The Prince of West End Avenue (23 page)

BOOK: The Prince of West End Avenue
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"How do you know that? You're a doctor, maybe? Such things are warnings. They tell you to slow down." "Not a whit. We defy augury." "It's only a play, Otto. It can be postponed." "No, it can't be postponed, it's tonight. I'm an old man, Benno, eighty-three last birthday, older even than you. I've been old for a very long time. When I was young I thought I had a role to play on the world-historical stage. No, don't laugh, that's what I once thought. The stage has shrunk with my flesh. What is left for me? Here is my stage, here at the Emma Lazarus. Tonight I am to be Hamlet. You must be my Horatio in deed, my constant friend. This is no time to let me down. You must promise not to interfere. Promise me, Benno." Sadly he shook my hand.

"Cheer up, for heaven's sake! Look at me, I'm cheerful. In a week you'll send me a postcard: 'Having a wonderful time. Glad you're not here.' "

My SUIT OF SOLEMN BLACK lies on the bed, ready for the donning. From downstairs I hear the laughter, the lively chatter, the stir and bustle that tell me the hour is nigh. When darkness fell, residents, staff, and guests, too, crowded into the library, where we witnessed the lighting of eight candles, Tuvye Bialkin holding the shamash, the serving candle; we heard from him the three blessings, our expressions of gratitude for the candles, for the great miracle granted us so very long ago, and for having been brought to this day. Amen. Amen. Amen. I have decided to skip the evening meal. The latest "near episode," scarcely noticeable, has passed, and I again feel calm and strong. Only, it is peaceful here in my room, here at my desk, beneath my Rilke letter in its fine new frame. To hand is a small glass of cognac, a sip of which will cause the blood to race and wash the last of the cobwebs from my brain. I am content.

I riffle through the pages of this manuscript, the mountain heaped upon my desk, and I see that I have not always been kind to you, Benno, for in truth I did not know till now to whom these writings were addressed. But if not you, my dear Horatio, then who should be the repository of my story? You will in friendship forgive me this as you have already forgiven me so much more.

A knock at the door: La Grabscheidt in full evening dress—black, of course—her curious grinning pin upon her bosom, a tiara tilted quaintly on her head, recovered, I am happy to say, a little excited, perhaps, perhaps a little tipsy, able at least to swell the stage as a Lady-in-Waiting. She reports that the audience is making its way to the auditorium, the actors are assembling. La Dawidowicz, faithful to her pledge, is in com-

mand. It is the moment to put on my costume. But I, the "star," have still a time of grace. The Kommandant has yet to make his unctuous speech of welcome—there are big donors out there in the audience, to say nothing of a representative of the British consulate in New York, whose acceptance of our invitation surprised us all, and of the arts editor of the Jewish Charivari* who has already devoted three days to interviewing the company. How very proud Sinsheimer would have been! After the {Commandant's speech comes the singing of the Hatikvah, insisted upon, against the Red Dwarf's strong objection, by the late Nahum Lipschitz and retained in his memory. (The evening will end with a singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," led by the Ladies' Glee Club, which depends for its success on the number of bladders able to hold their own.) And after the Hatikvah the battlements of Elsinore, starkly thrusting against a black sky and battered by thunder and lightning. Hamlet does not appear before scene two: "A little more than kin, and less than kind." La Grabscheidt has promised to give me ten minutes' warning.

I am confident of our triumph tonight. The dizziness is quite gone. The bat sees at last the exit from the cave and summons its strength. The trout essays a desultory twitching of the tail. In a minute I shall place this manuscript with the shirt box upon the closet shelf. And there will yet be time to sit awhile before La Grabscheidt's summons.

The readiness is all.

BOOK: The Prince of West End Avenue
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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