My grandfather came to live with me. There was nowhere else for him to go. What had happened to all his children? Death, decay, exile—I hardly know. My own parents died of pain. But I must not be too gloomy, at the beginning, or you will leave me, and that, I suppose, is what I dread most. Who would begin a story if he knew it were to end with a climbing chariot or a cross?
The landlady discovered an extra bed somewhere and put it in my room. She raised the rent from nine to eleven dollars. After all, she said, it’s another person using the bathroom. She was right. The poor old man had a weak bladder and he also had to spit frequently. I was surprised at how well he spoke English. I do not remember my parents speaking so well. When they came over, they promised each other that they would never speak another word of their mother tongue. “We begin again, all again,” my father said on many occasions. I remember their slow, painful speech as they tried to convey the smallest items to each other. I do not think they ever broke their promise, even in the privacy of their beds. They refused to develop a private vocabulary of facial expressions. If my mother tried to use her beautiful eyes and hands to describe something, my father would say, “No, no, begin again, English.” No subtleties, no intimacies, no secrets—they died, I’m sure, of loneliness. I never heard much about my grandfather. In fact, I thought he had died. I understand my parents used to send him a little money each month, but I’m not positive. Nothing was very clear in our house and besides, they didn’t like to involve me in anything that had to do with the past.