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Goldie

Wednesday, March 28, 1979

As soon as Goldie stepped onto the Bathurst Street bus she knew she was in trouble. The strangers

around her stared with cold faces. The familiar palpitations began in her neck, her chest, as she

determined to find the one she was looking for: it was in the eyes, the way a person held his head.

This bus was why she didn't go downtown, this danger to her survival that the doctor hadn't counted

on. Oh why had the doctor moved so far away! Goldie preferred to walk everywhere she could. The

area around Bathurst and Eglinton where she lived proliferated with every kind of store. There was

little she could not buy within a three block radius of her apartment.

Today was her first appointment in the doctor's new office. If she made it. On the bus now, all her

energy polarized to keep her standing in the aisle without bolting out the exit at each stop. In her head

she tried to reproduce Dr. Temple's calm voice telling her that she was in Toronto, she was safe. Most

of the seats had filled and more people got on. Gripping the bars, she moved further down the bus

when suddenly she saw a young man who reminded her of Enrique. Mama, you're a big girl, he

would've said. You gotta try. It'll be all right. Besides, you look great. She pushed Enrique from her

mind.

She looked into each face to make sure she was not being followed. Most of the passengers avoided

her eyes; Torontonians were so reserved. But she continued methodically row after row, face after

face: immigrant women with their tightly curled hair, students with books, old men and women, their

surfaces like maps of forgotten places.

Did Dr. Temple understand how hard it was for her to just go out on the street, her own familiar street,

never mind all the way down to the new medical office? Goldie didn't thank the doctor for saving her

when she'd finally mustered the courage to swallow the valium. She did thank her for caring, for

understanding her pain. Ah, there was nothing else to be done; she had to go.

Now this new thing, this cousin's voice from so long ago on the phone suddenly. She didn't like to

think about that time. She had escaped from Poland when she was twenty, left behind everyone she

loved. Only her sister Chana survived. Poor Chana who had ended up in a camp. Thin and frail after

typhus, she finally joined Goldie in Argentina after the war. And now this forgotten cousin from Poland

who had somehow escaped. The rest of her family had become dust and ashes. She owed them this

much, to help the cousin find what he was looking for. They would meet soon, he said, after all these

years. Where was he living now? California? They had only exchanged a few letters now and then.

Maybe she could find the address he needed. Give him something of importance when they finally

met. She had to work up her stamina for that kind of adventure. Maybe she would go next week.

Dr. Temple's voice, if she had managed to hear it at all, popped like a balloon when the young man

Enrique's age stood up and looked at her directly.

"Please," he motioned behind himself. "Take my seat."

Goldie was too shocked to understand what he wanted.

"Sit down. Go ahead."

She looked into his face to see if this was a trap, but his voice was English, his manner Toronto. Not

taking any chances, she nervously moved further down the aisle, leaving the young man to fall back

into his seat, embarrassed.

A block below St. Clair, a short, dark-haired woman walked to the exit and stepped down on the stair.

She was thick as a sausage in a cheap ski jacket over her homemade paisley dress. A group of

teenagers in fashionably ragged jeans had gotten on at St. Clair and still held the driver's attention.

When the woman pulled the cord at her stop, the bus careened past. The students were so noisy that it

was possible only Goldie, who was close, heard the woman shout, "!Abra la puerta!" The woman

began to beat her small fat fist against the glass of the door and again yelled, "!Abra la puerta!"

In a flash Goldie found herself again in her apartment in Buenos Aires that night when all had been

lost.

!Abra la puerta! !Abra la puerta!

A cluster of fists hammered at the door of her apartment. The voices in her nightmare cried !Abra la

puerta! !Abra la puerta! and she had woken up from the dream that had once been her life. As soon as

she unlocked the door, four men in plainclothes jumped inside with guns and handcuffed her from

behind. They twisted her arms with such careless venom that she blinked in bewildered pain. They

ran through the apartment searching for others and for this, at least, she felt relief.

Where is he? one of them asked her, the others milling about.

Who? she said.

The man threw a blanket over her head then pushed her out the door in her pyjamas. They will get

you to talk, Jewish whore.

A gun barrel was pushed into her side as they rode down the elevator. The blanket still over her head,

they threw her down onto the floor of a car. Their feet perched on her body, the gun barrel stuck in her

back as they drove away.

Finally they arrived in the basement of some official building. First she was blindfolded, then without

any preamble, she was put on the machine. She didn't know it was the the machine then; she merely

knew her fate was catching up with her. Someone placed her on a cot, attached what she later

realized were electrodes to her mouth, and pushed a button. A fire, a howling, started in her mouth.

She fell into the noise headlong, forgetting her name, forgetting her face. The plague had carried off

her family in Europe thirty years before; it finally remembered to come back for her. She was being

punished for surviving.

Later on she found out that all the prisoners were given the machine on their arrival to rattle them into

submission. Routine. Then to business. At the beginning the conversations went like this:

Where is your son?

I don't know.

A sharp slap across the face.

How can I help you if you don't cooperate? We don't want to hurt him. We just want to speak to him

about his subversive activities.

He has no subversive activities. He's a musician. He writes songs.

Songs? Propaganda that describes us as animals. Lies that give comfort to the enemy.

Students are your enemies?

Your son is young. Maybe he fell in with a bad crowd. We understand all that. We don't want to hurt

him. Where is he?

Out of your reach, Mr. Interrogator. Nowhere you can find him.

The fist smashed her mouth. That stubborn mouth. Her interrogator, once interested in her son's

whereabouts, now enjoyed torturing her for her own shortcomings: her uncowed demeanor, her

Jewishness, her stubborn mouth that refused obedience. An uncontrollable mouth. Not that she didn't

want to control it, only it was directly attached to her brain and her brain she couldn't control. With the

result that her tongue, no matter how she manoeuvered it, succeeded in inflaming her interrogator to

heights of sadistic rage. What was worse for an old woman¾sitting in pyjamas on the wet floor of a

cell, praying the scorpions wouldn't find her? or sitting in the interrogator's chair, her only human

contact slamming his fist into the side of her ribs, searching for something she could not give him:

herself.

After some weeks, when Goldie lay filthy on the stone floor, her pyjamas soiled from the remnants of

bodily functions, her interrogator grew bolder. When fetching her from her cell, he neglected to

blindfold her. She now saw he was fat, with short greasy hair. He was ageless, sexless, she would not

recognize him on the street. She allowed herself a fleeting moment of hope before coming to a halt in

the room. Seeing it for the first time, she was perversely satisfied with its shabbiness¾it could have

been a converted kitchen. She smiled to herself, surprised that she was able. She was being fried in

an old kitchen. The smell was damp, musty, like long ago fried fish.

This amuses you?

Goldie startled at this German-accented Spanish. She twisted her head toward the source but found

the figure in shadow.

Jorge, the old whore finds her situation amusing. We must show her the seriousness of her position.

The faceless voice was German; she would hear it in her dreams long after the danger was over. Her

mother, her father, her brothers, aunts, cousins, grandparents had all marched into the maw of history

because of a German voice. The guttoral rasps in the throat still had the power to terrorize her, the

deceptively rounded vowels that could pierce a heart.

They placed her on a cot. The fat interrogator attached electrodes to her mouth with clumsy fingers.

The anxiety was not on her account, she realized, but resided in the shadows with the faceless

German who had, no doubt, given instructions.

The arrogant voice begins:

Jewish cow, is it not true that you and your son are part of a Jewish conspiracy to take over

Patagonia?

Even his Spanish sounds German.

We know everything, whore. We even know the name chosen for the new homeland: the Republic of

Andinia. Does that surprise you? What is your son's role in the conspiracy?

She hesitates.

Then someone pushes a button somewhere and the fire starts in her mouth. She no longer knows

who she is, she no longer cares. She can't stop shaking, even when they tire of this recreation. Goldie

never knows whose finger actually pushes the button, but she's convinced it's the German whose

voice fills her dreams.

"Excuse me, lady."

The memory of pain, the need to escape from it, brought Goldie back to the Bathurst Street bus, still on

her way to the doctor's.

"Excuse me, lady."

More students had boarded, a thicket of bodies manoeuvering around her. A dark heavy man with

angry eyes was heading toward her and she knew they'd found her. He was a tall man for whom she,

all five-foot-one of her, would be candy. The words in her head conquered time and space to land in

his mouth. We will get you to talk, Jewish whore.

In a second, Goldie pushed her way roughly through some students.

"Well pardon us, lady."

Standing on the step, feeling the kidnapper's breath on the back of her neck, she pulled the cord

continuously. It chimed every few seconds.

"Okay lady, we get the message," one kid said. "Maybe she has to go to the bathroom."

When the bus finally came to a stop a block above College Street, Goldie hurled herself out the door

and began to run. If only she hadn't worn these heels. She dashed across College Street. She'd run

like this in her nightmares, aching from fear, past eyes and eyes and more eyes, in shoes that wouldn't

stay on. She could hardly breathe now after two blocks. Blisters had formed on the heels of both feet.

Danger lurked behind lamposts, windowblinds, in the most quiescent of eyes. She would never be

safe. She stumbled once, twice, finally through the blur of her exhaustion she turned to search for her

pursuer.

No one.

She stopped. The overcast sky hung low over rooftops, cast shadows on the street. Like a loose-

necked owl, she scanned in all directions at once to check for danger. The old houses whispered their

secrets, their paint in shreds, their rails studded with rust. I will follow you till you drop. I will get you

one day, I am always there.

So she was spared another day. She had surprised him and escaped. At least she had reached

College Street. Goldie limped up to the cement island to wait for the streetcar. If she hadn't been so

absorbed with the streetcar approaching in the murky distance, Goldie would, no doubt, have noticed

the swarthy little man step up beside her on the island.

When she finally decided she was standing in the right place to go east on College, she turned,

startled at the unexpected proximity. How had this one slipped through her defences so easily? The

intruder was disguised as an Italian labourer in jeans and heavy plaid shirt, carrying a lunch pail big

enough for an unassembled machine gun. How stupid did they think she was? He could have a half

dozen guns in there, or knives. And handcuffs, they would need handcuffs. He had dark greasy hair

like the other, but his skin was coarse and red as if he worked outside. They were so clever about

these things; there was nothing they wouldn't do to fool her.

Glaring at him produced no reaction. He looked back, but blankly. These were confrontations she

would rather have avoided, but she had to defend herself.

"Stupid they must think I am," she addressed the little man finally. "Stupid and blind."

The man blinked then smiled with brown crooked teeth. "You 'a trouble, lady?"

"Me you don't fool. I know they send you for to get me. I know their dirty tricks."

The man looked around, as if an explanation might hang in the air, as if someone might translate.

Failing that, he boldly proceeded.

"Ahh," he lifted his free hand (the one that would hold the gun in the lunchbox) "my hand she's a-dirty. I

no toucha. You no worry."

"You don't take me so easy. Not this time."

The little man continued to smile but it was forced now. When the streetcar stopped in front of him, he

motioned for Goldie to get on first.

She couldn't believe the audacity. Crossing her arms, she planted herself on the island like a tree

waiting for the storm.

"I'm not so stupid like that," she said.

The man quickly climbed aboard and when inside, turned on the top step to face Goldie one last time.

This was it, she thought, now comes the gun, the knife, the last pain through the heart. Hello, Enrique.

Before the doors folded shut, he opened his decaying mouth and replied, "You too olda for me, lady."