Chapter Four: Zack and the Notebook
Zack’s heart beat with the salsa music in the street. This was not his music and these Latinos were not his people, but soon all their kids would stream in by foot, bike and bus to his new charter school. All he had to do was convince Dov to sell his farm, that silly little farm on the plot of land destined for Zack’s magnificent school.
Heart pounding, Zack made a left turn off Ronald Reagan Turnpike to Northwest 186th Street. He swung into the driveway, waved at his Cuban neighbor playing ball with his kids in the next yard, and burst through the door.
“Emma! I’m here! Big news!” He called. Where was she?
“Hi,” Said Emma, smiling, arms extended. “You remembered my birthday?”
“Something bigger! The mayor is coming with the press.”
Emma’s arms dropped. “For my birthday? For dinner?”
“No, um, happy birthday. Listen, just serve coffee and cake. It’s not exactly for your birthday; The press was coming here to cover my new job. You know, to manage those Latino charter schools.”
“You tell me this last minute?” Emma cried. “What if they take pictures?” She glanced in the mirror and frowned.
“Emma, you look fine. They’re coming, and we have to be careful; the press has a way of uncovering dirt on everyone.” He paused. “Where is that notebook?”
Emma shrugged. “Listen, I have to make coffee.” She moved toward the kitchen.
Zack followed. “First, I need your mother’s notebook about her escapades: the jazz club, the prison break…”
Emma thought a moment while she measured out coffee into a filter. “Oh, that. I must have misplaced it; never even read it.”
“How can you be sure Miriam didn’t take it? Where is your sister, anyway?”
“I haven’t seen her in weeks.”
“You don’t think she’ll pop in exactly when the Mayor comes?” Zack paused. “Maybe she took the notebook.”
“I don’t know; I don’t remember,” said Emma. “I don’t think Miriam wants it.” Emma sighed and flicked on the switch; the coffee started to boil. “I’m going out. There are some things I want to get for my birthday…”
“No!” Zack shouted. “Don’t go shopping, don’t talk on the phone, don’t go visiting… Just find the notes.”
“What do you need them for?” said Emma.
“What do you think? I need to burn them. Next thing we know your mother will talk to the press about her friends the homeless people, and then the Mayor will hear about it. I don’t want to ruin that charter school job. The Mayor pays a lot for those schools.” Zack loosened his tie and removed his jacket. “Let’s start looking for the notebook.”
Emma frowned. “You mean I have to look in every drawer and cabinet and…”
“Emma, I am tired of your cockamamie family getting in the way of my career and my livelihood. Are we going to stay in this Cuban dump forever? You see that I’m looking? Now help me!”
“I’m doing it!” Emma yelled back. She set to work opening drawers, rustling papers, and piling books on the tables. “Why can’t we just lock the doors, so no one can get into the house?”
“Emma,” Zack said, “you aren’t making sense; people have to come in!”
“What’s the big deal,” said Emma. “It’s only an old diary.”
“Is this it?”
Emma flipped the pages. “No; Mother’s is a blue notebook with torn edges.”
Zack bit his lip. “The press will snoop around until it finds something. If the notebook turns up the mayor will appoint someone else!”
“Nonsense,” said Emma. “You’re dreaming things.”
Zack opened the china closet and rummaged around with both hands. “Let’s throw out these Jewish knick knacks—who needs them?”
“Stop,” cried Emma. “That’s my mother’s Chanukah menorah! I for sure didn’t put the notebook…”
“There are so many dishes here, it’s a perfect hiding place,” said Zack. “Wait! I see something…”
“Zack!” screamed Emma. “I said it’s NOT THERE! Zack! My mother’s china! Oh!!” Emma bent on the floor and gathered up the broken pieces.
Zack carried on with his search. “I’m sorry, Emma. I’m just afraid something will derail this job.”
“How can one stupid notebook…”
“Listen Emma,” said Zack, continuing his search.
“Did you look in the file cabinet?
“I don’t think it’s there,” said Emma.
“Don’t think,” Zack snapped. “Look there.”
“This can take all night,” Emma lamented. “First I have to clean up all these broken…
“Wait!” cried Emma. “I see a blue notebook!”
Zack stopped short. “Is that it?
“I got it!” Emma shouted. “This is it!” She began turning pages. “Oh. No, someone wrote recipes in here.”
The doorbell rang; Zack and Emma froze. It rang again.
“I’ll get it,” said Emma. She opened the door and saw the Mayor; he was alone in the dark, bathed in sensations of the neighborhood; sizzling meat, sounds of traffic and Cuban dance music.
“Oh, hellooo, Mr. Mayor,” Emma said, feeling trapped and embarrassed. The house looked as if it were ransacked. “Can you give me a minute? I’ll get my husband.” She shut the door gently, leaving the Mayor outside. “Zack!” She hissed. “Do something!”
“I’ll talk to him. You clean up the couch and bring coffee,” Zack said, slipping on his tie and jacket.
Emma scrambled to throw the scattered books, papers and junk into a laundry basket. She closed the drawers and swept the floor just as Zack opened the door.
“Mayor Perez!” Zack called out in a cheery voice. He peered from side to side. “I see the press didn’t get here yet?”
“Something came up, and they’re not coming,” the Mayor said.
Zack struggled for words. “Come in and take a seat!” He said finally. The two men sat on the couch while Emma set out cups and spoons. Perez held up his hand, indicating he had no time for coffee. Emma, visibly deflated, returned to the kitchen.
“Zack,” said the Mayor, “about the charter schools…”
Zack’s heart beat with excitement. “Si, Mr. Mayor! I am ready to start work, any time you say.”
“Yes of course we should start,” said Mayor Perez, “and announce in the newspapers and all that, but something came up.”
Zack looked at his boss quizzically.
I have some urgent family problems,” said Perez, “and must fly to Venezuela to sort them out. Tomorrow, in fact. Well, I’d better go now. Good night!”
Zack escorted the Mayor to the door as if in a dream that made no sense. He waved goodbye at the limousine as it pulled out of the driveway. Emma took her place beside him and waved also. Then she said, “Did I hear him say Venezuela?”