The Polish Social Worker
His eyes roamed the room from his place on the sofa. Settling his gaze on the large framed poster, he lit up with what seemed like delight.
“Lesmian!” he cried, his handsome face losing some somberness. Pale, blue eyes turning toward her. “A Jewish poet. In my youth, I read him.”
“A friend brought it to me last week,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “I think it’s from the Polish theater.”
Looking over her shoulder, she examined the black silhouette, bristle of a mustache under Semitic nose. The poster was livened with bright, tinted garland, wrapped around the poet’s head, and another bright posy at the throat. The colorful blooms seemed to leap off the silkscreen. She turned back to the man sitting across from her. A slack, sweet expression had swept his face; he seemed to be seeking memories, as if he wished to saunter back in time.
A chill of surprise and something else shivered down her spine. A Polish man showing love for a dead Jewish poet. It didn’t make sense. Was he trying to impress? Was he telling her she need not fear him? What was that other Polish boy’s name? Dennis? Dennis Winch? His pale, blue eyes flinted cold with hatred. He liked dragging her off her bicycle; he liked punching her arm and pulling her hair, as she fell to the ground, as she scraped her knees. "Hey, Jew Girl! Hey, Kike! Go back to Jew Town!" The runs from school to home were treacherous. Her parents had gone to the school principal and had stopped the bullying, but they had also shrugged away her tears--get used to it, Ellie, they had said. Get used to it.
The Polish social worker looked down at his computer screen; she found herself annoyed with his slow, silver-haired handsomeness. He seemed to sense her inner stirrings, and a look of sadness swept across the stillness of his features.
“When I was a youth,” he said, his melodic voice becoming more monotone, and surprising her from the silence between them. “Lesmian’s poems spoke to me. They were sensuous. I was young and full of those feelings that come with youth.”
“Only with youth?” she asked, her words surprising her; she felt her skin tingle.
His sad, pale eyes looked up in surprise. What was she doing? Was she flirting with him? Stop it!--she said to herself. She changed the subject.
“My father’s family comes from your part of the world. My grandmother had high cheekbones. Dark, slanted eyes. The Mongol hordes, you know.”
He nodded and looked down once again at his computer screen. “Yes,” he said, his voice just above a whisper. "Genghis Khan’s army swept through the steppes.”
She nodded at his lowered head.
“People from that part of the world are beautiful,” he said.
Was he complimenting her? She hesitated for a moment and then spoke, also just above a whisper: “Thank you.”
He said nothing, but continued keying onto the laptop. Should she not have thanked him? He had come to her apartment every week for the last two months, asking what she’d needed and how he could help. Was she healing from the car crash? Could she walk without crutches for any distance? They had talked of Monty Python’s absurdity, of Greek music, of Spinoza; he had seemed surprised by her.
“I find Jewish people particularly beautiful,” he said with a slight croak in his throat. He still did not look up.
She was quiet, hoping he could not hear her breath. She could smell his aftershave lotion. Why did he have to smell so good?
The morning sun shone through the thin, white curtains. The sounds in the afternoon of children playing, now that they were back in school from summer break. She heard the jangle of a bicycle bell. When he had first come, he’d asked many questions about her condition. Was she getting enough physical therapy? Was she getting her needs met? Did she have enough help for shopping and food preparation? As he was getting ready to leave that first time, he had asked if she was dating anyone. It had seemed somewhat forward. Was he eying the questionnaire from his tiny computer? Or, was he attracted? She had lied then, and said yes, she was seeing someone. He had smiled and sighed and said that was a good thing.
She surveyed him now, and found him beautiful. His tall graceful frame, his lightweight autumn sweater; an elegant European Adonis come to see what could be done for this damsel in distress. I hope to dance again soon, she had wanted to say. But, she said nothing. She wanted him to see her dance.
“Eleanor,” he said. “Almost finished. Just a few papers to sign.”
She liked the way he said her name. His soft, sonorous sounds, were peppered with a slight lilt of something European.
“Thank you, Alexander,” she said, as he rose to leave.
“Call me Alex,” he responded, bending in a chivalrous manner. His pale eyes twinkled with warmth. “Always nice talking with you,”
“With you too, Alex,” she smiled, warming to the touch of his hand. Up close, the scent of his aftershave tickled her nostrils. “Call me Ellie.”
“This will be my last visit as your social worker, Ellie. You seem almost recovered.”
Can social workers become friends with clients?--she wondered, once he had rolled his luggage-encased computer out the door. Can a Jewish woman and a Polish man fall in love?
She limped back to her chair, and reaching for her own laptop, googled Boleslaw Lesmian; she spent the afternoon reading his poetry, filled with lush images of soft, full breasts, of lying in the woods with one’s love, of sweet desire. She looked out her window at the tree-lined boulevard; the brilliant fall colors flamed before her eyes; cars rushed home to fast food dinners - far from the forests of Poland and desires of youth, far from mid-twentieth century concentration camps. Lesmian’s silhouetted portrait and his poems beckoned her to a never-land, where youths dreamed of love and read Jewish poets. In a flight of imagination, she dreamed of stepping through the framed poster.
The following week, after her cast came off, she sat at home one evening, sipping wine with more Lesmian at her side, when the phone rang. The Polish social worker’s melodic voice sang to her over the telephone wire.
“Hello Ellie? This is Alex.”
She looked out her window at the full moon. For a moment, before she came back down to earth, it hummed to her from the heavens above.