Sisters Through a Window

Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn was not a place you wanted to spend a day in, let alone six months. The decades had not been kind to the hospital that used to be called Beth-El.  Several of the floors were closed off due to age and decrepitude. Patients were stockpiled on the remaining floors, some in wheelchairs three rows deep. By 1995, it was the last place you hoped that 911 would bring you if you called during an emergency. The place was particularly unkind to senior citizens, who seldom got out alive.

After six months Gertie Wilenski was starting to wonder if she would ever get out and go home. To that home with the plastic slip covers on every piece of furniture that covered plastic runners and about an inch of carpet. Gertie was fastidiously clean, and Brookdale Hospital, for all its sterilization, seemed filthy to her. No one told Gertie what was really wrong, but she knew that she was on the tenth floor and word was that was where they kept the dying. She was in her late 70s now, although after fibbing about her age for so many years, no one, not even Gertie, could pinpoint her exact age. Her sons, Sheldon and Manny, had no real idea how old their mother was. Every birthday since their father died, Gertie had chosen a new age.

Gertie saw her sons once a week if she was lucky, and during the other interminable hours she watched the cheap black and white TV that hung from the ceiling over her hospital bed. Or she stared into space wondering when the jig would be up. Gertie never talked to her roommate, mostly because they kept changing them on her. Gertie wondered if they all went home or went to the morgue down in the basement. Death occupied Gertie’s mind most of the time now. Gertie’s older brothers were all dead and her sister, Bea, had not come to visit her at all. Six months, Gertie thought. Six months and no visit.

After Gertie was in the hospital for two months, her sons called their aunt.

“Aunt Bea, Mom would love to see you,” Gertie’s son Manny said on the phone.

“Manny, I don’t drive. I’m living on the Island with my daughter now.”

“How is Cousin Rose?”

“Who?”

“Your daughter Rose.”

“Oh…she’s fine, but she won’t drive me to Brooklyn and that’s why I can’t come and visit.”

After several phone calls more, Gertie’s sons stopped talking to their Aunt Bea.

The truth is that Bea didn’t want to visit her sister for reasons that were too many to count. First and foremost on the list of Bea’s grievances was her sister’s imaginative age-keeping system and how it had affected her life. Bea could have taken the Long Island Railroad and two buses to see her only sister, but she had her pride. She was also terrified to see her sister in this weakened condition. No, Bea would not be going to see a shrunken and sick old woman who was pretending to be Gertie. Bea remembered Gertie the way she wanted to remember her. Young and fresh and vibrant. Back when they were both named Sardoff and lived in the same apartment in Brooklyn. The last of the tribe living at home on Snediker Avenue with Sadie and Sam.

 

Although separated by seven years, Gertie and Bea Sardoff were inseparable. People in their East New York neighborhood even said that they looked like Irish Twins, born nine months apart. Some sisters were rivals, but Gertie and Bea, being the last siblings at home, had a sisterly bond no one could break. Not even their stern and humorless mother. Gertie and Bea had three much older brothers who were now married and living on the other side of Brooklyn whom they seldom saw. Gertie, being the eldest of the girls, felt a responsibility to her little sister and Bea had always looked up to her. They each resembled the other with their dark, swarthy skin that tanned beautifully in the summer, which was their favorite time of the year, and their thick, dark hair. Bea was more curvy and substantial, but Gertie had long thin legs that were the envy of Coney Island.

Every weekend during the summer, their favorite time of the year, the sisters took three buses and went to the beach. Rockaway was the beach of choice for the Sardoff sisters because of the huge waves. The surf was rough and knocked you on your behind if you were not careful. Bea and Gertie were never careful. They loved being tossed around in the surf ever since they were little and their mother would take them and throw them into the raging sea, teaching them never to be scared. This lesson served them well as the family weathered the depression.

Their mother, Sadie, was a hardscrabble Russian immigrant with a slight mustache who supported the family with her sewing skills and had little time for the girls. In fact, Sadie wished that she had stopped having children after number three. Sons, Sadie liked. They grew up, they got jobs, they contributed to the household finances. Daughters you had to spend money on, coddle and hope they found good husbands. Sadie was beginning to despair about her eldest daughter.

“Gertie,” Sadie said in her old world accent, “you’re twenty seven years old and no man is going to look on you unless you fib a little. Whatever it takes. A girl your age should have a husband already.”

Sadie’s own husband was a ne’er do well who stopped working when his own sewing machine broke in 1934. He never seemed upset about making his wife do all the work to support their large clan. Sam was content to sit in the window and look out on the street. If life had to pass him by, and Sam was sure it had to, at least he could watch it through the glass. Sadie stopped talking to Sam in 1937 and grew more and more bitter, leaving her girls to fend for themselves, so Gertie and Bea grew closer and closer.  As 1941 moved perilously closer to 1942, life for the Sardoff sisters seemed to be about to turn the corner as well.

Gertie had been a salesgirl at Fortunoff over on Livonia Avenue, but that didn’t work out when one of the bosses tried to kiss her in the smoking lounge. After that Gertie quit smoking cold turkey.

Every afternoon and evening, Gertie went to work at the local movie theater, while Bea, who had just graduated Thomas Jefferson High School, was an assistant bookkeeper at the local A&P.  Although Bea was restless and anxious to get out into the world, Gertie pushed Bea to stay in school and take business courses so that she wouldn’t have to do the kind of menial jobs that Gertie had endure. Gertie had been a salesgirl at Fortunoff over on Livonia Avenue, but that didn’t work out when one of the bosses tried to kiss her in the smoking lounge. After that Gertie quit smoking cold turkey. For the last year she had been working concessions at the local movie house, meaning she sold popcorn, hot dogs and candy. Gertie was happy that, as an assistant bookkeeper, Bea at least had a chance at advancement.

Day in and day out, except for Monday when the theater was closed, Gertie would show up at the New Lots Movie House, put on her white dress and little white cap that made her feel like she was a nurse, and creep behind the concession stand waiting for the first showing of the double feature to start. While she waited and made sure the popcorn was popping and the Wienies were roasting, Gertie gabbed with her friend and co-worker, Miss Lee. Miss Lee was a woman in her late fifties with bright orange hair and a light freckled complexion. Gertie envied Miss Lee her Titian locks and in the moment she met her decided to get her own red hair from the bottle.

“So, Miss Lee, did you go out on the town after the last showing?”

“Don’t make me laugh. I went straight home to make sure my mother was still alive. She’s almost 80 now. What about you?”

“I had a date.”

Miss Lee was so excited she thought she would pee in her panties. “You didn’t! Tell me. Don’t leave out a word or I’ll scream.”

“Well, he was a nice boy. But a little younger than me.”

“How young?”

“Twenty four.”

“And you’re twenty seven, so?”

“Well, he asked, I told and he excused himself and went to the men’s room in the restaurant and never came back.”

“You are kidding!”

“I paid the check and went home.”

The two concessionaires hugged each other as the doors of the movie theater opened up, letting in the audience for the first showing of the day. The main feature starred Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire and took place in some unspecified Latin American country where Rita was one of several daughters of Adolph Menjou. It was a musical, Miss Lee’s favorite. On this Thursday afternoon, the audience was sparse: unemployed men still recovering from the depression, disgruntled housewives and several pairs of clandestine lovers looking for a place to spoon. Children under 18 were not allowed at weekday matinees. The management knew that they should be in school and wanted no complicity in their truancy. Once in a while Miss Lee would fill in for one of the matrons who watched over the crowds with their ever present flashlights and oh, the things, she saw then.

“I was in shock, Gert. Two women were kissing. Can you imagine? I mean, isn’t it unnatural?”

Gertie thought for a moment and replied.

“Not if they’re not Jewish.”

The hot dogs on a spit rolled around in their wiener grill machine and started to plump up fat. A couple of teenaged boys approached and ordered Jujubes. Miss Lee gave them the fish eye.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty one.”

“And a half.”

“Why aren’t you in the army?”

“Why aren’t you?”

Gertie interrupted. “Don’t talk smart to Miss Lee. She has full authority to kick you out and never let you back in to see any movie…ever.”

“That’s right,” added Miss Lee. “And you can forget about your admission price being refunded.”

And so it went at the New Lots Movie House. At that moment Bea, as she added up the day’s receipts at the A&P, daydreamed about the man she had met a few days ago. A big burly man with arms like Popeye’s and a face like Bluto.  A man just a couple of years older than her, but so much fun. She mooned over his tightly curled black hair and obsessed over his forearms, which were over-developed from lifting heavy boxes onto a truck. Bea decided to keep it all mum and tell no one, not even her sister. She felt that this man was “the one” and she just didn’t want to jinx it. Not yet.

 

Jack Wilenski had been working and dating since he was fifteen, but was twenty one when he happened into the New Lots Movie Theatre with a few hours to kill between deliveries.

“Two hotdogs, sauerkraut, relish and ketchup and box of Mallomars and an extra-large popcorn with butter and extra salt.”

Gertie was impressed with Jack’s prodigious appetite and gave him her sweetest smile.

“Is that enough?

“It has to be. I need to get through the door of my truck and fit in the cab.”

Jack’s girth intrigued Gertie. He seemed like he would not even fit in a theater seat, but he did.

Jack was attracted to Gertie, and Gertie was immediately smitten with Jack as well.

“So Jack…”

“How do you know my name?”

Gertie put her fingers on his massive chest where his name was stenciled on his UPS shirt.

“…are you going to sit in the balcony or in our comfortable loge seating?”

Jack opted for the roomier loge seats, and that gave Gertie a chance to visit him during the newsreel before the picture started. Miss Lee saw what was going on and readily gave Gertie the go-ahead and manned the fort while she slipped into the darkened theater.

Jack has wisely sat one seat in off the aisle, leaving that extra aisle seat vacant. Gertie slipped right into it as if magnetized. They both sat silently in the dark and watched the newsreel. After the Pathe rooster crowed, the news of the war over in Europe unfolded. Horrific footage of Hitler in Paris and sad pictures of London being bombed, blitzed they called it, over and over and little children being shipped out from their bombed out city homes to the safe haven of the country. Gertie had seen this newsreel three times already this week, but she still felt for those little British children having to leave their parents and go live on farms. Tears came to her eyes as she slipped her soft freckled hand into Jack’s hairy paw where it felt as safe as those kids on the farm up there on the screen.

 

“Jack! Such a masculine name,” Miss Lee cooed when Gertie came back to the concession stand. “What does he do?”

“He drives a truck for UPS.”

“Oh, he’ll go far.”

“If he has enough gas.”

Miss Lee sized Gertie up. “I think you like this one. Don’t ruin it by telling him how old you are.”

 

The day Bea met Jack, she was home sick from the A&P. It was a rare day when one of Sadie Sardoff’s children was allowed to loll around the apartment while losing part of a pay check. Sadie certainly had no time to mollycoddle an eighteen-year-old girl who had a simple tummy ache. Sadie had sewing to do. Taking in seams on a dress for Mrs. Auslander on the third floor. The dress had seen better days and so had Mrs. Auslander. Now that she was a widow, she was losing weight every day, which meant that Sadie had something new to take in almost every week and the steady stream of money was more than welcome.  But poor Mrs. Auslander was withering away from grief, thought Sadie, even though deep down she knew it was really cancer, that unutterable word.

“Ma, can you bring me some seltzer?”

Sadie answered her daughter in her old world accent.

“Gussie, get up and get for you’self. I’m in the middle from ripping the seam.”

“Bea, Ma…my name is Bea, not Gussie.”

Sadie ignored her daughter’s admonishment and took the opportunity to take a swipe at Sam, who was in his usual spot by the window.

“Maybe their father who sits in the vindow all day could get for you something to drink. Me, I’m too busy now.”

Just then there was a knock on the door.

“Vei is mir,” Sadie exclaimed in her native Yiddish, “Somebody get the door.”

Somebody did not include he to whom Sadie had not uttered one word since January of 1937.  Somebody was Bea.

“Ma, I’m sick.”

Bea’s whining fell on deaf ears as the roar of the sewing machine began, so Bea got up from the couch where she was lounging and eating polly seeds and went to the door and opened it a crack. Standing there was the burly and beefy man of her dreams, Jack Wilenski. He was helping a moving man friend move the furniture out from upstairs. The neighbor lady who lived up there died. Pinky, Bea had called her, because she dyed her hair pink.

Pinky was a mean old bat who hated the neighborhood kids who annoyed her with their games in the streets. She would yet at them from her third story window to keep quiet and then when they inevitably did not, she would throw a pot of hot water out onto the street hoping to scald a child or two. Lucky for the kids of the neighborhood, the landlord kept the boiler on low so that the hot water was only lukewarm. Now Pinky was dead and the neighborhood both mourned and rejoiced.

“Excuse me, but would you happen to have a glass of water for…”

Bea’s mouth fell open at this manly man in front of her and she quickly slammed the door in his face.  She then ran to the room she shared with Gertie and quickly put her hair in braids, which was no small task, considering how fast she did it. She finished the braids, pinched her cheeks, bit her lips and went back to the door and opened it again. She shot Jack her most dazzling smile and spoke as if she had never slammed the door in his face.

“Water, you say? Hot or cold?”

Jack looked at this strange young girl with the lopsided braids and blood trickling from the lip she bit too deeply and knew that he had to have her.

“Cold, please. But I bet when you touch a glass of ice water, it heats up to a boil.”

Looking at Jack with his name emblazoned on his sweat soaked shirt, Bea realized that her stomach ache was cured.

 

And so it happened that Jack Wilenski, ladies’ man of UPS, was juggling two ladies at the same time. Now you may wonder how Jack could be dating two sisters who lived under the same roof and not know it. It was strange, but true, that Jack only picked Gertie up for their dates after she finished work at the New Lots Movie Theatre and that he only picked Bea up near their home on Snediker Avenue. Gertie, who had been trained by her mother Sadie to never bring any man near the house, always made Jack drop her off two blocks away from home. Then she would walk the rest of the way. Bea, being the more rebellious of the sisters, met Jack on the stoop next door and allowed him to walk her almost home.

Still, the odds of one man dating two sisters and no one finding out about it were astronomical and could have made a gambler rich if he bet on the outcome. The gamblers of Brooklyn all bet on the numbers, but not one placed a bet on whether Jack would be found out. That he was, was inevitable. And it happened on a rainy night on Livonia Avenue under the El.

Bea and Gertie were soaked to the skin on that freezing December 6th evening. They had been to the movies together on Gertie’s night off. Gertie took her sister on her busman’s holiday to see the last showing of Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire in You’ll Never Get Rich. Miss Lee furnished them with one hotdog each, gratis, and they took their seats in the loge. The Pathe Newsreel was ominous and war seemed to be closer and closer to isolationist America, but Bea could only remember the joy of Astaire dancing with the gorgeous red-headed Rita. The Cole Porter songs were nice, but nothing like “Night and Day” or “Begin the Beguine” or Gertie’s favorite, “I Get A Kick Out of You.” Still, the magic of Astaire and Hayworth, that mix of class and sex, was enough to make the Sardoff sisters dance out of the theatre on air. When the sky opened up with lightning and thunder, at first they were oblivious, but then, they finally opened their umbrellas and walked a bit faster to get to their home on Snediker Avenue. It was at Livonia and Williams that they walked right into a shocked and soon to be distraught Jack Wilenski.

 

Bea’s son worked at Brookdale as a pharmacist and had kept a vigilant watch on his Aunt Gertie, making sure that her prescriptions were correct and that the nursing staff was considerate and kept his Aunt comfortable and alive.  He reported back to his mother and urged her to visit Gertie.

“Mom, I think it’s time. You need to come see your sister.”

Bea made her usual excuses, but decided then and there that it was, in fact, time. Her son had offered to drive her, but Bea, not wanting to impose on what was already a tenuous parental relationship, arranged a car service to take her to and from the far away hospital, and when the day approached found herself extremely nervous. She remembered that far away December in 1941. The day before everything changed.

 

“Jack!”

Both Sardoff sisters blurted out his name at the same time and both Sardoff sisters were shocked that the other knew the man standing before them. Jack looked befuddled.

“You girls know each other?” Jack asked as innocently as he could under the circumstances.

“Wait a minute,” said Gertie to Bea, “is this…”

“This isn’t the guy who picked you up at the movies, is it?” asked Bea.

“He didn’t pick me up.”

“Listen, I can explain,” muttered Jack with no idea how he would explain.

Gertie looked at Jack with fire in her eyes.

“You’ve been dating my sister?”

Jack’s eyes bulged out of his head like the overblown cartoon character he resembled.

“Sister?!”

Bea spoke now with the kind of steely cold intensity that showed a glimmer of the anger and bitterness she would inherit from her mother.

“You didn’t know we were sisters?”

“How would I know?”

“The arms of a Popeye and the brain of Swee’Pea.”

The rain came down even harder forcing the trio to huddle for shelter in the small vestibule of Fortunoff’s furniture store.

Bea turned to her sister accusingly.

“I can’t believe you betrayed me.”

“I betrayed you? You never told me who you were dating.”

“Neither did you. Just some big lug from the movies, you said.”

Jack was upset seeing the girls argue.

“Bea,” began Gertie.

Bea wanted to hear no more and turned her back on her sister and would not look at her. Finally, to no one in particular she said, “I have to go inside and pee. Please continue this fight without me.”

As Bea went into the store to find a ladies room. Gertie turned to Jack and spoke slowly and confidently. Confident as a lawyer asking a question to which he already knows the answer

“You have to choose.”

“What?” said Jack.

“You can’t have us both. So choose. I have to tell you though, that my older sister has plenty of suiters. So don’t worry about her if you choose me”

In fact, Jack had mentioned marriage to both sisters.  Jack spoke of the future times two.

Jack didn’t know what to say. He was not the brightest card in the deck and he never thought of Bea being older than Gertie.

“How old is Bea?”

Just then, Bea returned.

“What did I miss?”

“I told him he had to choose.”

Bea agreed.

“My sister is right. Choose.”

“I can’t choose. You’re both wonderful girls.”

“You can’t have two wives,” Gertie said pragmatically.  “Next he’ll want a harem.”

“Wives? Who said anything about wives or marriage or…”

Both sister answered at the same time.

“You did!”

And, in fact, Jack had mentioned marriage to both sisters.  Jack spoke of the future times two. There was talk of a house on Staten Island to Bea and of an apartment in Queen to Gertie. There were allusions to honeymoons in Niagara Falls and Miami, respectively. Bea and Jack would have four kids, while Gertie and Jack would have two. Jack had a lot of dreams and he was not going to pinned down to just a few of them. But now, in the small overhang of the Fortunoff sign, Jack was being pinned to the wall.

“I can’t think. I just can’t.”

Just then the rain subsided and the trio gingerly ventured out from under their shelter and began walking toward Snediker Avenue. Past Livonia and Williams, under the elevated rail that clattered above. Jack had been on the block where the Sardoff sisters lived, but had never actually gone all the way to their eight family four story dwelling. When they reached the stoop, they all stopped and stood silently.

“Well,” Gertie asked, “who is going to be?”

Before Jack could open his mouth, the front door of the building opened and there holding her dainty hand out to see if the rain had really stopped was a tiny, whip-thin old lady with powered porcelain skin and a slash of red where her mouth was. She was elegantly dressed as if it were twenty years earlier and she was about to go to the opera. On the top of her stiff dyed blonde head sat a perfect little hat with an egret plume reaching up to the moon. She carried a wooden folding bridge chair and a large black patent leather pocketbook. After she ascertained that the rain had stopped, she daintily walked down the stars, wobbling a bit on her high heels and passed right by the trio of Bea, Gertie and Jack on the still wet sidewalk. She then proceeded to walk into the carless street, unfold her wooden bridge chair and sit on it, daring any passing traffic to hit her. None dared. She then snapped open her black patent leather pocketbook and took out an already opened can of peas and a fork, which she proceeded to eat. She daintily at her peas gazing out on the horizon of Snediker and Alabama Avenue as if she were looking the ruins of Rome.

“That’s Tilly,” whispered Bea with some reverence. “She likes peas.”

Jack was pulled back into reality and realized he had been asked a question.

“Who is it going to be?”

He knew that he had to decide and he did.

“Tomorrow. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

With that answer, Jack tipped his hat and bid the Sardoff Sisters goodbye. As he walked down the street, the girls stood in front of their house, not saying a word to each other. It was clear to both of them that something had broken. Jack turned back when he reached the corner to look at Tilly, still eating her can of peas.

 

Tomorrow came and with it the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States was now officially in the World War. The Sardoff sisters sat huddled around their radio and shook their heads. They had not actually spoken to each other since the night before, but both forgot about Jack as the momentous news unfolded.

The next week Jack Wilenski was drafted and before he could be shipped out for basic training, he came to the New Lots Movie Theater in his newly issued Army uniform and approached the concession stand where Miss Lee was loading the popcorn machine with the little pellets of corn that would explode with joy in the glass bubble, ready for butter and salt and the next showing of Shadow of the Thin Man.

With that one lie, she wrote the pages of the rest of her life.

“Well, if it isn’t the “Shadow of the Not So Thin Man,” quipped Miss Lee through pursed lips. But despite her lips, Miss Lee’s eyes lit up when she saw Jack in his uniform. She was impressed that the US Army even made uniforms that big.

“Is Gertie here?”

“What if she is? She doesn’t want to talk to you unless you’re here to propose.”

Just then Gertie emerged in her crisp white uniform from the back where she had gone to get the raw hotdogs to put on the spits.

“Miss Lee! I never said I wanted him to propose.”

“Yes, you…Well! Excuse me for living. I’ll just go back and check on our supply of real creamery butter.”

“I think you better.”

Miss Lee went to the store room in a huff and Jack and Gertie were alone.

Gertie was shy, but thought, “He came to me. Either he is going to tell me that he wants to marry Bea or he is going to sweep me off my feet.”  Gertie decided then and there that she would not let Jack get away.

“Gert…”

“I know. You want me to wait for you. Right?”

Jack nodded shyly, but still had one question.

“Gertie, how old are you?”

“Old enough to know better, but young enough to not care.”

“Really,” said Jack with great sincerity.

Gertie thought about that for a minute. One minute that would change the lives of Sardoff sisters.

“I’m twenty, Jack.”

And with that one lie, Bea’s older sister Gertie won the twenty one year old Jack by shaving seven years off her age.

With that one lie, Bea’s older sister Gertie paved the way for Bea to meet and marry the man who would give her four children. With that one lie, Gertie became the younger Sardoff sister forever and wrote the pages for the rest of her life. She would have to think carefully and count on her fingers for decades to remember what age she was supposed to be. She would have to endure the looks of displeasure emanating from her sister every time age came up in a conversation. And when Jack made Gertie a surprise 50th birthday party in 1971, Bea did not attend.

 

Bea pressed the elevator button for the tenth floor of Brookdale Hospital. Even though she had given birth to two of her four children in this hospital when it as still called Beth-El, Bea was nervous about being here.  When she got off the elevator on the tenth floor, Bea asked at the nurses’ station for Mrs. Wilenski.  A bored orderly pointed to Gertie’s room. Bea cautiously approached the doorway and pulled herself up to her 5’2” height and walked in to see her sister.

“Well,” complained Bea, “I finally made it. You can’t imagine the trip from Long Island. Endless. And don’t even talk about the money I had to spend. This was not an easy trip to undertake. And I haven’t been feeling one hundred percent myself. Let me tell you, Gertie, Brooklyn has changed so much since I left. I don’t know how you people can stand the mishogas. I mean the noise, the traffic, the congestion…and the rudeness of the people at this God-forsaken hospital…it’s enough to turn your hair grey.”

As she said the words, she noticed that her sister had let her hair go grey. No more that brassy dyed redhead that won Jack, Gertie now looked like an old lady. A sick old lady. Of course, Bea, and no one else, knew what Gertie’s real age was.

Gertie had been staring ahead into space when her sister arrived. She never thought she would live to see this day. Gertie thought of all the months that Bea had not come to visit. Six whole months of lying and waiting. Six months. Gertie’s face did not reveal what she was thinking, but when Bea sat down on the chair next to the bed to have a real chat with her sister, Gertie turned her head away to the wall and refused to acknowledge her presence.

“Gert…don’t be stupid…Gertie.”

But Gertie held fast and kept her head turned from her sister. Bea would never forget the feeling of having her own sister turn away from her. Finding herself speechless for the first time in her life, Bea sat silently for a few minutes and then got up, put on her coat and said goodbye to her sister. Gertie never responded.  She died a few days later, with her head still turned to the wall.

 

On the night of December 6, 1941, Sam Sardoff was on his usual perch staring out the window. The rain had just subsided and the streets looked like gold. Sam could remember when he first came to this country and his friends who had come before him had bragged that there was gold in the streets.  When Sam looked down in the gutter that first day off of Ellis Island, he was astonished to see that his friends were right. They didn’t lie. There really was gold in the streets. Sam saw it and bent down to pick it up, but when he got it closer to his face, he could see that the gold in his hand was chewing tobacco and nothing more. From that moment on, Sam was disillusioned with America. He did what he needed to do. He married, he had five children and worked to support them until that fateful day in 1934 when his sewing machine broke and he decided that was it. He was done. That was when Sam sat himself in the window and watched the world go by.

That December night Sam watched as his two daughters walked up to the stoop with a burly man he had never seen before. He watched as they watched that crazy Tilly go outside with her bridge chair and eat peas in the middle of the gutter. He watched as they continued their silent conversation without a smile. When the stranger, who would become his son-in-law, left, Sam watched as his two daughters walked up the stairs to the front door together. They seemed to him to be in synch, like the two girls riding a tandem bicycle he once saw at Coney Island.  Through the prism of glass dotted with raindrops, Sam saw the Sardoff Sisters, always walking in tandem through the years, inseparable. He smiled inside to know that tomorrow would bring nothing to change that.

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About Stephen Cole 0 Articles
Stephen Cole is an award winning, internationally produced, published and recorded writer. His produced musicals include After the Fair, The Night of the Hunter, Dodsworth, Saturday Night at Grossingers, Casper-The Musical, Inventing Mary Martin, Piano Bar, The Road to Qatar!, Time after Time, Rock Odyssey, Merlin's Apprentice, Aspire (the first American musical to be commissioned and performed in the Middle East), and others have been produced from New York City to London to Australia to Qatar. Several are available on CD and have been published as well. His awards include the prestigious Edward Kleban Award, five Dallas Theatre League Awards, an Outer Critic's Circle nomination for Best Off Broadway Musical, an Honorable Mention for Best Lyrics from the NY Musical Theatre Festival and the Gilman-Gonzalez Falla Commendation for his work in Musical Theatre. His books include a biography of Noel Coward and That Book About That Girl (recently republished digitally), an official companion to the famous Marlo Thomas TV series and the critically acclaimed Marni Nixon’s memoir I Could Have Sung All Night (soon to be a major motion picture). Stephen has written material for such stars as Christine Baranski, Marlo Thomas, JoAnne Worley, Christine Ebersole, Chita Rivera, Hal Linden, Gavin MacLeod, Dorothy Loudon, Liz Smith, Mike Wallace and many others. As a producer/director he has put together an all-star tribute to Kander and Ebb for the Morgan Library starring Liza Minnelli, Barbara Cook and David Hyde Pierce, and a series of CD’s culled from his private collection entitled Mermania. Current projects include Goin' Hollywood, Merman's Apprentice The Black and White Ball for the theatre and a novel in progress about Ethel Merman and Mary Martin and their fabulous rivalry and secret friendship entitled Sacred Monsters.

8 Comments

  1. What a beautifully crafted story. Finely written, well researched and clever. A tightly knit story that so touched me. Bravo, Stephen Cole!

  2. I really enjoyed this richly detailed and engrossing tale. The characters’ various resentments and illusions paint a moving portrait of family life that cannot fail to resonate, while Mr. Cole’s polished, vigorous prose delivers a vivid 1941 Brooklyn from newsreel to soda jerk. If you are an aspiring writer, you could learn much from the craft of this fine story.

  3. Awesome story, pulled me inside with the sister’s relationship.
    My sister and I were inseparable too and pulled apart by a man’s lies…we lost ten precious years.
    Thankfully, my sister called me one day and said, “Mom told me to make-up with you, you have to come see me” (Our mom had been dead for six years.) Giving the urgency my sister relayed to me, I flew 1800 miles to see her and then back home.
    It was an awesome visit, but the very next weekend I had to fly back again because our oldest sister’s son died from alcohol poisoning.
    If we hadn’t of made up, we wouldn’t have both been there for my older sister,one of us would have stayed away.
    God knew she would need us both beside her to face her son’s death.
    Life is full of miracles.

  4. I really enjoyed this story. Beautifully written and detailed so well that I could smell the hot dogs as they plumped up on the spit at the New Lots movie house. It also made me cry because I identified with Gertie and it made me think I should get in touch with my own little sister! Thank you, Stephen.

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