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UNCLE ISAAC / Steven Schwartz MY UNCLE ISAAC'S SEXUALITY, according to my father's theory, had been marked by the hatf-woman. Isaac, at thirteen, would sneak into the basement of the Phüadelphia Medical Museum where a woman's torso floated in formaldehyde. It was 1933, and here—beneath the museum's upper floors with their pubUc exhibits—research and training about venereal disease was taking place. In a reinforced glass case, at the back of a laboratory room füled with charts and diagrams of progressive syphüis, rested the half-woman, clean of infection except for a lesion on her left breast. Isaac would stand transfixed in front of the haU-woman, unable to turn away until the danger of discovery became greater than his fascination with the blue-white breasts preserved in their fluid, their otherwise perfect shape and appearance marred only by this blemish. I felt sorry for my uncle when I heard this story. I don't know what he thought about on those visits. Who had she been? Would she have loved him? Could he have saved her? Would she have let him touch her? When my father told me the story of the half-woman, as a way, I think, to explain something to himself about Uncle Isaac, I was fifteen and I already knew sex could drive a person crazy with curiosity. And in 1933, without access to any books or magazines or even textbooks, perhaps the half-woman was Uncle Isaac's only recourse. This, though, I think was my explanation for what I found incomprehensible, too. Isaac, eventuaUy caught by one of the doctors, was punished by his father, forbidden to leave the house for weeks, beaten and told he had a filthy mind. "Our father should have never done that," my father told me. "Then maybe none of this would have happened." My father felt protective toward Isaac, who was his younger brother. Isaac had weak lungs and had almost died of pneumonia at an early age. And, too, he could not talk weU with people. My father, on the other hand, blue-eyed and taU, gregarious and warm, was popular with the customers—Isaac and he were partners in a furniture store. They were supposed to be equal partners, but it The Missouri Review · 292 was my father who made aU the major decisions. Isaac did Uttle in the way of selling, coming out from behind the cashier's window only if it was absolutely necessary, whereas my father would do anything to make a sale: put his hand over his heart, sigh, cluck, moan, appear to pray, purse his Ups, shield his eyes, smack his forehead, fan himself, raise his hands to God, and even make his eyes moist—aU in the service of selling a Barcalounger. Isaac, meanwhUe, took care of the books. There was a period when I was about eight years old that Uncle Isaac began seeing a woman who worked next door at the bank. A red-head, she would meet Isaac right outside the store and they'd go off to lunch together every afternoon. He would say goodbye to her outside, too, and never introduced her to my father. One day she wasn't there, they had broken off, and shortly thereafter the woman moved out of town. For two weeks Uncle Isaac didn't come into work and then when he did there was something slow about the way he moved, as if he'd been physicaUy ill. My father and mother talked about him in their bedroom at night and although I tried, I could only make out whispers. I asked my father during this time why Uncle Isaac had never married and an uncomfortable look came over his face, one that I would later understand meant he was giving me an answer he thought best, though not necessarily true. "Some people are just happier alone," he said. Unsatisfied, I went to Isaac himsetf. "Why didn't you marry the red-headed lady?" "She went away, Andrew." "Why?" "She wanted to Uve in another town." "Why?" Uncle Isaac smüed at me. "Here," he said. "Why don't...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 191-203
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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