When Benny was sent overseas in the autumn of 1941 his father, Mr. Garber, thought that if he had to give up one son to the army, it might as well be Benny who was a quiet boy, and who wouldn’t push where he shouldn’t; and Mrs. Garber thought: “my Benny, he’ll take care, he’ll watch out;” and Benny’s brother Abe thought “when he comes back, I’ll have a garage of my own, you bet, and I’ll be able to give him a job.” Benny wrote every week, and every week the Garbers sent him parcels full of good things that a Jewish boy should always have, like salami and pickled herring and shtrudel. The food parcels were always the same, and the letters — coming from Camp Borden and Aldershot and Normandy and Hol land — were always the same too. They began — “I hope you are all well and good” — and ended — “don’t worry, all the best to everybody, thank you for the parcel.” When Benny came home from the war in Europe, the Garbers didn’t make much of a fuss. They met him at the station, of course, and they had a small dinner for him. Abe was thrilled to see Benny again. “Atta boy,” was what he kept saying all evening, “Atta boy, Benny.” “You shouldn’t go back to the factory,” Mr. Garber said. “You don’t need the old job. You can be a help to your brother Abe in his garage.” “Yes,” Benny said.
“Let him be, let him rest,” Mrs. Garber said, “What’ll hap pen if he doesn’t work for two weeks?” “Hey, when Artie Segal came back,” Abe said, “he said that in Italy there was nothing that guy couldn’t get for a couple of Sweet Caps. Was he shooting me the bull, or what?” Benny had been discharged and sent home, not because the war was over, but because of the shrapnel in his leg, but he didn’t limp too badly and he didn’t talk about his wound or the war, so at first nobody noticed that he had changed. No body, that is, except Myerson’s daughter Bella.
Myerson was the proprietor of Pop’s Cigar & Soda, on Laurier Street, and any day of the week, you could find him there seated on a worn, peeling kitchen chair playing poker with the men of the neighbourhood. He had a glass-eye and when a player hesitated on a bet, he would take it out and polish it, a gesture that never failed to intimidate. His daugh ter, Bella, worked behind the counter. She had a club-foot and mousy hair and some more hair on her face, and although she was only twenty-six, it was generally supposed that she would end up an old maid. Anyway she was the one — the first one — who noticed that the war in Europe had changed Benny. And, as a matter of fact, the very first time he came into the store after his homecoming she said to him: “What’s wrong, Benny’? Are you afraid?” “I’m all right,” he said.
Benny was a quiet boy. He was short and skinny with a long narrow face, a pulpy mouth that was somewhat crooked, and soft black eyes. He had big, conspicuous hands, Thich he preferred to keep out of sight in his pockets. In fact, he seemed to want to keep out of sight altogether and whenever possible, he stood behind a chair or in a light so that people wouldn’t notice him — and, noticing chase him away. When he had failed the ninth grade at Baron Byng High School, his class-master, a Mr. Perkins, had sent him home with a note saying: “Benjamin is not a student, but he has all the makings of a good citizen. He is honest and at tentive in class and a hard worker. I recommend that he learn a trade.”