Read an Excerpt
Be My Knife
You don't know me. When I write to you I don't know myself very well, either. I tried not to write, I did, I've tried for two days, but now I've broken down.
I saw you at the class reunion a few days ago, but you didn't see meI was standing over to the side. Maybe I was standing in your blind spot. Someone said your name, a few boys called you teacher, and you were standing with a tall man who must have been your husband. That's it, that's all I know about youand even that's a little too much for me. Don't worry, I don't want to meet you in person or interfere with your day-to-day life in any way, but I would like you to agree to receive my letters. That isto let me tell you about myself in writing every now and again. Not that my life is so interesting (it's not, and I'm not complaining), but I want to give you things I can't give to anybody else. Things I didn't think could be given, or that I ever would want to give to anyone. You know you're under no obligation, you don't have to respond (and I'm almost sure you won't), but in case you feel like giving me a little sign that you are reading, I rented a post-office box just for you. The number is on the envelope.
There's no point to this if I have to explain it, so you don't have to bother responding, because then I was wrong about you, clearly. But ifyou are the woman I saw hugging herself, with a slightly crooked smile, I think you'll understand.
Ever since I got your letter, I haven't done a single thingI can'tcan't work, can't live my life, I've just been running circles around you, howling out your name. If you were here right now, I would hold on to you with all my strength; everything I'm feeling would tear us both to pieces (don't worry, I'm not terribly strong). And what's more, I promise to answer every question you asked; you deserve only the most honest answers just for writing me at alland for writing what you did! You agreed! You weren't scared off by my restrained suicide note (which left two deep rings of tooth marks on the inside of my cheek). First, though, before anything else, I must tell you how we really met, you and I, and I don't mean the class reunion last week (you answered me! In one day! You didn't laugh at the lunatic who suddenly erupted at your feet). The reunion belongs to real life. What has reality got to do with us? What room, do you think, will it make for us?
Where to startif only I could start from all sides at once without feeling as though every word has too many letters, takes up too much time. I feel as if someone is perched on the point of my pen, turning Hebrew into FrenchI never imagined how hard it could be to explain, to force that feeling apart into words. You wrote that I reminded you a bit of the boy with the thousand-league boots; well, I wish I could just leap over the stage of logical explanations, so you could know everything right away, so you could take me, all of me, I could exist in youopen my eyes and see you smiling at me, saying, "It's all right, don't worry, begin." (I'll stop here. I have a feeling that every additional word will hurt my case with you. It's your turn.)
(Just a few more words.) I sent that letter, came back, and still couldn't calm downwhy should I?oh, Miriam, please pay no attentionto this fool who's been smiling uncontrollably since this morning. He's so happy. He wants right at this minute to take off his clothes, strip off his epidermis, everything, and stand before you bare, right down to the white kernel of his soul. I wish I could paint for you, bray for you, neigh, bark, even whistle for you everything roaring inside me (which reminds mewhen I was about twenty, I looked for ways to be a secular version of one of the Righteous Thirty-six. This led to a plan to, at least once a week, sit down on the bus behind a solitary woman, preferably a woman in black widow's weedsbut you can't be pickyand, without letting her see me, quietly whistle a love song in her ear that could trip through the outer shell, into her inner ear, and touch everything that was asleep, despaired of, congealed) ...
I'm not at all scared that we're strangers, by the way. On the contrary, tell me, what is more attractive and provocative than the possibility of taking something very preciousthe most precious thinga secret or weakness, or a thoroughly implausible request like the one I made of you, and deliberately placing it in the hands of a total stranger? And then to be tormented by so much shame and disgrace for allowing the beggar in me such a transparent delusion, so that for three days and three nights I spent every moment in self-imposed solitary confinement, a trap ... then, just as I was about to give up, stupid, spiteful, gloomy, and gray, all of a sudden your white hand
Look, maybe you can't see what excites me so terribly, but your warm, radiant letter, especially the P.S. at the end, that one lineit was as if you came and led me by the hand from shadow into light. That's how I felt, that you had given me your hand and led me across a watershed of light, it was so simple, as if it was completely natural for a person to do that for a stranger.
(And now, a cold wave. Of all the times, now, just at this moment, and why? Because it was good? A cold wave rising from my stomach, a cold fist rolled up into a ball just under my heartget acquainted with it.)
Again, please understand I'm really talking about letters only, not a meeting, never a body. No flesh, not with you, your letter made that so clear to me: only words. It would ruin us, being face-to-face, it would immediately take us down into familiar territory. Also, of course, we will keep this strictly secret, we won't let anybody in on it, so that no one from the outside can use our secret words against us. Only my words meeting yours, so we can feel the rhythm of our breath slowly becoming one.
It makes me so tired to write this way, not a usual fatigue, but after every few lines I really have to stop to take a breath, calm down.
Evening. I took a break. Recovered a little. It has been exactly ten hours since I found your white envelope in my box, with my name on one side and yours on the other (maybe I didn't need any more than that at first). And inside, on half a sheet (were you in a hurry?), your answer. I couldn't truly grasp what I was reading in that first moment. It was as if a dazzling glow radiated out of every word, even the most nebulous ones. The way that, if you plumb the depths of the word "I," there's a moment of understanding; and then a kind of dark gloom started to spread out from the center and draw me inside. Then, when I got to the P.S.: your thanks for my unexpected gift (you're thanking me!), and your heart, suddenly filled with yearning for itself as a childwell, there's nothing else to say at that moment, is there? The most significant thing has already been said.
Listen, thoughI once read that Our Sages of Blessed Memory had the idea that we have one tiny bone in the body, above the end of the spinethey call it the "Luz." You can't kill it, it doesn't crumble after death and can't be destroyed by fire. It is from this that we will be recreated at the Resurrection. I used to play a little game with myselfI would try to guess the Luz of the people I knew, divine the final thing that would be left of them, that indestructible thing from which they'll be reborn. And, of course, I searched for my own Luz as well, but nothing within me met all the necessary conditions. So I stopped asking and looking, I gave my Luz up for lost, until I saw you in the playground. All of a sudden that forgotten thought arose from the dead, and along with it the sweet and crazy notion came to me that maybe my Luz isn't in me after all, but in someone else.
Me again. It's just before midnight, and this is the third letter today. Don't worry, you have no idea how many letters I haven't sent you today, because this is the first day we've shared, this day that your letter came to me and I answered. I can believeuntil your next letter arrives, at leastthat you are reading me exactly as I'm writing to you, half asleep,half daydreaming (I actually danced as I walked through work today), so I can murmur "Water, water" to you in my thin voice. My voice gets reedy when I think about you, Miriam, water, trickle water on me. I don't know why. Maybe because without the rough r, your name is mayim, water. And maybe because there can be no fertilization without liquid, I feel in my bones that we two need to be surrounded by lots of water, by waterfalls and rivers, simply so we can begin to exist.
Did I exaggerate? Did I get carried away? I felt you flinch (really: your body made a face), or maybe I used some especially bruising word? You must guide me, explain to me where you hurt and where I have to be gentle. Or did I just flood over today and tire you out?
Because writing to you does exhaust me, as I told you. I have never felt so dizzy from writing. Five lines, ten, and I really start to feel dizzy. It's nice, too, though, it reminds me of how I felt as a child, the first time I went out into the world after a long illness. Listen, maybe we should decide from the first that this correspondence won't go on for too long? Shall we say a year? Or until it becomes unbearably pleasant? Because if my body is telling me the truth right now, and as we know, the body doesn't lie
Oh, doesn't it, though? How many times have I lied with my body? How many times have I kissed and stroked, closed my eyes with a sigh and come like an explosion, and not meant anything special by it?
How many times have you?
Miriam, if what I feel for you is true, even a year might be too long for the two of us. We won't last longer, and we'll sow destruction in our wake, and it seems to me that we both have something in the world, outside ourselves, to lose. So I thought, All right, it's stupid, but maybe we'll decide on this from the beginning. We'll set some date, or wait until something specific occurs in the world, an outside event that has nothing to do with us but can be our private sign on the general calendar. What do you say, does that calm you down (it does give us some sort of framework)? That way, we can also know from the beginning that our separation is out of our hands and that we have to make everything happen before then. To be all or nothing, what do you think?
You're gone again, you've cooled off and pulled back all of a sudden. I know I've been writing total nonsense, that I've ended our story before it could even begin, but wait! Don't make up your mind about me! Listen: it would be so easy for me to rip up this page and write everythingover again without those miserable linesto prevent the moment when I lose you to my own fear.
You see, I let it stand. Exactly as it is. I didn't erase a thing. Because the moment you answered me, I decided that everything that happens in me because of you will be yours. Inscribed in my body, and in yours. Every thought and desire, lust and dread, every baby, fetus, or abortion created in me will be yours. This is the core of my pact with you, and only with you: I hereby relinquish all my wooing masks, along with my self-censorship, all of my defenses
(What a relief, just to write those words.)
Except that I just read what I wrote.
I wish I could write to you in some other way; rather, I wish I were a man who wrote some other way. So many thick words, when, in fact, it could also be so simple, couldn't it? Just "My dear, tell me where it hurts." So I will shut my eyes tight and write quickly: I wish that two total strangers could overcome strangeness itself, the mighty, ingrained principle of foreignness, the whole overstuffed Politburo sitting so deep in our souls. We could be like two people who inject themselves with truth serum and at long last have to tell it, the truth. I want to be able to say to myself, "I bled truth with her," yes, that's what I want. Be a knife for me, and I, I swear, will be a knife for you: sharp but compassionate, your word, not mine. I didn't even remember that such a delicate, soft tone was allowed in the world, of a word with no skin (if you say it aloud a few times, you can feel salty hard earth as water starts pushing through its veins). You're tired, I will force myself to say good night.
I knew it, don't say I didn't know and didn't warn myself.
Is that truly what you felt? And to that extent?
Well, as you can probably imagine, I didn't much enjoy that slap in the face. Giving with one hand and then taking with two, Scheherazade entwining herself with the idiot Sultan ... This morning I couldn't bear the suffering and express-mailed your first letter back to myself.
Though you do understand, don't you? It was all out of the fear thatafter I succeeded at tugging at your sleeve and keeping you for a moment by my sidemy faint charm will expire and I will never have a second chance. And you must, must believe memy true self will be revealed only in a second look, or a third. Under no circumstances in the glance you are giving me now.
Anyway, Miriam (you have a warm name, it flows and checks in the same moment), stay with me just a little while longer, just until this unwilling seizure endsyou can scribble a few more desperate little notes about me in your diary in the meantime. Still, let me stay longer, during your lonely sleepless conversations with yourself, or with Anna (a friend of yours?), or with your cat and dogs. And then, maybe, not everything will be lost for us. After all, you did ask, it seemed with genuine concern, what it is that terrifies me so much, and how the same person who could dare make a wish so great from his life could also be so frightened of it.
You can explain that to me. Please.
Should I tell you how many times I have read your two letters? Do you want to laugh? At every hour of the day and night, in whispers and aloud. In the steaming water of the bathtub, over an open gas flame in the kitchen, and in the middle of a work meeting, my brow furrowed with seriousness, surrounded by ten people. My ridiculous attempts to be with you in every state of matter. I went to the toilets in the Central Bus Station of Jerusalem, especially for the pornographic scrawls and obscene graffiti, so they would blister and peel with shame when they heard your earnest words, the way you write without games, without pretense; even when you're disappointed, you write without protecting yourself even one little bitjust like that, you come to me, giving me your trust. Without even knowing me at all.
Should I tell you more about myself? What is there to tell?
Something in your writing reminded meI once thought of teaching my son a private language. Isolating him from the speaking world on purpose, lying to him from the moment of his birth, so he would believe only the language I gave him. And it would be a compassionate language. What I mean isI wanted to take him by the hand and name everything he saw with words that would save him from the inevitable heartaches. So that he wouldn't be able to comprehend the existence of, for instance, war. Or that people kill. Or that this red, here, is blood. It's a used-upkind of idea, I know, but I loved to imagine him crossing through life with an innocent, trusting smilethe first truly enlightened child.
I don't have to tell you of my joy when he began to speak; you probably remember the wonder of a child first naming things. Although every time he learned a new word, one that is also a little "theirs," everybody's, even his first word, a beautiful word like "light"my heart curdled around the edges, because I thought, Who knows what he is losing in this moment, how many infinite kinds of glamour he felt and saw, tasted and smelled, before he pressured them into this little box, "light," with a tat the end like a switch clicking off. You understand me, don't you?
Oh yes, of course you understand the edges of your heart curdling. You might even be a modest expert in your way. I knew it from the first look. And I have, as well, apparently succeeded at dampening your spirit and curdling your heart in no small way.
But was it really that bad? Really, truly? As if you had lost a precious thing that you yearned for up until the moment you had it?
At least tell me what that precious thing was, so I'll know what was almost in me.
You are right, of course, and I absolutely deserve a scolding (but not for a moment have I thought that you were made only of words). Who could imagine that you also have such a thin, biting, cutting sarcasm to youI saw a hint of it in your shoulders and your back, something pinched and embittered, as if preparing for the next blowor am I completely wrong?
Or is it all my fault? Tell me, am I the thing pinching your spine? I know so well how I do it to myself, I just wish I wasn't doing the same thing to you ...
Listen: today, across the street from my workplacean industrial area, midmorning, at the harsh peak of lightI saw a blind man sitting at the bus stop. He had a bowed head, a stick squeezed between his knees. A bus stopped, and another blind man got off it. When he passed in front of the one on the bench, they both immediately pulled themselves up erect and their heads came together. I stood stillcouldn't move. They groped and discovered each other, and for one moment itseemed as if they were tied together, clinging, frozen. It lasted no more than a second, in total silence, and after that moment they detached themselves and went their separate ways. But my skin was covered in goose bumps, the hair on my skin stood up in your name all over my body, and I thought, This is the way!
So come on, come closer, I want to give you something real and intimate, don't run away, don't stiffen up, something very intimate to offset the "anonymity" you slammed at me, sitting on your porch as if you were in a full courtroom (a purple leaf fell, trapped between the page and envelope of your letter, and got squashed a little bit over your "intimacy-anonymity," blurring both words). Flex your muscles, Miriam, we said it was all or nothing.
When my wife and I were first dating, we took a trip to Mt. Carmel one Saturday morning. And we passed through a little patch of forest. It was very early, just a little bit after dawn. We talked, and we laughed. And Iwho usually despise what is called the Beauty of Creationcould suddenly no longer contain within myself the wonder around me, and immediately stripped down and started running between the trees, naked and yelling and dancing. And Maya (we'll call her Maya between us, and you are also welcome to choose names for your dear ones as you wish) was astonished and stoppedmaybe she was just put off by my nakedness, which she saw out in the open for the first timeand it isn't that lovely in the darkand I heard her calling to me, quietly, begging me to stop. It was too lateI was already drunk with nature, and I leaped at her from all directions in a kind of a wild bridal dance, which looked pretty ridiculous, I guess. I invited her to join me and feltfor just a momentthat she wanted toyou see, I had never agreed to dance with her before, not at parties, or among people, and suddenly, here I could do it nakedI was possessed, I didn't do it on purpose. Just imagine, dancing and naked, corks popping with happiness. Perhaps it is impossible to be unbeautiful when you're happy. And Maya almost gave herself away, I felt it roaring inside her, roaring to me; she almost uprooted herselfbut, at the last minute, stopped. Why did the policeman in your dream demand that you file charges against me for writing threatening letters?
(And how it revived me all of a sudden when you told the nosy idiotthat they actually look to you like letters threatening my own life. And maybe that's why you're staying with me.) And I was dancing in the forest. I wish I could dance like that now, at this point in my life. I danced, because in some wonderful way that cold wave of doubt failed to emerge in me
It did emerge. Of course it did, my gears work with clocklike precision, injecting venom from my glands into my bloodstream as soon as my heart expands for any reason. But that time, it just made me dance even harder. I don't know why, perhaps I felt as if I was making the right mistake for myself, for once; and even after Maya had already turned back and gone and sat in the car, I couldn't stop, running between the trees, dancing, the smell of the pines became so pungent my eyes watered. I was naked, surrounded by voices all around, birds and faraway barks and the buzz of insects; I smelled the earth and the caves and the ashes of summer bonfires, and I felt as if a huge cataract that had been covering me was peeling off my body. Only after I had simply collapsed from exhaustion did I gather my clothes and go back to the car. Her face was pale, and she didn't look at me; she asked me to put my clothes on because people might come by and we'd better go home right away because her parents were waiting for us to have breakfast with them. And suddenly her voice broke and she burst out crying. I started sniveling, too, I understood that this was the end of our young love. And I thought I couldn't stand breaking up with her, because I had never loved someone this way, with the same joy and simplicity and health as I loved her, and as usual, I had spoiled it from the beginning by exposing myself.
So we sat in the car, each one to himself, and we actually wept quite bitterly, she's dressed and I'm naked. Our crying brought us closer, we nudged each other and laughed, and I started putting my clothes back on. And she helped me, dressing me, garment after garment, buttoning me, rolling up my sleeves. And I kissed her and licked her tears throughout, because I understood that she was crying over me but not leavingmourning me and stayingand my heart swelled with gratitude. I knew I would never do anything like that to her again in my life, and I decided to protect her from myself from that moment on, because she couldn't live defenseless in the same world in which I was doing such things. She laughed through her tears and said almost the same thing, that in order to defend her from me I would simply have to stay with her always. That was half a joke, but also a profound truth, the fatal logic of two, of a couple,and you ought to know that this kind of logic sometimes reveals itself to a couple only after a complete life together (I saw the man you stood with or next to). But we peeked into it somehow from the very first moment.
I haven't thought of that moment in years. I was always a bit appalled to remember myself dancing the way I did. And the rest got blurred right along with it. We were just frightened children; but in spite of that, in a flash, we managed to establish a complex life contract with each other. We warned by law and were warned by law, and I am amazed to understand now how within one second we focused our gazes in such a manner that from that moment on they would turn only at the right angles needed to ensure that our love would always win, at any cost. And we also agreed on the cost. And we have never spoken about it, never. How can you suddenly speak about that in the middle of life, tell me.
I shouldn't have told you about that, should I? What have you got to do with the married life of a person you haven't even seen? I already feel the coldness of that mistake. Here I am, again, a clownthis is probably what it looks like to you, some man throwing everything he owns up into the air, and of course everything is scattered around him on the ground. Never mind, people love clownsthat is what my couple of great educators taught me (but consider, on the borders of your mind, think of me, let's say, like a man with a huge burn on his face deciding to enter a room full of people). Perhaps your way of thinking dictates that I should have waited until we knew each other a little better before telling you such a story, yes? I think along the same lines, but with you I'm not doing things according to my reflection but according to my distortion. And, at the same time, I don't want to wait, because our time together is different, spherical, every point on it is at the exact same distance to the center. And I won't apologize if I'm embarrassing you; this is not salon chatter. It is murder to erase one word to youand everything I said hereI didn't plan any of itand I will not erase a word!
Can't sleep. I wish I could already know how the letter I wrote this morning makes you feel. And whether you'll continue to write to me after you read it. I am almost certain you won't. You'll consider it rude ofme to expose such aspects of my life. Well, I am quite pleased with myself for sending it anyway. Even with the full day of self-torture that went with it. And you were right that I'm looking for a partner to join me on an imaginary journey, but you were completely wrong when you said that I might not need a real partner. Exactly the opposite: I need a real partner for an imaginary journey. As I'm writing these words, my heart thumps in a physically very real way, and in general, my heart beats true only when I imaginenowagainthumping. Did you know there is such a bird, a thumper-bird, a parpur?
If you touch its chestoncegentlyits heart stops beating and it dies. One mustn't make a single wrong move with this bird, because any tiny mistake sends a delicate impact to its heart and it just stops beating. If I could only buy such a parpur, two actuallyno: I would buy a flock and let them fly here, above what I'm writing you, so they could be living lie detectors, like the canaries that used to be sent into mines to discover gas leaks. Imagine, if you will: one false or inexact word, or one that is rude, or just indifferentand a dead bird falls on the page. Then you'll see how I write to you.
By the way, I forgot to tell you that you offended me when you thought I might have mistaken you for someone else I saw that night. And I was even more offended by your difficulty in deciding which you would preferthat I was mistaken or that I was right.
But you know what really broke my heart? When you described yourself to me to make sure. Because of how you somehow diminished yourself into one single sentence, in parentheses on top of that ("Quite tall, long curly messy hair, glasses ..."). If you really feel yourself to be in parenthesesat least let me squeeze into them as well and let the whole world remain outside. Let the world only be the element outside the parentheses that will multiply us on the inside.
P.S. Anywayeven though this journey isn't exactly smooth right now, rough going and twisting and turning from the beginning, I have to tell you something. Do you have any idea that my pupils dilate when I see a word of yours in another place, even when I stumble upon it in a newspaper or in a TV commercial ... because certain words are so obviously yours, your soul prints, and coming from any other human being theysound like speaking equipment, fragments of language, no more than that. And until there was you, I never imagined that meeting a stranger's language could be as exciting as the first touch of her body, and her smell, and the texture of her skin and hair and beauty marks. Do you feel the same way?
But how will I bring us together, to meet? You and me, how will I bring us together? Your letter arrived. It's on the table, blanched as a corpse. White reflects all the light beams, doesn't it? I will open it soon. Let me enjoy the doubt, let me spread a little optimistic color ... have I already told you that I keep seeing us submerged in green? Green keeps flashing through my mind when I think of you. Great, wide green. Here, the endless depths of an ocean; there, a dense European forest; there again, maybe just a large lawn (I should have warned you my dreams usually end grasshopper-high). You're sitting in the grass reading a book, and I, let's say, a newspaper. And there is a wide space between us, a huge lawn: two strangers, and how do you bring them together in an embrace instantly, without having to go through all the in-between stages and without reciting all the sentences that millions of men and women have chewed the flavor from, before them?
By the weight of itone page, not more. I thought of writing what is written in there myself as preparation. But you forbade me to make my own decisions about what you think and feel. So maybe I'll write about a little daydream playing in my head for a few days now, a daydream about us. I wonder what you will think of it, this picture, quite a silly one of me and you and how we were deep in thought, readingbut because we were the only ones there on the grass, we became sharply aware of each other's presence. I was wearing jeans, as usual; you were in a black dress, a little loose and caressing your body from head to toe, and covered with stars and bright moons. If I'm not mistaken, there was also a delicate, breathing green scarf covering your shoulders. This is how I saw you at the reunion (a scarf? or a long silk shawl? every detail is important to me now). "The only thing I remembered was the green gown she wore," this is how the Seducer met Cordelia for the first time in Diary of a Seducer, and maybe this scarf is the source from which all my green springs.
The green that, in a blink, was turned off by your husband's hugegray sweater, which he threw over your shoulders when you shivered. Do you remember that? Because I clearly remember some kind of quick attacking motion from his side that shocked me, while I stared at you, when I was still unaware of how I was staring at you. And hethat "he" from whom you by no means intend to hide our relationship, only because it would never occur to him to investigate what you do and with whomsuddenly, from the altitude of his titan's height, he threw the sweater over you like someone tossing a lasso over a runaway colt.
But what really made you shiver? Quite tall, long curly messy hair, glasses ... if those annoying parentheses hadn't been there, I would have laughed: is that how you see yourself? Only that? Why didn't you write about your magnificent stance, erect and soft at the same time; and about your radiant cheeks; and how is it that you didn't mention that your face has a kind of naïveté, light-complected and freckled, a bit anachronisticdon't take offenselike people from the fifties ...
And why didn't I immediately write words like the gold of the grain and farmland and butter. That you have a face that from a first or an indifferent or unkeen look seems almost modest compared to that wonderfully expressive bodyI hope I'm not offending youthe face of a decent, good little girl, the handsome, responsible face of a class president. And suddenly the eye is hooked by something unexpected, the dark mole under your lips, the mouth itself, wide, trembling, and restless, which seems as if it has its own inner life. You have a hungry mouth, Miriam; tell me if anybody has ever told you that and I will immediately find another wordunder no circumstances will I splash about in their words.
I swallowed your face that evening. I saw you for maybe five minutes, but for those five complete minutes you were branded into me, and I know your face by heart and by my heart in your mouth, and after you've heard all this, you will have to decide if that "queer moan" came truly because you thought I had mistaken you for another woman. Or if, perhaps, you moaned because she was you after all, because my fortunes chose you ... I will not help you waver, it has been three weeks since then and every new woman I seeno sooner do my eyes fall upon her than my mind returns to your image. Oh, how your face moved me. I, who always start from the body. But I didn't neglect the body, God forbidI think you tried to blur its lines with yours ("quite tall" ...)my pen is alreadyshaking in my hand with the thought that soon I will write your body, the beauty of your body and its generosity underneath your clothes. And also the slightly rigid roundness of your shoulders, I don't forget it, as if somebody is taking refuge in you and you are defending him.
And how you lowered your head, and how your body shivered a bit underneath that dress, and how, as if within a dream, in slow motion, you hugged your body to yourself as if you were sorry for itit sounds strange, but that's how it seemed, as if you felt sorrow and compassion for it. And with one look I knew things about youI'm probably annoying you again, arrogantly telling you about yourself with no hesitationbut I simply knew. Your face was open and disarmed at that moment, I have never seen a mature, grown human being so peeled of her epidermis. You could actually see every emotion passing through you immediately written upon your faceyou're incapable of hiding anything. Do you know how dangerous that is? And where were you for that life lesson?
(Enough! I can't hold back anymore. Come, scowling, stern-faced messenger, come, you astringent pink slip, let's hear what you have to tell us.)
In the supermarket today, this eveninga child I didn't know asked me to give him three bars of chocolate from a high shelf. I reach my hand up to the shelfand in the blink of an eye he is transformed into a sick child in whom an unknown disease resides, who has been taken care of and worried over for a few months. And now it seems he's going to be fine, he's on the road to recovery, and he suddenly starts gorging himself on chocolate, a chocolate attack; he's sleepless, gets out of bed at night, bingeing, and can't be stopped. And you don't feel good about taking away that one little pleasure when he's been going through such a difficult treatmentbut the thing is, that child knows something. More than everyonemore than his parents, his doctors, even himselfhe has some kind of internal premonition and is equipping himself with chocolatefor the long, cold journey that awaits himI handed him the chocolate bars and he ran off happily.
Such a flicker of nonsense came to me as I was reaching up to the shelf, and I swore to remember it so I could tell you about it, I even scribbled it down on a little note. So what? I have ten of these a day, and I lose ten for good, and truly, it isn't an especially grand flicker, but if I hadn't written it down for you, I would have forgotten it, too. And that's a shame; still, it is a shame that even such a tiny flicker would die before it was born, for it is a living fragment of the soul. Of course, every person has hundreds of these, but no one would have come up with this stupid idea. And even if it did occur to someonewho is capable of telling another person about such a flicker? Have you ever heard somebody telling another person about his flickers?
And where did I find the nerve to tell you about such internal foolishness, something undoubtedly no more than a crackle of static from my brain?
Perhaps from your sudden understanding that if you stopped writing to me now, only because I drive you to distraction here and there, you might never forgive yourself for the rest of your life.
Look, Miriam, I've been reading your short letter over and over. Maybe I don't dare to understand it all the way through, but I think it says here in your miniature handwriting that it is clear to you if you turned your back on me now, before you even truly met me, you would feel as if you were denying the essence of your faith.
And I already know, by the way, you shouldn't have had to explain in such detail that this "essence of faith" has absolutely nothing at all to do with methat it is completely between you and yourself, perhaps it is even, as you said, the Thing between you and yourself. But I'm also reading the strange cluster of strange letters you added to the bottom, that it sometimes gives you the shiversthat a stranger could notice in one quick glance that Thing between you and yourself, and without even knowing you, call it by its private name.
I mean, if I could only put some of these together, these soul-fragments, maybe I could see them as one complete mosaic and finallyunderstand something, a kind of principle that holds me together. Don't you think so? I'm talking about the things that have no first names, that accumulate on the bottom of the soul through life, layers of sediment and ore. If you asked me to describe them to youI would have no words, only contractions of my heart, a passing shadow, a sigh. Someone hugs herself in the middle of a group of people and suddenly you are filled with yearning. Someone writes: you introduce yourself as a "stranger." But a complete stranger could not write to me this way ... and immediately my throat closes up. One drop leaking out from my loneliness gland. No more than that. But what is more real and important than that? Once, during a guard shift in the Sinai, Rilke explained to me that, in the depths, everything transforms itself into a law. Very nice, I told him, how reassuring to think that somewhere everything is tied to some kind of meaning, but this insight doesn't satisfy me anymore, Rainer Maria, my time is ending fast and even if I live for another thirty years, I will see only another thirty-one saffron flowers. Adds up to a pretty small bouquet, and I would like to see this constitution drafted before my own eyes, for once. Do you understand? The constitution, and I want an organized tour through those mysterious "depths," and I demand to know the private names of all the forms mentioned above, to call them by their names at least once, so they will answer me and finally, for once, be mine. Just not this permanent, consistent silence (that is in this instance, for example, with no describable cause, amid the daily mob, shattering my heart).
By the way, don't try so hard to remember who I was among all those people surrounding you that night. It is truly unimportant, you didn't notice me at all. But if you insistnot tall (even perhaps shorter than you, I hope you don't mind, it doesn't matter in writing), skinny. Not a lot of investment was made in my material production, perhaps not too much thought, either. Not an Adonis, exactly, if you ask me, that is: not unugly. Now do you remember? A slightly gloomy face, a fair straggly beard? Pacing pointlessly and restlessly between the groups, and not sticking to any of them? Do you remember anyone like that? Some kind of hybrid between a sulky marabou and a Jew? In short: spare the effort, you won't be able to remember, because there's nothing here to forget.
You don't feel sorry for me? Really?
But what is so terrible about being a little bit of a teenager when I write to you? I'm a teenager and a complete baby, an old man and a newborn. I exist in so many moments of life when I'm writing to you, and I wish you, too, would have given me a little of the flame that you allowed yourself for a few moments (Only a few moments? Really, now?) when you went through that same horrible spell of adolescence. And how is it ever possible to pass through the tunnel of these dark years without a bit of yourself catching fire, why do you restrict yourself in your burnings today as well? All your ages, Crazy Yair Buys Everything, the entire stock of your thermal market, because understand this: the place I want us to reach doesn't have enough vitality and energy yet. And if I distance myself from it, and look at it from the outside, it cools off for me, too. And when you doubt it, even with a tiny single remark, it freezes immediately. Do you think creating something from two people is easy?
Since yesterday, I've been trying to understand what happened to you between the last letter and the one that is here. Which outside voice did you listen to? (It was Anna, wasn't it? Then you told her. I am certain you have no person closer to you than she. She's already turned me into a joke, hasn't she?) Because if you didn't, how can you explain your sudden withdrawal, demandingwith a kind of unnatural coldness, anxiously, tight-lipped-that I finally tell you about myself, about the self that is visible to the eye.
I had hoped that we had already gotten past that. That you understood that my daily self is none of our business. Who's even interested in that self? And what does it matter if Yair Wind is not in the phone book? He is not in that book! "Visible to the eye?" I told you, you didn't even see me that evening, I was standing in your blind spot. Write to your blind spot. Look deep inside and you'll see me signaling to you with two hands within it, within the pupil of your blind spot, Miriam, please
Did you notice, I'm not even trying to argue with your feelings: until I started writing to you, it was true, a precise description of me, all the symptoms of my disease. Even the "eloquence" that to you is always suspiciously smooth. I think I know what you're talking about, your sensesor your suspicions aren't so strange; that I am capable, almost without noticing, of depositing my poignant weaknesses into the hands of complete strangers, a strange and embarrassing trick of seduction, you say, and as if we're not really dealing with lives at stake ... I'm reading these precise, razor-sharp definitions and thinking, She is analyzing me as if she had never been excited by me, and she gets excited by me as if she is incapable of analysis. So who is she?
And I have no intention of calling your home, thank you. And I was quite astonished that you became so enraged over my innocent proposal last week that you call your dear ones by whatever names you like. They have real names (I know) and you don't intend to invent them all over again for me (of course) and why can't I believe in the possibility of a simple, natural, open relationship between two human beings? And I was already so sure that by the end of this tsunami you were going to hang up the letter in my face forever and would never, ever in the world, ever againand then you give me your home number?!
I won't call. Out of the simple reasons of the "Sanctity of the Bond" (somebody might be at home and hear), but mainly because even a voice is too real for the hallucination I want to have with you. It can be created only with written words, and a voice might pierce it, and then the whole world of reality will flow inside. The details and the numbers and the little sweaty molecules of life; certain subjects are too closely related to subjugation, within a second the entire ruling mob will flow through in a great tsunami and put out every spark. Why do you insist on not understanding this?
It doesn't matter, you're incapable of faking it for even five lines: protected by your fortress of little disagreements and explanations, all so logicalas long as I play these childish spy games or stick to the foolish idea of a "guillotine" that will come down on us out of nowhere in a few months, you are unable to trust, with all your heart, in even the "sincere and emotional" things I'm telling you. On the other hand, you do not like the corner into which, because of my illusions, you are slowly pushing yourself, the corner of a closed-off critic, a cold person. And in this manner you continue to stone me through at least another three corseted "I do nots," in the voice of a teacher with a banana-shaped hairdobut suddenly your lipstrembled and a little "I don't" escaped, little and law-breaking. "And I thought you could already feel that I don't get scared by true passion in my feelings and relationships, on the contrary, on the contrary ..."
See how each time I reach this punkish "I don't," my heart clenches with pleasure, each time, again (as if you had rolled down one silk stocking for me).
No, tell me, honestly: Was I wrong? Was I wrong about you? Now, again, for instance, a gray wave rises and fills the pit of my stomach, maybe I was wrong and am actually tormenting you, because it is obvious that whoever isn't in tune with the string I offered you will hear only the squeaks, the tin squeaks of my mailbox, or the little bureaucracy of adultery to which I exposed you above, the Sanctity of the Bond that undoubtedly sickened you.
And of course, I had been thinking about whether I should take it out, or put it a bit more delicately, but I left it in, as you already know, because I want you to know about meto know me, naked, in the little clerical work assigned by my miserable fears, and in my stupidity and in my shame, and in my ignominy. Why not? My "ignominy" is also me, it wants to be given to you, too, like my pride, with same amount of power; it wants, it needs, terribly.
You know, sometimes when I'm writing to you, I have this utterly odd feelinga completely physical onethat before I could ever actually speak to you, I would have to watch all my words leaving me in a long line, traveling all the way to you to turn themselves in.
This word"ignominy"I have never written it before. It is here now, and it smells like a very old, very used slipper (actually, it smells of a home).
Here, just because of a moment like this.
It is frustrating to me that you are again clinging to the corners of the altar of solid logicwhich is indeed a useful tool in life, but we are not in life, Miriam! This is the very secret I've been whispering in your ear for a month: we are neither of us alive! I mean, nowhere are the regulation rules of relationships in play, certainly not the usual system of law of men's and women's relationships. So where are we, anyway? What do I care where! Why name it? In any case, the name will be "theirs," a translation.And I want a different code of law with you, which states that we will, both of us, set our rules and speak in our language, and tell our stories and believe in them with all our hearts. Because if we don't have a single private place like this, in which all these beliefs become truth, even if only in writingthen our lives are not lives; even worse than that, our lives are just life ... Will you sign it?
And I had already despaired and almost given up.
It's a shame that we wasted more than a month, and you are right, we didn't only "waste" itbut we won't give up, and we won't feel remorse for anything. And now (a little late, of course) I am practically horrified by my egocentricity. I didn't even take the time to consider what you need to give up in order to get close to me and to believe in me and in those rules of mine. I burn toward you so much that I was certain I could melt everything else away, logic, life circumstances, even our shared personality ... It really is a wonder, then, Miriam, only now can I grasp what a wonder it is how you suddenly decided (so decisively, with your lips and your chin!) to throw all definite and logical explanations into the deepest pit in the fields around your home in Beit Zayit. And to come, even though ... and, even though, allowing me to put your life in my hands.
My unfamiliar hands that are shaking a little now from the weight of the responsibility.
And how will I thank this mysterious friend of yours, who with a few words turned your heart toward me? But what exactly did he tell you about me, and who is he? A man with torn eyelidsand no other details, you didn't explain anything. That's fine, take it slowly, I'm getting used to your abstracted manner of speaking, when you seem certain that I understand, or when you don't even care and you let yourself mumble freely, and then I know your soul is relaxed before me and that you are speaking to yourself in a reverie, a waking sleep ...
Anyway, don't forget to thank him for me. Although it confuses me a little to know that you have such a close male "friend." And that you canhave such detailed and open conversations with him. And I'm holding myself back so as not to ask you what you need me for if you have such a person, who succeeds in making you speak no matter what your mood, and who is always with you when you fall into your Josephan pit, abandoned by the world.
Do you think you'll ever want or be able to tell me what it's like in there, too?
And who throws you in there so easily (again and again and again), and who is not coming to pull you out?
And what happens to you on those days of damnation (did you really mean that word?), when you are the pit itself after even Joseph himself left it?
Strange, isn't it? I guess I don't really have any clue as to precisely what you meant, and I suppose that the two of us are giving the names "Joseph" and "pit" to two completely different thingseven though I sometimes say a sentence of yours aloud, or just a combination of words, and feel an internal stitch being torn through the whole length of my soul.
Write to me. Tell me. It's a shame to lose a single day.
I sent you one yesterday (did you get it yet?). But the conversation somehow continues into today: somebody called to make a business appointment with me. He wouldn't come to where I work, and furthermore insisted that we meet in front of a department store (I meet more than a few crazy people in my line, but sometimes they do have interesting material). I asked how I would recognize him. He said he would wear black corduroy pants and a plaid shirt andsuede shoes ... I stood there in the sun for almost an hour and didn't see anybody who fit the description. And then, when I'd finally got fed up and was ready to leave, I looked down the block, and by the phone booth I saw a dwarf, the smallest dwarf I had ever seen, twisted, with a bent body and grotesque face. He was leaning on two tiny walking sticks and was dressed exactly as he had promised (and I couldn't go near him).
Afterward I thought, In my pocket I have your letter with that sentence that on the first reading seemed a little incomprehensible and abstractto me, about the kind of sorrow that you can't share with anybody. It is exactly enough for one person.
Yes, of course, my dear, my marvel, with all my heart, what do you think? ...
There is suddenly more room between us. I actually felt your breath coming from beyond the pageyour shoulders loosened up a little.
Also because of the colors and the blooming and the smells that burst like a grand waterfall onto your pages. Until now you wrote almost entirely in black and white, and the fact that there were finally two there, two pages (you're right: with two wings, you can finally take off and fly). And I find it wonderful that you chose to bring me to your home, not on the main road by which everybody comes, but from the distant dam of Ein Karem. And through the valley. And, it seems to me, past every flower and tree and brier, passing lizards and grasshoppers and stilts. I haven't been led this way for years, like a sheep to pasture. But who could resist your charm, when you suddenly wake up and laugh, running in front of me, stroking every dandelion and mallow and every olive trunk. And look at the sage, how abundantly it flowers, and how generously it gives off its scent ... Not to mention all the tordylium and pearl grasstell me, who taught you all these private names and their smells, and the texture of their leaves and how to crush them, and the gallnuts and fritillary?
It's a good thing that I'm a quick reader. Even so, I could hardly keep up with you as you climbed and scaled the rocks. What are you running for? I didn't imagine that your big soft body could move this way, like a lioness, you wrote, surprising ... and a strong vital smell hovered above your words, the smell of sweat and earth and stamen. You are wonderful when you rejoice, when you're rolling around in a field of poppies or throwing oat flowers at me (I'll be throwing them back at you soon! Did you play that game, tooHow Many Kids Will You Have?). A white-and-yellow daisy got caught in your hair. And for a moment I shrank with the misery of an amputated hand, because I couldn't untangle it from your hair, and I couldn't give you a boost to climb over the terrace. And all the scratches and stings I didn't get, your sweat, which I didn't get to lickI'm only writing it and missing it. It's a good thing youstopped in the village to chat with kindergarteners, all lined up. It gave me a moment to breathe. I noticed that you made certain not to tell me if one of the children belongs to you (by your description, one could think they were all yours). And generally, in your last two letters, it seems to me that you're teasing me with riddles, hiding and reappearing, smiling secret intimate smiles. And it's wonderful. I'm barely alive, but keeping up, through your secret passages between the houses and fences, all the way to the gate of your house, blue speckled with rustwhy rust? maybe someone isn't doing his job keeping the house up properly? Well, I didn't say anything, and who can even think about that when you are spinning around to face me in a swirl of imaginary skirts, and for one moment, within the motion of your spinI don't know if you felt ityou came and spread out in all of your ages in front of me, and your brown eyes shone like the few words you whispered to me and like (oh dear, I feel a simile coming on) two pits in an opening loquat: would you like to come in?
Yes, of course, my dear, my marvel, with all my heartwhat do you think?
Tonight, in the middle of a deep sleep, it came to mecould it be that he is the same friend whose diaries you read every few days, so that you can know what he was doing on the same day a few decades ago? Whoas you already told me in your second letteris your morning prayer?
Please don't be angry with my attempt to discover which private conversation of yours I slipped into. I was only playing a little detective game, and in the middle of the night I jumped out of my bed and checked a few dates and flipped through some pages, and here you are, on exactly the same day you suddenly returned to me, on the fourth of May. I found that this is what he wrote in the diary from 1915:
"Reflection on other people's relationship to me. Insignificant as I may be, nevertheless there is no one here who understands me in my entirety. To have someone possessed of such understanding, a wife perhaps, would mean to have support from every side, to have God."
And even if my wild guess was completely wrong, even if I steppedinto a too-private place, I would like to give you something in return, from the same day, from the same man:
" ... Sometimes I thought she understood me without realizing it; for instance, the time she waited for me at the subway stationI had been longing for her unbearably, and in my passion to reach her as quickly as possible almost ran past her, thinking she would be at the top of the stairs, and she took me quietly by the hand."
You're such an enigma.
You don't have to solve me, you tell me, just be with me. Here I amand I am with you, as you walk through your yard, a little paradise you've created for yourself (when I climb the stairs to the porch with the bougainvillea shade, I finally recognized the purple leaves from the anonymous-intimacy letter). You had already flown inside. I was still in a bit of shock from that moveand then flooded, I was simply flooded with light and warmth, and also with the huge array of colors, the jungle of giant potted plants, the wool carpets and embroidered pictures and the piano and the walls crammed with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I instantly felt safe. Even the clutter seemed familiar to me.
So that's it? I'm inside, inside your home. You have a generous home, not just generouslike a river practically overflowing. And a little bit like the Old Curiosity Shop, just as you said. I learned it by heart, I even sketched it out on paper, so I could know just where the wall with the photographs is, and on which window the orange-and-red stained glass hangs, and where the blue glass vases from Hebron sit, and how the sunbeams break through them in the morning and fall and spread out on the embroidery with the filigree (what is that, exactly?), but mainly I saw you, your words, you suddenly wrote likedid you notice?
Do you understand what I am talking about?
This is in no way a criticism of you, it's just a question, or let's say the unwilling cock of an eyebrow: because you were extremely happy on the way from the dam, you rejoiced and I couldn't help but get excited along with you. And in the house, how can I explain it? It seemed to me that, for a moment, you were somehow aflame ...
Quicklyquickly, moving from room to room, nearly breathless, agitated in a way not at all in your usual rhythm, and when I think about it nownot at all in your tone either, not your verbal muscle tone. It was as if you frightened yourself by bringing me into your privacy so suddenly. Or perhaps you only wanted to show me that anything I can do you can do as well?
I'm such an idiot. What am I complaining about, I wish I could do that, too. Be as happy as a child, standing for the first time in front of a picture that has been hanging in the living room for years, or over a jar of picklesbe awed by a "large, pregnant" piece of pottery ...
I feel so relieved that I can now lean back and let you knowthat almost from the start I felt a little ashamed before you, and mainlytoo much of something (exaggerated and bubbling, et cetera, et cetera). Perhaps it was because you seemed so reserved to me that night, so self-sufficient, there was something so clear and crystal and ascetic about you, almost scolding me without even knowing me. And suddenly this crowded house.
On the other hand, don't be mistaken, it also relaxes me to know it, it proves another little one of my proofs about you and me. Perhaps not a very grand proof in itself, perhaps you won't be happy about it, I'm not very proud of it myself, but suddenly it was because I found it in you as well
I hope you're not offended. Truly, this is not a critique of your taste. I wish you to understand that it is not "taste" or "tastelessness" that is important to me now. Only the signs of our alikeness in everything, big or small; and the delicate, mysterious affair that we shall call "the right measure" I meana likeness like the one that exists, say, between two cups, broken in exactly the same place.
It is, of course, impossible to write down all those moments throughout the day. But I liked the fact that you used the word "date" to describe it. We're on a date.
This morning, for example, in the daily traffic jam right before Ganot Interchange. A large Volvo driving in front of me with a little boy sittingin back who was waving hello to all the drivers. There were five of us in the cars around him, and none of us moved a facial muscle; we didn't give him a single sign of being seen. The boy smiled hopefully for a little longer. There was something shy and fragile in his smile.
My dilemma: If I was to wave back at him, he would immediately recognize that I am only pretending to be a grown-up. That I am the weak link in the chain tied around him. At that moment, he might start making obscene gestures at me, thus making me the joke of the jam. I could see in the vulnerable line of his mouth that he wouldn't miss an opportunity to gain this kind of strength.
I consulted you (that is to say, we had a date). I accepted your opinion. I smiled at him. I waved to him. I saw how his smile grew bigger with happiness, almost in disbelief that such a thing was happening to him ... He immediately told his father, the driver, who looked at me through the rearview mirror for a long time. I looked away and saw what the other drivers were thinking of me.
I also thought that if there had been a woman among us, she could have smiled at him and dismissed me from that duty.
So again, for the second time today: Good morning to you.
I am amused by your way of not answering my direct questions immediately. (Such as what I wrote about your home.) And I already know that in two or three letters I will get an indirect answer, or sometimes I won't get any. I suppose this is your way of determining a path and rhythm for yourself, not letting me take the reins ... But you asked a question, and contrary to all the hemming and hawing that came before it, I can respond quite simply: I certainly want another child. Another three, maybe. Why not? To walk down the street like a mother duck with her living, quacking trainthat is the peak of prosperity. But in the present situation, since you're asking, even one more will do.
Do for what? It's hard to say exactly.
Perhapsturn us into a family. Because we are not one yet.
Well, that surprised even me. I'll send it anyway.
It's not that we don't live together well, the three of us (I have to make you understand), but somehow, in the meantime, we are just three people1 who are getting on just fine, even in love with one another, in deep friendship (butas you know, a triangle is always a very shaky geometric construction).
And I wish I had a girl. There is nothing I would rather have. A soft little girl. A little honeysuckle. It's also the thought of seeing just what kind of girl would come out of me; a legitimate feminine version of myself: and to see how all her parts coexist, elbows and breasts. And perhaps she, somehow, just by being, will know how to settle that old quarrel of which we have yet to speak, you and I.
And there is, of course, also the will to know, in that way, through a little girl, the half of Maya's life I don't know.
Mayathat really is her name. To love her all over again, from her genesis, as she grows up and maturesdoes that sound strange to you?
If I only had a girl. I would name her Ya'ara, Honeysuckle. This little honeysuckle, look, my nymph gland is starting to leak uncontrollably. A girl with dark, soft hair crowning her temples, and green-eyed like Maya, and red-lipped, and how she bubbles over with happinessbecause she will be happy, you'll see, almost anything in the world will be cause for her to rejoice.
But how will I know how to raise her without what is in me seeping into her, that which has already covered Maya's innocent, open face with vague, tired skin, and has already sucked dry one child who used to be a glimmer of light.
There, I wrote it.
So yes, if you're asking, the thought that I might not have another child kills me, and Maya is not willing yet. She probably has good reasons to hesitate, and I am compelled to be satisfied with suspicious, yearning looks at little girls in the street. I used to yearn for their mothers, and now ... Well, I didn't think we'd be speaking about such matters at all! I was certain that, at this point, we would already be celebrating in a realm of passionate hallucinations. That I would write you, for example, that even the smell of my sweat becomes sharper only by imagining that, in a little while, your fingers will be pressed to this page. And that even your telephone number, with the concave between the breasts hinted at in the 868, excites me. But I'm glad I can tell you about the restto describe thefat little legs my girl will have (when she wears her yellow dress!), and her naked peachy body when she showers in the sprinklers in the yard
Down, heart, down!
Walking on a tightrope?
I thoughta clown. But apparently there are more jobs in the circus. Does it really look like that to you?that I suddenly came running, pushed the end of a rope into your hand, and said, "Hold it!"?
You made only one little mistake: you said that it's unclear to you just how I managed to convince, or at least plant the doubt in you, that if you let go I'd fall. But it isn't a rope, Miriamit is scarcely a string, a word-web (and if you do let go, I will fall).
And before everything, you have to understand that I have no wish to tell stories to other people. It's only you that I want to write to, and it is only in your honor that this urge was suddenly aroused in me, just like that, with no warning, in the middle of life. Because I haven't ever known this kind of passion, up to even the moment before I saw you; maybe when I was a child writing school essays, funny sketches, etc. And that earthshaking theory that suddenly came to you in the middle of the night and kept you from sleeping (it's about time!) absolutely does not apply to me. I honor books too much to write one myselfit would be disrespectful. So don't worry that what you imagined about me, even wished on me, might be salt on my wound: I have no wounds, and if there is oneit isn't even open yet.
It is only in connection with our relationship that I will, with great caution, put to use that word which is, yes, fatal to me as well: I hope I will, at the very least, learn how to be a true artist of this connection between us. I wouldn't dare ask for more than that.
Do you remember saying, not long ago, that in trying so hard to invent you I might not be able to find you? Well, I think you are starting to understand that in order to find you, I have to invent a little ...
Here, listen, this is how it was: the two of us, on that huge lawn, and everything around us was green, every shade of green was there. I am actually imagining the big lawn of Kibbutz Ramat Rakhel on the edge of Jerusalem, on the desert's bank, do you know it? You are allowed to gothere and see. Invest some effort in me, why don't you. Because I went there, yesterday, after getting your letter. I read it in front of the desert. I read it silently and aloud. I tried to hear your voice, its tune. I think you speak slowlyin your writing I can hear you lingering (a favorite word of yours!) on each and every word. There is something ripe and full about your speech. And I feel how it focuses me, as if it is carving something out of meI wish I knew what it was. Sometimes I feel as if you know exactlya lot better than I dowhat you are aiming at there, when, for example, you say that you think I have this kind of fifth column in me and that, for some reason, I insist on being loyal to it, above all ...
Or what you mumbled at the end, when you were already half asleep; it wasn't a very fatal mumble, but full of sweetness: look at how I'm writing to you, as if I've been used to chatting with you in my kitchen at night for twenty years.
Can you already understand what I am creating you from?
It is because of light little pats on the back like those that, yesterday, on the grass, in front of the desert, I gave myself up to the addiction of us. I actually saw us there, you and me. And how we slowly lost our concentration on what was written. A light breeze was blowing, and my newspaper rustled, and the pages of your book began to flip. I am talking about five in the afternoon, the sun still shone, and we both felt so fair in the light, nearly transparent. If one other person had walked by, the magic would have vanished, but it was just the two of us, and before we exchanged even one word, we were already entangled in the webs of our separate stories. You have your own story, and so do I, and it is amazing to feel how they are already rapidly weaving together. The way stories always do. Why, sometimes, in an ordinary moment on the street, you can feel your soul torn apart as it is stretched and pulled into the story of someone just passing by. Usually, the stories die instantly as well, having also been ripped apart, without those involved ever even knowing what they lost. A minor heartache remains, nothing more. Then quickly disappears. It lasts a couple of hours for me, though, sometimes, this kind of melancholy, as if I had undergone some kind of little spiritual abortion, the death of the story.
(Are you with me? I felt I was losing you for a moment. Just at the height of our closeness, you shrank and withdrew. Perhaps I flooded over my banks once again? Or said something offensive?)
Say: did you really put on the Zorba soundtrack and dance the sirtaki in your living room? With me and Anthony Quinn? But why are you telling me only now? Why didn't you give me that right after I told you about my dance in the forest?
At least you said that a dead parpur fell on your page when you hid it from me. Go easy on me, go easy on me, open your white-knuckled fists just a little. It's a shame you didn't send any of those pictures of that clenched girl (you were probably the tallest girl, always standing in the third row of the photographs). It is even more a shame that I am not by your side when you wake up every morning, to unfreeze your fingers and stroke your knuckles. What are you holding so tightly in there?
And what does it mean that you were "the good queen of the class" (is there an evil queen, too?).
But enough heaviness, come, let's have our date: suddenly, at exactly five o'clock, when we still were keeping our distance, a bizarre, terrifying noise soundedtry to imagine a rusty zipper suddenly being ripped open, running through the belly of the earth, across the entire lawn. And our glances flew right and left, frightened; and your eyes, big and brown and lovely, grasped hold of mine for a moment. And we pulled ourselves up straight, and stood, as if by the force of our gaze alone (Is that clear? Is this picture clear to you? I want you to see into my imagination, see it exactly!). I see you bending and stretching your long legs in an irresistible motion under your dress, your chiseled ankles, and you're standing dizzy and loose like a gazelle, an uneasy gazelle, for just a momentwhat really terrified you so when I wrote that we are both of us not alive? What's hiding in this, Oh, Yair, where do I start? Just start. It will come by itself (you sighed a lot in the last few letters, did you notice?). Why, you are so alive to me, in the bounty that bursts from your full body, and generally, in your fullness. The fullness of you touching anything, the way you embroider me silently, string after string in your every living day, what are you talking about, you are so alive!
And me. At the edge of the huge lawn, the would-be buck, but not very virile, no, not terribly endowed with horns, not very muscular, my thighsjust a clerky, narrow-chested, balding buck. This constant balding, how humiliating it isand I too am looking, awestruck, at thesource of the noise, the destruction of the peace I had been savoring before I stole a glance at you. But are you at all interested in the continuation of the story now, after I have been pictured to you? Tell me the truthif you are getting entangled in this kind of false romantic relationship, wouldn't you prefer a real buck?
All right, all right, I know I musn't ask you questions of this kind. How you raged when I described myself as "not un-ugly"! You don't give an inch in these things, do you? Not even as a joke: you don't even know people to whose essence the word "ugly" applies? Really? Well, that could be. But you also refuse to accept such a thing as the regulation rules, the laws of men's and women's relationships ... Tell me, how many years will pass before I succeed in opening your eyes?
And that other matter, the one you mocked me for calling the Sanctity of the Bond
I had better shut up, hadn't I?
Come, look there, be with uswe were surrounded on all sides by this whistling whisper in the earth. We were both thinking of venom, the desecrated Garden. I don't know if you know this feelingsomething strange but also too familiar suddenly spreads through all living tissue in a blinklisten with me, listen well, whispers and whistles, encircling us like the excitement of obscene, ignorant gossip (srsrsrsrsrsrsr) ... maybe this is why our hearts twitched in sudden fear, with guilt. Even your heart, Miriam, your pure heart; which no one in the world will ever scrutinize to discover what you do and with whomadmit it, admit how quickly the internal serpents bite, don't they? They punish us for even the most heartfelt wishes, for sweet fantasies, and immediately I hear my father's lips cluck, as when he told my mother how he caught the general deputy, his boss, kissing some woman soldier in his office
Enough, I am tired. I was deserted by the good spirit. See how hard it is for me to imagine a beginning. So many rocks and so much mud blocking the tunnel.
(I will continue later.)
And suddenly, at that moment, the riddle within the earth was cracked. And a thousand jets of water took off from hidden sprinklers(well, it's the best I can do), and the two of us screamed with a single shock, and we ran, who remembers wherejust not, however, to the one logical place, not outside; what's waiting for us there, anyway? And we smiled, and purposely made a mistake, we were attracted to and aimed at the wettest and most flooded spot, where all the jets of water became one, and we finally bumped into each other, surprised. And we held on to each other tightly, the poor refugees of a flood entwined, yelling much louder than was necessary"We have to get out of here!" "At least give me your book so it won't get wet!" "But we're both in the same water!" and making a lot of noise together, but not actually moving anymore. Stopping slowly, and looking through the water that's turning your lips a little blue, and shining in light flecks in your wonderful hair, brown and full and untamed, with a few thin silver strands (never dye! this is the last request of a man condemned to you: let it slowly turn silver!), and breathing too fast, and laughing at our stupidity, the way we were caught and got soaked like children, practically two children, and gargling the water filling our mouths. Our mouths are swimming with drunken words. See us in the splashes of waterwe're so shiny and clean, like two bottles, two bottles that survived with the messages still inside. Meanwhile, what do you notice about our outsides; for example, you are older than me, not by a lot. I think the gap in our ages bothers you a little, but I was never your studentI suddenly hear myself telling you that, and there's no logic to itonly the urgent need to tell you immediately, in the water, that in front of almost every person, always, sometimes even with my son, I feel as if I am somehow the younger one, the one more lacking in experience, more milky, and you listen and immediately understand me, as if it is obvious that this is the first thing a man tells a woman when he meets her in water.
Listen, I have never written anything so odd, my whole body actually contracted and shook ...
Where were we? Don't stop now, don't lose these inner tremblings; our breath, it slows slowly, but we still don't move apart, we're still touching, and looking into each other's eyes; it is a quiet, direct look, completely simple, in the midst of all the complications of situations like these; it issimple, like a kiss you give a child who comes to show you a fresh wound. It is heartbreaking, the thought that you can see into a grown-up person that way.
We're not laughing anymore. There is a long silence. Almost scary. Want to detach and cannot. And in your eyes and mine, more and more curtains are parting, revealing the depths, and I am thinking how similar a moment like this is to a moment of disasternothing will ever be the same. And we're terribly exhausted, holding each other to keep from falling, and see our story in a sort of strange and sad clarity. The words are not important anymore, and the language doesn't matter either; it could be written in Sanskrit, hieroglyphics, the hieroglyphics of chromosomes: see me as a child, see me as an adolescent, see the man I am. See what happened to me on the way here, how my story fadedwhere do I start, Miriam. I always think that there is no fragment of innocence left in me. Yet I came to you in innocencefrom the first moment I began writing you, my words to you came out of a place completely new to me, like sperm kept for only one particular loved one, and the rest emerging from some other part of my body. But you probably want to go to sleep now, and so do I, even though I don't have a chance tonight, not anymore. Another moment, then. Help me to calm down, give me your hand, even a finger will do for me now; I need that now, right now, for you to be a lightning rod for me.
(Is that too much to ask from one person? At least stay until the ash from my cigarette falls.)
Say, did I read you right? That a triangle is not such a shaky structure? And in "some contexts" it might even be a solid, satisfying structure? Even enriching? And also very fitting to human nature, "at least to my nature," you wrote, and great curiosity was roused among the brief and concentrated audience of your words ...
Under the condition that it is equilateral, you added immediately, and all involved know they are sides of a triangle. (Are you scolding me? What have you already heard about me?)
It's too late to go into this now, and the ash is shaking tremulously at the end. I'll wait patiently for your answer; but know that I am amused to see how in a few strokes of your pen you have created a new and privatebranch of sciencepoetic geometry. It is a pity, though, that you didn't explain to me how it applies in life, this wonder you are wishing
I can't get enough of looking. The photo of the shadow on the hills opposite and the jets of the five o'clock sprinklers wearing all their shine, and mainly the bottle (what a photo!), the broken bottle on the rock ...
And that you got wet, Miriam, that you simply got up and walked into the cold shower, and stood in it for so long (I, by the way, couldn't do it; in cold water I turn blue within seconds). What did you say at home later? How did you explain it? Did you bring clothes to change in, or did you just jump into the water without thinking?
This moment doesn't stop echoing in me, my written words splashing into living water. I have no skin left on my body from all the showers I've been taking the past few days; just don't let go of my hand, let us continue to dive deeper and deeper together. Let us be in that place in which we will both be filled with the strong excitement of nakednessbecause the water makes our clothes stick to our skin, so the shape of our bodies is revealed, your full, round breasts suddenly pop under a wet white shirtand both our faces are washed and cleaned of all the fatigue and strangeness and indifference, and the denial of the essence of faith. All the adult epidermis that has scabbed over us throughout life. And I who could read what you were trying to make flesh, when you danced the sirtaki in your living roomyou were telling me that you wouldn't be rushing to dress me over at Mt. Carmel, that if you had seen the beauty I saw, you also perhaps would have joined me and danced in the same way. But I know! From the moment I saw you I felt the strength of that will in you; and don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the nakedness of passion right nowbut about a completely different kind of nakedness, one you can hardly stand in front of without shock and a quick escape into clothes. The nakedness of peeled skin, this is what I'm looking for now; it is becoming clearer to me from letter to letter (nakednesslike one of the words you wrote on the back of the bottle photo).
And you couldn't even know this, but since I was a teenager, for years the thought of running naked in the streets has driven me crazy. To expose yourselfnot to shock people, no, just the opposite. To be the first todo it for everybody elseimagine it, to take off all your clothes and jump in between people, bare (I, who am ashamed to take off my clothes on the beach, who can't stand it when people see me putting a letter in a mailbox on the streetsomething terribly intimate is revealed in a person who sends his own letters, don't you think?). That same I would die to be, even for a moment, a flicker of one soul in the fog of others' indifference and strangeness, to yell one clear wordless yell to them, only my body gaping.
And perhaps, after three or four such appearances all over town, maybe another person would join me all of a suddenwould you imagine this with me? Someone who will somehow have to ground my excitement into his own body. I can imagine the first one to catch it will be a madman, but after that, there will be others, I'm sure. And the first of them will be a woman, she will suddenly tear off her clothes and smile with relief and joy; people will point at her and laugh. She will suddenly begin to remove her armor of delicate fabric, and they will go silent at the sight of her body, and understand something. A long silence will pass. And suddenly, at once, that built-up electric tension, the exertion of hiding and covering and disguising, will discharge in a great explosion over their heads and a great storm will roll in. A woman, and another woman, and another man, and children, a lightning storm of naked bodies (I always like to imagine that moment). And immediately, the Modesty Squads will show up, special police officers with solderer's glasses will speed through these centers of obscenity, equipped with thick tarps and asbestos glovesbecause catching a naked person with bare hands is repulsive (I always think, a naked person will cut through dressed people like a knife; the clothed will shrink back as if from an infectious disease or an open wound). Think of itpeople without clothes, there's no point in pretending anymore, you can't really hate a naked person (go fight a naked soldier). And you wrote that one word, "compassion." That's what makes my heart stretch out to you, that you can suddenly, during the simplest of everyday talk, light things up with a word.
So, yes, Miriam, it will be so simple and honest and naturalthe compassion in nakedness. (One minute, I hear a key at the door. Have to stop
(False alarm. The cleaning lady.)
But in the meantime, where were we, what are all my noble thoughts worth, in the meantime the entire world is dressed and armored andthere is only us, hugging and wet and shivering from the cold, or from whatever makes you shiver. And my eyes were in your eyes, and the true weight of a woman's body was in my body, an alien soul fluttered freely in my soul, and I didn't contract and spit it out like a pit stuck in my throat; on the contrary, I inhaled, breathed her into me more and more, and she enfolded my body within herself, and I understood the beautiful expression "the creatures of my torso" for the first time ...
And later (I'm a bit drunk on thoughts, do you mind?) both of us, hand in hand to my car, cheerful, but just a little cheerful, if only because of the dry knowledge, which had waited patiently and with vengeance outside the Isle of Water that we were for a moment, and is starting to sneak into our heart (that is also a great photo, the one of all the splashes of water coming together into a trunk of blue. It's hard to believe that you haven't held a camera in your hands for seven years). And next to my beat-up Subaru (yes, of course it's a Subaru), you let me dry your beautiful thick hair with the old towel that had been rolled up in the car. After I shake off everything that has clung to it since it was new: the grains of sand from family trips, twigs from the last Independence Day bonfire, and the stains of chocolate pudding and chocolate milk wiped off one particular small mouth, a quarter to five years old. If you really want the dirt on methis same bold towel of mine treasures all manner of perfectly good stains from my life, my life which I like a lot, butI wish now you could understand morehow my soul is constantly torn in two, help me! A devoted family man, and one capable of writing you such letters, and to whoever solves that correctly is promised eternal peace of the soul, even a temporary one will do.
And your forehead is revealed to me again, out of the wild of your hair, and your brown eyes, wide open and serious and questioning me under your full eyebrowsand your eyes are terribly sad, I wish I knew why, and, anyhow, in every letter I feel how in an instant they are so ready to illuminate, to riseyour Giulietta Masina eyes (at the end of Nights of Cabiria, do you remember it?), and you're asking me again with that lookWho are you? No idea. I want to be whatever your eyes will see in me, yes. And if you are not too frightened to lookthen maybe I will be.
And I hold your face gently in my hands. I've already said that you're a bit taller than me, but when we are together we fit, and it doesn't look ridiculous. I feel your warm face in my hands and think that almost allthe other faces I meet in my everyday life are made up of expressions that are only fragments of quotations of others' expressions. But your faceand then I pull you to me and kiss your hungry and thirsty mouth for the first time, placing my lips exactly on your lips, soul to soul, and your mouth is very warm and soft, and you pull your upper lip a bit higheryou have that motion in you, I've seen itand I of course will wonder for a moment if maybe I could sleep with you before I know your namedon't forget that I'm still a man and have this rooster's dream (which has yet to come true). But then, just because, against my self and my stupidity I quickly ask, What's your name? And you say, Miriam. And I say, Yair. You murmur, with a cold, shivering smile, that you have a very thin skin; and I listen, with care, to what you whispered to me in that smile: that I have to treat you gently, not rudely, not as a stranger, not touch you with the same five sausage fingers that the world has probably sent to you more than once. More and more I fear this is what it has done to you. And my soul will yearn for you when you speak. When I write to youeven at this momentmy soul emerges from me when you smile, when you tremble, when you approach my bodybecause unlike most of the women who have approached me in my life, I know you will immediately press yourself to me with your all, with your wholeness, because you are so alive. And I mention this tiny fact to myself that has always attracted my attention; because, you see, women always held me in the beginning with only half their bodies, their half-body into my famished body; just one breast, to be precise (but I don't know how they hold other men). And you, from the very beginning, break this little feminine law and announce with your body that you are loyal and committed only to the man I am and not to the force of all the women behind you.
I already know how I will feel then, it is written in all my cells, how in that moment, finally, a new warm emotion will gently till the ground of my heart. I want it so muchand you? Write me what is happening now in your heart, which was filled with a longing for its young self. And all at once you pull me to you, harder, and kiss me with all your soul and all your heart, as if they will give and pour out into me; your entire being, created and encoded within your flesh, will open and be solved in me, bit by bit, until the whole thing melts, that Thing between you and yourselfthat is now a little bit of the Thing between you and me. It is melting and fusing into one within my mouth and tongue and nose; and only then, we might be able to detach ourselves a little bit and look at eachother with craving eyes, and I will whisper, breathlessly, "Oh, Miriam, look, you're all wet, how will you go home?"
(I hope I dream about you tonight, I want to scream out your name in the middle of sleep, and then the secret will be out and I won't hide you anymore! You are a woman who must be revealed!)
About six days ago I sent a letter to you at school, as usual, and have not since received a reply.
I suppose it is just a matter of time. Perhaps you are busy toward the end of the school year with the report cards and all (already?), but I still thought I'd check to see if you sent any response. I am in a bit of a stupid state right now because of the ever-present possibility that you, for some reason, have decided not to answer me and to disappear. Maybe because of my last letter. Maybe because something in your life suddenly changed. But I am certain that even in such a case you would have written, wouldn't you?
I just started to worry a little bitbecause I bring my letters to the mailbox at the school gate (perhaps you've already noticed that there's no postmark), but maybe the internal mail system has problems and the letter never reached your box.
If so, whom did it reach?
Or perhaps there was something else that made you angry. I'm trying to think aloudperhaps it is your claim that I am, again, slowly reassembling reality into a series of words and being completely satisfied with them, unstitching you here, embroidering you there.
Well, as you can see, I am starting to make a mess, so pleaseso I can at least know how I figure in the hierarchy of your department of affections. Just do me a favor and don't hesitate to write the whole truth; I mean, I can certainly understand, if that miserable letter did reach you, that you've decided that you don't want to have anything to do with such a person. Here, I even wrote the words for you, to save you polite contortions, you don't need to worry about me or to pity meI am a lot stronger and tougher than it may seem to you (it really is hard to break me).
Here, I'm inviting you to tell me everything you felt when you saw how I allowed myself to expose myself like this in front of you without knowing almost anything about you. Without a single thing connecting the two of us in reality, I suddenly jump and expose the armpits of my soul to you in an obscene striptease. Isn't that what happened? Isn't it? Admit it, why not, admit something for once!
I mean, you stood at a distance in such a way, screening me with your arms crossed, with questioning suspicion, a bit frightened, and a bit amused with this one-man band that just marched through you. While I was completely dizzy from your last letter, with the photos from Ramat Rakhel. Perhaps you forgot the intimate things you wrote there, even the tiny fact that for the first time you wrote the word "us." Yes, we are both people of wordsand then your sudden realization that, perhaps, I am a person who actually suffocates inside words. Do you remember? (Because I remember every word.) Meaning that perhaps I feel a little "claustrophobia in 'their' words" and that perhaps, because of this suffocation, I sometimes gasp out this way, swallowing ...
This is the kind of relief I felt, as if you had come, giving me permission to breathe differently; and then, out of fugitive happiness, without shame, without guarding myself, and excited, and intoxicated from you, and from us
Listen. It's a waste of ink. I'm letting you go.
One little addition, even though: just for you to know that if this is how you saw me, you were not alone. You might not have noticed but I was standing right there beside you from the first letter I wrote you, with my arms crossed high on my chest. What were you thinking? I was standing there on the side, too, of course I was, screening this eruption of mine exactly as you wereanyway, it's important for me to tell you. All the rest is unnecessary, isn't it?
Then why can't I stop?
Write to me, anything that comes into your mind, just don't leave me this way; I went just now, again, for the fourth time today, to the mailbox.
Enough of this, come on, you owe me at least this, that we should stand together for a moment, shoulder to shoulder, and look at it, and condemn it together for the last time, that internal organ of mine that suddenly burst out and made exception, a glandular dance.
Stop! Two hand claps of the director and set change: let's be, for one minute, like two camels, of all things; camels suit me right now, so why not? It came to me, I'm sharp and original even in my roughest momentsa camel-couple with long, humorless, camel-y faces, a pair of mature camels, a male and a female, sober and chewing on boredom and knowing full well our place in a caravan that's progressing, heel by toe, just as it should. Until, suddenly, one bizarre donkey foal jumps out of the procession. Maybe it just looks like a foal. Maybe it is even a hybrid of a camel and a clown's hatnature made a mistakewith donkey's ears and a little camel-y hunchback, and this infantile weirdo is breaking into a fool's jig; get back, Miriam! because disgusting rivers are flowing out of all his orifices, grab a coat, a sweater at least (!), so that the shedding layers of his slightly overexcited soul will not soil you, for God's sake.
This is the exact way I see the "performance" to which I've condemned myself before you with that letter; actually, with all of them. From the beginning. Don't know what happened to me. In one moment my heart overflowed and flooded into the wide spaces in my brain. What actually happened? I remember seeing you, there were people around you, there was a lively discussion and you didn't participate. Suddenly your lips sank and you smiled a strange smile, a sorrowful smile, no harder than that, the smile of a person who has found out that very minute that she has lost her last hope, the hope for her soul, no less, but who knows that from now on, this is the way it has to be, and that she will have to go on living with that loss ... and that was the moment I entered your life. A kind of odd, unhappy moment, but I didn't even have time to think about it, because in that moment I saw my name lying on the bottom of your smile and I leaped. On the other hand, perhaps my name wasn't written there, perhaps I so wanted you to know that I could see it and that you weren't alone that I jumped too quickly. This is not new for me, either; you should know, I have a long gloomy history of such unripe leapsin work, and in my life, and in family matters, it was already happening in school, and in the army, and in letters to the editorin any place I felt that something was being held back or blocked; no matter what the reason was, whether because of opacity or cowardiceor stupidity or simply because "you just don't do that." In such a moment, I always rebel, on purpose, out of spite (says my father)not true, when I rebel it's a rescue missionI thought you understood, it is you who first dared to write the word "wish"and then I am flooded, at once, you saw it. And damn the name of the laws of nature and society that determine, let's say, that a certain person's soul must be satisfied with only its separate existence, alone, within his own skin.
Or alone, within his own pit.
It's silly to keep on explaining (and I can't stop), but it is always this way. Somewhere, very close, something is building up, someone is begging to burst out already, something that will suffocate if it doesn't crack, and even though I don't know its being, its choked scream is clear to me. You asked me what kind of music I listen to when I'm at home and when I am at work, and especially when I am writing to you. You asked as if you assumed that I am always surrounded by music. I'm sorry to disappoint you, I'm not very musical. I am, in my opinion, dysmusical (all in all, I went and bought the Children's Corner by Debussy and I listened to it in my car again and again, and, of course, Emma Kirkby singing Monteverdi, and perhaps someday I'll understand what you said). But I always listen to that scream and immediately understand it, not with my ears but with my stomach, my pulse, my womb, and you hear it, too. You heard me this way, so why, suddenly, don't you hear it?
Oh well, what's the point. Besides what you decide. For me, it's just important for you to know that I understand exactly what is happening inside me now, and what you think of me. Why, it's a regular torture, Miriam, that I am always both, the one standing with a stern face, arms crossed over my chestand the one who is suddenly gutted and falls and falls, and while falling is still arguing with the stern one, screaming on the way to his doom, Let me live! Let me feel! Let me make mistakes!
But I am certainly, undoubtedly, the other one as well. What can you do? The pursed lips that spit out in disgust, You already know how it will end, you will return to me, crawling, as usual, says he dryly (he has symptoms of dehydration in his tissues). And the donkey foal continues screaming all the whilebecause, Miriam, maybe he will succeed just onceby mistake of course, because, by imperial decree, such acts of compassion could happen only by mistake. But maybe he will finally hit the target, just onceno! Touch the target, touch, touch one alien soul, actually touch, soul to soul, tissue to tissue. One single time, one soul outof the four billion Chinese in the world (in this situation, suddenly everyone seems Chinese) will crack open in front of him and yield its harvest
And so he falls and screams in his breaking, reedy voice, which continues to change throughout his life.
Then again, it appears, of course, that around every such scream are ten wise, learned, moderate, and impartial men; and they consult and request to confirm whether we had crossed that bridge too soonperhaps this was just one of your flimsy ideas (so they tell me, dryly, with dry lips)one of those ideas that ripen only in nightly darkness and evaporate in the light of day, meaningjust another damaged crossbreed that might be born deformed and defective.
And I ... you should see me there. Actually, you did see it. This is what probably repulsed you. Because I know exactly how I look in those moments, when I plead with them for no less than to take complete pity on me. Why lie, Miriam? I know, in my deepest depths, that if it was in their power to do so, they would never approve of me either, just as you haven't ("is not entitled to official stamp of authorization," they would have determined). So I run between them, almost hysterical, begging them to consent to see what I am seeing, that at least one of them could see it as I do, because if one other can see itjust another one is enough, you don't need any more than thatsuddenly it will exist and be, and be redeemed, and then something in me will be "authorized." But just try to explain something like that to them.
And then I can't take it anymore (I am documenting the whole process for you here), and the moment of fuck-it-all arrives. The moment when I finally think, for example, What am I worth if I'm not sending these? My soul swells to you, and I'm flying, just as I flew to you, here, even now, it is me there, flying, continuing to fly to you, to whoever agrees to believe with me, look, laugh. It's me, the weak fuse in the networkevery network, every bond, every touch, every tension, every frictionor any possible combination of me with thoseand with you. And now, as I watch it sink and sputter between us, I am asking you, again, one final time, to believe in us. Perhaps we will touch a gold vein, by chancewe almost did, already, there were a few moments of light, and I have gotten used to your annoying High Court integrity (and also to your funny confusion of words when you're excited). And where will I again find such a childish, mature woman who is capable of meditatingon Adam and Eve's first lovemaking, taking such pleasure in how naturally they discovered what is good to do, and what happiness and delight it is to discover only by way of nature ...
You see, I remember everything. I may be destroying all evidence of your existenceI'm forced to, by the Sanctity of the Bond, and the restbut you exist inside me in a way that scares me, because what am I going to do now, surrounded by this entire new existence that doesn't want me?!
Here I am before you: I am the donkey foal. I am the hole in the fence, the crack through which mistakes and treacheryand also bald ridiculedrip into the house. It has been this way since childhood, ever since I can remember myself I have been the hole, how unmasculine. And to whom else could I say such a thing? Believe me, believe that at leastin my moments of flight, moments of gliding, I am the most me, the me that is meant to be. And in a surprising manner, it is a moment full of happiness, generallyit is a full moment, it is everything together, and I wish I had a way to spend my entire life in such a moment.
And then, of course, there is the thump of the landing, and lots of dust around, and terrible silence, and I am sobering up from all that I was for a moment, cautiously looking around. And I start to freeze from the cold that surrounds me within and without, a cold that only clowns and fools know. So it is true that once or twice in my life it so happened that I was a living seed and a brilliant idea, but mostlyno more than spit. And if you want one, I am, for example, stuck in this time in my life like Heine in the grave of his mattresses with forty thousand books and pamphlets and magazines piling up around me. I had an idea, you see? A great idea ...
That's it. Sometimes you survive a glorious leap like Nakhshon and get credited in the Bible; mostly, you find out that the pool below you was empty. But alwayseven if you succeedyou're somehow terribly alone when you go back to all the rest, and to their appraising looks, that suddenly seem to you as if they're ahem-ing with their eyes. And my father would say to me, The whole body wants to pee, but you know what to take out to do the job.
This is how I feel now, and it destroys me, I can't stand such a look from you; because for a completely different glance of yours, I decided to jump headfirst, on three, whatever the dangers, "and not less than everything,"by the demands of T. S. Eliot's requirements. And now I'm eating myself up for not having been more cautious.
Because I could have written to you a sophisticated, caressing letter, and clouded my intentions, and seduced you slowly, and flirted with ease, and definitely have met body to body, by all the common rules of the adulterous games accepted and in play in the grown-up community. When I think of things I wrote to you, things I told you about my family, or things that, because of you, I told myself about my family, that horrible sentence about three people living togetherI feel like castrating myself, tearing out my own tongue!
Enough, enough. What an unbearable night. (And to think that you might not even be capable of imagining my suffering!) I never told you how it started, exactly; I mean, I told you only so much. I think I've repeated that much at least thirty times by now, but I was only telling you about yourself, about what I saw in you. And I can't have this end without your knowing what was happening inside me in those moments.
So here it is, in short order, and then we can finish with it. One night, about two months ago, I saw you. You were standing in the middle of a large group that had gathered around you, and especially around your husband. A whole flock of respectable teachers and educators, and everybody sighed over how hard it is to succeed in the education racket, how long it takes to see the fruit of your labors. Someoneof course-mentioned Khoni and the Circle, and another tale, about the old man who planted a carob tree for his grandchildren, and your husbandexcuse me, your "man" (although it seems to me that he certainly sees himself as a "husband")was going on about some complicated genetic experiment he's been working on now for ten years. I can't be too precise about the details, because I wasn't really concentrating too hard on what he was saying. Please send him my apologies. The bitter truth is, his story was long and boring. A lot of facts in it, something about rabbit fertility, I think, and about the instinct, in times of stress, to draw the fetus back into the womb (?). Doesn't matter. In any case, everyone listened to him, with his infectious self-confidence and that special manner of speaking, slowly, authoritatively. A man like that knows the world will fall silentand listen, raptly, as soon as he opens his mouth. He uses a full range of facial expressions brilliantly, and has the self-possession of a mature male, what with those long cheeks and developed jawline and thick brow ... By God, you're lucky, Miriam. You got the best male of the herd. Darwin is saluting you from his grave. Of course, the two of you made a wonderful pair, clearly, scaling the high altitudes togetheryou see how I was still free there, meaning, free to make that mistake?
Then your husband let out a burst of laughter, and that was it: I remember how astonished I was by the strong, manly, sparkling laughter that surged out of him. How I shrank from itas if he had caught me doing something shameful. I don't even know what he was laughing about, or at whom, but everyone was laughing along with him; it was as if they wanted to, for a moment, dance among those commanding rays pouring from his beaming face. I looked at you by chanceperhaps because you were the only woman there, and I was searching for understanding from or protection in youand I saw you weren't laughing. On the contrary, you shivered and hugged yourself; perhaps his laughter (which you probably love) revived some painful memory inside you. Or maybe it just horrified you as much as it did me.
So they kept talking, all extremely interested; what am I talking aboutfascinated by the conversation in that way they are all so very good at, but you weren't there anymore. It was amazingI saw how you sneaked away from everyone without moving one step; you simply took advantage of the momentary diversion to disappear. And I also saw where you disappeared to. Something behind your eyes opened and closed, one flash of a secret door, and suddenly only your body was left standing there, sad, abandoned by you (that I will never be able to tell you about it again, your fair, soft body, butter and honey). You dropped your head a bit, and held yourself in your hands, as if you were cradling your child-self, and your baby-self, and ripples and furrows of wonder started trembling on your forehead, like that of a girl hearing a long, complicated, sad story; yes, your whole face started sailing upon your face. And I unconsciously felt my heart reaching out to you in the dance of the donkey foal; there is probably still a gap where I am missing a rib from that moment, everything went crazy and so did I.
(Don't worry, I'll be leaving your life in a moment, last throes.) Now I can allow myself to remember how that large group of students swarmed around you immediately afterwarddo you remember?
It's strange how I managed to erase it from my memory until now. They practically kidnapped you from the adults for the favor of having a photo taken with youthey almost carried you on their shoulders. And that one moment you passed by me, and I saw you were still daydreaming a little, but starting to make the effort to smile on the outside; it was a completely different smile, public, fluorescentwould you look at how completely I had forgotten about it?
But maybe I didn't forget it. Maybe it was this thrilling peep into your inner workings that let me know, immediately, that you would understand me?
Because it was a moment of "your ignominy." Without understanding it yet, I think I recognized it: this smile, a bit like a contraction. You were wearing an election-campaign smile for a moment ... What am I saying? You? An election campaign? Yes, yes, I am certainly never wrong about these things. So, even you? Elected over and over again, charming, yes, emblazoning yourself on the eyes of strangers. (And now I'm even sorrier that we won't continue this.)
And I don't know if you felt what came next, perhaps you hadn't yet fully recovered your senses. Your students, a herd of oafs and clods, teenagers, scrapers of facial scruffhow they all started fighting for the privilege of being the closest to you, so they could touch you, suckle a look or a smile from you, announce whatever terribly important problem was troubling them at exactly that moment. It was kind of funny to watch
"Funny" is not the right word. Pity for the parpur. Because even the man standing to the side had, in that same moment a bizarre, unexpected impulseit's actually embarrassing to recallthe same wild urge to open wide his fledgling mouth in a madness of sudden, terrible hungerMe me, Teacher, me me ...
Enough. Enough. I'm humiliating myself even more with every word. Please, take a piece of paper, write a few words, just one will doyes or no. I don't have the energy for a long letter from you now. Write "I'm sorry, I tried to get used to it, to you, I really did try hard, but I couldn't forgive your turmoil, your misleading statements."
Well, fine. We are agreed. At least we know where we stand. My heart will probably continue to shout out your name for a little while longer; and eventually, it will heal. Perhaps I'll return to Ramat Rakhel, or some other place out of town. Some place with no people, that can beours, at least long enough so I can yell out with all my strength, "Miriam! Miriam! Mir-yam!"
Don't worry, another day, or two, slowly, the letters will peel away, and the only thing left will be my clockwork scream to you-hee-haw, hee-haw!
It so happened that your letter arrived after I was already completely exhausted. I opened the mailbox, simply out of habit, the same way I've done tens of times in the last week, and your white envelope was there. I stood there, looking at itand didn't feel a thing. Just tired. Perhaps afraid as well. Because I was hoping that I had already become used to thinking it was over. Frozen for good. And where would I find the strength to undergo all the aches of defrosting?
I read it, of course. Once, and again, and again. I still can't understand how I could fall apart so quickly over a break of a single week. Can you believe itI felt as if you were gone for at least a month.
As if I was just waiting for an excuse to torture myself.
I've nothing to add today. I'm glad you're back, that we are together again. That you didn't even think of disappearing on me. Just the opposite.
And I'm still angry at you for not taking a moment to consider how much I would suffer. How could you, you, not know me? You could have at least sent a note before leaving, or a postcard from the Central Station at Rosh Pina. It would have delayed you by no more than ten minutes and saved me a lot of misery.
On the other hand, I am starting to grasp that if you had the choice, you probably wouldn't cause me suffering.
So, we can fade this letter out on an optimistic noteyou probably had no choice.
This is still not a response, not a real response, not the response you deserve for that letter, for the depths that revealed themselves to me as Iread and reread it. Mostly because of how you released me gently, rope by rope, from the knots of the trap I set for myself. Sparing me any and all embarrassment over the Gastric Juice Concerto I played for you.
(They really let you leave work? Two weeks before the end of the school year?
And what do they have to say about it at home?
It's none of my business.)
I am, every time, mystified by the contrast between your sound, composed mind, the stable, calm motherhood within youand the fluid tosses of your head, the unexpected leaps, unexpected even from you. I see you pacing through the oak grove above the Kinneret, erect and serious-looking, and hugging yourself hard, looking for your lost peace of mind, pushing me away again and again ...
What's that? It's just a smile. I remembered how in your first letters you said, time and again, that it was hard for you to believe that such a storm was created in me from one quick look at you ("And what if I don't have another side to my face, what if you only cut a picture of a woman out of the night for yourself?"). And then you slowly started to explain to yourself that it always begins like that, reallyfrom a single look at a stranger. And now, what you wrote me from there on the rock, that only a "narrow-minded and material" sort of person could consider us strangersearlier, when I woke up (it's half past three), I sat in the living room, in the darkness, curled up on the armchair. I was thinking about you and me, about what is happening so unexpectedly to us in the middle of our lives, and I was happy that I was, by chance, by myself a little at home, in complete silence. I invited you to be with me, and you came. I usually try not to think about you when I'm here, in my everyday life. I try to keep strictly to the law of the separation of governing bodies. I hesitate whether to tell you when I do always think of you, alwayswhen I'm taking a shower, or when I'm, what to do, taking a piss. Yes, when I see it.
And I tried to figure out, between me and myself, whether I am at all capable of being a lightning rod for anyoneI saw that you were very much troubled by this, but it is difficult for me to give you a clear answer, one that is real, earnestno one ever asked me such a thing. No one ever asked. And no one ever asked as directly as you, in such a cutting, single-minded way, and with such desire.
I guess they saw the answer in me right away.
But then againdo you remember when I wrote to you that the moment I saw you I felt, for the first time, a strong, clear desire to have another person inside me? So maybe this is an indirect answer to your question. I just asked myself, Is it still so? And I answered, Yes, even more. Much more.
Tell me, how is it that I am not scared of wanting such a thinghow can anyone let another person inside herself, anyway? Seriously, Miriamtonight I suddenly grasped what an amazing thing it is, quivering with generosity and compassion, that a person can let another person penetrate even just her body! This completely natural thing suddenly seems almost abnormal! And people are doing it without thinking twice (so I hear), penetrating and letting themselves be penetratedeven a fuck is sometimes a clichéor perhaps, in order to make such an intrusion possible, you must purposely not allow yourself that kind of understanding? Is that it?
Can you imaginefor a moment, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it anymore, those familiar swimming motionsdo it regularly, I mean.
So, probably out of that slight panic, I dwelt on one of my favorite hobbies: I sat with my eyes closed and relived one of the fucks from my private collectionyou are the first person I am telling this to (because you told me about Adam and Eve's first time, perhaps). It reminds me of how I would try to replay complete soccer games in my head as a childand these days, what to do, fucks, my little adulteries, the most agreeable way to transcend norms, as Nabokov once put it to me during a long ride to the base in the Sinai.
I can't do it with all of them, of coursesix or seven at most (it has been a few years since a new one has been added to the collection). The most special ones, the ones during which I was in the rarest and most desirable state of consciousness. Dreaming and awake at the same time, completely drowsy, and also open to receiving every move of her hand and body, and what she said, and how she breathedand I can retrace the curve of her hips and the location of her beauty marks (where do you have them? I know about the one under your lipin my opinion, it is actually a microfilm you are smuggling on your innocent facebut where do you have more?). I don't forget a detail in this silent reliving, and don't ask me howI don't have a clue: I am like those chess geniuseswho can remember the moves of hundreds of games by heart. What do you know, Miriam? This might be my hidden genius, my grand crusade (my art ...)?
Now I shall seal the envelope and the pleasure of waiting will begin.
I still want you to know whom you're dealing with. I think I went easy on myself tonight regarding the "lightning rod."
Because I ... I use all of my powers to keep myself balanced. Not a millimeter less or more than total precise balance. I'm not particularly proud to be writing this, but the foundation that has been laid for my emotional stability is the size of a peanut. Really. You saw what happened to me a week ago. It scares me, how easily I can lose it, collapse in a blink. It's also so easy for me to want to stop existing, give up everything.
And you're asking me if I can be a lightning rod for someone? Me? Why, everyone around me has to always perform at the peak of his health and normality, and yes, of course you were right about something when you wrote about Maya being my "mother-base." Yes, that's the way it is, and you can't shake it. And isn't it nice that all those closest to me keep so strictly to the mandatory entry code of membership that my small club requires.
That's it. I puked it out. The most pathetic in me. Miserable. Spoiled. A soggy mess. But it's important to me that you know. It sometimes amazes me how obedient they all are, how they subconsciously fulfill their requirements. All of them are born healthy, develop to maturity nicely, and are never tempted to fall prey to some incurable disease or defect. Nor do they die suddenly! There's no dying with me! Not even in old ageonly after I go will they be allowed to even consider it! Even my parents are probably forced to stay alive only so they won't die during the springtime of my existencewe shouldn't even talk about my father, who for several years has been stuck in the guts of the end of his life, only because of my draconian laws.
You do understand that it isn't only death that has to obey meany diversion, every break of the blessed routine is forbidden. If Maya, for instance, would happen upon the thoughteven approach the notionof falling in love with someone else, leaving me, leaving me to my pack ofjealousy-bloodhounds, it would be the end of me, as simple as that, a five-kilo sledgehammer on the heart of the parpur. That is my unwritten law: whoever wishes to be close to me commits to my soul. Because any common idiot can see how easy it would be to kill me. One look aimed and fired at me will do. I'm not joking: somewhere inside me I am convinced that whoever sees me, even strangers on the street, can, without knowing me, immediately know where it is possible to crack me open with one touch, to negate me with a word. And even thoughapparentlyall the people surrounding me these days don't do it, don't put me out of my misery for some reason, I don't quite understand, I'm a little suspiciouswhat are they conspiring over? And you too, yes, you over there, the unseen, the written onekeep us safe, take care of both of us, even in the places where I am at my most pathetic, where I'm only half a manbe doubly strong, you can do it, I can tell, you have the fortitude for thatbe our bodyguard (it's interesting that in Hebrew it is "headguard," whereas in English it is "bodyguard")
I'm not sure I'll send this mess. What did it spring from? I don't know why these streams of filth have been passing through me, after I felt so close to you last night. I'm thinking about what you said in your last letter, about the strange impulse I sometimes have to make myself ugly in your honor, that dream you had about the strange vegetable seller who is putting the rotten tomatoes on top. If it is true, then take this into consideration as wellbecause I do feel that I have given you something here that I have never before dared to give myself.
I have to send it, right?
(I didn't have to wait for even four hours. They must have crossed on their way. When you read mine, you'll probably understand how odd it is that you are responding to things you hadn't read yet.)
I think that our meeting in the sprinklers is the wrong story. This is not the way I want to reach you.
Not only because you laughed at me for refusing to believe in the banal wonder of a real meeting between two people, even on a bus, in a bank, at a reunion party, or simply in a vegetable marketbut because somehow, really, two strangers sitting in the grass and finding themselvesembracing in watersomehow, after your letter, after you said I put too much effort into romanticizing reality ... I don't know, all of a sudden it seems boorish and forced to me, a water show full of hydrotechnic tricks. It doesn't suit you, nor is it in accordance with the softness with which I want to reach out to you, the quietness that surrounds you, and certainly not what you wrote in the last lines, that surprising explosion that I still don't know what to do with.
Still, it is still extremely important to me that you agree that "sprinklers" are also possible between us, andthat everything is possible between us: we'll have many of these first dates, and each time discover ourselves all over again. Why give up anything? Why give up "everything"? I want everything with you. You are the only person I can want everything with. Maybe, only through this excess, this waste, this "everything" can it slowly reveal itself to usthe elemental ore that can be created only between us, that can never be created between any other two people?
Of course you were right that reality itself is also a wonder and a miracle, I too am well practiced in saying such pretty things in a soft, veiled toneif you'll excuse mebut don't forget that "reality" itself is, when it comes down to it, only a momentary coincidence on the surface of a huge sphere crackling with possibilities that will never be realized. And each and every one of them could have told us a completely different story about ourselves, played us differently. Why shouldn't we come to each other from the least expected places, from the dark side of the brain?
I want to have ten different affairs with you! Why not? Each one of them speakingno, shouting out, for a completely different man in me. Men unfamiliar to me. This is why people try to connect with one another, isn't it? I'm asking you the same question you wrote me, exactlyif I would ever be brave enough to look deep into your eyes and read for you what you yourself cannot read there. I wish I could answer you with full confidence. I don't know (but is this why, in the very first moment, I stood in your blind spot?).
Am I asking too much? Perhaps. But why settle for less? We spend all our lives just "settling" anywayand I want to touch everything with you, with wide, sweeping, generous motions, as if I knew it was for the last time in my life! And how is it that you were capable of stopping yourself in the same moment that you finally started to give part of yourself,from deep inside you"my ignominies," you said, as if you were just joking, or trying on one of my words, but suddenly it became serious, didn't it? "And why don't you finally stop calling every insult thrown at you ignominies?!" Without warning, you became furious, but that wordI felt it cling to you, stick to you, as if you had to say it again, and again, and again, to shake it off you, but also to touch it, one more time"What is the connection, anyway, between insults, wounds, and ignominies?" "Why do I keep feeling some strange pleasure in the way you keep confusing wounds with ignominies?" The more you repeated it, the more you said it, it fused to you, to your body, even closer, harder, and then you
Explain it to me, Miriamthe war you are fighting that leaves you searching, at the end of some days, so desperately for a clear will to get up the next morningwhat are you talking about, exactly? And where on earth did you get this crazy (and false) feeling that you are a person who should not create anything new in this world? I'm the person who keeps changing his face, is the consistently unstable, destructive force between us. Don't forget!
(Or perhaps, now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps it is some kind of illusion you are creating for me, the story you are choosing to tell me about yourself. But why would you tell me such a horrible story?)
Do you understand the kind of state you left me in by not explaining anything?" ... and sometimes the feeling that every living thing, even the two little kittens Nilly gave birth to yesterday and, as is her way, left for me to nurse, even they are like stolen fire for the moments they are in my hands." And you immediately fell silent. There were quite a few empty lines toward the end of the page, and I didn't know how to fill themmy imagination went wildand when you returned, summoned in front of me, your face was back to normal and you told me something small and irrelevantif you'll excuse my teacherly remarks. I think you just wanted to end your letter politely. It is very nice that your son has now devoted himself to an operation so prestigious as counting to a million (a way not worse than any other to waste your life)you finally told me, clearly, that you have a sonI was starting to worrybut how could you leave me like that after mentioning those things?
Enough, enoughlet's unclench our fistsour dark secrets are always less terrible than we imagine themso give yourself to me, withoutwalls, without reservationswrite to me, for instance. Tell mein a completely separate lettera one-sentence lettertell me the first thing, the first thought, the first flicker flashing in your mind when you read this letter. (Yes, yes! Now! At this very minute! Write it down, put it in an envelope, and send it, even before your "official" reply, even before dealing with all the complications inherent with me within you.)
So now it's my turn?
After we come, we'll fall asleep, lying close together. Your back will be stuck to my belly, and I will squeeze my toes like clothespins on your ankles, so you won't fly away on me during the night, and we'll be like a picture from a nature book: a length cut of a fruit. I am the peel, you are the flesh.
P.S. I didn't believe you would dare so much.
And when we lie down together, I would like to close my eyes and gently touch the edge of your hairline somewhere under your navel (your belly button), so I can, with the tips of my fingers, feel the place, one of the places, that delicate silky place, where you changed from a child into a woman.
One out of turn:
Yesterday I walked down through Queen Heleni Alley. A child, nine or ten years old, was walking in front of me. We were alone. The alley was dark, and once in a while he glanced back and quickened his pace. But even when I walk slowly, I walk pretty quickly. I could feel his fear.I could remember this kind of fear well. And I wondered how I could put him at ease without embarrassing him. Then he tried to leap awaybut he twisted his leg badly, and now he dragged it along behind him, whimpering in pain. This is how we walked, together, at a fixed distance, until we reached the end of the alley. He's limping outside, and I, inside.
The problem with these quickies, obviously, is that you're hungry again after an hour (although "sometimes, the way you touch meit is one touch, the same I feel in that spot of pain and pleasure" will do for me for at least a week).
Have you written to me yet? Have you sent it yet? When does your box get emptied?
(Just a little exercise of my agitation musclesdon't want them to get flaccid. That way you can always recognize me.)
About those final assumptions of yoursyou were triply wrong: I am not writing to you from prison. I am not sick and bedridden with some terrible disease. I am not even an Israeli spy for Damascus or Moscow on a brief vacation home before returning to the cold-I am all three.
What else? Not much.
A lot: your fingers trembling when you find my envelopes in your box in the teachers' lounge.
It's the same for me, what do you think? First I examine with a touchhow thick is the new letter? How much food will I have to savor over the next days and nights
To answer your (surprisingly weird) questionhands and digital together (but why is that important anyway?).
Oh, I remember something I keep forgetting to ask you: do you have anythis is silly, I know, but anywaydo you happen to have any connection to a Chinese newspaper (completely in Chinese!), a weekly magazine published in Shanghai that I've started receiving lately out of nowhereI didn't order it.
If you don't, forget the question.
This is not a letter. It is just a nightly humming, a whistle in the dark until you return to me.
(It never ceases to amaze mehow my desiccated life chose to expose a giant breast for me.)
An open mouth or a hole in a tree trunk? I'm struggling to decidebut so filled with joybecause there weren't any words there!
I didn't know you painted, too. The line and the black and the power of your touch.
I swear by my life: someday I will dance for you. I won't care if we are surrounded by peopleI will just look into your eyes and I will dance.
But in the meantime, I need to write, don't I? So then, in honor of your black strokes:
A shrunken black monkey, let's say, scrambling over his mistress's belly.
Does that make any sense to you? No matter. We allowed ourselves the freedom to mumble. To me, it means: the master bought it for her at one of the fairs he passed through in his journeys. The master is always on a journey, the master's journey. The monkey is tame. It was bought for the lady's pleasure, but not for its own. God forbiddo you understand? It always has to remember its placethe place of the replacer, the guard, until the master returns (and perhaps there isn't any master at all).
And I know you can read my mind at this momenthow you said it was strange to you that I can remember every motion, moan, and beauty mark of the women who were with mebut couldn't find myself in those memories.
When I'm with people (this came to mind tonight while I was bathing my son)it doesn't matter if they are strangers or those closest tomeI am always accompanied by one thought: I am impotent to do the one thing all of them do so naturallyputting down roots.
Question: Tell me, idiot, why the hell are you sending these bits of trash? All your trifling thoughts and dime-store philosophies? Why do you have not one crumb of nobility or taste to tame your words, to guide you so that you don't say everything?!
Answer: It is the donkey foal in me, and it is the special impulse I have with her, more than with anybody else I ever knew, to say everything, even these dime-store philosophies of mine. It's not even to tell her, sometimes it's to have this flicker fly to her, like an unconscious relative whom you bring to the emergency room and just throw into the doctor's hands you pray will be able to mend him. Tell her about the Möbius strip.
Question: Are you crazy? So soon?
Answer: What do you mean "so soon"? There's no such thing as too early or too late, we're on spherical time, remember? She said she was actually born for this kind of time ...
Come, lend me a hand, I will now tell you that one of the things I sometimes do is to think of him as old. I am talking about my son, aboutlet's call him Ido. About my Ido.
Maybe it's to inoculate myself (against whattoo much love for him?). I picture him old again and again. And it helps. It puts out every passion born of love and panic for him instantly.
Notice: old. Not dead. I have my expertise in that one as well, of course. But dead is probably too simple and unequivocal for the torture I need. My sonold, stooped over, staring absently at the television in some institution for the likes of him, strings of spittle drooling from his mouth. Dead, because the spark lighting his eyes has already been turned off. It's not simple to concentrate on such an image; try it, it requires the operation of extremely strong soul-muscles, the muscles along the spine of the soul, because the soul arches in terrible resistance against it and great strength is needed to force its surrender ... Where were we?
With my son, with the post-factum infant, my old son, a little man, all crabbed up with brown spots on his hands, infected with one of those diseases of his age, trying to remember something that slipped awayme, perhaps? Perhaps the twists of his memory suddenly rouse thoughts ofme? The two of us together in a good moment? When, this morning, a speck of dust got in his eye and I licked it out with my tongue? When I covered all the angles of the shelves in our house with foam rubber the day his head started to reach them? Or just when I loved him, terribly, in my own limited way?
And perhaps he will get confused for a moment and think that he is my father?
I hope so. I long for, wish, that somewhere in the infinite cosmos, where destinies are being stirred with people and every person touches the possibility of being any other person for a moment, there will be such a moment in which he will be my father (relieving the everlasting burden of the mysterious coincidence dictating that I must be his father, and not the other way around). I especially want everything to be over, ended, to be tucked into his bosom and to cuddle and mingle our flesh, ashes to ashes. I pray for it to be so, to be, in that same time, just another person like him, for him, who trieda person who was in the world but, for one moment, burst and twitched in the space of life
I think: Maybe then, in the arbitration or the indifference of his old age, and also in the wisdom that he will gain, probably through the years of his fatherhood with the children he will havewould he wish to choose me again? What do you think, would he choose me?
Speak to me.
Sometimes it's so hard to wait two or three days for a reply, because it hurts now.
After I fantasized about my little honeysuckle Ya'ara, you said that you're certain that I am also a very giving father to Ido, that I give more perhaps than many parents can give a child, and that I am probably not just "sucking him dry." Thank you for trying to release me from that torment. I'm just terrified to tell you how much I do suck him dry, I am Yair-Sucking, I leave him a husk, even if I don't intend it, by the very fact of my presence. But someday, in the year 2065, he will smile at me, with bald gums and glazed-over eyes, and tell me that it's all right, he too understands now the instability of the verdicts imposed in our penal colonythat one time you are Franz Kafkaand another time you're his father, Hermann ...
Sometimes I picture it to the very details. How he will summon my spirit, hold me between his fingers, and examine me against the yellowafternoon light, like a man holding some kind of unwanted, but harmless, object in his hands. And then I will cautiously move my fingers over his body, and over mine, like passing a finger over a Möbius strip, when the finger can't distinguish whether it is passing from the inside to the outside.
I think it is time for a commercial break.
It delights me that you like my "City Stories" so much. I was already thinking that, because of you, I am experiencing a lot more of those "moments" (really: the city speaks to me as it never did).
Accept a fresh, fresh one: This very morning, in Ben Yehuda Street, near Atara Café, there was a clown who was also a magician, maybe you've seen him: a huge man, Rasputin-like, who performs a funny show with a guillotine. I know him, and it's been a while since I've stopped to watch, but today I decided to look, maybe because you came back to the word "guillotine" in your long last letter, when you were depressed and exploded.
The magician asked for a volunteer, and one guy from the audience, an American tourist, came and placed his head on the block. The magician made a fuss about measuring the hole for his neck, and cut a single hair of his on the blade, and placed a wicker basket in front of him, and everyone around was laughing. And then, when the magician raised the blade high, the guy suddenly sent both of his hands through the holes of the stocks and, without even thinking, in a very touching and instinctual way, pulled the basket toward him so his head "would fall" exactly into it.
Everybody laughed, but I was so moved, as if you were there with me and I was showing you something of mine that I can't explain in words.
I'm sending you a photograph that might make you happy.
I found it (and not by chance) in an old scrapbook of The Weekly Word, your distant cousin Alexander. Excuse me, but I can certainly understand your parents' hysterianot only because he was six years older than you; there was something in his eyes, a wolfish expression ...
Look at his figure on the winner's stand, for example. That smile (Ido have to admit that he seems quite impressive, even with the silly swim cap and medala kosher alpha male. Those shoulders! That chest! Those biceps!).
Terrible, isn't it? To see all this strength and arrogance, and think he doesn't know that in five years he will be lying dead on streetcar tracks.
I am trying to find any similarities between the two of youthis photo was taken that very same weekand I can't find you in his face. So what do I find? What does it tell me? That your mother was right? In any case, I think I can see the surprising tenderness around his mouth and lower lip. So maybe even an experienced Casanova softens a little because it was your first kiss, and the only one with him?
But there is another matter that stands out as slightly peculiar. I also checked the newspapers from the following Maccabiah Games three years later and found that he participated again with the Belgian contingent (but didn't win any medals this time). According to my calculations, you were then sixteen and a half, meaning, not exactly an age at which you could be locked up at home or forbidden to meet him, or prevented in any possible way from participating in taboo behavior (and he surely came to visit you at home to bring news from the family ...). And I've been wondering how it is possible that after the great storm you described experiencing over him, the burning oaths you swore, the full year of dreams about him and the perfumed letters, and all thathow could you completely give up the chance of a reunion with him?
I thinkeven though you were three years older, and must have understood by then that it had been just a momentary amusement for him, that he was not exactly the man of your dreamsbut still, was there no spark of curiosity? Or the desire to come to him and say, Look at me now, see how I've grown, I'm not your little cousin anymore ...
(I don't know why the thought of his final visit makes me so sad.)
Speaking of kisses: send warm greetings to the beauty mark you said goodbye to when you started maturing ... I will never forget that quickie of yoursit was overwhelming. Maybe someday, in another incarnation, I'll kiss it as well.
What beautiful weather, Louise, what a bright sun! All my blinds are shut; I'm writing to you in the dark.
This is how Flaubert wrote to Louise Colet. I stumbled upon it today, and in spite of that stinger (do I really quote other people constantly?), I saw a private sign of us in it.
In the last two days I did a lot of thinking about your suggestion, your weird suggestionten years late, to my mindto "go steady." You made me return to a time not particularly loved by me. I'm not sure that I found a story to be an exact "mate" to yours, certainly not to the girl you were, the sober, clear-minded girl who assessed situations and took action, so it appears to me, decisively and without remorse ... And to tell you the truth, Miriam, I am not quite convinced that that girl would have been interested in this boy as a boyfriend.
I was around thirteen years old. I won't describe what I looked like to youit will make you angry, and why should I provoke forces greater than mine? But I guess I managed to draw some attention to myself after a retarded girl living in our neighborhood kidnapped me and performed surgery on me without anesthesia. Now, you'll say that I am, as usual, describing everything in a dramatic, larger-than-life way, but this is exactly what she did to me. I don't know how old she was, she couldn't even speak, instead she kind of grunted, this masculine, hard, bullish girl, this miserable retarded girl I always made fun of. I used to ambush her and her father when he took her down from the house on their daily walk (he walked with a stick to protect himself from her in case she attacked, imagine that). And for several years I was the neighborhood leader of our organized mockery of her, I invented the most evil tortures for her and her poor fatherwriting slogans and drawing caricatures of her on the sidewalk
And you will ask, and justly so, why I made fun of her. Why, in spite of my own cowardice, did I draw everyone's attention to her and only to her? The way I laughed at herthe amount of wit and poison I invested in itdon't ask. Well, one day she managed to escape from her house. Her father fainted on the stairs. All the neighbors and their kids were called together to search for her, and the police showed up, and basically, it was a complete mess.
I slipped from the crowd and walked to the end of the block, to an empty lot on which now stands a big hotel. There, in one of the most neglected corners, stood a heap of garbage, years of old mattresses and ovens piled up. And a small broken refrigerator, and other such detritus of the neighborhood. Behind it, by the fence, was a mess of bushes thatcreated a small dark hideaway. I thought only I knew of it, and liked to go there to isolate myself from the world.
I had a feeling she would be there, that her animal instincts would lead her to that place which no sane man would enter. And, I swear, the moment I passed the line of light into the darkness, she leaped on me. In that same moment I also realized, with some kind of strange acceptance, that she was simply waiting for me.
You know, I can't remember when you asked me thisperhaps when you spoke of the lightning rodif I have, ever in my life, properly cried for HELP! In a way that practically tears the throat apart, forces the eyes to bulge with terror and despair (hey, why did you ask me that?). Maybe I should have yelled like that, at that time when she dragged me inbut I was silent. This, Miriam, is what my story is about.
She pushed me to the ground, lay on top of me, and, without wasting a moment, started rubbing her body on mine with a horrible strength. We were two flints striking together, over and over. I couldn't moveit was as if I had lost consciousnessbut I saw and heard everything. She was seriousand also feverish with the crazy idea raging inside her, the false idea that only I, of all people, could understand her exactlyand it wasn't even a sexual thing; I mean, not sexual in the common, passionate way. It was a lot more complicated, dank, and dark than that. How can I put itit was as if she were trying to crumble and mash into dust the materials from which we both were made
Should I go into more detail?
I mean, all the materials, all her ores and mine. What for? I don't know (I do know, I do know). To create us both, all over againmore precisely: to balance us outor somehow to scrape away all her excessand mine, tooand what was missing as well, in both of our bodies and souls, together (can you actually understand such a sentence? Does it make sense outside of my mind?). Simply to create us anew from the dust from which we were made. I swear to you, this is what was pecking about in her twisted mindand only I understood it. Which is why I didn't even yell for help. It was a matter between me and her. I can't believe I'm even telling you about this.
So what do you say nowcould he have been, in his way, a "mate" to the girl you were? To that philosophical, opinionated lass?
I remember she took my left palm in her rough hand, and ten, and twenty, and fifty times over, she shoved her fingers between my fingers.
And then she did it with the right handshoulder to shoulderchest to cheststomach to stomachsystematically, in the most specific, meticulous mannerand her dead eyes were shining with her one grand idea. She didn't even notice me, that was the amazing thing that completely hypnotized me. She had a score to settle with what I was, not with who. And the enlightened world would have found nothing logical in itbut in the dark I knew and felt that she was aiming with all her strength at my well-being as well. It was as if she was trying to shuffle the cards in our decks, hers and mine, hard, in order tolet's saydeal them all over again, in a more just way, for both of us. Do you understand? She of all people could grasp, with some kind of genius, animal sense, how unhappy I was with what I had received from the taunting lottery of life, and that I too was desperately in need of mending. Are you still with me, Miriam? Just if you can give something like that to someone, and hope he will truly understandtell me if a man can tell this to someone and hope she will truly understand, tell me if a man can tell this to a woman he is wooing, and if a husband could, one day, tell this to his wife over coffee.
I went. I bought. I returned.
A three-day jump, Amsterdam-Paris-Switzerland. Business. The successful pursuit of two rare collector's items that were in hysterical demand in Zurich. Man of the world, boom boom.
When the airplane took off from Lod, I felt an unexpected pang, and I discovered an umbilical cord between us that hurts when it is stretched.
And what did I bring you from sparkling Paris? A sensational perfume? Jewels? Coy, tantalizing panties?
My most terrible waking nightmare when I am in large European cities is the sight of little children of beggar women.
Do you know what I'm talking about? Those Indian or Turkish women sitting on the streets and in the underground train stations who always carry a baby or a small child on their knees.
Because I noticed, a long time ago, that the children are almost alwaysasleep. In London, in Berlin, in Rome. And I have a suspicion that the women put them to sleep on purpose, drug them, because a sleeping child looks more miserable and is hence "better for business" ...
Once, in front of my regular hotel in Paris, a Turkish woman set up shop with such a child, and the next day I simply moved to another hotel.
It isn't only the cruelty that depresses me; mainly, it is the thought that these children are spending their lives asleep. To think of only one child (and there are hundreds of them) who lives for years, perhaps for his entire childhood, in London, or in wonderful Florence, almost without seeing itand only in his sleep does he hear the footsteps of people, the noise of the cars, the pulse of the big cityand when he awakes, he is, again, only in the miserable hole where he lives.
When I pass by such a woman in the street, I always give her somethingand while doing so, I whistle a pleasant, happy tune with all my strength.
Good morning, two letters of yours arrived today! I've been waiting so long for this moment when you couldn't hold yourself backand the minute you closed an envelope, ideas for another letter gathered inside you, instantly. One arrived in the morning, and the other with the afternoon delivery (the pleasures of a mailbox owner!). And they are both jolly and excited, one from home and the secondI guess your house got hot and stuffyfrom your secret valley near Ein Karem. It was wonderful to finally meet you in completely new words (and a new skirt!), like breathing a stream of clear air ... and to hear the surprise in your voice when you said you've been happy lately. That's the first time the word has appeared in your lettersI immediately sent it to the lab for tests, and they verified its happiness (I'm just trying to figure out why it is that your happiness still seems so sad to me), and perhaps because of this word, something is happening to me as well today. An internal tide turning, I don't know, perhaps because I've finally succeeded in making you happy.
Because summer broke open inside me as well, you see. It's as if only now your magic spell of words allowed me, as well, to leave the dark andwindy cave we dug out together, with all our complexity and heaviness"happy"and as if you permitted me something, the summer broke open inside meit's already July, imagine that, and I am only now waking up to summer, with its life forces and the shining, its natural roughness and the excitement of wanting so much so desperatelyeverything you described (how is it that you are still afraid of going back to painting in color? A person who can write like that ...). Look at me, me as well, touch me, I am suddenly so alive, burning and sending tendrils into the body of this summer, as if I myself were one of its "beating veins" you describedand I'm also focused on you today, like a laser beamwatch out! I'm not responsible for my actions today, don't even know what's happening to medo you have any idea?
How about this: perhaps I will completely stop working and living in the outside world, in their so-called existence, and only write, and write, and write to you. I will describe how you look in every state and what it does to me when I look at you in every state, and I will sap myself of my essences, pour them into you until I am completely drained. A hanged man ejaculates in his last moment. I read about it once, and it has excited me ever since, a last will and testament of the body and soul together; this is exactly the kind of conversation I want between us, because we will die on each other in a few monthsyou refuse to even listen to me about this, the "guillotine" turning your gutsbut, to me, it is the heart and soul of our relationship, maybe because what is happening between us would never happen during the complete life of an ordinary couple-we can have the nectar of Queen's Honey and the blood of our rawest essence together at the same timeyou are starting to feel it now, but I knew it from the beginning.
I thought the story of the retarded girl would put you offbut you, as usual, come and touch me, without gloves. So what, then? You, in no way, would ever want to redeal your cards and mine, but rather the opposite? Is that what truly attracts you to me, the fact that I don't have a full deck?
Well, fine, goodbut touch me only in writing, leave me writtenand I hope we both can have the power to fight off the barbed temptations of reality a little longer. Sex, not religion, is the opiate of the masses; and when we meetbecause eventually, we will surrenderI'm feeling a bit fragile todaythe heat is melting my most firm resolve. I hopewe won'tbut perhaps in two or three weeks, if not tonight, we canthis predatory attack inflaming me hereIt's that skirt you bought. You slipped it on, and had a body, your body, that body I almost succeeded in forgetting was resurrected in a blink, your legs moved inside your skirt, pretty and freshdon't say, even as a joke, that "I forgot I even had legs"and I remembered the curves of your ankles and finally grasped the secret conspiracy between the shape of a woman's ankles and the back of her neck ...
It's clear to you, isn't it? We will eventually surrender. When the sad, thick, heavy sweetness, the nectar of autumn, falls in layers in our heartsYair has begun to poetize, the nectar of summer is quite active in me today as well. Oh well, how long can you continue turning come into ink aloneand it is only your black-framed glasses that keep me from writing exactly what is going on in my head at this moment, nowand at what precise times I do picture you, and howdressed, undressed, in the orange skirt with the side slit, the orange T-shirt that clings and caresses you when you are standing up, lying down, wildly, sweetly, in my car, your thin ankles clasped like a necklace around my backI am dying for such a miracle to happen, for you to pop up in front of me in the street by chance
Where were we?
I have no idea how to get up from my desk in front of my secretary, a nice little Beit Ya'akov Orthodox School graduate. You are probably asking yourself, What the hell does he want from me? Why is he driving me and himself crazy in this wayI have no idea. I just want it so much right now that it hurts. On the other hand, I'm so convinced that we shouldn't dip even one toe into realityeverything will melt and evaporate into a clichéall the delicate, transparent webs from which we have woven ourselves, all this ephemeral beauty will be ground into flesh all of a sudden, and will be lost, one-two-three! Believe me. You can tell that I know whereof I speakand I'm telling you, we will exist only in limbo, the space between useven though, in your opinion, we have nothing to hide, not even from your loving husband. I can absolutely not understand that part. Why hurt him? Why the humiliation? He has already been betrayed and cheated in every possible way by everything we have togetherwithout his knowledge, he has already been betrayed, robbed by the law of the preservation of joy in natureI have to stop here again. Ashipment has arrived. Ah, all the times life has to pass through a coffee spout. I'll continue this evening. I do actually want to continue to talk about this
I cannot believe it. I am sitting here simply refusing to believe what you have done to me.
What are you, a psychic? Do you have X-ray vision? What if that was the most wonderful letter I ever wrote to you? And aren't you curious in the slightest? Have you no simple feminine curiosity? How could you withstand the temptation? (Or is it no temptation to you at allme, that is?)
I am trying to understand exactly what happened, how, exactly, your gears work: you received the morning letter, full of excitement over the summer and your new happiness, the one you read. But the letter I sent you later in the evening continuing the conversationand it was, by the way, a tremendously funny letter, hilarious, evenyou decided, for some reason, to return to me closed and sealed. Why? Because of what? The heat of the pages you felt through the envelope? The angle by which I wrote your name on the outside? And if I had sent you my soul, wrapped up in there, what then? Would you have sent that back as well?
Your arrogance exasperates me. You're terribly tough, have I ever told you that? Tough in a way that is unpleasant, even unfeminine! You know, I could tell from your first lettersbut at that point your totality and the extreme seriousness with which you responded to everything I said and what was going on between usI actually liked it. Then. And now it is as if the water level has sunk, revealing the rock beneath.
And your inflexible clinging to principles! "Even a whisper from that place hurts me, pains me like betrayal, and I have to protect myself from it ..." Betrayal, nothing less! One could think that we had signed some kind of mutual pact committing us to life and death, and not simply corresponded!
Listenwhat you've done is not so simple. And the more I think about it, the more I feel that it is you who have betrayed me. You, who amused herself for a few months with the harmless clown twitching near you; my letters were nothing more than a petit bourgeois turn-on for you, the secret flirtations of a decent housewifebut when it got too close, toohot, when you suddenly started to feel any emotion, a living, existing thump, you got scared and started screaming help! I am reading the little spermicidal note you attached to my sealed envelope, and simply cannot believe: now, after three months, it occurs to you to accuse me of always flirting, not with you, really, but with some "permanent temptation of dishonesty" that is in me. An "internal Don Juan complex"?! You, in general, use such anachro-puritan expressions I could die. I'm shocked you didn't write "Le Don du Juan"!
And how! And with what confidence you allowed yourself to determine that even if I wanted to get rid of my (automatic!) yielding to temptation, it probably wouldn't let go of me, and that I take a constant mutated pleasure in mocking and making ugly everything truly precious and pure around me.
Is it because of what I wrote toward the end of the first letter? It is, isn't it? That remark about your husband, right? I imagine so. You clenched in front of me in that momentI could feel myself stepping into your allergic regions. Fine. I'm sorry. Watch melook, I'm apologizing! I'll write a testimonial: your husband is not humiliated, not betrayed, robbed, or in any way hurt by the Law of the Preservation of Happiness in Nature. There it is, there you have it, signed over to you with the print of my criminal finger.
And it's truewhat do I really know about him? What, in fact, do I know about the both of you and what you are to each other? And you're right (in general, Miriam, you are completely in the right), because what do I know about relationships that do not operate according to the normal laws of territorial battle and war over each millimeter of the other's soul, to solely constantly surrender or be surrendered?
And what do you knowabout Pegasus and mermaids and the common unicorn?
No, I have to hear from you: can you stand the pain of meeting the amateur Don Juan that I am? Is he not one of the "shuffled cards"? Is he not in need of "compassion" or "mending"? Sometimes I think, Perhaps you should have met only him. Perhaps he was the only one who could make you tremble with laughter and pleasure and breach the hardware of your principality.
Perhaps it is this you find so hard to accept. That I truly, innocently,in every line I wrote you, never offered you a clichéd love affair, or aexcuse mefuck! Maybe this was the unforgivable insult that lit the spark and suddenly aroused that exemplary girl, the good queen of the class, who never let herself run wild and burn through all her polite fire?
She is the one who is so very offended right now, because again (as it was then, maybe?), the "boy" shows that he's interested in her only as a "friend," to talk with and to consult with, or to whisper in her ears his love and passionnone of which is for her! For someone elsefor the shameless, lemony beauty of the summer? For the evil queen?
What do you know, Miriam, perhaps the present boy, twenty-something years later, began to suspect a kind of hollow sound in that proud statement of yours, that you do not, do not get scared by true passion in your feelings and relationships. That, on the contrary, on the contrary, this passion is the flesh of your heart, the heart of your life ...
Whom are you cheating?
This might be my last letter. Read it carefully: it's half past three, the middle of the night, and I am in my car, and everything has already happeneddon't ask me what I did. If this doesn't help melt your hard heart, I'll simply throw my hands up in the air and renounce you. And myself as well. I know, it's a shame. SHAME!!!
Could you hear that? You have no idea how close I am to you now. I mean, close. Outside your house. I've spent this entire night no more than twenty meters from you, approaching and retreating, and I was like the tiger who prowled around you in wide circles in your dream, but I am a tiger losing his mind from the despair of not devouring you in the one way he is used to.
MiriamI ran around you tonight.
That's it. Seven times around your house, on that little road surrounding your group of houses.
Your success in releasing me from my own mind in this way (you will soon hear how).
Cigarette. My head is like a hive. The car stinks. Smoke sticks in arabesques to the windshield. Just thinking that I am so close to yourkitchen, from which you write to me, so close to the fluorescent light that trembles a little, the wooden owl on which you write all your "to-dos" and immediately forget. Even to your gecko, Bruria, who comes down to do her work exactly at midnight.
I am here. The whole world is sleepingshh, rapists snuggling, murderers cuddling in their beds, and only me in the whole night, around you. .I'm scared to tell you what else I did. Just tell me, are you starting to feel something? Are you turning and tossing in your sleep, incapable of understanding what is flowing up within you? It's memy madness is starting to affect you, foaming in waves around you; I practiced a pure religious ritual around you tonight, I circled Jericho seven times tonight, how did you not hear me gasping for breath? I hadn't run like that in years, not since military training; my flaccid muscles, my body, which understood long ago that great pleasures wouldn't come to it from our association. But I wanted it to sufferhear me, I ran around you, I saw your house from all four sides, including the rusty gate and the bicycle that is leaning on the big tree in the yard and the bougainvillea shade. Your house is very small, it looks like a cabin covered in stone, a little run-down. The garden is almost bare, Miriam, there is one window broken in the back. Everything is very different from how you described it, and suddenly I thinkwhat was it you said about your little family most likely not expanding?
And at one point a light turned on in your house, and my soul almost left my body in fear and hope that it was you, how I prayed it was you standing in the window, looking out into the darknessWho is running like thismy God, I can't believe it, I must be dreamingand you would suddenly understand, in one look, you would see everything I am, Don Juan, a stranger, a man walking a tightrope, and that confused soul writing to you; you would look into me and say, Come, Froggy, come, all of you.
Luckily for me, you didn't come out. You would have fainted if you had seen me this way, in my special condition. You would have thought it was just a pervert, a normal poor old pervert, surrenderingly paying his taxes to the bureaucratic gears of his glands. You would call the police, or even worse, your husband, who would beat the hell out of me, a man like that could eat three of me for breakfast.
You probably can't read my handwriting, it is even more disturbed than usual. By the way, I've asked my mother and you were right, they reallydid force me to write with my right hand instead of the left. How did you know? How do you know me better than I know myself? Look at me. Sitting in the car and shivering, and knowing that I have never done anything so complete for anyone. I don't know what else to do, to make you believe that what I offered you I have never offered anyone else, no one. And I knew, from the first moment, that I didn't want a little story on the side with you, I wanted a story. Perhaps you know what it is in scientific literaturethe name for such a clear, burning will, the strange perversion, this need a person has to tell his story to one particular person and no one else. This is so strong in me, toward you. A section of my brain came back to life because of youat the back, on the left side, behind my earit stretches and opens when I think: Miriam. And it is the same location of the reveries and dreams I had as a child. I spent most of my childhood there, underneath the ice. It has been years since I've been able to go thereI had even forgotten the way. What did you call it? The "memory-shredders." Exactly. But I could remember just one thingno stranger was ever allowed inside there, under no circumstances could anyone know I had such a section in my braindon't forget, I am a person born to parentswho, until the age of eighteen, lived in a family, family as principle and family as death camp
I'm scattered, this isn't what I wanted.
I am cold. Even though it is Julycold. When I ran, my whole skin crystallized with frost from the cold. And it was, by the way, completely different from the dance in the Mt. Carmel forest. There, everything was light and heatand here, I was diving into a deep darkness, my skin couldn't hold everything raging inside me. Tonight, I felt myself crossing my borders. I know what's going through your mind right now: the watershed of darkness. True. A language already is being born, it's good, but look how my emotions toward you make me fall apart, and that is exactly the opposite of what I have with Maya, so why should I have it at all?
Especially in the last three laps, when I suddenly understood what I needed to do and why I really came here tonight. Don't think I didn't have a moment of hesitationbut it lasted no more than a moment, and I said, To hell with it, what are you worth if you won't do this for her? You've decided to give everything that was created in you because of herto her, and I tried to argue with it, save myselfWhat if someone passes by and sees me like this, and calls the police, who arrest me? Then I laughed at myselfI've been a prisoner all my life, so why be afraid now? And so I sat in the car and took my clothes off, one piece after the other, and the shoes and the socks, and then I was already a different person. It happened to me in the space of a few seconds, such a short border to crossone moment you're dressed, and the next: flesh, animal, less than an animal, as if the skin had peeled off you with your clothes, the epidermis, and the entire pile of skin underneath it. I left the car and felt how, all of a sudden, the entire night was attracted to me, came to me from the far ends of the valley, like to new prey, a new kind of prey you don't even have to skin. It practically surrounded me, the night, clinging to me with violence, to every part of my bodyI have never felt anything like this in my life, this abnormal fear, mixed with pleasure, and a little embarrassment, because it invaded each and every hole, this bastard night. It bit and chewed up pieces of me and went away with them, into the dark. And suddenly three dogs appeared, huge, as if from some Scottish folk song. I thought I was having a stroke. The kind of dogs used to lead the blind, I think; they stood and barked at me, angry, scolding barks. They shamed me, can you imagine it, I was ashamed in front of them, not as a personas an animal; I was ashamed in front of them, like an inferior dog. Can you understand that? Could you tell anyone this? That when I started running, they were suddenly silent; even worse, they began to retreat, move away from me whimpering quietly, and disappeared into the darkness, and I was left completely alone. Only me, with myself. And it wasn't very pleasant company. I was probably the most alone I have ever been. Do you know what I did then? I smelled my armpit, and found the smell of writing you, and I thought I was probably making the right mistake for myself for once. And I started running.
Here, I'm telling you everything: I was running slowly, so that anybody who wished to catch me could, because I got excitedsomehow, nobody can catch me anymore! Even if somebody caught my body, I would remain free. I made three complete circles around you this way, and I discovered that when you run naked, the coldest places of all are behind your ears, around your neck, at your waist, and behind your knees. And the whole time I was running, I was thinking in my heart, Here I am before you, Miriam, here I am before you. Perhaps you heard something in your dreamsit was my nudity shouting, it was my body,screaming with panic at what I was doing to it. If you had come outside, you would have seen how I led myself, how my soul, suddenly freed, was, for the first time, walking my body. Leading it in front of your window, showing you how pathetic and unnecessary and meaningless it is in the story we are. And how wholesale it is, my body, the cheapest part of me, the thing I don't want to pollute you with.
Already, in the first few naked steps, I felt it happenI am finally freed, suddenly I am just my soul, flying free and thin and glowingit returned, and I saw my body running after me, graceless and foolish and alien, running, stumbling after me, choking with anger, trying to jump forward and catch me every once in a while, reel me back in, but I am elusive, wilyeven my own body cannot catch me, and with every step it became clearer who I am, and what it is: just a slave. Then it was a monkey, and then a clump of earth, no more than that, which rose up on two legs and growled, and I condemned it in front of your window, and presented it as a sacrifice in exchange for the lies and the pollution with which I sometimes infect you, the opaque wave rising every timethere is a bag full of bitter liquid deep down in my throat expressly for that purpose. And it splits open when you're good to me. I don't know why it is this way. I hope I never write any more letters like that one. I can't promise you that yetas I was writing it, I knew it was not a good letter, that it would cut you where you are the most sensitive. You were right not to open it. It is a good thing you have such a sixth sense about me. But you should know that I wrote it in this way also on purpose, to hurt you, scratch you, splash around in it in front of your eyes, and to prove to youthat's it, Miriam, that's the bitter, shitty seedto prove to you, for instance, that I am still free of you, yes, that I am still capable of quickly returning to who I was before you, the person who has not yet been diluted by a single drop of youto take revenge on you a little for my own traitorousness.
And also, because of this mad reversal, that I continuously feel as if you are somehow more loyal to me than I am.
It's starting to grow light. I am already back at home (don't worrydressed). Sitting in my car and writing. Can't stop. I will soon go inside, and prepare a grand breakfast for everyone, with omelets and cornflakes and a salad I will cut from the remains of my conscience. You have noidea what kind of story I had to invent so as not to be at home for a whole night.
And to think I did it-I hope I don't sound cheerful or proud of my daring to you, I don't even know what I'm feeling. Only that, at this moment, the healthiest thing for me is not to know anything, not to think about running as I did, that it was me, running there at night, that stain.
Just one more minute. Yesterday, before I left, I read Tales from Moominvalley to Ido as I was putting him to sleep. I don't know if you know it-I read him the part where Moomintroll, one of the creatures, hides in a big hat that completely transforms his shape. All his friends playing with him run away in fear. Then Moomintroll's mother enters the roomshe looks at him and asks him, Who are you? He begs her with his look to recognize him, because if she doesn't know him, how will he live? Then she looks at this creature, who doesn't at all resemble her beloved child, and she says quietly, "It's my Moomintroll." All of a sudden, a miraclethe way he looks changes, the stranger peels off and drops away from him, and he returns to being himself.
Now it's all up to youI am leaving the matter in your hands.
At first I had no idea what I was reading: I was searching, of course, for some response to my night run (I was, specifically, looking for exclamation points after words like "enough," "crazy," and "go away"), and in the meantime, my eyes became trapped in loops and buttons and hooks and embroidery and trim and other props of feminine ritual, some of whichI didn't even know their names (what is organza? what is voile?). But I immediately surrendered and began mumbling after you ... cashmere wool vest, purple blouse with bellflowers, the white one with square wooden buttons ...
You can probably guess what I said to myself while I was reading itthat it's impossible, a woman would never do such a thing, no woman I know would do such a thing. But you know that, don't you?
And the plain dresses and the fancy ones, those that cover you and those that reveal you (I can't help but chew on this for longer, it gives me so much pleasure), and the classically cut one with the open back, and the femme fatale, and the purple with the round collarI figured out that purple is generally your colorthe one that feels like silk but is not silk, very airy, and clings only to your chest, and the rest of it touches you but is not quite touching (don't disturb me, we're focusing here!)and the other purple with a boatneck open from shoulder to shoulder that falls this way on your bottom and thighs ...
I'm reading this and laughing because, for me, clothes are the fastest way to hide myself, and I truly feel that, for you, clothing is another living layer of your being. Even though you are incapable of giving up some noises of complaintsomewhat artificial, if you ask me. It seems there are still some conventions you're committed to, the posh grousing over your fat thighs, the search for one perfect dress that will draw attention to your chest and obscure your hips (I have no idea what you're complaining about, lady, from a frankly exploring look, your ass looks wonderful to me, two cheeks of soft, glowing moonsdo me a favor and leave this business to the experts).
Can I hold you and caress you a little longer?
There was a moment I thought you were mocking meI'm always on guard for that possibilitybut I was not tempted by the thoughtand immediately I return, sinking into cataloguing magic. What little bird revealed that I am completely helpless in the face of the magic of Bureaucracyunconscious, smiling stupidly to myself, I cocooned myself in all the silk webs surrounding your skinsilk and cotton and wool and lace and embroidery and satin and muslinthe one you made for your high school graduation dance, with the shining trim embroidered in DMC thread (how can you remember such things? I can't remember what I wore yesterday!), and it's impossible, I'm telling you againno normal woman would, in this manner, in this state of pure fetal innocence, give up all her little secrets. No normal woman would serve up to me, with such an amused practicality, her bras (leave two of those for me, the ones with lace on the top, for my next life); they, by the way, delighted me in their complete simplicity, a little anachronistic alongside the temptations of our current marketoh, my girl with the fifties face, it won't help you one bit.
But best of all, I liked the smile you wore when you wrote this (did you notice it?), it's a new smile between us, that of a woman occupied with some private, intimate feminine craftand even though the action itself doesn't excite her especially, she already knows the pleasure it will bring her and her man when they come together, because of her little preparations, this kind of private purification.
It suddenly occurs to me
You wrote the entire letter completely naked.
July 16 (evening)
Here I am in front of you, you said.
You know, I'm slow sometimes to get it.
Upon my first reading, I thought you were offering me your clothes to cover up my nuditybut this kind of logic doesn't suit you. On the contrary. After that, I thought it was a very original invitation to temptation, odd, a little funny, a little clumsy. A verbal striptease. But even if that was how you started writing the letter, the tone of your voice slowly changed.
Here is nudity, you say (at least this is how I'm reading it right now), nudity which is not like a knife and not like a wound. Exposed nudity, vulnerable, a little ashamed and merciful. Like yours exactly, the imperfect nudity of a woman my age. Look, you tell me my nudity is a little unsure of itself, my body is being assisted along by all kinds of little tricks to conceal its defectsbut is willing to immediately give up those tricks for whoever wishes to look upon it with an appreciative eye.
Here is nudity that uses clothes (you keep saying?), blouses, dresses, bras, belts, in the same way people use words, "their" words, but you can come and touch, feel it; here is nudity that can also heal.
Miriam, twenty times a day I tell myself, She really, truly wants to help you. It's a wonder to me, because deep in my heart I still don't know what you see in me, it is hard for me to believe that this is happening to me, you and me. Us. Tell me, just once, what am I capable of giving you? What do I give you? And what about me arouses you in this wayto me? Sometimes I actually argue with myself, shouting to myself: At least help her to help you! Come and stand in front of her as you are, in the open. Without all your games and your guillotines. What are you so afraid of, read what she is writing, it is so clear ...
And more than that. Even when I only tryright nowto think of that place in my brain without you, without your eyes reading meit immediately seals off to me, cools down, shrivels up. This is exactly what happened when you returned my letter to me, sealed, without reading it. I froze. I thought to myself, This is it, you're doomed. You wrote to me, not long ago, that if anyone either refuses or rejects a strong emotion of yours, you feel as if he is nullifying you, practically killing you; at that moment, the expression struck me as overwroughtbut when you returned my letter, and I thought you didn't want me anymore, didn't want the feelings of me, of me-to-you, I understood the precise meaning of your "nullifying": I had a few hours in which I actually ran around inside the hollow of my head and couldn't find that place, or the way to it, and knew that it was starting to die again, and I was afraid that if you didn't want to be there with me, I could never find the way alone.
I know I'm babbling here, but I also know you understand. Who, if not you? You told me a bit about the bad years, the years of internal Siberia from your first marriage. I don't know exactly what happened to you there, but you described how you felt your very existence sucking all the flavor out of your "private ore" because there was no demand for it in the world, no one even knew it was possible to ask it of you ... You wrote three or four sentences like that. And you then, all of a sudden, gave me a name. You named the ore that I am; only by touching me, you catalyzed the process of it, my ore started changing color and temperature and density, and the contrast of its molecular structure, noble, elevatedwith what had been its basenesswhat else can I say?
You revealed to me so courageously, openly and courageously, that if you weren't so sure I would eventually return to you, you would have already broken things off with me. I know, but deep inside, I am also scared that you won't make it, I want to help you terribly and am incapable of doing so. Understand this, I am incapable by law, my screwed-up law systemsomething lame there in the white empty spot in the center of being, somebody is lying very dead. I am allowed only to watchyour heroic attempts at resuscitation, like a helpless spectator, no more, and pray that you won't give up.
Just a scribble on a café table. Mainly for the pleasure of sending you something from Tel Aviv. I had some business here today in the North around Bet Lessin, and I finished early, and instead of going straight back home, I walked around a little and thought how much fun it would be if you were here with me.
Not to do anything particularly daringjust to walk with you, hand in hand, and sit together in a caféI even ordered two coffees, black.
It's nice to relax with you this way. You sometimes complain that I am pushing too hard, as if there is some kind of "goal" I am desperate to reach with you ("You're alert, you're always on the verge of readiness").
Apple cake? With cream and to-hell-with-the-diet? All right, one plate, two forks. The waitress smiles and people are looking, let them look, you put your hand on mine and we talk delightful nonsense. You pull your dress up a little and show me your shoes under the table, and you ask me whether to buy another pair like these in a dark orangesporty, aren't they? I feel like splurging on shoes, you say, and I swallow your long, fair legs with my eyes and say, Why not? They'll suit youwill you let me pay for them? You're smiling at me, asking me if I still hate your glasses so much, and I consider them, thoroughly, for just a moment
(My heart simply burned to a cinder this instant, when I recognized the trap that awaits me in your face between those glasses and those lipsbut still, they're too big and too serious ...)
You're letting me blather on, and you stroke my hand. And I askand you say no. And I ask you again, and you tell me that you already told me twice. Told me what? I sass back at you, and you sigh and tell me again how you succeeded in finding that Chinese girl you knew years ago at university, and how she helped you locate the address of the newspaper in Shanghai. And I'm looking at you and swallowing every word from your beautiful lipshow is it that I didn't come up with such a wonderful idea? I should have thought of something like that.
You have no idea how much your explanation pleases methat onlythe two of us, out of a billion Israelis, will receive this newspaper once a week. And I am reciting you, soundlessly, with my lips: "Why, even 'four billion Chinese' require double-checking," and we both laugh about you and about me, Mir Yam and Ya Ir.
Listen to thisa little girl asked her father a moment ago to make his lowest sound. He produced this kind of "baaa," strong, like a bulland immediately, from all ends of the café, rose the similar voices of all the men trying theirs ...
What do you think? Of course I did it, too.
Do you, by any chance, know the name of those trees with red blossoms? And who was Bet Lessin named after? First, tell me how you used to play with Anna when you were a teenager. But I already told you all about that as well. So, why do you mind telling me about it again? Actuallyright now, I can't remember if I already told you about our trips to Haifa, to visit Bayer's Note Shop on Herzl Street in Beit ha-Kranot? (You did, but I remain silent.) I did write to you about the beautiful book of music we bought there, thoughwith Chopin's Impromptus and Schubert's Military MarchesI just can't remember if I was playing the melody or the harmonybut hold on, that's enough, I know I told you all that! Well, yes, you did, but you never told me about it in Tel Aviv, and not while wearing that purple dress (with a very tight bodice, almost see-through, and the skirt made ofhold me back, the voile!). And besides, I like hearing you say "mew-ssic," until you I always pronounced the word "muzic." Really, I didn't notice. Sure; you also pronounce "Parisian" "Parician"or a "physsical thing." (I have the evidenceit's all written down!) Oh, Yair, you can't imagine what a physsical thing I am saying now ...
Or maybe Anna will appear, by chance, passing by in one of her dazzling straw hats, and we will invite her to sit with us. She'll sit down, her legs will barely reach the ground, and she'll appraise us with that sassy look, shifting her eyes from you to me, and will understand everything. Not one word will be said, but everything that ought to be known will be, and I will feel as if I've been accepted into some small, selective club. Perhaps I won't even be afraid that we have a partner in our secret, becauseas you keep telling meyou can trust Anna. (But don't tell her yet.)
I envy you for having such a friend, a soul mate.
Me? Do I? The same kind of friend as Anna is to you? I wish. There are all sorts of substitutes, from the army, work; if you combine all of them, they might amount to something near it.
There used to be one. It's over. It's a shame.
(What a sun, Miriam, what a wonderful sun, I'm closing my eyes in front of it, trying to see you.)
A letter still has not arrived. I went to the box again, on my way home, and there wasn't any. I don't know what's with me today, I've been running restlessly since morning, as if some part of me, an internal organ, is wandering alone in the world and I have no clue what's going on with it.
It's the middle of the night and I am completely awake. I've been enjoying a little sleep disorder for a few weeks now. Maya bought me sleeping pills, and I throw them down the toilet and tell her nothing helps. Want to sleep. Want not to sleep. As you said, the nights are our time together.
(And I'm being asked why I am so awake at night, and what I am writing all the time. My explanation isn't so very far from the truthI'm telling her that, for the first time, I'm trying to write a story.)
The day before yesterday, in the coffeehouse in Tel Aviv, just in that moment of glamour and sunshine, a kind of dark, elemental thought that has been wandering through me for a while now suddenly rephrased itselfthat I am some kind of "black twin." I mean (do you understand? Should I elaborate?)one who killed his twin in the womb. I know you're not laughing at this thoughtit has always been with me, ever since my very early childhood, like a shadowthat I am a little cracked in my being, I was damaged and wounded beyond repair because I strangled my twin in the womb. Who was he? I don't know. Why must I have killed him? I don't know. The thought itself always remains fetal for me. He was only a very tiny, shiny little body; I see him surrounded with a yellow or golden glow, some kind of little enwombed body, yet divine and glowing. I mean, a quiet, continuous, uninterrupted, beaming light emanated from him. And I killed him.
It depresses me, now that I wrote it down here.
Sometimes I'm sorry that you and I didn't meet in some other way, a simpler way; we could have started with some magnetic flirtation and then, only afterward, slowly begun to discover all the rest. Imagine that.
I wish we could be together in a simple place now, I don't care wherein an everyday place, a healthy place where people just meet. In the street. In an office. In a public park, wherever you like, wherever your breath is full: just to be, without uttering a single word, even if it is just a vegetable market, as you once mocked me by saying.
Do you know what I do sometimes? I press down on my eyeballs with my fists and watch the sparkles. You once told me that this is how you comforted yourself when you were a child, in your Josephan pit. You produced light from yourself. I don't feel abandoned right now, not at all, but I do feel as if I'm missing a part.
Here's the store, you see? A little vegetable market, like there used to be in the old days, cardboard and wooden boxes, old scales and black iron weights.
And there you are, how good of you to be here. Standing with your back to me. Your head is bent a little over something, and I see your fair neck, with its long, delicate gradation of bones. You're standing by the sweet potatoes. As simple as can be. You're holding something in your hands. What is it? A very large potato, with a little dirt stuck to it. And you're staring at it as if you were hypnotized. What happens next? I haven't a clue. Whatever will be written back to me.
I'm passing by you, behind you, once, again, approaching and retreating, approaching again, attracted to you. I can't understand why you are so enthralled by a potato.
You're standing in the middle of the little store, you don't see the other customers, you don't hear the buses rumbling in the street, farting black smoke. All alone, focused so deeply on yourself. What is going on there, inside you? What do you have there, inside you? Take me with you, pleasehide me in there as well. And I, left on the outside, jealous of the yams. I rudely peek into your hands and can see that it looks a little bit like a human face, the apple of the earth.
And now what? I don't have a clue, I'm just floating toward you.
You notice I'm looking at you and smile with embarrassment; your painful smile, which I can feel even through your words. Always. As if every time, again, it needs to tear its way through your nerves.
Smiling, and shrugging your shoulders in an apology, with the expression of someone caught doing something inappropriate, forgetting that it is everything around you that is inappropriate. With a wave of your hand, you motion to the others in the box, as if suggesting that I should choose one, too. I bow, and find myself in front of a pile of strange, ugly, twisted faces that at once, with no explanation, break my heart.
Suddenly filth starts peeling off me, thick scabs of it falling off my body. How much of an animal I had become, Miriam, how rough, how filthy. How I was polluted.
We're both silent. At this point, not a single word has passed between us. People are crowding all around uswe're blocking the aisle and they grumble. Never mind, we have a right to it, you said it at the beginning of all thisactually, it happened when you decided that this thing between you and me has a right to exist. I was so moved by that, when you gave yourself permission to be completely free with your feelings toward me.
You look at me, surprised that I'm not hurrying to pick up a potato from the pile. I stand and look at you a little. And then, as if you suddenly recognized something in my gaze, something I myself don't see, truly don't see ityou reach out both of your hands and deliver the potato unto mine. I touch it lightly, not more than that, it's still warm from your touch, it's as warm as if it were human, and I make myself look straight into its mongoloid angel's face, with its two wide, blemished cheeks, its eyes deep and black. Deep in a blind dream. It's a burden.
Why did you choose it? Why are you delivering it to me? I want to wake up, but not to lose you. And if I wake, I won't be with you in this way any longer. I look straight into your hands. I see.
Strange, Miriam, but this is what has written itself, from me to you. I'm not certain where it came from and why I am suddenly so depressed. As if I had just received some bad news. It's completely senseless. I'm thinking about how much I wanted to make you laugh. And look what happens to me, I eventually createthis.
I'm not sure I like it, this Law of Communicating Vessels which keeps all our waters level with one another.
Shall we begin to correspond?
Just to let you know that I'm sitting behind your pages in complete silence, listening to you, and there is no way you are too heavy for me. Nor are you a burden. And certainly not too heavy to contain.
Because I'm already inside you, MiriamI'm finally inside your story.
You, from the first moment, were more right than I wasthe facts and details of your every day are your life, not "a mob."
I can't stop thinking about what you said, that you have spent your entire life trying to turn what I call the "sweating mob" into something that is more. Because if you give up this struggle for even one hour, you yourself will immediately be transformed into a mob.
How do you do it?
I have the strong feeling that you are awake right now as well. Perhaps your dogs are jostling each other around you, nervous, asking each other, Why is she awake at such an hour? A decent woman should be asleep at such an hour. Not running back and forth between the balcony and the kitchen in the middle of the night. Did you really sniff their fur for traces of my scent? I told you, my soul almost left my body forever out of fear of them.
Don't notice me. Mumbling, napping on your shoulder, half dreaming. After these insane days I have the right to a little sleepy chat.
I close my eyes and see a woman sitting by a table, writing. Night, and the fluorescent light in her kitchen buzzes above her. She turns it off and turns on a little lamp. Her face dips into the light as she leans forward, I can see only her strong jawline, her living, fragile mouth, her yearning mouth; and of course her messy hair, which she constantly tries to tame with rubber bands and combs and pins that always fall out. An open letter is lying on the table. She glances at it every once in a while, and goes back to writing, quickly, agitatedly; the excitement licks her like tongues of fire rising around herand for a moment, it probably frightened her, because she tries to make a joke and save herselfTell me, where haveyou seen any woman with the time to stand in a vegetable market these days concentrating profoundly on a potato?! But her lips are starting to tremble. She writes somethingand erases it with all her strength, she has never erased anything so violently in all her other letters, and she stands up, and sits back down, announces that she has to go outside now and take a little walk. She stays. She tries to recruit a few more of the troops of her artificial anger, so she can distance herself from the page; she actually incites herself into a fiery rageand you should know, it is very important that you know that a woman in a vegetable market, at least this woman, is always one big ball of anger when she goes shopping!
And while writing those words, she bursts into tears that wet the page, and she writes me her story, fifteen pages, almost without lifting her pen once, and only by the end can she breathe again, even laugh a little, circle one tearstain"Look, like a nineteenth-century romance novel."
Remember howright at the beginning of thiswhen you were experiencing a moment of complete exhaustion from me, you asked, Are you always like this? A flaming, revolving sword? Even in your everyday life? With everyone? And you were asking me how I could live like that within a family, and if Maya has a similar rhythm, or perhaps I need somebody who is completely the opposite of me to calm me down.
This is exactly what I would ask you now: Are you always like this? How do all these attacks find room in your tiny house? And how were you able to hold all this back until now? I'm thinking about the woman I saw that evening in the schoolyard, and about the one who has been shaking me up for four months now, and I can only laugh at myself and at my own stupidity.
I have nothing to add right now. I only wanted you to know that I understand now, and I am experiencing something I didn't believe in when you told me about itthe feeling of joy and sorrow together, and exactly from the same place, just as you promised. You asked me what I see in you now that I know everything. I would have to write ten letters to describe everything I see ... I will probably write them slowly; but now, I mean, at sixteen minutes to twoI only see one who, at the end of a long night of writing, rests her forehead against mine, with a terrible fatiguethat has collected in her, over years, probablyshe looks into my eyes and tells me that, with that potato, I touched her with a direct, correct touch, in the place inside her where she is completely mute.
I too will be quiet now. Good night.
I have been telling myself, constantly, how good it was that I never asked anyone about you! Because when you asked me at the beginning to hear all the stories about you only from you, that no story about you that I hear should be, or turn into, "gossip," I pretty much smiled to myself (what kinds of dirty stories can this one have to hide from me?).
And I still insist on being pleased that I succeeded in persuading you not to meet in the fleshbody to body and ashes to ashesbecause I have no doubt that if we had met, we never could have known each other in this way. Because I would have had to seduce you immediately, to know you through my usual ignorant path to knowledge, a merchant bartering for perfumes and spices. Think what we would have lost, and what we would never have known.
I'm not talking about the facts. I would have discovered those facts, the real, the everyday, even if we had a short but intense flirtation. You would have told me. You would have had to. Even as a part of the bureaucracy of adultery, I would have had to know them. But then I would never have known this sadness I am feeling right now, which I have been living with and holding on to for a couple of days now (mixed with a kind of longing, which I can't quite understand).
It isn't only sadness. Everything about you, every emotion you arouse in me, caresses me day and night, fresh and new, and presses itself to me with its entire surface, and with the fullness of its breasts.
When I told you about the private language I wanted to share with Ido, you responded that you want every piece of earth, every drop of water in the sea or flickering moment of a candle to have a private name of its own. I liked you so much in that moment. Maybe because it was the first time I saw how capable you were of drifting into your imagination: why, in the middle of the sentence, you began daydreaming about a world in which all the people in it would spend their days busily naming, naming, naming all the animals, vegetables, and minerals; naming wouldbecome the true essence of humanity. And you pulled me after you, hand in hand through your garden, from a single stalk of a weed to a single grain of soil, to a water drop and a beetle, as you gave each a funny private namebut I couldn't understand what you were really saying to me then (How little I understood of you), and only can now, now that I know something about the years during which you prayed that every tree would be called only "Tree" and every flower"Flower." The years in which "to feel" was, for you, the same as "to live above your means." I think I'm grasping what you are actually telling methat perhaps you are finally starting to heal.
I don't know what my connection is to all this, and if I have contributed anything to this recovery. But it moves me to think that I am close to you as it is happening, because I think it has been a long time, a very, very long time, since someone was living through something so good when I was around.
I forgot the most important thing: in the name of whomever you want to make me swear to (with a festive seriousness that I think only exists in treaties between countries or pacts between children), in the name of your actually buying those dark orange sneakers (!), in the name of Amir Gilboah's I Will Send You like a Doe, which you bought yourself as a gift from meand especially in the name of your going and ordering new glassesI swear to guard you as a friend.
I thought that in Hebrew
No, this is too formal.
This morning, in the garagemaybe because you use the word so oftenthe thought came to my mind that motherhood, imahut, sounds like i-mahut, nonexistent, as in "i-mmaterial" or "i-rregular." I can imagine that there are more than a few mothers who feel that their child empties them of themselves, sucks out their insides. But between you and Yokhai
Hey ... that was the first time I wrote his name. His name is spreading through the whole of my mouth and my brain like the first momentafter tasting honey (with an added bitter sting). I could actually see him. And you with him. This wonder child, who is so full of the joy of living that people fall in love with him everywhere he goes
I'm reading what you're telling me about him, and I can feel your motherhood in my body, like a warm spring rising and flooding from me to him, milky, pouring out. And how you wrap him up, surround him with infinite love. I swear, I was watching it through a magnifying glass and couldn't find even a trace of bitterness inside you about what happened to him, nor any anger at him.
When we were in the middle of our quickies, you once asked how it is possible for a person to start his life over and over again, just as a reply to another person's call. I understood that question, as I reread you the day before yesterday. Not just "understood": something deep inside my body moved a little, deep inside, beat in my body to you. (And then I remembered, of course, what Anna said; how, during her pregnancy, her heart moved to the pulse in her womb.)
Waiting for your letter,
Yes, that is what I wrote. I am sorry, I wasn't thinking (but if I explain myself, it might hurt even more).
First of all, you are rightit really does make you think, doesn't it, how this combination of words could come out of meaccidentallyas something that doesn't even demand proof or an explanation"anger at him," as if it were some natural law.
Perhaps it is because I can easily imagine parents who would have been angry at their child even under much less extreme circumstances. Whom else are you going to blamewhom else is there, really, to be angry with? (No, I can't even condemn them.)
You are writing that the most difficult thing by far is to see such a child, who doesn't even realize what he is missing out on, who will never have a family of his own. Who will not love, who cannot express emotions. But I know, if it were me, in some corner of my heart, there would also be anger at him. Perhaps not? Perhaps I too have this noble side that would be revealed only at a time of great testing? I'm afraid not. Still, perhaps? I don't know. How can you know? You yourself said that younever imagined how hard it could be to stand in front of his isolation. The hopelessnessand the amount of strengthyou found in yourself that you never knew about.
I'm hurting you with my words, and probably also shaming myself in your eyes. Lightning rod ... But we do have an agreement, don't we? Everything. What's the point of this if we don't? And maybe, eventually, I will understandand then, eventually, it will be possible for me to breathe there, in that lung ...
I experimented a little with your letter. I copied it out, changing the names of the bodies from female to male. Do you understand? I dressed myself with your story, and I tried to tell you about my son, Yokhai.
After a page and a half, I couldn't. Because of his attacks of rage. His fits. They broke me, and I couldn't continue. When he becomes strange and scary, when suddenly a wild and crazy child takes over his body, a child who can shatter and demolish everything in the house. I know I could never stand that alienation. When there is no possible way to reach him, when he becomes a blind forceI could never stand it. And you also need a lot of physical strength to stop him and hold him when he gets like that, don't you? Where are you hiding all those muscles of yours?
If I could have, I would have bought you a big house, large enough for your entire soul. I would fill it with all your big and little and hungry dreams, carpets and paintings and books and objets d'art in every size, from all around the world. I would have brought you sculptures of birds, and big vases of blue glass from Hebron, and huge pickle jars, and decorated mirrors, and lamps from China, and filigreed pillows. And I would have built the house with many windows, open and full of light, with stained glass in every color, without bars and nets.
Because it is horrible to think of you in that empty house.
I am slowly starting to roll through everything you have said to me, from the first letter. It will take me a while to grasp it, your story in its entirety. Listen: I was reading you too quickly, too urgently, too secretly. I'm afraid that too many things were lost en route. I'm thinking about heavy hints you dropped for me along the way that I, blocked off and indifferent and in my usual rush, completely missed. When you told me that "reality" constantly dripped into every one of your cells, and that you hadalmost no way to avoid it, not even in your imagination, or your dreams at night
No imagination. No dreams. And if you could let yourself get carried away, it would only be through artistic creations: painting, poetry, music, of coursebut even then "reality" would soon come upon you and stab you, like a slave trying to escape (and with stolen fire in your hands). So what have you left for you, tell me, where have you been living?
And he has already counted to three?
Cheesecake with raisins for every two, and a huge backrub for every three?
(When you lick his wrist again and again, until he calms downhow did you discover that this is what brings him out of the fitis that also something you discover naturally?)
My regards to your three gloomy Labradors. Regards to the palm tree. To the jasmine. The bougainvillea. The big cypress tree on which your husband's bikeAmos's bikeleans. Regards to all the private names.
I met Yokhai. I remember now. About a year ago I was accompanying Ido's kindergarten class on a trip to Kibbutz Tzuba. We visited the chicken coop, and when we passed through the rows, one of the chickens by chance had laid an egg without a shelland the woman working thereI have no idea whytook the egg and put it in my hand. My hand, of all the ones there.
I don't know if you ever held such a naked egg. It was still warm, and soft, and full of motion within the film that was wrapping it. I didn't dare move. I was standing with my arm outstretched, my palm slightly cupped, and felt as if some exposed secret of my life was in my hand. I didn't know then that it was a premonition of Yokhai.
Something keeps nagging at me. I still haven't written to you how I felt when I understood, last week, what that letter had really been, theone in which you described your noisy crowded house for the first time, that house you now have suddenly erased.
You know I don't keep your letters, but I remember that house well. You wouldn't believe the number of times I saw you in it, walked through it with you. Those weren't just words to me (it suddenly occurs to me that you didn't understand something important). Almost every word you wrote had a body and color and smell and sound. I am very serious with your wordsperhaps you thought this has just been some sort of amusement for me, a word game?
It really isn't a simple thing for the Avraham Ofek painting of the woman and the cow to now disappear off the wall by the library-because from the moment you told me about it, I brought it into my life. (I mean exactly what I'm saying.) I looked it up and found it in a book, and I dove inside it, was absorbed by it. And I thought and thought, and didn't give up until I figured out why you had hung it across from Yosef Hirsch's Sadness. I don't know a lot about paintings, but there is some conversation going on between those twoI think I was starting to hear itand now they're both gone. And Kandinsky's little red ring is gone as well, as is Matisse's Open Window, which excited you so much. I can imagine the photographs in the hallway are gone, too, because they were covered with fragile glass, Virginia Woolf's portrait, for instance, and what about the Stieglitz man sweeping the street in the rain (I found that one, too, not long ago, in the catalogue from the Paris exhibition). Or Man Ray's Half Beard photographs ... Did you fantasize all that? Even the piano you play every night?
At least you left the painted tiles in the kitchen.
Lookthis may seem ridiculous to youyou're the one living in a rough desert of a house, and I'm the one complaining that you took away words you had given me, just words, and I'm bargaining over them like a beggar.
But there is another matter at hand here.
I'm thinking about your symphony of colors. You, who for years have not dared to paint, certainly not in coloryou painted in a symphony with colorsI wasn't even sure of how these colors looked until you. You spoke of indigo and ocher and sapphire blue, the words themselves were so colorfulyou wrote about silk curtains and angora wool, and you definitely wrote about wool from Astrakhan (!)when you wrote that, I truly thought for a moment that you were just playing with me, paintinga palace of dreams for yourself ... but I can't resist a woman who can say "Astrakhan wool." I don't even know what this wool looks like, but you have no idea what these two words did to me ... And not just these-almost every sentence you wrote sent me on a little journey of discovery, learning, feeling, smelling. Go ahead, laugh, but this is my limited, silly way of touching your excitement, the yearning that you exposed in that letter. I couldn't understand what it was, then I thought it was heat, you were aflameI was happy, even, for the crippled imagination we began sharing ...
But I think this is something completely different between you and me, which upsets me.
I felt a pinch of sorrow and, yes, disappointment when I realized that you are open to the option of pretense as well.
Do you understand? Your surprising flexibility in blurring reality and invention, quite a trick ... It surprises me to discover, only now, how capable you are of living in your imagination, your internal power of persuasion (actually made from the same materials of which lies are made).
Of course I don't feel cheated (it was absurd for you to ask my forgiveness). You haven't done anything forbidden. On the contrary. That was the tale you wanted to tell me about yourself. You probably also wanted to believe in it, very much, to see it written, alive, in words. Perhaps you also liked that it existed so fully in my own thoughts, that it had an existence in this worldand I believed in itbecause that was the first rule of our constitution, do you remember?
It occasionally gives me adolescent growing painsbut in the joints of my soul. And the strange feeling that I am learning something new and unexpected about you in every letter of yoursbut I am also being separated from something else that I had thought or imagined about you. And there are days when I feel that I am perhaps still very far from knowing you as I wanted to. And it is already August.
Anyway, it is important to me that you knowwhat you described in that overflowing letter is still alive, it still exists for me. I don't know how, but the piano, the books covering all your walls, the pregnant pot, the huge mobile brought from Venice ... I only have to close my eyes and I immediately see what is and isn't there at the same time.
By the way, did you really bring the bird sculptures from the Kalahari, or did you just covet them and not buy them? And have you been to the Kalahari at all? I mean, did you really go there with Anna twenty years ago on your first trip abroad (what, even before the Mona Lisa and the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben?). To see the "grand velvetia plants" you had heard of only from reading your children's encyclopedia?
Is there an Anna at all?
No introductions, just a very urgent request for you to continue immediately, without pity, and without delay
You can't imagine what you did when you wrote to him, when you simply skipped over me and went directly to him, because nobody had ever spoken to him in this wayand it's not just what you wrote but howbecause that child knew about worry and even softness and maternity; he's had plenty of that, sometimes too muchbut he has so little contact with that rare pleasure of being understood.
And the relief I felt, of a suit of armor that suddenly realizes there is, still, a little knight inside after all.
Listenyou've read the situation exactly: a very skinny little boy, with a small, bitter face. A boy who is always alert, and nervous as an old man, restless, and terribly passionate. Always moving through his life as if he has to prove something to somebody, always struggling for nothing less than his life. How did you know? How could a person actually know another person? And, you wrote, a partisan who still behaves as a family member, in a house. Yes, yes! Even those horrible words you wrote about his loneliness, which was unlike the usual loneliness of children. Every word of yours fell right into the place which has been preparing for them, waiting for yearsnot the usual loneliness of a childinstead, a loneliness that, perhaps, is felt by someone very sick, sick with a shameful disease (how weren't you afraid to say the Holy Name?), correct, correct again! A boy who carefully resists the weakness of the illusion that he might actually give himself to someone, that the possibility of complete surrender exists, somewhere ...
It is as if you had come and tucked a note inside the cocoon I am, addressed to my true name. I was a soft, permeable container, a little bagpipe, and the entire world was playing me. I only write these words and Iimmediately feel the urgent need to smash someone's face in. The world flooded over me like an ocean, retreated in waves and returned and filled and retreated. That was how it felt to be a childthis soft, infinite, stormy wave motion, all at the same time. Have you ever known such huge motion inside you? Maybe when you were pregnant, when you gave birthand I was always like that. Always. A constant manquake, a walking seismic disturbance.
I am laughing right now (hysterically, like a hyena): how awful it is that all this is already overand how awful that I can be so happy that it is over ... because life is so much more tolerable now, it is easier to pass from moment to moment, and with time you even forget the fear of stepping on cracks, where an abyss of crocodiles no longer waits.
You do understand, don't you? You can decipher my internal mutteringsit was you who wrote to the "filament child," you who guessed that it might be possible to discover a red coil feverishly transmitting light through transparent skin; and you probably know well, perhaps from your everyday experience, how oppressive this "bizarre rebel's light" is when it burns inside a little boy.
Yes. It drives me crazy, teases me, arouses all kinds of murderous urges to blow hard on him so as to put that light out, once and for all! Not like younot like your last linesyou cupped your hand around him and blew softly, cautiously, even a little hopefullyto see just what would happen if, just once, they let him try to be fire.
Just don't stop nownot in the middle of this mouth-to-mouth.
Look at his photo. It took me a whole day to find it. (Because of something that was in your letter.) I took it in London five years ago, and it comes with a little tale: I was there for business for a week, and one evening when I returned to my hotel, I saw a tiny crow that looked very sick ("a little crow, its feathers raised ..."). He was huddled on the sidewalk, inside a white chalk line that had been almost entirely erasedprobably the remains of some children's gamehis beak opening and closing as if he was speaking, and not just speakingyou should have seen him; as if proclaiming something with deep sorrow and umbrage, or giving some kind of incriminating testimony to an invisible authority ...
It could have been amusing as wellbut I stepped out of the stream of people and leaned on a wall to the side, looked at it, and couldn't continue walking. I was tired, perhaps slightly dizzy with hungerand I couldn't walk away from it. I thought I had to buy bread and feed it, but I was afraid of people looking at me. I walked away a few steps and felt him calling me back, it was piercing through me, and I returned and stood there. I felt it might be dangerous for me to stare at him, because I would slowly be sucked into him, get trapped and simply cease to exist. I have no idea how long it continued, perhaps only a few moments. He was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, in between the legs of the people passing by, his feathers swollen with cold, and his bitter sad face, and his headyou see?tucked into his side in complaint ... People passed him carelessly, with that English gait measuring their steps. Most of them didn't even look at him. And I, crouched by the wall, knew, with some strange acceptance, that in a moment I would collapse onto the ground and remain there.
I forgot to mention that I was returning from an important meeting. I had just closed a huge deal, lots of money, man of the world, boom boom, wearing my fancy work costume. I knew it wouldn't help menothing could help mebecause the specter coming over me was much stronger. And it was right for mefor the black twin. And in the last moment of this hold, with my last remaining strength (I'm not exaggerating this time), I reached a hand into my bag, brought out my camera, and took his picture. It was an instinctive impulse that I still, to this day, cannot explainit probably saved me, and I don't know howas if it gave me an electric shock right on the spot, as if that treacherous self-being of mine had found some crack through which it could suddenly evaporate.
I have no copy of it. It's yours.
Do you really want a laugh? Last night, after I finished reading your letter (for the fifth time, perhaps), I was locking up the front door before going to sleepand for a moment I thought I saw something or someone standing inside one of the bushes in the yard. Little, very bright even in the dark. And in the first instant I was afraid it was Ido, and what was he doing there instead of being in bed? I went into a complete mad red alert,and then one second later I felt like a beanpod after somone has pulled its string and split it in half. Because I realized it was him. Do you understand? The child you saw in your imagination. The filament child
The kid who used to beI've never told youwell, come along, make yourself at home. The kid who, at the age of eight, approximately, tried to kill himself in the shed. To commit suicide, as it is called, using the thin, all-purpose belt belonging to his father. And since no one had ever explained to him exactly how people die, he, with all his strength, stretched the belt tightly around his heart, ha ha. And lay on the floor, quietly awaiting his death. All of this because he saw how one neighbor, one Surkis from around the corner, standing in an undershirt, with his hairy back and cigarette in his mouth, drowned two kittens in a tin pail, just like that, shoving his hand under the water, talking to the kid's father out of the corner of his mouth while the bubbles rose. And after a very long time on the garage floor, the most eternal time he ever felt, when he saw he wasn't dying, he got up and went back home, and sat quietly, exhausted, at dinner with his parents and his sister. He heard them talking and performed all the movements of an eight-year-old child, and vaguely understood, and still understands, that even if he had died, they would never have discovered it.
And this is the same kid who, at the age of ten, read Zorba the Greek. Because there was one teacher he loved who spoke of the book with such reverence, and tears shone in her eyes, and he had never seen such tears, not from another kid and certainly never from an adult. She had tears of longing, though he didn't know that word (and would never have dared write it if you hadn't written it first). And there were no books in his housebooks collect dust, books are dirty, that's what the school library is for, booksand he stole money from his father's wallet, from the Holy Wallet, and went and bought a book from a bookstore for the first time in his life. He read it, and didn't understand much, didn't understand anything, really, only that it was too beautiful to contain, it was simply roaring with life, calling out his name. And with his huge overwhelming, he swallowed the whole book in about a year, and finished it exactly on his eleventh birthday. A little secret gift to himself.
Not very pleasant, hm? Discreetly, at the cost of terrible stomachaches that conquered all medicines, every dose of cod-liver oil, finishing a page, shredding it into little pieces, chewing with dedication, and swallowing. A page a day, with three-hour breaks between the dosesa whole detailedbureaucracy ruling the ritual. Do you remember those books from Am Oved Press? With the discount for the labor unions of civilian army workers? The mustard-covered-the red-trim-bound-the somewhatbitter? Three hundred and something pulpless pages. He gnawed this way for a year out of his verbal passion of the flesh. But, oh, Miriam, you should always be a little suspicious of himhe had already learned that behind every action lies more than one motive, and behind every noble idea peeps a rat's tail. Because perhaps he ate Zorba also so that the house security would not discover, in their searches through the bottoms of his desk drawers, a new book with no satisfactory explanation for its presence there. For example, a book without the school library stamp?
I meanI tried to fake one, sure I tried (I'm not stupid): I drewon the white page at the end of the book, I drew a big stamp that looked like a miserable fakeand tore the page out and couldn't throw it into the trashcertainly not into the toilet, how can you throw a page of Zorba into the toilet? So, almost without thinking about it, I put it in my mouth and started chewing (I can remember it still: a strange, unpleasant, dusty taste, pages of hard labor). And I tried to write a dedication to myself from a friend, and couldn't fake strange handwriting, and swallowed that page, too. And in this manner, totally by accident, I came up with this poetigastronomical idea ...
(I tried for a moment to read it with your eyes.)
Oh, the effort that went into this deception, and how terrified I was, while reading it, that they would discover my ruse and the theft from the wallet. It was complete nonsense to think that they would give any thought to it, but just the knowledge that it was within the limits of the possible, within the limits of my family's repertoire
I'm not going to tell you about my parents, no way. No parents. You've told me barely a thing about yours, and rightfully so: they have nothing to do with us, we were freed from their clutches long ago, at least I was (oh well, how many years can one drag out these wars?), and besides thatthere's hardly anything to tell. My parents are the most ordinary, even the most likable, couple of people you can imagine. They are reality incarnate. Mr. Brown Belt and Mrs. Rubber Gloves. There is no mystery to themall their actions and thoughts are completely transparent, to the bone. And in general, they are no longer relevant to me. Ithink I told youmy father has, for the past two years, been hospitalized in a vegetable patch for his kind in Ra'Anana. My mother has taken charge of his care with the full authority of an army general. She transports pots of nutrition for him in buses and spends eight hours, daily, with him in complete silence, as she tirelessly washes and scrubs and shaves and trims him, and massages and the kneading and the feeding. She really blossoms in that environment. (Perhaps he does as well. I haven't a clue. I haven't seen him in a year and a halfwhat's the point?)
This week she announced to me with a shy, conspiratorial smile that she has decided to let him grow a mustache.
And you would probably ask why I didn't stand in front of them, yelling at them and demanding my own Zorba, because I needed it, let's say, like air for breath, like medicine. Oh, no way. Me making demands this way? Not for meno, for me there is theft, in wide circles, approaching, retreatingand I also became introduced to a new kind of pleasure, the Coveting Crookedness, as we will so cleverly call it (it's like the name of a new tea, made with the almond essence of my bile, isn't it?). Listen, I'm talking about that pleasant pain, the bitter sweetness that dissolves deep in your guts, twisting you and everything you are, knotting you up like intestines with an infected open ulcer sucking everything out of you from the inside. With all the usual piercing pain and humiliation. You already know how to meet these feelings inside youand afterward you learn how to reproduce them within youyour poorest but most private property, to which you keep returningand for what else? The taste of home. The smell of home. And here it comes againunsheathed, stabbing, ready to use at any momentfeel it, get acquainted: this is me. This is my body and my soul, recognizing each other once again; I can actually hear the whisper of the internal password (srsrsrsrsr ...). I think perhaps you should wear thick gloves when you hold these pages.
It is so easy to infect with this filth. I was infected so easily. Have you experienced the ritual of complete excommunication concealed in the statement "I hope you have children like you!"? Yes, you have. How did you put itthose certain looks with those twisted lips, silences that negate you, turn you into dust and ashes, and how little it takes to damage a person for good ...
Apparently you know it, at least as I do: "Miriam (did she pronounceyour name the wrong way?), Miriam, just don't be whatever people are saying about you" ...
I'm not surprised. Sometimes I think that maybe it was this wound that so attracted me to you from the first moment. Your election campaign, public smile. Your mouth at that moment (I haven't written it to you yet)the edges of your mouth, like two hungry fledglings scurrying into the shelter of their mother's wings, or into their guess of the shadow of their mother's wings. But youand I don't understand howyou were probably saved from this fate, you somehow escaped or reinvented yourself all over again. Successfully, more or less. Perhaps this is why you are so afraid, like a fear of death, to return there, even for a moment, for the length of a single piece of paper, for me?
Maybe it has been too long since I let myself get angry about it, how they came to me at night and weeded my brain so they could plant their seeds for self-inspection gears. Imagine what it must be like to read Zorba in terrorand how can you believe that such miserable terror is capable of clouding the eye of the Zorbic sun? Do you remember when you danced the sirtaki with me and Anthony Quinn in your living room? But where were you when I was a child?
There was no one.
I used to read only when they weren't at home (this is final: I will not tell you about them. I had a mother and I had a fatherbut the child I was had no parentsyou guessed right: my parents bore an orphan).
I'm surprised by the freshness of those memories and the emotions that well up thinking about them. Cigarette?
No, I know, I remember. But I did laugh when I read in the beginning of our letters that without even thinking you connected the smell of smoke from my pages to the passion burning and rising from me.
Sometimes I am amazed how willing you are to believe in the fantasy that I am.
Perhaps, instead of all these heavy matters, we'll talk a little bit about the fantasy you are to me?
Whenever you tell me some new detail about yourselfthat prior to Amos you were married for five (Siberian) years to that sadistic genius;that you always blush only on your left cheek; that you have refused to drive a car for years; or that Amos has a son from a previous marriageor anything else, important or incidental, that I didn't know about you and never imaginedI feel a little spiritual effort in my soul, as if I have to "push" that little detail inside, to fit it into your image, like pushing a book onto a shelf that's already very crowded. But the moment it's done, all the other details, all my knowledge of you I have gathered so meticulously from the beginning, rearranges itself around that change.
And because we are already on the topic of new, surprising knowledge, then let me take off my many-faceted joker's hat in your honor. There is really nothing for me to sayit was truly a fatal, elegant knockout: I never imagined that the man with you, that titan putz in the sweater, wasn't your husband. (So who was he? Because he was guarding you jealously, at least like a headguard, if not a bodyguard. The way husbands do.)
You completely confounded me. The tranquillity with which you described all the other men in your life, one by one. The one with whom you go swimming; and the painter from Beit Zayit, who sounds to me as if he's terribly in love with you; and the blind guy with whom you correspond in Braille (did you learn it especially for him?). And how do you have time for all of them in your busy week? And you actually forgot to mention the three yeshiva students who study with you, in secret, once a week ... Just tell me, write me a description of what your husband looks like. I mean, which shadow with a knife between its teeth do I have to beware of now?
Well, fine, fine, don't be angry, just a little sting of remonstration because my small mistake had given you "a tiny, tickling, theatrical pleasure," and you didn't even feel like correcting me ...
You asked me again if I feel cheated by you, and I tried to understand how I truly feel about you, with all your twists and turns. It's not a simple question, Miriam, and the answer itself is changing, and turning and twisting in me, and still hasn't cooled and coalesced into an opinion.
But because you are asking me now, I thought that perhaps, instead of an answer, you could go and look at The Family of Man (which I like a lot, too). There are two photographs in there, two facing pages I like to look at: on one side you see students listening to a lecturer in some university. He is not in the phototheir look is pointed, focused on him, andit seems that whatever he is teaching is certainly interesting to them. But on the opposite page you see people from an African tribe, listening to an old man telling them a story. Children and grown-ups sit among the crowd, they are naked and so is he; his hands are moving in front of them, and they all have the same expression: they are bewitched.
(There is no such hour)
I want to make a deal with you.
It's a strange oneand embarrassing even to explain. But you're the only person I can share this with.
It's about Yokhai and the operation he's going to have in January. I want to give you half of my luck for the surgery. Don't laughdon't say anything! I know it sounds false and idioticand in exchange, please treat it like a good-luck charm, a superstition, but please, please don't reject my proposal (if it doesn't help, it certainly can't hurt).
And it's not that I'm exceptionally lucky, but my life has been managing itself more or less well. And with everything that has been happening at work (annoying in itself), I think that in the past few years, Fortune's kept a little twisted smile toward me. I also have to confess that I have made this "deal" twice: once with a woman who was facing a risky surgery and once with a woman who couldn't get pregnant. And in both cases, everything worked out. By the way, the two women didn't know I made the particular pact in question. They were, in their own ways, very close to me; but not close enough for me to tell them what I was doing.
This transaction is not without its own bureaucratic proceduresI have to know ahead of time the exact day and time you will be needing my luck, and then I begin to practice aiming it at you (actually, at Yokhai). And on the day of the operation itself, I will actually free myself from all my obligations, "strip" myself of my luck, and "project" it to him with all the power of my will (you will only have to write me how long after the surgery he will need this transmission of mine).
And please don't worry about me during this time periodit is true that on the certain day that I "strip" away my luck and, less so for two or three days after, little incidents of misfortune occur in unreasonable quantities (it is quite amazing to see how they draw themselves up and attack from every possible direction), but so far, it has all added up toonly a few lost keys, a flat tire, and a surprise tax audit. And luck begins to grow again very shortly afterward (I swear!). In my opinion, shaving it from time to time is good for its growth.
Don't respond. Don't say yes or no. I said ityou heard me.
Only to report that the child has probably returned to roost.
It must be my nightmaresor because of our correspondence. Perhaps it was because of that night around your housesomething in me hasn't been able to calm down since then. I hesitated over whether I should even tell you about it, about giving him the right to exist by writing to you about him. But almost every night I am filled with some kind of darkness, torn, a length of fabric swaying in the void. And now he's standing there again. It has been three or four nights at this point, and he is standing there, right now, at this very moment, insistent and shivering among the bushes; there is actually a child's shape lurking in the darkness there. And I'm going to tell you somethingI have never written anything so insane, so ludicrous.
He and I have fallen into a little nightly bedtime ceremony. Even though, immediately after his debut, I cut that confusing bush down with the decisiveness of a Soviet censor. But he has returned, night after night, and plants himself by the door. It's a pity you are not hereI would show him to you.
A skinny boy, slightly hunched over, a slumped, shy flatterer. Only I know how exposed he is, know that his soul is constantly being mercilessly stirred up; how passionately he wants to give of himself and surrender. But as you saidif only he believed that he could, and that if he did, someone would be there to receive him.
Let's be honest herehe's a slightly effeminate boy, soft, a blabberer and a braggartI look at him now and immediately remember the experience of being himthe constant nervous buzz, the quick sequences of surprises causing his heart to beat uncontrollably fast; you were rightyou can see his heart through his peeled skin, sensitive as a parpur's, beating and beating.
His presence disgusts me (are you surprised?). I'm taken by a strong impulse to turn him over to the hands of the authorities of the private educationsystem in which I studied. Because my personal tutors were grand masters in their field. Do you know what I'm talking about? What do you know, anyway? Well, a little at this point. Enough. These tutors knew the correct gait, posture, and speechwhat you are allowed to say and what you should shut up about. What is better not to say, to avoid getting laughed at; how to always pick up your shoulders so you will appear wider, to close your mouth so you won't look like a complete idiot. Like a fragile ethrog swaddled in tissue paper all year long, I was educated by two peerless pedagogues, the bestmy parents, may their memories be blessed, who never missed or overlooked a single sorrowful defect of mine! With the dedication of years of hard work, they succeeded in improving me, sanding me down, until I could be presented to society without too much embarrassment. These days, it doesn't even involve much effort on my part: I'm quite good at imitating most of the moves and sounds of a mature male, an elder in the communityand you can certainly say that the plaster mold of the death mask has more or less already dissolved and sunk in through my skin, into my body, my cells, as it was supposed to.
Until, suddenly, right by my front dooran infected and inferior organ of mine escaped from my body and started leaping in the dance of fools, the donkey jig.
And there is one moment
(Why not, I've already spilled my guts.)
There is a moment when he suddenly bangs at the door for me, when I immediately work myself into a high panic. Please don't tell me it is only childish imagination, of course it is, it is exactly the imagination of my childhoodit hits me, leaving me altogether paralyzed, it gets my blood pumping crazily for a few seconds, and I can't fight it. I have to see him, to produce him emerging from the darkness, approaching me; he's running to me, barreling down to my front door, so I can
Do you like these little private games of mine?
What would you have done in my place, anyway? Well, you are much more generous than I am. You even agreed to allow me inside you. I'm not that nobleI'm terrified. I just slam the door in his face, night after night, with all my strength and with all my locks, and hurry to the bedroom. And Maya had better be there, just so I can look at her for a moment, acknowledge her again, the presence of her full, warm body, the absolute validity of her surprisingly small feet. To gaze upon them andcalm myself downto immediately panic againsuch a narrow base for two adults and a child to hold on to.
Oh well, I have to go to sleep. You don't have to respond to this scribbled nonsense. By the way, I read something in Ido's kids' magazine that I thought would interest you: you have a dinosaur's footprint in Beit Zayit. Did you know that? A dinosaur passed by your place a million years ago and left a huge footprint. Interesting, don't you think? I also tried your tze-tze recipe tonight before trying to sleep. But I think I put too much liquor in it. (It doesn't matter. If I get a letter from you in the afternoon, the night is already lost.) Enough, good night!
(Well, I lay down for almost an hour out of politeness, but I'm afraid I did not explain myself fully)You know what? I will allow him to enter my house, once, on purpose; I'll force him to enter, so I can take him and walk him by the ear and show him, without mercy: refrigerator; dishwasher; a living room with a highly decorative set of armchairs. Here's a bedroom with a queen-size Ha-Zore'a bed. Here we have a woman. A full, soft woman with round, beautiful breasts, taking her clothes off right nowfor me! And then, when his eyes already start to burn with the held-back tears of loneliness and abandonment, I will lay the final, fatal blow: drag him by the scruff of the neck to the little room at the end of the hall and yell, Well, look at what we have here! Surprise! A child! I made a child in this world! Look closely, so you can understand that you have already lost the fight between us, honey: I have a child! I escaped from you and I made something that exists, independently, in the outside world! Check my trademark, stamped on the shape of his fingers, his eyes and hair! And if you don't find the rest familiaryou know why? It doesn't belong to you! I swear, I feel like pushing his head, hard, into Ido's bed, the way you drown a kittenLook closely, you can even touch himwhy not? Touch him, feel him: a child who has been created from another's matter as well. Who is not meand not you! Because I, with my initiative, succeeded in escaping the fate you had laid out for me. I allied myself with another chromosome pool, free from my matter, and especially from yoursand this is how. I have managed tocreate one thing from good, strong, healthy matter in this world, with a warranty that's been good for almost five years now, get it, baby?
What the hell am I saying?
As if Ido proves anything about me.
I have no peace. What a scorcher outside. The air wraps itself around you and sticks to you like rubber.
... and just as I was about to send you a letter this morning, I got your note from the university library. It delights me just to think of you sitting in the Judaica Reading Room, writing those wild, excited sentences while you slide in a graceful slalom to copy sentences from History of the People of Israel in Ancient Timesin the same breath!every time a fellow teacher passes by you. I was thinking for the thousandth time just what fun it is that we found each other in the huge pile of peas. How lucky we are to be from the same country, and the same language, and the same Paporish and Douvshani schoolbooks ... By the way, about the quotation you couldn't remember (when I tried to "dress myself" with the letter in which you told me about Yokhai)
I admit it, it took me a while to get to it, but tomorrow at dawn I will send out my speedy messengers to look it upand in seven days (no more than twenty-four hours by the clock) I will have the full quotation with the exact reference. I promise.
When I was writing you yesterday, I again felt how peculiar this whole letters business is: by the time you open a letter of mine and accept its truth, I am already somewhere else. When I read your letters, I am actually inside a moment of yours that has passed; I am with you inside a time you are no longer inhabiting. This works out to each of us being faithful to each other's abandoned moments ... What do you think? Perhaps this is the source of the sadness aroused in me by almost every one of your letters, with no connection to its contexteven your funny, wonderful note from the university. Life is passing by.
Immediately go and scold your three silken students for their ignorance: Rabbi Nakhman of Breslev is the source for the forgotten quotation!
In the Moharan Collection, in the chapter "Impregnation of Barren Women," he discusses "human beings who sleep through their days." Either because of works of pettiness, or because of passions and bad deeds, or because they have eaten spiritual food that reduced their minds to a state of sleep ...
Apparently you have to revive the heart of those sleeping and awaken them, but with caution, like waking a sleepwalker. And because of this, as soon as such a person wakes, you must "dress him with the face taken away from him whilst he slept." And how do you think Rabbi Nakhman recommends you go about it?" ... as you would heal the blind. You must close him in so that he will not suddenly see the light, and you should reduce the light for him, so what he suddenly sees will not harm him. Also, for the one who has been asleep and in the dark for a long time, when you wish to show him his face and awaken him, you must dress his face with tales ..."
- Do you know what time it is? And who has to get up tomorrow at half-past six? And who will sleep away his day tomorrow with twelve straight hours of petty works?
Did you see that? As I was sealing up this letter, a shooting star flew across the skies! So quickly, quickly, what should I ask for (I don't have a wish readyhave you any ideas)?
What you wrote once"Let us help each other be whatever and whoever we truly are."
Oopsthese days I've been so busy and tense and, mainly, tiredI almost forgot about our date! I remembered it just a minute ago (it's today, right? You said Wednesday at half past four). So forgive me the unsatisfying conditions; not exactly in line with your plans, but at least I'm here on time. I mean, the second I remembered, I stopped the car with a loud screech on the side of the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (yes, in that very spot where you can see the whole forest, with all its possible shades of green on the right). Cars are flying by me, rocking the car, so my writing is a bit hiccupy. And instead of coffee and some rich cake, I'lldrink warm Coke out of the can with crumbs of Ido's Bamba snack that I will gather from the backseat. What can you do? I am one of those horrible people, you know, who, in spite of his inconsiderateness, still listens to the tape of Verdi's Requiem sent to him by his soul mate in his car's fucked-up player (and by the way, thank you!).
Come, let's steal a few moments together. You made an interesting remark at the end of your last letter ... I mean, your "now I will put my woman costume on for a little while"the quick course in makeup you surprised me with before going to the lecture at the Cultural Center. Flip-flopping between the rose-pink lipstick and the more daring brown (did it match the angora?). Actually, I never imagined you wearing makeup. Somehow I thought younever mind. I enjoyed it. It was a bit like with your clothes. You have an ironic, special grace when you squeeze into other women's words. Strange women. Strange wordsThe soft eyeshadow and lip liner, and I'm lying on the bed behind you, watching you, with my hands crossed behind my head in the position of the ultimate self-satisfied chauvinist (yes, yes, I read you: that macho guy, that gever who is so sure his wife undresses only for him).
My eyes get a little shifty when I say the word gever; since you told me, I am constantly checking (but until you told me, I never noticed that I always preferred to use ish when I say "man"). But why do I feel, more and more, that the word "woman" is not so simple for you either, in your internal dictionary?
And why do I ask? Because I know exactly what kind of mother you are. I told you, your motherhood rises from you like hot steam each time you mention Yokhai. Or any other child. Yet those times when, here and there, you have saidand not a few times, by the way"the woman that I am"almost always, my bat ears pick up some light echo, a tiny, hollow space between you and the word
Enough. This is getting too heavy for a daytime rendezvous. Do you know what I really like best about your letters? The little things. More than anything. The coffee stain you decided to leave on the paper, for example. You wrote that it was a "stain of existence." And it was through this stain that I was privileged to learn how you drink coffeehow you always start each cup when it is too hot. And then there are a few brief moments when it is exactly rightand then it cools down, bit by bit, but you stick with the cup you poured all the way to the end ...
Please, drink, drink.
To think that, at this very moment, you too are sitting somewhere, present with me. Where did you choose to sit? In which café did you think I would be?
Or the smell of your pages, I haven't told you about that yetit's always the same, a thin scent of mint. Or the photograph you sent me of Anna, taken from behind. With her huge straw hat. And how, with these odd yearnings (toward a woman I don't know!), I keep turning the photograph around, over and over, looking for her intriguing, birdlike face, the laughing sparkle in her eyes, and now and then kissing her gently on her split lip.
You see, you truly succeeded (in bringing me into your reality without piercing our hallucination). But the moment it was the hardest to keep myself from flying to be by your side was when you asked me, What, you'll never eat my soup?
Well, what do you know!
What shocks me most is that I myself never noticed it. I thought it was only the chalk traces, the remains of an English children's game, hopscotch left on the sidewalk ...
I don't know why it makes me so blueI feel some kind of muddy sorrow for myself, for my shortsightedness. I mean, I was there, wasn't I? I was there, and you weren't. And again, my recurring realization that I always miss the point. Right now, as I am writing this, your questionthe one you asked after the master's black monkeyreturns to me: Why is it that I allow myself to be satisfied with crumbs from under the table of a great feast ("saving for yourself only the role of the handyman to a great love. That's all you allow yourself")so, there it is. This too is now wrapped around my soul.
And it was a glanceyou just looked, the way you look at everything. You looked and saw it at once. You didn't tell me whether you had already noticed it in the original photograph, or only after enlarging itmeaning, I wonder if that was why you decided to get the photograph enlarged. Sometimes, after a letter of yours, I tell myself that from this moment on, I will begin to live differently. I will slow down, read more slowly, listen more carefully to people's words, so I will be able to rememberthem a year later. To linger. I don't have to tell you how long I hold on to that resolve.
Now I have to tell myself the story all over again, don't I? To write about how I collapsed there, by the wall, and I couldn't movethe man of the world, boom boom was turned to stonenot only because of the crow, but because of that chalk line that today, only today, goddamnit, five years late, I deciphered as a police sketch of a small, human figure. A child, probably. (It is a child, isn't it? Don't answerit frightens me too much to know.) One hand lifted up, twisted in resistanceand the other rests by his side, already peaceful.
Oh well. My internal struggle over my criminal neglect will be performed separately, and alone. It certainly justifies a committee investigation. But now I wish I could give you somethinga gift equal in value, in return for this discovery. You complain that I am a cheap suitor who doesn't give gifts. I will not give you little gifts. I'm sorry, you know that if I could, I would give you plenty. At least once a day I have to resist the urge to buy you something. And still, ask me for something. What can I do for you? What can I give you?
May I interrupt?
I want to talk.
I went out earlier (it's almost three in the morning and soon I will begin to glide silently over the night skies and hunt little rodents). I stood and smoked. He wasn't there anymore. Perhaps he despaired of me. I did try to produce him, but the only thing running through me were words. He crumbled into the words I used to write about him; how did you put itthe cruel choice between keeping muteness alive and vital and verbalizing it?
I'm afraid it is no longer my choice.
I thought about what would have happened if, in some fantastical way, he could have known Ido. And I also wondered whether Ido would have liked to be friends with the child I was. To my surprise, I answered that yes, they'd get along quite well together, that perhaps there aren't another two as well suited as Ido and the self I used to be (so why are he and I now so poorly matched?).
Hey, can we talk about the kids? Shall we start a special advice section for matters of parenting and education, Don Juan's Column on Children?
Before we do, please know that I am the best father in the world. Really. Everyone who knows me thinks so. And until this past year, when my business started flourishing, I would spend a lot of time with Ido, every free moment I had. And I still take care of him with motherly dedication today. I feed him and dress him, breast-feed, and even at this very moment I feel my eyes tear up when I think about his glowing beauty. And I am endlessly destroying him. Oh, Miriam, what are we going to do? The delicate, exposed line of his chin, the way he remains lonely in every group of children, his fragile, loose smile? I molded him with my own bare crueltiesoh, really, what are we going to do? I used to know his every thought. My private language began with him; of course, we were using their words, but they were ours because I pulled them out of the core of my soul. I think almost every new word he learned until he was three was from me. I used to say, "There's a bird, say it after me, 'Bird,'" and he would look up at me, charmed, and say "Bird." And only after he had repeated that word, spoken it aloud, was it truly his. As if I had chewed up the word and put it in his mouth. That was our ritual for every new word. There were even a few sounds I wanted him to pronounce in a certain way: a full sh, not a little whistly, like mine. Or a manly, throaty r (like Moshe Dayan'sdo you remember it?) ... Don't laugh at my nonsenseit was because of it that I felt as if I was serving him the first Lego bricks with which to build his world; that I was leaking myself into him, branding more of him with my identity, existing in him as I probably don't exist anywhere else in the world. Do you understand? I suddenly sent out roots.
What haven't I done to exist in him? I used to stand by his bed while he slept, passing my hands over his face, finger-painting his dreams. I would whisper happy words into his ears, so they would penetrate into his dream-laboratory and, if needed, help to change his dream for the better. There was nothing I would not have done to make him laugh. And how we would laugh together ...
But that's over. Finished. Go complain to the rank forces of life. I'm not complaining: it's the way of nature, yes sir! But lately, he has been clotting over, closing off to me; and if I ever sent roots into him, they were torn out of me like the stinger of a male wasp. Now the wholeworld comes and pours words and names into him, and he has thoughts that I do not know aboutand it is 100 percent fine by me, that's the way of the worldand I should be happy that everything is normal, as it should bebut I no longer have ants in the palm of my hand, dancing out pictures over his face at night. I am, again, left with only myself. Do you mind my telling you about this? You wanted reality, didn't you? Please accept reality then, tossed with chunks of specifics: he now fights with meover everything. You would think that fighting me is his raison d'être these daysand what he fights about! What to wear in the morning, and what to eat at noon, and when to go to bed, and what TV show to watchanything I offer him he rejects, and then insists on the opposite. And you have no idea how stubborn he is (considering that, until about six years ago, he was being stored in two separate locations)!
And the more stubborn he is, the more decisive I getit drives me absolutely crazy that such a little boy suddenly decided he knows better than his parents. So I barrage him with all my strength, with yells and insults. I'm like an insane rhinoceros; I attack this tiny child to force his surrender, run him over, squash him, humiliate himit's terrible, no? So I explain to myself, with iron-clad logic, that during the exercises of humiliating him and squashing his spirit, I am actually educating him to become more familiar with the most basic concepts of leading a proper life, blah blah blah. So the essence of the education is that I pass on to him the knowledge that you eventually must surrender to strength and stupidity, power and narrow-mindedness. Because this is the way of the world, and there is no other. And it is terribly important for him to learn this at a young age, so the world won't break him when the stakes are much more painful.
(How did you put it?"Those are just your venom glands talking.")
Because what I want to teach him is exactly the oppositeI want him to fly high, spread his wings above me, and piss on the fears and the shameand be himself and do exactly what his heart tells him to do. But this fucked-up hand has got me by the throatmy mother's hand, my father's fist, the long military arm of my family. I cannot believe what comes out of my own mouth during our fights. Things that, as a child, Iswore I would never repeatand I still can't hold them back, citing the passages of heritage with a frozen tongueI could smash my own face inwhy am I fighting my own child? Tell me, why can't I let one child in this crappy dynasty grow up as he is, as I was, as I almost succeeded in beingfragile and delicate and daydreaming and without skin? Full of such a spectrum of ways of being? Why did I yell at him the time he was sobbing because we threw the old armchair out? Why do I make him eat meat when meat disgusts him? Why does it make me explode when he refuses to assume his proper place in the food chain, to accept the law of convention that "chicken" is not "dead bird"?! And I shove it into his tiny mouth with my fingers, the way my father did to me, every day!
Say "Bird": "Bird"!
Maybe I'll continue this tomorrow.
No. Tomorrow the rain will come upon us and erase everything, and it's flowing out of me in a flood now. I spare you most of the things that happen to me in my everyday life. My shell somehow functionsthat's the exact word for itbut the child watching me in my recent, sleepless nights had an aura of warmthit shivered in a haze around his thin skin. It horrifies me to now understand what he was really likehow he never had a chance (like you saida little china cup in an elephant's cage). How vapors still steam off him from the terrible need to nestle close with another person, to really combine souls without hiding anything. He wants to give of himselfpour everything flickering there in the darkness of his imaginationnot to let any parpurian emotion finish off his life over there, in the mass grave of the unknown idea. And you have no idea how many misunderstandings, how much rage and destruction of the good order these tendencies causesuch perversions the constitution of the tribe
His first yearshow wonderful they were (I'm talking about Ido now). I gave him all of myselfand the more I gave, the more and more filled I was, a river of inventions and stories and the joy of living. I used to wake up at night and feel my heart well up with the warmth of loving him, and think, I had forgotten how much love existed under our skins. I had forgotten that specific feeling of a soul rising to the banks of the body, licking the landscape from the inside. Because I was a child full oflovebut see how that thought never crossed my mind with such simplicity. I never knew how to say that to myself, in that way, round, like a gift. I always thought of myself as a very hard child, a complicated, bad child, andas they often explained to me, with a deep sigh, determining that sorrowful fact you have to somehow live through: I was a child who wasn't quitenormal. Certainly not the one they had been praying for. A child forced to pity his parents every day, for their being obligated to raise such a strange creature who so shamed them
Listen, this letter brings me toI mean, I really didn't think this is where it would end up. I wanted to write to you about you, to guess you as you guessed me. To guess you as nothing less than a womannot as a little girl (this is starting to look like a date between two pedophiles). And I, apparently, can't do it yet. I can't!
Just reporting that I fulfilled my end of the bargain this morning (regarding the return of the chalk line around the crow I promised you). And I read the story you asked me to read, and in a beautiful place, just as you wanted me to.
I took the story to the dam. I found the old car seat, your usual chairI identified a crab-apple tree (or is it a cane apple?). I called it by its name and we embraced emotionally. I crushed some sage, and a rotem or a lotem or a totem.
I hope you are not upset at my little invasion into your territory. You have "taken me" here so many times to read my letters aloud, having soul-deep conversations with the dam and the empty delland after you decided to "officially" introduce me to your kin here, I figured it was about time to come and stand before them, pay my respects like a gever, like an ish.
This place is beautiful in the winterlike a Norwegian fjord in the middle of the Jerusalem mountains? Really? It's a little hard to try and picture that now; the huge dam cuts the valley in two, like a scar of surgery across a belly. The dam and the valley look pretty fake right now, in this dryness (but perhaps, as you said, they come true in the winter).
Listen, I read the whole story, I even read it aloud. No wonder youhaven't gone back to read it in yearsthe only comfort I can offer you is that it hurt me, too, but today it hurt in an entirely new way.
You asked me to write it exactly, to report it without mercy. So.
Do you remember the moment when Gregor's mother sees him for the first time (after he has become an insect)? She looks at him, and he at her; she yells, "Help, for God's sake, help!" and backs away, until she bumps into a table and sits on it (confused, half conscious).
Before, when I read this storythe hardest part, in my opinion, was Gregor's drawn-out, long, tortured death. But this morning, when I got to her repulsion, and "'Mother, Mother,' said Gregor in a low voice, and he looked up at her ..."
Because there is always that small chance that if she hadn't been so repulsed, she might have been able to save him from his tragedy.
Yes, I know, if she had "recognized" him (or in your words, "approved"), it wouldn't have been Kafka's story anymore but a children's story, like, say, that Moomintroll story.
A hug. I left you a note somewhere in the area of the damlet's see if you can find it.
August 17 (12:15 p.m. by the dam)
In your last letter, you didn't smile, not once. I could see you holding something against me (?). That maybe, because of me, the old, open insult of your childhood has been resurrected in you with a painful sharpness.
Maybe it is because of me. I don't know. Maybe it was that thing you said, right at the beginning of all this, about there being something in me you had been forced to hide all your life.
(But what was that thing you didn't say?)
You still insist? You want to meet me, "the whole me"? A complete meeting? Or at the very leastwithout deciding ahead of time what will transpire at such a meeting? Without canceling out any possibilities in advance? "In the whole me," meaning, my soul and my body? Oh well!A Turkish pimp with moist eyes and a drooping mustache slips in like a mongoose and flashes a pack of oily, naked photos of me in stimulating positions in front of your eyes. But don't believe it! It's only a photomontage, you better check that merchandise very well. And I believe that now comes the time when I lay my cards (the shuffled half deck, of course) on the table, so you can reconsider your proposal, weigh it carefully in this matterbecause I have a body and a face that are not mine. Some ridiculous, terrible mistake must have been made in the mischievous lottery of lifethey planted me in a body and face that my soul has been rejecting for years
Come, Miriam, please, you will have to move back a few feet and put your fingers in your ears, because, God, for once I have to let this pass through those glands of venom in my throat. I had the soul of a volcano as a childfire and lava and flying scalding stones, and Picasso and King David and Meir Harziyon, and Maciste and Zorba all together. But my face and bodywell, you already know what I think about them. And all nine of my souls were going wild, like tongues of fire in meand the most important thing is that I was full of joybecause I still didn't know what I looked like. Do you understand? I hadn't yet been phrased and identified and defined from every possible angle (why don't they make people get a license to use certain words, the way you have to get licensed for a handgun?). Nothing could stand in my way thenthe only question was what to chooseespionage, art, commando missions, travel, crime, loveof course, love, from the moment I was born, don't even ask me what kind of shame I caused my parentsby the time I reached kindergarten! I was a four-year-old peanut, but since that point I have never stopped trying to bestow my affections on whoever didn't run away fast enough. Don't be too impressed, now: most of my beloveds didn't even know I existed. Why, to this very day I have to forcibly invade a woman's field of vision if I am interested in getting her attention. As you know very well. But in my thoughts, in my imaginationno limit, no limit! I knew with an insane confidence throughout my childhood that what was happening to me in the meanwhile was only a preface. It was only a hard test, only a tough preparatory exam for the moment life would finally beginand suddenly I would hatch out of this worm, Jacob out of the pale Yid from the shtetl, and be Tarzan and the lion all at once. I would glow with the full spectrum of the colored fires burningwithin me ... Oh, the fantasies I hadI could scream from my yearning for them. Huge red and yellow tongues, dancing and teasing one another
But in the meantime, you have to lower your head and suffer quietly. For instance, my father would speak to me, for months at a time, in the female gender: Yaira come and Yaira go. Why? Because he saw me fighting with a kid from our neighborhood on the sidewalk in front of the house. I actually knocked this kid down right awaya miracle occurred, they were pulling for me in heaven and sent me one who was actually weaker. Unfortunately, after knocking him down, I immediately stood up and walked away, leaving him lying there, whining on the sidewalkand I didn't break his bones like a gever, and didn't tear his balls off, and didn't do any of the things my father, watching through a closed window, wanted me to do, terribly. I raised my head for a moment when we were fighting and saw his face: my father's face, behind the glass, twisting, turning purple, and crumpling and warped as if it were melting in a fire. Without even knowing what he was doing, he stuck his two fists deep against his mouth, and I saw how his teeth sank into the knuckles, a blend of bloodthirstiness and the terror of an abandoned puppy. My poor father.
When I returned home, he was already waiting for me, the thin brown one in hand, which he could, in one whistling pull, whip out from his belt loops. He beat me instinctively, mechanically. The thin brown one worked overtime. To this day, this is how we joke about such moments in my family. How Yeery made Father mad, and the thin brown one worked overtime, and we all laugh until we're in tears. It doesn't matter. He was whipping me, and when that didn't provide him the necessary satisfaction, he attacked me with his fists, beating me with his fists, which he had bitten until they bled, and his little soft body fluttered and shook. He raged with blood-red eyesthis man, whom I had never seen fight, not in his life. He always became gentle and considerate and flattering if someone pushed in front of us in line at the movies. When his car was blocked in the parking lot by the general-depury, his boss, you should have seen him bowing and scraping. And in front of the general-deputy's child, for that matter. And once, when that stinking corpse of a neighbor, that Surkis the murderer, slapped me on the street for shouting between two and four in the afternoon, my father immediately withdrew from the balcony into the apartment,so he wouldn't see it. But I saw him. He hit meand I shrank, reminding myself the entire time, It's fine, it has to happen this way, fathers hit children, what do you expect, that it works the other way around? His beatings were just part of the great testthis is what I thought.
But what was I saying?
You, wanting to meet me, "the whole me," asking to meet the child I was as well and reconcile the two of us, so I'll look at him differently, differently than how he was looked at in my parents' house. I remember every word you wrote. In the margin, you wrote in pencil that "under no circumstances will we meet like two pedophiles, that's their language, Yair. We'll meet like two children." You see, I remember it exactlyyou wouldn't believe how many phrases and sentences I remember by heart, your words and tune together: "I can't go on like this anymore; this distance from you with this vagueness, because what is happening between us is too vast for me to contain. I need your touch terribly, your touch, please, enough of this, come to me, in your body, in the whole of you, in the materials with which you were made, the unbroken and the defective, the torn or the double, but come, with open arms, as if you were giving a gift. And if you find it hard, tell yourself that Miriam wants to meet the child that you were; give me that pleasure, because in spite of all of your slurs, I am sure he was a beautiful child ..."
And again, Miriam, time after time, you approach me and unlock my most secret doors with sacred keys that only you havehow do you have such a sixth sense about me? Just hear this story.
(No. It has to be a separate letter, in a separate envelope, as it was.)
Once upon a time, at the age of twelve, more or less, it was evening, and he returned home from a movie he saw with Shai, who was his best friend until they entered the service. They said their goodbyes in front of Shai's building, and the boy continued on his way home, alone; you-already-know-who was expecting him there. So do you wonder that he walked so slowly?
Look at him, walking alone on a side street, trying to preserve the sweetness of the movie that had been lost to him while riding the bus, becauseof the scorn and laughter, focused solely on him, from three little thugs (who, at that time, were called hoodlums). Shai, his white legs shaking in his pants, was sitting next to him. Now the notorious wits of these two, which struck such terror into the hearts of students and even teachers, exploded and splattered all over their faces like an overambitious gum bubble.
He walked through the silent, empty streets, trying with all his might to forget what he felt when Shai looked the other way, and sat blind and deaf, making himself absent from the situation. He knew he would have behaved in the exact same way if the situations were reversed, and he almost wept, cursing his weakness and vowing that, by God, from this day forward he would stop stealing money from the Holy Wallet to buy books. From now on, he would steal money only so he could buy dumbbells and practice pumping his muscles all day and night, like an animal. He knew it wouldn't help him either, because he didn't have that thing within him that immediately connects dreams to muscles in one decisive motion. That can transform the internal Tarzan roaring in your heart into a fist cracking a hooligan's jaw on the bus. That mysterious thing that probably makes an ish into a gever. He also knew that even if he was able to hit someone, sometime, everyone would be able to tell that it didn't really come naturally to him; and while he was walking, deep in thought, two women approached him in the street, one young and one oldwell, not really old. A grown-up. And they were strolling along peacefully, talking between themselves with silent voices, their arms linked together, glowing with some kind of warmth that he immediately woke to and was alive to.
And as he passed them (dressed in his good pants that Father made him wear before going out, hair carefully combed with a side part), he thought he heard one of them, he couldn't tell which one, whisper to the other, "What a beautiful boy."
Oh well. I've already started this, so I don't really have a choice, do I?
He continued walking, and had made it a few steps farther, when those words penetrated him and stopped him. He was ashamed to be standing like that in the middle of the street and dragged himself into one of the apartment building entrances, and stood there in the darkness, shivering, sucking on those four words
Within sixty seconds, of course, he started tormenting himself with doubts. Had he heard correctly? Was one of them actually looking at himand still saying what he thought he heard? And if she did say it, was it the young one or the olderand I hoped it was the young one, because he was already vaguely aware of the fact that old women have a bit more compassion for children who look like himif it was the younger one, the pretty one, the modern one, then his situation might not be all that bad. Because she was speaking purely objectively with regard to himshe doesn't know him, never saw him in her life, but when she did see him, it was as if she had to say those words, before she could even think about it, thus giving an almost scientific validity to her statement.
But did she really say it? He wasn't completely sure; maybe they had been discussing a film they saw, quoting lines from itor they could have said, "What a dutiful goy," or "Cuts are disputable joys," or maybe they were thinking about some other boy that they both know who really fit that description?
It's a bit silly to stretch it out, don't you think? But that's the thingthose words never saw lightonly wave after wave of endless darkness.
So what did he do? He stood in that dark entrance, practically shaking from his distress and confusionmaybe he should run after them and explain, in his most weighty, measured voice, "Excuse me, but when I was passing by you before, one of you made a remark regarding some specific boyan insignificant remark, truebut due to a rare coincidence that comment has a marked importancefatal, actuallyyes, a matter of life and death that is difficult to lay out in detail at the moment, a matter of national security, actuallyso could you please, even if it sounds a bit odd, would you mind repeating what you so briefly mentioned when I passed you?"
So he started running after them, slowlythen sprinting; and then he stopped again, confused and defeated, immediately turned around, and returned to the dark entrance, where he stood in front of the wall, heart fluttering in his throat, and felt like prey, still half-alive. He no longer cared if someone passed by and saw himbut those four words he might have heard, he wished he had heard, began to glide in mad joy, like four birds in a frozen garden
Well, what would you have done in his place?
He knew that even if he caught up to those women, he wouldn't dare to ask; because whoever asks a question like that aloud condemns himself to an eternal life of disgrace; and even if, let's say, the two of them (the young one, too) tell him that indeed, their reference to a beautiful boy wasto him, he would never be able to truly believe them, because if they are given enough time to really look at him while he explains such an odd request, they will understand everything, it's impossible to look at him without understanding his situation, and they will pity him and lie. Do you think that I wouldn't run after them today, pleading with them to say it in a thousand and one ways; I am still running. I'm running after them todayWhy, not a single day has really passed since that happened.
Hey, you're sticking around, aren't you?
I became so tired all of a sudden.
It makes me happy that you like my private name. I never thought of it like thatthat Yair, meaning, "will shine," is a name that faces the future, or is "almost a promise." I was also relieved that you are no longer worrying about whether Wind is my real surname. As long as my name shines on you.
It took me months to discern the transparent streams of your humorit's just like that, passing through the lines, with its hands in its pockets, whistling lightly ...
Tell mecan you feel that I've been trying to hide a sudden, unjustifiable happiness for a whole minute now? Tears taste the same, but it's as if the taps were switched ... This treacherous, warm wellspring of joy that has no explanation, no justification from what I've just told you, except for the astonishing fact that I told you: Warning! All units at attention! Happiness leak! I will locate the source immediately! Noactually, no. All unitspay no attention. I want it to drip into me until I am swept away by it. And I don't care that dogs are barking behind me, that the electric fence bears the writing "Family Will Make You Free!" Listen to meI will still try to escape. I don't think I'll make it, but this time I have outside helpsomeone is waiting for me on the illuminated side. These are the kinds of gifts you give me. I'm not afraid of anything. I'm ready to shout with all the strength I have that I believe in the possibility of you and me coming out, toward each other, and actually meeting in the middle of the road. I believe in such wonders.
I need to be alone with myself. Goodbye, Miriam.
(Now quicklylook inside yourself, see what it looks like when venom is injected in your blood, watch the live broadcast at the moment of thecrime: It's a white room, four walls, no windows, no picturesone tiny open eye is in each wall: four gaping eyes, no lids, no lashes, no breaks to blinkand each pair of eyes has one look, just one stable, permanent, frozen look in it; and enclosed by the walls, a blind rat runs along the floor.)
Don't panic, this is not another scrawl. Just a good-night kiss.
You once teased me, told me my letters are like balls of yarnI know, I got so knotted up in myself that by now it might be impossible to untangle me. I'm not asking you to try: hold the ball of yarn in your hand, tucked between your two palms, just for a moment, for as long as you can, for one more month. It's a big request, I knowbut you are now at a perfect distance from methe perfect distance of closeness and foreignness, and between my ignominy and my pride (you're no longer a stranger). Don't take that from me. How could I look Maya in the eye if I allowed her into the blind rat's room? She's my woman, I'm her gever. When she and I are together, my pupils never get shifty when I say gever.
Thank you so much for your quick replyyou must have felt just what has been going through me since the last letter
And today, I want only to caress you, to comfort and be comforted ... You practically ran to me with your writing. You gave me so much of yourself as a girl, of your mother, and especially your fatherat last, someone in your childhood was gentle and loving (I found I completely misguessed himI had imagined him stern and nosy and bitter, probably because I only knew of his "Why aren't you happy, Miriam?"). But maybe he was too gentle for the difficult job he needed to do, to protect you from her.
It amazes me that even though our homes were so different from each other's, in a thousand small and large ways, both of us still "felt at home" in each other's house. And when you described your loneliness, and at the same time how crowded it was, how you had to struggle for any privacy, I thought of how much it pleases me that only the two of us,out of all the millions living here in this country, know what the winner of the Chang Shui County Milking Contest looks like ...
Because whoever didn't grow up in such a house might think that there is a complete contradiction between "loneliness" and "a struggle for privacy," right? Only the person who grew up in that kind of house can know that feeling exactly, when that contradiction tears you apart.
How could you take it? (I actually want to shout, What have you got to do with such a woman, and how is it possible that you, you, came out of her!) And the efforts you have made, all these years, to try to be close to her to make her like you; in my opinion, it was very noble of you that you could, in that way, at such a young age, try and calm her anxiety about you ... And what about the healing that you always talk about? Has it not happened between the two of younot even once?
I also recognized your feeling that you are betraying her by talking to me about her; oy, I know, oy, Miriam, oy, the oy-ness of life. You always ask the hardest questions, and you've already seen that I have no answer except to sit and mourn together. And to bring up that question with you againwhy does it have to happen this way, that you probably never learn to mine out the ore that you need most from your own insides?
And how are you so good at giving what you never got?
I have to leave soon (a parents' meeting for the kindergarten class!), but there is so much more to say. You're probably right that a meeting "in the middle of the road," like the one I offered, would no longer be satisfying. That a true meeting between us can happen only if both of us walk the whole way to the other. I wish I could say that with the same certainty as you; I want to, more than I've ever wanted anythingbut I don't think I have ever walked such a long path.
Slowly, all right?
I'm reading your letter, thinking how simple and banal my story is compared to yours (though perhaps I tell it a bit more dramatically ...); and afterward, I see that in the kernel of it, that bitter, crappy kernelthey are still very much alike. Then I think how many tens or maybe hundreds of times I have sold my story to impress someone (usually a woman). My Gloomy History. My Tapes. In recent years I've even stopped feeling nauseated when I do it. The one thing I haven't stopped feeling, though, is that I tell it in order to escape, in the same way a lizard abandons its tail, to keep myself from being caught. And I want to giveyou my soul, because this is our pact: a soul for a soul. Perhaps, someday, when I finally grow up, I'll be able to give you the gift you keep hoping to receive from me. And I will dress your face with that story.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You're right, and I have nothing to say in my defense. Crazy days. Working and running around from morning to night. I hardly find the time to eat. I remember us, and I am with us (don't worry), and I will write a real letter soon. Actually, I don't really exist right nowhold up the bridge on your side (you're probably more capable of it than I am anyway), and just let me remind you, even in the great moments of my modesty, I remained egocentric. I'm referring of course to that fantasy of yours, describing how we met on the street, you and I and your mother, that night I was returning home from the movies, remember?
By the way, regarding your question at the end, written in large letters (and why does this question occur to you now?)there are a few answers.
First (to the public): I started with it for no real reason, but because it was convenient during my military reserve service one winter, and it has stayed ever since.
Second (should be printed in the Hedha-Khinhukh Teacher's Magazine ): Look, Miriam, of course I understand, lo-gi-cal-ly, what you were getting at in your excited little speech full of good intentions. And I wish I could reconcile with myself and look at myself with a favorable eye. Really, why not? Why, I too have at least "one person on the outside" who looks upon me with loving eyes, just like you, she even looks at me through rose-tinted glasses. She has been trying for years, with all her strength, and with all the love in her eyes, and still can't do it. It's a fact: she cannot make me shut those damning eyes in myself and convince me to see what she (probably) sees in me.
Third (just for you): You do understand, don't you? Because you were the child and the teenager who used to "switch uglinesses" in herself, moving them from the tip of her nose all the way down to her thighs ...and you also wrote about the kind of physical discomfort that almost "seeps out of you," so that you think everyone can see it. I'm familiar with that, too. And the feeling that some stain is hiding inside you, right? That's my private name for it; and it has a full range of motion, this little stain, which is mine and not mineit was implanted in me, but my body took to it admirably well. Where it chooses to be in any particular moment is exactly the same location as the encounter I once wrote to you aboutwhen my body and soul meet in an internal whisper of a password ...
And isn't it true that, in that particular moment, the entire rest of your body ceases to exist? All your nerves are stretching to that place of encounter, all your blood rushes to that location (what you described, how, as a girl, you felt so tall that every time you walked into a room full of people, you immediately tried to fall)?
So, this is another answer to your question (asked in a slightly disagreeable nasal tone) "Why the beard all of a sudden?"
Do you realize yet what you've done!
Has she called you yet?
But how could such a thing happen to you? Is it the pressure of the beginning of the school year, or what?
I'm scared just to ask you what was written in the letter that was meant for me (has she received it yet ...? ).
On the one hand, you know, it's all my worst fears coming true. On the other hand, it is almost amusing, the thought that if you are going to travel back a hundred years and have a love affair in letters, you have to expect a nineteenth-century mistake like this to happen.
And from another way of looking at it, yes, from a third side ... it brings me pleasure, for some reasonas if we now exist in an "objective" place. There is one witness from the outsidea living witness, existing, complete. Real. For what we are.
I'm dying to know what she saidhow did she react? She can keep a secret, can't she? I know, I knowyou can trust Anna, I know.
But why didn't you tell me she had gone away? Only the other day you quoted an entire conversation you had with Anna about the crazylove affair of those two (Vita Sackville-West and Violet?), and you said you had read her complete passages from the book. And I even remember what Anna said, that she has been looking for the power of such a crazy love all her lifeand she spoke about the courage of being honest about the pain of matters involving emotion.
But you didn't even hint during the letter that the whole discussion was happening over a transatlantic connectionand it sounded so close, as if you were in the same room and could touch! Where exactly is she flying to in the world, and for how long? The way you miss heryou would think she's been gone for years, just like that; does a woman go alone on a long journey across the worldand with a small child?
The shock of the first momentthat suddenly you address me as a woman, inquiring as to how I've been feeling and if I'm terribly lonely, and if I miss you as much as you miss me ...
I felt such a strange shiver when you spoke to me this wayas if you had found a forbidden, hidden string and plucked it.
I was, of course, smiling to myself over the differences between what you tell me (about Yokhai, for instance) and what you tell her. For example, you would never write to me about how much he weighs, and his height, and how many pairs of shoes you bought him for the winter.
And you have never sent me a photo of him (may I keep it?).
I understand Anna is very close to Amos as well. Apparently they are soul mates. From your letter, one would think that for a moment both of you know him with the exact same closeness and intimacyI see the two of you almost clinging to him at the same time. (Did you notice?) Read the draftI think you'll find it interesting.
It's strange to legitimately peek this way into your other intimacies, formerly unreal to me. It is also a pleasure to eavesdrop on the private humor the two of you share. I only knew it as your humor beforethin and a bit sadand it suddenly made senseyou have a partner. You can feel how it began to spring up between you from childhood, and grow, and become more and more intricate. Big Miriam and tiny Anna ... And in general, you two are a huge sound box together (you're probably not conscious of it). For example, you visited her parents this week, and her father was playing the piano, and Yokhai suddenly burst out cryingand I remembered how you cried at the Bronfman concert years ago, sitting next to Annaand I suddenly read that when Anna gave birth to her son, Amos played her that Rachmaninoff concerto over earphones, andthen everybody there criedI couldn't understand whythe doctors and the midwife and the baby, and you and Amos as well, all that crying and laughter and music flowing for all of you together.
Tell me, am I jealous?
(Because it occurred to me that this is actually the first love letter I have ever received from you.)
About Emma Kirkby and your description of what her voice evokes in you, a "braiding together" of the most profound sadness and joy, a rising fullness, that "reassuring heartbreak" you mentioned.
When I heard how you speak to AnnaI mean, when I could isolate that thing in your written voice, I thought
Sometimes, when I hear your voice, in words, I feel a kind of whimper rising up in me, making its way through mean internal voice heretofore unfamiliar to me: until you, I didn't know it.
Reassuring heartbreak? I don't know. In my opinion, the voice takes me apart. It's an unhappy voice, like slightly hysterical sobbing, like the whimper of a dog that hears a flute and goes mad. It stretches out from within me, against my will (the way the eye is drawn to a disaster); it nags and burdens me until sometimes I rage at you. When you wrote to the boy I was, for instance.
Add this, too, to the "tuning of the instruments."
No, I don't know how I feel right now. And I'm irritated by the pitying, concerned (self-righteous) tone you assumed after dealing such a blow. A similar feeling to the one I experienced after you took your house awayand with one wave erased everything you had ever given to me with it as well. But of course, there is no comparison.
It's hard for me even to write to you right now. I don't understand you, Miriam, and at this moment I don't even want to understand you. Tell me how you can, without warning, punch me in the stomach this way?
It's the first time since we've started this correspondence that I'm almost appalled by you. Not from what you told mewhat you told meseems like a bad dream to me. I might not write to you for a few days. I need some time.
Please don't write to me either.
I can't be with it by myself.
Once, in the army, during a guard shiftI was sneaking a read, all the while terrified that I would be caught with To the Lighthouseand I remember how, contrary to all my rules of caution, I yelled as if I had just been burned. From the pain, of course, but mainlyI had just started the second part of the bookbecause of my rage at Virginia Woolf for, with a snap of her fingers, and in parentheses, letting me know that the wonderful Mrs. Ramsay, the love of my soul, had "died rather suddenly the night before."
That was nothing compared to what I felt with your letter in my hand. I was lucky to be alone in my car, in a parking lot, when I read it.
What do you expect me to say? That you've amazed me again? That I was furious with you because you just don't do that in matters such as this? I don't know. Because, on the other hand, as the hours passed, I could also see that you stood by our crazy agreement far more loyally than I didthrough all these months you were telling me your dreams and believing in them with all your heart, you were living them with passion and dedication and devotion, far beyond what I thought was possible or allowed. Far more than what I ever dared, in spite of all of my water-sprinkler games.
But it hurts. It hurts like a fist in the stomach. And it doesn't stop hurting. And every time I reread that letter that was supposedly "switched"
What more will you tell me in this way of yours?
I can't stop thinking about how you continue to speak to her. Soul conversations and little daily chats. You quoted her to me in the first letter you wroteand you took her on almost every trip of yours. She has been dead for ten years, and you still resurrect her, each and every day.
How many years did you have together? I mean, ever since she approached you in Lushka Kindergarten and swore that you two would be friends forever, until her forever ended. Twenty? Twenty-five?
And what about the childwas it born? Did he, at least, come out alive from the birth? (Is there a father in the story?)
I don't even quite understand my reaction, the depth of my shockbecause I never knew her in life, only in your stories. A certain sequence of words. A tiny woman, witty and funny, and brave, who wore her heart on her sleeve (and a huge straw hat, and had a harelip, and was all bright flames of fire).
You pictured her as a bird almost every time you wrote of her.
I can now grasp how lonely you are. Yes, even with all those friends of yours, and the group of men you keep around you, and your girlfriends from the village and from work. And Amos. But the kind of friendship you had with Anna, this twinness, is something you receive perhaps once in a lifetime.
It would be stupid to comfort you now; frankly, I feel as if I am the one in need of comforting, because I found out about it only yesterday. I haven't felt this way in yearsas if a very close friend of mine had died. I'm holding you tightly to me.
Maybe I don't understand you at all. Maybe you're completely different than I thought. Because I am, after all, only peeking at you through cracks. Composing stories that could be complete fantasies. (What isn't imaginary? What my body is telling you right now.)
And that feeling as well, that everything you tell me about yourselfeven what might seem to me, in the first look, like a complete contradiction in your personality; even what strikes me with a cruelty that doesn't become youI already know that when I look back on it, I will see how true and loyal it is to who you are, and how, in your depths, it ties together and becomes a law.
Is this how I seem to you? (I think not.)
Don't go away. I need you with me now. There is so much more to talk about. We've only just started, each letter makes me realize how much we've only just started; I think even if we spoke for thirty years, Iwould always feel we had only just started. By the way, I was surprised when you invited me to come to the Ta'mon Café on Thursday nights to watch Amos play chess. I will not go, of course. I will be satisfied with your description. Sometimes I see someone who looks like him on the street, not young and not old, not tall and not short, with a little potbelly and a neat little beard, with gray hair, messy and wild under a beret.
But I can never be sure: either he is not wearing the gray jacket with the elbow patches (in the summer, too?) or he doesn't have the cap or he doesn't have those unmistakable eyesthe bluest, clearest eyes you have ever seen in an adult.
You write about him so beautifully, with warmth and softness, and with love; but I also feel a thin sadness spreading over your words. How can it be so easy for you to tell me that I would undoubtedly find you two quite an odd couple, that even the people closest to you don't always understand what you are doing together? And it actually makes you happy that only the two of you know.
But my heart felt the most pinched when you wrote me that when he made his living singing folk songs in Scotland thirty years agothose must have been his happiest days. If Maya's happiest years weren't with me, I would feel a terrible loss. Truly defeated.
But actually, Maya is not really very happy right now. She has been this way for a few months. She says it might be her workbecause how sunny can your mood be when you're researching the human immune systembut we both know it isn't just that. She's sadshe can't concentrateshe's floating in a bubble of depression. And I can't help her right now, because I don't understand myself. Wait for me a little longer, Maya.
I just had a flash while I was
I'm eight years old, taking the morning bus to school. They are interviewing Arthur Rubinstein on the radio (it was the first time I heard his name). It was his birthday, and the interviewer was asking him how he saw his life. And he answered, "I am the happiest man I have ever known." I remember looking around me in amazement, almost panicked: I'm sure you know what people on the 7 a.m. bus look likeand he dared use that word, in that way, so freely ...
It was sometime around New Year'severy New Year's they would announce how many people were now in Israeland I remember thinking so passionately that out of three million, there must be at least onehappy personand I want to be that person! (And a week later, I was lying in my parents' garage with a belt around my heart ...)
I just reread To the Lighthouse again on a confused impulse, so I could mix the sadnesses together. Perhaps to be comforted a little. It's not comforting. It's the opposite of comforting. And the hardest part is having no one to share the feeling with. I bought Rachmaninoff's Second Concerto and listened to it over and over. Music does me good right now; "if they shouted loud enough, Mrs. Ramsay would return. 'Mrs. Ramsay!' she said aloud, 'Mrs. Ramsay!' The tears ran down her face."
Just one more thing, all right?
Years ago I devised a special sight test for every woman I liked. To determine which one would be the "One Woman of My Life." I thought we would look into each other's eyes, and slowly bring our eyes closer, closer and closer, and even closer, until my eye touched hersnot the lashes, really touchedthe eyelids, the eye itself, the pupils and moistures would touch. Tears will immediately come, of course, that's how the body works. But we will not give up or surrender to the rules of reflex, to the body's bureaucracy; until we rise, out of the tears and pain into the fragments of the vaguest, most ancient pictures of our two souls and float into our bodies. We will see the broken forms in each other. This is what I want, right now. That we will see the darkness in each other. Why not? Why compromise, Miriam? Why not, for once in our lives, ask to cry with another's tears?
That's all. Hello.
It's no good, only being able to write you when I'm dead tired (this lifewho the hell wrote these rules?). I'm pretty much starting to get sick of running around. It isn't just meMaya, too. Almost everyone I meet. Especially people our agework, the kids, there's no time for anything. Even you, yes you, yes, the Great Lingerer ... a while ago I wrote out your schedule for each day of the week for myself, including work and afternoon meetings, Yokhai's treatments and visits to your mother,and Alexander Technique lessons, and dinner and dishwashing, and everything else I know. And I was amazed by how little spare time you have for yourselfjust a few moments in a day. At least your nights are free.
And I was thinking that this activity doesn't suit youit's as if some foreign body were drowned into your softness (if I am allowed to quote back to you what you said about my sense of humor).
So what is he really thinking about us, your man from Mars who's watching?
What you asked me to tell youit's a bit late tonight to start such a tale (have you heard about the wise Chinese man who said, "I don't have the time to write a short letter, so I will write a long one"?); perhaps, on the other hand, it is good that I tell a story like this when I'm tired.
The truth is, I don't like to remember my friendship with him. The more I miss him, the more appalled I am by the friendship we had then, how distant and unapproachable it seems. We were both smart, weak little kids, unpopular (as the verdict is pronounced among Ido's generation). We were mocked and ostracized by the other kidsand we ostracized ourselves a little as well. I think we enjoyed being special and cursed. We invented, for instance, a private language of hand gestureswe were very adept and could chat with it during class. We were laughed at for this as well, of coursecan you imagine what it must have looked like, he and I and our finger signs?
We had secret nicknames for our classmates, and would compose mocking songs about them, about the teachers. You can already guess, I'm sure, that we both (yes, he as well) were familiar, from personal experience, and thanks to the superb education we received at home, with the basic article of the constitution stating that each person possesses one quality deserving mockery. And we passed that knowledge on ...
So we advanced our image as a double-headed creature with a multi-hemisphered brainwe developed the arrogant, bold speaking patterns of a couplewe used very manly language, that is, and used to hold public contests in writing "simultaneous poetry" in the style of the Dada poets. We swallowed Hegel and Marx without understanding a thing (we onlylearned about the golden era of radical sixties Matzpen socialism from the adults, and heard about it with terrible envyI can't recall whether your name was ever mentioned). We also had a sense of something like a styleand, of course, we truly felt (without ever saying it aloud) a bit like two English boys who were meant to be sent to a boarding school and got stuck instead in the public school of a working-class neighborhood.
At the age of fifteen, we wrote our own "Modest Proposal" about producing electricity from inferior human beings; this is how we defined it, crippled, stupids, retarded, and so on (I'm sorry, I know, and still: me, everything). "The Family Cookbook" came a year later, and established and dishonored our names at school for all eternity: it was a collection of Jewish recipes, easy to prepare (and cheap, too, because the ingredients were always at home). From the menu I recommend to my gourmet friends Mother's Stomach-Lining Soup, and Cheek Dumplings à la Papa, stuffed with bitter bile ...
It is important that I stress in this disgraceful yet inconsequential report that the more power we accumulated the more popular we became with the girls. This was a refreshing development for us: by the time we reached sixteen, we were already surrounded by a small but excited circle of groupies. We would make them read moldy books we'd borrowed from the YMCA library, and then test them, and give them hell, until they earned our good graces. There was a time we would woo girls with a plan predetermined by a secret codeone by one, we would go after girls, so that the first letters of their first names, put together, would actually spell out the name of the girl we really loved, one Khamutal, over whom we didn't even dare masturbate out of sheer love.
It continued in this way until we went into the service. Six years. Six witty years, Shai would say. Six gritty, shitty years, I would immediately respond. We were obsessed with word games. We could destroy a person's very foundations within five minutes, through a simple Ping-Pong game with his name. (I'm writing to you and thinking, If everything had ended differently, if we had succeeded in remaining together into our adult livesafter the wild irresponsibility of youth and cowardly crueltywhat a good friend I could have had.)
All right, boys, enough sentiment. We were recruited on the same day, and although we believed in pacifism and demonstrated against the occupation and all that, we were overjoyed when the draft cards arrived. I think both of us could sense the poison in our friendship. The fact thatthe rough army decided we were fit material was a sign that, in spite of everything, and underneath all the affected rot, we were actually just like everybody else.
In short, the long arm of the IDF separated us. Shai served in the Golani infantry brigade and Iunderweightwas assigned to be a clerk. Each of us, for the first time in years, stood alone in front of our peers; we sobered up very quickly, or more accurately, we were forced into sobriety. We buried all our cleverness deep in our kit bags. And we learned to speak in those other languagesbut mainly we learned to shut up. And then, in one of the glorious campaigns of our forces in Lebanon, Shai was severely wounded. His mother called me from the hospital, before she even called his grandparents. And I told her that, of course, on my first weekend off, I would go see him.
After a few, horrible, soul-filthy weeksI have no other words to describe what happened inside me each and every day I did not go to see him. I didn't even go home on my days off, just so I wouldn't have to see him. It was impossible to keep it up, so I forced myself go to Tel Hashomer.
What do I remember? I remember the long corridor, and the geranium plants hanging from the ceilings. And the crippled guys flying by me on their wheelchairs with special skillyou can imagine how I felt walking in that hallway, so permit me to be brief. Someone was getting up for me at the end of the corridor. A thin body, with a shaved head, only one good eye wide open in his face, with no eyebrow above it. And there was also a horrible mouth, slightly pulled to the side in some kind of permanent skeleton's giggle. He was leaning on crutches; one of his legs had been amputated above the knee.
I approached him cautiously. We stood and looked each other in the eyes. In the eye. We thought, An eye for an eye; we thought, Seeing eye to eye; we thought, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we thought, The eyes have itall our poisoned brilliances were running between us, and died on the edge of his naked eyelid. He started to laughor cry; to this very day, I don't know, with that mouthand I was possessed by hysterical laughter and pretended to be crying.
I have nothing to say in my defense. I simply couldn't get over it. That's a longtime habit with me, huh? Also the fact that our friendship and our uniqueness was always at the exact point of the tip of the syringe of mockery.
Dear Miriam, after the donkey-foal letter, you said you wanted to hug me. How can you hug me? I couldn't hug him. I couldn't lie and tell him he was a beautiful boy. We both stood, with our faces turned aside and our shoulders shaking; all the years of our friendship, with its truly beautiful moments and our silent knowledge of each other, and mainly with the notion that our meeting at the age of twelve might have been a rare gift that our crappy luck had smuggled into our lives to usit was all erased.
That's the story.
What was I thinking yesterday?
That it's a pity you and I can't be friends. Just friends, like the good friendship between two men. Honestly, why aren't you a man?! That would have solved so many problems: meeting every two or three weeks in some coffeeshop or steakhouse, throwing back beers, talking about fucking, business, politics; going to a soccer game in Gan Sacher on Friday afternoons; taking family trips together on Saturdays. Easy.
I remember how he lifted the remains of his face and looked up at the ceilingthere is no language that has words to describe the expression on his face, as if, in that moment, he accepted, surrendered with some horrible intellectual integrity to the verdict we both pronounced when we were friendsthat if you're fucked up in some way, it's probably your fault. If you were punished, you deserved it. You deserve everything you are; you are an exact punishment for yourself, no more, no less.
His face shook in front of mehe no longer had the facial features to express everything going on inside him. After that, he turned around and we went our separate ways, without even a goodbye. It was many years agoI know he went through a lot of surgery and physical therapy and looks pretty okay. I also heard that he got married, had one child, and they're expecting a second.
He truly was an unusually intelligent and bitter child. Hardly a week passes when I don't think about him, and stilldo you see? I cut him out of my life, too. (Look at mea hybrid of the Scorched Earth Strategy and the Salami System.)
Come to the kitchen, come to my kitchen. I already know yours well. It's the evening, and I had a somewhat happier day, the first one since youtold me about Anna. I want you here with me for a moment, I think we're allowed that after five months and seventeen days exactly since we met (today!).
I'm in our yard, a square meter of grass with a water sprinkler. Surrounded by an obedient ring of chrysanthemums. This should be an autumn evening according to the calendar. But the air is warm, thick, clotted, and close. Doesn't it feel as though winter is refusing to arrive this year? (I don't care.) I am lounging here on a comfortable Keter lawn chair, under the guise of writing a reply to an angry customer to whom I mistakenly sold the wrong storyand feel you around me. I have a feeling, somehow, that today you won't fight me over this bold invitation into the depths of my house. That is, at least, what I am hoping for. Because with you I never know when the scolding will come ...
(For example: "Sometimes you suddenly belch in front of me this way after you write a terrible, horrible thinga salami belch, and really, I feel like simply killing you!")
Okay, I took my scolding for my hit-and-run treachery, my insistence on disguising myself as a primitive for you ... undoubtedly I earn this scolding, and also the torch you turn on my innocent and momentary wish that we had a boy's friendshipa man's.
Hey, you shouldn't work yourself up over my nonsensethey are just words. I swear, I am not constantly trying to detach "that fact of your being a woman" from our relationship. And God forbid you should castrate yourself (!?) just so you can "truly fulfill this wish" of mine. Come, enough fighting. I like saying it to you, come; immediately a small, warm wave washes over my heart. You know, I can now think about you in every room of my house, not only in the shower; it's as if I have finally found, in the past few weeks, the place where you can exist without invading any other territory. Where do you think of me?
Consider such an hour in the evening. Our kitchen is busy now, and Ido is sitting in his royal chair, with all the treasures of Ali Baba and Ali Mama spread out in front of him. Containers of yogurt and milk and cottage cheese and chocolate spread and spaghetti and sliced apples with cinnamon sprinkled on topof course, just the way you prepare them for Yokhai (and thank you for the idea!). Maya is at the stove, cooking something or grilling chicken wings for tomorrow. Our kitchen is so sweet in these momentsthis is what I always think to myself, always, with the same amazement of discovering Eden. Sometimes I say it to myself,under my breath, so Maya won't hear me; she laughs at my sentimentality, but I have to say it, because, in the same moment, I am there but also not there. You know this feeling, you said it yourselfyou are always, always standing outside the house at the same time you are in it, resting your hands against the windowsill and looking in.
Then I look insideand miss, in advance, what will, at some point, surely be destroyed and demolishedtorn apartthings are always getting torn. Especially because of me, may my name be erased. (I once read that in ancient Chinese, the word "family" is written this way: painting a "house" with a pig standing inside it.)
But today, everything is dipped in goodness. Peek inside, see how merry the overcrowded table of plenty is, with the glorious detritus of lifethe crusts I cut from Ido's bread slices, the egg stains on his lips and cheeks (and on the floor all around him), the rings of chocolate on the tablecloth, and the olive pits and the basket of large, beautiful fruits, so full of tropical passion, in our house; our house, in the suburbs. Our forks and our spoons and our knivesthe cup with the broken handle, the cup with the crackthe "Number 1 Mom" mug next to the "Number 1 Girlfriend" mugand the ugly yellow teacup, the only one left from a set of twelve we received for our wedding ... only he remains and refuses to break. Maya and I have a dealduring a really bad fight, we are allowed to break one of these cupsbut this one has survived for over three years. It is even surviving this recent period. What does that actually mean?
The colorful spice rack, and the bread box, slightly open, like the mouth of a dreaming grandfatherthat's how I wish I could be, immediately! And the notes; and the news articles I cut out and stick on the fridge for Maya, instructions for the Heimlich maneuver and reports about infants swallowing detergents and updated statistics about common accidents that occur in the houseand disasters that occur outsidefrom going too fast, eating too much, immoderate living. And Maya smiles in front of me, her simple and beautiful face lights up. Her beloved, homey body, which I love a lot more than my own, wrapped up in a sweatsuit, the twin of my blue one, an anniversary gift her parents gave us years ago. Her parents, who love me as their own son. IfGod forbidwe ever broke up, we would continue to pretend to be together, so we wouldn't break their hearts. And she passes me the pressure cooker and the fat Polish pot, placing the orange plastic Tupperware with rice leftovers from yesterday on the marble counter; deftly pouring the soupfrom the day before yesterday into the Polish pot after she empties out the cabbage which is now in the little cracked oneand what was in the little cracked one? Goulash leftovers, let's say, which she pours into the pot we bought on our honeymoon in Italy. We once cooked soup in it on the banks of the Arno (and don't confuse it with the pot we bought on our trip to France!). While all the containers calm themselves down after the hectic activity, we reorganized the refrigerator together, moving the fresh dairy products to the back. I lean over her, she twists to slide through the space under my armour kitchen dancenot to be confused with the jig of the donkey foal. Over our years together, we have combined with each other into oneI sometimes feel as if we both had a sex change into a third sexthe married sex. And once these two bodies had already mixed and blended and dissolved into each other, they became the starting point, origin of passionand not the means for its satisfaction. We did become one flesh. It's really terrible.
You have no idea how filled with joy I was when we were both teaching Ido how to tie his shoelaces and discovered that each of us ties his laces differently.
By the way, thank you for your advice about Shaibut it's a lost cause. It is true that we have both grown up since thenbut it still wouldn't work. He and I know, with our shared, internal, crippled logic (you'll be annoyed by this, but still), that our separation, forced and unnecessary, is also a well-deserved punishmentand the continuation of our relationship, in a very private way. No one understands this better than Shai.
Now, shall we return to the kitchen?
After we took the cracked pot out of there and put in the little potissimo, a good space became availableso Maya rescues a plastic container from the freezer marked Potato Burekas, with the date they were made, and puts it on that middle shelf in the refrigerator. That shelf is almost empty, and a bit loose. I fixed it. That's why you can't put any heavy stuff on itthat's how Maya will explain it someday to her second husband, the wrestler, the blacksmith, the talented refrigerator technician. And we both stand there a moment, taking a break from this exhausting activityand filled with a quiet, harsh satisfaction I find hard to describe in wordsit is so rough, so deep, it fills the whole of me so completely, to the tips of my nervesand Maya's. Those nerves, as if they were bent, rounded by the combined internal heat flowing through usthosenerves might look like scorpion tails in a mating dance, or a devouring dance, and both swell and pulse together in idiotic pride for this modest specialty of ours that we develop day by day to the perfection and purity of the essence of Togetherness. So, Miriam, this is the situation: and it is only now so clear to me, in writing this, that my life with Maya, our love, is so stable and defined that it is impossible to add a new element that is too large (like myself, for instance).
Isn't that the way it goes? Two people loving each other for better or worse, corked up in the jar of marriage. And every deep breath of mine takes something from her in the petty, unwilling accounting that goes on with the person you love the most. Eventually, everything turns into an account, a balance sheet, believe me (even though you refuse to). Not only who earns how much, and who works harder at home and on the outside, and who takes more initiative in bed. Even the genes you donate to the family piggy bank are being counted somewhere. Who the kid resembles more, and which of you is aging faster, and who's lagging behind and not participating.
Evenwho's the first to end a kiss.
So hold me tight, now (now!)! Lay your head on my shoulderdo you know about the one spot I dream to kiss on youapart from the hidden beauty mark: the hollow of your shoulder, by your neck. I want to feel your heat, and your soft velvet skinthe vein that beats there, thus: the quiet, continuing beat of life springing up in you.
Come. Come under my wing, don't say a wordjust agree with me in your heart that you can paint a marriage this way as well: two people, watching each other, facing each other in a very long, terribly slow ritualthe execution ritual of your deeply loved one. And now I'm being called to come in for dinnermy fried egg, over easy, just how I like it, is ready. By the way, you wrote something that really amazed methat Amos is the only person in the world with whom you would like to share what you are able to feel now thanks to our correspondence (!).
Sorry: I don't believe you. It does sound pretty, but it's impossible.
Not just prettyit sounds great coming out of your mouthso generous it could make you jealous: " ... I am certain Amos would understand precisely what excites me again, every timethat a strange man saw something in me that moved him so much he had to come and put his soul in my hand ..."
It's not that I can't imagine it. What a joy it would be if we lived insuch a mended world, in which I could call out to Maya right now, Just a minute, My, I'm just finishing up a letter to Miriam! And she would ask, Miriam? Who is Miriam? And I would finish writing you, taking my sweet time, and sit down in my home, cut into my fried egg, and say that Miriam is a woman I have been corresponding with for almost half a year. She makes me happy. And Maya would smile at me, pleased that I am finally showing signs of happiness (thus destroying years of my carefully constructed reputation). And she would toss the salad with the big tongs and ask me to tell her more. What kind of happiness is it? How is it different from the happiness she brings me? And I would think a little, and then tell her that when I'm writing you, I feel something in me becoming alive, returning to life, revivingdo you understand, Maya? Even though, at times, I write her things that make me despise myself-I am living now, through her, with something that only she could manage to resurrect in me; that, if not for her, would simply be dead. You wouldn't want anything to die in me, would you, My? This is what I would say while I cut thin slices of Swiss cheese and tomato and wrap them up together. And Maya would ask me to tell her more, and I would tell her, for example, that you collect teapots, and all your friends bring you teapots from around the world. They are all kept in the garage, however, in storageand Maya would think about it for a moment, whether we have a unique teapot to give you. And I would have continued to tell her about you, and Maya's eyes would glow at me with love and innocence, the way they did in the old days. She would lay her elbow on the table and rest her cheek in her palm, like a girl listening to a fairy taleand I would continue to tell her
(But thenshe would have to tell me a new story about herselfsomething I don't know.)
Hey, Miriam ...
You have no idea what you have just given me.
Where do I begin? So many emotions are fighting inside me to be the first ... When I was very young, I vowed to read all the books in theschool library that no one else read; and truly, for one year I read only books whose checkout cards were empty (I became acquainted with some hidden treasures that way); or the time I wanted to teach myself how to control my dreams, so I could receive orders and requests from people to meet all their dear ones who had died and wish them well as I slept; or the time I wanted to train a dog who would, each night, accompany one lonely man who wants to wander the streets for no reason
You can't imagine how often I am occupied with such nonsense, to this very day. I'm telling it to you in exchange for the tale you invented for methe fantasy of how you were kind to me on the street that night, a night you were walking with your mother in a rare moment of grace you two hadin a flash flood, it brought me back to a forgotten passion to be kind, to give without keeping count. The desire to flood the streets with golden coins from my carriagebut have those coins made from myself, my flesh and bloodwith no substitutions, right? To feel my soul spreading out with this generosity, how I give myself away, and nourish, and win over the principle of strangeness and miserliness of the soul and everything we already decided to call the Kremlin. I realized just how much our connection has made me be gooddesire to give you only good; and even when I, here and there, get filthy in front of you, you only have to remember that it somehow still belongs to the same weird will burning my throat with the need to do you good, or just to do good. To wipe away all the mud and resentment collecting in the tunnels, come-comecomecomecome ...
But what if I don't deserve such a generous gift?
What if I lied?
Those two women, and what they saidor didn't sayon the street that nightthat was undeniably true; what if I wasn't returning from a movie or an evening out with Shai? I mean, I told them at home that I was going out with Shai, always just with Shai. My father despised Shai, his ironic glancecalled him "faggot" and sometimes also "the Fluorescent One" (Shai did have a kind of deathlike pallor spread out on his face), and he used to do impressions of his voice and his gesture of flipping a curl off his forehead, out of his eyes. Shai, Shai (you already know the story, but it feels so good to write his name down after all these years).
You should also know that I was already dating girls by this timebut I didn't tell my parents, of course. Why? Just because. Maybe I already felt the need to fight for any privacy with all my strengthmaybe because I started feeling some anxiety, thin as a lace curtain around me, about myself and exactly what I am. Nothing was ever verbalized or explained, of course, but there was some kind of nervousness fluttering about me, a doubt that used to freeze their hearts. Perhaps you have experienced itwhen every sentence out of your mouth is stretched under the light to search for traces. Of what? It wasn't made terribly clear, not then, and I didn't understand it, nor did I want to tell myself those things about myself so explicitly. I suspected myself of it (who doesn't at that age?), but along the way I started to feel the pleasure of frightening themand would start scattering various insinuations, demolishing their world with vague hints. I would tell them, for instance, about a mature, mysterious friend I met at the library with whom I had long conversations about art. Or float the idea of Shai and me renting an apartment together in Tel Aviv after the army ... and Mrs. Rubber Gloves would flash a medieval look at Mr. Brown Belt and hum that Shai is already a big enough loser in proportion to his sizeand why does he still not have a girlfriend? And why can't I ever hang out with someone just a little more normal, instead of spending all my time just with Shai, each of us in the other's ass? So she would say, and having been silenced by terror, I would bleat out with childish innocence that girls don't interest us at allwhat really interests both of us right now, actually, is quitting school and joining an amateur theater company abroad. You should have seen the effect of those words on their earsand never, ever in a million years, not under torture, would I ever tell them that I had been dating girls for a while now, normal females ... because I started messing around with girls when I was very young, tiny Lolito that I was. I remember myself at the age of twelveI would approach the girlany girl, I was never too choosyand, mustering a terrified self-confidence, would ask her out. Meaning, I would order her, in my limp way, to come with me to a movie. And after the movie I would, using my endless wiles of flattery and begging and self-humiliation, get her to make out with me. Why? Just because I wanted to, because I had to. It belonged to some bargain that she had almost no part inin which she was only currencyor, worse yet, a receipt.
You'd be surprised if you knew how many girls agreed to be the soft,sweet-smelling cannon fodder for the frightened tyrant I was. I have no explanation. You can imagine for yourself what I was like then, what I looked likebut still, there was always some girl or other who agreed to participate as a walk-on in my internal, bloody drama. Maybe they wanted to practice on me so they'd be prepared when they met the real thing. I sometimes, to this day, wonder: maybe they felt an attraction to his strangeness, above all. I wonder why it depresses me now, again, just to think about itso many years have passed, and that boy grew and survivedbut the thought that it really was my great dark secret that created a black magic gravitational pull (because who can resist the temptation to peek into another's hell?)
I went to a movie that evening, not with Shai, but with a girl whose name I don't remember. After we said our goodbyes, I went home. But instead of transferring at Jaffa Street and taking the bus back to my neighborhood, I entered Bahari Alley through the closed stands of the roasted-seed sellers and through the prostitutes.
Miriam, Miriam, let's see if I am capable of opening that box: I was barely twelve, I still hadn't gone further than stolen caresses and hasty kisses on lips that always sealed themselves together in front of me. I was holding 50 lirot in my hands, rolled up and sticky with my cold sweat, that I had spent several months dedicatedly stealing from the Holy Wallet, because for no small period of time had I planned, in cold blood, to do this. I would sit in class, studying language and the Bible, and see myself doing it. I would eat my Shabbat suppers with my family and see only this ...
Shall we take a break?
Your story excited me so much, the true partsthe nightmare of your weeklong vacation in Jerusalem (how old were you? fifteen? sixteen?), as well as the imaginary meeting you hallucinated for me at the end. Little detailshow ashamed you were, looking at your big shoes resting next to her tiny ones in the room at the pension; how you tried to separate the two pairs and she would constantly try to put them close together again. I'm thinking about the fruits budding in you then, late bloomer that you were, that seemed to her a final "proof" of your true promiscuous nature ...
And more than anything, well, it's clear ... what she whispered to you that night before you returned home, that sentence has been gnawing at me constantly with its inner defeated music (like a line from a funeraldirge)when Father asks us, we'll say we had a wonderful time; when Father asks us, we'll say we had a wonderful time ...
It allowed me to suddenly grasp something I never thought of in this way, until now: how miserable my parents were because of me. Perhaps as miserable as I was. It never once crossed my mind how I humiliated them, how helpless they were. How did you put it?raising your own orphan child is also terrible.
Miriam, you once told me you have this little game with meeach day you draw one letter of mine out of a bag and read it to discover what has changed in you and in me since the last time you read it.
So, I want to send you the rest of this story in a separate letter. Do you mind?
Are you still there?
I don't know where I got the guts to do it. My whole body was shakingwhy, courage itself was already a kind of betrayal. How is it possible for one child to dare to escape the gravity of his particular family and go all the way there. But maybe the most amazing treachery of all was that this twelve-year-old peanut stood up and allowed himself to feel such a strong emotion: lust. It's called lust. Black lust of daybreak we drink it at nightfall.
In that moment, who could feel true lust? What lust?! Perhaps the only real, true lust I have ever known (the lust of guilt eternally searching for an available sin to mate with). I swear, I could compose a complete book of their positions, all the possible variations those two can get into. Only a natural continuation to "The Family Cookbook"; oh, Shai, where are you?!
Old men and young men were standing around; they all looked like the characters in cops-and-robber movies, just like the ones they would cut out of huge sheets of cardboard and place on the roof of the Orgil Cinema. I passed between them with my eyes to the ground, with the festive, frozen terror of a man sentenced to death. I thought, None of them could be Ashkenazi. I thought, This is my burial place. Someone slapped the back of my head and laughed that he would tell my yeshiva in MeaShearim. Pay attention, Miriam, this was the child you wanted to grace with your glance, to promise him he was a beautiful boy ... At the end of the alley was a large back yard; men entered and left it hastily, their faces lowered. We would fantasize with choked whispers about what must be going on in there during class. Eli Ben Zikri was the only one who ever dared to actually run through the alley, and was considered a big hero because of it. And I entered it. The smell of urine and gutter stood thick in the air, and I felt how polluted I was with every breath. Another boy, not much older than I, turned me with a push toward one of the walls. By that wall stood a big square woman in a very short, very shiny black skirt, probably a leather skirt, but I only remember the shine next to her exposed, and very thick, thighs. But not her face, because I did not dare look at her. Can you imagine it? Until the transaction was completed, I did not dare to raise my head, even once, to look at her.
I asked, How much? And she said thirty. And I, paralyzed, handed her all the bills rolled up in my hand and heard my father's voice as he blew up about how terrible a merchant is the son he raised. Miriamyou're allowed to skip the next chapter of this tale, but I have to tell it to you. I want to be clean.
Tall buildings surrounded the yard, the walls covered with huge tar stains, long tongues of tarand in the dark garden itself in the back, I remember piles of old wood planks from construction sites, piles of garbage, and, here and there the red glow of cigarettes. From every corner crept whistles and breathing and the indifferent voices of the prostitutes talking among themselves as they did it. I remember how she pulled her skirt up in one rough motion, and I, who at the time saw the peak of my achievements as learning to flick open a bra strap with one handmy sister Aviva's bra, which I would stretch for practice on the old armchairsuddenly saw, in front of my eyes, the very thing. I got cold and sick, and I felt my soul shrinking, felt myself losing it for good, and I was thinking, That's itjust see how low you have sunk.
(No, I was a much more dramatic boy than thatI remember these very words echoing in my heart: Now you are truly outside human society ...)
She asked me why I didn't take it out, and reached a brute's hand to my little dick, which was trying to escape, screaming and retreating into thedepths of my underwear. She pulled it and shook it with all her strength, she rubbed and moved and squeezed it in her unpleasantly tough palm, and sadly, I left my body and watched myself from above and thought, It is impossible. You will never be mended.
Just a moment. Cigarette. I have to breathe. Why am I making such a big deal out of a visit to a whore? The whole thing was 50 lirot, big deal! Where were we?
We were with her, and she got angry and asked through her gum how long I thought she was going to wait for me, and thenlisten to thisthe rude geek asked her in a shaking voice if he would be allowed to kiss her once, there, on her breast ... Skip it, Miriam, skip it, because it's going to contaminate you now. Why am I even bringing you into this? Why do I have to pollute you with this? "He wanted to sin with another of his kind, to force another being to sin with him and to exult with her in sin." But I hadn't the luck of the young Stephen Dedalus. How I envied him when I read that her lips "pressed upon his brain as upon his lips." Mine only made some kind of contemptuous snort and pulled her bra down a little. I didn't see anythingI felt warm, sweaty flesh being pushed in my facemy tongue was looking around and searching the surface of itI remember how amazed I was when I felt a big, soft nipple, which I immediately clung to with all my being. A surge of warm love washed over mebecause in that entire yard, full of hookers, I found one thing that deserved love, that was all love and purity, to which I couldn't resist surrendering the whole of me ...
Yes, I know. It's really funny. I sucked it, hailing it in my breath and moaning with gratitudethat amazing softness filling my moutheven now, in this moment, I can remember how it felt, and how, in a half-faint, I imagined the nipple was like a little, round, juicy woman who had nothing to do with the prostitute. Just a soft, mature, solid little woman who may be, by occupation, a prostitute but initiates boys like myself in the mysteries of sex in a pleasant, homey wayand then the shock, when that pleasant lady suddenly hardened and shrank in my mouth like a piece of rough rubber, like a little night watchman, closed off and protected from everything around (you may laugh at me). The repulsion, and the complete despairbecause if even this becomes closed off and clots and becomes a strangerwhat is left to believe in? ... And by then, slaps and fists were descending on me from above, and I will never forget her surprised shout of pain, echoing all around that enclosed,stinking world: Did you see the little asshole? Do you think I'm your mother?!
When I walked out of that alley, no one would have been able to guess what I had just gone through. If they had attached me to a polygraph test, it would have written out "Best Boy in Jerusalem," as if some sharp surgeon's scalpel had in one wave cut the filth of that moment out of me, the cruel kick that someoneprobably the pimpgave me from behind, who grabbed me by my shoulders and then threw me out as choked laughter crawled after me from every corner of the dark yard. I stumbled away from there, running, falling, stained. But five minutes later I was sitting on the bus home, under the lights of the city, among people who could not guess what had happened so close to them, how heavy the fee was that I had left there. I wore my face again, I was myself again, to the point of exaggeration and ridiculousness. I dressed my face with the tale everybody knowsI must have also blinked a lot, so my eyes would look myopic and helpless. So people would look at me and mock me in their heartsand, in that way, things would go back to what they used to be, to the normal course of events between the world and me. That child popped out at me again a week ago, when I shaved off my beard. I shaved just to meet himdon't ask. From the silly yearnings for him you aroused in meI almost exploded from the insult of the weak face I saw staring back at me from the mirror. Still, I will make myself stay loyal to you. Not to myself: to you. And I promise never to cover it again with a hairy layer of epidermis.
When I reached my neighborhood, I was already, of course, concentrating intensely on the beautiful, reconciling things flooding my vision. I remember, for example, thinking that I would be a sailor someday and sail to distant lands, blue and green and full of lightand I would see only beautiful landscapesand there wouldn't be anything around me, just the wide expanse of the sea, wide and clear. And while I was deep in my hallucination, two women passed by me, one young, one old. And they said what they said, that I wasn't sure they said. Perhaps they only mumbled, "What a villainous boy." I don't know.
And it wasn't you, Miriam. Not you, and not your mother. Thank you for your tremendous efforts, for reliving that horrible week with her for my sake, without your father to protect you and separate her from you. I know how difficult it was for you to go back there. I was with youduring those endless nights, in the double bed in the pension. You were crying on one side of the bedshe was silent on the otherand incapable of offering even a hand to comfort you.
Without your even saying it, I know you brought me, in the last night of your story, to the only moment, probably, in those years, when the sky actually opened up for you. I am amazed againhow could you be so generous and wise and unreserved at such a young age? How did you understand exactly how miserable and humiliated she was to have to make such a request to you? When Father asksand how much strength did it take you to reach your hand out to her, over the mountains of darkness, and to tell her, "Mother, let's go."
The movie of this keeps playing in my mind: you and she, in that empty street in the middle of the night, your arms linked (I only now graspthat hand, the pregnancy, paralysis, her right arm ...)terrified by the sudden intimacy, and excited and mute and appalled, clutching each other's arm and shaking all over.
What touched me more than anythingin the middle of that storm of emotions that shook you as you wrote, you remembered how important it was to me that it will be the young one, "the modern one," who tells me (what she might not have said in the first place).
But noyou would have given me one look and known exactly where I was returning from in that moment, and how lost I already was. Just explain it to mebecause I don't completely understandhow is it possible that I was such a child?
I feel terribly murky inside myself right now.
Did you happen to watch TV this evening?
I saw a program I really thought was made for you. It was the kind of show you like to watch. And it also reminded me of my "wide expanse of the sea." They showed a tribe living on an island in the Pacificand all the nouns in their language are divided, not into male and female, but into "that which comes from the air" and "that which comes from the yam, sea."
(And I was thinking about another island, where words also are dividedinto "that which comes from Y-air" and "that coming from Miryam.")
You turned the kaleidoscope only slightlyand the whole picture rotated. But the mighty force it takes for just this slight turn!
Your letter arrived on a hard, annoying day. The horrible, despairing news combined with some ambiguous internal bad mood. Anyone who passed by me irritated me. In the middle of the day, I left everything. I raced to the post office and prayed for your white envelope in my box. And then, all of a suddenhow did you describe it, when you were telling me about falling in love with Amos"For me, the sunshine was healed."
What? So, you didn't save me that night on the streetexactly the opposite? I saved you? How? With what? What, in my miserable state, did I have to give you? ...
How do you do that? How do you know how to give such grace, and with such delicacy and secret words. I read it over and overand this wave from within nearly takes me apart. I apparently forgot, completely, even between me and myself; I didn't let myself remember that the power of lusting, wanting this waythe power that twisted in me to the extent that it drove me to a prostituteit is not a mutation, and it isn't shameful. You're right. It's passion and heat and creation and life ...
You came down into my Josephan pit, you turned the pit, like a kaleidoscope, with ten sentences, no moreand deposited a little, fluttering ignominy of yours into my hand. You close my five fingers around it and say, Take care of it And it is suddenly you, not me, who was the weak one there on the street, who betrayed himself. You who agreed not to notice that exactly in this particular week he will return to the country, the beautiful Alexanderand you allowed them to smuggle you quickly out of Tel Aviv, bribe you with a weeklong vacation in Jerusalem?
Well, I can imagine it was still a great temptation. Your first time in a real hotel, and the first vacation in your life with your mother, just the two of you, and everything you were hoping would finally happen between the two of you. Perhaps you are, as usual, too hard on yourself (what could have possibly developed between you and him?)but when you wrote of the disgust that welled up in you, when you allowed yourselfto understand for what price you sold your passionand how passionate you really were to have to make that dealI thought, Maybe now we can seriously consider your proposal for the girl you were and the boy I was to "go steady."
And if I had to choose only one moment from all your letters, I would pick the little word sketch you wrote at the bottomhow we passed each other in the street, one by the other, like a brother and sister chained in two lines of prisoners marching in opposite directions. And how you sucked and vacuumed into yourself, from that distance, that one power of mine: the power to lust. So you could have it for along the way, and for the whole life to come; and that because of it, I was, to you, a beautiful boy.
Don't be frightened by the stain (it's embarrassing, but sometimes happiness can burst out of my body in the form of a sudden nosebleed).
Miriam, I had a dream ...
I swear I didnot just a fragment or vague memorya complete, intricate dream. It has been years since I've been able to remember a dream!
Do you want to hear it? You have no choice: you've described at least four to me in complete detail. You once said the best gift you can give yourself is an interesting dream. And also that, since Yokhai, you have stopped dreaming (whereas they have now returned to me).
This is how it went: I'm standing with three others in an open fielda woman and a man, very old, and another woman, younger than they. Perhaps my parents and my sister, but their faces remain blurry.
There are a few more people around us, people I don't know, dressed in thick clothes. Farmer's clothes. They walk the four of us to some kind of bathhouse or big shower (as I write this, it occurs to me to tell you; I mean, don't be scaredthis is not a Holocaust dream. I know how sensitive you are to that).
The "shower" is located, for some reason, in an open field, a little green pasture. The strangers start a stream of water, water starts pouringdown from four tall taps over our headsthe water is very hot, steamingimmediately the whole field is full of steam. And these people bow strangely to us and disappear, leaving us alone.
We take off our clothes, each one of us in a different corner of the field; we move slowly, calmly, without shame about undressing in front of one another (and without a will to watch as well). We lay our clothes neatly on small wooden chairs, like chairs for first-graders, and then march together and stand under the taps.
It always horrifies me when I read about how the Nazis made complete families strip together. I think not about the huge, horrible death that came a few minutes afterward but about the embarrassment and shame of these people who were forced to take off their clothes together: men and women who didn't know one another, fathers in front of their children's eyes, and adults in front of their parents' eyes. (Or what you said about Kafka and the Holocaust. Lucky indeed. Just imagine a man like him there. It's unbearable to even think about.)
So, just to tell you how it ended: We shower in tranquillity, with pleasure, it lasts a long time. We soap ourselves down in a serious manner, with long, graceful motions and some respect for this ritual.
That's the whole dream.
After writing it down, I'm a little disappointed. I probably forgot most of it. What is this, compared to your stormy, complicated dream panels? You understand, thoughI really felt that I was in that shower all night. I wonder how long a dream like that could last, anyway.
Still, I'm yearning to return and be in that dream. It was as if we weren't human beings in that dream, or at least, not "human beings" in the normal sense of the word: we had a kind of nobility, like, let's say, four beautiful horses bathing in a stream. Each one concentrated only on his own cleanliness.
Should I send this? Or shouldn't I?
I'm glad I waitedtonight's harvest looks of higher quality:
I'm walking with my father in the Mamila area of Jerusalem, in front of the cement wall that stood there until '67. In the dream, it is still standing, but you could probably already pass through it into the Old City. It really doesn't matter, though. My father and I are traveling down a curvy,complex path and arrive at the Italian hospital. There, my father tells me that we have to say goodbye. It seems like a regular old everyday goodbye. I don't know if he's very sick and about to enter the hospital or if he's going to continue on his way, but a sudden, heavy burden comes between us. My father walks away from me. He turns around suddenlyas if he had just remembered something importantand he stretches his hand out toward me. He is actually holding a hand out to me. Even from far away it is a gesture of love and tenderness.
I rush to him, take his hand. I want to hold it a moment longer. But he pulls his hand away quickly and says apologetically, Look at what your pen did to me, and sucks blood from his finger. I'm eaten up with remorse for hurting him and start to mumble an apologybut he's already far away. Gone.
It was strange (strange is not the word)
It was exciting to meet my father again in the dream. I haven't seen him in a long time. His walk, his face ... and there was something embarrassed and helpless in his stance before me ...
Greetings, my dear Anna,
We've never met, but I have a feeling we can address each other as friends. I feel as if I've known you a long time.
When I began corresponding with Miriam, she once asked me, with a smile, if I had already heard "all the stories about her." She asked me to promise to believe only what she told me about herself. So that we would never have gossip between us.
She seemed so innocent and domestic to me (I know, she certainly is also that) that the very idea that there were "stories" floating around about her amused me.
But something just happened thatYesterday afternoon, after I put my daily letter into the school mailbox, I had to drive someone home. "Had to" because I very much wanted to be alone after that particular letter. But I had no choice: I know this woman who works at the school, vaguely (we have kids in the same kindergarten). She is a small and vital woman. And very decisive. We drove. We got stuck in traffic. She, for some reason, was very eager to talk; for a moment I even had the strange feeling that she was actually rolling the conversation along a very specificpath. BecauseI don't understand how this happenedshe mentioned Miriam and Amos, and then your name came up as well, of course. As did the whole mess.
To be more precise: I discovered that "the entire city of Jerusalem was talking about you" and that "the whole mess stank to high heaven." (The story was passionately accompanied by hand gestures and clichéd euphemisms.) I also learned that a few parents and someone from the Ministry of Education demanded that Miriam be dismissed from the school because of the "scandal," and only the furious protests of students and other parents kept her from being fired.
Can you imagine how I felt? I could barely keep driving. I didn't know anything about it. I've been corresponding with Miriam for half a year and she didn't tell me. Perhaps she feared I wouldn't understand, or that I would be shocked by her (?).
My dear Anna, when I was a little boy and my mother or father began to sizzle and fume around me, I had a patented trick: I used to seal myself up from the outside world. And then I would start to tell myself a story. It was always the same story, about a creature named Angelus. Only I could create him, by turning my little wristwatch to the sun (or any other source of light)and he was there, a little round stain of light dancing on the wall. Storms would bluster outside me, around me; and I would secretly make Angelus move across the walls, and talk to him inside me; I would roll him over the grimacing faces in front of me, and on their bodies, too, and on their foreheads, building annexes of light in them; and the entire time my heart spoke to him, using large, beautiful words that used to bring me a real feeling of elevation in the midst of their poison.
Yesterday he returned. In a moment's brilliance, he arrived to rescue meI strolled with him along the car's roof, on the woman's dress, on her ignorant face. She blathered on, and with all my strength I focused myself and told Angelus about you, Anna. That you lived with Amos and loved him with all your heartand he loved you. How can you not love Anna?Miriam has said to me more than once. Angelus was sauntering along in his lightit has been perhaps twenty years since we met like this; I've been through so many wristwatches since we were first togetherbut he has remained exactly the same. I explained to him that at one particular momentif you can measure such events in timeitso happened that your Amos and your Miriam fell in love with each other.
Maybe it happened when Miriam went to Pariceno, to Paris, to save that Yehoshua who was so dear to her. You know how once in a while she likes to feel like a knight-errant, saving someone in distress. Once she arrived there, she discovered he didn't need any saving. On the contrary, Yehoshua was living the wild life. She apparently broke down a little at that, and you commanded Amos to go and bring her back.
Maybe it happened when you met the Dutch U.N. officer, who borrowed books from the British consul library, and lived with him in a small hut near the Cremisan Monastery for half a year (as you can see, I've been thoroughly brought up-to-date), leaving Amos alone at home in Jerusalem.
But I'd rather think that it happened during the most ordinary moment. A vegetable market moment. When she was at your house, for example, preparing supper with you as usual. You were making strawberries and cream; and they were cutting vegetables together for a salad. And Miriam began to talk about something that had happened that day in class, or enthusiastically describing how light falls on the poplar leaves. Or maybe she was standing silent for a moment, not moving, diving into herself. And Amos looked at her and felt his heart expanding and melting away.
I was covered in sweat when my unwanted hitchhiker left the car, so great was the effort to be only with Angelus.
A triangle is a rather stable form, Miriam once told me. And satisfying. And even enriching. On the condition that all sides know that they are sides in a triangle, she added.
Anna, I need you to help me. I have no clue about how it really was among you three. Did the three of you live together, or did Amos shuttle back and forth between the two of you; what did you know? What didn't you know? When did they tell you? And how did you feel thenand weren't you even slightly jealous of your best friend?
Miriam said that if I refused to believe in the possibility of such "poetic geometry" (a name I gave it) in this world, then I would never feel everything I am capable of feeling. She didn't mention a specific case, she was just responding to my thesis regarding the "usual system of law" of men's and women's relationships.
I am starting to see how much I will need to explain and interpret and translate for youeven as close as you are to Miriamso you will understand exactly what we said, she and I.
She also, at that point, slapped me with sparksyou know her, fire bursts out of her sometimesinforming me that I am brave with words and cowardly in my life, and that, to her, true courage is surrender to whatever your soul brings to you.
And Amos is a very brave man, the bravest and the most honest she has ever met.
A whole day and half a night has passed since this discovery. A lot of coffee has been flowing through the channels of my body. I still have to knowwhat did you really feel? Because you must have seen it start to bud between the two people you loved most. How did you handle the pain of what must have been an implicit slur on you? How do you continue to love them both without dying a hundred times a day from pain and jealousy? I know how Miriam would have answered methat, on the contrary, despite all the inevitable pain, you loved them both even more.
But how can you?
You can. (Believe, believe, believe.)
I don't know if she told you about this, but I made a small, painful bargain with her: I have to give up one word in my mother tongue for every new word she teaches me. She wants to tell me a story, you see. The new words are so I will understand it. And she keeps telling me that it is the story I need to hear the mostthe story of complete self-abandonment and entry into another person. What do you think, Anna? Is it possible? Will I be able to?
Here. At this moment, you are thereon your balcony, facing Jerusalem's forest. Under the bougainvillea shade. Your almost empty house is behind youyou are sitting with your face pointed to beauty. Floating in the twilight, in your most beloved hour of the day, which is the hardest hour for you to bear. And still, it is your most beloved. Soon Yokhai will return, and you will be absorbed in his care, from now until the medication puts him to sleep. Sometimes, when I'm at home alone,putting Ido to bed, I fantasize that you and I, together, are putting the kids to bed, in the comfort of our home and our habits.
I think about you and Amos often: what you have to go through every day, and the profound friendship you share. The place belonging only to the two of you, that only he, of all men, can understand the language of. I feel like a stranger, and a bit like a child, beside your intimacy.
Your togetherness and our togetherness, Maya's and mine, don't have too much in common. I think more life and passion exist between us than between you. But who knows? Perhaps you two have something I can't begin to imagine.
Today, almost every hour, I looked at the light through the blue stone you sent me. It really is a wonder; in it, in the twilight, for example, you can see two girls playing the piano using a book of duets. Your hands are soaring; you are full of life through the blue stone.
I have, in the past week, adopted a little habitto, every evening, at this hour, stop moving. Like right now. And to be with you in complete silence for just a few moments (I noticed a long time ago how you rise up within me in every moment I have to myself). After my third letter or thereabouts, you asked how we would ever manage to meetnot in one place, but at one timebecause I am so edgy and impatient (and hasty, tsk tsk, you added); and you wondered if I really would ever be able to linger for even one moment in another person's time, if I wouldn't just feel claustrophobic in another person's time.
You see, I'm practicing.
I'm discovering, for example, that in this hour the odors of the whole day hatch at once ... as if they had to hide during the rest of the hours, compromise themselves, give up; there was always just one triumphant tyrant's smell, and nowthe grass, and the earth, the asphalt and the smell of laundry, and I've learned to recognize the scents of jasmine and ya'arain combination and each by itself, as one can smell them only at this hour.
And each leaf has at least two shadows.
I'm starting to write like you ...
You said that whenever I "decide" or "know," it is coming from a tough, strange knowledge choked in my throatand you feel in it somethingbranded in me by force and violence. You also said that I'm smart, but especially about the things I don't know.
Here, thenat this moment I have no idea what a pleasure it is to be wrapped up with you in the twilight.
And here's some late-breaking news
I've left home.
Don't get too excited, it's only for a week and came about quite suddenlybut I wanted to announce a temporary address change and inform you of the possible difficulties of correspondence. A slightly complicated matter that would be tragic if it wasn't so funny (and vice versa). The matter comes down to three words: saving my life. In six: the routine saving of my life. Do you have a minute?
The truth is, I'm pretty tense about this. "This" began at about ten this morning. When work is at the peak of its insanity and I am under the most pressuretelephones and people around me, and every second someone else comes to me, to ask a question or consult or reveal his most private shameful secrets through a choked throat and sometimes with tears as well. A telephone call drops a bomb in the middle of this chaosIdo's kindergarten teacher, who asks me to come pick him up immediately. He has a high fever and is very swollen behind the cars, and the wheel of madness around me slowly ... stops ... I sit down, put my head in my hands, because what I have feared more than anything has come trueand what the hell do I do now? And Maya is in Safed, this is her day at the laboratory in Safed. A calculated plan of action crystallizes within me in a blink: I will run away. I will not pick him up. Let him stay in kindergarten until he grows old, or at least until Maya returns. She's already had it, and anyway, it isn't as dangerous in women. I remember now, with terror, the little bottle of vaccine I bought two years ago during one of the more recent epidemics and promised Maya to go to a nurse so she could inject mebut that bottle stayed in the refrigerator, and over time was pushed back to the notorious mustard region ...
Okayso I leave the last instructions to my staff, spit out a panickedlast will and testament, gotta run, my boy is burning with fever, my little child is incubating his virus. Maybe he's already contaminated meand I suddenly feel that he's been clinging to me more than usual since yesterday, and with more purposethe kiss this morning when I dropped him off at kindergarten, the wild hug last night at bedtimewho knows what clever scheming instinct is acting in him, trying to eliminate any competing heirs, any rival mouths. I'm lucky to have had at least one child, thus paying off, with interest, my genetic debt to a tortured humanitybut what about the rest of my modest joys?
This is how my day started, and who knows what fruit it will bear (at least the day will bear fruit). Maya listened to me in silence, ignoring my panicked howls over the phone, and immediately enlisted her eminent self-control: she ordered me to take him to the doctor, she will cancel everything she planned to do today and come home on the next busand until then I'll have at least three quality hours with the little Well Poisoner. Can you grasp the severity of the situation?
I sank down in my chair, shrinking around the presumed area of disaster. Ami S., who works for me, encouragingly and helpfully informs me that if I am infected, it will be the most efficient method of birth control. I hope he suffocates. I hope he suffocates and is castrated. Ami S., who has four kids, boys and girls, and had the mumps when he was three years old, like every normal child except for me. Why, all my life I've been nervously prepared for exactly such an announcement. And now for the bitter truth (it is bitter, after all, even though you insist that not every truth has to be!): I chose this disease carefully for myself, when, at the tender age of three, I was the only one of all the nursery school children who managed to persuade the mumps germs to convert their religion and produce only scarlet fever! And since thenthe interminable anticipation of a blade dropping on the source of all my happiness. There isn't a medical article on the topic I haven't readthere isn't one pediatrician I haven't pestered and interrogated on the dangers awaiting whoever didn't get it in time, as a childor didn't force him to admit, with much prodding, that all his other colleagues were lying, and the percentage of adults who get infected and are thereafter excluded from the circle of fertility and RSA (routine sexual activity) in general is a lot larger than what those quacks publish in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Does it sound like I'm laughing? Does this seem like a smile to you? It's a twitch of frozen terror; my guts simply turn when I think, What if ...
But by the time you read this, I will be in Tel Aviv. (I just popped into work to tighten some final screws and write to you. I will immediately flee the infected city.) A room awaits me there, not too bad, in a small, homey family hotel by the sea. I come there once a year for a week. They've gotten used to me. There is a pleasant side to my well-rehearsed terror of the mumps. And as you can see, I wisely choose to take advantage of them. In shortall the above was to tell you that if you write me this week, I will not receive the letter. It will have to wait until I return. It was also to torture myself more from the curiosity over what you couldn't tell me about the last letter (I understand it is somehow connected to Yokhai, but what? What happened? And why did you become difficult and depressed all of a sudden? Please tell me). And I promise that if I have a free moment there, I will do my best to scribble some hot thoughts from Sin City!
I will be leaving shortly. I am sitting down for the first moment today, and it is difficult for me to get up. I also simply enjoy writing you, so I can laugh at myself a little over this crazy day. (There is something elsea new feeling, I'm not quite sure what it isfreedom? Becoming myself again? Something like that.)
Maya arrived home at two in the afternoon to find Ido screaming in pain and me breathing through wads of cotton dipped in aftershave as a disinfectant. I know she was thinking about the vaccination bottle growing slowly moldy in the refrigerator. The first mantra of married life ("I told you so!") was already sparkling in her eyes. But I have explained to her before, and did again, that sometimesin rare cases, but being the bitter exception is not uncommon for methe vaccination itself might cause infection, and no sane man would, of his own free will, go out of his way so a doctor can inject him with germs of impotence. Weakened, indeedbut how can you know who exactly and by what they determine the standards?
Maya didn't smile. Maya doesn't smile at my jokes much anymore. (You aren't exactly rolling around on the floor screaming with uncontrollable laughter either, are you? Why is it that women always scowl when I'm even a little jolly?) But I long ago lost the competition against the earth's gravity for control over the edges of Maya's lips. Where did my happy, laughing girl go? Where is she?
Where were we?
I'm writing this and thinking, If only I could send this letter to her.
She sat down at the kitchen table with Ido on her lap and asked me where I intended to go. I said that, as usual, I would go to my hotel in Tel Aviv, because I would not stay in Jerusalem as long as he was contagious. She took a deep breath and asked me how long I planned to stay away from home. I said that, as usual, at least until the swelling behind his ears went down. Meaning about four or five days, a week. As usual.
It has somehow become an institution between us, my annual vacation from the epidemic. Nobody asks too many questionsbut Maya's eyes fade in front of me a little.
Anyway, she helped me pack, and reminded me not to forget certain things, and by the time we reached the door, we were soft and buttery with each other again. She caressed me and asked me if it wouldn't be so difficult for me to be alone this way, if I'm sure I have to run away so far again, because I haven't caught it all these years, maybe I'm naturally immune to it (which I certainly might be). And I told her that it would be very hard for me to be alone, and invested a lot of emotion in my "very"I swore it to her with all my heart, shit-heel that I am. We hugged again, and we felt true sorrow and even a little fear, because who knows whether, etc., and all the complications that go along with it. I've lived in deadly fear of these complications my entire life, and now I have managed to infect even Maya with the same fears. Despite her immunological education. She knows these complications are mainly in my head, but on the other hand, this year is the first time that Ido has really caught itso isn't that an interesting development.
I said, Come on, why are you making such a big deal out of it, as if I were leaving for good (but every separation between us, even the most routine, always seems like an eternal goodbye for us). And I also mentioned that I would be back in a few days (and every meeting of ours has some of the awkwardness of a first date). And for a moment I almost stayed. But no, I left, I left, determinedly, feeling, deep in my heart, that I wouldn't return the same man. Something is about to happen. Maya felt it, tooshe can immediately feel it when wind is blowing in the sails of my manhood (and if she had, only once, said that she knows, she knows methat we don't even have to talk about it, let's just start all over again,with a clean slate, and let each of us finally give everything we can to the other, because we have grown so much since)
Well, as you can see, I have very little trouble writing and writing and writing and passing the entire week in this mannerand perhaps that isn't such a bad idea.
A moment before I fly: I just made a little arrangement with the post office: they will transfer any letters in my mailbox to my hotel in exile (just don't write your name on the envelope). So please, don't abandon the one who was sent away!
(Four in the afternoon, already on the boardwalk!)
Even before going to the hotel, I went to the boardwalk, sat down on a white chair, and closed my eyes to the sun in front of meand began to wonder what a person in my situation should do with such a week, such an ultimate week. To whom will he say goodbye with a gloomy moan of mourningand whom will he meet, in the sore howl of heat? Should he jump on a fast airplane and fly to Frankfurt? Yes, yes, corrupt Frankfurt, above all! And no one will ever know he disappearedwho will know? A marvelous weeka secret niche in time. At the Frankfurt Airport is a huge hotel for travelers wishing to stay the night in the middle of long flights. It is there that a person in my situation could live, incognito, as a sexual exile for a whole week: each night he will come down to the crowded bar and will entertain one female passenger according to his predetermined game plan, as follows: On the first day, it will be a lady intending to depart for America the next morning; on the second day, let's say a shapely lecturer from Melbourne University; on the third, he will celebrate with an Israeli who is returning to her country and homeland the next day; the night after, with a curvy black woman from the Ivory Coast. And he will continue in this manner, night after nightand if possible, in the mornings as well, because we mustn't neglect, for example, the Indian subcontinent, Latin America (and Atlantis)your-servant travels the face of the globe's soft curves with his rough stick until hespreads his sperm throughout all the continents, among all racesand will then be able to lie peacefully with his ancestors.
And while I was deep in thought, a herd of shameless women rose up from the waves and knocked on my closed eyelids with their knucklesOpen up for us, open up! And I laughed at them from underneath my eyelids: What's with this burning, I only just arrived! Yair hasn't started distributing himself today, you'll have to come back ...
Listen, I can already tell that I'm having a hard time sitting still for even fifteen minutesspikes, spikes. It's not going to be an easy week for me. Hey, what do you sayperhaps instead of heading off to the hotelI really don't feel like being trapped in four wallsI will drop this infant into the mailbox over there on which someone spray-painted in huge letters SIVAN, WRITE ME ALREADY! And if you promise to join me without interfering, I will make a short cut from here straight to
Dizengoff! (Where else did you think a tourist from Jerusalem like myself would go?) Dizengoff Streetwith exceptional generosity and warmthfor an hour, full of charms and the soft haze of twilight. And you know what was so strange about it, Miriam? There weren't any men there. At all! Only me, with a thousand women. I staggered, drunk and dizzy, and was, in each moment, baptized into another religion with the cloud of perfume of each woman who passed me. Certain perfumes drive me crazy, on the spot. I can see the complete sexual histories of every woman there passing before my eyes. And I'm also certain that each one of them could hear the drumming beat of my heart's groinit happens, you know, in the fraction of a second between when you glance at a woman and when her scent hits youbetween the lightning and the thunder. You should have seen me, shuttling between those women like a truck from the sperm bank. I hope my little enthusiasms are not making you angry. And you aren't offended by it or taking it personally in any wayit has nothing to do with you. It's just a vacation for myself. Perhaps even from us. From the immense heaviness we have created in these few months together. Just, please, don't be angry (and don't return this letter to me sealed!). Indulge me this week. You went to the Galilee for a weekyou took a vacation, tooas I remember.
See, I'm starting to feel murky again. Again, the arguments I washoping we had already freed ourselves from. I was enjoying myself so much (until this moment). I'm going back to the boardwalk, to fuel up on a ray or two of the sunset, and the smells of the sea, and the burnished skin. You can join me, if you so desire.
I don't know if you have already received the letter I've sent you from here. To tell you the truth (bitter, of course), I hope you didn't, that yesterday's triple punch somehow evaporated en route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Everything seemed a bit more delightful yesterday, somehow. The situation is that, once a year, when Ido gets anything resembling the symptoms, I escape to a particular hotel by the sea. As I have told you. A small hotel, owned by two elderly Viennese who keep it neat and clean, a kind of place in the style we used to enjoy in the days of his majesty Franz Joseph.
All right. I'll tell you everything in order. The moment I entered the building last night, I could see that something had changed tremendously. Behind the counter, instead of Mrs. Meier, stood a skinny fellow with the eyes of a thief and oily, slicked-back hair. One look and I realized that my oasis by the sea had changed owners. And, apparently, destinies as well (excuse me for using that word in this context).
I already wanted to turn around, to leave without even touching the doorand suddenly I heard myself say, "Okay, I'll have a room for a week." And Thief-Eyes started laughing and said, "For a week? What are you going to do here that will take a week?" And idiot that I am, I was offended and drew myself up and said, "What? Do you rent only by the hour here?" He nodded slowly, inspecting me as if, of the two of us, I was the shady character. Or I was underage or something. He said, "So, do we want to pay by the hour, Doctor?" I saw that I was already getting myself into trouble and, in a mad attempt to save my honor, bargained with him, told him I would pay only by the day. So at least he would know that I'm no one's sucker. To which he responded, "Oooh, he wants to rent by the day," immediately took out a calculator, and calculated and rounded up and asked for the entire bill in advance. I said, "What, do you think I'll sneak out in the middle of my stay?" and he smiled andtold me there are many kinds of fish in the sea. And I, just because of his foul smile, took out my wallet and weighed on his palm one month's worth minimum wage, and even justified it in some wild self-persuasion: What, I'm going to go out now and look for another room? He smiled and sniggered, and I, as I always do when I see that someone is cheating me, began to give in to it, more and moreI got swindled on purpose and derived some little stinking pleasure out of it. You aren't familiar with that pleasure (but people do love a clown to laugh at, don't they?).
Oh well. Spilt milk, etc. I went up to my room and found it to be tiny, stuffyand instead of the lovely sight of the sea, my view is of the back yard of a pool bar. There's only a tiny dresser and a huge bed that nearly fills the whole roomand a door that doesn't really lock, and you can see the corridor through the crack in the door. I must have been very tired, because I crawled into bed and tucked my knees into my chest and slept for three solid hours, just the way I used to in the army when they sent me to some godforsaken base in the middle of nowhere. The first thing I would do was find an empty bed and curl up. It also reminds me of how Ido looked just after he was born, when we brought him home from the hospital. He looked like a little ball of yarn, rolled around himself in an unfamiliar place. He slept in despair, insistent and lonely
Listen, it's really stuffy in here and the light is terribly weak. I'm going out to breathe.
I have been walking for ten straight hours today, maybe more, since half-past five in the morning. Just so I would not have to go back there. I haven't walked this much since my military training. Through the streets by the water, on the shore, on the wave breakers, walking slowly with no direction or purpose. Down the beach, and back up againevaporating. Entering a café or pizzeria for a little cold synthetic fuel and returning.
It's terribly hotthose last hot days of autumnthe sun is focused on me through a magnifying glass and the wind doesn't stop. People are bending at the waist, walking headfirst into this windit's hard to swallow, and hard to breathe, and it cuts your throat going down. Sand flies into your face like grains of glass.
I don't really have any stories to tell you. I just saw a mailbox and thought, Why not? Last night was horrible. I thought I was stronger than that. I don't know if I can pass another night like this. The voiceswere the worst (every time I succeeded in falling asleep, a scream woke me up. As if they were waiting for me to nod off to scream). It's strange that there are more screams of pain than of pleasure in a place like this.
What else? How are you? Has the meeting with the educational administration already happened? Did you succeed in arguing down the principal without your voice shaking?
I really don't know what the point is of sending you this piece of paper. There is none. Just staying in touch. Perhaps tomorrow I will write again. Take care of yourself.
No exciting news. Nothing has changed in the past two hoursexcept that when I stopped by the hotel to get my sunglasses, the manager jumped out from behind the counter, practically blocking my way, with the excuse "They're cleaning in there right now." And I realized that while I'm out, he is doubling profits on my account! I thought about yelling at him. But I kept silent. I didn't argue. I felt myself becoming hollow, weak, a child, in the face of such filth. I turned around and went back to the street without saying a word. Maybe I should look for a new hotel (but he will never give me my money back). I don't have too much time left here anyway. I have decided to approach this as an adventure. At least I'll have a good story to tell the kids someday (if I have any more).
It's clear that, even at this very moment, he is renting out my bed again and I better not return until night. I could have purchased the entire Hilton chain with what I paid him.
Today is Abu-Gosh Day, isn't it? Have fun. Raise a cup of coffee to me.
I finished my round. An hour and ten minutes. I have found one sympathetic mailbox. In front of a little café that I like to sit in.
Do you know what I was thinking about earlier? For no good reason? In the "Cleaning Lady Who Lasted One Day" letterdo you remember it? You were describing Anna's pregnancy in detail, all the anxieties associated with it, the fear that her delicate body couldn't handle itand every other moment the girl would come in to ask you where the bleach was, or the window sprayand your letter became more andmore tortured, tenseand you will not let her spoil this letter, you will not get up from the table for herand she's already told you she doesn't like ironing. Oh, really then, what does she like? She likes to wash the floor, that's the bestbut how much floor do we have in this house?!
I was sitting down, reading it and completely entering into the pregnancy with you. It was an amazing letter. It wasby the wayas if you needed to relive each and every stage of her pregnancy all over again in writingand her slightest mood swings. I remembered thinking that I had never read such an exciting, intimate, personal description of pregnancy, not in any book. But I couldn't help smiling at the parallel scene developing between you and your cleaning lady. "Don't you dare laugh!" you shouted at me all of a suddenyou got really angry"What are you laughing at? What do you know? How can you? I'm paying her a fortune so I can put aside a little time for myself to do things that are important to me, that are crucial to my life!" And then the wind was knocked out of youas if your body ran out of the substance that it needed to maintain any pretense of calm. You were so real to me, lost and sinking. You asked me, When do you think I will finally grow up? When will I learn to give orders to my cleaning lady without feeling guilty or ashamed over being a fraud of a mother and a housewife and a woman ...
Your mother had laid into you right away, of courseshe never missed a trick, or the chance to make that kind of crack
Are you surprised at the fluidity of my memory? Have you started suspecting that I have been playing against my own rules and stopped destroying the evidence of you?
You see, every spy has his moment of weakness (how did you put it? That you keep my letters in spite of the "Sanctity of the Bond," because it helps you find a little sanctity in the bond). My moment wasI don't remember when. When you told me about the watch Yokhai smashedthe see-through one Anna gave you. You were in tears when you asked me what kind of watch I have. I laughed it off as an unimportant detailyou immediately wrote back to me: "But everything is important. How can you still not understand that everything you say is important, is precious to me, all your 'details.'" ...
It was then that I asked myself, What am I worth if I am able to rip up all your pages, with all your "details"?
Once I made the decisionthey suddenly rose out of the darkness, from all sorts of strange hiding places that would probably stir up both your mockery and compassionif not disgustmore and more of your pages appeared from more ancient eras. I couldn't even imagine how many letters of yours I simply couldn't tear up.
Which is why I have some superb reading material here with me-and not a little of it. Actually, there's quite a lot. Tens, maybe hundreds of your pages, your words. I took hardly any clothing with me, only a bagful of your letters. Folded, squashed, usedmost of them a little blue from the back pocket of my jeans.
And there are so many precious details: the coffee that you, you and that girl, drank together after a big fight over the ironingand you made peace and concluded that it wasn't going to work outbut said your goodbyes as friends. And two hours went by until you got back to meexhausted by wiping counters and cleaning windows, your pants rolled up to your knees and a red handkerchief on your headto tell me that twenty years ago, whenever you would ask Anna what her dream was, she would answer, "'My dream? To be a frustrated housewife!' And look at me now, making her dream come true ..."
I'm softening up, huh? Licking every word of yours. Hup, let's move out and put our shoulder to the day.
Past the Dolphinarium on the beach, I find a little sewer stream. I walk alongside it and see, floating on the surface of the murky water, a strange white stringand think I am looking at a man's sperm. Sailing along slowly. Changing its shape with the coursing of the water, with the blowing wind, looking like a long bird in flight for a momentthen like a question marklike a woman's profilelike a sword ... I traveled with it all along its curves, all the way to the seaand it never stopped changing its shape, even for a moment.
I was pickpocketed. I don't know how, because no one has touched me since I got here. The sons of bitches took everythingcertificates, licenses, money, credit cards (I was lucky that they didn't touch the letter Itook along for my morning shiftthe one in which you told me about Yokhai). I was sitting there for two hours, calling all the authorities, nullifying every official layer of my existence.
Except Maya. I haven't spoken to her since I got here. Our little games of revenge. Because she could have called me, too, right?
The thing is, because of paying the hotel in advance, I was left with
A meager 71 shekels and 40 agorot (if I had asked you, would you have sent me money?). I don't know why it all amuses me so, the mess I'm in. You see it in movies sometimessomeone walks down the wrong steps, takes a certain turn as opposed to another, opens a door, and comes face to face with the wrong manand is suddenly sucked into a nightmare.
So I'm playing this hero (the poor, lonely hero) with myself a little.
(Because some beauty always comes to rescue him eventually.)
You don't even realize how much this world is full of hints of you.
Like the Magical Moments radio show I'm listening to here over the beach restaurants' speakers at two o'clock ("Io sono il vento" by Aurelio Pierro was on today. I immediately saw your father howling along to it in his taxi, to the surprise of his passengers). Or your hidden beauty mark, hopping with impudent cheer onto a girl's shoulder, onto a soldier's cleavage, onto the cheek of an old woman.
Just like that. A lottery stand. I go up to it and buy a ticket with the little money I have. A woman sits there, her face sealed off to the world, stoneand I look straight into her eyes and say, You're wrong. You aren't lucky. You, for the most part, are a series of coincidencesFortuna is only the other face of that same Kremlin, and I will not accept half of your luck!
And the woman doesn't move a muscle and asks in a completely hollow voice, "Another ticket?" And I take out a few more shekels and buy the right to freely mutter out loud, Because the world considers me to be completely luckless. Look at my life and say it, look at me through my mother's eyes and you will know immediately. And I still feel myself to be very lucky. And I am offering you all of it!
(I won some pennies.)
I sometimes pass with you through a few of the stops you made here growing up, trying to make you stand out in the middle of all the peopleand the scenery, like the children's puzzles where you have to connect the dots with a single line, revealing a shape: in the window of a flower store, a huge sunflower, tall, graceful, and generous to the other flowers, a touch self-righteous ... and in the next momenthow did you say it, "Even reality sometimes has the density of a dream"In Ben Yehuda Street an old woman, hunched over and almost bald, is pushing an old man in a wheelchair. He mumbles constantly through his contorted face, as if he is cursing her in his heart. She bites her lip, stops again and again, patiently stroking his neck and head, looking at him with compassion. For three years the other Miriam with the dead legs and clumsy crutches sat next to you, and from fourth grade until the end of sixth grade she tormented youand you wouldn't tattle on her, hiding from everyone the blue bruises she gave you.
As I write you, let me guess something elseI am positive you make secret deals with destiny, tooperhaps you felt it passing into you through her pinchesbut you knew how strong you were, you knew you could absorb her paralysis without really getting hurt. Isn't that right?
Speak to me, I'm listening.
I don't know if you have started getting my letters from here, and I don't know if you answered. I was hoping something from you would reach meit wouldn't hurt. I already know the letters I brought with me by heart. I can almost write them back to you.
I wandered outside for a few hours. In the middle of the night as wellI had to escapemy head was pounding in there (they are destroying my beauty sleep for good). At around three in the morning I was standing by a traffic light in the central station area and knocked on a car window to ask for the way I lost. A fancy, well-accessorized man opened his window, made a sour face, and gave me one shekel. And out of an unfinished building some guy comes rushing out, shaking a little, rocking back and forth, yelling at me that this is his turf. Well, I wasn't about to give up the money I earned fair and square! He cursed me and pushed me, and after a few seconds we were in the middle of a fightbut not really fighting. We hardly touched. Just a lot of kicking and punching the air. Most of my scratches are from the asphalt and myself. His hands were as weak as butter, and as the moments passed, I felt myself weakening along with him. What happened to me? I could have knocked him down flat, he was so completely stoned. All my life I have dreamed about how, once in my life, I would take someone like this apartand when the opportunity presented itself, I felt his weakness sucking me in.
So there we are: he and I, falling over from the swing of our own punches that never land or make contact in any way. We're actually backing away from each other, graduallybut we never stop striking the air. Hardly any cars passed us byno people. One boy, around ten years old, stood and watched us with interest and smoked. The entire time I saw the contortions of the man's face in the yellow flickering of the traffic tighthis eyes were hardly open. He was actually fighting for his life against mewho the hell he thought I was is anyone's guess. Then I guess I touched a woundhe made a terrible howl of pain, like a puppy whining. I have never heard such a cry from a grown man. And he fell, huddled up in pain. I left immediately, and in the back of an apartment building I puked until my soul came up. I spent the night terrified that he had died.
I went back there this morning, right after the sunrise. He wasn't there, I stood there for a few momentsand seemed to myself like a cat standing and sniffing at a spot where another cat got run over.
There are comforts, too: this morning, in Ben Yehuda, a young woman ran after a bus. She managed to jump inside the back as the driver was closing the doors. But one of her shoes fell off into the road ... One guy passing by picked up the shoe and without hesitating for a single moment started running, full-throttle, after the bus. I stood there, giddy from the sightand then pulled myself together, stopped a taxi (didn't even think about the money I barely have), and yelled at the driver to follow the guywho, by the way, was running like a predator, like someone fighting for his life, pushing through the crowds, holding the shoe up high above his head, a shiny black shoeand only after a few long minutes did we manage to catch up to himI yelled to him to jump insidehe instantly got the picture, hopped in as we were driving, and we hurried after the bus for a few more minutes. He sat next to me without even looking at methe shoe filled the entire taxi. The driver started playing the game as welland we weaved and sped, risking our liveswe were in the middle of a chase from the moviesuntil the bus stopped at the station by Atarim Square and we managed to catch up. The guy jumped out and ran onto the bus, and I saw him walking through the passengers, and saw how he delivered her shoe to herand the bus drove away.
After about fifty times, hearing people fucking not a meter away from me doesn't excite me anymore. In the beginning it did, yes, even against my will and consciencethe moans alone did itand they echo from every corner of this building twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes I think I keep hearing them even after whoever has been silent for a while. (Like the way Ido would sob and yell when I dropped him off at kindergartenI would keep hearing it all day.)
Butno longer. I guess I've grown used to it. I'm training myself to think of it more positively: for two and a half days I have been living in a huge engine room, with the noise and regular rhythms of increasingly louder piston squeaks. And the usual steam being expelled. And after a minute, everything begins all over again in another room. Sometimes I think all the rooms above and around me are trembling togethereverything is shaking, vibratingthe beds squeak, the men moan, and the girls, each one in turn, let out their fake shouts
What I find strange is that, apart from the hotel owner, I haven't yet seen a living soul here. Every time I leave my room, the place looks empty and abandoned.
If we ever sleep together, we will make love slowly, as if we were doing it in our sleepI can see it nowlike two embryos searching for each other, in slow motion, our eyes closed ...
Miriam, I worked through the night. I felt as if I had to fight for myself a little bit (or at least honorably represent you in the battle over me). You can't surrender to this without a battle. The voices around me were starting to drive me out of my mind. I taped all your letters on the walls. Hard labor. I never realized how much you wrote to me. I wonder what emotions would pass through you, if you were here.
I'm exhausted and dizzy, I'm dying to get some sleepbut can't wipe this idiotic grin off my face.
(Dream about sleeping.) Of all things. I am suddenly sizzling, full of energyfeeling that the walls are murmuring your words.
The room is confusing and full of motion right now. It makes me dizzy to look at. It was like composing a huge crossword puzzle (meant to define its composer). In the beginning I made sure to keep every family of pages togetherI couldn'tI despaired over the messeverything was flying out of my hands and getting mixed up. In the last hour of doing it, I just taped up whatever came into my hands first. I created hybridsblind datesdoesn't matter. You have a natural sequence about yousomehow everything you wrote is coded with it, continues in an unending flow of conversation. Hey, now I can make up my own new game of chance. I walk on my bed with closed eyes, open them, and the first sentence that jumps out" ... and until now, I could remember the physical feeling of terror that used to creep in and fill me, turn into stone in the place where I kept my joy of living; oh, the terror that anything good in me will not be given to anyoneand will go unwanted forever. Then why should I exist?"
(I did another round, and drew the very same page!)
" ... and I have begun to suspect that 'that thing' might not even be given from no person to no person, and that all the others have known this for a long time, and that maybe this is the big secret that makes it possible for them to live. I mean, 'to live' and to 'find mates' and to paint a house with a roof and a chimney together. To be the wise lovers from Natan Zakh's poem:
A visitor won't come on such a night And if he comesdon't open the door. It's late, And only cold is blowing in the world.
"But I never forget how lucky I was to have met a couple of unwise lovers, who, on such a night, opened the door for me."
Yair, wake up, it's me ... Yair, don't fall asleep again ...
This is how I keep myself awake, saying my name with your mouth, in your tuneand each time my heart beats to my name in your mouth.
I'm beginning to be afraid of sleep. I know that as soon as I succeed insinking into it, for a moment, forgetting where I am, I'll hear a shout outside, or a moan, or bedsprings, and I can'tIt's been like this for three nights.
The end of your letter with your "theory," after you told me I should try to write stories, you wrote:
But where am I? And where is the Yair who shines?
It's night again. Where did the days go?
I am becoming more empty, and you are becoming real.
Your pacing through the house, from the kitchen through the hallway to the balcony; the shade of the bougainvillea falling in embroidery on your arms; the scent of your hand lotion rising all around me from your pagesit wraps me up in the feeling of a home here.
You are created in me again and again. We are not alive, remember? But everything you wrote is alive. Your life is alive to me. Your facegoing over every line, painting it all in my head, dressing you, stripping you slowly, slowly, one piece of clothing after anothertalking to myself in your precise speech, in your written voice, with the delicate sorrow around the edges.
"It's no longer a secret," you say (precise, exact reference? Two fingers over to the right from the door), "that these surprising likenesses run between us. I can sometimes feel them flowing through these letters like lines of electricity, with the tension, the constant trembling, and the danger. But, of course, you know that this likeness extends to what you call 'the murky twists and turns of the soul' as well, among other thingsbut in these 'twists and turns,' more than in anythingexists a power like I have never known. So maybe you can understand why I so want to be close to the one who echoes back to me the least favorite parts of myself."
I don't know. I don't know much in general. It's not easy for me to discover, as you are spread out all around me, that your questions are always far more profound than my answers. As for that questionyou hadbetter answer it for yourself, firsthere, what you wrote, when we were sister and brother for a moment, prisoners in a chain gang, shuffling in opposite directions, moving farther and farther apart: " ... I want to submerge myself in all the channels of your emotions and passions, your exposed and most secret, and the wave-crashes and the twisting, because the place from which they spring, all of them, even the one that led you to the prostitute, is for me a place of genesis, a living, precious spring, which I am searching for ..."
Night inside night inside night. This man no longer thinks about anything anymore, he doesn't even think about the mumps or his poor ballsthis man only wants to sleep, sleep until the nightmare ends, and then forget everything. This man sliced the telephone line in his room with a knife, the trouble being that he almost called you to ask you to come to me.
You just missed a great moment: the landlord burst in without knocking on the dooror maybe he did knock and I didn't hear it (I have wads of toilet paper rolled up in my ears to try and shut out some of the noise)and he caught me standing on the bed reading from the wall. This is how I occupy most of my days here. He saw the pages plastered over every inch of the walls. He wanted to say something, but didn't dare. He went muteand I just went with the full brilliance of that moment and started reading aloud" ... overcome, and aroused, as I am, by a mad passion in me to play your strange game, after all. To meet with you, yes, only in words, as you suggested. To become wild on the pageto be mixed up in your imagination, and see how far you can sweep me away."
You should have seen his facea rare, complex expression, the combination of amazement and horrorperhaps he thought I was inventing, in this modest little room, some new perversion that even he hasn't encountered as yet. I lifted one hand in the air and focused my eyes on the wall: "It has become quite clear to me that you play this game terribly wellwith a little whispering feminine intuition that in matters of words and imagination, you are 'the best.' Certainly better than in anything you do in life. And why shouldn't I meet you at your best?"
He left, slowly closing the door behind him with the kind of respectyou have for the truly insane. I am, undoubtedly, beginning to acquire a status here.
Still night. No rest, writing while lying down, twisted around myself, the unending murmurs of your words and your thoughts and memories covering me, from all sides, at all times, flowing through me, leaving and entering my body like water. Anna's cheerful, crowded housewith her three brothers and her parents and their funny Dutch Hebrewand her father's free piano lessons"And now, after ze Brahms, ve vill play Edelveiss Glide of Vanderbeck for ze plain joy of a coffeehouse." Your mother was constantly envious, she tried to keep you from spending every free moment over therewith her twitching, pursed smile, which always seemed as if it were hurrying away to sweep any traces it might have left in the world. I don't dare imagine what she said, and what black essence she spit out when it turned out there was something wrong with Yokhai.
Yokhai. A lot of Yokhai.
You know, ever since you told me about his fits, his rages, I look at anything beautiful twice. Once for meand once for you. To make it up to you in my own limited wayfor the beauty you can't surround yourself with in your own home, that beauty I know you need like air for breath. Whenever I do, I feel, again, how blind I amindifferent and hastyand am afraid, again, that I've lost the first natural passion for beauty for good.
Your name. I haven't told you. I say "Miriam" to myself more and more, replacing so many other wordsMiriam is understandcomeaccept meI feel goodI feel badsecretto growsilenceyour breastsyour heartto breatheclemency.
Still, didn't you want another child? Were you scared? Are you trying at all, or do you want to give the whole of yourself only to Yokhai? You are so silent about these matters, still holding your clenched hands close to your sides.
You were right in your decision not to write down the "formal" name of his diseaseso that the name won't gradually replace his. Until what age will you be able to keep him at home (and how? How have you been able to not put him into an institution until now?).
He'll start growing up soon, and the difficulties will grow with himI'm not telling you anything new. He will also be a lot stronger, physically, than you areand then what? How will you control him during his seizures? How will you prevent him from running into the street?
" ... I already know that it will be especially hard on me when his voice changes." And in another letter you almost casually mentioned that his voice is the most beautiful part of him.
(I put these two sentences together only just now.)
Just a small thought: a pint-sized dime-store philosophical thought.
Perhaps, in that moment, in my fantasy of pupils rubbing togetherthe tears that burst out will be completely different from those familiar to regular users. I meanmaybe those tears will be sweeter than honeythey will drip drop drip and drip from some reservoir of hidden tear ducts that we never knew ofthe sole bodily organ created in the knowledge that there will never be any use for it, throughout the entirety of life. God's sad, private jokebecause He knew ahead of time just whom He was dealing with. Because you may overcome gravity, but you can never overcome the repulsion, the rejection from a soul suddenly finding itself in front of another soul that's gaping openand immediately blinkingthe blink, an instinctive border patrol.
I need you so much right now, Miriam. Come to me, sit with me on the bed, ignore all the voices, the smellsfocus only on me, concentrate on me, make me concentrate on you, stroke my face quietly, not sexuallysay "Yair"
Open up a window, open it wide. If you open it, the scenery will be differentif you open it, the pool club below will disappearthe towels and used sheets on the laundry lines, the trash cans, the pipes, the rats running though the alleys will disappear. Even the Lysol will evaporate with the air you will bring from afar, from Beit Zayit. Perhaps you will even try to make me laugh a littlewhy not? I haven't even smiled in the past few days. Say, "Oh, Yair, Yair, where do I start?" Scold me a littlebut this time, do it gently, please. You're talking about Yokhai, andasking me if I don't want another childand in the same breath, you're asking me to make you laugh? I know, I know, but still, tell me something light right nowit doesn't matter what ...
But you would be surprisedeven Yokhai is funny sometimes. What are you talking about? Yes, truly he is, even though he doesn't really have "a sense of humor" in the usual sense of the phrase. Sometimes I even comfort myself by pretending that his humor actually belongs to another world. But sometimes, like when he wants another piece of candy and knows we won't give it to him. He'll pretend to go to his roomand then turn and run to the kitchen with this squirrely, almost mischievous expression on his face ... And then we can enjoy a kind illusion that his secret, other humor has met ours for one moment.
Or his problem with shoeswhat was his problem with shoes? Don't you remember? I don't. But I told you about it! But you never told me about it in Tel Aviv, and never when I was on this bed with bubble gum stuck to ittell me. Well, he always, always goes barefoot in the house, in the summer and winter, because the moment you put shoes on his feet, he immediately leaps up, decisively, to go outside. If Amos or I get confused and put his shoes on before he is completely dressed, then he shoots himself outside, sometimes half naked, like a programmed missile. And that, you know, is why I always call him the boy with the thousand-league boots
But you need a different kind of laughter right now, don't you? Perhaps I'll amuse you with a little nonsensewhy not? You write such nonsense sometimes that it gives me goose bumps ... But come, let us laugh togetherabout me. Did you know that I have all sorts of complicated tests for the world? For instance: if the first person in this place at this time who approaches me is a man, your next letter will disappoint me a little. If it is a woman ...
Look at me, playing make-believe. But I still feel it healing me a little, I don't understand howjust channeling your voice numbs the pain, reassures melike medicine flowing through my body, percolating you through my blooddon't stop, don't ever stop.
I have also developed a sensitivity (a bit heightened, I think) to all kinds of events and people crossing my patheven words, the simplest words that come to me in the everyday stream, grab my attention, make me alert, ready ... entirely innocent words ... "light," "sprinklers," "there's a hole in the fence," "intimate," "camels," "night" ... Or the sudden hug I gave Yokhai yesterday, a bir frightened.
I am writing to you from that place in my brain I describedI am aiming all my energy, with all my strength, to that spotwhere you spring fromfor those words kept only for one particular woman, not for any other.
Or I turn on the transistor radio, trying to hear the message that's been sent to only me: sometimes a line in a song that sounds to me as if it belongs to ussometimes a meaningless sentence appears and I tell myself then, Here, everything between us is an empty illusion.
Listen, I am going to buy cigarettes. I finished my carton, and this is going to be a long day. Don't moveyou're just rightjust like that-
(But I have to quote you from the wall as a farewell kiss): " ... I feel more and more that the stories you tell me are your way, the most natural and possible way for you, to somehow enter into the world, enter the earth, hit roots."
A terrible thing happened. I saw Maya.
Just now. On the boardwalk. She probably couldn't stand my silenceor felt, perhaps, that something was wrong and came to look for me. She didn't see meand I didn't go to her, imagine that (so what do you think about me now?).
I should probably not write about that. She traveled along my entire daily trek twice, from the square to the Dolphinarium, entered the same exact restaurants and pizzerias I went to when I was still eatingshe guessed my moves with such precisionI told you she has a sixth sense, a sense for me, and you didn't believe me. I felt your doubt the entire time. Don't mistake her, Miriam, don't mistake us: we have a bond, she and I; I don't even have the words to describe it. It is a wordless bond, it is all body, all touch, it lives in the senses, under the skin. (And what the hell do you know about us anyway?) Listen, I walked behind her, only afew steps behind her the entire time, what tortureas if something was choking me, wouldn't let me talk to her. What have I done?
I saw her, I saw everything. What she is when she is like any other woman on the street. How men look at her. The way she has matured in this last year. That she is suddenly terribly lovely. It is as if, without me paying any attention, her face, all her features, found the right places; still, I could also see that only I, of all the men on the street, truly knew how to discern her beauty, yes, and she keeps herself only for me. She doesn't have that damned thingdo you understand? Thathungeris not in her. That thing in me and you is not in her. She is clean, she is pure. What will happen now? I walked after her, watched how she became heavy, despaired of me, was defeated. And thenshe went to Mrs. Meiers's hotel. I once showed it to her in its glamorous heyday. She walked in and asked Thief-Eyes somethingI don't know what he told her. She walked out immediately, didn't touch the door handle.
Then she took one last walk along the boardwalk. She didn't look for me anymore. She walked like a madwoman, half-running, stamping with rage on every step. People were looking. I have never seen her this way, letting herself understand it so completelyand then she sat down, fell into one of those plastic beach chairs, and closed her eyes. I stood maybe ten steps behind her, completely exposedif she had turned around, she would have seen me in my nakednessup to my neck in the most putrid swamp of my ignominies. We stayed still for almost a quarter of an hourwe didn't move, not a hair. I was so exhausted, I screamed to her soundlessly, and with all my strength. If she had turned around for a moment, if she had only seen me and said my name, I would have gone home with her.
How could such a thing have happened between us? I felt myself in the throes of some seizure after she disappearedall my muscles, even my jaw, contracted. But what could I have told her? How do you start to explain in my state?I haven't spoken to another human being in four or five days.
Only with you. I've spoken only with you. Enough. Let me sleep.
Middle of the night. Three sanitation workers from the health department knock on the door. They seize Maya quickly, pull her away, and throw a net over my side of the bed. Maya's hand hovers over her lips asis customary in these cases: "Please, don't take him away!" "We're not taking him away," laughs one of them. "We're shooting him on the spot."
Then they discover that I can't be killed. I'm eternal, like nothing.
I didn't tell youwhen I was on the way backmaybe because of what happened, or because I hadn't seen a human face in dayssuddenly, all of a sudden, it all became clear to me.
Okay, hold onslow downokay.
I found a neglected coffeehouse. My mind was knotted up like intestines. I sat there for an hour and thought that somewhere in the universe there must be that other world we once talked abouta world of light. A worthy world. Where each person finds the one intended for him and each love is true love; and, as an added bonus, you live there for all eternity. I (you know me) immediately wondered about who would be incapable of living even there, so unfit for such generous and bountiful goodness, these damned ones who commit suicide there.
There I sat, gazing at the people walking by, occupied by different ideas about what the sentence for suicide would be in that world. How would I punish them? And, Miriam, it doesn't matter where you are right now; lift up your eyes (I guess my fantasies of you always show you deep in thought, like the one time I saw you) and say, Could that be the reason? I mean, for the ugliness and strangeness and temporality, the cowardice and the interminable burdens, and the rest of our true Esperanto alphabet?
What I mean is, is here, where we areis this is the penal colony of that other world?and has each person you see around youman or woman, it doesn't matter, old or youngat some point already committed suicide?
Look at the first man coming toward you now, right now, and tell me his face isn'teven in one tiny single linehiding a confession of participation in a crime. Any crime. (It might be hiding in the nosein his loose, fallen lipsin his foreheadand, most of all, in his eyes.) This morning every person out there who passed me had one such line on his faceI saw it even in the most beautiful people.
Even in children. There was a group of them on the shore. I stood there gazing at these six- or seven-year-old kidsand almost every oneof them had on his face some possible first line of bitterness and complaint and guilt. (Mainly guilt.)
Sleep. What sleep? Who sleeps? You don't come here to this shelter of ejaculation to sleep. Half past one, the middle of the night, and this building is full of life. A door is opening or being shut somewhere at every moment. Shuffling in the corridors twenty-four hours a day. Echoes of furtive laughter. (What are they laughing so much about?) I would kill to meet one of them in the hallway and shake him until he tells me exactly where this is all happeningwhere are the rooms with the Jacuzzis and the mirrors on the ceilings and the round beds?! When I left the hotel this morning, I saw a pair of these "tenants" for the first time. They came down with me in the elevator. We tried not to look one another in the eye. A man and a woman. Older tourists. They seemed so very conservative and upstanding that I almost fell for it.
How long has it been for you there, still on earth?
I will not leave this room again. I guess I've already gotten used to it in here. I noticed that I am more nervous on the outside. I am no longer absorbed by thoughts of whatever is going on behind the closed doors (quite banal doings, I imagine). It's strange how it is possible to pass the time without even movingdozing off, waking up, smoking, writing a few words to you, dozing off againand ten hours have passed.
Thoughtswhen they aren't bumping into other people's thoughtsare capable of racing to the end of the world in a flashthey can zoom out of your mind and return in a second.
But even this function has slowed down in the past few hours. Everything is slightly vague, indifferent; I'm not even hungry.
In order to read your tiny handwriting, sometimes I have to get really close to the wall. You should see me walking along and across these walls.
And if I called you, would you dare brave such a place? (My good little girl with the fifties faceI would never do that to you.)
I guess I fell asleep again for a moment. I woke up with my heart pounding. Three a.m. And to my right, in one of the more distant rooms, they are truly out of control (from here it sounds like big drums or pistonsa completely mechanical noise). You were with me until I fell asleep. I brought you here, I was lying down and talking to you aloud. We had a conversation (I don't remember about what). Each time I spoke from your mouth, I recovered a piece of myself. For half a night you illuminated me like a candle.
A little concentrated entity is traveling inside my body, through my bloodstream. I don't think about it most of the time, most of the time I don't think about anything, but each time it passes through my heart, it opens its eyes and says Yair, with your voice.
According to my calculations, I should know by tomorrow or the day after if I've been infected. What's strange is, I don't really care. I swear. Most of the time I don't even think about whatever reasons threw me in here. If someone asked me why I am here, I would have to concentrate to remember.
Why am I here?
Because I need to finish some important business.
I don't know; I'll know when it happens.
And what will you do in the meantime? Just lie like that, on that bed, for days on end?
Yes. What can I do?
I am sleeping in bed with Maya. She wakes me up and shows me that a tiny woman, the size of a nut, is lying between us, a whole, complete woman. I immediately start to make my excusesI didn't do it! I don't even know her! And Maya says in a voice without anger and with even a little compassion, But look how closely she resembles you.
Maybe I will write a diary to pass the time in my remaining days. Not so long ago you called me "My dear diary."
If I feel at all better tonight, I'll go out. I deserve a little vacation from the monastery, don't you think? (Why do I care so much about what you think?!)
At times I feel like an idiot for not really using this week. I do not understand what's keeping me from going wild. Do I owe anything to anybody here?
On the other hand, even getting up for a piss is a major operation.
If I am actually infected
What should I do, do you think, to save a part of myself in the few days I have left? What would you do if you knew you had only one week before you caught a disease with these particular complications?
I mean(just a thoughtthe intellectual amusement of a potentially impotent man)could one hope for a sudden new love to save me from the claws of disease? Or, at the very least, make it retreat a little?
No, it's not in you. I probably won't fall in love with youthat's quite clear to me. What kind of love could we have? I mean, what we already have between us is too weighty to be love, isn't it? I don't think poorly of it, but over the last few days, I've had a feeling that we are somehow too densely packed to push ourselves into that single word "love." Correct me if I'm wrong.
Those two on the other side of the wall are really molesting each other. I'm sure those are whipping noises. It's been like that for a few hours now. No human voicesit's as if they are whipping and getting whipped in complete silenceand I am the only one who shrinks at every blow. I can't get used to itit is as if every hit is the first. What were we talking about? The last page I wrote to you fell onto the floor. Good luck finding a needle in this haystack. I've eaten hardly anything since coming here. Previous yearshuge feasts. It was part of the pleasure. Food is a man's best friend, too. It surprises meI am really not hungry at allonly a little weak, floating along in this way. It feels kind of nicebut if I stand up too quickly, I get dizzy. So I try not to stand up. Actually, I've been in bed most of the time since yesterday (or the day before?)a pad of paper, a pen, waking up, writing a few lines down, falling asleep. In between times, someone might as well be performing an operation on me with full anesthesiaoh well, let it be.
In the window across from mine, above the pool bara guy and a girl, Japanese, very youngwith no curtains. With open windows. They've been making love for a whole hour now. It is so beautiful, it isn't even sexy.
I lie here, in the dark, watching. They are very much in loveand there isn't a spot on their skin they don't kiss. I desperately hope they continue on this waybecause all the surrounding noises have stopped.
Terribly urgentI suddenly remembered it. I want to give you one picture, a flicker of my memorydon't ask questionsa picture of one sweet little child, with very short hair; you can see only his mobile, expressive face; and he is jumping around, talking, waving his hands, a bit monkeyish in his sweetness. He's about five in the picture. A woman's delicate hand is resting on his head. Ignore it.
It's a very precious moment to meit doesn't matter whysimply accept it from me. A boy walking with his mother on the sidewalk, back from kindergarten. She is a young woman, tiny and slender, with short curly hair and a gorgeous smileshy and bold and full of love. And her hand is on his head, presenting him to me with a small show of pridethis is her boy.
I know one doesn't do such a thing, giving as a gift a picture that has been cut up, or half a photographbut believe me, you are getting the prettiest part, and also the most beautiful moment I had with those two. There's no point in enlarging the angle of the shot and seeing all the extraneous detailsthat, for example, another boy is walking by their side. He isn't even part of the story, he is just another boy she is picking up from kindergarten that day, her son's friend (why can't I remove him from this picture?).
And why would you want to see the man with the birdlike face, sitting in the Subaru, the one that had been in the sprinklers, from whose trunk I took out the towel to dry your hair? The man is me. And the other boy accidentally looked up and saw what was in my face, which was apparently entirely exposed, full of joy pouring out to her and herboy. An ugly story, really, another usual scene from my film noir. Why am I telling you this?
My story with her, with that woman, was actually longer than the usual. I think I loved her. The boy's name was G. His full name doesn't matter, his sweet, serious name. She wasn't married, and didn't want to get married eithershe had definite opinions in her opposition to marriagebut she had a little boy, and I (pathetic, self-deceiving in such affairs) enjoyed feeling a bit like his father from afar. Do you understand? I felt that this was the kind of boy she and I could have had. Don't forget, he was my ideal childa living child I could transport into my imaginary world.
I mainly loved the combination of those twoand how she raised him with wisdom, with courage. It's not simple to raise a child aloneand until I met her, I always, with the sacred fury of marriage on my side, railed against women like her, who dared to produce a child by themselves, only to satisfy their maternal instincts, etc. She taught me how much greatness could be contained in such a situation. I was constantly amazed at how she alone was making a person in the world, with what totality and cleverness. Their pride in belonging to each otherthe private language that was so completely theirsa mutual sense of humorand some kind of guarantee for each other. I felt as if I had a little secret family there, even though I had never seen the child, only in pictures.
Truly, why am I telling you this?
Because of how hard it is to break a habit? Or because I believe you will keep it better than I can?
One day she proposed that I meet him. We had just spent a great morning together, and she said, Why don't you stay a little longer once and meet G.? And I said, Why not? What's the worst that could happen? But, on the other hand, as you well know, my security officer was alerted: Why do I need him to see me? Who needs such a witness? So I suggested that I watch him from afar, without him seeing me. And N. looked at me and said, "You don't have to, you know."
Later I appeased her a little, and she agreed with my rationaleand we both started to get excited about that moment. I stayed a little longer than usual that day, and we had lunch together, and everything wasgreat. And when it was time, I went down to the car and waited, while N. picked G. up from kindergarten.
I saw her coming around the corner, slender, independent, standing out in sharp detail against the street, with her short curly hair and laughing eyes, wearing a thin gray sweater. She was walking with two kids, as I told you. For a moment I couldn't tell which one was hers. Neither of them really resembled the pictures. The kids were walking and describing something to her enthusiastically. One of them bounced around her like a lamb. She smiled at me from the end of the street, walking toward mesmiling and shining in all her slendernessand I had to take off my sunglasses and ask, with my eyes, Which one is yours? She laid a palm on the head of the child bouncing along at her side and made a face that said, "What kind of question is that?"
Please, accept this picture from me: a child, small for his age, alert and full of joy, full of life and wisdom, talking with large hand gestures. A child so funny and sweether hand resting gently on his head. My eyes sank into hers, into her pride and her complete happiness.
(The strange part was that of all of them, the other child, the stranger, noticed somethingand stopped for a moment, following my gaze and hers. I could see him trying to understand, and some kind of cloud forming on his innocent forehead.)
If I had to choose one single moment, out of all the fucking, the lovemaking, the flirtations
I'm sorry to drop this story onto youbut, againwho could I tell, if not you?
I have gotten used to talking to you aloud (have I already told you?), mumbling to you as if you were here. Talking in small, simple fragments
... Would you like a pillow? Give me some more blanket, scratch my backno, higheryes.
You ask, Why don't we go for a walk? Breathe some different air? Look at this messat least let's throw away those empty beer canscome on, you can help yourself out of this, just a little.
And I tell you: It's strange, I miss you more than I miss my family. And the girl in the room next to mine is really sobbingyou can't decipher her wordsor even tell what language she's speaking inbut there is some kind of constant whimperif I concentrate, I think I hear her begging him not to burn her with cigarettes. What hell.
I finally couldn't take it anymore-I went out and looked for where the voices were coming from. It turned out they weren't from the room next to minethey weren't even on my floor. Acoustic illusions were bouncing throughout the building. I got ambitiousI ran through all four floors, listening shamelessly by every doorI didn't care about getting caught. I didn't have a clue as to what I would do if I ran into somebodybut, why, people here were actually paying for things like that! I started thinking, It's a ghost hotel, until, on the fourth floor, I heard very clear voices coming from one of the roomsand nerve-racked as I was, I pushed the doorknob and entered. I saw the naked back of a man watching televisionsurrounded by maybe twenty empty beer cans scattered on the floor. The room looked exactly like mineand the man didn't hear me and didn't move (the room smelled like maybe he was dead). When I returned to my room, so did the voices.
There's something else. If I don't tell you, you will never know, to the far reaches of my being, exactly whom you are dealing with. (What am I worth if I tell you? What am I worth if I don't?) This kind of event pays you backwith high interestfor all the slime you scattered behind you in the world. Listen, forget ithave this written inside you:
I was at home with Maya, about two years ago. We were eating supper in the kitchen. With Ido. It was a nice, quiet evening, just the way I like it. The phone janglesI walk down the hall to pick it upand hear the voice of a woman telling me her name is T. and she is a friend of N.'s. I immediately remember who she is, and the pit of my stomach clenches a little. T. was the only witness to our affairand why is she calling my home? She tells me in a tense voice that N. died yesterday.
I'm silent. Maya and Ido are laughing behind me. He was learning how to whistle then (by sucking air inward), and Maya was trying to learn how from himand on the telephone T. is asking me if I heard what she said. I say yes, and pulling together a slightly formal voice, I tell her that we don't want a children's encyclopedia.
Now she is silent. I remember that, in the remains of my mind's clarity, I was wondering what would happen to G., he must have been seven or eight. Since I had broken up with N., she and I had kept no contact. She promised not to call or write and, of course, kept her promise. It'sterrible to say it nowbut on my part, I mean, I practically wiped her out of me after we ended things.
Please understandT., the woman on the phone, accused me of adultery and dishonesty throughout the entire course of our affair. She never told me directly, but I understood exactly how T. felt about me from a few disapproving silences. And even though I never met her, I felt that I always had to justify myself to her. (I was not a little occupied with what her opinion of me must be.)
And she says, I understand I must have called at an inconvenient time.
Maya calls out from the kitchen, Who is it? We always report our callers to each otherwe don't even have to report it at this pointmost of the time we can tell who it is from the other's "Hello."
I say aloud, You know whatit wouldn't hurt if you gave me a few details on this new encyclopedia.
And Maya in the kitchen says, "By the time he learns to read, it will already be out of date."
I make a "let's hear him out" gesture. Ido tries to say, "En-cy-clo-pe-di-a," and they both laughand the kitchen sails away from me.
T., who waited through this cozy conversation patiently, said quickly, with disgust, that N. had passed away yesterday at Hadassah Hospital after having been very ill for half a year. I didn't even know she had gotten sick. She had died twenty minutes away from me. I didn't feel anythingand there had been hours when my soul had touched her soul.
I also thought about how faithfully she had kept her promiseshe didn't call me even once, even when she got sickshe didn't even write. She was so strong, so faithful to meand I was such a jerk for giving her up as I did. And I actually knew so little about her.
I could have never told you this story, couldn't I? Couldn't I? I have this stupid belief that if I tell you, nothing like it will ever happen to me again, in my life.
I wanted to know what had happened to her during those yearswhat would happen to her child now. I asked a few more empty questions, verbal dung for the satisfaction of my listeners. T. ignored it, quickly gave me the details about the funeral, and hung up. And I hung up the phone because we weren't interested in buying encyclopedias. I returned to the kitchen, and M. asked me if I had fallen for another one.I. showed me his whistle. And I? I sat down to my supper, and talked and laughed and whistled inward and outward, and felt like those Nazis who would come home to their families after work.
My hand hurts from writing. The blinds are shut, so I can forget, for a moment, if it is day or night. I don't know how you will feel about this story. But look at it this wayyou were gracious to meyou were the pit in the ground into which I could, once, yell out this secret. I've never even told myself about it since it happened.
Listen, I've probably been looking for you for years, and in my search I wasted so much, constantly making too many mistakes by following the paths of too many coincidences. It's becoming clearer to me that I've been looking for you for a long timelike a man in a smoke-filled room looking for a window. I guess everything was upside down. I've always thought coincidence was my original sinand also my most recurring sinbecause my most important decisions have been made without any strong intentionsand certainly without this "lingering" of yours. In the past few days, though, I am starting to realize that perhaps it is the other way around: Coincidence is not my sin but my punishment.
It's a rather horrible punishment. You know what? It is the most horrible punishment. It proliferates, it spreads everywhere. A person, for example, thinking about a childit even doesn't matter whose childit could be his own sonand he suddenly asks himself, How can it be possible? That a child, a wonder of creation, is born of an encounter that is not fatedand is preventablebetween two
(Does it ever occur for youyou write a sentence that, a moment earlier, you had no knowledge of? Not in this way, never to that extentsuddenly a short, terse verdict is laid in front of youwith no possibility of appeal.)
A few minutes ago (it's now seven in the morning)I heard a noise. I jumped out of bed (I guess I had fallen asleep for a little bit)I was convinced that they had come to rob me, or rape me (anything is possible here), and saw that someone had pushed some paper under the door.
Finally, from light-years a wayI think it came in the mail a couple of days ago and has lain on the check-in counter since (the envelope is covered with scribbles and doodles and phone numbers in many different handwritings). It's a shame it didn't reach me earlierit would have helped me a lot, saved me. I haven't opened it yet. I can't. I'm afraid I will not be able to stand such joy in my present condition. I'm also a little afraid of what is inside, that thing you were wondering about telling me. I don't think myself capable of handling anything too heavy right now. Maybe I'll take a small nap and later
But I'm already feeling differentcompletely different (as if they returned my ID card to me).
One more momentI want to suck all the sweetness from the moment before.
A new yearning for home has awakened within me. I phoned Maya and we talked. Everything is fineIdo has already recovered. He hasn't had a fever for a few days now and is just a bit swollen. I ironed out my soul a little, and hersI heard the noises of home in the background. She told me she had come to Tel Aviv to look for me. I didn't say anything. Neither did she. Suddenly we sighed togetherat least that was something good, our joined sigh. I was filled with affection for herwe are good friends. I might not have given her her due in these letters. It is still hard to talk about her to youtoo many voices mixing together. But in life, in reality, she is my best friendyou know that, don't you? She is the light and the heat, the bloodstream and the tissue of my life. She truly is my daily joy. It is all so complicated.
I told her I couldn't come back yet. She was silent again. I told her that something was happening to me here, it got a little convoluted, I went somewhere I didn't mean to goand now I have to continue to untangle the mess. I made it clear to her that it was something with myself. She said, Take your time. I told her it wouldn't take long, just a few more days. She said that if it was important to me, she would manage. I thought about how generous she is, and how horrible I would have been to her, and how much I would have argued with her had our positions been reversed.
After that, I dialed your number, and hung up before you could pickup the phone. But even the ringing was enough to make me feel betterthat I was still capable of creating a sound you would hear.
I'm going to read your letter.
Just a moment.
Hey, Miriam ...
Too heavy to contain, too dense to contain, too tense to containand yet, stilllook at what a huge space you have cleared for me inside yourselfme with all my elbow angles poking you.
I wanted to simply jump into a taxi now, at this moment, at ten at night, to fly to you and hold you close, with all my strength, to stroke your face, comfort you. I wanted to lie with you, so I could be as close as possible to the story, to the place of that story, of you and Amos and Anna. And Yokhai.
You can probably guess the nausea I feel over some of the things I wrote to you over the past months unintentionally, innocently, rudeness, stupiditywithout paying attention, with the cruelty of a baby crushing a chickthey all rise up in my throat.
My spoiled nonsense about the mumpsand what would you do if you had a disease with such complications ... How the hell could you stand me?
I wish you could feel how much I am with you now, in body and soul, more than everpractically reigniting a huge engine inside me. I'm coming back, Miriam. I don't want to remember where I have been these past few days, to what depths I sank. I want to wake up to life, to give you all my genetic material, what I am, for better or for worse, with my words. The microscopic double helix of my DNA spiraling through every sentence of mine to you. I'm writing wretched nonsense, I know, because now I want to bring you even my stupidity, and my enthusiasm, my cowardice, and my treacheryand the miserliness of my heart. But I also have two or three good things in me that could mix with all of your goodness. Let my fears mate with yours, our disappointments and failuresonly yesterday I wrote how insulting it is to think of a child being born by the non-fatal combination of a man and a woman. And you never, not once, told me how many times that similar combination of words had floated in your mindwhen a child was not born. Whydidn't you tell me? You hid such a thing from me for six monthswhat were you afraid of?
Maybe you didn't trust medidn't feel I could be a lightning rod for your sorrow and painor thought I wasn't worthy. Is that it? I was unworthy to hear such a story of yours? That's it, isn't it? I'm reading between your lines, and it insults me and stings me to the edge of despairuntil now you weren't sure whether you should tell me. Perhaps you were frightened that I would pollute such an amazing tale of purity. You hesitated so much over whether I could be trustworthy
Miriam, if you have any feeling left toward me, a shred of goodwill, help medon't make it easy on menownowbe my knife. Ask me how it is possible that still, even now, I have to suppress a miserable urge to run immediately from the disaster area each time you expose another one of your wounds in front of me. I, of course, will deny itand tell you that, on the contrary, your mothering of Yokhai is even more wonderful to me now that you've told me; and that ever since you told me, I have felt the new enormous power you possess, and it pulses in three different places in my bodydeep in my mind, on the left sidein the fireball under my heartand in the root of my dickand if you draw a line connecting the three, you will have a precise portrait of me at in this moment
This is what I will say. And you will yell, Enough, enough! Because you know already that when I write this way, this enthusiastically, I am lying; I am again intimate only at shouting distance. Save me from myself, please. Look straight into my eyes and ask me again, as you did in the letter, if the muscles in the back of my soul are not arching away right nowif you aren't suddenly becoming too heavy for my amorphous delusions to hold. Ask me more than that. Ask me if I understand what I truly feel when you pull your stitches out in front of me like this. Don't make it easy on medefend me from my black twin, because I can't do it alone. I can't defeat him. Demand that I understand what I feel when this wound of yours gapes in front of me, mercilessly, sucking me in and closing over meask me if I even know how to feel another person's pain. And do I know where it is supposed to hurtthe hurt he feelsdo I understand in what part of the body it hurts? Do I really believe, in the depths of my heart, that it is possible to ache with another's pain, or is it,in my eyes, just a social convention, a shared lie, an empty cliché. Another person's pain. I repeat the word "pain" the way Yokhai repeats words he doesn't understandyou said that in this particular way of stepping into puddles he is trying to bring this thing he is not certain of into his own existence, into existence outside himself. Pain, pain, pain.
I have to go out, buysomething. I've been living on yogurt and beer for almost a weekand finished the yogurt this morning. I will not survive another night without solid food, and they'll be closing the night grocery store on Ben Yehuda in fifteen minutes. You know what really makes me feel despair? You told me something so serious, so difficult, and I am still incapable of being who you really needa man who knows you as you are with yourself, between you and yourself. I haven't reached the secret you are. Please, don't go easy on me, please tell me
Yair, Yair, come and feel my body, right now, all of it; make me overcome the embarrassment of little words that are giggling like girls, tell me to become rounder, become fuller; feel how I spread in you into the farthest reaches that don't exist in your flesh, that are only possibilities in youwhisper to me to feel your breasts, their roundness and softness, at the exact point of gravity that pulls them downward and to the sides, the part of the breast that's always highlighted in paintings. Ask me to loosen my shoulders and smileLoosen them. Even though mine are pretty tense as well, ten years of Alexander and they're still tense. Go on, keep going, all the time, for eternity, tell me again and againLoosen up, loosen up, feel how your face slowly becomes soft and round; be delicate, don't be afraid of that word. Perhaps you could have been a happier man if you had dared to be a bit more delicate, allowed yourself to be filled with your own delicacyit is in you, it's right for you, it's your hidden spring, don't shut it down with stones. And tell me, Come and flow into my body; inscribe words into my veins throughout the length of my body, down my legs and between themso I can feel, for once, what it feels like when it is yours, not only what you desire. But you are so tense. Yair, maybe it is because I am tense now, as if preparing for pain, because ... now, my belly ... I am asking you to fill my belly, my soft, empty ...
Don't stop. You mustn't protect me, not in this place we are inthat's our contract, isn't it, Yair? We're hand in hand, and tonight we write everything.Words of truth. (How do you like to say in your high-flown language "Kosht Imrei Emet"a sheaf of truths?) Write, write whatever comes to your mind, and my mind ... fill my belly from within, search in me for that spot, my blind spot, that you once named without even noticing"my body and my soul, recognizing each other once again, I can actually hear the whisper of the internal password (srsrsrsrsr ... )." Imagine for a moment how my hopes collect there, in a puddle, from month to month, that then transforms into a dagger of sorrow and despair, gloom of the soul and gloom of the body.
Remember then how you saw me for the first time on that evening; now that you finally understand why I was so miserable, what I was despairing over at the moment you looked at methe private, sad visit I received that day.
The void of "almost."
Don't leave the roombe with us. My words are coming out of your mouth, it is so strange ... Your will excites me, and embarrasses me in an indescribable waybut don't you remember, this is the exact one and only story I wanted to tell you: the story of a complete entering into the other, not to get lost in him, and certainly not to give up yourself, but in order to experience, just once, a stranger, I mean, another in you ...
I can now, with all my body and soul, feel your desire for it, Yairand your fear as well. They are both raging within you, as they always, always do with you. You touch my pain with your bare hands for a moment, and I can feel how precious it is to you and that you truly do not want me to be alone in it. And the moment after, you ricochet to the farthest reaches ... Just don't come out of me, because if you leave me now, you will never return. You will run to the ends of the earth, and you will never want to remember what is starting inside you now, with me ... your soul, slowly, painfully opening up this way to another person. Just don't stop writinghold on to your pen with all your remaining strength. You're shaking with tension, but as you write, you hit more roots in me ... Don't be afraid, not even from that thought you had once, a million years ago, or was it two daysyou wanted to wake up without your memory, after an accident, or an operation, and start remembering our story, step by step, and tell it to yourself from the beginning, without knowing for even one moment whether you were the man or the woman in the story.
I also wish you could remember yourself as a womanor as not-man andnot-womanthe you before everything, before definitions and genders and words and the sexes; perhaps, in this way, you will also arriveas if by coincidenceat my initial potential, at the possibility of being me.
If you reach it, you will truly know how I am standing in front of you now; bent over a little, tense. You were so amazed by my motherlinessfrom the first moment, you practically sucked my maternity out of meand the more you sucked, the more I flowed, and the more I flowed, the thirstier I was for itand I never knew, never tried, and never dared to tell myself this tale with such intensity.
You can guess how I feel, now that you know the reality of the situation, the cold facts. But what can I do, Yair? I am probably not the most rational person when discussing this matter, my nonexistent motherhood.
And Darwin is not saluting me from his grave.
And you are right. It is very, very difficult to create something from two people.
But you are so truly a mother to me! This is not something that could ever changeit is your being, Miriam; and I could never think of you without feeling it (I all of a sudden understand"Amos has a child from his first marriage." I never made the connection ...) I can't stop thinking about those moments in the delivery room when she felt that something had gone very wrong in her body, and you promised her, immediately promised, you both promisedsuch a promise.
And how you are counting to a million with him. All the way to a million.
You know, perhaps there was such a moment in the spaces of time and entities, a fraction of a second when you could have been me, my possibility ... What do you say? Can you believe there is truly such a place, can one ask such a wish from your Kremlin? No, don't turn on the light, the light here is too red ... write in the dark. Your handwriting was very shaky in the last moments, a weeping hand. Do you remember how hurt I was when you never asked me what is my Luz? Time and time again I asked you to guess it, and you completely ignored me (you certainly know how to ignore certain questions), andeventually I gave up, and then I hadn't continued to ask even myself, and I lost the question.
But now, write, tell me:
More and more, I think that my Luz is my yearning.
And what is yours?
Do you really want to know? No, you don't.
You're silent. You're suddenly refusing to be written. The magic is gone. I know what you're thinking, it's written all over your face: " ... and how is it that a person who so hungers for the love and love's nectar that it practically shouts out from his every wordhow is it that he insists on stuffing himself with snacks ..." I read it, I read it. It was an especially unnecessary section of your last letter. Let's leave it for nowit's a pity to spoil this. Don't try to change everything about meand don't take that, in particular, away from me, because, in spite of your misgivings, it is certainly a Luz.
Don't leave, Yair, don't drop your pen; play your false game for me just one minute more, even though the muscles in the back of your soul are twisting away in you until the pain is unbearable. I know it well, you have made me feel things I almost couldn't endure, too. But now, as you sit with yourself in that room, perhaps lonelier than you have ever dared to allow yourself to be, I want you to write it once, for your eyes onlywhy you are doing this to yourselfand how it is that you are willing to allow strangers to enter your most wounded place.
Enough. I'm sick of being buried here, masturbating with words. Why, in this manner I could have you say anything I likedand this infantile game has been going on for far too long. Two in the morning, and I've been writing for more than five hours straight. I'm completely muzzy-headed, and want something substantial, alive, warm, arching in my hands; and here I am instead, whipping myself over and over with thoughts of you. We're back to whipping me! I won't send you these; there is a point at which you and I begin speaking in different languages. And what the hell do you understand about this kind of wonder, anyway,when a person who was a complete stranger becomes the living center of all of your emotions and thoughts and imagination? What do you know about being inflamed? About heat between strangers? Complete strangers are the best of all, those familiar with all the amendments of the constitution, for whom it is clear that after the storm, they will go away and be alone. Alone. Do you want to hear something? Do you want to know how it really works, what everyone is thinking, everyone, behind their beautiful words and veiled looks?
So this is how it happened. After you cameafter I didwe lay relaxed, breathing together, gurgling in our satietyand after a few more minutes I yawned the Prelude Yawn of the "Well, Back to Our Lives" song and dance. You caught me in both your strong hands and said, Don't go.
I smiled into your neck, because the strange excitement in your voice made me laugh. And I stayed for a moment or two more, even dozed off for a bitand then wanted to pull out, because how long could you stay like that anyway?taken over by the need to straighten up our skins, like re-establishing the front lines after a big battle. A masculine voice was already buzzing with a sore throat inside me, What am I doing here with this strange body in the first place? So, because of that first step backand because of my usual dishonesty in such a momentI purred like an exceptionally satisfied cat that I would be willing to stay like this with you forever, and you said, quickly, Then stay. And I asked you, with a smile, Forever? And you said, Yes. For eternity. For today. Don't go. I laughed into your naked, warm shoulder that it would be simpler to cut it off for you and you could use it whenever you likedbecause I still had a few errands to run that dayand you said with that strange urgency, No, please, stay a little longer, as long as you can, as long as we both canyou're in no hurry to go anywhere today.
You weren't speaking with your usual satisfied, wrung-out sex voice, but instead in a slightly frightened, pleading tone; I heard something new in your voicenot a momentary whim but a profound willfor a moment I thought I understood what you wanted to happen between us. I was almost tempted by it; I relaxed the muscles in my back and shoulders so you wouldn't feel the rebellion inside me, curling over to protect himself, so you wouldn't hear him inside me complaining, Hey, what's with her? What more does she want? She got hers already. And you, as if youheard, whispered, Even though you want to pull out, don't, don't gocome on, get over it, stay with me just a little longer, and I said, with a quarter of annoyed laughter, What is this? Some kind of human experiment? You didn't answer, just pressed your warm, soft chest to me, as if speaking with it, you spoke the language of the breast to meI felt your breath close to my ear and was a bit confused, and didn't want to hurt you, because I felt you falling into one of your feminine moods, which have always been a bit too profound for me. My dick was shrunken and folded up in itselfas it always is during a moment of transcendent thoughtbut you didn't let it come out of you. Don't forget, I was a bit hungry, as I always am afterward. I lay there, uneasy, as if I had been forced to deposit my destiny in the hands of a strangerit's odd you became so strange to me after such an intense intimacyand the way you were sticking to me was just a shade too intimate for the momentI wondered when you would tire of this game, when you would finish making this request with your heart, because I could feel around my dick how intently your eyes were closedmy hand had fallen numb behind your back, and my watch strap got caught and tangled in your hairand I prayed to simply fall asleep, so that hethe recently deceasedwould simply fall out and we could smile and forgetand you whispered to me in that voice, No. Help me keep it in. And I started to think that you could read my mind.
A bitter gob of ancient essences balled up in my throat, a low and hairy "ahem," and you felt it, of courseand didn't stop whispering in my ear, like a prayer, to be with you, and not with him: Be with me, with me, and I told myself to remember that I was planning to start doing back exercises again tomorrow, and tried to occupy myself with the lists of tasks awaiting me at work, I'd been neglecting things over there for too long. You whispered something into my earbut you were too close, I couldn't hear youand you passed your tongue delicately over itwe both contracted, together, my fish's tail fluttered for a moment, your sea rose toward it, and in my heart I thought, Well, all right, maybe it won't be too badit's been a long time since I've trembled twice without pulling out in between, I wonder how long I can last. You stretched your body out in front of me, and I passed my fingers down, strumming your spine, plucking your vertebrae, and licked your neck, which was a little salty. I thought to myself that the word "flesh" is a bit meaty, butcheredbut if, in my heart, I say "Miriam's Flesh," it's as if a soft veil of delicacyand beauty spreads over the word, and in my heart I told myself over and over, "Her flesh, her body, her thighs." I remembered Maya then, for some reasonand the thought made me wilt at once, my spine sucked the entire thick sap back in, my head fell over heavily, and I said, Well, it's not working. You said, But don't pull out, it doesn't matter, just don't come out. I asked irritated, Fine, but for how long? And you whispered, as if asleep, Until we're too scared.
I thought to myself, This isn't scary, it's just exasperatingyou have to listen to your body and know that if it wants to come out, you need to let it come out and not molest it. There is probably some biological reason connected to this need or impulse or instinct of ours; your insistence filled me with terrible unease and also a strange animosity toward you. I heard you breathing deeply, concentrating your breathing into my earand I remembered our little fancy that day we walked togetherthe one and only walk we've managed to take during our three full wild days togetherthat the ear looks kind of like the archaeological remains of an amphitheaterand maybe that's why they designed them like that.
But for how long are you planning for us to stay like this, I grumbled, and explained that as I am a defective human being made of flesh and blood, I have to pee every once in a while. You hugged me close and said, Pee in me. I thought about it for a moment, and believe me, I did try to enjoy the shred of delightful rudeness that drew me into your offerand I asked if it wouldn't maybe be dangerous for your health or something. You mumbled that I was dangerous for your healthand I'm not saying let's go fly together to the Land of Fire, only that we stay connected, body to body. But what for? I was so annoyed by that pointI feel connected enough to you, I don't think there is a single place in my mind I could disconnect from youyou enter my childhood memories to meet me in themyour words nest in me and throw out my own fledglingsand I started to work myself into a rage just so I could prop myself up on my elbows and pull out of you that waybut you pulled me to you, hard and close, and said, Does it annoy you that I enter your thoughts? No, our meeting that night on the street was wonderful, as is the fact that I started dreaming again because of you. I can write your diary and reproduce your voice from mine more or lessit's pretty great, isn't it, great, fine, but now I wanted to pull out, definitely wanted to come out. You listened, smiled to yourself, and said, Don't go.
And I asked despairingly, Why? So we will stay connected for as long aswe can. I buzzed back that any two dogs could be stuck together in this condition, so what's the matterand you said quickly, Don't run away, not nowand what if I suddenly popped out, or didn't come out, or what if I did? Listen (you said)I need to pee, too. So pee around me. I can't, I'm too embarrassed. So what do you suggest? And what do you suggest? Do you know what? What? Let's fall asleep, and then in our sleep we'll make it together like children ...
And you laughed, because of the time I told youor told you in my thoughtshow once, as an adult, I tried to pee in my bed and simply couldn't do it. And you knew, of course, why I was laughingI was filled with pleasure at how you know everything about me, all my thoughts and the tiniest details of my storiesit suddenly so pleased me, when a moment ago it had annoyed me so much. I don't understand that. I don't understand myself with youjust as you said, in the place where I am the closest to you, I run away the most at the same time. Beware of me in that placecome to that place and I'll kick you like a horsetrust only my treacherythis is how you'll be protected. You, as if you weren't listening, said that even if we got soiled in that way, purity would be left, and we would possess it between ourselves. This time I allowed myself to be swept away by your high-flown sentimentalityyou use words, I swear, that are like those community ceremonies from the fifties. I stupidly said that I believed you could purify meand you asked excitedly, Do you really think so? Your left cheek blushedand I said, If anybody can, you can. You closed your eyes and looked as if you couldn't contain itI heard your thoughts, the clench of your flesh around me, and I knew you, again, were making a tremendous wishbut I was wrong. It was a vow. Apparently there are a few more letters of your body I still cannot read. It is a vow between me and myself. What is it? I asked, but I knew the answer immediately, without stopping it streamed from your body into mine. Say it. You vowed to sleep with me once for every time I have ever slept with a woman without love. You're right. Actually, you didn't say anythingI just felt your lashes down there caressing me. But I also started feeling trapped inside you, you weren't letting me breatheyou were wrapping yourself around me, holding me back in some unbearable way. You of all people should know how capable I am of having claustrophobic panic attacks, in someone else's body as well, if it locks around me suddenly. You clung to me and said, But please, don't come outI have to know what happens when you stay inside me this way, ithas to happen with you. And I said, I'll tell you what happens. We will rot here, together, in piss and shit, and maybe we'll even decompose and fuse togethermaybe something else, something you can't even imagine, will happen to us. Some kind of mutation.
This is exactly what I hoped you would say, that perhaps something happens to two bodies that stay together in this way, in spite of everything, in spite of the natural impulses separating them eventually. I continued grumbling, again desperatejust what could happen? Your insistence became somewhat strange and burdensomeI started feeling like a child forced to kiss his auntexplain it to me, what could happen except for another such half an hour? We'll be completely sick of each other! And you said, But maybe we will discover something, some secret human beings mustn't find. Maybe we will travel together to reach some final, ultimate spotand if you touch it, you will never want to separate anymore.
But for how long! I yelled outand you said, as if to yourself, Until all the hairs on our bodies stand up in fearnot from embarrassment, or discomfortI am talking about unbearable fear, combining with each other in totalityall boundaries falling apartthe absolute nakedness I thought you wanted so badly. You weren't talking to me anymore, you were mumbling to yourself with some kind of odd decisiveness, trancelike, it didn't matter at all to you if I was listening, or comprehending youthe same way you sometimes dive into yourself in front of me. Those times, when you mumble to yourselfI truly feel that I am only a device for you, Miriamthat you actually strike a spark from me to ignite yourself to lifethat this is truly a life-or-death war for you.
I don't like those games, I saidmy voice sounded a little hollow, like a complaining child. You immediately responded, This is not a game, I'm not playing with youthis is terribly serious. You caught my face in your hands: Look straight into my eyes, and I backed away. I hadn't had the chance to warn you yetthese kinds of looks are dangerous to me; I suddenly start to feel my face as a network of thousands of tiny muscles, and then it's impossible to prevent them from starting to tremble and go wild, because the wonder is, all these muscles, cells, bones, nervesthey manage to stay clenched together as one entity in everyday life (these are things I mustn't even think about)and how many thousands of muscles have to function, constantly, working so terribly hard just to hold a pairof lips together in a normal statenot to mention the strength of those tiny dams holding tear glands constantly closedand it is so tempting to simply melt and drip into your body and be with you until you are dust. You scare me. You want to swallow me, you want me to disappear inside you. And, I whined, I'm also very hungry. Take some grapes. They will give you strength and glucose.
You reached a hand to the fruit bowl by the bed and pushed a grape into my mouth, saying, This is not a grape, anav; this is an anavaas if a grape could be a she-grape: the word sent a shocking wave of heat into my bodyI bit into it, and juice sprayed onto your cheek and ran down. One drop hung on the corner of your lipsI licked it and passed half a she-grape from my mouth to yoursand I passed the whole of my tongue over your beautiful lips. Come, my darling, lie inside me, you whispered in your heartand I was instantly filledagain, suddenlyand we entwined even closer to each other and fell into eternal time. I remember how you lifted your white legs up straight and tight in the air in one mind-blowing motionand I tilted them so they both rested on my right shoulderI leaned my head on them and thought, Mew-ssic. We both watched us, you and me, together, a player with his white celloand this, together, pushed us even deeper into the heart of consummationand enflamed us into firethe smell of my sweat was as strong as it is now, as I write youmy body sticky, hot, my lips burning, my skin stinging with madnesswe both came. We didn't care at all about the other's pleasure, didn't keep track of it in the way I am inclined to doand the pleasure was so intense I had to think about something else immediatelythe same way sometimes I have to read your letters through half-closed eyesso I thought that the thin voice wailing out at that moment was my voice, and how strange it is that when I am with you, I come with a terribly squeaky voiceso I immediately made some thick basso sounds, even though I clearly know that, in your opinion, I was the most myself when I was screaming before. So, in order to put my manliness back in order, I roared out, as is customary, that the second time is always so much better and harder. For a moment you couldn't resist the light rudeness in my voice and drawled back in a deep, slightly exaggerated voice, Oh yeah? What do you know, anyway? Poor men, who have to be satisfied with so little. And we knew we were both only paying lip service to our sexes, that really, something was truly happening to us, because we were no longer representing them as is customary and appropriate. Wemanaged, by some miracle, to escape from the usual political system of men and womenand because of our intimacy and our wallowing in each other, it's as if we had found a way to realize that our bodies are, after all, only a coincidence. Right? Just a few chunks of meat that happened to be stuck together in one way and not another. A man came out, or a womanand it's true that this coincidence determines itbut just knowing that changes everything again. It's scary to write it downas if the words themselves are capable of bewitching meand then I would want this to last forever, the ability to move freely between sexes, to have my spirit finally fly like the bird in the oath of Bein ha-Betarim, the covenant of the flesh
Miriam, I am still terrified of this feeling starting to rise up within methat another step forwardI meanif we walk another step forwardor further inwardwe might both break the laws of personal possession in their most elemental sense, the sane sense, I mean. I am especially worried about you, yes, very worriedthat you don't know how to keep a hold on yourself and are really capable of any insanity. There's nothing we can doyou have to acknowledge the facts. You're so exposedyour totality scares me. It is that clear to you that my feelings could never compare to yours, isn't it? Your wide range of shades and depths, and your abandonand also your hidden demands that I be loyal to myself at least in the same way you are loyal to me, that I mourn being distinct from youyou have been broadcasting this to me this entire time, in these words, and in othersDon't even try to deny that you want to be me!
Just a minute, nodon't be easy on meclench me with all the strength of your groin clamps, wrap your two legs around my body and whisper in my ear that this is you, and this is me, and that I won't pull outfight me! I've been writing for hours, my words are starting to fall apart, I am in a state of exhaustionI no longer know what to do with youand that is the bitter truth. It's not that I am suddenly retreating, and I'm not saying that we should end things now, even before that stupid ultimatum, that guillotine finally
Maybe we should stop this now, before it's really too late, Miriam.
Yair. It really is Yair. But I won't give you my surname.
I truly would have liked to tell you, tell you everything. What do youthink? I could so easily write it down for you, here, in ordername, address, telephone number, occupation, and ageso there can at least be a clear path to the recipient of your feelings of disgust. But then, all those sweaty molecules will start sticking together into a new, epidermic storyand we will both die twice.
It really is better this way, believe me. Why do you want to know how small, how banal I am in real life?
That's it. This is where our broadcast ends, and our little hallucinations. And everything. I am in Jerusalem again, tightly screwed back into my lifeyou do understand that I cannot continue this after what happened. Even I have some limit to my baseness. I can't stand the thought of what you went through because of me, in those stinking places on the beachit's only proof of how any connection with me continues to soil everything.
Miriam, Miriaaammm, oh, how I loved to roar out your name in the beginning. I'm now lying in the lowest cellar I have ever been inI feel like a human roach. There is no punishment I deserve more than terminating my connection with youit is the one judgment I can pronounce upon myself. I had almost written: "Who knows how long it will take until I'm myself again?"but as you well know, who is that self, anyway, and who would even be interested in returning to it?
Because at least twice a day during my time with you, he would squeeze his hand through a crack in the door and inquire whether his nightmare was over already and whether you were goneand I have no doubt that as soon as tomorrow rolls aroundWhat am I talking about? Tomorrow? Tonight, now, when I seal this envelope! And I will see him sitting in my chair, legs up on the table, grinning at me: Baby, I'm home!
Enough, enough. Let's finish it. It's like the eulogy at my own funeral. In these past months you gave me the greatest gift I have ever received from anyone (I can only compare it to what Maya gave me when she agreed to have a child with me), and I've destroyed it. Oh well, I'm dedicatedly destroying what Maya gave me as well.
I can't describe in words what the thought of you getting up and leaving everything behind to come to Tel Aviv does to me. You were there for me; again, perhaps it seems only natural to youyou felt that I was in distress, and you sailed out to helpbut it still moves me terribly to think that a person would do such a thing for another personfor me.
And the thought tormenting me now is that I became so absorbed inmyself that I didn't see you, didn't guess that you werethat for two days we were perhaps a hundred meters away from each otherperhaps we even passed each other in touching distanceand I, what did I see? Only words.
To think of you walking between the prostitutes on the beach, approaching them and asking themor going into the hotels that rent by the hour along Allenby and ha-Yarkonthen returning to walk there at night as well; and the "health clubs" and "massage parlors"investigating, insisting and arguing with those loathsome characters over thereand that guy who looked at you and started following you, weren't you scared? Just imaginea student of yours could have seen youdidn't you realize how crazy you were to do such a thingfor me?
My most terribly dear and wonderful Miriamthe horrible squeezing under my heart tells me that now is the moment I should have stood up and come to you and said, Let's try, why not, maybe we canYour Honor, Judge, perhaps you will be lenient and order reality to loosen up its jaws just a little, so we can escape from them, for just one moment, and be two human beings who wish to be alone. Why not? Two human beings who like each other. Who will it hurt if they take shelter in each other and curl up together for two hours a week in some shitty motel, so they can watch what happens to them and find out where they can go together? Actually, Your Honor, why does it have to be a shitty motel? Go easy this timelet it goignore themtreat it like the rehabilitation of the outlaw I am; why can't you think of them meeting in a beautiful open space, on the seashore, in a glittering city, on the lawn of Ramat Rakhel against the desert, in the oak forest above the Kinneret ...
You asked at the end of your letter, What will become of us now?
That's right: What will become of us?
Just another moment. I can't stop. It's as if everything will end if I stop writing.
I knew it from your response to my first letterI knew you would take me to a very faraway place, over my horizonand yet I still wentwith youwhy did I go with you? After you wrote to me how thrilled you were by my letter, my first impulse was to cut it off immediately. Can you grasp what it means that this is what you wrote, at the beginning of all of thiswithout knowing who I was, without any games or pretense?
It is so rarebelieve me, trust the expert; and even then I told myself, She is too good and innocent for your games of self-immolationbe gallant for once in your life! Let this one goeven Jack must have taken mercy and spared one woman from his rippingmustn't he?
You will probably object to this comparison, but in some strange way your integrity now seems very close to what you called my "fuss and mirrors." It is not easily understood, your integrityat least not by the common ruling laws of my swinish hypocrisy. It is a private integrity, made of your element alone, a battlefield created by the war of the strong forces within you that are constantly working together, mixing into one another. You touch all of it, and somehow don't die of it. On the contrary. I wish I could learn this wisdom from youbut I don't think I will ever be able to.
Does this cause me sorrow? Yes. And shame, too. Perhaps you think I don't even know what shame is. Please don't take away my right to be ashamed.
You know, all through the period of our correspondence I was faithful to you. I meanthis may sound pitiful to you, but stillI even lost the urge (well, almost) to look at each passing woman and fantasize about her or try my luck with herand if I was momentarily tempted, I immediately felt how you (you, not Maya) shrank with pain. It is important to me that you know that there were no exceptions; this is not a simple matter with me. In this way, ten times a day, a huge surge of pride filled me for being yours. My pride over this, my "loyalty," probably makes you sick; truly, what right do I have to it, as we are actually talking about retreating to our rear lines of loyalty here. And still.
Miriamthis is my last letter. I will most likely not write to you again. You see? We never even reached the guillotine. We settled it on our own. If I wasn't such a fool, I could have been happy with you; it doesn't matter howin any way the world would have allowed us to be happy. By the way, I'm looking at the date, and remember that it is your birthday this week, isn't it? You're forty years old this week. Three days ago, of course. You were probably waiting for me that day, hoping Iwould bring you a gift, that I would come to you as a gift; and all you got, eventually, was that heap from Tel Aviv. With the "Don't come out" letter at the end for dessert.
What should I wish for you on your birthday? Actually, I should wish you for yourself, because you are the most precious, rarest gift I can think of right nowI wish I had more courage, for your sake.
No. I want to wish for something greater. Why compromise? I want a real wish. I wish, I wish time would stopand that this past summer could continue foreverthat I could elude the goddamn grip I have on myselfand be discovered, suddenly, in another placein front of you, for example. But new, free, naked. Even for just one day. Even for one page of a letter. One blink of absolute freedom. Why not? Really? Otherwise, what am I worth?
(That's it? All that noise and mystery for that kind of name?)
I'm thirty-three years old. I live in Talpiyotthe address is on the envelopein a new, crowded neighborhood of private bungalows. This is where I chose to build my homeit's a kind of nouveau riche slum. What else? I run quite a large business, it's called the Book Bunk, it's actually right on the edge of the Jerusalem Forest, not too far from your house. I sell used books and search for rare books on commission. What else? Ask me, ask me, the turnstile is open. I have a staff of ten, including a book doctor and one young genius in a wheelchair who knows almost every book ever written in Hebrew and can recognize a book by a single sentence from it (he found your "dress his face with tales"). And there are seven cavalrymen on motorcycles whom I saved from a pizza delivery business that went bankrupt and closed. I've turned them into deliverers of books and send them to customers' homes all over the country. They leave black, burning stripes on the land, delivering every book and magazine that exists in the galaxy, from how-to guides about growing orchids, to Elvis Presley biographies, to volumes of Judaica and issues of the Dutch Royal House fan magazine.
I make sure to bite a little piece of paper from every copy of Zorba that rolls through my hands (well, I'm not as young as I used to be). And of course, I forever tip my hat to you for successfully, and without muchado, arranging the subscriptions to the Chinese newspaper for the only two interested readers in the country.
I'm a bit windedbut I said everything, didn't I? I did it.
So what, then? Should we perhaps hum along a bit about daily affairs, to get over the embarrassment? It suddenly became uncomfortable, didn't it? Someone exhaled a breath of reality. Should I tell you about my work? Why not, we've already yielded to the little sweaty moleculesdo you want to hear what my workers receive as holiday gifts?
Enough, Miriam. Give up on me. It was all fantasyif there was any other solution, any other system at work in the world ... I would pass almost everything I did or said through your eyes first, through your thoughts and your hungry mouthIf someone pissed me off at work or on the road, I used to think of you. I would roll your name under my tongue and immediately calm down. I never met a person into whose hands I wanted to deliver my soul in this waynor did I ever think I would trust her to know how to put me together again, correctly. There are certain geniuses to whom you could give a jigsaw puzzle of a parrotand they could put those pieces together to make a fish. I gave you a creepand you made a human out of itthe same pieces, but somehow, always better.
I should perhaps tell you that in recent past weeks I thought, with my usual denseness, that if I had a purpose in life, it was youor it has something to do with you, or that through you, I will somehow reach it. There isn't much reason behind this thinking, but this is how I feltand you are the only person to whom I could write such words without feeling ridiculous. Now I will have to go back and look for this "purpose" in a different, and simpler, placewhere it is probably easier for me to search under the light, or the Lila, the Liza, or the Lorelei. Pitful, aren't I?
It occurs to me that if, let's say, I was kidnappedor disappeared without a traceand a detective came here and tried to understand or figure out who I was based on what everyone around me here knows, he could never find me. This is another thing I never learned until youthat I mainly live in what I'm not.
I had hoped this profession would make me happier, and it doesn't. The details are truly unimportant. I never told you how many jobs I had already tried, how many mistakes I have wallowed in. I thought I finally found my vocationworking with books, searching to find for people the stories from their childhood that they loved. What could be moresuitable for me? Apparently it isn't. I am only almost happy here. It is still a secondhand pleasure.
You have no idea how much I loathe books this minute. Why is it that none of the thousands of books that surround me can help me? And none of them tell our story.
And none of them gave me what your letters gave me.
BE MY KNIFE. Copyright © 1998 by David Grossman. Translation copyright © 2001 by Vered Almog and Maya Gurantz. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.