Celluloid Strangers by Eric Wasserman

Celluloid Strangers tells the story of four brothers who have left their native northeast and converge in Los Angeles just after WWII ends. A lawyer, a mobster, a screenwriter, and a shopkeeper, each of these men makes a profound impact on the emerging landscape of postwar California as they deal with the impact that their shared history—and our nation’s history—has had upon them. Old Hollywood, studio era union struggles, and recreated House Un-American Activities Committee investigations into supposed communist subversion in the motion picture industry abound.

Chapter One

Morris stared at the sun reflecting off the swimming pool’s surface, wondering what his fraternal twin brother, Benny, needed to see him about. 1938 had faded into 1948 the way a baby yawns; ten years without a word and just the day before the telephone rang.

The pool was clear, like recently cleaned coffee table glass. It was one of those Los Angeles Sundays that reinforced Morris’ conviction to never return to the concrete-sky winters of his childhood. The shadows of palm trees and sequoias in his Beverly Glen backyard collided on the tan patio tiles, creating borders for the ants and spiders that crept out from the rose bushes. A lawnmower from the neighbor’s yard diluted the radio news he had been listening to. The air smelled of fertilizer and the smoke from his Lucky Strike. His lips tasted of the scotch he was sipping.

Morris loved the pool more than the actual house, even though at thirty-five he still carried his childhood embarrassment from not knowing how to swim. As kids in Dorchester, Massachusetts, he and Benny had relieved themselves from the annual August heat by removing their shoes and dipping bare feet into the pond at Franklin Park. Now the pond was dried up, gone—never to be seen again. Morris had thought the same of Benny, until the day before.

When Morris first came to California he told himself that one day he would have a swimming pool of his own to dip his feet into. He now looked about this backyard and felt he had “made good,” as his father, Henry, might have said.

A turn of the wrist, a look to the new Bulova timepiece his wife, Helen, had given him just a month before for Christmas. Benny was late. Morris held his breath; hoped his brother might not show. The lawnmower stopped and the news from the large Philco radio box facing out the patio door could be heard clearly. Helen had bought the wood-sided Philco during the war, when Morris was away, but it still had perfect reception.

THE HOUSE UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE, ALSO KNOWN AS HUAC, IS CONTINUING ITS PROBE INTO COMMUNIST SUBVERSION, CLOSING HEARINGS IN WASHINGTON AND MOVING THEM TO CALIFORNIA. TWO MONTHS AGO HUAC FOUND TEN HOLLYWOOD EMPLOYEES IN CONTEMPT. MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY OFFICIALS CONTEND THAT IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR HEARINGS IN LOS ANGELES. SUNRISE PICTURES HEAD, LOUIS B. KATZ, STATES THAT HE AND OTHER EXECUTIVES SUPPORT THE CONGRESSIONAL OUTCOME, THAT THE INDICTMENTS HAVE PUT THE ISSUE TO REST, AND THAT HIS AND OTHER STUDIOS CAN NOW CONTINUE WITH THE ENTERPRISE OF COMBINING GOOD PICTURE MAKING WITH GOOD CITIZENSHIP.

Morris looked to his drink. Empty. The news made him wonder about his younger brother, Simon, a contracted screenwriter with Sunrise. Mostly, the lawyer in Morris took over; he wasn’t really interested in Simon, he was curious to learn if his brother knew any of the ten indicted. He was certain his younger brother was no Red.

Another look to his wristwatch. Where the hell is he? Morris thought. He had no desire to see Benny, but he wanted him to be on time. Morris smothered his cigarette in the ashtray, took his empty glass and left the umbrella shade of the patio table to pour another drink inside, trying to recall anything about the last time he had been with Benny.

Ten years. It might as well have been ten decades. It had taken Morris a few moments to recognize his twin’s voice on the telephone the day before. The last time he had heard that voice was when Benny moved from Boston to Los Angeles in 1938. Benny had slept on the couch of Morris and Helen’s one-bedroom apartment on Wilshire Boulevard for two weeks, living out of a suitcase with three changes of clothes and a shaving kit. Their mother had been dead for years. There was nothing left in Boston. Benny had been the last of the four brothers to let go. When he arrived out west, Helen was working as a receptionist in an accounting office; Morris was finishing his law degree as a night school student. After two weeks, Benny said he had made contact with old friends from Dorchester and that he was moving. He didn’t mention where.

Morris knew who his brother had contacted and had said nothing. After that, the last Gandelman boy to move to California vanished. In the time since then Morris had completed law school and heard rumors about Benny; some he wanted to know, others he wished he had not. But he never saw his twin.

Morris went to the front room of the house, stopped and thought of how far he had come in ten years. He worked for almost nothing those first years out of law school and held to the idea that if he could just make a name for himself—a decent, respectable name—he would one day “make good.” When he had told Helen he was going to run for Los Angeles City Council five months ago, she was perplexed. She never thought her husband had a chance. No Jew—not even a lawyer who had taken his gentile wife’s surname—was going to be elected. She tried to conceal her frustration when Morris dreamed aloud: “If I make it to city council I can run for District Attorney, then State Legislature, maybe even Governor after that. If I become Governor, anything’s possible.” Helen admired her husband, but they were living in a two-bedroom with poor plumbing then. Still, she made telephone calls and passed out information literature on sidewalks after work, figuring that every man had something he needed to attempt. She rode the bus from neighborhood to neighborhood; going door to door in her best pin-dots on cinder red dress she bought at Bullock’s. She campaigned as if Morris was running for President of the United States.

When her husband won in November, she was shocked, but not as much as when the mayor announced that Morris G. Adams was to head the City Commission on Crime Enforcement.

This finally gave Morris the joy of telling Helen that she could quit her job. More than that, it gave him the respectability he had desired his whole life. He would have a reputation for being tough on crime. Helen kissed her husband and immediately informed him that he would be supporting somebody else as well: she was pregnant.

Three months later, just after 1948 arrived, Benny had called.

“Got your number from the telephone listings. I heard the good news,” Benny had said in a gravel-raked voice. “Congratulations, Mori. God, you’ve been married almost eleven years now. We were starting to get worried—no kids yet—thought there might be bad blood between you and Helen.” Benny laughed. Morris did not.

Morris had hung on how Benny had said, “we.” He did not want to speculate.

“It’s been a long time, Benny,” Morris had struggled to say.

“Long time, yes,” Benny had said. “We should see each other.”

“Sure. Maybe sometime in February.”

“No, Mori, we should see each other as soon as possible. You free tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?” Morris had said, more to himself.

“Great, tomorrow it is.” And the clap of Benny’s hand on a countertop rang through the receiver. “I hear your new house has a swimming pool, is that right?”

Morris and Helen had bought the house two weeks before Christmas. They never thought they would ever be able to live in Beverly Glen. Baldwin Hills or Silver Lake had always been the practical foresight.

“Yes, we have a pool,” Morris had said.

“Big man now, that’s what you are, big man living in Beverly Glen. Who would have thought back in Dorchester that one day Mori Gandelman would have a pool? See you tomorrow at noon.” Benny hung up. He had not asked for directions to the house.

Morris had asked Helen to leave the home for the afternoon so that he could visit with his brother alone. She put on a yellow-flowered sundress, still trying to avoid maternity clothes, and called her friend Eileen to play cards in the park. Morris gave his wife money for a cab, and by eleven he was already changed into his swimsuit and a white bathrobe with the initials MGA stitched over the breast pocket.

Morris wasn’t the drinking type, though sometimes he had a cocktail with a colleague after work or a glass of wine at dinner parties. But never anything regular. He didn’t even like coffee. Today he went to the liquor cabinet beside the phonograph console in the front room, found the Old Crow scotch bottle that had been bought purely for appearances and poured himself another short glass over ice. He had not smoked since law school, but he lit another cigarette from the pack he had taken from Helen’s new carton, happy she had switched from Pall Malls to Luckies. He turned off the Philco that was giving the results of the UCLA basketball game, and returned to the backyard.

Sitting on one of the bamboo deckchairs, Morris looked to the swimming pool again. The surface was now like a photograph left out in the rain, the palm tree reflections sinking into the water. He watched a leaf fall from a sycamore, then float about the water breaking the image and finally drown to the bottom of the deep end. He tapped cigarette ash, wondered where Benny could be, looked down and was surprised to find that his second drink was already gone.

He returned to the front room for another. As he dropped ice into his glass, the house bell chimed, followed by the front door opening.

“Hello?” Benny’s voice echoed off the checkered hallway tiles.

Morris sighed. He set the bottle down.

Benny emerged into the mustard-toned wallpapered room, arms stretched out. “Mori!” he bellowed.

Morris forced a smile; shocked that Benny had aged so much in ten years. He did not look like a thirty-five year-old, he appeared more like a man in his fifties, with deep valleys of skin defining his jaw—one of the only physical features they shared. Benny’s hair was unusually patchy, but everybody loses something. Seeing his brother, Morris was surprised by how his heart beat faster.

“Benny,” Morris said pleasantly and held out his hand. He got a hug, taken aback by how his brother nearly drove the air from his lungs. With Helen, Morris hugged in a gentle manner. For Morris G. Adams, there was a great power in gentleness.

“Let me see my baby brother’s teeth,” Benny said, releasing Morris from the hug and squeezing open his brother’s mouth with a thumb and forefinger. It annoyed Morris that Benny still referred to him as “baby brother” when they were born only four minutes apart. The grip hurt Morris’ jaw. “Goddamn, look at those straight whites. Only kid in Dorchester with perfect teeth and not one trip to the dentist. Big man, that’s what you are.” Benny released the grip and smiled a mouth of crooked teeth and fillings.

“How about a drink?” Morris suggested, patting Benny on the shoulder. He poured two scotches and handed one to Benny.

L’chaim,” Benny said, “to life.”

Morris raised his glass. “L’chaim,” he repeated, uneasy with the phrase, and they clinked glasses.

“Nice Christmas tree,” Benny said, looking to the corner of the room at the bare pine Morris had not gotten around to removing. “Gone completely goy on us, haven’t you?”

Morris paused. “You can change in the guest room. It’s down the hall to your left.”

“No need,” Benny said. Morris noticed that his brother had brought nothing with him but the charcoal suit he was wearing, shrugged and led them out back.

“Wow,” Benny said. “Not just a pool but rose bushes, a fence, grass. Everything.”

Morris sat at the umbrella-shaded table, lit another cigarette, proud for the moment. Benny sat across from him, reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and produced a cigar. Benny was sweating profusely, not bothering to dab his forehead or upper lip with a handkerchief. It was an unusually warm winter but not unbearable.

“Saw out front you’re driving a Continental. I still got the Roadmaster, but it beats a Packard any day.” Benny stretched. “Nice place, Mori. Even got a flagpole out front. Really nice, I mean it.”

“Thanks Benny, glad you could come by.”

“Me, too.” Benny allowed Morris to light his cigar with a match and puffed heavy, tweezed it between his thick fingers that were so unlike Morris’ slender ones. “Where’s Helen?”

“Oh, she asked me to say she was sorry she couldn’t be here. With the baby coming, her doctor appointments are more frequent.”

“On Sunday?” Benny puffed on his cigar methodically. “No problem, I’ll see her when the kid arrives. What do you think, boy or girl?”

Morris did not want his children to know Benny. But the baby talk was simple stuff. “Helen wants a boy. I keep telling her that as long as it’s healthy, has all ten fingers and toes, I’ll be happy. But she’s already buying little blue outfits.”

“I always imagined you with a bunch of daughters to spoil. But a son, let’s hope for it. Gotta keep the Gandelman name going.”

Morris dragged his Lucky, sipped his drink. “Adams,” he said, unsure whether he should have allowed Benny’s comment to drift away with the tobacco smoke. “The child’s last name will be Adams, not Gandelman.”

Benny stared at Morris, skin crinkled at his brow, showing hints of his childhood indiscretion that had eventually gotten him kicked out of high school and sent off to a reform school in Worcester. “Right, Morris G. Adams. How could I forget? I guess that middle initial is just to remind yourself who you really are. Nice name for a big man.” He took a quick cigar puff. “Do what you do, I can’t stop you. Guess big brother Joe is the only chance for Pop’s name to pass on. A real shame. You should meet Joe’s kids, two pieces of work. Probably their mother’s influence.”

Morris had not wanted to discuss their family. But it was expected. “You see Joe?”

“Once in a while, when I visit Pop at the store.”

Morris definitely did not want to talk about their father. “Simon, you see Simon?”

“Simon? Sure I see him.” Benny jiggled the ice in his scotch with a casual turn of his wrist then said, “He’s doing great, isn’t he?”

“Yes, I suppose he is.”

“Simon always had smarts. Have you seen that new picture he wrote?”

“No, I haven’t,” Morris lied. He took Helen to the movies once each week and they never missed a film Simon wrote. There was a certain pride Morris felt when the credits displayed Screen Play by Simon Gandelman, even if he no longer saw his little brother.

“Well, don’t see it,” Benny said. “If I didn’t know Simon, I’d swear the guy who wrote it was queer. Tell you the truth, Mori, I haven’t liked many of the pictures Simon writes. All they do in those movies is talk. I go to the cinema to see something happen. I like the whodunit pictures where you don’t find out who the person betraying the other guy is until the end. I give Simon ideas for movies all the time and he doesn’t listen. Just the other day I told him this idea.” Morris noticed how Benny still pronounced “idea” as “idee-er,” not having shed his Dorchester accent. Benny leaned forward. “There’s a regular guy, like me. He runs a restaurant, has a girl. But he owes a little something to this pal who did him a favor once. He tries to get out of it, so they take the girl, but he does what’s right. Big kiss at the end. Simon never puts a big kiss at the end, that’s why I don’t like his pictures. Everyone likes the big kiss.” He leaned back. “Actually, I did like that one picture he wrote when he got back from the war, the one with his girlfriend. That was somewhat like a whodunit. That girlfriend, she’s a heart-killer.”

“Simon’s still with Doris?”

“Yeah, the actress.”

“Are they getting married?”

“Simon, get married?” Benny let out a roaring laugh. “Come on, Mori, even you know Simon’s typewriter’s his real wife.”

“What about you, Benny? No special lady in your life?”

“Me? Nah, it ain’t in the cards.”

“Really? I always thought you’d be raising the next big league pitcher by now.”

Benny laughed. He was different from the way Morris remembered him, like a baseball that had been scuffed up yet still had strong stitches. But the laugh was the same.

“Nope,” Benny said, and tapped cigar ash into the tray between them. He fell quiet. “Well, there was somebody. Beautiful girl. We were gonna get hitched. But it didn’t work out.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Benny.” And Morris was sorry. For an instant he was looking at the Benny he once knew; the insecure kid who never had luck except when he would emulate Detroit Tiger’s Jewish slugger Hank Greenberg in stickball games.

“Yeah,” Benny said. “What are you gonna do? She…well…she passed away. She was special. Helen would have liked her a lot.”

“I’m sure we both would have.” Morris knew what “passed away” meant.

“Ach,” Benny said, stretching. “The dice don’t always roll the way you want them to.” He set his cigar to the ashtray rim. “I feel like a swim.” He stood. “Not everyone has a pool, big man.”

Benny kicked off his wingtips and removed his socks. Then he reached behind his back and produced a revolver; set it on the table beside his empty glass of scotch. As Benny slipped off his slacks Morris stared at the gun, realizing that the barrel was pointed right at him. He hadn’t seen a gun up close since they were teenagers, had sworn he would never hold one again after what had happened the only time he had on a chilly day on Kenstook Street in Dorchester.

“You know what kind of work I’m in. That don’t bother you, does it?”

Morris leaned back with his drink. “No, Benny.”

“Good.”

Benny draped his slacks over the deckchair and hastily removed his suit jacket. He unbuttoned his dress shirt, turned his back, and when he pulled the shirt off Morris gasped. The knife scar down Benny’s shoulder didn’t surprise him. Morris had been there when Benny got it. It was the rash and abundant quarter-size sores blanketing Benny’s skin. Morris had seen the same when prosecuting a prostitution case. He never dreamed that his own brother would have contracted syphilis.

Morris guzzled his scotch; the ice cubes cold against his lips. He heard a splash. Benny was wading in the deep end of the pool in only his underwear shorts, the sun making his olive-toned skin appear pale. Morris set down the empty glass, his hands shaking as he fumbled for another Lucky.

“Not coming in?” Benny hollered in that gravel voice.

“Nope,” Morris mumbled just enough for his brother to hear, the cigarette dangling from his thick, ice-chilled lips. He struck a match.

“Still can’t swim, huh? Hey, you should know that you have a leaf in your pool drain.” Benny then submerged himself under the water.

Morris turned from his brother gliding beneath the surface of the pool. There was that revolver pointed at him.

What on earth is he doing here? Morris wondered, feeling a bit drunk. They simply were not a family that kept in touch. The only brother he had seen recently was Simon, and that was two years ago. A crazed fan was obsessed with Doris and was convinced that she was his wife. Morris had gone to Los Angeles Superior Court, had a psychiatrist testify that the stalker, who had been appearing barefoot in Simon’s driveway every morning saying he would forgive Doris for having an affair with her “kike lover,” was patently delusional and posed a serious threat to the actress’ safety. A two-year restraining order was granted. Not a word after from Simon. Morris’ younger brother could have called any lawyer in town. Morris had always been perplexed as to why Simon called him since they had not spoken regularly after he told his younger brother where he was going to be during the war.

Morris kept staring at that revolver until a splash erupted and he heard Benny take huge breaths. Benny pulled his husky body out of the pool, rubbed his eyes with his fists. Morris put out the cigarette in the tray surrounded by his brother’s cigar ash. Benny approached the table and set the wet leaf that had been in the pool drain beside the revolver. He took one of the starched white towels Helen had set out. He wrapped the towel around his waist, put his shirt back on and left the front open displaying that rash and those sores Morris could not bear to look at. He sat at the table, took his cigar. “Your water stings my eyes. Next time I go to the YMCA. My eyes are all I’ve got. Shoot me if I ever lose my sight.”

Morris looked up from the revolver. The late stages of syphilis often resulted in blindness. But potential mental illness and eventual death were what should have been worrying Benny. It worried Morris.

“So,” Benny mumbled, puffing his cigar casually. “There’s more news you got besides the baby.” Benny began to rub his stomach, the nubs of his fingers gliding over those sores. “Now you’re heading this crime commission, big man.”

Morris looked to his brother across the table, the sunlight feathering the rose bushes behind him. Benny was three feet away and might as well have been on another continent. “What about it?” Morris asked, slipping his shaking hands under the table.

“It doesn’t look good, Mori. You know who I work for. You changed your name but you’re still who you are. A Jew heading this commission looks bad.”

“Since when does Meyer Moskowitz have an interest in the Jews?”

“Stop it! You wanna end up in a pine box, fine with Moskowitz, but you’re still my brother. If you weren’t related to me you’d be dead already.”

Morris held his breath, clasped his hands together. “I’m listening,” he said.

“This isn’t Dorchester. The rules don’t apply here. If you want rules, go back to Boston and slum it out with the guineas. This is California, get used to it.”

“What are you talking about, Benny?”

“What am I talkin’ about? California. Los Angeles. All that talk about Israel, getting our own country? Let’s hope. But the goyim will never let that happen. The smart money’s on California. Look at the pictures. Who runs all the studios? Jews. You think Simon could have written for the pictures back in Boston? We’re not just running the nickel houses anymore; we control the goddamn product. Hitler tried to exterminate us and we won. Millions of Americans go to the pictures every week. I’m not even in the movie business and I feel like I make them. This whole city is about the pictures. California is America.” Benny coughed, took a few puffs from his cigar and sighed. “But this crime commission business. It just doesn’t look good.”

“Benny, me being head of the commission doesn’t mean anything.”

“Bullshit!”

Morris knew that Benny was right. Heading the commission, at that very moment, in Los Angeles, might have seemed inconsequential, but it meant everything. It was only three years after the Nazi death camps had been exposed and plenty of Americans still believed that their sons had been sent off to die for Jews. There were even rumors that Pearl Harbor had been a Jewish orchestration to get America into the war, that there had been secret arrangements for Jewish sailors to be off their ships when Japan attacked. Morris was aware of the talk going around. Henry Ford’s four-volume edition of The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem was almost thirty years in publication and people still believed the entrepreneur’s assertion that the fraudulent Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was authentic. The majority of the movie people HUAC had just indicted were Jews. And Mississippi Representative John Rankin had been equating Judaism to communism, pinpointing Hollywood as a bed of subversion. Morris going after Jewish criminals like Meyer Moskowitz represented many Jews’ worst fear: exposing what they didn’t want anyone to know.

“First thing tomorrow,” Benny said, “you tell them you quit.”

Morris paused. “I can’t do that, Benny,” he said in a soft, almost effeminate voice. “This is what I’ve worked my whole life for.”

“You idiot. You think Moskowitz is gonna let you be a shande?”

“If you break the law it doesn’t matter what religion you are.”

“So, you gonna come after me, your own brother?”

Morris had not thought about that; he did not want to.

“Mori, we’ve got our own man to replace you on the commission. You resign and from now on you work for Moskowitz.”

Morris thought he would rather be dead. He did not want to know who they had in mind to replace him or how they would do it. “Benny, I’m a lawyer. Why would I possibly work for Moskowitz?”

“You and Simon got Mamma’s smarts; don’t act dumb. You know about Moskowitz and the studio trade unions. Big trouble’s coming. You resign and help us with the legal end. With what Moskowitz pays, you can buy a house with two swimming pools. Look around you, living here like a schnook if I ever saw one.” He smothered his cigar on the damp leaf, stood and began to dress. Morris stared at that gun until Benny’s hand reached out and picked it up.

Morris imagined himself associated with Moskowitz and being disbarred. Losing his law license would be equivalent to having his legs amputated. “Benny, I just can’t do this.”

Benny pursed his lips, that skin between his eyes crinkling just as it had when he was a boy and was about to pummel the kid from two tenements down who always pitched into batters’ faces during stickball games. “You have three days. But if I have to take care of business, that’s what I do.”

Morris gasped. “Benny, you’re my brother.”

“I expect to hear from you by Wednesday night, big man. Just remember, nobody’s forgotten what you did at Kenstook Street, and you sure haven’t forgotten who got you out of it even if you’re now living high here in Beverly Glen. You still have a debt to pay off. Give Helen my best.” And Benny left, leaving Morris under the shade of the umbrella at the table.

Morris did not tell Helen what had happened. For all his wife’s suggestions over the years for her husband to become closer to his family, she accepted that Morris had reasons for being distant. When she asked about Benny’s visit, Morris told her that a girl his brother had been engaged to had “passed away” and that he wanted to talk.

“You see,” Helen said. “He needs you. He could have called anyone, but he knew you would understand.”

Monday morning Morris did not know what to do. He could not tell Helen the truth, so he got ready for work. After finishing his eggs and toast while speed reading the Los Angeles Times, he kissed Helen on the cheek, patted her stomach, and left. The moment he stepped out the front door of the house he noticed that his Lincoln Continental was parked on the right side of the driveway. Morris always parked on the left.

No, he thought, I have until Wednesday night. He opened the auto’s door, tossed his leather briefcase to the passenger seat and slipped the key into the ignition. Morris stopped just before turning the engine over, seeing his pregnant wife standing in the window waving goodbye as she removed her apron, the morning sunlight falling on her high Irish cheek bones and the stucco exterior of the house. He waited until she went back into the kitchen then stepped out of the auto.

Morris opened the hood. Everything looked normal. He got into the auto, again slid the key into the ignition but could not bring himself to turn the engine over.

After telling Helen that the Lincoln’s battery was dead and to call the mayor’s office to say he would be late for work, Morris walked to the bus stop. At least he did not have to worry about Helen using the auto since she did not know how to drive. But he did call her repeatedly from work that day.

“Morris,” she finally said during their fourth conversation, “we have another six months to go until this baby arrives. It’s sweet that you’re concerned, but you’re going to drive me crazy if this becomes a habit.”

The next day the Continental was moved for the second time, now back to the left side of the driveway, and Morris once again took the bus to and from work. But Wednesday morning he stood in the driveway and saw his auto moved for a third time. Morris could not even step to the front lawn where the flagpole was flying the stars and stripes, nobody in the neighborhood except Helen knowing what he actually did during the war. He had a vision of the auto exploding and Benny, of all people, putting his rash and sore-covered arms around Helen to console her at the funeral.

Morris looked behind him and saw his pregnant wife in the kitchen window, her strawberry blonde hair in a bun as she washed the plate he had eaten his pancakes from at the sink. He wanted to be a hero, like in the pictures, but seeing Helen he could not. He went back inside the house to call Benny, only to find he did not have a number.

The operator was no use; Benny was not listed. Calling the police was out of the question; he might as well have hanged himself from one of the neighborhood palm trees if he did that. Helen believed Morris was not feeling well and was working from home. Just as he was prepared to tell his wife everything, even tell her what he had done at Kenstook Street many years before, the telephone rang.

“Morris sweetie, it’s Benny,” Helen called out. When Morris reached the kitchen he could hear Helen say, “I’m so sorry, Benny. She must have been quite special; I wish I had known her. You should come over for supper some time.” She handed her husband the telephone, saying, “That poor man,” as she left the kitchen.

Morris waited, listening to his twin brother’s heavy breathing through the receiver.

“Well,” Benny finally broke the silence, “did you make up your mind? I wasn’t gonna call, but I want to know if I need to say goodbye.”

“Okay, I’ll resign.” Morris was relieved to say it.

“Good. You’re doing the right thing, Mori. After you quit the commission tomorrow morning, come to the Copeland Club on Fairfax. Be there at eleven. Oh, tell Helen I’d be delighted to come for supper some time.” Benny hung up, not saying goodbye.

Morris placed the receiver back on the wall-hold as if it was a piece of Helen’s good china and looked down to the peach-toned marbled kitchen linoleum that reminded him of a rash covered with sores. He had no idea what he was going to tell his wife.

***

Born and raised amongst the puddles of Portland, Oregon, Eric Wasserman has traveled widely and has lived in many places near oceans and seas, including the great city of Los Angeles. An eternal West Coaster at heart, he is now permanently self-exiled to the beautifully landlocked Midwest. He is the author of a collection of short stories, The Temporary Life, and his fiction has won the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest as well as the Červená Barva Press Fiction Chapbook Prize. He is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Akron, where he is the founder and faculty advisor for Rubbertop Review: An Annual Journal of The University of Akron and Greater Ohio. He is also on the faculty of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing (NEOMFA). A member of the Board of Trustees for Akron Film, he lives in Akron, Ohio with his amazing wife, Thea, their three cats, and a lovable and loyal, although regrettably stubborn and willful St. Bernard mix dog named Jor-El. Celluloid Strangers is his first novel.

Click here to buy: Celluloid Strangers


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