Nov 21, 2022


“When we asked my grandfather what had happened, he spat out that the person we’d just met was not Andrea Perlitzer. Not his Andrea Perlitzer.”

My grandfather’s family fled Prussia by way of Palestine and my grandmother’s family fled Minsk by way of pogroms and they all ended up in the Bronx eating pierogies. And then at 19 my grandfather and grandmother met outside a local cafeteria, and three years after that had my father, and two years after that, my Uncle Richie. And another 25 years passed and my father met my mother, whose parents fundraised for Golda Meir on Central Park West—the photo of her shaking my grandmother’s hand still hangs in their apartment—and four years later in a hospital near Lake Michigan they had me.

And on the eighth day the mohel came. Glimpsing MJ’s famous dunk-to-layup over Sam Perkins on the TV my father left playing in the kitchen, he overshot my foreskin, leaving a little crescent-shaped scar just beneath the glans he deemed character. And ten years passed and it was springtime after school, and I was with my grandfather, the one from Prussia by way of Palestine, in the backseat of his Cadillac DeVille, listening to a cassette of Mel Brooks doing “The 2000 Year Old Man,” a bag of Costco-brand Florida oranges beside me, on the way to the municipal golf course where my father worked as a pro, where if it was not too hot and not too cold we would practice our putting. And that went on for several springs. I got taller and my feet grew and then they stopped. One November, my grandmother, whose mother from Minsk feared elevators, died of ovarian cancer, a life-loving Libra and devoted New Deal Democrat. And another three months passed, and there I was, 27 years old, on a plane with my father and grandfather en route to West Palm Beach so my grandfather could court Andrea Perlitzer, a childhood friend of my grandmother’s whom he’d been telephoning each day since the funeral in his hungry and terrible grief. Near death, hopelessly full of life. The plane descended; the flat rectangular terminals blurred in the distant heat, brushed by dozing palm trees and wisps of lemon chiffon dust, a Floridian ziggurat. All of us burping. The sky blinding and white.

After settling in
at a DoubleTree off the interstate, we decamped to a nearby Chili’s for a late lunch.

“It’s not real Mexican,” I started to complain, a child again.

My father played along. “I don’t want real Mexican.”

At the restaurant door, we turned to watch my grandfather shuffling across the parking lot, holding the brim of his plain gray baseball cap. It was 90 degrees outside. He wore slacks and a crewneck sweatshirt from his alma mater. We cheered him on with our insides.

After ordering some food, my father handed his menu to the waitress and leaned back in his chair. “So what’s the plan?” he asked. In the comfort of the Chili’s, it seemed he could treat this whole thing with the bemused but charming bearing of a ’70s game show host. “Should we call her?” My grandfather nodded, stuttered out a yes. My father took out his phone. “What’s her number?”

My grandfather scooted back from the table and removed his wallet, a handkerchief, a coupon for Smartwool socks at TJ Maxx, and a crinkled newspaper article about a 12-year-old Jewish jazz piano prodigy he’d cut out and apparently forgotten to give me. The life of his pockets now laid out before us on the red linoleum, he held the bare inside folds in dismay: a sad magician who, having disappeared the rabbit, couldn’t manage to make it reappear.

“God damn it,” he said, shaking his head as the waiter brought over our queso. “I forgot my phone.”

“Where?” I asked.

“I think it’s in the car.”

I made to stand. “I’ll get it.”

“No,” he said, squeezing the coupon for socks in his fist. “It’s in my car.”

My father laughed. “In Chicago?”

“Why is it in your car?” I asked.

My grandfather rubbed his forehead. “Because I leave it in the car when I go into the house.”


“Because I have a house phone for the house.”

He seemed to know this analysis, though logically sound, didn’t actually make sense. He slammed his palm down on the table; at the four-top next to us a baby yelped, gaveling his own salsa-encrusted fist atop his highchair. I’d never seen my grandfather so angry at himself—he usually reserved his indignation for antisemites, who he believed were everywhere.

“You don’t remember her number?” I asked.

He softened and slumped into his seat. There he is, I thought, my wise grandfather turtle, decrepit and delightful. He looked at my father and chuckled. “I can’t remember to bring my phone, and he thinks I can remember the number on the phone?”

Back at the hotel, after nothing turned up in his suitcase, we called my Uncle Richie to see if he could track it down. Richie, as my grandfather liked to remind us (especially my father), worked in global supply chains.

But the next morning we still hadn’t heard back. “He’s probably in Dubai,” my grandfather said, still groggy from the hours we’d spent drinking cheap Pinot, watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show. We sat alone at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast with plates of too-ripe honeydew and the faint sound of salsa music drifting in from the lobby. The air conditioning was so cold I took my instant coffee outside and stood in the parking lot. The heat out there did its thing, wiggling my vision as it sought something beyond the horizon of the Chili’s. The word “mirage” popped into my head for the first time in years, and I realized afresh—because I must have learned this as a kid, even if I didn’t wholly absorb it—that the vision of water one sees shimmering on a hot road was not an illusion projected by human desire but a product of one’s anatomy. Still, the fact that the natural world, through the play of refraction misunderstood as reflection, conspires to give us an image of water in the very situations we crave it (in blistering heat, on long open roads, wandering through deserts) struck me as nothing short of miraculous.

Back inside, my lineage huddled over a phone book they’d borrowed from the concierge.

“There’s seven Andrea Perlitzers in West Palm Beach,” my father reported with a clownish grin; its curvature somehow made his balding head and growing paunch appear even rounder. They’d already called the first five and gotten only answering machines and wrong numbers. “You try,” my grandfather told me.

The sixth number was disconnected. Gearing up for the seventh, we took a deep breath and my father, as he often does, recited the only prayer he knows by heart, the one we say before lighting the Hanukkah candles. I dialed the number and put the phone on speaker. After seven or eight rings, an old lady answered: “Hello?” We nearly jumped out of our chairs. The greeting had a Yiddish tilt to it, an emphasis on the latter syllable, the voice rising half a note, skeptical.

“Is this Andrea?” my father asked.

“Yes,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

We looked at my grandfather, asking him with our eyes: Is it her? Is it her? He looked embarrassed, near tears.

“Andrea?” he finally asked, his voice raspy and a bit confrontational.


“It’s Danny,” he said. “I’m here in Florida to see you, darling.”

A pause. “Oh, yes,” Andrea said. We heard what sounded like the closing of a fridge door. “I must’ve forgotten . . . ”

“Well I’ll see you soon,” my grandfather said.

“All right,” Andrea said, and hung up.

The three of us sat there beaming. We hardly noticed when an old woman got caught in the automatic revolving doors and began banging her walker against the glass.

“Screw Richie,” my father proclaimed.

My grandfather patted his stomach, proud. I forked another piece of cut fruit. “So you know where she lives?”

Silence. And why, I thought, was honeydew green? It just didn’t seem right. I reached for my father’s phone and called her back.

At a Carrabba’s Italian Grill that night,
my grandfather cheerfully declared his love. While my father and I dozed at the pool, they’d whiled away the afternoon playing gin rummy and sipping sherry on her condo balcony. Dinah Shore crooned on her CD player. Her glorious red curls glistened in the honeyed dusk. It was, in my grandfather’s words, “absolutely first class.” For the first time since my grandmother’s passing, I saw in him the person I’d known all the years of my childhood, which is to say a person who didn’t experience pain. At the end of the trip, he told us, he would ask to move in with her.

By 9 o’clock, he was fast asleep with only his head poking out of the covers. When he began to snore, my father and I went down to the hotel bar. “Fly Me to the Moon” played on the player piano.

“This is a nightmare,” my father said with a nervous smile.


“We can’t move him down here. He can’t drive. Richie’s selling his car. How is she gonna take care of him? He forgot his phone! He’s got a pacemaker, for God’s sake.” My father called for the bartender’s attention, then looked back at me. “Plus, the guy has no money.”

I sighed. “Then why’d we come down here?”

My father shook his head. We ordered beers, and when he received his he took the most measured of sips. He could be monkish. On the three-hour flight over, I’d watched him do nothing but stare at the seat in front of him. I used to chalk this up to the attention the game of golf required of him, but I wasn’t so sure anymore. A few weeks before our trip, my mother told me about his last time trying to make it on tour. How at the final qualifying tournament, after winning the thing by two strokes, he’d written down the wrong number on his scorecard and signed it. The penalty took him out; he’d never made it that close again. “That’s so deeply sad,” I’d told her. “I thought so too,” she said, “until I realized it was just sheer laziness.” A year after they finalized their divorce, she remarried, a woman this time. My father hadn’t really dated since.

“I couldn’t say no,” he said now, elbows planted on the bar. “I thought, My dad is gonna die if I don’t take him. He’s gonna die anyway, especially once Richie moves him into that home. But I thought if I don’t take him, he’s gonna drop dead right now, and frankly I don’t wanna deal with that yet, you know?”

“If he’s gonna die anyway, why can’t we let him die here? With her?”

“She won’t really let him stay here,” he said. “She’s got kids. Grandkids. Why take care of an old man? He’s just getting his hopes up. And it’s gonna kill him. It’s literally gonna kill him.”

We planned to take my grandfather
to Andrea’s again the following afternoon, but this time we asked to meet her. No, no, he said, not yet, no. My father said he didn’t have a choice; we packed into the car. Then the three of us stood outside her condo door, knocking and knocking and hearing nothing, until finally a neighbor popped his head out of a nearby window.

“Are you looking for Andrea?” he asked. He wore a white undershirt, which matched his white mustache and gleaming white veneers. We nodded. “She’s at the hospital in Boca,” he said. “She tripped on the stairs on her way out to the store, hurt her hip. Brittle bones,” he lamented. “Concrete . . . ”

“It ain’t no fun getting old,” my grandfather replied. The man nodded gravely and waved us away.

We called the hospital and learned that Andrea wasn’t allowed visitors at the moment. Tests and such. So I dropped my father and grandfather back at the hotel pool and took our rental car to the beach. The streets were lined with palm trees and oriental rug stores and empty glass office complexes, sports memorabilia emporiums and middling fondue spots, all of it so spent up somehow, all the stuffy air just poorly recycled breath, all our collective spit and sneeze and sweat an ocean, the ocean, which, when I eventually waded into it, felt warmer than I anticipated. Kids bodysurfed nearby while others threw footballs and frisbees. Looking back at the sand from where I stood half submerged, I had the nagging thought we would all be swept away. But we wouldn’t, not all of us, even if the end really were to come; at least I think that’s what God meant when he told Noah after the flood that he wouldn’t do it again.

I dipped my head underwater, swam further away from the crowd, pulled down my suit, and pissed. It kept coming and coming, so much I couldn’t tell how much, and though it felt like relief it also wasn’t easy, I had to push. I noticed a plump, waxy-skinned woman walking near the water’s edge, clothed in olive green cargo pants and an IDF t-shirt, with bangs the color of faded brick. She re­minded me of Rona, my childhood rabbi’s wife and grade school Hebrew teacher. Pulling up my swim trunks, I imagined approaching her here, in West Palm Beach, where all the Jews go to die, and her whispering in my ear the only word of Hebrew I still knew: “Dog,” she would say, “means fish.”

Early the next morning
, we did the inevitable and hit the links. It would be the first and last time we’d ever play together just the three of us. The two of them had barely spoken during the years my father spent trying to make it on the tour. My grandfather, my mother told me, had at first wanted nothing more than for his son to be a golfer—the American dream, the country club, yada yada yada—until he actually tried to become one for real. Then he didn’t like his son driving across the country like some beatnik with his clubs stuffed in the back seat. Golf wasn’t a job—it was what you did for fun, or what you did to get business for your actual job.

But that bright Floridian day my grandfather was gleeful. He smelled, when you got close, of a men’s locker room: the blue Barbicide cleaning solution for the black plastic combs, the faint coconutty aroma of sunblock, the biting spearmint of green Listerine cut with cheap beer. Despite my father being a scratch golfer who taught the sport for a living, my grandfather gave him tips, and my father received them willingly. I sensed between them a cautious detente.

After the round, we sat at a patio table outside the clubhouse eating hot dogs. My father left the table to take a call. It was Richie. He’d found my grandfather’s cell phone and was sending over Andrea Perlitzer’s number. But when the text came through, my father’s face scrunched up.

“That’s weird,” he said. “It’s not the same as the one we called.”

He showed us on his phone. My grandfather squinted at it.

“Is it her cell phone, maybe?” I asked.

“Yes,” my grandfather said. “I think so.”

“Why don’t we call it,” I said. “Maybe she can tell us when to visit her at the hospital.”

We placed the phone on speaker in the center of the table; it lay among our checkered hot dog boats and crumpled napkins and scattered poppyseeds.

“Hello?” we heard after a few rings.

“Hello?” my grandfather replied.

“Danny?” we heard.

“Yes,” my grandfather said. “It’s me.”

“Oh, I’ve been waiting for you to call.”

“We tried, but couldn’t get through to you,” he said gently. “How are you, are you all right darling?”

“Oh yes. I’m on my way to my daughter’s house, she just picked me up. Are you coming to see me? I can send you her address.”

“Yes,” my grandfather said. “In an hour?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll see you soon.”


He made a dramatic gesture of hitting the end button on my father’s phone, then looked up at us glowing, as though he’d just woken up from a beautiful afternoon nap.

We set out for Boynton Beach
after washing up at the hotel. Andrea’s daughter lived in a sprawling gated community; another golf course wove around the homes, separated by sidewalk and what appeared to be a shallow moat. The houses looked like different combinations of the same Lego set: large two-car garages, backyards with fenced-in swimming pools, and two off-white columns framing a wide, glass-paneled door, alongside which ran sets of those little square wavy windows that blurred your vision when you looked through them.

It was a bizarre outing from the get-go. Andrea and her daughter, Bonnie, were as friendly as could be, asking after our family, telling stories about my grandmother, regaling us with details of their still-flourishing real estate business. But there was no mention of her fall, or her time in the hospital. She was spry, vibrant, in perfect shape. “How are you feeling? How’s your hip?” I asked her when we finally sat down in Bonnie’s living room.

“Wondrous,” she said. “Absolutely wondrous.”

My grandfather hardly said a word the entire visit. He sat there sullenly, nodding along, sipping the ice water he so abhorred as if undergoing torture. The whole thing lasted 45 minutes. There were no declarations of love, let alone intimations of a possible move.

On the way home, when we asked my grandfather what had happened, he spat out that the person we’d just met was not Andrea Perlitzer. Not his Andrea Perlitzer. The Andrea Perlitzer with whom he’d shared an idyllic afternoon—the one he loved, the one he would soon be living with—was at the hospital in Boca. And we had to go see her.

“But she knew you, she said you talked every day,” my father said. “Her number was in your phone.”

“It must have been the wrong number,” he said. “I talked to a lot of your mother’s friends once she passed.”

“But her name is Andrea Perlitzer,” I said.

“Did you hear her say her name?” my grandfather demanded. “Did you?”

I had to admit I hadn’t—or had I?

“But she had red hair, like you said,” my father offered, though you could hear in his voice he himself didn’t totally buy it: This new Andrea’s hair might be more accurately described as strawberry blonde.

“My Andrea has curls,” my grandfather insisted. “Curls!”

When we got back to the hotel, my father and I had to persuade him to wait until the next morning to go to the hospital. It had been a long day. We poured him some sherry, turned on TV Land, and put him to bed.

“What the fuck is going on?” I asked, laughing, once we’d retired to the bar. We both drank Scotch this time, even though neither of us really ever drank Scotch. “Fly Me to the Moon” played on the player piano.

“I have no fucking idea,” he said.

We ran through the options. Most likely, we decided, my grandfather was losing it—that was, after all, why Richie had decided to put him in a nursing home—and hadn’t realized that the other Andrea, who was similarly senile, was not the woman he’d been talking to every day. Then again, we had to consider the possibility that my grandfather was right, that Richie had given us the wrong number, perhaps listed incorrectly in my grandfather’s phone. Or maybe there was no other Andrea; maybe my grandfather was just embarrassed that she didn’t want him to move in with her, and her silence about the hospital reflected her own embarrassment about the fall.

“Maybe it’ll all work out,” I finally said. “Maybe the wrong Andrea Perlitzer is the right Andrea Perlitzer, and she’ll want to take care of him.”

My father forced a smile. It made him look so old, then, so emptied out, and I saw in it an echo of the face he’d made that morning at the golf course, the way he’d bared his teeth at my grandfather’s advice to keep his head down, to gaze two inches ahead of the ball. A sort of giving in, which, it should be said, is not the same as giving up.

The morning after
our horrible outing with the second Andrea Perlitzer, my grandfather got us up early. He wanted to head to the hospital straight away. Not yet, we said. Let’s get breakfast first.

We went to Bagel Twins, where we always used to go when my grandparents spent their winters here, before my grandmother got too sick to travel. I could sense, entering the place, her presence: her sourdough perfume-y smell, her over-the-top love for me. I missed my grandmother so much that morning I almost cried into my breakfast. I missed the way she ate her pumpernickel bialy with two slices of tomato, the way she’d keep her big books of historical fiction from the library open on her lap, the image of her in a swimming pool, sitting on the stairs in the shallow end, her manicured hands outstretched and gliding across the surface of the water. Looking across the table at my father and grandfather, with the taste of garlic and onion growing stale on my breath, I felt sure that my grandmother’s kind of love had died with her. My grandfather, bereft, could no longer give it, only search out pale imitations; my father, single for years now, would die mild and alone, while my mother, ever diligent, went on trying, always trying. And what of me? I couldn’t even imagine the possibility of having kids then. If I did, I presumed I’d have to find them other figures of boundless, uncomplicated love: a gerbil, perhaps, or maybe a particularly benevolent postman.

We took some bagels to go for Andrea and, having been directed to the sixth floor by the hospital’s receptionist, gathered around the edge of her bed, my entire patrilineal line gripping our culture, our offering of orange-pink smoked fish and creamed cheese. The crumpled figure wrapped in sheets itself resembled a packaged good. We could scarcely make out her face, tilted as it was toward the window and covered by hair.

“Andrea, darling?” my grandfather said, craning his neck over the bed.

“I think she’s sleeping,” I whispered.

“The TV’s on,” my father observed, transfixed by an episode of Wheel of Fortune. “I didn’t even know they were running that anymore.”

“Should we get a nurse?” I asked.

“Andrea,” my grandfather said, a little louder now. “Andrea, it’s me, Danny.”

We heard a rustling and a slight moan. A head swiveled slowly toward us, revealing a tanned, wrinkled face I immediately associated with a scraped elbow. Her mouth still had traces of lipstick, or blood; her hair was bright white but curly; I wondered, given my grandfather’s insistence on the red hair, if he’d gone color blind. She opened her eyes so fast and so wide I nearly screamed. I hadn’t been in a hospital since my grandmother died. When she let out her last breath we were all standing around her bed with our hands in our pockets, listening to Tony Bennett.

“Who is that?” Andrea asked.

My grandfather didn’t say anything, just stared at her. A small, curled foot poked out from the side of the bed near my hand. I leapt back.

“It’s Danny,” my father said finally.

“Huh?” she asked. She seemed to look right past him.

My grandfather stood in silence; he now had that same fetal, despondent look he’d worn at the other Andrea Perlitzer’s house.

“It’s Danny,” I said loudly. “From the Bronx. Here to see you.”

She peered bird-like into my eyes, then my father’s, then my grandfather’s.

“Boys,” my grandfather said quietly. “Let’s go.”

But we didn’t. We just went on standing there, holding onto the bags of bagels and lox and cream cheese as if something horrible would happen if we let them go.

This went on for some time. Applause emanated from the TV. A gurney creaked down the hall. I needed, suddenly and desperately, to pee. I was about to sidle out of the room when Andrea Perlitzer raised up her right hand and gasped. Staring over our heads to a tacky print of a dilapidated red barn, she began to speak.

“We were dancing,” she said, a smile forming across her face; she had big wonderful teeth, the teeth of someone many years younger, startling and bright. “We were at the dance at the community center, before the war. Do you remember, Danny?” No one said a word. Somewhere outside a faint siren wailed. “I was still in high school and you’d just graduated. I was going with your younger brother at the time, but he was studying that night. He was always studying. And it was late, and I could see you, in your uniform, drinking out of Willie Goldfeiser’s flask. Yes . . . and you asked me to dance, didn’t you? I told you no, no, what about”—she cocked her head toward the window—“what was your brother’s name?”

“Aaron,” my father said.

“Huh?” she asked.

“Aaron,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, letting her arm slowly fall. “I didn’t want to offend Aaron, you know. But I also didn’t want to offend him by not dancing with you. He looked up to you. And I knew you were leaving soon, and you looked so sharp in your uniform. All pressed and everything, it smelled brand new, like . . . like crayons. And you were smiling, encouraging me, telling me how beautiful I was, what great legs I had, and we danced. And when the song ended, we went outside and leaned against the hood of somebody’s brand new Buick Super.” She let out a high-pitched, schoolgirl laugh. My grandfather, who’d been staring at his feet, gazed up at her; the two of them were smiling stupidly at one another now, as if in a trance. I guess if I’m being honest I was smiling too, and in just the same way, taken by the warmth of this adolescent recollection on the sixth floor of some hospital in Boca. But I was also afraid of it, it didn’t feel real.

“We were outside leaning against that big, beautiful new car,” she went on, her voice trembling a bit now. “And you turned to me and kissed me. You kissed me and I pushed you away and you kissed me again. I told you I couldn’t, not here, your brother, but you kept on trying. You got angry,” she said, still with that smile on her face. “You held me against the car and you kissed me, and you put your fingers up my dress, and finally I ran away, and . . . and I could hear you laughing at me, yelling after me. Calling me the worst names I’d ever heard.”

I swallowed; my whole mouth had gone dry. Andrea’s dreamy expression hadn’t wavered and neither had my grandfather’s. The two of them just went on smiling wickedly at each other. And I hate to say this, but I think my grandfather wanted to put his fingers up her hospital gown right then and there. I remember thinking wildly: I must restrain this man, my elderly, confused grandfather. But they both just kept on smiling, staring past each other, not even blinking. And since my father and I didn’t know where else to look we found ourselves caught in a panicked glance. And because it got to be too much he smiled. And because I thought it must have been difficult for him, I smiled, too. And I knew then and believe now that everything is true, all the time and at every single moment, and in that particularly dizzying one the sun hit my eyes and I felt myself inching away from the room and towards something outside, away from West Palm Beach, away from here, toward an image of my grandmother as a beautiful young woman in a bright red one-piece swimsuit, sauntering down the beach at dusk, the sky turning a tepid shade of pink, ancientness’s newfound scar and my own cheeks. I thought then that I am the oldest dumbest thing, blushing, blushing at all this newness.

A few months later, my grandfather died of a massive heart attack at the Jewish nursing home near the interstate where Richie’d put him—a sterile, nondescript building behind the Embassy Suites where I’d once hosted my 13th birthday party. He died at dinner. No one even noticed until after dessert, because that day, like every other day, he’d been sitting alone by the bussing station, having refused to make friends with any of the other old men and women who he pitied for being old, and who pitied him for not recognizing it in himself. I don’t know what happened to Andrea Perlitzer, or Andrea Perlitzer, or any of the other Andrea Perlitzers. My grandfather never talked about that day in the hospital. It was as though it never happened. Instead he insisted to the end that there was another Andrea Perlitzer out there, the right one. At some point I had, out of curiosity, searched the obituary sections of the papers in the area: One Andrea Perlitzer had died of a stroke not long after we’d left, and a second had died of complications from sepsis. But then, all the Andrea Perlitzers of West Palm Beach would die soon, as my grandfather and grandmother had before them, and as my father would 15 years later, and my mother ten years after that, and my Uncle Richie, and everyone else in the world, even the sun, bursting like an orange dropped from some condo balcony, exploding over the trees and patio screen doors and firehoses and highchairs swarming with gnats.

Joseph Eichner is a writer from Chicago. His stories have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Soft Punk Magazine, and The Brooklyn Review, among others. He is currently at work on a novel.