Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

The City We Lived in after the War

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

The City We Lived in after the War

Article excerpt

In the city we lived in after the war, we recognized each other by our mutual thinness, the missing part of ourselves we had left on the other continent: the roundness of our cheeks, our rumps and bosoms. Mrs. Tz-held her hands in front of her chest, gripping imaginary cantaloupes, "Like this! They were like this," she said. The old country was overflowing with our sexy flesh, with thighs and dimpled elbows, but we had escaped, just slivers of ourselves. We were like children again, knobby kneed and easily bruised, and some of us felt reduced. Mrs. L-said she didn't make love anymore, her husband does not reach for her and she does not bleed. "That is when you should be like rabbits," said Mrs. Tz-, "You have a free pass, like when you are still breastfeeding, no need to worry." Mrs. Tz- gestured toward Mrs. E-, who was holding her coffee cup out of reach of the toddler on her lap. "You know what I mean, yes?" Mrs. S-, the youngest of us, blushed and went to the kitchen for a fresh pot. "Why can't I say it?" said Mrs. Tz-, "What is so wrong about saying what everyone is doing? Huh? Everyone but Mrs. L-, at least."

In the city we lived in after the war, we took the streetcar to the beach on Saturdays even though it was crowded with all the other immigrants who had come after all the other wars, all the way back until the beginning of time. There had been so many wars that the city was thronged with women in wool skirts, men in hats and children wearing clothes they had grown out of. We went to the beach because it was free and we liked to see our children with sand in their hair. Only the oldest among us, those who no longer had any shame, would wear bathing suits. Mrs. Tz- wore a black one piece and cat's eye sunglasses. "What? They're plastic. Very modern," she said. None of us could swim, but we liked looking at the dark water of Lake Ontario. Our old men would bring fishing poles and sit with their hats shading their faces.

Our war was the most recent one, so we never spoke of it. The children and grandchildren of survivors of the old wars couldn't get enough of talking about the wars they had not witnessed. They wrote poems, songs and novels about them. Instead, we listened to the radio in our kitchens. We listened to pop music we were too old for and jingles for laundry soap and Chevrolets. We played cards and set the table with olives for our friends to fill their mouths with when they came to visit. Mrs. E-, who was an exceptional baker, made bread every Friday and gave each of us a loaf. It was so dense and crusty that it would stick to the top of our mouths and stifle our tongues. If we ate enough of it, our bellies would feel as full of bread as of unsaid words. We fed it to our husbands and our children, but always kept the heel for ourselves.

Mrs. L-worked in a department store on Bay St. and sold stockings, slips and gloves to ladies plumper than herself. She worked in the section that only sold clothes that were worn against the skin. Of all of us, she had the most expensive clothes, one green dress and one blue, both made of silk, which she wore on alternating days to her job. She always smelled of a different eau de toilette; she'd spritz some on her pulse points at the perfume counter each morning. When she came directly from work to sit with us and drink coffee, we would offer her an apron to wear over her dress, just in case. Behind her back, Ms. Tz-would say that Mrs. L-'s fine clothes were wasted on her. "Who is there to appreciate it? Not her husband surely."

Mrs. S-married a Canadian man. We did not know if she had a lost a husband in Europe or if she had never had one, but she'd come to the city with her sister alone. She was the only one among us who spoke English at home and we pitied her that. "What do they talk about? Huh? What does he know about anything?" said Mr. Tz-. Of course, the husband wasn't only Canadian, a branch of his family had left France after the revolution and another had come from Ireland during the troubles. …

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