(Based on Christina Rosenthal by Jeffrey Archer)
I remember clearly the first time I’d told you about Rosenthal. I was in High School then, and a member of the school track team. Our team was competing against an invited rival; I remember not which, but I do remember the results. As I sped around the track, I would pass by a group of Germans after every round, and as I did I would hear them chanting ‘Jew boy, Jew boy’ over and over again. In the final lap of the race, a girl within the group shouted something so offensive I have no wish to repeat it. I stopped dead in the middle of the race, and glared at her. That girl was Rosenthal.
Rabbi Benji put the letter down, mind awash with memories. He did remember his son relating the experience to him, and how he had praised Simon for not resorting to violence. As he glanced at the familiar handwriting, he wondered whether he really wanted to continue reading it. Giving a sigh, he did.
The next time I saw her was in college. By a strange quirk of fate perhaps, we had ended up in the same one. I’d first noticed her at a ball sometime at the end of the first year, and perhaps to spite her, I walked up to her and asked for a dance. Surprisingly, she accepted. At the end of the dance, she’d commented with a twinkle in her eye, “Not bad, for a Jew.” It was then that we started dating.
Rabbi Benji remembered that much as well. He also remembered expressing disapproval of the relationship between German and Jew, but never actually tried forcing Simon to give her up. It was, after all, his right to choose.
The most painful occurrence of racism I’d ever experienced was the day I asked Rosenthal’s parents for her hand in marriage. I was, of course, flatly rejected. Rosenthal’s parents normally harboured no great hatred for Jews, but apparently the thought of a Jewish son-in-law was something else altogether. A week later, Rosenthal disappeared from the college. I later found out from her friends that she’d been married to a young German, a fine army officer at that. Her parents also warned me not to try to contact her. Wishing to avoid trouble, I complied.
The Rabbi had always wondered about the cause of the depression Simon had experienced late in university. However, he never did figure out. The two were not particularly close, although they could get along pretty well.
The next time I saw her, a few years had passed. We both tried to avoid each other, but in the end, it all happened anyway. She told me of how her marriage was an empty one, and I told her how much I still loved her. Though we both knew it to be extremely wrong, we were involved in an affair. I’d never told you this, of course, as you’d never have approved.
She filed for divorce soon after that, and the two of us chose to get married. This time, you actually forbade it. I was surprised, for I knew you’d object, but never thought you’d actually forbid it. We got married anyway, without approval from either of our parents.
Rabbi Benji rubbed his eyes. Of course he had a reason for forbidding it. He’d known about the affair, though Simon hadn’t told him about it before, and just could not let him break another’s marriage. What Simon did not know was that though the Rabbi had not attended his wedding, he prayed constantly for him.
Rosenthal died in childbirth. She’d known that the pregnancy would be a difficult one, yet decided to carry it through anyway. I was, of course, shattered. I was left with a baby girl, Claire, as my only valued possession in the whole world.
I reconciled with Rosenthal’s parents that day, as they came to grieve for their daughter. How ironic that such things always happen too late. I was not really concerned about their opinion of me anymore, though I appreciated it.
The next day, the hospital called. Claire had passed away during the night.
Rabbi Benji folded up the letter and placed it back where he’d always kept it. He knew how the rest of the letter went. After all, it’d been five years since Simon had written to say goodbye.
16-year-old writer’s commentary:
As could have been guessed, ‘a girl within the group shouted something so offensive I have no wish to repeat it’ is crap. I couldn’t think of something which the girl would do which was so offensive. And I think stopping dead in the middle of the race to glare is stupid, but it was the only reasonable hostile reaction I could think of. Not too good.
Rabbi Benji is quite an original (mine) character. This is largely because I’d read the story ages ago and it was an in-class assignment, so his responses were largely based on what I would do as a parent. Although the tragic end of his offspring leads me to wonder how I’d fare myself.
From the line ‘Rabbi Benji rubbed his eyes’ onward, the essay was rather rushed. I was running out of time (remember, it was an in-class). This is very clearly seen at the last paragraph where the Rabbi folds up the letter and knew how the rest of the letter went. But I think the ending is superior for it. In Archer’s version, the letter goes on even after we’d known how it’d end, and it makes the son’s (whose name wasn’t Simon, I believe) death blatantly obvious. I intended more for a shocker with this, and I think I’ve achieved it. Or at least, I hope I did.