ne fine morning Klara woke up early. She was required to appear in court
that afternoon and needed every hour to prepare. In fact, her testimony was
so crucial that she had been given the whole day off. But Klara had not yet
decided what to say.
The squirrel lady next door had also risen early. By the time Klara opened
her front door, she was already throwing her peanuts into the trees.
"If I don't feed them, who will?" the squirrel lady said, possibly noting
Klara's disapproval. "It's winter. You tell me. Who will?"
Klara felt it would be difficult to answer the question without bias. So she
only said good-morning, and went to buy bread. The bakery in her
neighborhood sold two kinds: challah and rye. Every Tuesday Klara bought
rye and every Friday she bought challah.
On the way to the bakery Klara was intercepted by a protest march. One
hundred people were going one way and Klara was going the other, but they
swept Klara up and carried her on their shoulders for several blocks before
she was able to make it clear that her destination had been the bakery.
They set her down gently. "Tell the truth," said a short fat man, winking.
His words were taken up as a chant by the other ninety-nine as they marched
away, banging drums.
Klara trudged back up the street and bought rye bread without seeds, because
the bakery was out of the seeded kind. She was already behind schedule. She
had to think about her testimony and not about the broken fence, the water
bill, what to make for dinner, or when to do the laundry.
When Klara returned to her house the squirrel lady was watching from a crack
in her curtains according to her usual habit. The stray cat on the stoop
was missing an eye. Klara opened the door and put the bread in the kitchen
and went upstairs because the telephone was ringing. It was Klara's
"Love, love, love," said Joseph.
"I know," said Klara, "but I have that thing, remember?"
"You'll be great, kiddo," said Joseph. Then they talked about dinner, as if
he would be able to come home that very evening. Joseph had been away for
six years, three months, and seventeen days.
After the telephone call, Klara waited for the mail to come, before which
she could not possibly concentrate. But when the mail carrier arrived, she
delivered nothing but advertisements. Disappointed, Klara performed a series
of calisthenics, because she found physical activity mentally stimulating.
That made her hungry for lunch. Time flies, thought Klara as she sliced
tomatoes for a sandwich. I have few hours left in which to think. She
decided to think on the walk to the subway, so that she would be able to eat
lunch without being distracted and perhaps falling prey to indigestion.
Once Klara had rinsed the dishes, she left the house with a bag containing a
notebook and pen. There was a newsstand on the corner, so Klara bought a
newspaper. The vendor took Klara's money and, gesticulating passionately,
launched into what appeared to be a stream of advice about the hearing.
Klara nodded, but since she did not understand the vendor's language, his
words were of no use to her.
The entrance to the subway was several blocks away. Klara opened the
newspaper to read as she walked. She looked at the editorial page first, to
see if anyone she knew had written a letter. No one had. The pages flapped
in the wind.
A loud whistle made Klara look up. A man was grinning at her from a passing
car. Klara was wearing a large, shapeless coat and a wide-brimmed hat.
Neither her face nor her figure were visible. Why, then, had he whistled?
Klara reflected on the symbolic nature of the relation between the sexes
until she reached the subway stop.
There she entered into a discussion with the woman in the ticket booth
regarding whether she would be allowed to buy a token given that she had
arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong change. Klara,
used to the disciplinary rituals of public transportation, made very little
protest and was finally allowed upon the platform.
When the train arrived, Klara stepped into a subway car and saw her affinity
group sprawled among the seats in various attitudes of fervor and despair.
Evidently a meeting was in progress. Her friends greeted her warmly and
nominated her as both facilitator and note-taker. It did not seem fair, but
at a time like this Klara would not refuse her services. After a lively
discussion, the group reached a consensus to change the system of government
at the first possible opportunity. Klara recorded the decision in her
notebook and got off the subway at City Hall.
Apparently the courtrooms had been renovated. The last time Klara had gone
before a judge the wooden benches had been covered with graffiti and the
lightbulbs had flickered throughout the trial. The room had been so small
that the handful present to hear Joseph sentenced constituted a crowd. Now
Klara was ushered into a large bright room that appeared nearly empty,
although many people were present.
Klara realized that she had not had time to consider her testimony. She
would have to think on her feet. When she reached the front of the room,
she shook hands with those she could find, although the light was rather
blinding and she was not at all sure that she was not ignoring somebody
important. If the proceedings were being televised, she hoped that Joseph
was not watching.
"We've been waiting for quite some time," said a voice a little higher than
Klara and to the right. It was the bailiff.
Klara was sure that she had arrived early, but she did not wish to make an
issue of it. "I'm ready," she said.
A microphone was abruptly shoved in front of her mouth and the
cross-examination began. "What is to be done?" asked the stenographer.
At last Klara began to think.
"What is to be done?" repeated a clerk, with some impatience. Whereupon the
question was taken up by many voices.
"What is to be done? What is to be done? What is to be done?"
Klara opened her mouth to speak. She realized that whatever she said would
be a lie.
Miriam Fried has published work in The Baltimore Review and The North Central Review. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Temple University, where she received the Frances Israel Manuscript Prize for a collection of short stories. A long-time Philadelphia resident, she is moving to England in the fall.
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story copyright by author 2004 all rights reserved