I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 21
“You just wait and see,” I said, holding the door open for him.
I WOULD HAVE LIKED to keep the box behind my back until I came in the door, to make it a surprise. But the package was too large. And besides, as soon as I turned into Honeywell Avenue I could see her leaning out the window, with a small pillow under her elbows, watching the street for me.
Her face lit up as soon as she saw me, and then, when she saw the box I was carrying, she pinched up her lips and began to shake her head disapprovingly.
I waved to her and quickened my pace.
She opened the door for me and said, “Well, what kind of crazy presents have you been spending your money on now?”
I looked blank.
“Presents?” I said. “What presents?”
“Never mind, never mind,” she said, pointing to the box in my hands. “What are you got in there?”
“Oh, this!” I said, carelessly. “Oh, this is nothing. This is just some cheese I brought home so you should be able to make me some blintzes, that’s all.”
“Again with the blintzes!” she cried, striking her forehead with her hand. “Don’t you ever think of anything else besides those blintzes?”
Sure, but I couldn’t tell her about it.
“What else is there to think about?” I said.
She made a threatening gesture, playfully.
“Go ʼway,” she said. “So let’s see already what kind of cheese you brought, it should be so big that it has to be packed in a box like an elephant.”
“First let’s get out of the doorway,” I said. “All I need is to get a draft on me and I should catch a cold, and then I’ll be all set good for to-morrow.”
“So come on.”
She led the way to the kitchen, quickly, and I put the box on the porcelain-topped table.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Open it.”
She opened the box and stopped for a moment with her mouth open, staring at the rich-looking mound of black fur, with the sprinkling of grayish-white hairs shot through it, surrounded by the bed of crumpled tissue paper.
“Heshie!” she cried, and turned to put her arms around me and kiss me.
“Go ahead, Ma,” I said, patting her shoulder and smiling, “try it on.”
She dried her hands quickly and picked up the fur piece out of the box. She stroked it gently for a moment, smiling happily, and then put it across her shoulders. She buried her cheek in the soft thick end that hung down her arm and said, “This is wonderful, Heshie.”
“I’m glad you like it, Ma,” I said. “Next time I’ll get you a whole coat made of the same thing. How’ll that be?”
“Heshie!” she said severely. “Don’t talk like a baby. You shouldn’t even’ve spent so much money on this.”
“Because,” she said, “first of all I have plenty things. And second, you should put your money better in the bank. And anyway, what kind of picnic is it all of a sudden, from a clear sky, in the middle of the week, you should go around buying fur collars?”
“Don’t worry so much about my bank account, Ma,” I said. “And anyway, I get it wholesale.”
“Who’s worrying about your bank account, who?” she said indignantly.
“All right, all right,” I said, stroking her shoulder with the fur piece on it, “so you’re not worrying about it.”
“I only mean,” she said, “I hate you should throw around money like it was water.”
“You talk just like one of my partners,” I said.
“Then thank God you got at least one of them he should be a little smart,” she said.
We both laughed.
“No, I’ll tell you, Ma,” I said. “The real reason why I got you this thing is because to-morrow we—the firm, I mean—we’re going into the high-priced dresses, you know. We’re going after the real money, now, and this is sort of, well, sort of a celebration. See what I mean, Ma? After all, who then am I going to spend my money on, if not on you?”
She smiled and pinched my cheek.
“Mama’s boy, hah?” she said.
“Sure, why not?” I said. “And then,” I added, “there’s still another reason why I bought it for you. You know why?”
“The other things I got you, well, maybe they just made Mrs. Heimowitz eat her heart out. But this,” I said, “when you walk down the street wearing this—I figure she’ll just about drop dead.”
“Don’t talk like that,” she said, but the smile on her face said she was pleased.
I took off my coat and began to roll up my sleeves.
“Well, now that that’s over Ma,” I said, “how’s chances on getting something to eat?”
“All right,” she said, putting the collar back into the box carefully, “but no blintzes.”
“You think I’m a dope?” she said. “I should make them for you every time you want them—three times a day, seven days a week, yet—and it’ll come a time you’ll be so tired of them, you won’t even want to look at them. And then, when that time comes, how do you think I’ll get all those fancy presents, hah?”
“You’re pretty good, Ma, you are,” I said. “But don’t worry. Blintzes or no blintzes, you know I wouldn’t stop buying you things, Ma.”
“Sure I know,” she said, smiling. “But why should I take chances?”
“If I ever need another partner, Ma,” I said, “I think I’ll take you.”
“Don’t do me any favors,” she said, shaking her head wisely. “To be your partner, Heshalle, I think a person needs an iron heart.”
“Now, that certainly is a nice way to talk about your own son, isn’t it?”
“Never mind,” she said, waving her hand at me. “Whether it’s nice or not, I don’t care. But it’s true just the same, no?”
I shrugged. But I was pleased. The old girl knew her onions, all right.
“Maybe,” I said. “But that’s the way you have to be in business. If you haven’t got the iron heart, it’s the next guy. And that means the next guy’ll be building up the bank balance. What the hell, Ma, that’s the way things are. In business you got to be that way.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “But I don’t know, Heshie. I don’t know if it’s such a—well, such a good thing.”
“It does to a person something, Heshie. It makes him—I don’t know. It changes him.”
I waved my hand at her.
“Aah, don’t be a baby, Ma. What’s the matter, do I look changed to you? Sure I’m changed. Now, instead of bringing you fifteen dollars a week we should try to pay the rent and the butcher and the grocer and the laundry, so now, now I’m bringing you silver fox collars. If you call that being changed, so all right, so I’m changed.”
She sighed and picked up the box.
“Well, maybe I’m wrong,” she said. “Wait here, I’ll just put this away in the bedroom. I’ll come back and give you something to eat.”
“Sure you’re wrong, Ma,” I said, stroking her cheek. “Just don’t worry about your little Heshie. He knows how to take care of himself. And he knows how to take care of his mother, too, don’t worry.”
“Sure, don’t worry,” she said, and left the room, shaking her head a little.
Well, I guess it all evened out in the end. I had to worry about business, and she had to worry about me.
I went into the bathroom to wash. When I came out the kitchen table was set for supper. I picked up my spoon and began to eat my soup. Mother turned down the flame on the gas range, poured a plate of soup for herself, and sat down across the table from me. We ate in silence for a few minutes.
“Well, what’s the matter, Ma?” I said finally. “I’m not using my spoon right, or something like that?”
She looked surprised.
“Why, I said something maybe?”
“You don’t have to say anythi
“Heshie, do me a favor,” she said. “Don’t think all the time you’re smarter than the whole world.”
“All right. So I’m not smarter than the whole world. But what’s on your mind?”
“Well, if you ask me, so I’ll tell you.”
“That’s what I’m waiting for.”
“What’s the matter between you and Ruthie Rivkin?” she asked quietly.
Boy, some day I’d really learn to keep my trap shut.
“Nothing,” I said carelessly. Why the hell hadn’t I croaked that dame when I had her in the woods? “There’s nothing the matter between us. Who ever said there was anything between us, anyway?”
“Never mind,” she said, “I know.”
“Well, if you’re so smart,” I said, “then maybe you know what’s the matter. So what’s the idea asking me?”
“I went to see Mrs. Rivkin yesterday,” she said. “And—”
“Why don’t you hire a squad of private detectives?” I said. “Maybe you can’t keep tabs on everything I do. I mean, after all, Ma, you’re only one person, you know. A couple of dicks helping you out would bring in more information for you than you could get by yourself. Just tell me, and I’ll write you a check to cover it, so you won’t have to take it out of the house money—”
“Heshie!” she said sharply.
“All right, Ma, all right,” I said. “Forget it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything.”
“I don’t care if you meant anything or not,” she said, glaring at me. “I don’t care if you’re making a lot of money or not. By me you’re still the same smart one you were when you were going to school. By your dopes, those partners of yours, you can talk. But don’t come by me here with the nose in the air.”
“Okay, Ma. Okay.” I reached my plate toward her. “How about some more soup?”
She filled my plate and set it before me. As she straightened up to return to her chair, she gave my head a push.
“All of a sudden, my smart one!” she said.
I grinned embarrassedly and began to dip up the soup.
“I went to see Mrs. Rivkin yesterday,” she began again.
“Don’t make the trip too often,” I muttered. “You’ll get corns.”
“What?” she said, leaning forward across the table. “You said something maybe?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, if you wanna talk, so talk a person should be able to hear you. Don’t talk in your nose.”
“You talk,” I said, lifting my spoon high. “I’ll eat.”
Me and Tootsie Maltz.
“Tokke that way it’ll be better,” she said. “So you hear, I went to see Mrs. Rivkin yesterday. I asked her about Ruthie, I asked her about the grocery, I asked her—”
“About me,” I said.
“And why not?” she demanded.
“I don’t know,” I said, motioning with the spoon again. “I’m eating. You talk.”
“If you’ll only keep that big mouth of yours—it goes all the time like on wheels—if you’ll only keep that closed for a few minutes, so maybe I’ll be able to talk a little.”
“You’re doing all right now,” I said.
“If you keep a little quiet,” she said, “so I’ll do better.”
“Go ahead,” I said. “Try.”
She grinned a little in spite of herself.
“So I asked about you, too. She said you and Ruthie, you went out a couple times together, you even took her up to the mountains for one day on a Sunday—you didn’t tell me nothing about that—”
“Do I have to tell you everything?”
“It’s easier,” she said. “But if you don’t tell me, so I’ll find out anyway.”
Now I grinned in spite of myself.
“You’re telling me!”
“And that, Mrs. Rivkin said, was the last. Since that day, she said it must be a few weeks ago already, since that day, you didn’t call her up, you didn’t go up to see her, nothing. What’s the matter? A person could think yet God alone knows what happened.”
“Nothing’s the matter,” I said.
Go tell you own mother you tried to lay a broad, but you couldn’t do it because she looked like your mother.
“So if nothing’s the matter,” she said calmly, “so why don’t you go up there to see her any more?”
“Because I’m too busy,” I said.
“Is that so? What are you doing all of a sudden, saving the whole world? Even the president, he takes off a night or two in the week he should take out his girl—”
“The president is married, Ma. And he’s got about four sons—”
“Shut up!” she said. “So he takes a night or two during the week and he takes his wife to the movies.”
“For the president, Ma, they bring the movies to him.”
She seized her spoon and waved it at me threateningly.
“If you don’t hold a little that long tongue of yours, and let me speak, I’ll give you a smack over the head, you’ll have to go picking your teeth all over the house. You hear me?”
I leaned back in my chair and roared.
“Say when, Ma,” I said.
She choked back a smile and folded her arms on the table elaborately.
“I’m asking you once more,” she said. “Why you didn’t go up to see her any more?”
“Aah, hell, Ma, what did I do, sign a contract that I have to go up to take out Ruthie Rivkin every night in the week?”
“Mustn’t be every night,” she said coolly.
“Yeah, and it mustn’t be any night, either,” I said. “If I don’t want to.”
“So why don’t you want to, why?”
“Listen, Ma,” I said. “You brought that dame around here a couple of weeks ago—”
“In this house don’t call nice girls a ‘dame!’”
“All right, all right, all right. So she’s a nice girl.” That was the trouble with her. “So you brought this nice girl Ruthie around here, and you said you wanted me to take her out. So I said all right, for you I’d do it. And I did. I took her out a couple of times, I spent my good money on her, and that’s all.”
“Maybe by you that’s all,” she said. “But not by me.”
“Well, I don’t care what you say, Ma. You can’t force me to go out with a girl if I don’t want to, and that’s all.”
“It’s not all, Heshie,” she said. She began to speak gently. “I don’t want you should think I’m trying to force you into something, Heshie. I’m an old woman. Maybe I don’t see things the same way a young boy like you does. And so long you stay honest, you don’t become a crook or a murderer or anything like that, so long you can do what you want. I won’t say a word.”
“Well, you keep quiet pretty loud,” I said.
“Because this is different,” she said.
“How is this different? Because I don’t want to take out Ruthie Rivkin, that means I’m a crook or a murderer?”
“Don’t call me dope.”
“Hold your tongue,” she said. “I’ll call you what I want. When you’re smart I’ll call you smart. When you’re a dope I’ll call you a dope. Right now you’re a dope.”
That’s what she thought.
“All right, so tell me how this is different.”
“Because this isn’t a little thing. To find the right girl is by a person the most important thing in his whole life. There’s plenty of them, they spend their whole lives, God forbid, without finding. And you, you got a chance while you’re still young, you shouldn’t have to become an old bachelor and people should laugh at you, you got a chance like that, a fine girl, with a nice family, who’d make you a good wife, and you don’t want her!”
“Well, maybe you think she’s the right girl,” I said, “bu
“What’s the idea lying to me?” she said quietly.
I looked at her quickly.
“You heard me,” she said. “I said what’s the idea lying to me?”
“Why, what’s the matter with you, Ma? What did I say?”
“You said you don’t like Ruthie, didn’t you?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly say it,” I said, “but yeah, now that you put it that way, yeah, I don’t.”
“Then you’re not a dope,” she said, sitting back. “You’re just a big liar, that’s all.”
I tried to laugh good and loud. But it didn’t come out right.
“You know you like her, Heshie,” she said quietly. “What are you afraid of? What are you running away from?”
Look what I had to get myself into!
“I don’t know where you got all those ideas from, Ma,” I said. “It seems to me I ought to know myself whether I like a girl or not without somebody else giving me any advice about it.”
“That’s right,” she said. “You should know. And you do. So why do you say you don’t?”
“If this isn’t the craziest thing yet, Ma,” I said. “How do you know I like her? How can you—?”
“Don’t worry,” she said, looking me in the eye. “I know. I could tell from that first night she was here. It’s true, isn’t it?”
I dropped my eyes from hers and began to play with the spoon.
“Stop bending my spoons,” she said, and I put it down. “It’s true, isn’t it?” she said.
I didn’t say anything.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” she repeated.
“No,” I said, without looking at her.
“Well, we’ll soon see,” she said. “I don’t know what’s the matter with you or what’s in the back there of that pudding of a head of yours. But I know you like her and I know she’s a fine girl. Before one of those big tramps of yours gets you, I’d rather a fine girl like Ruthie should get you. And if you’re too much of a dope to know when you’re well off, so I’ll just have to see to it myself.”
“Yeah?” I said sullenly.
“Yeah,” she said. “When you finish eating you just pick yourself up and go into the living room. It’s now,”—she looked at the clock on the ice box—“it’s now a little before eight. I told her she should be here by half-past eight, maybe a few minutes earlier.”
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