Having lost his job as a kids’ party magician due to the pandemic, Tomasz Aleksander Biedrzycki decided to write a biography about his mother, but it was turning out to be a much more difficult endeavor than he had imagined. No sooner had his fingers touched his keyboard when an overwhelming feeling of guilt overtook him. Who would want to read a book about a thief, a prostitute, and a murderess? The critics would judge her harshly and then turn their scorching gaze on him. Cut from the same cloth, they’d think him capable of equal if not worse. He quickly closed his computer, retreated to his kitchen where, over a plate of slippery pierogis, he decided to scrap the biography.

Too much trouble, he thought.

Unemployment was consuming enough.


Lockdown proved to be a fertile time to ruminate. Maybe he was too rash. He didn’t judge his mother that harshly. He admired her talents as a singer, her moxy, and no one would disagree, she was beautiful! Even on her worst days, she looked like a cross between Gina Lolobrigida and Uma Thurman. Sure, she drank to excess, but who doesn’t? And yes, she slept around and married indiscriminately, but who hasn’t suffered under the guise of Eros? And how many mothers would defend their seventeen-year-old son’s life with their own and then endure punishment for it? We’re talking jail time.

Why wasn’t that a good enough reason to write about her?

Didn’t he owe it to her?

Or should he wait until she died?


During one of his daytime naps, Tomasz dreamed he was being interviewed about his book on NPR. When the first question posed to him was tell us about your mother’s beginnings, a cold sweat overtook his body. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was mute. The interviewer gave him a what the fuck? look.

Tomasz fumbled with some loose sheets of paper. “Um, okay. I pieced this together from the letters my mother and I wrote to each other during the first few months she was in prison. Before I begin, it is important to say that, especially given the times she was living through, she was a woman with no choices.”

“Go on.”

I was born into poverty in the tiny seaside village of Stet, Poland. My mother—your grandmother—was a frail woman prone to bleeding. She died giving birth to me. My father—your grandfather—was a difficult drunk with salt and pepper hair. Having been torn apart by the helplessness of his situation, found solace through art: he played violin outside of the opera house for loose change, and when business was slow, he sold himself in a nearby alley. 

One drunken night, my father let the barkeeper’s daughter Olena, a thin, sad woman whose childbearing years had passed, take me in exchange for his exorbitant bar tab.

Not a day went by that Olena didn’t remind me that I was a murderess for having killed the very person who bore me life. And that if I didn’t believe her, the proof was my misshapen left ear: the result of having been torn from the womb, and a badge of guilt for the entire world to see. 

The interviewer raised his bushy eyebrows. Tomasz continued.

I found solace in elaborate daydreams of being rescued by the Polish Army, and in simple things such as playing with the bar kittens who came and went. Then my luck changed when Olena suddenly died.

I was just eleven years old, but I endeavored to overcome my situation, just as I had seen my father do, through art. If only I had a talent! My father, always able to see a profit, jumped back into my life and declared his daughter’s talent was in her voice and that together we’d rake it in. 

Tomasz intervened: “The fact that my mother was gluchy dzwiek, or tone deaf, bore little impact on her father’s quest.”

The interviewer leaned in. “Was her gluchy dzwiek due to the misshapen ear itself, or from the trauma that caused the misshapen ear?”

Tomasz was impressed: for a person in a dream, he sure had good questions.

“Who cares,” Tomasz shouted into his pillow.

My mother worked hard, he lay there thinking. With her father’s encouragement, she went from being nervous and prone to influence to unrivaled on the street corners—a Polish Nightingale! People flocked to hear her. They stared at her in shock and amazement. My mother’s bad ear—in every sense of the word—produced a sound full of real artistic experience, raw and intense. Her repertoire ranged from the popular Polish song “Disco Polo Song About the Sleeping Fish and the Fish That Couldn’t Sleep”—a real song! Ask any Pole—to the sung poetry of Ewa Demrczyk, to the Polish army marching song “Opie Shupie, Opie Shupie.” Her father played his violin alongside her, wearing a shit-eating grin as the coins cascaded into his hat.


At that point, Tomasz jumped from his bed, walked to his computer, opened a file, named it “My Mother,” then returned to his bed, all while still asleep.

The next morning, he read this:

One day when my mother went to meet her father on the street corner in front of the opera house, he never showed up. When two weeks passed without his reappearance, my mother—Agnieszka Kasia Biedrzycki, at just 16 years old—fled Poland, carrying me unbeknownst inside of her, and headed to America.


Perpetually preparing for his (potential) next magic job, Tomasz’s props were scattered around his apartment. One morning as he was navigating his way through the maze of magic books, cards, and handkerchiefs, to get to the kitchen for coffee, the voice of NPR’s interviewer popped into his head—except this time, instead of the soft, sonorous voice, it was more like a bullhorn.


Tomasz barely ate, hardly slept. He was visited by disturbing moments from his childhood at all hours of the day. The worst were the awkward moments when his mother had looked at him when he was a boy, suddenly spooked by what she saw. Tomasz ran his hands over his facial features and—not for the first time—wondered: did his sunken cheeks, sallow face, thin lips, or brackish-colored eyes come from the schmuck who knocked his mother up, then abandoned her? He would never know; she never spoke about him.

Anyway, who needed a father? Tomasz’s mother was parent enough for ten parents.

He marveled now at how he chameleoned himself into being her sidekick, collaborator, thief, interlocutor, sounding-board, best friend, Best Man (at her five weddings), Man of the House, her Little Man, her advocate, her accompanist, her bookie, her scapegoat.

To name a few.


While listening to yet another COVID address by Governor Cuomo and doom-scrolling about the rising death rates, he became so depressed that he replied to his friend Corey’s numerous and annoying texts, asking his opinion if he should get—photo inserted—the red or the green dragon-shaped taco-holder for his kitchen (such was the depth of lockdown communication).

Tomasz groaned.

Corey was the founder and sole member of his mother’s fan club, “Kat Manatar: Pat’s Better Half.” Corey had discovered Tomasz’s mother when she performed in Washington Square Park. They were as thick as thieves, at least until they had a falling out about selling merch. Corey was a part-time caterer and part-time drag queen, who stole from Tomasz’s mother’s act, and whose snarky sense of humor and seemingly sincere interest in Tomasz’s magic career made him tolerable to be around. If Tomasz were completely honest, he liked that Corey was endlessly fascinated by his mother’s life. A fact that Tomasz found both irritating but secretly pleasurable.


Tomasz spent entire afternoons staring at the blank file, “Mother,” on his computer. His fingers poised at any moment to write words that would describe, define, and de-mystify her. One rainy day, four hours into staring and fidgeting, his fingers moved.

My mother was the source of all my problems, and I hate her. I remember hating her. But sometimes, I loved her. I do. Love her. I did. I mean, yes. I don’t know, she’s got this crazy temper, and she can be so mean, she goes right for the jugular, she knows the ONE thing to say to me that can demolish me for weeks, and she is so moody, especially when she drinks: laughing one minute, crying the next, she gets in these wild rages, she’s furious at people who have wronged her, which is everyone, and she holds grudges for decades. She is soooo manipulative, and so jealous—of everyone, even girls that were interested in me, she had to get in between us. She is so tricky—like, not to be trusted, ever—and completely out of control when she’s angry, like totally gonzo, like legitimately insane. That kind of temper. Scary, and so demanding, wildly unreasonable. But then she can be so funny, and smart. She says things other people think and want to say, but wouldn’t dare . . . and like the flip of a switch, she could then be so kind, and generous—to strangers especially, people worse off than her—and in the end, I guess you could say was my best friend, sometimes, and she was so supportive of my magic. She taught me how to play the ukulele, and the harp, and she told me the most incredible stories about growing up in Poland, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it feels true—

His cat Copperfield walked across the keyboard, demanding Tomasz’s full attention. Then he wrote this:

Her imperfections are what made her perfect.

Tomasz, like everyone else during lockdown, fretted and frittered his days away with titillating activities such as playing virtual pingpong, growing sprouts, learning Spanish phrases on Duolingo, spending countless hours on PornHub, or chatting on Tinder.

He studied videos about how to declutter his apartment. First: make a checklist. He liked the methodical way they presented their ideas, and he realized that if he were going to write his mother’s biography, he could apply these methods to his project.

Tomasz decided that he’d start with a list of the areas of his mother’s life he wanted to cover, some of which he could already cross off.

1. Polish Nightingale,  2. Olena, 3. Misshapen Ear, 4. Profiteering Father, 5. America, 6. Kat Benatar, 7. Career Highlights, 8. Six Husbands, 9. Murderess, 10. Jailbird, 11. The Tonight Show.

When he was just starting out as a magician, he looked up the biographies of his favorite magicians: Olivia Macia from France, the Swedish close-up/card magician Sven Lennart Green, and Spain’s Danin Daortiz. None of them had changed their names to hide their ethnic background, and each had a Wikipedia page.

Tomasz figured that if their complicated lives could be displayed with such clarity, using Wikipedia’s template, he could do the same for his mother’s life.

He Googled how to write a Wiki page.

 Too many biographies exist here on people who aren’t really all that notable, but by “squeezing blood” out of their pitifully few “turnips” they end up with a biography. Biographies should really only be written by third parties who discover a person’s notability because they are truly notable, not because a friend or family member thinks they are more notable than they really are. 

Tomasz’s face reddened. He wasn’t going to be another Wiki-schmuck.

After people read the part where his mother went to jail to save his life, they might leave comments such as: She shouldn’t have taken the wrap. He wasn’t worth it.

Fuck that.

Fuck the biography.

He’d spare the world the pleasure of lampooning him.

With the monkey on his back now lifted, he closed the Wiki tab on his computer and spent the rest of the evening searching for a secondhand bike on Craigslist.


Tomasz rode his used red Schwinn Continental Road bike to the CVS for his COVID shot, feeling lighter than he had in a long time.  The folding chairs in the Pharmacy section of the CVS were positioned six feet apart while people, masks on, waited to get vaccinated. Tomasz was fourth in line. Third was a woman in a blue silk sari and an ass that overflowed the sides of her chair. On her lap was a stack of Sudoku magazines and (aromatic) Tupperware. They exchanged sympathetic glances.

The woman worked diligently on her puzzles, while Tomasz, deep in thought, was manipulating a deck of cards in his hand, so fast and with such skill they created the illusion of floating. Having caught her attention and ignited her sense of wonder, the woman leaned toward him.

“The person that got me started as a magician was my mother’s first husband, Bob Buck.”

She gave him the same empty, wide-eyed expression Copperfield gave him.

“I was nine years old. My mother and I were entering the revolving doors of Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 67th Street and Columbus Avenue. Do you know it?”

The woman shrugged.

“We were going in and Bob was going out. We were freezing. I had to use the bathroom. ‘Church bathrooms are first-rate in cleanliness,’ my mother had said, as if she were the world’s top authority. Bob stopped us to agree. Bob was a short, bald man with a thin mouth, severe eyes, and this, the deal-breaker: a harpsichord in the corner of his huge loft in the 30s, near the West Side Highway. Two weeks later, they got married. We moved in. I had a room, all to myself! Bob’s refrigerator was stocked with food! He bought me a suit for the wedding! He bought me the Ultimate Magic Kit, where I learned I could ‘disappear’ from my chaotic world while performing the Scarf Trick, Cups and Balls, and the Disappearing Quarter.”

Tomasz leaned back in his chair. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” played on the loudspeaker.

“After their divorce, we lived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It was impossible to sleep on a cardboard box, surrounded by people who were either fighting, pissing, farting, or fucking. That’s when I mastered the illusion of making things disappear.”

The pharmacist yelled the name of the next person in line to receive their shot.

“I stopped going to school and practiced my magic skills on our neighbors. One ripe rube was Dave, the ‘Blind Man,’ with Marley, his ‘service dog.’ His pathetic act really raked it in with the tourists. Dave resented my disappearing quarter trick because it made him look bad, and his quarters never reappeared. One night, Dave caught me eating pizza crusts out of ‘his’ garbage can, so to get back at me, he sicced Marley on me. She bit my leg, tore my only pair of pants, and gave me lice and fleas. I hated my mother more than I had ever felt possible—for blowing it with Bob, for depriving me of a father who bought me things. That’s when I invented the ‘Disappearing Mother Trick,’ which consisted of me waving my wand over her while she slept, mumbling you suck as a mother, disappear, disappear, disappear . . .

“We got kicked out of the Port Authority and ended up into the ‘living room’ of a friend of a friend’s friend’s railroad apartment at Avenue A and 10th Street. I did the shopping, cooking, and the cleaning, and when my mother wasn’t drunk, she was depressed—which then led her to the windowsill, whereby I reeled her in, off the ledge, by telling her how famous she was going to be tomorrow. I studied books on holistic remedies to get her spirits back. It was the least I could do. If she died, what would happen to me?”

Tomasz let out a long sigh. He stood. “Is this line taking forever, or what?”


Boosted, he rode his bike home—slowly, already drained by the thoughts of another long, lonely night ahead of him. His thoughts drifted to Natalia . . .

I first met you in 1999, when my mother and I befriended the waitstaff at Little Poland, a restaurant on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street owned by Josip and his wife of fifty years, Milena. My mother loved it there, too. She could speak Polish, smoke, and eat all her favorite foods.

Milena was a bottle-blonde with wide hips, thin lips, and a head shaped like a globe. She and my mother sat, one on each end of the long countertop. Milena would file her nails and my mother went on and on about how she was going to clean up her act and become upright and legal with her life. I loved it there too, but for other reasons: Natalia, Milena’s moody 15-year-old daughter.

Natalia was tall and wiry, with translucent skin and green eyes as wide as quarters. She could be found slumped in a booth at the back of the restaurant, smoking. She wore a tightly-fitted, margarine-yellow, polyester uniform. My magic tricks made her laugh. One day, she propositioned me, asked me if I’d ever been kissed by a girl before. She told me I better be prepared. I stared blankly and then she took me into the pantry.


That night, while Tomasz waited for his borscht to heat up, he scribbled: In between husbands (and places to live), my mother offered free singing lessons in exchange for room and board at the YMCA on 63rd and Broadway. She offered a uniquely Polish perspective to her students in that she ended her lessons by offering them homemade Krakow gingerbread, Makowiec cake, and plums in chocolate. She befriended the entire staff at the Y and its residents.

My mother was singing in the subways, parks, and street corners for years before she finally got a break when this “theatrical agent” Wynn Winner dropped his card in her tip jar while she was singing in Washington Square Park. He insisted she change her name because it sounded too Polish. My mother, proud of her Polish heritage, at first refused. Then he told her that Patricia Mae Andrezejiewski, aka Pat Benatar, had changed her name and made millions! Within minutes, my mother went from Agnieszka Kasia Biedrzycki to Kat Menatar: “The Long-Lost (Polish) cousin of Pat Benatar.”

Later that same night, he chatted on Tinder with Roxanne from Rio. Somehow, they got into an argument about mothers and “beauty.” Tomasz defended his mother as being more beautiful than Pat Benatar, and that anyone with two mouths to feed would do whatever to stay alive, didn’t she agree? Roxanne was too young to even know who Pat Benatar was, but she admired Tomasz for taking his mother’s side and thinking of her in such a heroic way.


At the end of the month, a piece of paper slid under his door. The rent was (over)due. Even when he was working and there was no pandemic, he always behind on his rent. He couldn’t keep a job—or a relationship—for more than a few months. Thirty-seven years old and he had no savings, no health insurance, and aside from cans of sardines, Spaghetti-Os, a box of Lucky Charms, and tubes of marzipan, nothing in his kitchen.

Tomasz searched his coat pockets for change. He counted the coins tossed into an empty coffee can every time he walked into the apartment. He slid his hand under the cushions of his couch and his mattress. Coming up empty-handed, he flopped on his bed. He looked around at his unadorned, five-flight walk-up, depressingly bleak, illegal sublet studio in Greenpoint. The windows needed cleaning; his bed was hard and narrow. Smells from whatever anyone in the building was cooking permeated the air.


On a mild January 6th afternoon, six years ago, his mother was convicted and sent to prison.

Tomasz reached into the back of his closet and brought out a worn Nike shoebox filled with the letters he and his mother had written to each other every week—she from a women’s prison upstate, and him from a home for boys in Brooklyn—during the first few months of her sentence, and then the letters stopped.  He felt lightyears away from the person who wrote those letters.

For the first time in his entire life, he was physically and emotionally without her to implicate or sabotage him, and he liked it.

Why spoil it?

He put the box back into his closet.


A text from Corey: Wanna do laundry?


Governor Cuomo deemed laundromats “essential,” but good luck finding one still in business and/or open. Tomasz walked the deserted streets in Greenpoint wearing his KN95 mask, carrying a sack of laundry. He walked past a half-built apartment complex of unoccupied buildings shrouded in scaffolding. Billboards with colorful pictures of shiny, soaring buildings, lush gardens and families milling, “Best World Live Now: Buy or Rent” written underneath, looked outrageously optimistic in these dreary COVID times.

Then it started to rain.

Among the silver linings of the pandemic, along with fewer cars and better air quality, was no bus fare.  Tomasz ran to the nearest bus shelter, where he waited with a short, scruffy, older man, whose stubbled facial features collapsed like a paper bag. As a bus neared, Tomasz gathered his sack and stood up. The bus drove past, splashing them both in the face.  “What the fuck!”

Tomasz retreated to the muggy enclosure, and to his shock, tears welled.  He took a towel from his laundry bag, wiped his face, and then handed the towel to the man who patted his whole head, neck, arms, and legs.

The bus triggered a memory that flooded Tomasz’ mind.

Benjamin Bowen, my mother’s third husband, was run over by the M16 bus. Ben was on his way to his job as violin instructor to a retired gym teacher who lived in Stuyvesant Town.

He took me to the dentist . . . Ben was like a . . .

He took me to Coney Island. He took me to a Yankees game. He filled out the forms to get me enrolled in school. He made sure I went to school. He made dinner. He helped me with my homework. When the lady behind the counter at the Italian ice shop asked how many ices he wanted to buy, Ben said, “One for me, and one for . . . my son.”

Tomasz quietly lost it.


Spring arrived. The pandemic couldn’t change that. The trees grew leaves, flowers blossomed, and the temperature rose. People emerged from their apartments for walks with their masks on and the belief that they wouldn’t catch the virus if they were in fresh air. Ping! A text from Corey: “I’m on Humbolt, meet me at the church.” He walked slowly toward fluted harmonic sounds of an organ playing “We Belong” by Pat Benatar.

Tomasz went to the door on the side of the church, which was ajar. The music stopped. Tomasz walked in. Corey was playing the organ.

“What are you doing? You’re going to get in trouble.”

“I swear the entire place is empty. I couldn’t resist.”

“What if someone needs to make a confession?” Tomasz said.

“Ever hear of Zoom?”

It was true: every need imaginable could now be satisfied on Zoom.

Tomasz stretched out on the hard pew, using his knapsack as a pillow. He looked up at the kind and caring faces of the angels painted on the vaulted ceilings.

“How’s your book going?” Corey asked.

Tomasz leaned on his elbow, surprised. “How did you know—”

“You told me.”

Tomasz lay his head down. He had no recollection of telling Corey about writing his mother’s biography, but that didn’t mean that he hadn’t: COVID was like that, even without ever having contracted COVID.

“It’s all patchwork, and super vague. I think I’m down to her last husband.”

“Seth Rosenberg, the widowed rabbi with the—?”

“No, Seth was #4.”

“Oh, you mean Mark—or was it Mike—O’Donnell, the fraternal twins from Staten Island who owned a string of strip joints?”

“Both. She married Mark first, then Mike. And neither. They were her #2 and #3.”

“Oh, I know!” Corey jumped up. “Oh my God, Otto Blauvelt. Sheesh, he was a piece of work. His body and head were shaped like a box and he was infatuated with bodybuilder websites.”

“Totally deranged,” Tomasz added. “He was a construction site manager by day and a slugger by night. My mother met him at the lounge at an OTB in Rockaway where the manager let her perform between races at Aqueduct Raceway.”

“I remember. It was during her Power Ballads phase: ‘Heartbreaker,’ ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot,’ ‘Love is a Battlefield’—”

Tomasz chuckled. “She was an awful singer.”

“She . . . okay, she was!” Corey giggled.

“But that didn’t matter. Everyone loved her act—until, of course, she did something crazy and then they didn’t. I was fifteen and living half in Otto’s house in the Bronx and the other half on the streets. I hated being near the guy. From day one, I knew there was something ‘off’ about him. Whenever Otto was in a room with me, he couldn’t look at me without sweating, turning red and eventually, slugging me, for no reason. He’d come after me when my mother wasn’t around, which was why I timed my visits accordingly. One day he surprised me by being there when I was sure he was at work. I was making a grilled cheese sandwich and something about the way I ‘unwrapped the bread’ set him off and the next thing I know, he clocked me—boom, right between my eyes, blinding me. I tried to get away, but he caught me by the door and as he was strangling me, my mother walked in. She screamed at him in Polish. Then, when she volunteered her jaw for the slugs that were meant for me, it freed me to get away, while she picked up a hammer. By the time the men in blue arrived, Otto was dead, and my mother was charged with—in my defense—killing him.”

Corey played the first four chords of Chopin’s Death March.

Fitful images about birth, guilt, murder, mothers, caretakers, sons, bastards swirled in his mind. He took out his spiral notebook: 1. Polish Nightingale, 2. Olena, 3. Misshapen Ear, 4. Profiteering father. 5. America. 6. Kat Benatar 7. Career Highlights 8. Six Husbands, 9. Murderess, 10. Jailbird, 11. The Tonight Show.

Tomas felt a shiver run through his body. He hadn’t told anyone that story. Not a soul.

“If I hadn’t been born, she never would have been in that situation in the first place. It should have been me they sent to prison.”

Corey jumped out of his seat and sat next to Tomasz.

“Climactic scene in Good Will Hunting! The one between Matt Damon and Robin Williams. Where Robin Williams gets Matt to understand that all the bad shit that happened to him, wasn’t because of him. When Robin Williams tells him, ‘It’s not your fault,’ all of Matt’s problems are solved. I’m here to tell you, as Robin Williams, that it’s not your fault. I’d hug you, but you know . . . COVID. Also, just an aside: isn’t there someone else besides yourself to blame for your mother being so screwed up?”

Tomasz raised his eyebrows.

“In the chapter you sent me—”

“I sent you a chapter?”

“Here, I have it.” Corey pulled out his phone and read.

Not a day went by when Olena didn’t remind my mother that she was a murderess for having killed the very person who bore her life. And that if she didn’t believe her, the proof was my mother’s misshapen left ear: the result of having been torn from the womb, and a badge of her guilt for the entire world to see.


“Honey, your birth wasn’t the cause of her problems. Your mother’s life was a mess way before you arrived. You should call her!”

If only he knew how to contact her.


A new note slid under his door. It was from Piedad, the abuela of the large family living in the small apartment across the hall. The note was written in Spanish: it was her granddaughter Yuliana’s sixth birthday, and could he do magic tricks for them—in the hallway, masks on—today at three PM? The note was followed by a knock on his door. Through the peephole, he saw Piedad, a squat woman with gray thinning hair pinned in a bun, wearing a black mask and a colorful housecoat, holding up a tightly rolled fifty-dollar bill.


Tomasz retreated to his “Magic Chest,” and took out his black suit, cape, white gloves, magic wand, and top hat. He felt a jolt of excitement he hadn’t felt in a very long time. A gentle knock on the door. “Mi abbuel y yo estamos listos,” Yuliana said.

Tomasz looked in the mirror, pinched his cheeks, threw his cape over his shoulders. As he opened his door, the smell of frying meat and onions overwhelmed him.

He threw his hands in the air. “Welcome to the show!”

Yuliana screamed, “Yay!”

Being able to read an audience was an important part of his job; Tomasz reached into his magic chest and decided to start with balloons. He twisted a pink balloon into a unicorn, and just as he handed it to Yuliana, he took it back. “Sorry kid,” he said. “It’s full of my saliva!”

Yuliana sighed.

“Here kid, look at this,” he said. He juggled three balls in the air, each one of them rigged so that it lit up every time he touched it. His audience of two cheered him on.

“For my next trick—”

Tomasz waved the wand over his black hat. He pulled out Poppy, a fake white pigeon programmed to fly up and circle back.

Yuliana jumped up and down. “Mas! Mas!

“And for the finale!” Tomasz said with studied bravado. He pulled out his bubble wand and filled the hallway with luminescent bubbles, careful not to let them float in the birthday girl’s direction.

“Happy Birthday, kid,” he said.


Tomasz rode his bicycle over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Lower East Side, to Little Poland. If anyone knew what his mother had been up to since she got out of jail and her whereabouts, it would be Milena.

Milena, sensitive to the estrangement between mother and son, spoke about Josip’s health, her hip, Natalia’s escapades at Hunter College, COVID and money problems. All the while, cleverly dropping in clues that let Tomasz know that she knew what he needed to know about how and where to find his mother, without his having to ask. She was a mother too.


Domino Park, Brooklyn.

Tomasz and Natalia sat on a blanket within their COVID circle alongside his magic hat, wand, cape and a sign: “Tomasz’s Pop Up Majik Show. 2 PM!” with a Venmo QR code, and a coffee can filled with cash.

Not that Tomasz was counting, but that day marked the second month of them hanging out and hooking up.

Natalia rested her head on Tomasz’s stomach while reading his manuscript.

Late October, Tomasz and his mother sat on a bench in Washington Square Park surrounded by musicians, kids on skateboards, academics, students, and a man dressed in white pretending to be a statue. 

“You probably don’t remember but I used to sing here.”

“Mom, I carried your keyboard, I set up your mic, I shooed away the drunks, I handled the money from the tip jar.”


“So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

“I am sorry I caused you so much pain and made your life so difficult. If I hadn’t of been so emotionally trapped due my past trauma—which began generations before me, I just kept repeating it—and if I hadn’t kept reacted to life instead of responding to it, and if I only had gotten help for my addiction—”

“Addictions. Plural.”

“Right. I could have and would have taken better care of you. I would have made sure that all your emotional needs were met. I would have taken you to the doctor, to school, and made sure that you had friends, and that you studied, and that you ate right and that we celebrated your birthdays and that you had a nice, clean home, and that I never put you in a situation where your life was in danger. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Mom. You did the best you could.”

“I hear you are performing at Madison Square Garden and touring the world, and that you own a big loft in Soho and a bungalow in the country, and that you are married to your magician’s assistant, Natalia—the pretty Polish girl. I always knew you would be successful at whatever you did. I am so proud of you. I love you.”

“That’s the first time you’ve ever told me that.”

“I’m sorry for that too. It won’t be the last. From now on, things are going to change.”

Natalia looked at Tomasz. “I like that it follows the Millennial parental apology fantasy that’s so popular these days.” She scrolled down. “But wait, what about your list?” Natalia pointed.

1. Polish Nightingale, 2. Olena, 3. Misshapen Ear, 4. Profiteering Father, 5. America, 6.Kat Benatar, 7. Career Highlights, 8. Six Husbands, 9. Murderess, 10. Jailbird, 11. The Tonight Show.

“Where’s chapter eleven?!”

“Yeah, I haven’t gotten to it yet.”

Tomasz looked at his watch. Two PM. He jumped to his feet. “C’mon Natalia. It’s SHOWTIME!”