The Invisible Bridge

Andras went through the Sortie doors and walked out into a city that no longer contained his brother. He walked on benumbed feet in the new black Oxfords his brother had brought him from Hungary. He didn’t care who passed him on the street or where he was going. If he had stepped off the curb into the air instead of down into the gutter, if he had climbed the void above the cars and between the buildings until he was looking down at the rooftops with their red-clay chimney pots, their irregular curving grid, and if he had then kept climbing until he was wading through the slough of low-lying clouds in the winter sky, he would have felt no shock or joy, no wonder or surprise, just the same leaden dampness in his limbs.

And what if I fail?"
"Ah! Then you'll have a story to tell.

Dear Madame Morgenstern,
As absurd as it sounds, I've been thinking of you since we parted. I want to take you into my arms, tell you a million things, ask you a million questions. I want to touch your throat and unbutton the pearl button at your neck

Hajdú accent

He allowed himself to imagine for the first time that the rest of his life might not be shaped by the misery of his past.

He could see the inchworm in his mind even now, that snip of green elastic with it's tiny blunt legs, coiling and stretching its way toward the tabletop, on a mission whose nature was a mystery. Survival, he understood now - that was all. That contracting and straining, that frantic rearing-up to look around: It was nothing less than the urgent business of staying alive.

He had the strange sensation of not knowing who he was, of having traveled off the map of his own existence.

How astounding, Andras thought, that a ship that size could shrink to the size of a house, and then to the size of a car; the size of a desk, a book, a shoe, a walnut, a grain of rice, a grain of sand. How astounding that the largest thing he’d ever seen was still no match for the diminishing effect of distance. It made him aware of his own smallness in the world, his insignificance in the face of what might come, and for a moment his chest felt light with panic.

It seemed a miracle that any man who loved a woman might be loved by her in return.

It was like love, he thought, this crumbling chapel: It had been complicated, and thereby perfected, by what time had done to it.

It was like love, he thought, this crumbling chapel: it has been complicated, and therefore perfected, by what time had done to it

It was nearly sunset when, after passing through a thirty-mile stretch of olive groves, they crested a hill and began to descend toward the edge of the earth. That was how it looked to Andras, who had never before seen the sea. As they drew closer it became a vast plain of liquid metal, a superheated infinity of molten bronze.....They reached a stretch of sand just as the red lozenge of the sun dissolved into the horizon.

Judaism offered no Shivah for lost love. There was no Kaddish to say, no candle to burn...no injunction against listening to music or going to work.

Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express. The year was 1937; the month was September, the evening unseasonably cold. His brother had insisted on taking him to the opera as a parting gift. The show was Tosca and their seats were at the top of the house. Not for them the three marble-arched doorways, the façade with its Corinthian columns and heroic entablature. Theirs was a humble side entrance with a red-faced ticket taker, a floor of scuffed wood, walls plastered with crumbling opera posters. Girls in knee-length dresses climbed the stairs arm in arm with young men in threadbare suits; pensioners argued with their white-haired wives as they shuffled up the five narrow flights. At the top, a joyful din: a refreshment salon lined with mirrors and wooden benches, the air hazy with cigarette smoke. A doorway at its far end opened onto the concert hall itself, the great electric-lit cavern of it, with its ceiling fresco of Greek immortals and its gold-scrolled tiers. Andras had never expected to see an opera here, nor would he have if Tibor hadn’t bought the tickets. But it was Tibor’s opinion that residence in Budapest must include at least one evening of Puccini at the Operaház. Now Tibor leaned over the rail to point out Admiral Horthy’s box, empty that night except for an ancient general in a hussar’s jacket. Far below, tuxedoed ushers led men and women to their seats, the men in evening dress, the women’s hair glittering with jewels.

One and a half million Jewish men and women and children: How was anyone to understand a number like that? Andras knew it took three thousand to fill the seats of the Dohány Street Synagogue. To accommodate a million and a half, one would have had to replicate that building, its arches and domes, its Moorish interior, its balcony, its dark wooden pews and gilded art, five hundred times. And then to envision each of those five hundred synagogues filled to capacity, to envision each man and woman and child inside as a unique and irreplaceable human being, the way he imagined Mendel Horovitz or the Ivory Tower or his brother Mátyás, each of them with desires and fears, a mother and a father, a birthplace, a bed, a first love, a web of memories, a cache of secrets, a skin, a heart, an infinitely complicated brain - to imagine them that way, and then to imagine them dead, extinguished for all time - how could anyone begin to grasp it?

Practice at hunger makes the fast easier.

Still, he could feel a fine cord stretched between them, a thin luminous fiber that ran from his chest all the way across the continent and forked into theirs. Never before had he lived through a fever without his mother; when he’d been sick in Debrecen she’d taken the train to be with him. Never had he finished a year at school without knowing that soon he’d be home with his father, working beside him in the lumberyard and walking through the fields with him in the evening. Now there was another filament, one that linked him to Klara. And Paris was her home, this place thousands of kilometers from his own. He felt the stirring of a new ache, something like homesickness but located deeper in his mind; it was an ache for the tie when his heart had been a simple and satisfied thing, small as the green apples that grew in his father’s orchard.

Strange, Andras thought, that war could lead you to involuntarily forgive a person who didn't deserve forgiveness, just as it might make you kill a man you didn't hate.

The [bird's] nest with its streamers was a final unbidden touch: It was what human hands had not brought to the building, and could not remove. It was like love, he thought, this crumbling chapel: It had been complicated, and thereby perfected, by what time had done to it.

There is nothing wrong with you. God asks the most of those he loves best.

The stone basin was crusted with ice now. The courtyard security light illuminated its depths, and as he leaned over it he could make out the fiery glints of goldfish beneath the surface. There, beneath the cover of the ice, their flickering lives went on. He wanted to know how they did it, how they withstood the slowing of their hearts, the chilling of their blood, through the long darkness of winter.

Three hours later they watched the Ile de France slip out toward the flat blue distance of the open sea and sky. How astouding, Andras thought, that a ship that size could shrink to the size of a house, and then to the size of a car; the size of a desk, a book, a shoe, a walnut, a grain of rice, a grain of sand. How astounding that the largest thing he’d ever seen was still no match for the diminishing effect of distance. It made him aware of his own smallness in the world, his insignificance in the face of what might come, and for a moment his chest felt light with panic.

was pregnant, his father had written back

...when he thought of the word mercy, it was the Yiddish word that came to his mind: rachmones, whose root was rechem, the Hebrew word for womb. Rachmones: a compassion as deep and as undeniable as what a mother felt for her child.

Why would a man not argue his own shameful culpability, why would he not crave responsibility for disaster, when the alternative was to feel himself to be nothing more than a speck of human dust?

Willingly Andras followed him into the curved halls of calculus, where the problem of Madame Morgenstern could not exist because it could not be described by an equation.