Ellis Island 1910

The smell is rank, even for 1910. No one has showered. The lucky ones had time to air on the decks and cut the smell with an odor of briny sea. A family have blotted themselves in cologne, not realizing that stink makes the line move faster. The immigration officers will linger over them in the relief of their perfumed cloud.

The mother, nearing the front, hisses in Greek at her son to stifle his coughs. She pinches his cheeks so he’ll look rosey. The boy growls to sooth his throat and she glares at him. “Are you an animal now?” He stops, but now he is thinking of what animal he will be.

He tells me this later, when I meet him in 1965. Though, to be clear, I meet him first and then loop back to Ellis island to see the small tiger.