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Sarai and Atahualpa ROBERTA KALECHOFSKY I Sarai's cousins, Leila and Rivke, sat on die daybed, dieir hair suspiciously hennaed. They were two years apart, but looked almost like twins. Faded freckles were their outstanding feature, delicate legs, dolllike hands and feet, small frames overladen widi bosom. Their apartment was on the fourdi floor, two bedrooms, a kitchenette , a pink stucco terrace off the living room. It was a modern apartment house in Lima. The terrace looked toward die Pacific Ocean, a bedroom window looked out on the Andes, Machu Picchu and Cuzco buried in its ribs, Indian villages and descendants of Incas scattered among die cliffs. The visitors paid condolence calls. Leila's sons and dieir wives came, an old business partner, neighbors, old friends. They came chastely, did dieir best to ignore grief and left. "A shame," a neighbor said, "to take such a trip all the way from Israel only to bury his mother." Respectful eyes examined die tragedy, not too far and not too closely. Benyamin sat in an armchair and picked at his thumbnails, a gesture that in no way conveyed his feelings but had to do in lieu of anydiing else. He avoided his cousins' eyes. The red in diem was terrible. They looked at him widi faces drained of heroic pretensions. For forty years Sarai had planned diis trip to visit "her last remaining relatives from the old world." All dieir lives Leila and Rivke had planned to go to Israel. For forty years letters went back and forth. Then Benyamin's mother, the adventurous Sarai, as she was fixed in Roberta Kalechofsky lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Her stories and articles have appeared widely and a novel, Orestes in Progress, was published by Micah Publications in 1975. ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW173 her cousins' minds, took die initiative. Her husband was dead. It was time to travel. Leila and Rivke, widowed too, six and seven years respectively , were flung back and fordi between youdi and old age. The past crashed into die present and produced an acute attack of vanity. Sarai always inspired in diem a volatile mixture of mockery and awe, envy and love. She was "the brains" of die family, a reference filled widi dark allusions to admirable but tricky ideas. They were the ones with "good sense," an honor not altogether so admirable. Forty-five years ago when they had parted company in Kerch on the Black Sea, Sarai had done die typical diing for Sarai. She went to Palestine widiout a friend, widiout an address, only widi a membership card in a workman's organization. A year later a picture of herself on a kibbutz arrived. She stood with anodier girl, the two surrounded by six men. The letter diat came with die picture said diat's how diey live: she and die odier girl and die six men. She looked die same to Rivke and Leila but, considering the situation , reasonably different: old-fashioned braids wound around her head, the unhandsome bosom, same as theirs, oppressing a narrow chest, the ungainly skirt to the ankle, the desperately ill-fitting blouse. But die eyes and the mouth ! Bold ! Wiped of all sobriety. Same as the men's in die picture. Rivke shivered beneath their expressions while thoughts rose unbidden to the mind. "Some workmen's circle," she said, and Sarai became for diem die paragon of modern adventure. She had, it seemed, stepped out of die pages of the Communist Manifesto onto die sands of Israel, pitchfork in hand. When her letter came, Rivke and Leila went immediately to die Turkish badi in the basement of their building. They would not be washed ashore on a — to Sarai — peculiar strip of beach. Everything diey owned, had collected for forty years, was suddenly inadequate. Since dieir mutual widowhood, conveniently experienced within a year of each odier, they had taken diis apartment togedier. Deadi had come. A change was due. But it was die only change diey had managed, and that widi much gnashing of teeth. They loved their old neighborhood, 174SARAI AND ATAHUALPA die one Rivke's daughter called a ghetto. They moved into a new, pink apartment building and opened stout...


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