Fortune Cookie (exceprt)

by David Agranoff


She is not gone.

            Max stared at the tiny piece of paper and the broken sugar cookie it came from. He looked around the restaurant to the Chinamen for whom it was named. His young son greeted a family coming in from the cold.  Max recognized them from the synagogue. He crumbled the fortune in his hand, afraid to look at it again.  He stared at the empty seat across from him.

            That is where she would be sitting. If she had made it to America.

            Even Abrams Deli was closed, taking advantage of the excuse to be closed on a slow day. Schezwan Chef and the Blackhawk were the only Chinese restaurants in this part of the south side, and the only places open on Christmas day. While the majority of Americans celebrated Christmas, Jews spent the day with Chinese food and a movie. Even the rabbi had joked with them after Sabbath that he would see them at Jewish Christmas.

            Max didn't want to come out. He had no food left in his apartment. He had little choice. The sweet and sour chicken and green beans filled him up, but it was harder than he expected. The Steinbergs were already there. Their three boys were growing quickly. The middle one was set to have his bar mitzvah soon, but Max just watched their mother. 

            Wiping their faces, worrying about their shirts. Doing things mothers do. Things that his Annie would never do. He held the crumbled fortune and cried.

            It didn't matter what the fortune said. She was gone.

            The man running the restaurant walked out to Max’s table and sat in the chair.

            “Mister Ginsberg?”

            How did the man know his name? Max looked through teary eyes.

            “Is this some kind of joke?”

            He never spoke of Poland. He never spoke of the nightmares they’d lived through in all those waking moments. When the Germans crossed their border. When the ghettos closed. All the times he told Annie that it would be alright, when it was far from alright. He couldn't hide that he was from Europe in the years that he has been in Minneapolis; with the war a fresh wound everyone wanted to know, and a few were bold enough to ask him. How had he survived the war?

            The Chinese man held out his hand.

            “Can I see?”

            Max looked at the crumbled fortune then back up at the restaurant owner, his smock dirty from work in the kitchen. Max handed it to him.

            He unwrapped it and looked at the piece of paper.

            She is not gone.