Cross Off and Move On

International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos
A young girl in Soviet Georgia, 1947; photograph by Robert Capa

Adela, Bernice, and Charna, the youngest—all gone for a long time now, blurred into a flock sailing through memory, their long, thin legs streaming out beneath the fluffy domes of their mangy fur coats, their great beaky noses pointing the way.

They come to mind not so often. They come to mind only as often as does my mother, whose rancor toward them, my father’s sisters, imbued them with a certain luster and has linked them to her permanently in the distant and shadowy arena of my childhood that now—given the obit in today’s Times of violinist Morris Sandler—provides most of the space all four of them still occupy on this planet.

I was preparing to eat. I’d plunked an omelet onto a plate, sat down in front of it, folded the paper in such a way that I could maneuver my fork between my supper and my mouth and still read, and up fetched Cousin Morrie’s picture, staring at me. Of course I didn’t exactly recognize Morrie, and if I hadn’t glanced at the photo again and been snagged by the small headline, I might have gone on for years assuming that my only known remaining relative was out there somewhere.

The tether snapped and I shot upward, wafting around for a moment outside of Earth’s gravitational pull, then dropped heavily back down into my chair next to my supper, cracks branching violently through my equanimity, from which my family, such as it was, came seeping. I picked up the phone, I put it down, I picked it up, I put it down, I picked it up and dialed, and Jake answered on the first ring. “Yes?” he said wearily.

“Oh, Christ,” I said, and hung up.

I dialed again and again he answered immediately. “My cousin died,” I said.

“Your cousin?”

“Cousin Morrie. The violinist.”

“Did I ever meet him?” Jake said.

“No,” I said. “You never met him. Though you once saw a letter he—but wait!” my heart started to thud around clumsily, like a narcolept on a trampoline. “Why are we talking about you? This is about my cousin.” I started to read: “‘Morris Sandler, violin virtuoso, dies at 66. Sandler was known as—’”

“‘At 66,’” Jake said. “At 66, at 93, at 14, at 75—at 66 what? Those numbers just aren’t the point, are they.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I’ve been working. I’m at the lab. I’m sorry about your cousin. I didn’t remember that you had one. You weren’t close to him, were you?”

I held the receiver away from me and stared at it.

He sighed. “Listen, do you want me to come by?”

“No,” I said, though I did want him to come by. Or, I fiercely wanted him to come by, but only…

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