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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Three

Chapter Two

Chapter Three, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Morris has reopened the old injury on his head from falling. The doctor insists that he rest in bed for a few weeks. Ida cares for Morris all day, but later remembers Frank Alpine and goes downstairs to tell him to leave.

Frank looks clean and fresh when Ida enters and he shows her fifteen dollars in the register, saying that they had a busy morning. Ida does not like the idea, but tentatively suggests that Frank stay during Morris's illness and continue to sleep on the couch in the back. The next morning, he has done eight dollars of business and also cleaned the store and fixed a broken sink and light. Ida thinks that the store looks better. Even though she distrusts him, she shows him how to cut the meat. Ida then spends most of her time upstairs resting, looking forward to the time that Frank, a non-Jew, will be gone.

Frank finds life in the store relatively pleasant. He sells the Polish woman her roll at six and spends the day trying to improve the store while selling goods. He eats whatever he likes whenever he is hungry. The customers like him and so do the deliverers, even though they all warn him not to work for a Jew and that the grocery is a prison-like death tomb. Ida feeds Frank his meals and gives him fifty cents a day spending money, which he uses to see the movies. Frank meets Nick Fuso in the grocery and Nick invites Frank over for dinner after learning that he is Italian.

Ida always keeps Helen away from Frank, but he occasionally catches a glimpse of her and thinks of her. He finds her quite attractive. Because he is lonely and never sees her, one night he conjures a plan and calls her to the telephone even though no one is there. After she finds the line dead, she looks perplexed and he explains that he did not know what happened to the caller.

While Ida dislikes having a non-Jew running their store, she has to admit that his presence has driven up their revenues. Although they are still poor, Frank is bringing in five to seven more dollars per day than Morris had been. He also makes the customers laugh and even gets them to buy more. At the end of the next week, Ida insists on giving Frank five dollars in wages because of all he has done, despite Frank's protests. Frank then feels bad, because while the store had been making money, Frank had also secretly been pocketing some of it—about ten dollars over the two weeks. Frank reasons that he deserved some of the money, but also feels bad about taking it. He tries to get himself to stop, but it becomes a bizarre compulsion.

One night, Frank feels terrible about all the wrong he has done and decides to set things right. He remembers that it was he and Ward Minogue that robbed the grocery store. It had been Ward's idea to rob Karp's liquor store, but when Karp fled, Ward insisted that they rob Bober, since he was just a Jew as well. At the time Frank had thought that a Jew is a Jew, so they might as well rob him, but now he is not so sure. In his contemplation, Frank goes to a nearby bar and finds Ward Minogue. Minogue is feeling sick and laughs when Frank asks for his gun back. Minogue still wants to stick up the liquor store and laughs at Frank for working at Bober's. Frank explains that he did it to quiet his conscience and that he placed the money from the robbery in the register on his first day back. Minogue laughs and tells Frank to seduce the Jew's daughter.

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