Mendel, dozing in the dark, awoke in fright. The pain returned as he listened. He drew on his cold embittered clothing, and wasted minutes sitting at the edge of the bed. In the kitchen, Isaac, his astonished mouth open, held six peanuts in his palm.

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Mendel, dozing in the dark, awoke in fright. The pain returned as he listened. He drew on his cold embittered clothing, and wasted minutes sitting at the edge of the bed.

In the kitchen, Isaac, his astonished mouth open, held six peanuts in his palm. He placed each on the table. Mendel, in loose hat and long overcoat, still sat on the bed.

Isaac watched with small eyes and ears, thick hair graying the sides of his head. As if stifling he rose. Isaac wanted to hold it to his ear. In the drawer he found the little paper bag of crumpled ones and fives and slipped it into his overcoat pocket. He helped Isaac on with his coat. Isaac looked at one dark window, then at the other. Mendel stared at both blank windows. They went slowly down the darkly lit stairs, Mendel first, Isaac watching the moving shadows on the wall. To one long shadow he offered a peanut.

The November night was cold and bleak. Opening the door he cautiously thrust his head out. Though he saw nothing he quickly shut the door. Isaac sucked air. It was suppertime and the street was empty but the store windows dimly lit their way to the corner. They crossed the deserted street and went on.

Isaac, with a happy cry, pointed to the three golden balls. Mendel smiled but was exhausted when they got to the pawnshop. The pawnbroker, a red-bearded man with black horn-rimmed glasses, was eating a whitefish at the rear of the store. He craned his head, saw them, and settled back to sip his tea. In five minutes he came forward, patting his shapeless lips with a large white handkerchief.

Mendel, breathing heavily, handed him the worn gold watch. The pawnbroker, raising his glasses, screwed in his eyepiece. He turned the watch over once. It had stopped ticking. Mendel wound it slowly. It ticked hollowly. Isaac, watching a banjo, snickered. He locked the watch in a small drawer but Mendel still heard it ticking. In the street he slipped the eight dollars into the paper bag, then searched in his pockets for a scrap of writing.

Finding it, he strained to read the address by the light of the street lamp. As they trudged to the subway, Mendel pointed to the sprinkled sky. Fishbein, after we will eat. Isaac stared uneasily at the heavy door of the house.

Mendel rang. The servant, a man with long sideburns, came to the door and said Mr. Fishbein were dining and could see no one. Tomorrow morning Mr. Fishbein will talk to you. The foyer was a vast high-ceilinged room with many oil paintings on the walls, voluminous silken draperies, a thick flowered rug at foot, and a marble staircase. Fishbein, a paunchy bald-headed man with hairy nostrils and small patent leather feet, ran lightly down the stairs, a large napkin tucked under a tuxedo coat button.

He stopped on the fifth step from the bottom and examined his visitors. Fishbein adjusted his pince-nez.

He is like this all his life. We having tonight chicken with stuffed derma. I have already the rest. How old a man? What is thirty-five dollars to Mr. To me, for my boy, is everything. This is my fixed policy. Fishbein, if not thirty-five, give maybe twenty. The servant with the long sideburns appeared at the top of the stairs.

Isaac assisted his father up. He ran quickly up the stairs and they were at once outside, buffeted by winds. The walk to the subway was tedious. The wind blew mournfully.

Mendel, breathless, glanced furtively at shadows. They entered a small park to rest for a minute on a stone bench under a leafless two-branched tree. The thick right branch was raised, the thin left one hung down. A very pale moon rose slowly. So did a stranger as they approached the bench. Mendel, drained of blood, waved his wasted arms. Isaac yowled sickly.

Then a bell chimed and it was only ten. Mendel let out a piercing anguished cry as the bearded stranger disappeared into the bushes. A policeman came running, and though he beat the bushes with his nightstick, could turn up nothing. Mendel and Isaac hurried out of the little park.

When Mendel glanced back the dead tree had its thin arm raised, the thick one down. He moaned. They boarded a trolley, stopping at the home of a former friend, but he had died years ago.

On the same block they went into a cafeteria and ordered two fried eggs for Isaac. The tables were crowded except where a heavyset man sat eating soup with kasha. After one look at him they left in haste, although Isaac wept. Mendel had another address on a slip of paper but the house was too far away, in Queens, so they stood in a doorway shivering. What can I do, he frantically thought, in one short hour? He remembered the furniture in the house. It was junk but might bring a few dollars.

They huddled behind a telephone pole, both freezing. Isaac whimpered. The whole sky is white. Mendel dreamed for a minute of the sky lit up, long sheets of light in all directions. Under the sky, in California, sat Uncle Leo drinking tea with lemon. Mendel felt warm but woke up cold. Across the street stood an ancient brick synagogue.

He pounded on the huge door but no one appeared. He waited till he had breath and desperately knocked again. At last there were footsteps within, and the synagogue door creaked open on its massive brass hinges. A darkly dressed sexton, holding a dripping candle, glared at them. He sleeps now. Go home and come back tomorrow. I am a dying man. Mendel, with Isaac clutching his sleeve, went up the wooden steps and rang the bell.

After five minutes a big-faced, gray-haired bulky woman came out on the porch with a torn robe thrown over her nightdress.

She emphatically said the rabbi was sleeping and could not be waked.


Idiots First by Bernard Malamud

Taken from his The Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Malamud may be exploring the theme of desperation. Mendel urgently needs to get Isaac on the train to California. He knows that he does not have much time and as such races across the city trying to get the thirty-five dollars he needs for the train ticket. This may be important as it might suggest that the Rabbi feels some type of connection with Mendel. While ironically Fishbein who makes charitable donations to others feels no empathy or connection with Mendel. It is also noticeable that Malamud opens the story with an alliteration. Something which gives the story the rhythm that Malamud manages to carry throughout the story.


Idiots First






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