Every evening my grandmother would let down her blond hair while I watched it fall to her waist: then she braided it again. She switched off the light. She kneeled—the whisper of her prayer reached as far as the edges of night, fluttering His celestial garments. Her head would shine in the dark. Crouching on my bed, I too recited my prayers, quickly, the Lord’s Prayer and then, “Ich bin klein mein Herz ist rein . . . ” I prayed for everyone in the house and also for Aunt Edith and Uncle Fritz. At the end, I tried to persuade Him to give me hair as fairy-tale-like as Grandmother’s (“Such foolishness,” Mama said when I confessed, “it’s what’s under the hair that counts”) . . . the kind of hair on which a wandering prince might climb my tower as on a ladder.
I always slept in the same room with my grandmother, and she would become so frightened when I sleepwalked past her in the black dead of night. Aunt Edith explained to me that the moon rays were summoning me when they touched my eyelids. She told me I was “looking for the moon,” as they say in German. Only that I was looking for which side of the earth the moon might be on.
Once when I was in the hospital in the city, an old, old woman slept in the bed next to mine—they said that she was in the hospital because at home she didn’t have what she needed. They were kind to her. They were getting ready to do surgery on her feet in order to keep her there longer.
She had been living by herself. She didn’t love children. In the daytime she gossiped with me about every manner of trifle, “like a lady.” She had come from some place where there had been beauty, riches, rivers of champagne, grand balls. About this former world she would say hardly a word. Perhaps, like Ida, she’d made some sort of mistake?
At night in the hospital ward, the moon would shine on her face, on her white feet with bunions like tubers.
In my transparent sleep, it seemed to me I could distinguish her very being in a haze, her flesh like an ethereal curtain scarcely clinging to her bones—how it danced with stiff curving claws on her legs.
Up to the peak of the mountain of sleep, on top of the moon, she would dance night after night.