“The ape brought us the food,” Father said and added, after a pause, “and a book.” This was followed, as always, by another pause, a longer one to let the opening sink in. “This is the first memory I am conscious of.”
It happens to be my first memory as well, for my memories do not extend beyond those of my father and my grandparents. After their experiences and their accounts of them none of my own experiences can claim any kind of validity. Moreover, I was constantly reminded to be grateful for the fact that in my life, the life of one born posthumously, I did not have to experience anything. Experience in my family was always twinned with necessity, it existed only as a package, as “having to experience;” if one was lucky, one was spared it.
Everyone stared at my father. I could not believe they were not already familiar with the story of how he and his parents had survived the last year of the war hidden in the chimpanzee cage of the Amsterdam zoo. He had told the story so often.
The occasion was the leichenschmaus, the meal after Grandfather’s funeral. My grandparents had fled from the Nazis from Dortmund to Amsterdam as early as 1934; my father was born here, in the as yet unoccupied Netherlands, in 1939, and was Dutch by birth. The grandparents had assimilated very quickly and were proud to be fluent in Dutch, even if they still read Heine and Schiller and sometimes spoke Heine’s or Schiller’s language at home. Professionally, too, Grandfather had been quick to find his feet. He used to say: “I was born in Germany but I’ve found a home in Holland!”
Father on the other hand was, under close scrutiny, a mof, a cliché German. Leichenschmaus, for instance, that’s something completely unusual in Amsterdam. It’s not that I disapprove of the tradition; it’s simply got nothing to do with us. As a Jew he could have invited the others to sit shiva with him; as a native of Amsterdam he could have done the same for hapje en drankje in the chapel where Grandfather lay in state. But his marriage with Karin, a German woman from Paderborn, had landed him in limbo, an Amsterdam Jewish mof; no Amsterdamer, no Jew, no German, he had no home on earth. Leichenschmaus. There isn’t even a word for it in Dutch, at least not to my knowledge. My friend Jaap asked me whether the Germans made a repast of the corpse. Karin, whom I stopped calling “Mother” after puberty, opined it made sense, after all, for the family and the closest friends to eat and drink together, talk about the deceased, give him a temporary new lease of life as it were, and at the same time brace themselves for the thought that life must go on. Surely this was beautiful and very human, even if it was not a Dutch tradition. Yet what does she know about what’s human?
So here we were at the leichenschmaus. At the Amsterdommertje, a restaurant in Govert Flinckstraat. Father had booked the whole place and all the tables had been pushed together to form one long table. This was the place Grandpa had come to for his evening meal in the last months of his life, after Grandma’s death. This was also the only place where one could still meet him. He had sold the house in which he had lived with Grandma and had moved into a small flat in the Govert Flinck. “I am better able to administrate it on my own,” he said in business diction. “What do I need a house for?” However, visitors were no longer welcome in this flat. We were already thinking he might let it to go to seed, not bother about cleaning, that kind of thing, but how mistaken we were. He had not allowed himself to slack off.
A framed Polaroid of Grandpa that had been taken here was hung on the wall of the Amsterdomertje for the day. The thick eyebrows above his typically wide open eyes. It was him, all right. In the bottom margin of the photo it said, “H. [for Harry] Rozenboom,” and the date on which the photo had been taken, less than three months before. The widened eyes. In the corner behind the short bar leaned a blue and white Israeli flag. This was nothing to do with Grandpa. The landlord supported Ajax Amsterdam, the “Jewish club.”
“This is the first memory I am conscious of.”
He was barely five at the time, but having already lived in hiding in the ape house of the Amsterdam zoo for half a year, he was neither surprised nor afraid. “This was a routine thing: it was the ape who brought us the food.”
Yet what was so unusual that it caused the greatest excitement … And sure enough: “Yet what was so unusual that it caused the greatest excitement was that Kosheeba, the chimp, had also brought along a book. He set down the tin bowl and began to stutter. It sounded like a monotonous barking, but barking makes you think of a dog instead of an ape; this is why we prefer to speak of him stuttering. Mother sat up and echoed the sounds the ape produced, and I chimed in immediately. What you’ve got to do is to vibrate an m-sound behind the larynx, press the lips together and then relax them in fits and starts, this will give you an idea. I can do it to this day.” Father embarked on the imitation. It was cute, it was funny, but nobody laughed. He took a sip of wine. He drinks a lot. The evenings at home were unbearable. Karin went to bed, Father continued to have one drink after another and grunted and bellowed like an ape. Strictly speaking, he is an ape. Has remained one. I wanted to get out of this particular cage as quickly as possible, and up and left the moment I finished school.
The grandparents never wanted to talk about what it had been like. Once Grandpa had replied, in answer to a question, that he had lost part of his memory in the spring of 45. But Father was a toddler when he joined the apes, he was made an ape. “I think I might even be able to do the scream of the purple-naped lori that we used to hear from the bird house at the time.”—What was going on here? This was a new one for me. Father was departing from routine. Normally we now moved on to the fur coats. What was he was offering up instead to the guests at the funeral repast, something about a lori, a parrot? “Of course birds are usually put up next door to monkeys in a zoo, and this èkhiraaa’, the èaaa’ at the end piercingly shrill, really turned you inside out, it was that unearthly. I imitated it once, in the ape house at the time. I kept on hearing it so I thought no more about imitating it than I did about words or sentences I heard from my parents. My father put his hand on my mouth, his whole body heaved and he pressed so hard I thought I was going to spit out all my teeth the moment he let go of me. How often we heard that scream. It was… it was … like an outsourced scream of terror, a scream a proxy uttered on our behalf.”
Father took another sip of wine. Everybody at the table was staring at him. Why did he need so much to be an ape. Why did he need to be gaped at through the invisible bars that separated him from people with normal biographies. What about … “What about this bird?” I shouted. “The book!,” said Piet van der Heerde, one of Grandfather’s former business partners. “Where did the ape get the book from?”
Father first looked at me, then at van der Heerde. “The book,” he said, “yes, the book. That was what probably saved us. It is no coincidence, I always say, that my memories begin on that day. The day Kosheeba brought the book. He stood before us, with the tin bowl and the book. My father at first stayed put, lying on the ground, motionless. I had never seen him behave differently at the time: a sick animal, rolled up on his side with his legs pulled up toward him and his two fists in front of his face so that the only part of him visible above the black fur coat were his scabby beard and a tuft of matted hair. I don’t believe that I was then capable of telling the difference between ape and man, between Kosheeba and my parents and myself. I was unaware that ape and man belonged to two different species. Mother always referred to the apes as ‘the animals’ but she never referred to us as ‘we humans’. So we were all animals. Father and Mother wore fur coats which they hardly ever took off.”
Was he now going to say that Grandfather had been a furrier before the war? And that he never resumed his old trade afterward? He was not.
“Neither my mother’s opossum coat nor my father’s mink was easy to distinguish from an ape’s fur. I was wearing a thick, shaggy coat made of originally brown sheepskin that had turned black with dirt in the meantime. It was actually a jacket for a grownup person and much too large for me. It served me as a kind of coat, and in the winter of 44 that was a tremendous boon in the monkey house. When we left our house in Uilenburgerstraat, my mother threw the warmest jacket over me that she had; there was no time to lose and we were only allowed to take with us what we wore on our bodies. No suitcase, no bag, Max said, put on warm clothes. Max, our neighbor, was a zoo warden and our savior. Mother did not know how long we had to remain in hiding so she thought I had better put on something I would not outgrow too soon. There is a photo of Father, Mother and myself that was taken immediately after we were liberated. We are lined up in our thick, filthy fur coats like fancy-dress apes. As much as twenty years later, when I asked her to let me have the photo, my mother still felt embarrassed that I had a head of straw. A head of straw. I ought at least to have brushed away the twigs sticking out of my hair before we faced the photographer, and she blamed herself for not doing so herself. Then she repeated the sentence that she had kept on saying to my father in the monkey house. She had regularly said, if my memory serves me right: ‘You must not allow yourself to slack off!'”
Now the food was served. I had dreaded we would be served some sauerkraut dish, but we were in fact given omelets. Father took another sip, waited until everyone had been served, and then continued:
“So Kosheeba set down the tin bowl before us; Mother and I sat up; Father, slacking off again, did not budge. The ape was still holding the book, turning it over this way and that; he bared his teeth and uttered a few shrill sounds. It sounded like chirping but as chirping is what birds do, let’s call it laughter. I was hungry and wanted to tackle the tin bowl without further ado but there was all this excitement on account of the book—even though it was not yet known to be a book at this stage, it was simply a bundle wrapped in greaseproof paper. So I just sat there, kept quiet and my eyes open; I sensed how excited Mother was, who had also fallen silent; and Kosheeba was all on edge too. He nudged Father slightly, dropped the bundle in front of him and withdrew with the unhurried nonchalance of a dancer. He drew up in the passage to the cage proper, looked back at us for a long drawn-out moment in which none of us stirred, and then turned the corner into the forbidden zone. As in the cage proper I would have risked being spotted by visitors, it was strictly off-limits for me; if I as much as started crawling in that direction or made a few steps toward it, Mother got mad; then she squealed the way Kosheeba squealed when he was in an aggressive mood; let’s say she called me back in a no-nonsense tone. After all, our hideout was the passage that gave the wardens access to the individual cages. Only at night and then only in the company of my parents was I allowed to slip through into the cage proper and from there into the outside enclosure or along the passage to the kitchen and then out into the open. Then Father would say: ‘The air!’ And Mother said: ‘The stars!'”
This bit never failed to impress audiences. Stirrings of emotion and compassion became manifest. No one can form any idea what it’s like living for months hidden in a monkey house. Even I, the son of an ape, don’t know what it’s like. I’ve spent months in the zoo if you add up all the hours of all my visits there, the hours I spent in front of the ape cage with my zoo year pass in my pocket. I couldn’t form an idea either. And the more carefully crafted and effective Father’s stories became over time, the more unreal and the less accessible to imagination was what he told.
Father nodded and concentrated on his plate without saying anything. It was not a pause designed to enhance the effect of his story: his omelet was getting cold. I have always despised the way he eats his food. No matter what is served up, he quickly and inattentively cuts it up into small chunks; then he puts his knife aside and shovels it all into his mouth with his fork.
“What kind of … food did they give you… to eat, in the … at that time?” Remke asked; she is van der Heerde’s wife.
“And the book!” called Nelleke. “What kind of book was it?”
There was a rumor in the family that Nelleke had at some stage been Grandpa’s lover. She had been a waitress at Café Bouwman in Utrechtser Straat, at the corner of the house in which Grandpa and van der Heerde had their office. They were asset managers, Grandpa mentioned “securities,” he was dealing in securities, and his relationship—if that is the right word—with Nelleke was a strictly professional one. Moreover, it did not start until after Nelleke gave notice at the café because she married another patron of the place, Meneer Attila, a refugee from Hungary in 1956, who had made a fortune in Amsterdam as a dealer in diamonds. Meneer Attila was a dapper mannequin, with black hair which looked like lines drawn on his head in black ink and a little, immaculately tended mustache of the kind Eroll Flynn used to wear. He sported silk breastpocket handkerchiefs to match his ties and he was probably the last man left in the Amsterdam of the eighties to use a pocket watch. He had one big and one small eye, the result apparently from constantly keeping a magnifying glass squeezed into one eye socket in order to inspect his diamonds.
From some point onward he was unable to open the eye completely. One typically saw Attila and Nelleke sitting side by side, the woman at least one foot taller than him; he would put his little paw in her big one, pat her with the other and occasionally say things like: “You are what is most precious for me.” After two years, the most precious one was a widow and Grandpa invested for her the fortune she inherited. She has led a comfortable life ever since.
When toward the end Grandma became unable to leave her bed, Nelleke was a regular visitor, who talked to her about God knows what and read to her. Grandma loved Harry Mulisch’s books—she used to say: “I can make sense of only two men—and they are both called Harry!” Meaning Grandpa and Mulisch.
Grandpa did not talk a great deal but Harry Mulisch wrote a great deal, and Nelleke read to Grandma every page he had written. Even his book on Wilhelm Reich. When she got to the passage about sexuality as the source of life-giving energy, the face of Grandma, moribund though she was, lit up with a tired smile and, according to Nelleke, she said: “This Reich fellow. He may know a thing or two about life. But he knows nothing about what it’s like to cling on to life.”
“The book,” called Nelleke. “Yes, the book! What about it?” called the others. “Why did the chimpanzee bring a book?” Father shoveled the mangled omelet into his mouth, raised his left arm to signal: patience! He was going to continue any moment now.
“One thing at a time,” he said, his mouth still full. “So, what was our fodder?”
Fodder! He probably thought the word was cool. What irony! In fact it was simply ridiculous, particularly as it was meant to pave the way for the stupid toying around with words that was bound to follow. Kugel and knedl, he is going to say in a second, that had been their food or their fodder. Then he will wait for the astonishment at his announcement and if it fails to materialize, Karin will step in and mime it: “What? Kugel and knedl? Yiddish specialities in the monkey house?” Then he will explain what the kugel were in the monkey house and—Father swallowed, dropped the fork on the plate, pushed the plate away, burped. Karin smiled deprecatingly. “Kugel!” he said. “Basically it was kugel every day. And knedl!”
I suddenly felt a longing for Miriam, my wife. I would have loved to be able to exchange glances with her. Quiet complicity is perhaps what true love is all about. On the other hand, what else was Karin up to with my father?
Miriam had felt desperately sick first thing in the morning. We had had coffee, then she had a herring. A herring for breakfast? “It’s what I need right now,” she had said. Soon after, she had disappeared into the bathroom and I heard how she was sick, how she retched, how she spat.
You’re sick too early, I had shouted through the bathroom door, you can’t puke up the leichenschmaus before it’s even taken place. Hey!
Those were the two minor scandals that were played down at the funeral in a spirit of understanding: Nelleke had turned up and Miriam had not.
Shouts of “Kugel?” “Knedl?” were all around us—it had worked again.
I had now bitten the nail bed of my right forefinger to the quick; I sucked it, I nibbled it as if I could make the wound disappear by biting it. It made matters only worse, of course. I had blood on my lips.
“Yes, kugel,” my father said, “that’s what we had every day. It was really a hotpot. In the kitchen there was this huge cauldron, which was filled with everything there was, vegetables, meat, herbs, greens, for instance nettles, cereals. Everything that happened to be around went in and it was all cooked in the same cauldron. Once the whole thing had cooled down, the wardens simply formed kugel with their hands and squeezed them like knedl. At feeding time, the apes were served these kugel, which were easy for them to hold and bite off from. There was no way they could have coped with liquid fodder. Do apes use spoons? Well, there you are. Nor would it have made sense to cook the ingredients by themselves, main course and two sides, that sort of thing. This was served to the apes but the wardens ate it too, and so did we, of course. Max took such kugel home, to feed his family. Nothing else was available, not in the hunger winter of 44!”
“And how it possible there were vegetables at the zoo and cereals—and didn’t you even say meat?” Piet van der Heerde asked, and his wife said, “People in Amsterdam were starving to death and yet there was food for the animals?” Mevrouw van der Heerde was younger than her husband by at least twenty years, but with the help of her old-fashioned curled hairdo and her conservative two-piece costumes she managed to look as old as he did, if better preserved. She nervously fingered the pearls of her collar.
“I was a child at the time. How was I to know? I didn’t even know that people were starving in the city. The ape brought the food.”
This was my cue. For my contribution to Father’s biography. That he could not have known about these things as a child was obvious. What had baffled me was that he never felt like finding out later what circumstances he and his parents owed their survival to. I was still at school and in class I had heard drastic descriptions of the story of the winter famine. Then I put the following question to my father: How was it possible for the animals in the zoo to be fed while people starved to death? Father’s liberation was a thing of the distant past, it had happened almost half a century earlier and he had given this answer: How was he to have known as a mere child?
Didn’t he want to know?
Of course he did.
Why then had he not tried to find out?
At the time Father still had these big eyes, which stood open as in terror. He had inherited Grandpa’s eyes. He looked at me for a long time and finally answered, somewhat lamely, “I had to get a life for myself!”
Now he said instead, “Where did the ape get the food from? Good question. Well now, Max has done some research. My son Max!” He nodded toward me, looked at me questioningly. His eyes were completely puffed up from drinking and the pupils were hardly visible behind his bulging lids. Father had by now lost his resemblance to Grandpa.
I shook my head. Why did he not tell the story himself? It was his story after all. Even what I had found out in my research was still his story.
“The director of the zoo during the war was Swiss,” Father said. “He was called—what was he called?”
Everyone looked at me. There he went again. He forced me to join him in the cage and to croak with him. “Semier.” I still had the finger in my mouth. “Dr. Armand Semier!”
“Yes, Semier. As a Swiss citizen, he was in a privileged position vis-à-vis the occupying forces. The man was important in terms of the German war effort, for two reasons. First, because here was someone from neutral Switzerland who preferred co-operation with the Nazis to going back to his native country and, secondly, because his struggle to ensure the zoo’s survival was also in the interest of the Nazis: there was nothing to speak of to humor the Wehrmacht and the SS with. To give them a change of scenery. What was left was the cinema, the prostitutes, and the zoo. The visitors to the zoo at that time were mainly German soldiers. There are photos that document—”
He looked at me. I nodded.
“—how they stand in front of the chimpanzee cage and split their sides laughing about the droll apes—not knowing that Jews are hiding behind them!”
“Yes. Us. But there were others as well. There were a dozen hideouts in the zoo. Semier’s struggle to ensure that the animals survived saved the lives of roughly two hundred Jews.”
Again he looked at me. I nodded. Yes! Father!
“In the meantime, people outside—”
Father had now got on to the Genever. He poured himself a glass and passed on the bottle. He had moist, red eyes. Why did he refer to Jews and people as if the two belonged to different species? I . . . I wanted . . . I thought, no, I suddenly saw that his eyes were perhaps not puffed up from drink but because his tear ducts were so huge and maybe encroached on his eyes. His tear ducts were literally bags of tears. He ought to be weeping. It was unimaginable anyone could shed all those tears he had stored in those tear ducts. I realized that in a flash. He pitied himself, he was able to weep, that I knew, but would he be able to weep so much?
Father gulped. “—were starving to death. Every scrap of food that the Germans did not need themselves was sent to the zoo. It never found its way to the shops. Everything went to the zoo. The man from Switzerland had seen to that. And in the zoo every bit of uncultivated space, every meadow, every strip of land, was planted with vegetables and potatoes, and they grew marvelously since they were fertilized with the manure from the cages. And when even this was not enough, Dr Semier made a decision: if he was unable to save all the animals, he had to sacrifice some to save the others. The hoofed animals and the pasture animals were slaughtered one after another to keep the wild animals alive. This is why we even had meat at the zoo in the winter famine.”
“We’ve got a problem here!” van der Heerde said. There were shouts of, “What’s the problem, what problem?”
“This story of the Swiss fellow proves—or seems to prove—that collaboration with the Nazis made sense, that it was effective and that therefore—”
“How about calling it subversion instead of collaboration?” Father said. Well put, I thought.
“No problem!” said van der Heerde.
“But that is not the real problem!” boomed Paul. Paul da Costa was the cantor in the Snoga, the synagogue, and a friend of the family.
“So what is the real problem?” That was me.
“This zoo director acted like the Judenrat, the Jewish Council,” Paul said. “Like a caricature of the Judenrat. He was responsible for the animals in the zoo and, in collaboration with the Nazis, he had to make a decision: those are sent to the slaughter in order to perhaps save these. It’s not that I object to animals being slaughtered, but this story in effect amounts to a parody of the most brutal conflict of conscience that human beings have ever been exposed to. And that this has enabled not only wild animals to survive but some Jews as well, possibly without the Swiss fellow even being aware of it—was he aware of it in the first place? Did he know the wardens were hiding human beings inside the cages? In any case what makes this story—how shall I put it?—so particularly revolting: it is—well, it’s a caricature in animal terms of the misery of the Jews!”
“Nonsense,” called Nelleke. “How can you compare the two?”
“You can compare anything,” said Paul, “provided there are shared characteristics!”
“In any case,” said Father, “the book that—I mean, the book—”
“He’s right, I think,” said Mevrouw van der Heerde, “let’s forget the hidden Jews and consider the situation of the director—”
“Forget? Forget the hidden Jews?”
“And the dead?”
“Never recall them? Mevrouw van der Heerde! Please!”
“This is not what I meant! All I wanted to say—”
“In any case. The book!” Father said. “The ape—” He emptied his glass of Genever. I had the impression his face was aglow, it was that red. His tear ducts were so full they would have burst if I so much as touched them. For the first time he had lost hold of his story; it had been taken out of his hands. For the first time it was where maybe it had belonged all along: in the general palaver that lacked the proper words. It had now become completely beside the point what people were saying and … I pressed my lips tightly together. I had a feeling suddenly that vomit was going to swoosh out of my mouth if I opened it. My hand over my mouth, I rushed to the toilet, bent over the bowl, and started to retch; I could not vomit, there was only a trickle of acid spittle. Miriam! Still bent over the bowl, I took my cell phone from the jacket pocket and called our home. I heard the phone ring while the trickle of acid spittle continued. Miriam did not answer. I dialed her cell phone and listened to the computer voice encouraging me to leave a message. “How are you,” I said. “Is everything all right? Where— where are you.” Then the puke swooshed into the bowl. This was now recorded on Miriam’s voice mail. “Call me back! As soon as you get this message, call me—please call me back immediately!”
At the table everybody was talking at the same time. About resistance and collaboration, Holland’s pride and disgrace, the hunger winter, the Jewish quarter that was not destroyed by the Nazis but by the people of Amsterdam in search of food left in the uninhabited houses, in search of fuel; they smashed up the furniture, tore out the floorboards and even the window frames and the doors to use them as firewood; in the end they even removed the roof beams. When the war was over, the skeletal houses had to be pulled down, they were all too far gone.
I took a chair and sat down beside my father at the top end of the table. He was still drinking Genever; again and again he was on the point of saying something, of making some remark, of getting back into his story; he opened his mouth only to close it again immediately, it was hopeless. He looked like a fish in an aquarium, mouth open, mouth shut, not a sound. I put my arm around his shoulders. The astonished expression in his little red eyes.
“About this bird. What was the matter with it?”
He looked at me.
“This lori. What was—”
“It screamed. It kept on screaming!”
“An unbelievably shrill, piercing scream. It peters out in a whimper.”
“That’s not what I’m asking. I wanted to know—”
“After liberation Father immediately went to the birds. He took me by the hand and we just stood there. The purple-naped lori! That was him. The one who had always screamed so hysterically. Colorful wings, yellow on the inside, a purple head, like a hood, that’s why—”
“That’s all very well. Yet what I mean is you’ve told the story so often without ever, ever mentioning the parrot. Why today? How did it occur to you?”
Father hid his face in his hands. He was weeping. Almost. His shoulders twitched. He was trying to suppress the sobbing.
“For what reason?”
“What about the book? The book!” Nelleke called.
I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket and got it out. A text message. From Miriam. “Come home. PLEASE!” Immediately afterward the phone vibrated again. “You’ve mourned enough! Come!”
“The book,” Father said. “Yes. Well. The story behind it was that Father, as he told me himself later, had said to Max, the warden: This is killing me. I cannot take it any more. Get me a book. Any book. Whatever comes to hand. Or fetch one from our flat. A book. I am a human being, after all. I want—”
I was putting on my coat.
“I want to do something that no ape can do. I want to read. A book. Max, please!”
I looked at my father. He looked up questioningly for a moment. I indicated that I—
I left. Hurried down Govert Flinckstraat toward Ruysdaelkade. I stopped briefly in front of the new block of flats at Number 80, where Grandpa had moved in at the end. Surely the light was on behind his windows. I looked up. No, those were the windows of the flat next door to his. And then I saw it; I couldn’t believe it at first, yet it could not be called into doubt that this was the house in which he had lived, it was on his floor and it was in the flat next to his: I saw behind the window, clearly visible from the street, a bird bower, a large bird cage with two parrots inside. In purple hoods. And then I heard the scream. Muted through the double-glazed windows, yet clearly audible from where I was standing in the street below. It came from the cage near the wall of—Grandfather’s bedroom.
I ran back to the Amsterdommertje. Father was talking. He had everything under control again. He was now on the subject of the incendiary bombs that the British dumped on the Doklaan plantation just across from the ape house. This had been a marshaling yard—I could have told the story unisono with Father. I could have screamed. Maybe I did scream. I don’t know how I did it but I then found myself alone with Father outside the pub. With my hands on his shoulders.
“You were the one who found Grandpa. How was—”
“Well, surely you know. I called and he didn’t pick up the receiver for two days. So I went to his place and—”
“How did you find him? I mean, on the floor, in bed, you know. I don’t know how to put it.”
Now Father was crying. At long last. It took a long time, I don’t know how long, an eternity, but what’s an eternity at the end of a whole life? It took him another while before he got around to saying it, before I understood: He had found Grandpa in bed. In his fur coat. With the palms of his hands pressed against his ears.
A few days later I was sitting in the Sarphati Park with Miriam.
“I’ve stopped smoking,” she said.
“I want to quit, too!”
“You’ll never make it!”
“Did you know that chimps smoke too? My father told me. The chimps in the zoo smoked. And they drank beer. The wardens made them do it, just for fun. They hauled the chimps into the kitchen and gave them beer and cigarettes and—”
“Yes. You’ve told me before!”
Miriam gave me a kiss. And the birds in the park took a crack at imitating the ringtones of the cell phones.