The Rosenman Chronicles. Story 2. The Messiah of Sad Street.

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Cranston McMillan's second story from the forthcoming Rosenman Chronicles. The Diary of Abraham Rosenman is archived with the The Jewish Magazine and can be read online,

Submitted: July 02, 2010

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Submitted: July 02, 2010



By Cranston McMillan
Four days she had stayed in bed. Cameron Levy had had enough. “Do this Cameron, Cameron, do that for me. Cameron, be a sweetheart and bring your dear bubbeh a cup of sweet tea. Put a little spoonful of honey in too”. Cameron had quite simply had enough. This was not the life for an active seven year old; he wanted to be outside, running, playing games, just being free. Grandmother’s untimely illness had put paid to all of that, and now he felt just like a little servant, running to her every beck and call.
The Levys lived at no 13 on Sad Street. Some people said that the sun had never ever shone there, and just as many people believed the story. Just how Sad Street had got its name was anyone’s guess, but over the years it had more than lived up to its unfortunate handle; everyone staying there had a story and everyone’s story carried sadness. Two rows of slowly crumbling red sandstone tenements on the Southside of Glasgow City: housing a small Jewish community, and all containing a catalogue of tragedy. There was old Mrs Silverman, her husband and two sons had been killed in a car crash, she passed her lonely days by gossiping about everyone and anyone. Rabbi Shulman, although he had told everyone that he was now just Mr Shulman, what he had witnessed during the War had changed him forever, and what he had lost had obliterated his faith. Dan Green, the life and soul of any party now like a ghost, his poor wife Lily had died of cancer, and with her passing went his will to live. There was Sean Malone the convert who everyone thought was a fugitive from the IrishRepublic. In truth he was a sad and lonely man whose young wife had died in childbirth, his little son Patrick had lived for just a half an hour, and with them part of Sean died as well. Eli and Hettie Bloom’s son; lost at sea, the loveliest old couple you could ever hope to meet. And poor old Mr Rosenman, some people said he was the saddest man they had ever known, no one knew how old he was or very much about him, but he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. All the others, every family, they all had been touched by tragedy in some way. And then there were the Levys
And for the Levys to live at unlucky 13 on the sadly named street of woe was double misfortune.
Abi and Samuel Levy had just celebrated their Golden wedding anniversary when they were gifted with the responsibility of bringing up their only grandchild. Cameron McManus was five years old when his mother had given him a shiny new fifty pence piece and told him to run along to his grandmothers house, “big kiss, Cam” she had given him a little hug and a quick peck on the cheek, “I’ll see you tonight, be good now”. Cameron asked every night for a month when his mother would return, and old Abi would lie. After the month he stopped caring, if his mother did not want him then he did not want his mother.
Deborah Levy had always been her own person. Flighty, flirty and aggressive; she always, always got her own way. A reasonably ordinary singer she had bullied and flirted her way to a permanent solo spot at The Big T nightclub much to her parent’s dismay. It was at the Big T she had set her sights on Peter McManus, Pete was not much to look at but he had cash and lots of it. His Television installation service was booming, the coronation of Elizabeth as Queen in 1953 had been the start of a brilliant business period, everything Peter and his partner Alan touched quite simply turned to cash, the upsurges in business continuing through the 50’s, the future was bright. McManus’s parents had been farmers in Rhodesia and Peter had been born there, but their ambitions and capability operated on differing spectrums and the dream floundered; they soon found themselves back in their native Scotland, and simply started life again. The courtship had been swift; Deborah knew exactly what she wanted and was going to make sure that she got it by any means necessary.
Samuel was not too happy at first “a goy, you want to marry a goy. What’s wrong with finding a good Jewish boy” Deborah simply bulldozed all objections away, she was marrying, marrying out and she did not care a damn if her parents objected or approved. The registry office wedding in the autumn of 58 was well attended, Abi and Samuel were there and all of Deborah’s friends, fans and hangers on from the Big T. Peter’s best man was his business partner, and a couple of family friends turned up from his side. It was overall a lively affair.
Samuels initial trepidation was short lived. Peter turned out to be an admirable son in law. In fact, at many an uncharitable moment he often surmised that Peter was far too good a man for his wayward daughter. The honeymoon period did not last long, Deborah loved all that Peter’s hard-earned money could buy her and she thrived on her growing reputation at the Big T. A few offers from other clubs had tempted her, but she decided to stay put until the right move came along. Moreover, as time passed the relationship with her husband suffered.
Alan Swan was Peter’s partner in the TV business, and in the early 1960’s he started having secret meetings with several of the larger TV company chains. Swan/McManus was a respected and reliable trading name and a few of the big firms were keen to add the name to their own portfolio. Alan was a seriously wily operator. He managed to strike a magnificent deal for himself, but not before he bought Peter out for a fraction of what his share was worth. Peter however did not feel in any way betrayed, and he intended to put the money to good use: lavishing it extravagantly on the woman he loved. Deborah enjoyed the good times that the cash brought; the parties, the holidays, the clothes and jewellery, but it all soon vanished and with it went the small amount of love for her husband.
Vainly Peter tried his hand at new business ventures, but all came to nothing, with every business disaster, another nail slammed itself harder into the wreck of their marriage. After more than ten years together however Deborah fell pregnant. Peter was over the moon; Abi and Samuel were both ecstatic, but Deborah did not share the elation, she cursed her carelessness and her overwhelming feeling was one of unhappiness and the fear that she was trapped. A baby on the way and money in short supply, it was surely the right time for her to re evaluate her options.
Cameron McManus did not bear too great a resemblance to his father, but Peter pushed any doubts to the back of his mind. He loved his son completely. Deborah continued with her career, and generally avoided the duties of motherhood leaving those mundane chores to her husband, and her parents. Cameron was just two years old when Peter and Deborah divorced.
Deborah wanted more from life and Peter was the first casualty. He took the split badly, even more so when Deborah told him that he could have the boy as well. As much as he loved him, he found it almost impossible to work and take care of the child. Seeking to put the past firmly behind him he returned to Rhodesia. Cameron was enrolled in the obligatory whites only nursery and Peter set about making a living for them. It worked well enough, but as the boy grew the pressure became greater, and after some lengthy international phone calls, Sam Levy arrived in Salisbury to take the boy back to the UK.
Peter was near to tears “we’ve had two good years Sam, but it’s too much I just can’t cope. The boy needs his mother, and as much as I love this country it’s not the type of place where Cameron should be brought up”. Old Sam listened and never once criticised his son in law, “you’ve done as well as you could Peter. It’s no disgrace. You’re a fine chap, but you made one fatal error” Sam thought carefully about his next words, knew that it was wrong to say, but he had to tell the truth “and that mistake my friend was your choice of wife. Deborah may be my daughter, my little girl, but she was never good; never was, never will be. As a parent I failed”. They talked at length, Peter affirming that he would send money to Sam and Abi every week for the boys care and not to Deborah, and Sam assured Peter that the child would never want and be loved and cared for.
Sam tried to make his daughter face up to her responsibility to her son, but the child was merely a hindrance. A recording deal was in the offing, and a Television appearance was being discussed Deborah was out most nights of the week leaving Cameron to fend for himself, by the age of five Cameron was putting himself to bed, getting ready for school and making his own breakfast. On the day that Deborah sealed her record deal Cameron was given that lovely shiny fifty pence and his mother’s selfish lie.
Peter sent money every week, week after week without fail. There was always a letter for Sam and Abi, keeping them up to date with all his news and always asking after them, and also a little note for his son.
Sam and Abi quickly adapted to having a youngster around. Sam in particular loved every second he spent with the lad: taking him to football, visiting museums and having special days away to the coast and at night before bed he would tell the boy stories of the 1948 War of Liberation and of the heroes of the Six Day War, and all the good deeds that a boy could do, Sam liked to call the good deeds: Tiny Miracles, “there is not enough good in the world, so sometimes you need a tiny miracle” he would often say. Cameron loved his Grandfather’s tales and the passion that the old fellow would put into his storytelling. They bonded quickly and became not just Grandad and Grandson but best friends.
One thing that was quickly agreed on was Cameron’s religious upbringing. Peter had not been particularly religious in any way, a Presbyterian by name only, and Deborah had shunned her own faith for as long as Sam could remember. The decision was made solely by his grandparents to bring the boy up properly,
“He doesn’t know a single word of Hebrew, he doesn’t know the difference between Passover and walkover, what has that girl been thinking of” Sam would fume. Cameron found himself rapidly enrolled in Torah studies and Hebrew classes at the local Jewish Centre much to the lads dismay “do I really, really have to go grandad” in his most pleading, pitiful little voice “yes Cameron you do, and there is no argument about it”. The other significant change was to unofficially change the boys surname to Levy, “we’re not being disrespectful to Peter” stressed Abi “but if the boy is in our care he should have our name. It’s not official, he’ll probably change it back when he’s older” at times she almost convinced herself.
The saddest day in Cameron Levy’s life fell on his 6th birthday when Sam died of a massive heart attack. The sudden death shocked everyone on Sad Street, all the friends and neighbours paid respect. The funeral was dealt with quickly, and then Abi took Cameron home, they covered all the mirrors in the house and the tears soon began to flow. For a whole week Cameron did nothing but cry, he had not just lost a most wonderful grandparent; he had lost his best friend.
The tragic stories of Sad Street touched everyone.
Things got a bit harder after Sam’s passing. With Sam’s works pension gone, Abi and Cameron lived on the weekly money from Peter, some savings and her own old age pension. Things were tough, and then the money from Rhodesia stopped.
Ellie Silverman shook her head in disgust “a no user, a waste of the space, I always knew he was just as bad as all the rest” Abi, unaware that Cameron was listening intently from the next room followed on in more serious fashion, “oh I’m sure I just don’t know. He’s probably lying dead somewhere, murdered maybe” Mrs Silverman was far more gossip orientated “oh no, more like lying drunk with some tart, and forgetting all his responsibilities”. Abi put her finger quickly to her lips and shushed the conversation when she realised they had a listener and old Ellie caught on quickly as to why some discreet silence was required “well, you keeps better Abi” making a somewhat hasty departure, “some nice grapes I’m leaving you, and I’ve put a nice chicken soup I made on the stove for you. Cameron can heat it later” She then made her goodbyes, leaving Abi the difficult task of explaining to her Grandson.
“You don’t think my dad is dead” He was close to tears, and Abi’s heart was breaking as she softly spoke to him, “sometimes grown ups talk and don’t think too much about the words that come out of their mouths. I want you to forget everything we said. Your Dad is alright, and I’m sure we’ll hear from him very soon. Honest” on the last word she crossed her fingers and held them to her heart, Cameron did the same and they both smiled at each other. A loud knock at the door interrupted the sentimental moment “oh no, that’s McTavish” sighed Abi
Mr McTavish would come every Thursday to collect the rent, a mean, devil faced Scot without a kind look or word for anyone. Cameron did not like McTavish, in plain fact no one did, but Cameron disliked him with a great intensity. That brisk knock at the door, the demanding growl of “rent”, his horrible demeaning habit of counting it all to the last penny before signing the rent book, and then his cursory, smarmy; “next week, same time, same place”. There was certainly a place for McTavish, thought Cameron as opened the front door and showed the rent collector into the living room. Abi had managed up out of bed and pulled on her heavy housecoat “Cameron, run off to your room like a good boy. Mr McTavish and I have to talk” Cameron obediently did as he was told, but left his room door ajar and he could clearly hear all that was being said. McTavish was angry at not being able to collect his money, and he quoted rules from the rentbook until Abi lost her cool, “We stay in this place for twenty five years, and week after week we pay you, never, never late. This week I’ve been ill, in my bed all the time. My little Cammy taking good care of me, but he can’t go to the bank, he’s too young. I can’t go to the Bank, I’m too ill.  The bank won’t come to me, so you will just have to wait until next week when I’m up on my feet again, and if you don’t like it you can throw us out on the street right now”. McTavish for his entire front, for all his brutishness did not like confrontation; he murmured a few barely comprehensible sentences, and made a rather embarrassed departure.
Cameron ran from his room, desperately needing to know his grandmother was alright, “Don’t fret little one” she said lovingly “forget about what I was saying to Mrs. Silverman, and forget about that old crook too. Soon everything is going to be alright, the Messiah is on his way and we’ll all be fine forever” She placed her hand gently on Cameron’s cheek “Come now, time for your bed. Go start to get ready” In a vein attempt to hold up bedtime he thought quickly “but Mrs Silverman’s soup”, Abi smiled at the boy knowing exactly what his game plan was “ tomorrow it will be just as good. Now, bed” defeated he skulked off back to his room.
Cameron had just started readying himself for bed when there was a knock at the front door. Abi called out “Cammy, Cammy, see who that is at the door. Probably that scoundrel again” Cameron broke himself happily away from his bedtime routine and ran to the door for his Grandmother, lifting himself to the secure chain and reaching for the latch he slowly opened up. He did not recognize the man who stood there, a tall slim man, young, shoulder length brown straggly hair and a good two day growth of beard, but there was a gentleness about the fellow which seemed to put the youngster totally at ease, “hello, my name is Simon, I’m sorry to impose on you, but I’m very cold and hungry, I need somewhere to rest, just for an hour maybe and hopefully a little something to eat, maybe a hot drink”, his voice was soft and kind. Cameron was not at all sure what to do, but something in him said that this man was good and that he meant no harm. The small boy ushered him in to the front room “who is it Cammy? Who is it?” called Abi, “it’s a man grandma, it’s a man”. Abi cried back a little impatiently, “a man, what man, who?” Simon sat down in the front room and Cameron ran through into the bedroom, “His name is Simon, he’s a bit hungry, he needs something to eat” Abi pushed herself up in the bed and pulled a face “eat, tell him to go to a café and not bother us, we have little enough as it is” Cameron lied quickly back “he’s a nice man I know him. He helps out at the Jewish Centre” Abi still was not convinced “I’m getting up” and she feigned an effort to leave her sick bed, “no, no you’re not well enough. Please stay in bed. I’ll take care of everything”. Cameron was indeed turning into quite the little man, she was so proud of him and she promised herself that one day she would tell him just how much she loved him. “Ok, ok give him some tea, but give him the cheap teabags, and biscuits, but not the best ones” Cameron nodded, satisfied that he had pacified his Grandmother and returned to the front room.
“I’m going to fetch you something to eat” said the boy “don’t bother about my Gran, she always behaves like that” Simon smiled as Cameron marched purposefully off into the kitchen. There was liitle food in the larder, just enough to do them over the weekend. The youngster eyed the chicken soup that Mrs Silverman had left and his little face lit up. He measured out two equal shares using a soup ladle and two mugs then poured half back into the pot, “that’s for Gran tomorrow” he muttered to himself. He popped the other half into a saucepan and placed it on the cooker to heat.
Simon stood up when Cameron came back into the room carrying a tray. Seeing the child struggling slightly he took the tray from him and sat back down, “thank you, you are so very kind” there were two slices of bread and the steaming bowl of Mrs Silverman’s glowing nectar, and the boy had also made a cup of strong black tea, there was one chocolate biscuit. Simon devoured the soup with relish, tearing the bread, soaking it in the delicious liquid and wolfing it down “I’m sorry if my table manners are not too good, but I have not eaten for so long” Cameron did not mind “that’s ok” the boy felt totally at ease with the stranger “where are you going to” he asked, Simon thought long and hard before answering “I’m not going anywhere really, I wander around, but I never have anywhere special in mind” the boy was intrigued “but don’t you stay anywhere” again the stranger thought carefully before answering “I stay here and I stay there, it doesn’t matter I’m always comfortable” he smiled, “but you get hungry sometimes” Simon laughed out loud “yes, hungry. Indeed I do. This is wonderful soup” Cameron explained that it was Mrs Silverman’s recipe and that hers was the second best in the world next to his Grandmothers.
“You care for her very well” said Simon, “My Mum left me here to be a singer, Gran and Sam took care of me, and when Sam died Gran and I take care of each other. We might have to go somewhere else I think; we don’t have money for Mr McTavish”
Simon gently inquired “McTavish?”
“He collects the rent, I hate him, he smells and he picks his nose” even the thought of the horrible McTavish made the boy angry, Simon laughed “you are a kind boy, I’m sure that everything will work out just right for you and Abi. Now though I must go, you have been most gracious, please extend my thanks to your Grand mother for me and please don’t worry” Simon stood to go and offered his hand to Cameron, the boy’s smaller hand clasped the mans and they shook a friendly farewell, “Simon, before you go I have something for you, wait please” the boy darted quickly to his bedroom.
Cameron pulled out from under his bed a garishly coloured tin, he pulled open the lid and rummaged through his tiny treasure trove: some marbles, an old tin driedel that had belonged to Sam, some Doctor Who picture cards that had been given free with ice lollies, a British Army cap badge bearing the Star of David, a rubber snake and finally there it was, lying in a corner of the tin was the fifty pence piece that his mother had given him. He picked out the coin, closed his treasure chest and returned just as quickly as he had left. “This is for you” he placed the coin into Simon’s hand, “No, I can’t take this please” he offered the return of the coin but Cameron defiantly put both hands behind his back “I don’t want it back, it’s for you. I’ve had it for a while, and I don’t want it. So you have to take it”, embarrassed slightly Simon put the coin in his pocket “your kindness won’t be forgotten” he tousled the boys hair, smiled that winning smile and then he was gone. Cameron told Abi that he had given Simon tea and a biscuit, and then set off to bed, he had liked the man and thought of some of the things they had said, maybe if Cameron had been a little older he would have asked how he knew his Grandmother’s name. The boy jumped into his bed and was asleep in minutes.
It seemed that he had only closed his eyes when he was woken with fierce knocking at the front door. Bleary eyed he sat up in bed, morning casting its light through his bedroom window. Abi was up and out of bed, he heard her voice and also two other voices, there was whooping and laughter. He swung out of bed, not bothering with his dressing gown and went to investigate the noise.
“It’s like a miracle” shouted Eli Bloom at the very top of his voice, Abi was hugging a tearful but overjoyed Hettie, “I always knew they would find him” Eli could not contain his joy. The son they had feared dead was alive and well, on his way home from Indonesia, “the man who came last night, he had the telegram” Eli continued “said his name was Simon”. Cameron jumped inwardly at the sound of the name, and at that exact moment he looked at what old Abi was holding, she turned to the boy “look, I told you. your Dad is fine. He had a few problems, but everything is alright again and he’s sent three weeks money” Cameron ran to his room and quickly dressed. In minutes he was running out of the house past Gran and the Blooms, “Cammy, your breakfast” Abi shouted after him as he darted out.
Sean Malone was standing at the bus stop with a pretty young lady, they were chatting as if they had known each other for years. “Good morning Mr Malone “called Cameron, Sean called the boy over “and this Penny is Cameron Levy, the smartest lad on Sad Street. Cameron meet Penny”. The young boy offered his hand and also gave a very gentlemanly half bow, the girl smiled. “Now, young man, a friend of yours tells me you make a rather good cup of tea” inquired Sean “Simon” the boy asked, “Yes, Simon. Popped up to see me last night, asked for the Silverman house, we had a long chat. Turns out he was a good friend of Penny here, we were friends at college, and guess what Cam” he whispered in Cameron’s ear that they were going out to the pictures and for a meal. Cameron’s little face turned brightest scarlet.
Mr Shulman was running. Running faster than Cameron and Sean had ever seen anyone run. He stopped for just a second “today, is a wonderful day” he hugged Sean first and then gave the boy a massive hug too before running off in the direction of the Synagogue “and it’s Rabbi Shulman” he shouted back at the top of his voice.
Old Mr Rosenman knelt in the middle of the street, tears rolling freely down his cheeks. He repeated over and over “No one came for me. No one came for me” Cameron ran towards him and placed his small hand on the old mans shoulder. “Mr Rosenman, what’s wrong, why are you crying”. He gently took the child’s hand, “it’s alright Cameron. It is nothing to worry about; there is nothing anyone can do. I’m just an old fool really and just a little teary”. The child threw his arms around the old man and gave him a huge cuddle, “everyone cries once in a while Mr Rosenman, but it always gets better”. Rosenman wiped away the tears with the back of his hand “you’re a clever lad Cameron, and a good one. Thank you, thank you so much. Best get off home now, your Gran will be worried”. Cameron ran back towards home. He felt good. As the boy ran happily home, the old mans tears returned.
Abi was dressed in her best when the boy skipped into the front room. “Have you forgotten something little one” Cameron sighed and in a resigned groan he muttered “Shabbat”. Abi smiled at him “yes Cameron it’s the Sabbath, and Rabbi Shulman is back with us tonight, so get yourself ready” Cameron trooped off to his room, some things he thought would never change.
And so, every one on Sad Street had been given a little bit of happiness, a little bit of hope for the future. Mrs Silverman regularly helped out at the Jewish Centre and no one ever heard a word of gossip from her again. Dan Green became a grief counsellor and helped the bereaved come to terms with the loss of loved ones. Peter’s letter to his son said that Dad was coming home, and old Abi from being ill miraculously became fit as a fiddle. Sean married again, he never forgot his wife and son, but learned to live again, and the dear old Blooms were still the loveliest couple you could ever hope to meet. No one ever found out who the visitor had been, or where he had came from, some people said that old Rosenman knew something, but that was all merely street corner gossip. On the way to temple that evening Cameron asked his Grandmother if Simon had been the Messiah, she laughed “oh Cameron you still have so much growing to do” and that was his answer.  Whoever the man had been, his visits had coincided with changes in people’s lives. Cameron thought back to something Sam had told him about tiny miracles that happen out of the blue. As they walked the short distance for the Friday night service Cameron Levy could not help noticing that the sun was shining brightly all along Sad Street.
Cranston McMillan. April 2010.
Dedicated to Rod Serling 1924 – 1975.

© Copyright 2018 Xavier Sekula. All rights reserved.

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