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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Nine

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine, page 2

page 1 of 2

Late on Saturday afternoon, Ward Minogue steals a bottle of liquor from Karp's liquor store after getting in a fight with Louis Karp. Ward's father, Detective Minogue, searches for him and finds him later in a local bar. Detective Minogue severely beats his son and tells him to get out of town. Ward tells his father to have pity on him because he is sick with diabetes.

After waking from the beating, Ward observes that he is lying behind Karp's liquor store. When he sees a broken window in the back of the store, he decides to sneak inside the closed market. Once inside, Ward starts drinking copious portions of whisky. Then, out of malice, he starts breaking bottles of it on the floor. Ward next tries to smoke a cigarette, but accidentally drops his matches on the floor, which sends the spilt liquor up in flames. Since Ward cannot escape the store, he burns to death. The tenants that live above the store all flee and gather along the street along with the Bobers and the Pearls. The flames destroy the Karp store and building. When Julius Karp arrives to look at what is happening, he collapses. Later that night in bed, Morris feels a wave of anguish since he had wished such ruin on Karp and now it had happened.

The next morning Morris realizes that although Karp's building is destroyed, Karp will get the insurance money for it. Morris decides that the fire again proves Morris's own bad luck, since Morris himself longed for a fire for insurance purposes but Karp got it. As Morris considers the irony, Karp himself enters the grocery and asks to buy Morris's building and store. Karp wants to use Morris's store to re-open his liquor store until he can rebuild his old one. Morris asks for twenty-five hundred dollars for the store and nine thousand for the house. Karp agrees. Morris and Ida cannot believe their good fortune.

Although it is almost April, it has been snowing and Morris decides to shovel the snow so that people can use the sidewalk. Because he thinks that it is warm and spring-like out, he shovels without wearing his coat. It is not as warm as he thinks, but he continues shoveling with out his coat, despite Ida yelling at him. His exercise and the good news make him feel happy. When Helen gets home, they all happily discuss their future move. Later that night, Morris starts to worry about the future as he lies in bed, however. After sleeping for a while, he awakes drenched in sweat and worries that he may have caught a cold from shoveling. He falls back asleep and dreams of his dead son, Ephraim. Ephraim looks hungry and poor in the dreams and Morris cannot understand why since he always fed his son. When Morris asks Ephraim, Ephraim laughs at him. When Morris wakes up, he feels that he has failed and fatherhood and that he has given his life away for nothing. He wants to wake his wife and apologize to her. He feels increasingly sick.

Morris has contracted pneumonia and dies three days later in the hospital. He is buried the day after in Queens. At the funeral service, which everyone from the block and Frank attends, a rabbi who did not know Morris eulogizes him. The rabbi says that Morris was a hard working honest man who was a Jew not because he ate kosher and followed such rules, but because he lived with a full Jewish heart. For example, he shoveled snow to help other people, and he ran after customers who left change in his store. After the rabbi stops, Helen thinks to herself that the rabbi overstated it, because although her father was honest he also let himself be trapped in a prison of the grocery. Ida prays, but also thinks to herself that Morris never managed to make much money, so Helen should try to marry a professional. After the prayers are done, Frank Alpine thinks that suffering is like a piece of goods that the Jews could make clothing out of.

At the cemetery, it is springtime. As they lower Morris into the ground, Helen tosses in a rose with it and as Frank looks at the flower, he accidentally falls into the grave. Ida and Helen start to cry as Frank climbs out. Frank grimly thinks that he ruined the funeral. Helen leaves with Nat Pearl.

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