He was a distance runner for twenty years. He quit running before I was born, the year he got cancer the second time, three years before me. He was always religious about it. He still kept his running shoes in a neat row under the shelves near his desk. They had reflective foil on them for the dark and fog and rain and snow. They were his sled dogs, waiting for the call and the trail. I called them sneakers once and he corrected me sternly. I knew he would. Not sneakers, running shoes! We laughed. He only wore leather shoes now. He would only wear running shoes for running, he said. They had not moved for years. I watched them one time as I passed. Each shoe gleamed for a second, a sleeping dog opening one eye.
I can still see his books. The Middlemarch with my gold bark in it. The book of Kanji we were making. My Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree. His Shakespeare books and Jesus books, feet and feet of them, and lots more that I'll never remember now, from the shelves that lined our basement walls when I was little, three times my height, on three long walls.
If I can't remember, who can? But I barely know how to start. He had forty years of books before I was born. Most of them you couldn't just buy another copy. He wrote in all his books. My mother was shocked he wrote in his Bible. He had two dozen Bibles and wrote in them all. One was a huge red book about Q, the sayings by Yeshua (his name for Jesus) and where each one ended up in the different gospels and gospels that didn't make it into the Bible. He had written his microscopic notes all through it with his Staedler pencil. My mother had one Bible somewhere, a huge expensive Bible with pictures that was too good to write in or touch. I wanted to see but she could never find it.
He had books in all languages, including languages that don't use our same kind of letters. I could already tell German and French and Spanish and Latin apart just by looking. Latin was easy. It looks like a low brick wall. I could tell Greek and Hebrew by the letters. I could tell Chinese from Japanese. I liked the Greek letters in a big dark blue book with Oxford stamped in gold, with thick stiff pages.
I don't know how to even start.
He did homework with me all those years including fourth grade when it started to get hard. My mother was traveling a lot. He got me to bed and got me up. When I had to write something and I was stumped, he had two tricks for me. One, tell him outloud what I was trying to write, and two, pick one example, the best example, and let it speak for all the rest.
So now when I'm stumped on this project I tell David out loud.
And for his books, sixty feet and forty years of them, I'll pick one example.
This one mysterious book was all in Hebrew. He had some others with Hebrew and English together (like The Song of Songs I remember) but this one was all in Hebrew. It was brown with gold letters stamped into it, like you could feel in the dark. It had a number like it was one volume out of a set. The title was on the back because the back is the front in Hebrew. Someone wrote a note there in blue pen, also in Hebrew. I asked him about it.
It was a gift from a woman named Nina. It was from the time he lived in the city, before my mother. They lived near where Isaac Bashevis Singer lived a little before their time. My father had two feet of Isaac Bashevis Singer on his shelves. He said Singer but I liked to say the whole name, Isaac Bashevis Singer. Nina took him to an all-Hebrew bookstore on Broadway and bought him this book.
Nina whispered to him in that store that day. "Please don't buy anything. Let me. If you buy a pile of books and maps and charts, my one little gift will be like nothing."
Nina was the daughter of an orthodox rabbi and she spoke Hebrew to them in the store. She was an architect but she didn't have much money. She had a little boy named Eno. My father bought Eno a hockey stick and went to his parents day at Westside Montessori, the school in the movie One Fine Day. He was thinking about marrying her.
I asked him about the note written in the back (the front). Did Nina write it? Did she write it from right to left? What did it say?
It was some riddle I don't exactly remember, something with numbers, one to two is more than zero to one, something like that, I wish I could remember. He could pick out three words in it: his name, her name, and love. She was giving him a warning about love, about missing out on love.
He showed me her picture. She was beautiful. She looked like Barbra Streisand. Who would I be if he had married her instead? I can hardly imagine. I would be beautiful. I would have her talents, her drawing and architecture. She was good at math. Eno would be my brother. We would live in New York City, by the park. I would still have my father.
Whatever else happened, I would still have my father. Eno still had his father. My father knew him. Eno's father wasn't perfect, he wasn't even so good or nice, but Nina wanted Eno to have his father and she worked at it. Nina would have done the same for his little sister, me.
Her one little book is like nothing now, just like she said. It went into the mud along with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jesus and Shakespeare and the Greeks and the Chinese and Shel Silverstein and everyone, under the windows of my school bus. When Mr Lucky was hit by a car all the kids crowded to the windows on that side, yelling and crying. This time they whispered and shushed. This time it was my father.
Soon I might have something like hers to give, a gift. One small book with something written to him, some riddle about love.