The short story Work, which follows in its entirety further below, first appeared in Caliban 12 in 1992 and was added to bend of bay – words in 2001. Over the past several months a number of people have emailed us requesting information regarding its composition. While the story is fiction, it was written on the afternoon of July 6, 1989 directly in response to this article The New York Times.
After Slaying, Brighton Beach Mourns Its Unofficial Mayor
About 300 friends and relatives of Max Kowalski, a Holocaust survivor who was stabbed to death in Brooklyn last month, gathered last night for a memorial service in the neighborhood that had proclaimed him the unofficial Mayor of Brighton Beach.
Mr. Kowalski’s black yarmulke and broad smile were familiar sights along the boardwalk in the seaside neighborhood. He would stop to chat and to cheer others up.
On June 24, he confronted a man in a boardinghouse, where he rented a room, after the man apparently inked a swastika and a skull and crossbones on Mr. Kowalski’s door. During the fight that followed, Mr. Kowalski was stabbed several times in the head and neck with a pair of scissors and a fork, and bludgeoned with a religious statue. He died immediately. ”He stood up for what he believed in,” said a friend, Sol Tosneiak, after the service at the Sea Breeze Jewish Center. Mr. Tosneiak and Mr. Kowalski knew each other as children in the Polish town of Grodno and met again in Brighton Beach. ‘He Helped Everybody’
”He was our leading citizen,” Ben Lederman, the director of a local drive to spruce up the area, said earlier yesterday. ”He helped everybody, with any carpentry work that needed to be done, or fixing a television or a radio. Most of the time, he didn’t take any money for it.”
Mr. Kowalski, who was 75 years old, lived in an apartment near the boardinghouse at 3066 Brighton Fourth Street where he was killed. He had rented Room No. 6 on the second floor of the boardinghouse for more than 20 years, friends said, and it became a sort of clubhouse for him and his friends – many of whom had also lived through the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He kept his tools there, Mr. Lederman said, and he would invite friends up to talk or play cards. A Tattoo From Auschwitz
Mr. Kowalski still had a tattoo on his arm from Auschwitz, and he would talk about his years there. ”His outlook was that he was fortunate to survive,” said Mayer Brandwein, who is a co-owner of the Brighton Beach Dairy Restaurant, where Mr. Kowalski often stopped to have coffee.
In the concentration camp, Mr. Kowalski spent much of his time working as a carpenter in a Nazi officer’s house and he believed that this was what saved him, Mr. Brandwein said.
And yet ”the brutality of what he went through at the time of the Holocaust was the reason why he met such a violent death,” Mr. Brandwein added. ”The symbolism of the swastika was an outrageous thing for him, and I think that’s why he took it so strongly.”
Shortly after Mr. Kowalski was attacked, the police arrested Ruben Martinez Zucarino, a 36-year-old native of Cuba who had lived in Room No. 8 for the last three months. He was charged with second-degree murder. Bloodied Pair of Scissors
The police said they found Mr. Zucarino standing in his room with a bloodied pair of scissors in his hand. Mr. Kowalski’s body was sprawled on the floor, partially blocking the door. They also found a statue of the Virgin Mary, made of plaster with a metal base, which had apparently been used to strike Mr. Kowalski.
Work pays tribute while expressing outrage over the crime and the pestilence:
A pestilence fell upon the earth and he was removed from his place and taken to the place where the work was done.
The work began slowly, but then proceeded apace gaining in both efficiency and speed as the urgency of the work became apparent to many and many cooperated, placing themselves and their resources at the disposal of those who directed the work and some offered themselves body and soul to the completion of the task.
He was a carpenter and carpenters were required for work but not for the important work.
He did not participate in the important work which was better for him for by not participating he could observe the work and learn from the work.
The work, however, was never completed. Others intervened to stop the work. He was glad and rejoiced for though he was a carpenter he did not like the work at all.
And though he was glad and though he rejoiced he did not rejoice in the manner of rejoicing and could not return to the place from which he had come for it could not be found nor could those with whom he had come be found.
He did not rejoice in the manner of rejoicing for he could not find those of the place from which he had come. He felt a profound sorrow for the suffering of those of the place from which he had come.
The place of work was removed and what was left of the work commingled with the earth.
He crossed an ocean.
Walking along the beach he paused to bend over and retrieve a shell which smiling he placed in the hand of a girl who stood staring at the number on his arm.
This action distracted her.
She studied the shell.
Thank you, sir.
And in this new place this place by the ocean he saw there was much work to be done and since he had learned much about work and since he was a carpenter he embarked on this new work with all his heart and became greatly loved by all who lived in this place by the ocean.
And in time he met others from that other place of work, the place that no longer existed, the place commingled with the earth and he met one from the place from which he had come and rejoiced.
And those whom he met rejoiced and each day they rejoiced together for they remembered the work and they were together.
And he rejoiced in his work in this place by the ocean and he was filled with love and they were filled with love and together full of love they rejoiced.
The seed of a new pestilence fell upon the land.
And he came upon this pestilence and saw a man of pestilence carve the symbol of those who were of the work that began slowly, but then proceeded apace gaining in both efficiency and speed as the urgency of the work became apparent to many and many cooperated, placing themselves and their resources at the disposal of those who directed the work and some offered themselves body and soul to the completion of the task that had been stopped and commingled with the earth.
And he told the man of pestilence that this was an evil thing.
And there was a struggle.
The man of pestilence stabbed him many times in the head and neck and beat him with an object of religion and he died.
The people of the place by the ocean with whom he rejoiced remember this carpenter and this pestilence and the others from the place of work and those not from the place of work and bid others to rejoice with them and not with those of the work that began slowly, but then proceeded apace gaining in both efficiency and speed as the urgency of the work became apparent to many and many cooperated, placing themselves and their resources at the disposal of those who directed the work and some offered themselves body and soul to the completion of the task that had been stopped and commingled with the earth.
First published in Caliban