Gilda Haber, PhD

Montgomery College, Rockville, MD

Curriculum Vitae
Manuscripts Completed
Cockney Girl Synopsis
Cockney Girl Chapter 1
Public Speaking

Cockney Girl


Prewar | Chapter 1 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 10

Wartime | Chapter 18 | Chapter 21

Postwar | Chapter 27


Chapter 1

November 5, 1934 Aunt Mitzi


            As Daddy burst through the downstairs door, a blast of East London November wind whistled up the staircase like a white, evil genie.  My small face, pressed between the third floor banister railings, I shivered as I watched my young father bound up the stone stairs two at a time. I was five, but an invisible child, or one who faded in and out of my parents’ picture.

            "Minnie, I've brought you a present," Daddy shouted.

            Mummy at first paid no attention, as she squinted through the large eye of a long, glittering darning needle, threaded thick, brown, wool through it, then stretched Daddy’s sock and the hole in it, over the wooden ‘mushroom.’ Her darns were as taut and perfect as the beautiful tapestry Daddy had shown me last Sunday at the museum.

At the sound of his voice she now paused, the sharp sliver of a needle poised in mid-air. “Why does a deaf man have to shout?” she muttered.

            Daddy couldn’t hear himself speak, so he never knew when he was speaking loudly, I thought.  Was his a world as silent as when thick, white, clean snow blanketed the grimy East London streets and shut off all sound?

            Daddy grew larger and closer until at the top of the stairs, he sprang lithely onto our yellowed, linoleum landing. We rented the third floor flat, a kitchen, living room and bedroom, all on the left side of a skinny corridor.  Our kindly landlords, the Michaels, lived below us on the second floor, and above their shop.  Their tiny grocery fitted snugly, like a piece of my jigsaw puzzle, into the corner of

Cheshire Street
Vallance Road
Bethnal Green Road
.  Outside, their crooked miniature shop reminded me of the witch’s hut in Hanzel and Gretel. I imagined that we lived, not in a tree forest like those children, but in a forest of damp, dank, East End row houses, some, like ours, attached to small shops. 

Through the third floor window, I saw below, outside on the corner, dancers black-silhouetted against red flames licking the hanging body, gleefully prancing around a straw-stuffed Guy Fawkes’ effigy.  They’d dressed him in old clothes and a hat. We’d learned in school about Guy Fawkes’ plot to overthrow the king. Did I care? Daddy was home. 

Daddy ran into the living room. I trailed behind him like a puppy, hugging Mumfie, my gray velvet elephant doll, smiling shyly at Daddy but as usual, he didn’t see me.

            In the warm living room, lit by a roaring coal fire, Mummy sat on the floor, darning.

“Black Magic chocolates for our sixth anniversary,” Daddy said triumphantly, offering her the silky black box. 

Mummy dropped her needle onto the blue Persian carpet. Booba, my grandmother, had given us her old carpet when she bought a new one.  On the carpet, lit by the fire, the needle glinted wickedly, brown wool streaming from it like a string of hard words. A skilful darner, Mummy didn’t, like most women, need a knot at the end of her wool.  But no knot at the end of the wool in her needle made me think there was no end to her anger with Daddy.

            "Chocolates!" Mummy shouted at him, her face flushing, "Why chocolates?  For six years, I told him I like Jordan Almonds and he still brings me chocolates.   I could scream myself purple in the face and he wouldn't bring me sugared almonds.  Sugared almonds even cost less!"

            Even though she said she didn’t like chocolates, Mummy snatched the Black Magic box from him and tore it open, searching its contents. I loved the diamond shape chocolate marzipan, and hoped she’d save it for me. Children must not ask, but wait to be offered.

            "I won three quid on the dogs," Daddy grinned, snapping three green, crackly King George V pounds in the air at Mummy. 

Darning in hand and the chocolates on the carpet, Mummy sat, legs tucked beneath her, on the worn Persian carpet. Crackling hot coals danced with red, blue and purple flames like the ones outside devouring Guy Fawkes’ clothes and straw hair.  Daddy warmed his red hands at the fire, then threw off his jacket and unbuttoned his tight little satin-backed waistcoat. Y-shaped suspenders stretched across the strong shoulders that he and his brother, Ruben, both amateur lightweight boxers, carried proudly. The brothers and my young uncles often fought the East End Fascist thugs with their fists.

"Look, I won," Daddy now said, with a big smile.  His little black mustache like Errol Flynn's twitched up with his mouth, a strand of his thick glossy Brylcreemed hair fell into his dark eyes.

"This time you won, how many times have you lost?" Mummy shouted, shaking her

forefinger at his satiny back as he left the living room and went down the hall to the bedroom. I followed him, smoothing velvety Mumfie’s little schoolboy shirt, tie and short trousers, and stroking his little velvet trunk.  After a children’s book about the hero Mumfie, Aunt Mitzi, Mummy’s younger sister, had given me my only doll.  Aunt Mitzi always knew what I wanted. 

In the bedroom, Daddy struck a match on the wall, lit a long taper, and held it to the gas lights over the mantelpiece. “Pop!” the gaslight came on, shining warmly.  He put a shilling in the metal gas meter that stood on the floor, I heard the shilling clang as it fell, tucked the pound notes in his pocket, sighed happily, and opened his library book, King Solomon’s Mines. Leaning the book and his elbows on the carved rosewood mantle piece over the bedroom fire, he immediately became lost in his library book.   Standing unseen behind him, I stared at his back.

Daddy stood only about five foot eight, but every morning I watched him, strong and lithe as he pulled out round, heavy metal springs nailed to the bedroom wall, his arm muscles swelling into tight balls, until the metal springs were straight.  When he let go, they snapped back onto the wall with a twang into a flat circle.  I admired the way he sprang up our steps or sped after Fascist kids who shoved open the shop door jangling the bell and yelling, “Dirty Jews.” As he ran after the ruffians, swift as a greyhound, I peeked out of the shop door, watching the soles of his shoes flip in the air behind him.

Blissfully, without taking his eyes off the book, he now warmed his cold hands at the bedroom fire, risking chilblains.  I went back to the living room to sit with Mummy at the fire.

Binkie slept there curled in a black ball of fur.  A stray kitten mewling helplessly in the street, wobbling on tiny legs, with a pointy tail, I’d begged Mummy to let me take her home. “Oh, all right,” she’d grumbled. Three red sparks flew out of the fire.  Binkie leapt into the air, licked the singed spots with her tiny pink tongue, sighed, and curled back into a sleeping ball. Mummy scowled. She rose and went into the bedroom where Daddy read, blissfully unaware of her clacking high heels which I heard even in my dreams.

 In the bedroom she shouted at Daddy, "Did you forget we're in a Depression, people begging for food, men in soup lines, and you blow money on dog races?"

            Secretly, I loved to see those greyhounds prancing in the street their sleek, skinny muzzles held high, white ribs pressed against their great bony chests which disappeared into tiny stomachs, bodies ending in bunched haunches, from which drooped long skinny tails.  Their proud owners looked over their shoulders to be sure others noticed their fancy prize dogs. I envisioned those long, slender hounds streaking around the track; lean muzzles jutting, ears flat, small agile paws flying across the ground, four feet together in the center then spread out, tails flying, and I imagined my deaf father at the track, heart pounding at the risk of gambling and the joy of winning.  If only I could tell Daddy I thought it delightful that he had brought Mummy chocolates and how I wished I could go to the races with him, hold his large barber’s hand, and watch those dogs fly. But Mummy said, “Children should be seen and not heard.”  “Don’t speak unless spoken to.”  Children must not shout at grown-ups, so I couldn’t speak to Daddy.  If I shouted, it would be rude in a child, Mummy might smack me.  Grown-ups, like Mummy, like the ‘gay Japanese,’ of the Mikado, could “do as they pleased.”  In any case, I supposed she had to shout at Daddy, or he would not hear her. He heard now, but did not answer her. Finally seeing me, he suddenly pulled our favorite book, the red-covered Children’s British Encyclopedia off the bookshelf and asked me, “Which is the best university in the world?”

             “The University of Edinborough,” I answered.

He watched my mouth for the few words he expected, but otherwise could not lip read.

“Good,” he said.  I blushed when he praised me, though he never noticed.   At other times when he noticed me he drew pictures of witches, gypsies and trolls. Mummy went back to the living room, and Daddy immediately resumed reading his book in the bedroom where we all slept.

 “Come with me into the living room,” Mummy called, so I followed her.

Lights from the street gas-lamps streamed into the room.  From our coal-grimy, third floor window, I’d watched old men lamplighters in great gray winter coats, shuffling and plodding at 4 o’clock from one lamp to another with their long sticks to light the street gas lamps on this dark, foggy November evening.

Now the lamps cast a soft, yellow light over each narrow, cobbled street, some, Daddy said, left by the Romans. Mummy sat on the carpet and resumed darning, the offending black box of chocolates on the blue Persian carpet. Booba, Mummy’s Mummy, had given us the carpet when she bought a new one. Although its cream fringes were worn, the soft, Chinese blue like my grandmother’s china comforted me.  Blue was Mummy’s and my favorite color.

Mummy muttered as she swiftly thrust the needle into the sock, "My mazel, my luck, I had to marry a deaf man.  'Get married, you're twenty-three already, an old maid,'” Mummy mimicked Booba’s her own mother’s sarcastic voice.  “'And besides, your younger sister, Mitzi, can't get married until you do.'  'But Mama,' I told her, 'I don't love him.'  'Love, shmuv, he's a barber, he's got a good trade, you'll never go hungry,'” my Mummy copied her Mother’s sarcastic voice.  “Well, I’ll admit, he does work, when there are customers. Lots of hungry people do go to the soup kitchens these days.

            “So I’ve been married for six years, today, and you think that sister of mine married?  No. You know why?  That Mitzi, she’s still waiting to marry that Raphael, her boss's son.”

 I had seen Raphael once, when Mummy and I visited his family’s posh West End lace importing shop on

Bond Street
. Aunt Mitzi worked there as a secretary.  She was proud to be a secretary instead of working in a factory as had Mummy, before marrying Daddy. Aunt Mitzi loved Raphael, and Mummy said that Raphael loved her, but his family forbade the marriage.

Raphael reminded me of Claude Raines, the film star, short, dressed in a silky double-breasted suit with shot white cuffs and gold cufflinks.  “Very suave,” I heard Mummy say of Raphael.  I was surprised my tall Aunt Mitzi loved such a short man. A short, rich man. 

 “She can wait till meshiach, the messiah comes riding on his white ass. This is one time her blue eyes, blonde hair and fancy clothes won't help her.  Raphael's family wants nadn a good dowry; the bride has to pay for the wedding and furnish the house, and we’re a poor, East End family.  They can be in love heint bis morgen, forever, and it won't do them any good.  The only tragedy is,” Mummy said wistfully, “Mitzi and Raphael really do love each other. But if he marries Mitzi, his family will cut him out of the family business, and in the Depression it’s hard to find a job. Stuck up West Enders.  Think they’re too good for us East Enders. Mitzi thinks her looks will get her a rich man. A likely story!"

            Another secret hugged to my skinny chest was that I adored my glamorous Aunt Mitzi and wished I could grow up to be like her, tall, blonde, beautiful and daring, surely, one day rich, totally unlike her older sister, my small, dark-haired, cautious and timid (except with Daddy) Mummy. Both Aunt Mitzi and Daddy loved beautiful jewelry, fast sports, took chances, and even if their adventures led to disaster, I still admired their spirit. Mummy, cautious, and a saver, said she saved us from the Depression hunger I heard so much about, played Rachmaninoff, Schubert on Booba’s piano, and taught me the names of the composers she played.  When Mummy sang opera with the BBC, her true heart and soul poured out of her and I couldn’t tell the difference between their voices and hers.  She had, like Booba, a sharp, sarcastic sense of humor, many friends, but cautious, rarely tried anything new.

Like Mummy, I was a careful little girl, at least, at home. Mummy had told me she hadn’t wanted to marry Daddy and hadn’t wanted a child, so at home I tried to be invisible. At school, I could be myself, a chatterbox, an acrobat turning cartwheels and standing on my hands, the best skipper in the school, teachers talked to me and I talked to teachers as if we were equal. I loved school.  After school and my daily visit to the library, I played happily with other children in the Shoreditch church graveyard on dead children’s graves.

Like Daddy, I read, every spare minute. Mummy read only True Romance and True Confessions. 

“When I read their stories, my own life doesn’t seem so hard,” she would laugh. “All about girls who have sinned, and repented.  I never even had the chance to sin.”

            Now, sitting beside the fire, holding the mushroom in her left hand, Mummy began darning another of Daddy’s socks. She inserted the needle outside the hole and drew the wool through and across to the other side of the hole. When she’d made enough straight lines going from bottom to top, the warp, she called it, she swiftly wove the wool from side to side, over and under the lines, making a woof, until she made a perfect darn.  She sighed.

            “I even won a scholarship to high school, but you think Booba let me go?  My teacher  begged her to let me go. ’No, you have to work,’ Booba said.  So I went to work with Zada, my father, in a stinking fur factory,” she said bitterly.  “And Booba made me marry your father so Mitzi could marry and Mitzi is still not married. I married him for nothing. I should have waited for David.”

She now stabbed the needle into the pincushion and said, “I couldn’t go to high school but my dear sister went to secretarial school. She doesn’t have half my brains. And she still isn’t married.”

            I imagined my aunt as the beautiful princess, and Raphael the dark, handsome prince, (though he was short, and all my pictures of princes showed them to be tall). I imagined Raphael’s wicked Mother forbade him to marry my princess aunt under pain of cutting him out of his rightful kingdom. Or perhaps she might turn Raphael into a frog.  But as usual at home, I said nothing.  Daddy listened but couldn’t hear; Mummy could hear, but never listened. At home, I became a listener, a watcher, a reader and mostly invisible.

         “I had to give up everything I wanted, but Booba gives Mitzi everything she wants-except even she can’t get Raphael for Mitzi,” Mummy’s eyes filled with tears, she buried her small pug nose in her lacy handkerchief. 

  “I bet I need more make-up,” she said, and ran out of the living room down the long hallway to the bedroom, sharp high heels clacking on the linoleum we called lino. From the sound of her clacking high heels, I always knew where Mummy was.  Sometimes I had nightmares about the headless dummy on the second floor.  The headless dummy waited for me just inside an open door on the second floor landing with a horrid knob for a head, no arms, and it stood on three little wooden legs.  Coming home from school every day I was forced to pass it. I imagined it clacking upstairs on its three tiny legs to our third floor flat to come and eat me.  Clack, clack, clack, sounding like Mummy’s high heels, clack, clack, clack, I imagined the little legs of the headless dummy coming up the stairs to get me.  Or, the dreadful Mikado whom Mummy sang about as she washed the crockery might come to get me. She sang:

Gay little Japanese

Gay little girls from Japan

We know how to dance and sing

We know how to flutter our fans

Let everyone dance and sing

Let everyone flutter our fans

We’re gay little girls from-I missed the end because of the hoot of the foghorn from the docks.

Gay little girls from Japan.


Then came the part which terrified me even though Mummy smiled happily as she sang it.  Perhaps it frightened me because she smiled as she sang it:        

Our king is the dreadful Mikado

When we’re naughty he chops of our heads

So we always try to do as he tells us

For we don’t want to be dead.


I imagined that the headless dummy on the second floor landing had been a naughty girl whose head the dreadful Mikado had chopped off.  So at home, I had to be very, very good.


         In the bedroom, Mummy sat at her little art deco dressing table and peered into its three-part mirror. “Oh God, I look like the Wreck of the Hesperus," she groaned, as usual.

I saw the ship’s image as clearly as a painting on the wall; one end of the grey ship under water, the other sticking up in the air, sinking.

"And look at my shiny nose, like a Belisha Beacon, and no lipstick." 

Daddy, book and elbows propped up on the polished rosewood mantelpiece with inset white wood cherries, read his book.  The soft gaslight fell on his book as deeply absorbed by it, and hearing nothing, he paid no attention to us.

            Mummy pressed the spring in her gold color flapjack and its lid flew up to reveal a mirror.  Ladies only powdered their noses or smoked in private, never in public, she had often told me. But if they needed to go to the lavatory they would say, “I have to powder my nose.”

  She peered into the mirror like Snow White’s stepmother.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” I whispered to Mumfie.  Suppose the mirror spoke, and said that Mummy’s sister, Mitzi was fairer?  Mummy sometimes said I looked like my aunt. Suppose the mirror said I was fairer. Mummy couldn’t send Aunt Mitzi away, but would she, like Snow White’s stepmother like Hanzel and Gretel’s stepmother she send me away and try to lose me, as they did?  Unthinkable.

Mummy squinted at herself through gold Tartar eyes, upturned like Booba’s (and mine) and pursed her small, full mouth. Both hairdressers, Daddy had cut her reddish-hennaed hair in a fashionable shingle then she’d set it with sharp little shark-toothed clips into corrugated waves, in the thirties’ fashion.  Little cultured pearls in her ears, pierced when she was eight days old, the day that Jewish boys were circumcised, she told me, gleamed softly in the gaslight. Mummy wore her ankle-length, brown wool dress, brown satin collar and cuffs shining, belted at the waist with a rosy bronze buckle.  As always she wore silk stockings and high-heeled court shoes, like Minnie Mouse whose pictures I saw at the Saturday morning children’s cinema.

            As Mummy pressed the puff into Evening in Paris powder, a flurry of pale powder shot into the air and dusted my red dress. Jewish children often wore red, “against the Evil Eye.” She powdered her little pug nose and painted her small, full mouth vivid red, then rubbed her lips together, still looking in the mirror.  Quickly passing a comb through her hennaed shingled hair, she reminded me of Binkie, licking herself all over after the sparks had ruffled her fur.  Mummy looked into her flapjack and chanted,

            Little dabs of powder

            Little dabs of paint

            Make a lady beautiful

            When she really ain't.


            I smiled shyly, but she didn’t notice me.

            "I don't know why I'm putting on powder and lipstick," she said.  “No one's coming. Still, you never know who might pop in.”

            No one in the East End had a telephone nor locked the front door, so people popped in at any time. No sooner had Mummy spoken, than someone banged the downstairs’ iron lion’s head doorknocker three times. We waited for the footsteps.

 “It’s a woman,” Mummy said, listening to the sharp sound of high heels, hitting the  stairs, growing louder and louder as the woman neared our third floor flat.

            “Cooee, it’s me,” Aunty Mitzi’s voice rang out silvery, as she ran up the stairs.

            I ran to the banister, and peeked through.  Her golden head appeared on the stairs below, where she passed the headless dummy on the second floor. The dummy would let her by, freely.

“Speak of the devil,” Mummy muttered.

“Hallo, Minnie, hallo, Gilda,” Aunt Mitzi said.

 “Hallo, how are you?  Cup of tea?” Mummy said, changing her face to a smile, as soon as Aunt Mitzi stood on the third floor landing. There was always hot water on the gas stove in case of visitors.  Aunt Mitzi pecked Mummy’s cheek. Mummy turned away and poured a little hot water into the teapot.

            “Hello pussycat,” Aunt Mitzi said to me, and bent herself in half to kiss me, her fresh scent, lily of the valley, some deeper smell under it, ran through my body and made me tremble. She wore her blonde hair in marcel waves. Her fresh, cold skin brushed my cheek, and her blue eyes sparkled with mischief.   The glossy fur pompons on her coat gleamed in the gaslight and tickled my face. Zada, my grandfather, a furrier, had added them to her perfectly fitting, black wool coat.  She threw off the coat to show a violet, long-sleeved wool dress, which hugged her long, slender body.  Her breasts were small and high, her waist slender, like Mummy’s, but her legs were as long as those of Betty Grable, whose photograph I saw daily on our barber shop calendar in the men’s section, and outside the Roxy Cinema.

Mummy, fussing with the tea, hid her anger. She put a little hot water into the teapot to warm it, emptied it and spooned in loose tea, then poured hot water over the leaves, leaving the pot to steep for a few minutes. Then she covered the teapot with a cozy made of a French lady in a high wig for a handle, the china doll’s huge skirt covered the pot to keep the tea warm. Mummy laid biscuits on a plate, and put everything on a tray. 

Aunt Mitzi sat down on the cane chair in the kitchen and crossed her long, silk-stockinged legs, but kept on her leather gloves. I supposed she was still cold.  Daddy, who had heard nothing, remained in the bedroom, reading. Mummy carried the tray into the warm living room, Aunt Mitzi and I followed her.

            “Here, pussycat, I’ve brought you a new book of fairy-tales,” Aunt Mitzi said, picking me up as if I were a kitten, sitting me on her lap and hugging me.  Mummy had hugged me once, stopping in the middle of scrubbing the floor, sitting back on her heels and had said, “She’s so clebber,” which I supposed was how I said ‘clever’ when I was younger, perhaps three.  I was so surprised when Mummy hugged me, I didn’t know what to do.   

Aunt Mitzi always hugged me. When she did, I wished I could purr, like Binkie. 

“You’ll be six in January. This is your birthday present.  It’s a bit early, but since I was coming round, I thought I’d give it to you. During the week I never have time, because I work all day, and at night, you’re asleep.  How do you like it?”

            “It’s beautiful,” I whispered, caressing and smelling its real leather cover. I’d never seen lilac leather before.  I traced the gold lettering on the cover, Hanz Anderson’s Fairy Tales, and ran my finger over the gold edged pages.  It was the finest book I’d ever touched, and it was mine.  “Thank you, aunty,” and Aunt Mitzi kissed me.  Another child might have put her arms round her aunt, but I didn’t know how to, I had not seen a child hug a grownup that I remembered.  Only my grandfather, Zada, picked me up sometimes, murmuring in Yiddish, “bubelle, zeisele, fleigele,” little doll, little sweetness, little wing, and I’d nestle delightedly against his chest.  

            We all sat on chairs in front of the living room fire. We did not have a dining room table in the living room like Booba, hers so shiny, that the crystal vase of flowers shone reflected in the table as if standing on a mirror.

 Mummy and my aunty held their cups and saucers in their right hand, a napkin on their laps and their plates with biscuits on the napkin.  They crossed their ankles, the way proper ladies sat in pictures in my books. I was allowed a cup of tea with milk and one biscuit.

            “What brings you out on such a cold night?” Mummy asked.

            Aunt Mitzi finally pulled off the soft leather glove on her left hand.

            “This,” she said.

            “Oh,” Mummy breathed.

            On Aunt Mitzi’s left hand a ring sparkled and glowed like a star,.

            “Oh, it’s beautiful.  A real diamond. Mazaltov. Congratulations. Adrian?”  Tears came to Mummy’s eyes, whether from happiness or jealousy I couldn’t tell.  She’d never had an engagement ring.

            “Yes,” my aunt said quietly.  “Even though Raphael and I love each other, it’s no use me waiting for him. His family won’t let him marry anyone unless the woman has a huge dowry.  I just have to accept Adrian. He knows I don’t love him the way he loves me, but he wants me with or without love or money.   He has a good job as a chemist, so I’d better settle down.  I told him I don’t want to marry for two years, and he’s willing to wait. And unlike Raphael’s, his family is happy to have me.”

            “Mummy must be overjoyed,” Mummy said with a trace of bitterness. 

Why hadn’t Booba told us, I thought.  Perhaps Aunty had insisted on telling us, herself. Perhaps she wanted to make Mummy jealous that two professional men wanted her, and Mummy was only married to a deaf, barber who gambled, read books and went to museums Sundays.

            “She’s been nagging me to get married for years,” Aunt Mitzi said carelessly. “She’d have been happier if I’d married a really rich man like Raphael, but she’s satisfied with Adrian.”

            “All cats are gray in the dark,” Mummy murmured.

            The two sisters talked a little while longer, sipping tea.  Then Aunt Mitzi rose easily, stretched her long body, and said, “I’d better go home or Mum will be worried. And I have to get up early for work.”

            “You’ll still work at the business, with Raphael, even though you’re engaged to Adrian?” Mummy asked, arching her plucked eyebrows.

            “Of course.  Jobs are hard to get. I need to save for a trousseau and for the furniture, bedding and china. Besides, I want to see Raphael suffer the way I’ve suffered, waiting and waiting for him.  But much as I love him, I wouldn’t want to marry him if he were poor. If he married me, his family would cut him off, and in these times, he might not have a job. I don’t want to have to struggle for years, as our parents did,” Aunt Mitzi said, “so I’ll marry Adrian.  And you, pussycat,” she said, touching my cheek, “will be my bridesmaid.”

            “A bridesmaid?” I murmured, feeling my eyes grow big with delight.

            The sisters, one tall, stately and blonde, the other, my Mummy, small, and dark, kissed each other coolly on the cheek.

While Mummy put the cups and saucers in the kitchen sink, my aunt slipped sixpence in my hand as she kissed me and like all my relatives whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell Mummy.”

 Everyone knew that Mummy put every penny, eight-sided threepenny bits and sixpences given me by her friends and relatives, into the Post Office Savings for me. I was forbidden to spend even a penny given me. If I did Mummy would scream at me the way she did when angry with Daddy.  So I was a good girl.  If not, the headless dummy might come for me.  And there was also that dreadful Mikado lurking somewhere, to chop of my head if I were naughty.

 But I was so overjoyed at being a bridesmaid for Aunt Mitzi, another secret hugged to my skinny chest, that I almost forgot my fear of the dreadful Mikado.  But as soon as Aunt Mitzi left, I would give Mummy the sixpence.

As the sound of Aunt Mitzi’s high heels faded, I breathed in the warm trail of her perfume which still hung in the air.

            “Well,” Mummy said, back in the living room, sinking down onto the blue Persian carpet. “What a surprise. She finally gave up on that mamzer, Raphael.  I have to tell Alf.”

            Daddy was still reading his book propped up at the fireplace mantelpiece in the bedroom.  He’d heard nothing. 

Mummy shouted loudly, “Alf, you’ll never believe what happened.”

Daddy tore himself away from his book and listened to the news of his sister-in-law’s engagement. He simply raised his dark eyebrows and said, “What do I care? Your family all looks down on me, snobs, except for your father. He’s a real gent. The rest can go to hell.”

Mummy took the chocolates back into the living room. I followed, hugging Mumfie.  She wound up the gramophone and set the needle onto the black shiny edge of the record. It started playing Mummy’s favorite opera aria, “Knowest thou, that fair land,” which she said was from the opera, Mignon.

            "Well, we might as well eat these," she said, sitting down on the blue Persian carpet in front of the fire. I curled up beside her.  The warm fire made Mummy's face rosy. The chocolates sat in two neat rows like the schoolchildren in my class, but in a shiny black cardboard box with a lid joined at the back of the box. On top of the box was written, 'Black Magic Chocolates.'  On the inside lid, drawings showed the shape of each chocolate and under each shape was written its filling, "caramel," "hazelnut" or, "cherry" or "nougat," and here I sucked in my breath, “marzipan.” I loved chocolate covered marzipan.  I heard that people used to take a box of chocolates to the flicks or to the Yiddish Theater. The square chocolates were the hard ones with toffee inside, the round ones had cherry, coffee, mint or chocolate cream inside, but only one, the one diamond shaped chocolate, was filled with marzipan. 

            Waiting for Mummy to reach the marzipan, I thought about her saying that Daddy looked after her and she’d never have another child, and that if she had to have a child, it should have been a boy.  I wondered if I could become a boy, but didn’t know how.  I couldn't help being a girl.  I didn't know how to be a boy. I didn't even know how boys were different from girls except their hair was shorter. I was an only child. But Mummy had told me that when I was born, I had torn her womb. Although I had no idea what a womb was, I could see that I was a nuisance, and that maybe one day I'd be dropped in some strange place all alone, terrified and lost, like Binkie, mewling for its Mummy.  What if they took me to a place I couldn't get back from and left me there? I was so afraid I couldn't think about it.  No one would believe me if I told them my fears.

            "How ridiculous, nonsense," they'd say, if I told-but who would I tell? Unthinkable to tell Booba or Zada-my grandmother and grandfather- or my young uncles or even Aunt Mitzi.  "Mummy loves you; she'd never drop you in a strange place and leave you all alone with no one to talk to.  As for thinking about Hanzel and Gretel, well that's just a fairy tale.  You don't think it ever happened really, do you?"  I could hear them say.

            But Mummy had already sent me to two strange ‘aunts’ that I remembered, and summers I lived with the big Lyons family and their seven daughters, round the corner. At least, the Lyons family was nice. During the Christmas rush in the shop when Mummy and Daddy were busy, she often sent me to one of my stranger ‘aunts,’ women I’d never met, who lived in the country. “For your health,” she said which puzzled me, because I was never ill. She’d put me on a bus and wave me goodbye with her white lace-edge “goodbye” hanky. I’d arrive alone in some strange place, sit on my little suitcase in the street until some strange woman came for me. The stranger said nothing; I just followed her to her strange house.

  "You can stay up a little longer and help me eat these,” Mummy said, biting into a chocolate, eating half and putting the other half back in its little ruffled cup of brown paper, her small teeth marks showing where she had bitten it.  I ate the half she left, tasting the sweet sticky cherry filling, my least favorite.  The next half was full of tasty, crunchy nuts, then came one with chewy nougat inside.  My mouth felt warm and sticky with delicious chocolate, a luxury in the Depression I heard so much about. We were coming close to my favorite chocolate, the single marzipan, when Mummy closed the box.

            "That's enough," Mummy said. “It’s late.”

            I hoped she wouldn't eat the single chocolate marzipan while I was asleep, especially since she didn’t even particularly like chocolates.

            "Bedtime," she said, springing to her feet, scattering chocolates and their brown paper cups all over the blue Persian carpet.

            "Oh, look what I've done, I'm so clumsy."

            I remembered Booba, my grandmother saying in her hard voice to Mummy once, "man kakt an falt ahrein," and Mummy blushing hotly and crying out, "Mama, is that a nice thing to say to your eldest daughter?" and tears sprang to Mummy’s eyes.

            Booba had answered coolly, "If the shoe fits..."

            On the way home from Booba’s that day, I broke my usual silence, consumed with curiosity, "What does ‘man kakt an falt ahrein,’ mean, Mummy?”

            "It means," Mummy said bitterly, "'you shit and fall in it.' It means I can do no right and my sister, Mitzi, can do no wrong.  I get all the blame and she gets all the praise.  I had to marry a man I didn't love, have a baby I didn't want, and a girl instead of a boy.  I wasn't allowed to go to high school but Mitzi went to secretarial school.   I had to work in a stinking fur factory and then on women’s dirty heads as a hairdresser to help your father.  Mitzi works in a nice clean office. I married your father so she could marry and she’s still not married.  She's now older than me when I married. I was twenty-three, she's twenty-four, and I don't see my Mummy pushing her to get married.  Well, at least, she finally got some sense into that peroxide blonde head of hers. I just hope Adrian doesn’t let her down.”

            As if anyone would let Aunt Mitzi down, I thought.

Mummy led me to the bedroom, pushed me onto the empty chamber pot and after I'd pished, shoved the tepl under the bed with her shoe toe for Daddy and her to use later.  None of the houses had lavatories, but there were plenty of public lavatories. Each public lavatory door had a slot in it. You dropped a penny into it and the door unlocked.   On the rare times we all three went out together, Mummy fretted “Every corner he has to stop and ‘spend a penny,’ the pisher.”

            Daddy was still, elbows on the mantelpiece, reading his book, oblivious to our conversation or movements.       

The bedroom on the corner of

Cheshire Street
Vallance Road
, my white crib, with its hand-knitted blanket stood against the wall, next to my parents' great double bed. On their bed lay a huge, fat, white down comforter, an iberbat and two fat feather cushions for each, lay puffed up high. Daddy slept under the window overlooking tiny, cobblestoned
Cheshire Street
, Mummy next to me. My white cot with white bars made an L shape next to their bed. The front window looked over
Vallance Road
. I could see our barber shop and the barber pole opposite, its red, white and blue stripes, turning, turning without ever stopping, opposite.  Mummy tucked me in and said the Shema with me.

            "’Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.’” We recited in Hebrew.  “Daddy will stay with you until you go to sleep," she said, leaving.

She knew I was terrified of the dark, but she didn’t know why. I was afraid the headless dummy on the second floor would clop up the stairs to the third floor and eat me, though I never told her this. She would have laughed.  But tonight, I was happy over Aunt Mitzi coming, showing us her diamond ring, giving me the book with the lavender leather cover, the golden edged pages, the silver sixpence and her telling me I would be her bridesmaid.  My heart beat so hard with excitement, I couldn’t fall sleep. I watched Daddy's strong back as he read. I thought he must be a good dancer. He’d once told me that he met Mummy at a Jewish club dance. I liked Daddy's short, skinny, wiry body. I supposed I had the same body, and I, too, like Daddy, liked running in races.  Too bad he was deaf.  There was so much I wanted to tell and ask him. “I ‘ad an earache when I was eight, I cried in terrible pain, but my parents wouldn’t take me to a doctor. After that, I couldn’t ‘ear. Teachers ‘it me over the ‘ead because they said I wasn’t listening.”

            Didn’t they understand he couldn’t hear? How could they have been so cruel?

            "Still awake?"  Daddy said, looking over his shoulder.  Turning me over on my stomach, he spanked me on the tush, so lightly, it felt more like a feather touch.  Maybe he didn't mind me being a girl as much as Mummy said. 

I fell asleep and dreamed that our alarm clock on the other side of the room walked across on its two little feet, came into my crib and dug its little feet into my stomach, hurting me. Waking with a cry of terror, I leaped into my parent’s bed where, drowning in the heat of Mummy’s body and the feather iberbat I fell once more into a deep, but dreamless sleep.