The One Man - Andrew Gross Page 0,1

you always thinking about, Pop? I wish so much for once you could let me in.”

“He’s probably not thinking about very much, since…” the nurse says, not wanting to mention his wife. “I’m not sure he’s following much of anything anymore.”

“I can follow,” he snaps back. “I can follow just fine.” He turns to his daughter. “It’s just that … I do forget things now from time to time. Where’s Mom?” He glances around, as if expecting to see her in her chair. “Why isn’t she here?”

“Mom’s gone, Pop,” the daughter says. “She died. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah, she died.” He nods, continuing to just stare out. “Sometimes I get confused.”

“He was always such a vibrant man,” the daughter opines to the nurse, “though he always carried this kind of sadness with him we never fully understood. We always thought it had to do with losing his entire family back in Poland during the war. He never knew what happened to them. We tried to trace them once, just to find out. They have records. But he never wanted to know. Right, Pop?”

Her father just nods, his left hand continuing to shake.

“Look, I have something to show you.” From her tote, she takes out a plastic bag. Some things he likes. The Economist magazine. A few new pictures of the grandkids. A bar of Ghirardelli chocolate. “We found something … Cleaning out the house. We were going through a few of Mom’s old things she had buried away. Up in the attic.” She takes a cigar box out of the bag. “Look what we found…”

She opens the box. There are some old photos inside. One of her father and mother during WWII, receiving a medal from two high-ranking military men. An old passport and military papers. A small, creased, black-and-white photo of a pretty blond woman in a rowboat, the front rim of her white cap turned up. The opening page of a Mozart concerto torn in half, then taped back together. A polished white chess piece. A rook.

For a second, her father’s eyes show some light.

“And then this…” She brings out a velvet pouch and takes something out from it.

It’s a medal. A bronze cross with an eagle on it, attached to a blue and red ribbon. The pouch has some dust on it; it’s clearly been tucked away in the box for a long time. She puts it in his palm. “It’s not just any medal, Dad. It’s the Distinguished Service Cross.”

The old man stares at it for a second and then turns away. It’s clear he’s not happy to see it.

“They only give this for the most extreme acts of bravery. The boys looked it up. You would never talk about what it was like for you during the war. Back in Poland. Only that you were in the…”

She stops. Whenever the topic turned to the horrors of “the camps,” her father would turn away or leave the room. For years he would never even wear short sleeves, and never showed anyone his number.

“Look…” She hands him the photo of him with the military officers. “We never ever saw this growing up. How is this possible? You were a hero.”

“I wasn’t a hero.” He shakes his head. “You just don’t know.”

“Then tell me,” the daughter says. “We’ve wanted to know for so long. Please.”

He opens his mouth as if about to say something, finally, but then just shakes his head and stares off into space again.

“If you didn’t do something important, then why did they give you that medal?” she asks. She shows him the photo of the pretty woman in the boat. “And who is this? Was she part of your family back there? In Poland?”

“No, not family…”

This time, her father takes up the torn music sheet and stares at it. There’s a distant glimmer in his eyes. Maybe a smile, something buried back in time that has come alive again unexpectedly.

“A lot of them are like that,” the nurse says. “They don’t want to remember back then. They just keep it inside them forever until—”

“Dolly…” the father finally mutters.

“Dolly…?” His daughter touches his arm.

“It was short for Doleczki. It meant dimples.” The faintest smile comes across his face. “She played so beautifully back then.”

“Who, Dad? Please, tell me who she is. And how you earned this.” She wraps the medal in his palm. “There’s no reason to keep it inside anymore.”

Her father lets out a breath that feels as if it’s been held inside him for a