The consensus of the women in Mrs. Proppe’s kitchen was that the Ragman was 90. Mrs. Torto thought 100 because in the bible, what, don’t Jews get very old? There was talk that the old man died, but there he was, in the courtyard whining and pleading for rags; his chant, nasal and foreign. What good are these rags? Mrs. Brodski thought he sent them to Europe, where—she’d seen photographs—there remained great need. Mrs. Torto was of the opinion he used the rags to insulate his cave. Mrs. Proppe thought he sewed them together for use during the ceremony where Jews blow horns attempting, she supposed, to regain god’s attention. Mrs. Proppe, hearing the Ragman’s call, rushed into the pantry, grabbed the rag bundle and tossed it into the courtyard. The Ragman, moving like a shadow, gathered it up then slipped back into the alley.
“Last summer,” Mrs. Brodski said, “I was in the courtyard, bent over to pick up Rachel’s shoe—Rachel tossed it over the railing again—and (you know how quiet he is), there, right in front of my nose, is the Ragman. You’d think he’d stink, but he didn’t.”
Mrs. Broski said she made eye contact with the Ragman. It seemed to her that if he spoke English he was going to apologize for something. “At least that’s what I thought,” she said. Mrs. Torto didn’t think the Ragman needed to apologize for anything.
“He can’t help it,” she said, “the way the Germans and Polacks hate him. My uncle hit a kid with his truck. It was an accident, but the kid died. It’s not the Ragman’s fault his people killed Christ.” Mrs. Brodski agreed. Mrs. Proppe did not, but on that day she would not have agreed with anything Carmen Torto said.