Asher Solomon’s Burden by Judith Weinryb

Asher Solomon’s Burden

Judith Weinryb, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

        

 

            Asher Solomon led a charmed life, though at times he felt that he was cursed. The only survivor of seven children, he emerged from the concentration camp at Bergen Belsen relatively unscathed. He was only spared because he was chosen to work in the kitchen under the supervision of a cook who took a liking to him and decided to keep him on as his helper. Perhaps he reminded him of his own son or maybe he just felt sorry for the sweet-faced blonde boy with bright blue eyes. Whatever it was, Asher never forgave him for saving him as, in the end, he was left alone, without a soul in the world, until he was taken in by a family in England that treated him like one of their own.

               Now in his early eighties, Asher still wondered, from time to time, why he was still alive. To rub salt into his emotional wounds, he was in robust health and had little to complain about, over sixty-five years after his entire family had been turned into ashes.

               Divorced after thirty years of marriage, he was reasonably content living by himself in a spacious condo in North York. A retired furrier, he had sold his share of the business to a younger partner just before his seventieth birthday. His daughter Hanna and her husband Sam lived in the nearby suburb of Thornhill. He was grateful to have a granddaughter, Sara, who was studying linguistics at the University of Toronto. She came by for tea now and then, which was enjoyable for both of them.

              Hanna had recently retired from teaching and was excited about the chance to spend more time with her father. Asher hoped that her plan would not interfere with his ability to attend the Yiddish book club at the senior’s centre or the regular weekday card games at the B’nai B’rith building nearby. His fellow card players were very important to him. Mostly from the old country themselves, they understood who he was and where from he had come.

      On a chilly February morning, not long after Hanna announced her impending retirement, she showed up at Asher’s apartment with, what to her, was an exciting proposition.

          “I’m considering buying a condo in Boca Raton and I want you to come down and have look at it. I’ve rented a two bedroom place for the week near Ft. Lauderdale, so what could be better?” Well, he could think of a few things.

             “I have enough old people here. Why do I need to go to Florida? You don’t really need me  there, do you? Take a girl friend if Sam can’t make it.” After two weeks of insisting that there was  no-one else she wanted along but him, Asher finally relented .

            “I’ll go, but for one week only, no more. Stu Myerovitz invited me to his granddaughter’s bat-mitzvah and I promised him I’d be there.” Good old Stu, he was always handy for an excuse, even though his granddaughter had actually been bat-mitzvahed the previous summer.

             Hanna managed to find a good deal on flights and the following Sunday the two of them took off for Ft. Lauderdale. After picking up a rental car at the airport, they made their way towards the time share resort, a short ride away. Before long, Asher found himself relaxing in a lounge chair by the pool while Hanna was busy checking out a nearby shopping mall. He was the only person there and figured the other guests were either napping or escorting visiting grandchildren on day trips. He had to admit the warm weather was soothing after months of Canadian winter. He was just beginning to doze, when the sound of an angry voice interrupted the calm.

        “Come on Julio, I need you to be more reliable! Those windows were supposed to be washed by noon so you could start painting the garage doors. I warned you last week that if you don’t shape up, I’ll have to let you go, and that goes for your sorry-assed cousin Pedro too!”

        Asher opened his eyes and peered through his sunglasses at the two men standing by the side of the pool. They looked young to him, not much over forty. The belligerent one seemed to be a manager of some kind. Rather rude, Asher thought, to talk that way in front of a guest.

        As Julio ran off, the man glanced at Asher awkwardly. “Sorry buddy, just letting off some steam. Can’t get good help nowadays. Didn’t mean to bother you.”

      He seemed to slink off, as if he was looking for other opportunities to harass people. Asher knew the type. On a power trip, always had to be right. Years earlier, he had been in business with someone like that.

         As he strolled back towards the main building, Asher noticed several elderly people sitting on their terraces. A few couples were huddled around a coffee urn near the elevator, chatting.

           “Bingo is at two and don’t forget Wheel of Fortune at four, Mrs. Cohen.” A young girl in shiny red leggings was handing out flyers, while chewing a large wad of bubble gum. Asher felt as though he was in a nursing home with palm trees. While waiting for the elevator, he noticed a defibrillator in a glass case on the wall. Just waiting for some old geezer to have a heart attack, he thought. Well, at least they were prepared.

           The next day, they went up to Boca Raton and Hanna put down an offer on the condo. By late afternoon, they were back at the pool where Hanna swam laps while Asher read a best seller and enjoyed a glass of chilled Perrier. He was getting to a critical scene in the novel when he heard a familiar voice behind him. This time the man was on his cell phone.

            “Felix, that’s just unacceptable!” he was screaming into the receiver. “You promised to install the tiles two weeks ago. I’ve got reservations on those rooms for next month so the work has to be finished by then. No excuses!”

          Asher tried to look back at him discreetly. The man was perspiring badly and it was not even a particularly hot day. Poor guy, he was getting screwed on all sides. Maybe he deserved it, Asher thought, the way he treated his staff.

      That evening, Asher and Hanna had dinner with cousins from Miami at an all-you can-eat Chinese buffet. After a leisurely stroll through South Beach, they made it back to the resort just after midnight. Asher was rudely awakened early the next morning by bright sunshine pouring in through half opened drapes. In spite of a late night, he felt invigorated and decided to go for a brisk walk before breakfast. After scribbling a note for Hanna, he left the suite and boarded an elevator to go down to the lobby.

       “Gorgeous day, wouldn’t you say?” The only other passenger on the elevator addressed him cheerfully as he stepped inside. Asher recognized the voice immediately. What was the guy doing, following him around the resort?

        “Enjoying your stay at Paradise Village? Lovely place if I must say so myself, even though I am the general manager.” He reached out his right hand and introduced himself. “Fred Werner, at your service.”

      “Pleased to meet you Fred.” Asher paused, then asked, somewhat reluctantly, “Having a good day so far?”

      “Hell, no!” Fred bellowed. “Just about everything is going wrong .How much can a man take without losing his mind?” He looked Asher in the eye, and began to laugh uncontrollably. Asher stared at him, not quite sure how to respond.

       As the two of them walked off the elevator into the lobby, his odd laughter stopped as quickly as it had begun. His face turned white, he clutched his chest and began to slump towards the floor. 

       “Oh my God!” he gasped. His eyes looked glazed as if he was in shock. He stared blankly at Asher, before fainting at his feet. As he fell, his cell phone dropped out of his pocket. Asher grabbed it and called 911. He ran outside, found a rock, and used it to smash the glass cover of the defibrillator by the elevator, as it appeared to be locked. A note attached to it advised whoever read it to call an emergency contact who was trained to administer it, so Asher called that number as well. By the time he had loosened Fred’s shirt and tie, Julio, the man Fred had scolded earlier in the week, was on his knees next to him. He opened Fred’s shirt and applied the defibrillator to his chest.

      “Mr. Fred, he such a crazy man. He make himself sick,” he muttered as he continued to work on him. “No worry, I was doctor in El Salvador. I take good care of him.” He smiled at Fred, whose eyes were now wide open, and tried to reassure him that everything would be fine. Asher could see that he truly cared about Fred, in spite of the shoddy way he had been treated by him.  Soon two paramedics appeared and whisked Fred away by ambulance.

       Julio poured Asher a cup of coffee from the urn on a table nearby.

       “Mister, no worry” he said reassuringly. “ Mr. Fred, he be fine. Thanks for calling me.” He went back to work, leaving Asher alone to stare into his coffee cup.

       “Poor fellow, good thing you were there to call for help,” Hanna said to Asher over breakfast in their suite the following morning. She poured her father a second cup of coffee and flipped over the French toast she was preparing in the kitchen.

         “Just like home, eh, Dad? Only the room service is better, wouldn’t you agree? “She smiled lovingly at her father, who was enjoying the attention she was lavishing on him. 

               As Asher was finishing his breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Hanna was surprised to find Julio standing at the entrance. He asked for Asher, before walking past her to the dining room table.

         “Sorry to bother you” Julio said politely. “ Mr. Fred much better and he ask me to come for you. He wants you to come visit him in hospital, if you have time, so he can thank you for what you do for him. I can take you. Is not far, maybe ten minutes.”

        “I’m not very good at saying no, am I honey?” Asher said quietly to Hanna who was still holding the coffee urn in her hand. He preferred to stay with her but did not want to refuse Fred’s request after all he had been through. He made plans to meet his daughter at the pool an hour later, before walking out the door. 

       Soon he and Julio arrived at Fred’s hospital room where they found Fred’s father, a man about Asher’s age, sitting on a chair by his bed, holding his hand.

         “Dad, this is the man who saved my life.” Fred whispered, removing his oxygen mask just long enough to speak.

         “My son and I are very grateful to you, mister, what did you say your name was?”

           “Solomon, Asher Solomon. I’m just down from Toronto with my daughter for the week. Glad I could help. Just happened to be there, that’s all.” Asher noticed that the man had a foreign accent. He couldn’t quite figure from where.

            “Solomon, did you say? Sounds Jewish, like a lot of the folks around here. My family, we came from Germany but all that war stuff, we’ve put that baggage behind us, and we all get along really well here in Florida. Besides, who wouldn’t get along in a place like this?” He began to laugh uncontrollably, clearly quite amused by his own words. He seemed as odd to Asher as his son, but that explained a lot to him.

       “Yes, I’m Jewish. I was a child in the war but that was a long time ago. I’d rather not talk about that now.”

        “Funny, isn’t it?” Fred’s father continued regardless. “We killed your people and now you save my son’s life.”

          Asher squirmed uncomfortably. The man’s twisted logic was so bizarre; it was disturbing. He just had to get out of there. He hoped to never see Fred or his father again. As he began to walk towards the door, Fred’s father called after him, angrily.

          “You know, you shouldn’t judge us so harshly! My father told me stories about friends who put their own lives at risk to save Jews. Not all Germans are bad, that’s for sure!”

          Asher just stood and stared at Fred’s father. He knew first hand that what he said was true. In the craziness of war, anything was possible. He, himself, had survived the concentration camp only because of an act of kindness by a German. Still, he had never been able to accept that he had been spared while the rest of his family had perished. He understood now that he never would. It was time to stop trying to make sense of it. Odd, he thought, that he came to this conclusion as a result of meeting this rather strange man whose son he had inadvertently saved.

          “Best of luck to you, Fred.” he said calmly as he walked out into the Florida sunshine. He looked forward to getting back to the resort so he could enjoy a leisurely afternoon with his daughter. After all, what more could he ask?


       

 

 

 

 

 

Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal Spring 2012 Volume 9 Number 1

ISSN 1209-9392

© 2012 Women in Judaism, Inc.

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