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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bernard Malamud reads from his story,
“The Mourners”

This week’s Story of the Week selection is Bernard Malamud’s “The Mourners,” first published in 1955 and collected in The Magic Barrel (1957), which would win the first of his two National Book Awards.

Thanks to Calliope Audio Readings, we can hear Malamud himself read his story. We’ve include the text below this three-minute excerpt, so you can read along while you listen to one of America’s master storytellers.

This free excerpt is provided by Calliope Audio Readings, which offers recordings of Malamud, Nelson Algren, James Baldwin, James Jones, Philip Roth, William Styron, and John Updike reading from their own works.

*   *   *

Arriving at the top floor he banged his fist on Kessler’s door. “Gruber, the landlord. Open up here.”

There was no answer, no movement within, so Gruber inserted his key into the lock and twisted. Kessler had barricaded the door with a chest and some chairs. Gruber had to put his shoulder to the door and shove before he could step into the hallway of the badly lit two-and-a-half-room flat. The old man, his face drained of blood, was standing in the kitchen doorway.

“I warned you to scram outa here,” Gruber said loudly. “Move out or I’ll telephone the city marshal.”

“Mr. Gruber—” began Kessler.

“Don’t bother me with your lousy excuses, just beat it.” He gazed around. “It looks like a junk shop and it smells like a toilet. It’ll take me a month to clean up here.”

“This smell is only cabbage that I am cooking for my supper. Wait, I’ll open a window and it will go away.”

“When you go away, it’ll go away.” Gruber took out his bulky wallet, counted out twelve dollars, added fifty cents, and plunked the money on top of the chest. “You got two more weeks till the fifteenth, then you gotta be out or I will get a dispossess. Don’t talk back talk. Get outa here and go somewhere that they don’t know you and maybe you’ll get a place.”

“No, Mr. Gruber,” Kessler cried passionately. “I didn’t do nothing, and I will stay here.”

“Don’t monkey with my blood pressure,” said Gruber. “If you’re not out by the fifteenth, I will personally throw you on your bony ass.”

Then he left and walked heavily down the stairs.

The fifteenth came and Ignace found the twelve-fifty in his letter box. He telephoned Gruber and told him.

“I’ll get a dispossess,” Gruber shouted. He instructed the janitor to write out a note saying to Kessler that his money was refused, and to stick it under his door. This Ignace did. Kessler returned the money to the letter box, but again Ignace wrote a note and slipped it, with the money, under the old man’s door.

After another day Kessler received a copy of his eviction notice. It said to appear in court on Friday at 10 a.m. to show cause why he should not be evicted for continued neglect and destruction of rental property. The official notice filled Kessler with great fright because he had never in his life been to court. He did not appear on the day he had been ordered to.

That same afternoon the marshal came with two brawny assistants. Ignace opened Kessler’s lock for them and as they pushed their way into the flat, the janitor hastily ran down the stairs to hide in the cellar. Despite Kessler’s wailing and carrying on, the two assistants methodically removed his meager furniture and set it out on the sidewalk. After that they got Kessler out, though they had to break open the bathroom door because the old man had locked himself in there. He shouted, struggled, pleaded with his neighbors to help him, but they looked on in a silent group outside the door. The two assistants, holding the old man tightly by the arms and skinny legs, carried him, kicking and moaning, down the stairs. They sat him in the street on a chair amid his junk. Upstairs, the marshal bolted the door with a lock Ignace had supplied, signed a paper which he handed to the janitor’s wife, and then drove off in an automobile with his assistants.

Kessler sat on a split chair on the sidewalk. It was raining and the rain soon turned to sleet, but he still sat there. People passing by skirted the pile of his belongings. They stared at Kessler and he stared at nothing. He wore no hat or coat, and the snow fell on him, making him look like a piece of his dispossessed goods.

Copyright © 1955, 1958, renewed 1977, 1986 by Bernard Malamud. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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