What Remains

(in memory of my father)
BARBARA FRIED

Do I know you?

I’m your daughter Barbara.

My daughter? I don’t have a daughter.

You do, dad.

Have I always had a daughter?

Not always in your life, but always in mine.

When did I last see you?

Three weeks ago.

Is that the first time I met you?

No, you’ve known me my whole life.

And remind me again, how do I know you?

I’m your daughter Barbara.

Isn’t that something? That I should have a daughter and not know it?

These things happen, dad.

Well, if it turns out that I have a daughter, I’m glad it’s you.

Where are we?

We’re right here. In this apartment. Where you live.

I live here?

Yes.

Have I always lived here?

Not in this apartment, but you’ve always lived in New York. You used to say that you couldn’t understand why anyone would live any place else.

I said that?

Yes.

Well, it’s true.

I grew up in Brooklyn.

That’s right. Brooklyn is part of New York.

With my mother. In Bensonhurst. Bay 34th Street.

That’s right. Do you remember when we took the subway out there a few years ago so you could show me the old neighborhood? It’s all Russian now.

I don’t remember anything anymore. There’s something wrong with my mind.

You remember lots of things, dad. You showed me where your old house was, and the street where you used to play stickball with your friends. You used fire hydrants and manholes for bases. We stopped at a local restaurant and had borscht and stuffed cabbage.

Stickball. I remember stickball. I played it with my friends every day after school.

Do you remember the day we took a walk along the Hudson, after they opened the new waterfront park? It was a beautiful day. I said to you, “What an amazing view!” and you said, “Yeah, but you have to look at New Jersey.”

I said that?

Yup.

What did I mean?

I think you meant that New York City was world enough for you.

 

Actually, you lived in New Jersey for a couple of years when you were a kid, with your Uncle Ben. Do you remember Ben?

No. I don’t know any Ben.

He was your mother’s brother. Ben Weismann. He was a lawyer. His wife was Ruth.

Oh yeah, that’s right, I remember Ben. I lived with him and I went to school there. He took care of the whole family. No one had any money back then. How do you know Ben?

He was still alive when I was growing up.

But how did you come to meet him?

He was my great uncle.

Well, that’s a coincidence.

Not really, dad. I’m your daughter. That makes your uncle my great uncle.

I don’t understand.

Don’t worry about it. It’s not important.

Where are we?

We’re in your apartment, where you live.

Are we here now?

Yes, we’re here now.

And what’s happening here, this conversation, is it happening now?

Yes, it’s happening now.

I need water.

Sit up slowly. I’ll support your back. Just take a couple of sips; you can’t swallow more than that at one time.

Do I know you?

I’m your daughter Barbara. There’s a picture of you and me on your dresser. Do you want to look at it?

Of course I want to look at it.

That’s you on the left and me on the right.

You look very young.

I was. Seven or eight, I think.

Did I know you then?

Yes, we were together when the picture was taken.

And tell me again how I know you.

I’m your daughter.

My daughter. Isn’t that something? How could I have such a beautiful daughter and not even know it?

Not beautiful, dad, but I have other virtues.

Well, you are beautiful to me.

Here’s another picture of you. It was taken during the War, in North Africa. You’re riding on a camel.

A camel? Why would I do that?

I’m guessing you were sightseeing.

On a camel?

You were in North Africa, dad. They have lots of camels there.

What was I doing in North Africa?

You were stationed there during the war.

What war?

World War II. We were fighting against Hitler.

Oh yeah, I remember Hitler. But he was German. Why I was in North Africa?

Because Germany invaded North Africa.

I’m confused.

Don’t worry about it, dad. It’s not important anymore.

Where are we?

We’re in your apartment, in New York.

Have I always lived here?

No, but you’ve been here for a long time. Do you remember, when you first moved in, you could see the East River from your balcony? Then they put up a new building, which blocked your view. When I asked if you were annoyed, you said, “They have to block somebody’s view.”

I said that?

I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the world who would say it.

Your hands are cold. Let me warm them up.

You are my daughter. Barbara.

Yes.

And remind me, how long have I known you?

My whole life. You raised me. You fixed my crooked teeth, my crooked eyes, my crooked back. Imagine what I would look like now if it weren’t for you.

And when did I last see you?

Three weeks ago.

When will I see you again?

I’ll be back in two weeks. I live far away, in California.

California. I don’t know what that is.

It’s a state, dad. Like New York. It’s on the other side of the country, three thousand miles away.

And when will I see you again?

In two weeks.

I look forward to that. You won’t forget, will you?

I couldn’t possibly forget. You’re my father.