Mrs. Brophy's Jews

Connotation Press 2011

—Come into the house, the lady said. I won’t hurt you. It’s my eighty- fifth birthday today.

—Happy birthday I said, as I stepped by her into the living room. And, I smiled, I’m not afraid that you’ll hurt me.

—Well I could if I wanted to, she said screwing her face up as she spoke. Go on into the kitchen. Go ahead. She made pushing movements with her hands.

—There was a path between the stacks of newspapers that I began to follow with her right behind me clicking her teeth as she walked. The papers were almost five feet high—just about the woman’s height. Looking over them I saw that they filled the room. I looked around as I walked and saw cobwebs, huge ones, in every corner and I could feel my allergies creeping into my sneeze passages.

—Something to drink, she asked after we both entered the kitchen, which was shiny clean with empty countertops save for a small TV but not a newspaper to be seen. She opened the refrigerator and I saw it was neat, barely filled and had everything either wrapped in plastic wrap or in Tupperware. She brought out a container of milk and a Tupperware, walked to the cabinet and brought back two glasses and sat down. She poured milk for the two of us and then opened the plastic container and showed me an almost full package of Oreos. She took one, dunked it in her milk and bit from it.

—Well? She asked. Are you going to let me eat my birthday cookies alone?

—I couldn’t do that, I told her and grabbed, dunked and bit into a fresh Oreo. I tried to remember the last time I’d dunked a cookie but couldn’t. I took another and soaked it in the milk. I felt like a kid back in my grandmother’s kitchen.

—Don’t get too cozy with those, Mister, she said. They don’t grow on trees.

—But I still have some milk left and it’s your birthday I said.

—Yes, but it’s not your birthday she said wagging her finger at me.

—Last one I said grabbing a cookie as she was pulling them away from me.

—You’re a quick one, you are. Tell me again why you’re here. It better not be for my land.

—As a matter of fact, Mrs. Brophy, I am here about your land. I’d like to buy it.

—Go on. Get out of here. Where will I go? Do you land people ever think about that? Of course not she answered. And to think I wasted my birthday celebration on you.

—It wasn’t wasted, Mrs. Brophy. I took out a roll of lifesavers, peppermint, and offered her one and she took it.

—Don’t think that’ll soften me up she said softening her tone. You can’t sweet-talk me with sweets. She laughed at her own joke and took the roll and put it in her apron pocket. What’s your name? Why don’t I know your name? Did you tell me already?

—Well I did on the phone but that was a couple of days ago. It’s Mirsky. My name is Mirsky.

—What’s Mirsky? Eyetalian? Jew?

—Jew I said.

—You sure you’re not a Jew lawyer? Wouldn’t have any other kind of lawyer.

—You shouldn’t have any other kind of land man either I told her in a confidential tone.

—I’m busy, Murky. Time for you to go.

—We haven’t spoken yet, Mrs. Brophy, and it’s Mirsky.

—Don’t correct me, Murky. Have respect for your elders. Once again she laughed at her own wit.

—I respect you and that’s why I want you to hear me out I told her and then continued before she could get in her next shot. I want to buy your land but you won’t have to worry about where you’re going because you can stay in this house as long as you want.

—Fifty years?

—Even sixty I said.

—What’s the catch?

—No catch and I told her how much money I’d give her and that she could stay in the house for the rest of her life for free, I’d even pay the taxes.

—Let me think about it she said but you can call Bernstein and tell him.

—I take it Bernstein’s your Jew lawyer?

—Don’t be dumb she said Bernstein’s my Jew accountant. Slotnik is my Jew lawyer and now I can say that Murky’s my Jew land man.

—Two months later we three Jews were sitting around Mrs. Brophy’s kitchen table signing papers and dunking Oreos. I slid her a roll of lifesavers that rapidly disappeared into her apron pocket. It had become as much a ritual as the Oreos and I never changed from peppermint for fear of setting her off. She pulled a piece of paper out from her pocket and handed it to Slotnik and told him to call the name written down and twenty minutes later Mr. Pin Stripe Suit walked into the kitchen with his briefcase and sat down.

—Meet my Jews, Junior, she said to James Wolcott III the bank president as she handed him the check. Wolcott didn’t introduce himself but nodded and got up saying goodbye only to Mrs. Brophy and walked back out.

—Barrel of laughs she said reaching for an Oreo, barrel of laughs and she laughed once again at her own joke.

—We Jews got up, said our goodbyes to Mrs. Brophy and left, all going our separate ways. I looked back at Mrs. Brophy’s house and she was standing in the doorway. She motioned me over. I was always told you guys stick together she said.

—That’s only in the movies I told her. What’s with the newspapers I finally asked her?

—Mr. Brophy, God rest his soul, said to keep them for a rainy day.

—Well with all your money now you won’t have to worry about that, will you?

—I’m kind of used to them now but if you know someone who’ll haul them away I’d appreciate it.

—No problem I said. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.

—I’ll let you in on a little secret she said and covered her mouth as she laughed. I’d have sold you my land for less money, a lot less.

—That’s okay, Mrs. Brophy, I said and winked at her. I’d have paid a lot more for it.

—Her smile gone, she reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the roll of peppermint Life Savers and handed it to me. She turned and went back into her house. I popped a Life Saver and drove off.


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