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by Michael Kaufman
We’re at Aunt Sadye and Uncle Joe’s house in Far Rockaway. A lot of the other uncles and aunts on my father’s side are there. The grownups all have serious looks on their faces. I can’t hear most of what they’re saying because they are talking more quietly than usual... but every once in a while one of them gets angry and the voices get louder. No one notices me in the next room reading the Daily Mirror newspaper.
I am 7 years old and a good reader. But I am disappointed because Aunt Sadye forgot to give me cookies and milk like she always does when we go there. I love the milk at their house because they keep it so much colder in their Frigidaire than we keep it at our house.
“This wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t Jewish,” I hear my father say just as I noticed a picture of the two boys, Michael and Robert. Robert is 7. Like me. He has a crewcut like mine and, hey, he even looks like me. Michael is 9. He has a crewcut too. The words under the picture say the boys are “playing quietly” but their faces look sad.
I look at the picture of the lady. She reminds me a little of my mom. Dark eyes, dark hair, even the look on her face. The man with the mustache doesn’t look like my father... more like my Uncle Joe. I hear a grownup — maybe my father or Uncle Willie — ask, “Did you read the Reuben book?”
“Not yet, but it won’t change my mind… they’re guilty alright.” Was it Uncle Joe who said that? Sidney? But as I read the words on the page, the talking and arguing in the next room becomes an unintelligible buzz.
First they put the man, Julius, in the electric chair... and he was dead. Then they put the lady, Ethel, but she did not die. It says a “wisp of smoke” came out of the top of her head but she was still alive. I look at her picture and try to imagine how she might look with smoke coming out of her head. Then another jolt of electricity and more smoke from her head... and she still didn’t die! It took three more jolts and more than five minutes to kill the lady who reminds me of my mother. The newspaper says they were “red spies.”
I don’t say anything to my parents during the drive home to Oceanside in the 1952 Buick. They don’t say much either. I feel sad for Michael and Robert. I feel bad about what happened to their parents, especially about the way their mother died. I wonder if my parents are red spies and if they will get put in the electric chair someday like the Rosenbergs.
Michael Kaufman of Warwick, NY has been a sportswriter, investigative reporter, and medical writer for more than thirty years. His work has appeared in Sport, Crawdaddy, Black Sorts, Hockey, Woman’s World, Health, and the Daily World (writing as “Michael Jay”), and in several anthologies and textbooks. He is a regular contributor to the blog Zest of Orange.