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Authors: Christopher Bram

Hold Tight

BOOK: Hold Tight
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Hold Tight
A Novel
Christopher Bram

To John, Henri, Michael and Ed

























A Biography of Christopher Bram


our own baby pictures, the images were still new and startling four months into the war.

The tree of black smoke towered over the broken battleship. A tiny launch specked with sailors bobbed alongside in the rolling gray water.

Then came the murky stairway packed with nude men, civilian clothes bundled in their arms, various hats perched on their heads. Their nakedness was vulnerably unbeautiful. But in daylight and khakis, with T-shirts and harsh haircuts, the acres of men jumped in perfect unison. Acres of tires, old tins and saucepans were displayed by proud schoolchildren; grid-windowed factories poured out miles of tanks and howitzers, while kerchiefed women in overalls took what looked like mounds of lipstick tubes and proved them to be machine gun cartridges. Suddenly, after so many years of dull confusion, there was purpose. Victory seemed only a matter of time. (The defeats in the Pacific—the surrender of Bataan, the siege of Corregidor—were not dwelt upon; there was no newsreel footage anyway.)

The black-and-white blizzard of news flashed outside the room where the projectionist’s daughter listened to her father. This was the Lyric Theater in Manhattan and the projection booth was dark except for the gooseneck lamp bent over the workbench and the light that leaked from the casing around the running projector. The newsreel’s narration and music swelled to a patriotic finish in the booth speakerbox. Simon Krull stood at attention by the little window and intently watched the screen. He touched the switches on either side of him. Another projector roared to life; the Looney Tunes theme came on. “So?” said Simon.

“I could, Papa, only…” Anna Krull sat on the high stool by the workbench. She clutched one cold hand with the other in the fold of wool skirt sunk between her knees. “I never know what to say to boys.”

“Stuff and nonsense.” Simon had lived in this country thirty years now, but still spoke with a grumbly trace of a German accent. People might mistake him for a Jew, but that sometimes came in handy. He bent down to adjust the lamp in the second projector. Streaks of light lit his long, gentle face from below. “What must you say to boys anyway? You are as beautiful as your mother was. All a girl must be is beautiful. That is her half of the conversation.”

Anna thought her beauty was all in her father’s eyes. In her eyes she was short and pudgy, and feared her large breasts only made her look fat.

Simon stepped around to the first projector, saw his daughter’s frown, and stopped in front of her. “You
beautiful,” he said.

“One day,” Anna replied, although she was already twenty.

He petted her on the cheek, then brushed a blond curl behind her ear.

Anna smiled; she liked having him fuss over her.

“Maybe we get you a new hairstyle,” he said. “And we can—whatever women are doing to their eyebrows. New clothes. A little rouge.”

“But you don’t like me wearing makeup,” she reminded him. All he and Aunt Ilsa allowed was a touch of lipstick. “You don’t want me to look like a floozie, remember?”

Simon withdrew his hand. He abruptly turned away and began to unload the first projector. “There is a war on,” he said coldly. “We must all make sacrifices.” He flipped back pinions and springs: he was angry. He carried the reel back to the bench and took a new reel down from the rack, without looking at her.

Anna bit her tongue. She hadn’t intended to fight him. She said what she said only to play the good daughter. She wanted to wear makeup and new clothes, to go places she had never been, with her father’s blessing.

She sat nervously on the stool and watched Simon work. He seemed so capable in the long, old-fashioned white coat that made him look like a butcher or surgeon. She trusted he was equally capable at this other thing he did. He had been doing it for six years. And today he was asking her to join him. She was overjoyed to have her father share his life with her like that, but beneath her joy she kept touching fear.

The harmlessly frantic cartoon played in the speakerbox and on the distant screen. Cartoons and features had not yet caught up with the newsreels. It was possible to forget there was a war, that everything had changed.

He stood with his back to her after the cartoon ended and he had started
Henry Aldrich for President.
He said to the little window, “I do not like having to make you part of this. I wish it weren’t necessary.”

“But I want to be part of this, Papa. I do. If I sound confused, it’s only because…I don’t know. Because I’m afraid I might fail you?”

He gazed at her from beneath his long, kind eyelids. “No. You will not fail me. You have kept my secret this long, I know I can trust you to be careful.”

It had been their little secret for six years now, a special bond between father and daughter. Not even Aunt Ilsa knew what her brother-in-law did with his free time, or why he was so curious about so many different things.

“Which is why I ask you,” Simon continued. “There is no woman I can trust the way I trust my own lamb. And it
necessary,” he insisted, as much to himself as to her, “now that there is no longer that house in Brooklyn.”

“What house?” They had an apartment on Riverside Drive and had never lived in Brooklyn.

Simon waved the question aside. “Nothing. Just a house. A place where sailors went.”

Anna knew her father spent his Sundays walking along the waterfront, striking up conversations, noticing things. “A place you went to?”

The length of his face turned red, up into his thinning hair.
It was not a nice place. Friends of a friend went there. Now they can’t. I did not approve of these friends and am ashamed my friend depended on them. It is not fit that a young girl hear about it, understood?”

Anna respected her father’s sense of propriety, but her interest was touched. A brothel? Even she knew such places existed. Her father would never go to such a place, but Anna wondered what it would be like.

Simon set up the film reel on the workbench hand winds. “
will not be doing anything to be ashamed of. I could not live with myself or your mother’s memory if I thought that were possible.” He began to rewind the film; the rhythm of turning and the whistle of film against the reels seemed to calm him. “You will go to dances and clubs. Proper places. You go to this U.S.O., where they always want nice girls to dance with the sailors. There are always many chaperones. You dance, you listen. Maybe you meet someone you like. Although, it could be dangerous if you meet someone you like too much.”

“I won’t,” said Anna. But the possibility seemed to be already at the back of her thoughts when Simon mentioned it. She was surprised by how excited she felt at the prospect of going out into such a world.

“Maybe it is good you are shy with boys. If you were in any way wild, I would worry about you in such situations.”

And she remembered her fear of men. That was where she would fail her father, and where the anxiety beneath her joy was strongest. She pictured herself at a dance, passed over again and again for thinner, more articulate girls. She never had been able to endure the thought of such humiliation for her own sake. She wondered if she could knowing it was for her father.

“I will increase your allowance, of course.”

“The money’s not important, Papa.”

“It’s only fair. And you will need something extra. For clothes and taxis. I won’t want you coming home alone when it’s late.”

There was money involved, no great wealth, but extra funds that had enabled them to move from Yorkville to Riverside Drive, and that allowed Simon to support two women. He was very proud that neither his daughter nor sister-in-law had to work.

“Of course, your aunt is not to hear of this. Or suspect it either. We will talk only here. Maybe we will have you bringing me my supper every night. So people will not be getting suspicious.”

Anna liked the idea. She felt far closer to her father here in his place that smelled of acetate and hot wiring than she ever did at home.

The last foot of film spun off one reel and slapped the table a few times before Simon braked the loaded reel between palm and fingers. He glanced at his daughter as he returned the reel to the rack. Then he reached down with both hands and lifted Anna’s hands out of her lap. His fingers were soft except for the calluses like thimbles across the tips.

“I know it is a great deal I ask of you. But. Yes?”

Anna stared at him. He looked so tender and wistful, as if he feared she might refuse. That she could refuse had never occurred to Anna. “Of course.”

“Good. Very good.” He clasped her hands and lightly wagged them up and down. His blue eyes looked deeper into her blue eyes, until his long, speckled lids suddenly closed.

“Don’t worry, Papa. It’ll be all right.”

“My own lamb,” he sighed and lifted his eyelids, “is growing up.”

The doorknob clicked, then rattled.

Simon jerked his hands back and stepped away, as if they had been doing something unseemly. Anna knew better, but the abrupt move hurt.

There was a knock outside and, “Hey, Mr. Krull! Who locked the doe?”

Simon went down the steps and let his assistant in. Alfred was a bony young man from the East Bronx, with bad posture and teeth of different colors.

BOOK: Hold Tight
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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