My friend stirs her drink some more, staring at the straw blankly.
“They got us to Switzerland in ’39. I was 7 years old,” she says still looking at the straw. “My sister says by that time I was accompanying my mother on piano every night as she sang. My mother taught me how to play the piano. I can’t remember playing the piano, though at the moment Margo said this I could hear in my mind a woman singing. I had heard this same song in dreams and thought it something that my mind was making up.”
She looks up at me, shaking her head slightly in a puzzled way.
“You know the strangest thing is, I sat down at a piano shortly after this conversation and tried to remember how to play and all I could hear was the woman singing. No experience of playing the piano came back to me at all.”
“We stayed in Switzerland until the war ended. In Zurich, with what Margo says was a nice family that treated us like fragile dolls. I went to Zurich to the address that Margo gave me. I got only vague feelings like the ghosts of memories as if I had been a doll and simply existed but not really lived in Zurich. From Zurich, in 1945, I was 13, we went to New York to an orphanage. And in a few months I was taken by the family, I know as my family now, to Hoboken and put into intensive tutoring to learn English, and finally I went to High School and did fine, as you know.”
“I remember you in high school. I used to dream about your beautiful accent. How you used to say ordinary words and make them sound mysterious and inviting,” I say remembering how much infatuated I had been with her before I met my wife.
“The thing is I cannot remember anything before Hoboken, only wisps and phantoms that remain intangible.”
“I know that in my own life memories before the age of five tend be like that. I can’t tell what happened or what I imagined. I remember my brother going to sleep with gum in his mouth and waking up covered in strings of gum and thinking that the devil had done something to him, but he doesn’t remember it at all. So I don’t know if this happened or not.”
“I can still speak German fluently, but have no memory of the piano. I went back to the town I grew to seven years old in and even found the house I lived in, but could remember nothing. Margo says she remembers me being like my mother’s shadow. Why can I not even picture here?”
She bites her tiny lip and closes her eyes. Her face, still very smooth and youthful, seems to blur into the dimness of the room as if she could disappear and I would not have known her.