Garth’s new trousers had three pleats on either side  of the zip. Until now, he had worn skin-tight, pegged legged Levis. Miriam looked at Garth. She found the  loose space between his legs alluring. She started to think about what lay behind those parallel pleats. 

Not since Miriam was seventeen had she felt lustful  just looking at a man’s crotch.  

Out of bed, Miriam rarely felt sexually aroused. She  had enough trouble feeling that way in bed. Where  were the children? Could they hear? Was she ovulat ing? Should she use Ultrasure With Spermicidal Creme  or Nuda Natural Feeling condoms? What was the  time? Did she have to get up early in the morning?  These were the questions that occupied Miriam when  sex seemed imminent.  

A distant memory flickered in Miriam’s head. She  quickly tried to calculate how old she would have been  in the 1950s, when all men wore pleats in their pants.  She had been, just, still young enough to sit on her  father’s lap, and crush him with hugs when he came  home from work .  

Miriam had always adored her father. She still did.  She couldn’t resist his generosity and his sense of  humor. She loved the way that he turned beetroot red  and cried when he laughed. If he laughed at the dinner  table, pieces of fish or chicken would fly from his  mouth and land on the other side of the kitchen.  

Miriam’s girlfriends also adored her father. “Mr  Bloom, Mr Bloom, can you drive us to Luna Park?”  they would beseech him. On Saturdays and Sundays  Mr Bloom could be seen driving through the streets  of Melbourne, his pink Pontiac Parisenne full of  chattering, gum-chewing fourteen year-olds.  

If they passed Leo’s Spaghetti Bar, in Fitzroy street,  the girls knew that they could rely on Mr Bloom to  shout them to a round of chocolate gelatis.  

Mr Bloom loved gelati. Before the war, in Lodz,  Poland, Mr Bloom used to spend more money a week  on ice-cream than most people earned.  

Mr Bloom came from one of the wealthiest Jewish  families in Lodz. They owned apartment blocks,  knitting mills and a timber yard. Mr Bloom, at sixteen,  was in charge of the timber yard. He doubled the turnover, fiddled the books, and pocketed the profit.  Nobody noticed.  

Even as a schoolboy, Mr Bloom never used public  transport. He went everywhere by droshky. He single handedly supported two droshkies and their drivers.  At eighteen, he bought himself a dark red Skoda  sportscar.  

Mr Bloom met Mrs Bloom when she was the very  quiet, studious, extraordinarily beautiful Basia  Roddem.  

Mr and Mrs Roddem, pious, hard-working, respec ed members of the Jewish community, lived in two  small rooms with their seven children. Mrs Roddem  paid the caretaker of their block a couple of zlotys  extra, a week, to keep one of the external toilets solely  for the use of the Roddem family. Basia was always  grateful for this luxury.  

Green-eyed Basia’s ambition was to study medicine.  She was not easily deterred from her studies. 

Mr Bloom wooed this red-haired, slim-hipped,  serious sixteen year old, fervently. He bought her an  eighteen-carat solid gold Rolex watch. He bought her  French perfumes and Swiss chocolates. He bought her  the first pineapple that she had ever seen, and peaches  and strawberries.  

Just as Basia finished high school and was preparing  to leave for the University of Brussels, Germany in vaded Poland. All Jews living in Lodz were ordered  to move to a slum area of the city. In this ghetto they  were completely cut off from the rest of the world.  

Mr and Mrs Roddem urged Basia to marry Mr  Bloom. They thought that she would be better off with  his family.  

In their haste and confusion the Bloom family had  only been able to pack a few valuables. At the end of  that first year in the ghetto, they were as poor and as  hungry as everyone else. They had sold their last  diamond, a blue-white 2.4 carat stone in a heavy  eighteen-carat gold setting, for a sack of potato peels.  

Potato peels were a luxury in the ghetto. You had  to have good connections in the public kitchens to buy  this delicacy. You also had to know whether the  kitchen used knives or potato peelers. Peels from the kitchens that used potato peelers were mostly just thin  films of dirt.  

Miriam hated hearing about the potato peels. It  seemed too pathetic. Worse than the stories about  children dying in the streets, and relatives killing each  other for a piece of bread, and trainload after train load of people being shipped out of the ghetto never  to be heard of again.  

When Miriam was twelve, she had boiled herself a  pot of potato peels. She had often wondered what they  tasted like. She was half-way through her first  mouthful when Mrs Bloom came home unexpectedly.  Mrs Bloom, who had never laid a hand on either of  her daughters, took the bowl of potato peels. Then,  screaming and crying, she shook Miriam by the hair  until Miriam fainted.  

The thought of her father’s penis made Miriam feel  nauseous. If she thought about her father in sexual  terms, she would have to think about him fucking her  mother. She tried to blink that thought out of her  head.  

Miriam used to be able to blink thoughts out of her  head. She would grit her teeth, and blink hard three  times, and the thought would disappear. Now, three  years into an analysis, Miriam knew that there was  no magic in blinking.  

At seventeen, Miriam was having furtive sex  regularly, if erratically, with her first serious boy friend. One evening, with her puce-faced boyfriend  hovering above her, Miriam was suddenly seized with  the thought that maybe her parents were doing the  same thing, in their bedroom across the hallway. Her  stomach heaved, and she vomited and vomited.  

Fortunately, Miriam’s boyfriend considered himself  an existential eccentric. He felt that this messy, smelly,  potentially humiliating episode, merely added to the  interesting experiences of his life.  

Melbourne is a small city. Years later, people still  asked Miriam if it was true that she had chucked all  over Johnny Rosenberg while he was fucking her.  

Garth looked like Mr Bloom. He was pale-skinned  and dark-haired, with heavy-lidded, large brown eyes.  Garth, Miriam’s second non-Jewish husband, at least  looked Jewish. Miriam saw this as progress. Frank,  her first husband, was six foot two tall, with blond  hair and blue eyes. A perfect Aryan prototype. At  nineteen, Miriam had ended her adolescent rebellion  with a bang by marrying Frank.  

“Australian men,” Mrs Bloom had told Miriam  regularly, “go to the pub every day after work. They  don’t come home until after the children are in bed.  When they come home they are not interested in what  they eat. Probably they have eaten a pie in the pub.  What sort of life would that be for you, Miriam? And  when it comes to the private things of life, an  Australian husband will handle you very badly. They  won’t touch you gently.”  

Mrs Bloom never touched Miriam or her sister. When she kissed them hello and goodbye, she planted  the peck firmly in mid-air.  

Every evening when Mr Bloom came home from  work, he would grab Mrs Bloom by the bum, and kiss  her loudly. Mrs Bloom would try to shrug him off.  “Look at your beautiful mummy,” he would say to  the girls. “My little Basia, what a beauty.” By this time  Mrs Bloom would have wriggled out of his grip, and  busied herself serving the dinner.  

In Auschwitz, Mrs Bloom slept on the top row of  bunks in her barracks. She was jammed in so tightly  among the other prisoners that none of them could  move. If one person wanted to turn over, the whole  row had to turn over. Most of the prisoners suffered  from chronic diarrhoea and the bunks leaked.  

Immediately after the war, Mrs Bloom experienced  a strange isolation. She had become used to the con stant contact of other bodies, and for a while she felt  bereft without them.  

“You’ll be going back to your roots if you marry  me,” was one of the lines that Garth used to persuade  Miriam to lea:ve her husband. He pursued her relent lessly. He phoned her several times a day, wrote poems  for her, painted her portrait, bought her a gold Parker  pen and a black leather-bound notebook. Then came  the jewellery. Miriam loved rings. Garth bought her  garnet rings, emerald rings, ruby rings, sapphire rings,  and a magnificent art-deco diamond ring.  

In the end, Miriam couldn’t resist the adoration, and  she left the husband she’d been living happily with for  thirteen years.  

Even before her analysis, Miriam knew that she  loved being adored. And Garth adored her. He  watched her closely. He was always looking at her.  In seven years he had painted over five hundred  portraits of her. Last year he had an exhibition of his  paintings in Sydney. The exhibition was called Pictures  of Miriam. One hundred and eight portraits of Miriam  hung from the walls of the Creighton Galleries.  

Miriam got up from the breakfast table. “I think  I’ll have a shower,” she said to Garth. Miriam found  it difficult to wash. She found it an ordeal. Miriam  only showered when she had to wash her hair.  

Mrs Bloom showered every morning and every  evening. And at night, if Mr and Mrs Bloom had had  a fuck, Miriam used to hear the bathroom taps gushing  at full throttle while Mrs Bloom furiously washed  herself out.  

Mrs Bloom kept her house as clean as she kept her  body. She washed the floors every day. Twice a week  she stripped the stove and the fridge. Once a week,  balancing a large bucket of water on top of a ladder,  she cleaned the windows. Mrs Bloom vacuumed the  carpet when Mr Bloom and the girls left in the  mornings, and again after dinner.  

Sometimes, Miriam didn’t change her pantyhose for  a fortnight. The feet would become rigid. Miriam wondered if the dirt held the pantyhose together and  made them last longer.  

Mr and Mrs Bloom visited Miriam every Tuesday  and Friday night. They usually stayed for about three quarters of an hour.  

For years Miriam felt that they only came to see the  children. They were besotted by their grandchildren .  Mr Bloom would look at Miriam’s son Chase, who  at sixteen was already six feet tall, and say, “whoever  would have thought I would live to have  grandchildren.”  

Mrs Bloom went straight to Miriam’s kitchen sink,  and, in her Yves St Laurent silk blouse, her Kenzo  trousers and her Maud Frizon shoes, she washed and  scoured and dried until everything gleamed.  

Even at home, Mrs Bloom never wore an apron or  work clothes. She cleaned in her ordinary clothes,  although Mrs Bloom’s clothes could hardly be  described as ordinary. She had satin dresses beaded  with pearls, taffeta coats dripping diamantes, lame and  lurex cocktail gowns, velvet suits, silk suits, shantung  and lace dresses, linen and leather trousers, and all  from the best fashion houses in Europe.  

Jane and Ivana, Miriam’s best friends, kept spot less houses. Ivana felt compelled to clean up when ever she visited Miriam. Jane said that she found  Miriam’s mess relaxing.  

Jane and Ivana were both tall and thin, unlike  Miriam who was always planning a diet. Mrs Bloom  was very slim too. Miriam wondered whether ecto morphs had a mania for cleanliness.  

Miriam never used to wash the dishes. She owned  enough crockery to keep going in between the clean ing woman’s twice weekly visits. After her first year  in analysis, Miriam began to wash her own dishes.  Late in life, Miriam discovered the joy of well scrubbed saucepans and shiny surfaces.  

For a while, Miriam, who had always had trouble  with the concept of moderation, became a bit obses sive. She washed every teaspoon or fork or coffee mug  as soon as it was used. She cleaned out the pantry and  bathroom cupboards, and put everything in labelled  jars. She re-arranged the cutlery drawers and the  crockery cabinets. She vacuumed the front verandah,  and polished the letter box. She drove everyone crazy,  and the kids begged her to go back to being a slob.  

Garth stood next to Miriam. He wound his leg  around her leg, and stroked her face. All three children  were at school. They lay down and had a noisy fuck.  

After she came, Miriam wept and wept. She often  cried after a strong orgasm. She knew that it usually  meant that she had been shutting herself off from any  intense emotions, been out of touch with her sadness.  

Miriam used to say that she felt that she was born  with a backlog of sadness. She didn’t really know what  she meant. Was it all those dead relatives, uncles,  aunts, cousins, grandmothers and grandfathers, all fed  to the sky? Two large families reduced to ashes. The  ashes of the victims of Auschwitz almost choked the  Vistula river.  

Mr and Mrs Bloom stood united on every issue con cerning their daughters. Nothing could separate them.  Neither of them ever sided with one of the girls.  

Mr and Mrs Bloom shared a past that Miriam could  never belong to. Miriam longed to drive a wedge into  their togetherness. She had one such moment of  trjumph when she was ten. She had been begging and  pleading to have her ears pierced. Mrs Bloom said that  ear-piercing was a barbaric custom and they were a  civilised family. Not while Miriam lived in her house,  could she have pierced ears.  

Miriam stopped practising the piano. She no longer  took the dog for a walk. She sat in her room for hours  looking miserable. Mr Bloom relented. Behind Mrs  Bloom’s back, he took Miriam into the city, and held  her hand while a nursing sister pierced Miriam’s ears.  

For the next week, Mrs Bloom made twice as much  noise as she washed up while the rest of the family  ate their dinner.  

Miriam still wore the gold sleeper earrings that Mr  Bloom had bought. Now, a gold, heart-shaped,  · Victorian locket carrying a lock of Garth’s hair hung  from the sleeper in Miriam’s right ear.  

“Miriam, my love, my beautiful wife, my delicious  chicken, shall we go out for coffee?’ Garth called from  the bedroom. “Okay, I’ll be out of the shower in a  second,” she answered.  

Miriam loved going out for coffee. She would have  a cappuccino. She liked to lightly sugar the froth, and  then eat it slowly. Maybe she would even have a small  slice of butter cake .

Lily Brett

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