Fun with words and words for fun

They Didn’t Mention Papa (third installment)

They Didn’t Mention Papa
Copyright © 1969; 2014 by Peter Weiss
All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

troops returning

He stares at the two-family house. His aunt lives downstairs. No doubt her door will be open. He pushes deep into the background the fear of Papa’s not being there and walks through the doorway. His aunt’s door is closed. She’s probably upstairs. He climbs the steps and enters his home. The entire family is standing in a distant corner as if posing for a portrait. No one moves. Nathan stares. He surveys them, left to right, once, then again, then a third time. Papa’s straight face and black beard are not there.

Nathan runs to his mother, holds her close to him, kisses her thin, dry lips. He rubs his cheek along hers, feeling the smooth skin.

He kisses her again, this time on the cheek, then turns his back to her. She should not see her grown son cry. He runs out of the room, to the first bedroom he can find, and throws himself in a corner. Squatting, he buries his head in his hands and weeps like a small child.

A long time he spends in the room alone, letting the confusion and anguish flow from his body. Papa, forgive me crying. He sees a Yamacah and Siddur on a dresser. He puts on the small hat and opens the prayer book.

Outside, his brother Max has his ear pressed to the door. He hears the prayer Nathan is saying, how Nathan struggles to thrust the words ahead of the tears in order to articulate them. He sneaks into the room, also wearing a Yamacah, and stares at Nathan’s back.

“Yiskadol, v’yiskadosh, sh’may rabbah.”

“Amen,” Max adds.

Nathan finishes Mourner’s Kaddish, Max inserting Amen when it is necessary. He closes the book and replaces it on the dresser.

“Thanks, Max.” Nathan hugs his brother. “How did it happen?”

“A heart attack, about two years ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Mama. She said you had enough to worry about, being a POW and all.”

“You could have told me without her knowing it.”

“C’mon, Nathan. You know that Mama is Mama. No matter how old you are, you do what she says.”

“I think I’d like to see her.” Max is right, Nathan thinks. You do what Mama says.

Max leaves the room and several minutes later, Mama, a slim, small woman appears in the doorway. She walks hesitantly toward Nathan. When she reaches him, she runs her fingers over his lips, nose, eyes and forehead, like a blind woman trying to know him. She gently strokes his head.

“Thank God you are safe.” She holds out her arms and he enters them as if he were a small child.

“I love you Mama. And now I know what it is for a child to have a mother.” She smiles as if she understands what he is trying to say.

Nathan cannot speak further. In silence, he stays in her arms, his head resting on her breast, her hand stroking his head.

“Son, my baby son, you have a wife now. Don’t forget her.”

“Thank you Mama.” He kisses her. “Thank you.”

“I’ll send her to you.” Mama leaves the room. She calls Pearl into the kitchen, where they can be alone. “Go to him,” she says. “But remember, he is a baby now.”

Pearl enters the room and runs to Nathan. They kiss once, lightly, then again, this time a greedy kiss.

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Books by Peter Weiss.


They Didn’t Mention Papa (second installment)

They Didn’t Mention Papa
Copyright © 1969; 2014 by Peter Weiss
All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

troops returning

He does not have to wait long for the bus to come, though to him it seems as if he’s waited a year. The bus driver changes his dollar bill and he puts the fare into the box.

“How long to Rockaway Parkway?”

“Just got in today, huh, soldier? You guys are all alike. You all ask the same questions. How long to Linden Boulevard or Rockaway Parkway? Can’t you go any faster? Why don’t they synchronize the lights so we don’t miss them all? It’s at least forty minutes, longer if it starts raining. Relax, you’re young, you’ve got your whole life to live.”

Forty minutes, Nathan thinks. He chooses a seat near the driver and looks out the window. Though mid afternoon, it is already as dark as most nights. Nathan sees his reflection in the window. He notices, now for the first time, that his hair has grayed and his face has wrinkled. A small pellet of water hits against the window. Another follows, then another. He cannot recognize the streets but sees them turn from dull, dark cement to slick, glistening pathways. It will be longer than forty minutes.

The slow pace of the bus has managed to calm him down, to make him realize the absurdity of racing ahead. They didn’t mention Papa in their letters. They just stopped talking about him. His stomach gets heavy, weighted with possibilities. He could have been sick, or had nothing to say that the others hadn’t said. He’s dead, I know he is. Why can’t I admit it? He used to tell so many stories, funny stories.

Papa called him to his lap two weeks before his Bar Mitzvah. “Come here,” Papa said in Yiddish, patting his knee. Nathan obediently climbed on it, his Haftarah in his hands. “Say,” Papa demanded. Papa’s back was straight, the tone of his voice rigid. He was a man.

Nathan started to sing. He had gotten no farther than three lines when Papa violently clapped his hands. “No,” Papa said. “Is not right. You say holiday Mafteh.” Papa knew the books, the Torah. He didn’t have to look at them. He knew them even better than the Rabbi. He stroked his long, black beard and smiled. “I teach you, you’ll say right.” Papa made him learn the right words to say. He gave the Rabbi hell too for teaching his son the wrong ones.

Papa can’t be dead, Nathan thinks. He was always strong. God wouldn’t have taken Papa. He can’t be dead.

“Rockaway Parkway, buddy. You want out?”

“Yes,” Nathan answers. “Thanks.”

He steps out into the chilly downpour. The cars, buses and trolleys all have their lights on. Several blocks in the distance, there is a house. Mama will be there. So will Pearl and all my brothers and sisters. Nathan is confused. They didn’t mention Papa in their letters. He can sense Papa’s death, yet he cannot think that Papa is dead.

He walks the short distance, the duffle bag thrown over his shoulder. He is surprised by how little things change. Klein’s tailor shop is still next door. The window sign is still there, the same letters chipped off as when he left. In three years things haven’t changed much.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: 

Books by Peter Weiss.

They Didn’t Mention Papa (first installment)

They Didn’t Mention Papa
Copyright © 1969; 2014 by Peter Weiss
All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.

troops returning

Nathan opens the door to the phone booth. It is hard for him to believe that after three years of wishing and longing to be home, he has returned. He drops the army-issue duffel bag to the sidewalk and reaches into his pocket for a dime. Thoughts explode in his mind like the initial brightness of a flare, then burn slowly, becoming darker and more abstract until finally they are burned out.

The smells and sights of New York excite him in a way he has never known before. They were always there, all twenty six years, but he never realized them until now. He looks at the buildings, American buildings. How different they are from the German and Italian ones. Freedom, he thinks. Perhaps what I feel is freedom.

He lifts the receiver and deposits the dime. Even seven-digit numbers are American.

“Hello?” The word comes through the wire in a language not unfamiliar to Nathan, though it’s been a while since he’s heard or spoken Yiddish. He finds himself speaking in the same language.

“Mama, this is Nathan.” There is a pause. Mama struggles to keep the phlegm out of her throat, to be able to speak. She has expected, almost anticipated that he would return today, but still she cannot believe that her baby is home, talking to her on the phone.

“Nathan, is really you?”

“Yes, Mama. I’m home. I’ll get on a bus and be there in an hour. Tell someone to get Pearl.”

“All right, Nathan.”

He hears a click and then nothing. It’s almost as if he hadn’t spoken to her, as if there were no connection between what he said and what he thought. He remembers Pearl. How many nights he dreamt of her, how many times he called her name and imagined her slipping into bed next to him. There wasn’t even time for a honeymoon. They had one weekend and then he was shipped out.

He takes another dime from his pocket, deposits it, dials another seven-digit number.

“Fanny?” This time he speaks English.


“Fanny, this is Nathan.” He hears her call out, “Pearl,” and tries to imagine Pearl as she is, coming to the phone.


“Pearl? Your voice has changed.”

“Nathan, where are you? Oh God, I’ve missed you so. I love you, darling.”

“I’m at the Navy yard. I’ll be in Canarsie in about an hour. Mama is sending someone to get you.”

“Don’t hang up, Nathan, not yet. Please, talk to me. Are you all right?”

“I am now, sweetheart. I was sick for the first four days of the trip, but I’m okay now. Let me get on a bus. By the time I get home you’ll be there. Pack a suitcase. We’ll go away for a few days.”

“Nathan, I’m so happy.” Pearl drops the phone to the table, too excited to put it in its proper place. She runs to her mother and hugs her. “Mama, he’s home.” She dances to the closet and carelessly reaches inside, pulling out a suitcase, knocking other things out as well. “I’m going to meet him in Canarsie, and then we’re going away for a few days.”

Nathan trips over the duffel bag trying to get out of the phone booth. He picks it up and tosses it over his shoulder, already walking toward the bus stop. It was raining over the ocean last night. The water was choppy and he couldn’t even see the raindrops making ripples in it. Now dark clouds hide the sun. The sky is seasick, he thinks. Pretty soon it will vomit. He feels the urgent desire to see Mama and Papa. Why didn’t Papa answer the phone? Slow down, he tells himself. For Christ sake, slow down.

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Books by Peter Weiss.

In Honor of our Veterans

troops returning

Thank you for your service!

Fiction Outtakes 298: Bill Wynn 285


Henry Lee followed Bill down the stairs and into the meat room.

“Man,” he said, “I thought you was gonna get yourself into a pickle.”

“I thought so too. Good thing she came in when she did.”

“What it is,” said Henry Lee.

They carted the meat up two trays each at a time making trip after trip until all the shelves in the van were filled. After the last trip, Drenovis closed and latched the van doors. He followed Bill and Henry Lee back into the kitchen.

Mary had fixed Bill another coffee. Since there were no orders, Bill stood on the side of the line by Bea’s station and drank it. Drenovis went out to see Tommy and came back into the kitchen to say goodbye and head  out the back door.

No one said bye to him but he did take a moment to stop by Bill and Bea who happened to be standing on her station.

“Have your fun now. It’s not gonna last long,” he said to Bill.

“One of your Riviera girls says your pecker’s as ugly as your face,” Bill said.

Drenovis turned red. His face, pockmarked from chicken pox, flared. He glared at Bill and maybe he would have started toward him but Bea stepped between them.

“Don’t you got nothing to do?” she asked Bill. “And don’t you got to get back?” she asked Drenovis.

Drenovis thought better of doing anything more. Lunch was about to start and he did have to get back. He didn’t want the East to be without a cook. That would be disastrous. So he downplayed what Bill said and repeated what he’d said. “Have your fun now. It won’t last long.”

“Why don’t you just take your fat ass to the van?” Henry Lee said. He had come onto the line and was by the fryers greasing up a towel to coat the grills to cook off some hamburgers and bleus.

Drenovis didn’t respond to Henry Lee. He had calculated the odds. If Bill and Henry Lee walked off, well, that would be the end of the lunch and dinner and no way Mr. Bowman was gonna tolerate that. In the end, Drenovis would lose his job. Henry Lee and Bill would not. They’d get chewed out and be high up on the shit list, but Robert would save them. So Drenovis tucked his tail between his legs and slinked out, walking across the front of the kitchen so as not to venture onto the line.

“Pussy,” Henry Lee called at him as he walked out the door.

Drenovis didn’t say anything.

“Just couldn’t let it go, could you,” said Bea.

“Give me a kiss,” said Bill. He took Bea in his arms and kissed her then took a solid feel of one of her hefty breasts.

“Get out of here, boy.”

Bill moved his hand inside her kitchen dress so he could feel bare skin.

“Boy, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Like I told Mary, I feel ornery.”

“Ornery ain’t gonna help you when he fires you. You don’t think he can fire you?”

Bill’s hand made it inside Bea’s bra and played with her momentarily before she slapped him on the arm.

“Maybe I don’t care,” he said.

“Well maybe we do,” Mary said coming over to where Bill and Bea stood. “I know he pisses you off. But you gotta give him his respect.”

“Respect this,” Henry Lee said. He grabbed his crotch in the way men do when they’re making that point. “I’m proud of the boy. He done good. Don’t you take no shit from that fat-ass cracker. Not now, not ever. You can work anywhere now.”

“Don’t you listen to him,” said Mary. “You need this job.”

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By Peter Weiss

Fiction Outtakes 297: Bill Wynn 284


Bill started trimming the round. Really, he was listening to Drenovis as he told Bea it was just a matter of time, that he simply didn’t like Lexi and wasn’t going to keep her.

For her part, Bea didn’t say anything one way or another. She steered the conversation toward the day, asking Drenovis if he was going straight back with the meat run. Bill heard him say he wanted to be back so he could expedite, which meant, more than likely he was getting the meat and going.

Done talking to Bea, he came over by Bill.  Henry Lee was just coming into the kitchen. He watched Drenovis step onto the line and move next to where Bill was so he could get a good look at what Bill was doing.

“Don’t you got to pick up meat?” said Henry Lee.

“That’s what I’m here for. But I got a minute.” To Bill, he said, “I’m going to fire you too.” He said this low, on the down-low, but Henry Lee heard it and stepped in closer.

Bill didn’t say anything. He didn’t flinch or shuffle. He simply kept stroking downward with the carving knife working all around the edge of the round trimming pieces of fat so they slid off and onto the tray.

“You two can go work together someplace else,” Drenovis said.

Mary heard this and Bea did too. They both came toward the line from where they were.

Bill stepped away from the round. He took the side towel he wore from his apron string, wiped the blade of the slicer and carefully set the knife down. Then he took the slices of fat he had gotten so far, picked them up one by one and tossed them into the garbage closest to him but away from Drenovis. His instinct was to splash fat, grease actually, on Drenovis’ suit, but he made sure not to do this or anything that could be construed as an action against Drenovis. When all the fat had been disposed of, he turned to him and asked if he was ready for the meat to be put into the van. He wiped his hands on his side towel and slid it back into his apron string.

The tension in the kitchen was so thick Bill could have been cutting it. Bill’s words and action caused a collective sigh of relief from Mary and Bea. Henry Lee would have preferred Bill to say something, but he knew this was the best course of action.

Bill would have eased them all out of the situation if Lexi hadn’t walked into the kitchen just then. They all heard the automatic doors, and maybe they all thought it was going to be Tommy. But it was Lexi, of all people, bouncy and bubbly and ever-herself happy.

“That’s the bitch,” Drenovis said loud enough for everyone to hear. He smiled meanly.

Bill thought of Ronnie, that guy in the workhouse who’d asked him the first night he was there where his wife was, inferring that she was cheating on him while he was locked up.

They all thought Bill was going to lose it. Bill thought he was going to lose it. But he’d lost it once and it had landed him in the workhouse. Or, he’d done the right thing, which was more accurate an accounting, but he’d still ended up in the work house.

Bill stepped off the line moving back and away from Drenovis. He walked around to Lexi, took her in his arms and kissed her. He held her tight and kissed her hard, just for a moment. Then he gently pushed her back toward the automatic door and told her to leave the kitchen. He approached Drenovis from the other side of the serving counter.

“Ready for that meat?” he asked. Then, he said, “You ain’t never getting that.” He smiled at Drenovis. “Fire me now,” he said. “Before the lunch.”

Pick up a copy of my published works here: 

By Peter Weiss

Fiction Outtakes 296: Bill Wynn 283


Before his last trip up, Bill popped a black beauty and took a swig of bourbon. He knew the speed would straighten him up and so he wasn’t worried about being too messed up to do the lunch. In fact, young, stupid and very naïve despite the things that had happened to him in his life, Bill assumed everything would just go on as it did and would be okay.

On that last trip he carried the two prime ribs set on one meat tray that Henry Lee had arranged for him. Henry Lee told him to be careful and Bill paid it no mind. He simply hoisted the tray on his shoulder and went about his business.

Mary had fixed him a double espresso. When he set down the tray, she handed it to him.

“Any bourbon in it?” he asked.

“No. And you better keep up on the line.”

“Give me a kiss and I will.”

“I ain’t kissing nothing. And you got blood on your shirt.”

“Must have dripped from the tray.” Bill sipped the espresso and wiped his shirt at the same time.

“Take a break,” said Mary. “Sit down a minute.”

“Nah. I’ll help you set up the ribs and then I’m gonna trim the round.”

“Well, finish your coffee then I’ll get you another.”

“I’m good.”

“I know you’re good. I need you straight.”

Bill and Mary set the ribs into a roasting pan, dressed them, then, each one holding a handle, they carried the roasting pan to the oven and slid it inside. That done, Mary went to fix Bill another double espresso. Bill went over onto the line and checked everything out, top to bottom, double-checking and triple-checking that everything was in order and everything needed was in place.

He had done everything Mary needed him to do and everything he needed to do for the line. The potatoes were out and set in place. All the meat and frozen stuff was in place, a lot of it too, much more than usual since whatever was left over from the lunch would be used for the dinner. He was making sure no one had to make a run downstairs during the service, especially since if anything were needed he would be the one to do the running.

Satisfied, he took a boning knife, a carving knife, a chef’s knife and a sharpening steel from the knife sheath and set them where he always kept them on the carving shelf of the steam table. The round was set on a flat platform there which was like a tray set upside down and covered with foil.

Bill was standing before the round, honing the blade of the carving knife straight. He had the steel in his right hand, the knife in his left. It had taken him awhile to learn how to do what he was doing, but now, practiced and good at it, he honed the blade swiftly, rhythmically running it against the steel, first one side then the other, over and over.

That’s when Drenovis walked into the kitchen.

Waitresses had been coming in and out regularly. The dish machine was running, the dishwashers in place. Like a sleeping beast, the kitchen, over the past hour or so, was waking up, stirring, stretching and moving into its daily routine. More and more was going on, faster and faster, and the service was still about a half hour away.

He and Drenovis eyeballed each other immediately. Bill set down the one knife and picked up the other. He began honing it on the steel as Drenovis went over by Bea’s station and drew himself a coffee.

Drenovis started first. Loud enough for Bill to hear, purposefully, he told Bea he was firing Lexi.

Pick up a copy of my published works here: 

By Peter Weiss