From Chapter 5
It was a pleasant evening. Having turned the lights out, they listened
to old chansons on the radio by candlelight until they felt sleepy.
Then Grandmother took the bed linen from the bottom of the middle wardrobe,
and they made up the big divan for the night. Robi pulled the duvet
up to his chin, thinking how nice it would be for a change to have peace
and quiet for the night because the adjacent room was unoccupied. This
particular night, his mother's sleeping cure would be doing them the
world of good, too.
The first time Robi was startled awake that night, he found the bed
on his right empty. He saw the door leading to the hall was open, and
he heard Grandmother moving about. Strange, he thought. Why is she up
in the middle of the night when for once she doesn't have to be? She's
probably thirsty, or she has to go to the toilet. There's nothing to
worry about, he concluded, and he went back to sleep.
But soon he was awake again, this time startled by some deep-seated,
instinctive fear. The other bed was still empty, but he hardly had time
to think about that, because then he saw Grandmother in the dark, sitting
doubled up on the floor by the divan, her hand over her left breast,
gasping for air. Over and over again, she was saying something that
sounded like, 'I don't know, I just don't know.'
Robi sprang to his feet, and ran to the door to switched on the light.
Grandmother was on the floor, her face ashen. There was a wet rag in
the hand she was was pressing to her breast. 'It's my heart,' she gasped,
and with her free hand she massaged her shoulder. Robi ran over to her,
kneeled down and, grabbed her around the waist. She was as light as
a feather, and he placed her on the divan. 'What happened, Grandmother?'
By this time, Grandmother's lips had turned purple. Her eyes were bulging
and she was shivering. She kept repeating, 'I don't know, I just don't
know.' Then, pulling herself together, she raised her head and said,
'Whatever you do, Robi dear, don't leave your mother alone.'
At this point, Robi Singer grew really terrified, as the inconceivable
finally dawned on him. He grabbed some clothes, keeping a steady eye
on Grandmother, as if trying to keep her alive by sheer strength of
will. 'Wait, Grandmother, wait! I'll get a doctor,' he urged her.
Needless to say, Robi had no idea where he'd find a doctor at that time
of the night, or even a telephone token so he could call an ambulance.
'Whatever you do, don't leave your mother alone,' Grandmother said again,
and her eyes filled with tears. 'She can't help it.' She looked into
Robi's eye. 'You do love your mother, don't you?'
'Of course I do,' Robi said. He was shaking from head to toe, by now.
'I love her a lot.'
'Good,' Grandmother said. 'You'll find a thousand forints under the
sewing box. It's for the funeral. Give it to the Chevra Kadisha.'
That clinched it! Robi was now sick with fear. Grandmother was about
to betray him in the worst possible way, by leaving him alone like this
in the middle of the night. By this time, the tears were flowing down
his cheeks. Pleading, begging, cajoling, he kneeled down by the divan,
and put his hands together. 'Don't die on me, Grandmother, don't die!'
He looked around the room, but he could barely make out the shape of
things through his tears. Everything was in its place, each of the three
wardrobes, the dining table, the buffet. It seemed absurd that someone
could disappear from this comforting and familiar world, that he was
about to be a witness to the most terrible of all miracles, the moment
when life turned into its opposite.
The Lord! It was the Lord's doing. It was penalty time for the forbidden
tram-rides, the Christian services, the non-kosher sausages. Or it could
be Jesus, who picked this cruel manner to protest against his forthcoming
circumcision. Maybe it was the two gods, the Jewish and the Christian,
taking a united stand against his self-abuse, the sinful release of
the night which he'd tried to balance off by next day's good deeds.
That's what you got for trying to bargain with the heavenly powers.
There was only one thing left to do, Robi concluded, and he turned towards
the bed. 'Grandmother, let's pray!'