Gil and Lil on Orchard Street
Shelley Ettinger

"Gevalt," Gilda mutters. She palms her cheek. She sighs. She used to enjoy a Sunday stroll down Orchard Street. A walk, a deal on shoes, say, or a scarf. After, maybe a nosh at Yonah Shimmel's knishery where the old man remembers Gilda's pop, how they'd share an afternoon, a little shnappes as yentas yapped and kiddies napped.

All gone. The street's thronged, and loud -- always was, yet it gives her a headache now. The noise, the tongues she doesn't recognize. She no longer belongs. Still, it's home, so she comes, and today she could swear she sniffs a hint, underneath, or wafting above, a scent of the old times. Dill? From when you picked among pickle barrels lining the pavement? Gilda recalls the first bite, the heady, sour rush of taste, how her palate tingled, eyes stung, nose ran. She pictures herself, a little girl smacking her lips in satisfied delight, and wonders can it be? A trace remains? A whisper of garlicky cured cukes impressed against the bricks, hidden but persistent, a palimpsest like the faded Yiddish lettering she barely makes out behind the Spanish store names painted on tattered tin signs.

Gilda sighs again, hugely, an influx of air and energy that ends in a smile. She lets her hand drop to her side. She eyes the scene. Boys in baggy pants bartering at sunglass stands. Girls in shirts cut to the pupik buying earrings. Dancing to secret sounds plugged in their ears. Not so different from us, Gilda thinks, how we bopped to Benny Goodman, kept an eye out for a steal on a purse or blouse.

So things aren't exactly the same. What is? Orchard Street brims with life. That's what counts. She'll return next week.

Her stomach growls. "Lil," she calls back to her chum. "Ready for a knish?"

"A minute, Gil."


For 20 minutes Lillian's been pawing the sample table piece by piece. Come on, Gilda wants to say, you have a house on Long Island. Daughter a doctor. Live a little. Buy a brand name. Forget it. Lil can't pass up a bargain.

She knows her friend by heart. Plenty's changed since P.S. 110 on Delancey, but in a way their lives have been like this street. Busy; then bereft; cluttered again, replete. Pals through it all. Gil and Lil. Creased exteriors, the girls they were forever peeking from just beneath.

Right now, though, they've got to eat. Gilda turns. And oh. She sees.

It's not rags locking Lil in place. It's legs. Half a dozen shapely mannequin gams, on a rack, rolling past. A chorus line. Reminder of Howie. The dancer.

Lillian's son. Dead 13 years. Today there are drugs. A cocktail, it's called. Not then. He vanished in a gasp.

Gilda, gently: "Let's go, dear."

Hands linked, they head down Orchard Street.

Top of page