Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
After supper I’d driven the old Nova down the hill across Hollywood Boulevard and over to Melrose and parked and walked around for a couple hours. I stopped at the newsstand to look through the magazines. No one at the Melrose newsstand knows who I am or what I do so I can relax a little. When I got back to the house Alicia was leaning against the kitchen sink eating an orange, an odd expression on her face.
“You had better get some sleep,” she says in Spanish, “because when morning comes you might have to make a run for it.”
I feel the head empty itself out. Thought recalls the scene in James Cain’s Serenade where he writes about how Mexicans clean iguanas before cooking them. They drop the live iguana into a pot of boiling water and the big lizard purges itself in one tremendous whoosh.
I speak very carefully in Spanish. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I had two contractions while you were out and I feel peculiar.”
“Precisely, what do you mean when you say you feel peculiar?”
“It is happening, Gordo. Tomorrow I will have a little gift for you.”
I go to the bathroom, take off my clothes and get in the shower. I feel very alert. Thought goes over what I will have to take care of tomorrow. Yesterday we made a practice run over the Cahuenga pass down into Burbank and over to St. Joseph’s hospital. I made a wrong turn and got lost. After I found the hospital we bought some hamburgers and sodas and ate them sitting in the Nova in a deserted parking lot outside a boarded up night club. Yesterday I was very relaxed. Alicia was relaxed too. She ate quietly while I talked about this and that. I was content and ready.
When I get out of the shower Alicia says: “This must be the cleanest you have ever been.” She has a queer look on her face.
“What is the matter with that?” I say very evenly in Spanish “Tell me precisely what you want to say. Do not permit me to misunderstand you.”
“I think you had better take me. I had two pains one after the other while you were in there cleaning yourself. They almost broke my head.”
For the first time in months I feel suddenly that something might go wrong. I don’t ask any more questions. I dress as fast as I can. Thought is wonderfully concentrated. I have already checked the tires on the car, checked the gas, the timing, the water. I’m ready. I’m very aware of how focused thought is. I don’t make a false move. When I’m ready I go to the bathroom door and find Alicia using the mirror in the medicine cabinet to put her eye make-up on.
“What are you doing? Are you putting on eye make-up? Put that down. Let us go. You look fine.”
In the mirror her face looks tired. There are dark circles under her eyes. She keeps working at the eyes.
“This is crazy.” I go back to the dining room where we have the plywood bed I made. I look around for something to do. There’s nothing to do. I hear Mother call from her bedroom. She knows we’re going to the hospital. She wants to know what I’m waiting for.
“Alicia’s putting on her eye make-up.”
“Goddammit it, she’s putting her eye make-up on.”
“Don’t make her any more nervous than you have to. And stop yelling at me.”
I don’t say anything.
Mother says: “Is the car running?”
“The goddamm car is running but Alicia’s putting on her goddamm eye make-up so we aren’t going anywhere.”
“Don’t get yourself worked up.”
I don’t say anything.
Marisol comes in the bedroom and says, “I think your mother’s right. You sound all worked up.”
Marisol is fourteen.
Alicia comes out of the bathroom and I start for the front door. Alicia goes around the bed to where some baby clothes are folded and stacked on a chair next to the baby bed.
“What are you doing?”
“I am going to take a different slip to the hospital. I do not like the one I have on.”
“Let us take what you already have packed. I will take the other slip to you tomorrow.”
“You say you will, but I am not confidant you will.”
“Calm yourself, Gordo.”
“Please, Alicia, go with me now. This is crazy. Why don’t you vacuum the carpet before we leave? Is there some washing you can throw in the machine?”
“Gordo, listen to me. Calm yourself and do not annoy me.”
We say goodbye to Mother and Marisol and go out the front door onto the old wood porch. Alicia pauses.
“I don’t feel it now,” she says. “Maybe it is too early.”
“ It is not too early. How can it be too early? If we get there and it is too early we can come back. What do we have to lose? If we do not go and something happens what will we do then? How can it be too early? It is never too early. It is not too early now. We must go.”
Alicia doubles over and moans. When the contraction is over I take her hand and help her down the wood steps.
“Thank you, dummy. I thought you were never going to touch me.”
It will take seventeen minutes to drive to the entrance of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank if nothing goes wrong. Alicia has a contraction while we’re still on Highland Avenue before we reach the Cahuenga pass. She has another driving down Barham Road into the Valley.
“Just eight minutes now, Alicia. I think we are going to be okay.”
Alicia doesn’t say anything.
“Seven minutes and we will be there”
She doesn’t say anything.
“Just five minutes now… Four minutes…”
When I pull up at the curbing in front of the entrance to St. Joseph’s Alicia has a fourth contraction and inside the lobby while she sits in the wheel chair signing her name on three different forms she has another. I’m getting very intense. I can see how she’s hurting and trying to not make a scene. Now we have to wait for an attendant from the right floor to come down for her. Anything can happen. I’m at the edge of blowing it off and I know once I get started I won’t be able to stop. If I blow it’s going to be hard on Alicia. But I’m right on the edge. In another minute it’ll be like someone has shot me out of a cannon. I begin seeing pictures of myself smashing up everything in the lobby, including the people. It’s very close.
An elevator door opens and a young woman comes out and takes the wheel chair and we all go up to the fifth floor. She wheels Alicia down a hallway into what she says is a labor room. She doesn’t appear to be in much of a hurry, but I’m not agitated the way I was downstairs. I follow them into the labor room. A tall, good-looking Black nurse comes in and chats up the attendant. She doesn’t say hello to Alicia or pay any attention to her. In the wheelchair Alicia is having another contraction. I’m in the middle of a horror movie. The Black nurse says something over her shoulder in English and Alicia pushes herself up out of the chair. Sweat has popped out on her forehead. She looks like she’s going to cry.
“What do you want her to do?,” I say. “Do you want her to get on the bed? Take her cloths off? What do you want? She doesn’t understand.”
“I want her to get undressed,” the Black nurse says, writing something on a clipboard. Without bothering to look at me she says: “You can stay here if you like but I don’t want you giving me directions.”
“She doesn’t understand English,” I say. I feel the anger coming up.
Alicia nods to me that she understands what the nurse expects of her and starts pulling her dress over her head. The Black nurse and the White attendant are chatting and laughing an arm’s length away like they’re in another world. I want to slap the shit out of both of them.
Now Alicia has her dress off. She’s spilling out of her bra and panties beautifully. I step out into the hallway and close the door behind me.
One day she said, “Gordo, do you want to be there when it happens?”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Why not?” She was grinning at me.
“Men used to do that in the nineteen sixties. They do not do it any more.”
“Why are you such a fool?”
“Maybe some men still want to watch.”
“Why do you not want to see your son being born?”
“I do not feel it is necessary. Do you want me to be there?”
“Do you think I am going to do this for you again next year?”
“I do not think so.”
“When your son is born he is going to look around for his Gordo and he will not see him. But he will know where his mother is. His mother will be there with him. She will be his rock.”
“Every baby needs a rock.”
In the hallway I think about how happy and content Alicia has been with her pregnancy. We both understand this is the last time she will go through it. I’ve known men who have gone through their wife’s pregnancy as a partner, so to speak, who played as big a role in it as they could right on through the birth. Some of those events had been long and exhausting. The idea of looking on never appealed to me. There’s nothing wrong or ludicrous in the father wanting to be there but it’s never been something I’ve wanted to see. I’ve known men who have taken photographs of their children being born. I’ve never wanted to be a tourist in a place where serious business is being taken care of. I’ve never wanted to look at the photographs. What they reveal is none of my business. That hasn’t stopped some men from showing them to me. I understand Alicia would rather like it if I were with her when the baby is born but I don’t think it’s terribly important for her.
Through the closed door I hear Alicia moan and cry out and I go back in and take her hand. She’s going to stay here in the labor room until it’s time to give birth, then she’ll be wheeled down the hallway to the delivery room. The Black nurse is alone in the room with us now. On my side of the bed the floor is flooded with water with a little blood in it. The Black nurse is on the other side of the gurney telling Alicia in bad Spanish not to push. “No empujas,” the nurse is saying. “Do you understand? No empujas. No empujas.” Alicia is moaning and clenching my hand furiously. She’s saying that the baby is coming but the nurse can’t understand her.
The nurse is annoyed. I can hear it in her voice. She keeps saying “No empujas. No empujas.” She’s right there and I think maybe Alicia is getting nervous and is exaggerating what’s happening and that the nurse knows what’s best. But I don’t like the tone of the nurse’s voice. There’s something very wrong with how she’s behaving. It occurs to me that there’s a little something about race at the bottom of it. It’s as if everything the Black nurse has done and said in Alicia’s presence has had a note of disinterest or even contempt in it. The only thing she knows about Alicia is that she’s Mexican.
Alicia is moaning and sweating and saying in Spanish that the baby is coming the baby is coming and the nurse is telling her in bad Spanish not to push, don’t push and I’m very confused and I’m getting very angry again and then I happen to look down, I don’t know why, and I see something odd. There’s a little something down there that I haven’t seen before. It looks like a dark little dome. “Jesus Christ,” I say, “here it comes.” I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing. I feel an enormous rush of excitement. In all my life I had never expected to see anything like this.
“Well, it sure is coming,” the Black nurse says. Her voice is changed entirely. It’s like a new spirit has her in its grip. It’s a warm, welcoming, motherly spirit. A nurse’s spirit. “All right, Honey, go ahead and push,” the new woman says. “It’s all right, Honey. Go ahead. Push. Empujas. All right? Empujas, Honey.”
Alicia is holding on to our hands and we’re holding on to hers. The first time she pushes a head comes out. I can’t believe it. A moment passes and when she pushes again the upper part of a torso comes out.
“Jesus Christ, will you look at that.” I’m aware of being in a Catholic hospital but the only thing I can say is “Jesus Christ. Oh, Jesus Christ.” A middle aged White nurse comes in and stands at the foot of the gurney and sort of takes over. She looks happy and pleased to be there. A wonderful calm fills the room. She’s the great mother that all new procreating mothers want to have. For just an instant the mind loses its focus and I see reproductions of a couple paintings of St. Francis and I try to imagine the sound of his mother’s voice but then Alicia, grasping one hand of mine and one of the Black nurse’s pulls herself half up off the gurney and a deep terrible cry and groan comes out of her and it is so profound it’s like something that has come out of the heart of a great thousand-year-old oak tree followed by the deepest moan of relief I have ever heard and the entire baby is plopped out between her legs in the hands of the White nurse who is all smiles and talking calmly and happily to no one in particular and I hear myself saying “Oh my God oh my God there it is there it is.”
I can’t make out its various parts. It’s all pressed together. Memory recalls my old Fourth Street apartment of twenty years ago. I’ve cut the top off a can containing a whole cooked chicken and now I turn it upside down and the chicken plops out into the sink and bounces around a couple times. Its wings and legs are pressed so tightly against its carcass it occurs to me that it might not cook good until I’ve pulled them out and loosened the bird up a little.
Alicia has fallen back onto the gurney wet with sweat. The sheet and her gown are wet through and I can see the shape of her engorged breasts through them. Her long black hair is soaked and some of it is pasted across her face. I pull the hair away from her eyes. The White nurse is wooling the baby around in a white cloth drying it off. The baby starts yelling. “Oh, what welcome news,” the White nurse says happily. The Black nurse is using a pair of forceps to sever the cord. She’s sort of mashing it in two. We’re still in the labor room, not the delivery room, so I suppose there’s nothing around here that cuts.
It’s taking the nurse long time. The cord is like rubber. There’s another attendant in the room now too. Everybody is busy. No one is in a hurry. They calmly exchange the words they need to inform each other what each one is doing and what each wants from the other. It’s become professional. It’s reassuring.
“Oh my God,” I’m saying. “Jesus Christ. Look at that. Look at that.”
Alicia wants to know what sex the baby is. “What is it?” she asks in Spanish. “What is it?” She’s exhausted. Her eyes are closed. The nurses are cleaning and drying the baby. “It does not matter,” I say excitedly. “It does not matter.” Alicia sits up under her own steam. I can’t believe it. It’s one surprise after another. She cries out in a tremendous voice, “QUE ES? QUE ES?” The Black nurse, apparently the linguist in the room, pauses in her on-going efforts to mash the cord in two, and takes a look. In Spanish she says, “It is a boy.” She turns to the White nurse. “How do you say girl in Spanish?”
“It is a girl,” I tell Alicia in Spanish. She moans and falls back on the bed.
The White nurse lifts the baby up by her ankles and looks her over. Nobody’s slapped her but she’s already bawling like crazy. She’s a genius. I hadn’t noticed but someone has brought a portable incubator into the room. The White nurse puts the baby in it and closes the door. It looks like a microwave oven. It has a little glass door on the side. I stoop over and look in. The baby is lying on its back quietly. She’s stopped crying. Her eyes are wide open. I hadn’t expected that. It takes kittens and puppies how many days to open their eyes? This kid is already looking around. She’s only four or five minutes old and she’s already casing the joint. While I watch, her head moves a little and her wide-open gaze catches mine through the glass. She looks right into my eyes with an unblinking fixed gaze. It stuns me. She looks just like me and her eyes are looking without blinking right into my eyes. It’s as if she can actually see something. I’m telling everyone what I’m doing and what I’m seeing the baby do. I’m aware that no one’s answering so maybe no one’s listening but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been telling stories for thirty-five years without anyone listening. A moment passes and the baby’s eyes lock into mine again. It’s electrifying. I feel the charge all over the surface of my skull. I can’t stop talking. I kept saying Jesus Christ Jesus Christ and the room is charged and crackling.
The nurses are making Alicia comfortable. They say they’re waiting for the doctor. I don’t know what the hell they need the doctor for now. There hadn’t been anything to it. One two three and there it was. Now the doctor arrives and he’s a big guy, some kind of Persian or Arab with an indecipherable accent and the facial expression of a professional murderer. He’s a big beefy guy with black hairy arms. He doesn’t say anything to anyone and before I know what’s happening he has his arm inside Alicia half way up to his elbow. She shrieks with pain and maybe surprise. The two of them struggle, the nurses join in on the side of the doctor and then he drags out a big bloody pile of something that must be the placenta and plops it on the sheet between Alicia’s legs. It’s a wonderful sight. Alicia falls back on the gurney again with a moan. I stare at the doctor in amazement. Everything about him reminds me of a butcher, including the black hair on his arms. My heart goes out to my wife. She’s wet with sweat again, her hair is in her eyes, her head has fallen down onto her bare right shoulder, her eyes are closed.
A third nurse comes into the room, pulls the incubator with the baby in it out into the hallway and starts wheeling it off. She invites me to follow along. We arrive at a little glassed-in room with half a dozen infrared ray machines mounted over little tables and scales. The nurse working there takes the baby out of the incubator, cleans her off a little more and weighs and measures her, notes the results on a chart, then inspects her body closely from head to toe like she’s going over a big potato. She makes small talk while she works, explaining each step as she goes along, reassuring me that all the different parts of the little body are within the range of normality.
Across a passageway there’s a larger glassed-in holding room where about twenty newborns are lying in their little beds on their stomachs asleep. Behind that room behind a big glass wall a couple nurses are feeding newborns with bottles. The nurses look very happy and content. Every detail of the scene reassures me that my baby will be safe, secure, and under constant, calm, knowledgeable observation. There isn’t a man in sight anywhere. After watching that hairy goddamn Arab at work, it’s all right with me. I walk back to the room where Alicia is. The nurses are putting her in a wheelchair. She has her robe and slippers on. Her hair is brushed and she’s dry. We wheel her down the hallway and pause to look in through the window of the little room where our baby is still bathing in the rays of the infrared ray machine. The nurse holds her up for us to see. An incredibly deep strong laugh explodes out of Alicia. A powerful gush of happiness and power blowing off from a small woman in a wheelchair. The force of it sets me back.
“She looks just like you, Gordo.” She laughs happily.
We take Alicia to a bed in a room where there are already two other women. It’s the cheapest in room in the hospital. When they bring the baby in I see how tentatively Alicia handles her. She looks unsure, as if she’s afraid she might damage it. “What a beautiful baby,” she says over and over again. “What a beautiful baby. I never expected to have such a beautiful baby.”
The floor nurse says it’s time for me to leave. It’s three in the morning. We’d left the house at 11:30.
Three and a half hours from start to finish. It feels like minutes. I go downstairs and through the lobby. The Nova is still parked at the curbing in front of the entrance where I’d forgotten it. I get in, start the motor, put it in gear and start driving back the way we’d come.
I don’t know where to go. My heart is floating. The floating is inside my breast but my sense of things is that the heart itself is some place else, suspended in some great airy expanse, beating in an emptiness. Overhead the stars are brilliantly blue and white in a perfect black sky. A great peace infuses the darkness over the San Fernando Valley. I feel blessed with a great good fortune. I’m not crying but tears are flying around everywhere inside the car. Mother and Marisol must be asleep. They would both want to know what the news is. I drive back over Barham Road, up through the hills and down Cahuenga into Hollywood and turn west on Franklyn but when I come to our street I don’t turn but keep on going up Franklyn. I’m driving the old Nova at fifteen, twenty miles an hour. It’s the perfect speed. Sometimes I slow down a little.
The only place I can think to go that will be open at four in the morning is Cantor’s Delicatessen on Fairfax Avenue. I decide to drift in that direction. Thought begins to reflect on all the times over the years I have met with friends at Cantor’s. I remember how most of those friends were Jews. My heart floods with good will toward them.
Then thought reminds me of the work I’m doing and I remember the awful chasm that’s between Jews and me now and in a flash it’s as if the immense beauty of the night is gone and in its place are the goddamm Nazis and the goddamn gas chambers and the photographs and all the old hatreds and lies and the propaganda and self righteousness and anger and all the rest of it. Now there is just the dark empty city street at three or four o’clock in the morning. For a moment I feel nothing whatever. Thought has stopped. For an instant there is no memory, no pictures, no speculation. And in the silence of that one still empty moment I become aware that I want to perform an act of reconciliation with Jews.
Then thought, obsessed with movement and noise as it always is, starts up again. As I recognize the implications of the proposal I have made to myself, my awareness of the great beauty of the night returns, a silver flood of starlight pours through the trees washing the street and my bare arms inside the car and there’s the sense again of great elevation, of a gorgeous surplus of feeling, an immense good will toward everyone and a thankfulness for the wonderful gifts the night has bestowed on me.
I drive slowly toward La Brea, turn south to Santa Monica Boulevard, west past Barney’s Beanery, which is closed now, and turn south again on Fairfax and park in the new lot beside Cantor’s. I don’t understand what it would mean for me to perform an act of reconciliation with Jews. There’s something about the word that suggests I have wronged someone. Questioning the gas chamber stories-how can that be a wrong? If what I suspect is false is false, I’m a bearer of good news for Jews and for Germans too. In any event, the questions I ask have to be asked. They aren’t my questions. I discovered others already asking them. I heard the others asking the questions and when I heard them I felt I had to ask them too. I don’t know why, but it didn’t have anything to do with Jews. That’s the part Jews don’t understand. Questions about the gassing chambers are beyond who’s a Jew and who isn’t. The questions have gone beyond any one of us. They have a life of their own.
As I push though the glass doors and approach the bakery counter thought somehow flies off to Buddhists thinking about the nature of mind and to Plato and how we ourselves come and go but how there’s no end to thought. The gas chamber questions don’t have to be answered but once they’re asked they have to go on being asked or something is being evaded. The questions either have to be asked or something else has to be done with them. I can’t bring myself to do that something else.
Cantor’s is still doing business. I half hope I’ll see someone I know from the old days and half hope I won’t. In any event, to hell with the gas chambers and the Nazis and the Jews too. I’ll buy marzipan for Mother and something chocolate for Marisol and I’ll drive back to the house and tell them how it was with Alicia and with Paloma Kathleen and something maybe about how it’s been with me. About me, maybe not that much.
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