. He may not have long.
I was shocked. But I
thought it was a matter of months.
The doctors were
wrong. I think you should come if you want to see him.
Can I talk to
We talked a few minutes
more, then I hung up. Sally looked at me questioningly.
Esther says he may
not have long. I think I have to go to Florida, if I can get a flight.
doing? I asked as soon as I came in the door.
Hes a little better
today, said Esther.
I had managed to get a
flight to Miami, then Id taken a cab to their condo. Esther led me into
the living room, which was large and sunny. Can I see him? I
Yes. We went into the bedroom.
Esther said, You have a visitor from California.
I have a curious history
with Jake, my older brother by about ten years. When I was a little kid
Id idolized him. Hed been one of the top handball players in the
Bronx and naturally Id taken up the game myself and was pretty good at
it. When I was 13 wed go together to Crotona Park, about a miles
walk from our apartment, where the best players were, and Jake would play in
the money games while I either watched or played with my gang. Then Jake had
gone to work for our Uncle Al, known in our family as the button king, then
from there to the small ad agency that handled Als business, then to a
larger ad agency, and along the way hed married an uptown girl Laurel and
his handball-playing days were over. After 20 years hed been divorced
from Laurel, then after retiring hed moved to Florida and met Esther.
During all this time I myself had left New York for California and had pretty
well lost touch with Jake. It was only during the last few years that wed
started calling each other and re-connected. Jake had never had children and he
was very interested in my two sons.
Hi, Jake, I
said. My brother was sitting up in bed. The Jake I remembered was stocky and
strong-looking with muscular arms, just like our father. Now he looked thin and
Hi, Arnold, he
said. You didnt have to come.
You know I love to
Jake laughed. He knew how
much I hated airports and airplanes. I want you to know Ive made
provisions for your two boys in my will.
You dont have
to worry about them, I said, but thanks.
Not that Im
planning to go just yet, but just in case.
Sure. What about
well fixed, but Ive also made some provision for her. Shell be
fine. How are the boys doing?
I told him about my
sons latest doings. He asked me about my wife Sally. I told him about her
latest, a knee replacement. He asked me about my hip; Id had a hip
replacement a few years ago. Then he said, We were pretty good on the
handball court once.
You were. I thought
you could beat Buddy Wolf. Buddy Wolf was at that time considered
the top player in the Bronx.
Jake smiled. You were
the only one who did. But we had some pretty good times that summer,
didnt we? Remember?
I remembered. Id
often thought of that summer, Jake and I walking to Crotona Park, climbing the
steps to the handball courts, the sense of anticipation lifting my legs, then
cheering Jake on in the money games, playing myself and looking forward to the
time when maybe Jake and I could be partners. That never happened.
Yeah, we had some
good times. You remember that candy store you found just outside the park,
those big malted milks, three or four glasses. Wed stop in there every
time on the way back.
Yeah, four glasses
for a quarter.
wed go to that deli for lunch, two hot dogs and a soda.
Yeah, also a
Mannie the bookie.
What a character.
Yeah. And Big Leo the
There was a minutes
pause, then Jake said, And on the walk back, all the windows were open
and all the radios had the Yankees game on. Mel Allen. His voice was
always floating in the air.
At this point my eyes began
to tear. We continued talking until Jake said he was getting tired. I stood up,
went over and grasped his hand. His grip was still strong.
Esther and I were in the
living room. She brought tea and cake. How did he seem? she
He was tired, but he
knew what was going on. Maybe the doctors are wrong and he has a little more
I hope so. Maybe a
miracle will happen.
But no miracle happened.
Two days later Jake passed on. I stayed another week for the funeral and to
help Esther with some of the many things that have to be done after someone
dies. Then I returned to California and Sally and I resumed our mostly
uneventful retired lives. But nothing was the same.