In the evening when he got home from work it was my grandfather’s habit to pause at the sight of his little family gathered in the kitchen to greet him, a bitter confusion emptying his face as if once again he had blundered into the wrong apartment.

“Lyussen!” Lice! he would hiss at us in Yiddish. “P’yaviken!” Leeches! Parasites! Bloodsuckers!

This was Papa, our patriarch, our immigrant success story, a housepainter and small-time real estate operator.

Hollow-eyed, spattered as a Pollock, with a slow lifting of his jaw he would scatter us like poultry and then lurch to the sink where he scrubbed himself with naphtha and then a paste of Boraxo, glycerin and laundry detergent. Surfacing between rinses, his curses at this point were barely distinguishable from the coughing and spitting, but then he would clear his throat with half a tumbler of raisin jack and as my grandmother served his soup, suitably accompanied perhaps by a quarter of a chicken or a ladle or two of steamed barley and mushrooms, Papa would call down the wrath of Sinai, pleading his case as if he were advocating for some desolate, desperate third party.

“They tore him in pieces!” my grandfather cried. “They fed on him like maggots!”

Judgment as a consequence was biblical, merciless. Every night in that flat was a reckoning.

Continued in Confrontation 121, Spring 2017.