From the very beginning of the story, Rosa Lublin is described as a madwoman; indeed, the world she inhabits seems composed of as much illusion as reality. After destroying her junk shop in Brooklyn, she has exiled herself to Miami, which she envisions as a sort of Hell of the elderly. She lives in a sordid hotel room with a disconnected phone and keeps as much to herself as possible. Her main form of communication is letter writing; yet her long-dead daughter Magda, to whom she pens lengthy and intimate thoughts in “excellent literary Polish,” seems to have more substance for Rosa than the long-suffering niece Stella, who actually supports Rosa and to whom Rosa writes in “crude” English.
When Simon Persky bursts on Rosa’s solitude in a coin-operated laundry one morning and attempts to lure her back to the world of the living, she repels his advance, even rejecting their common origins in Warsaw. Rosa insists, “My Warsaw isn’t your Warsaw.” She pictures his Warsaw as one of alleys strung with cheap clothing and “signs in jargoned Yiddish,” while hers was Polish, a place of “cultivation, old civilization, beauty, history.” Her parents mocked Yiddish, and the young Rosa was preparing to become another Marie Curie. Persky treats her to a meal in the Kollins Kosher Kameo, which she grudgingly endures, preferring her lonely exclusivity.
When she returns to her hotel, the mail has arrived: Stella’s letter announcing that she has finally sent the shawl Rosa requested, and a package that Rosa imagines contains the shawl of her dead infant Magda. Before she can open it, however, she must purify her room and herself; justifying...
(The entire section is 682 words.)