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Authors: Edeet Ravel

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N
OAH’S DIARY
, N
OVEMBER
12, 1984.

In the news: Spiegler got fired as coach because Hapoel Tel Aviv lost again. A fan threw a rock at his car window. Last season he got fired by Maccabi Netanya after eight games. Soccer is a heartless profession.

S
onya is extremely lucky I didn’t strangle her today. Finally, finally, Ilanit and I organized a place and a time. We did it by skipping on the same morning, which took a lot of planning and ingenuity on both our parts. For two weeks that’s all we’ve been thinking about and finally we managed it—we found a time when her whole family was away. She couldn’t come here because of all the neighbors—everyone minds everyone else’s business in this stupid place. Whereas in her building if anyone sees me they can’t know which apartment I’m going to, and in any case no one’s around during the day except the Fireman, who’s about 100 years old. He’s not really a fireman, people just call him that because he once set off the fire alarm when someone in the building burned their toast.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing Oren gave me all that information, or I would have been a goner. It’s so complicated. How come it’s so simple for other mammals and so complicated for us? Well, everything’s more complicated with us, obviously: we have
brains.
Without Oren’s information I’m sure we wouldn’t have managed to get anywhere. She wasn’t wet at all, that still worries me, but Oren says it’s nerves, on account of it being the first time. All I can say is, I can’t wait for that next time. I will die waiting. It’s impossible for there to be something this good that is also this hard to get. Probably like heroin. I came three times but the first two didn’t count. The first time I wasn’t even in yet, and frankly, I had no idea how to get in, but luckily the second time, after a lot of complications, I made it. But I was only in for one second. The third was normal, I guess.

And then we heard loud footsteps out in the hallway and someone turning the lock. We were on the floor, on a sheet I brought from home, and we froze. I have never been so scared in my life. Even if I’m in a war and I have to run through enemy fire I won’t be this scared. If Ilanit’s father or one of her brothers finds out, I can’t begin to imagine what would happen. They’re
extremely
regressive. I grabbed the sheet and my clothes and ran to her room and hid under the bed. I was sweating like crazy. Ilanit ran to the bathroom. I was trying to get dressed under the bed when I hear Sonya screeching at the top of her lungs, “Anyone home?” She had figured out what was going on and followed me, and she pretended to be unlocking the door in order to scare us. Ilanit wasn’t at all amused. “You have to do something about your sister,” she said after Sonya escaped. Everyone thinks Sonya’s my sister, they keep forgetting she’s my aunt.

I tortured her in the garden to find out if she’d told anyone but she swore she hadn’t. Can I trust her? I’m so stressed out I can’t even think, and there’s a huge chemistry exam tomorrow. I keep expecting one of Ilanit’s brothers to climb in through the window (or just give the damned porch door a kick, it’s practically falling off its hinges, like everything else in this dump) and stick a knife in me. I can’t sleep. Sonya thinks it’s a big joke. She has no perspective at all. I don’t know exactly what she knows, actually. She’s only eleven (twelve next week), and I don’t think she knows anything about sex, though she does seem to be very interested in insect reproduction. She knows how all sorts of bugs and snails reproduce and keeps looking at eggs and things under her microscope. Once she forced me to look, there was just this yellow powder on the glass, but when I looked through the lens I saw a million little eggs. It was gross but I have to admit amazing.

L
ETTER TO
A
NDREI
, M
ARCH
10, 1957

D
earest, today was such a hard day! At the restaurant a man was very rude and I lost my temper with him. As you know, that almost never happens to me, but we’ve been having a bit of a heat wave, and perhaps this made me more irritable than usual. This man was rather distinguished looking, with gray hair and a scholarly air about him. First he complained about the flies—it certainly wasn’t my fault that there were flies everywhere! Then he complained about the food, even though our food is not bad at all—but he seemed to be expecting a gourmet feast at Buckingham Palace.

Then he complained about the service, though I did my absolute best for him. And finally he complained about his heartburn! Even his heartburn was my fault! I had just about had enough, so I said, “Maybe you should eat at home next time, then you will be spared all these trials.” I was quite angry by then. He left in a huff—I hope he will not be back.

The owners were very nice about it. They told me the man is a well-known journalist and that he’s always acting superior to everyone. There isn’t much tolerance in this country for people behaving as if they deserve more admiration than everyone else, and do you know, even really famous people wear sandals and are addressed by their first name. The owners told me not to worry about him, because in any case he lives in Jerusalem and only came to our restaurant by chance.

But I am not very happy with myself. I don’t want to become the sort of person who fights with everyone. Many people here are continually arguing and having conflicts, and I can see how they are only making their own lives harder. I had no satisfaction at all, being so rude to that man. I must not let myself be affected by the atmosphere here!

I kiss you.

S
ONYA

I
don’t drive. When I turned eighteen, my brother wanted to buy me a special car with warning devices and flashing lights—maybe even (I imagined) a little clown popping out of the dashboard every time someone honked. I wasn’t interested. Why throw yourself inside the tumult, when it’s possible to lean back and allow God and the Devil to fight it out while you enjoy the scenery?

My brother locked the front door and I linked arms with him for the short walk to the driveway. He needs to be touched, and I also like feeling him beside me: his authoritative, capable body, tall and tough, trying to hold on to Ariadne’s thread as he makes his way through the labyrinth. Dear Kostya.

The car, an antediluvian swamp green station wagon, was an airless furnace, and the first few seconds inside were unbearable, even for me. But soon enough we had the opposite problem: gusts of chilled air blew against our bodies, ready to freeze us to death. I lowered the air-conditioning and sang to myself. “Amazing air, amazing air, how sweet this lovely breeze; I once was cold but now I’m cool …” As I sang, I walked my fingers along the back of my brother’s hand in imitation of a centipede. I enjoy watching people drive; their ease relaxes me.

My brother loves to hear me sing and his happiness filled the car. “Avant-garde atonal,” I call my style, for I know I’m not even close to hitting the right notes. I prod songs from a vast, deep ocean; when you don’t hear music, the whole concept of melody becomes slow and soggy. But singing was a part of my childhood: when we lived on Yahud Street we had a large, eclectic record collection and our entire family, including Noah and (when she was home) Iris, used to sing in unison after meals. The family favorite was “The Water is Wide,” to which my brother would add a second voice in his deep baritone:

Oh, the water is wide, I cannot cross o’er
Neither have I the wings to fly
Build me a ship that can carry two
And we’ll both sail, my love and I.

At a red light, Kostya said, “The car’s making a strange noise, can you feel it?”

“No, feels okay to me,” I answered.

“I have to take it to the garage.”

“Good thing one of us can hear.”

For reasons that may have been as obscure to him as they were to me, my brother refused to buy a new car. He said it was more ecologically sound to fix an old car, but neither of us believed this feeble excuse for holding on to our antique wreck. I switched songs: “You promised us brakes, and windshield wipers.” I was parodying “The Children of ’73,” a song about the new generation of soldiers who’d been conceived after the losses of the October War, and had been promised peace by their parents: “You promised a dove, and olive branches.” My brother smiled guiltily.

The streets were nearly empty; by August the heat and humidity have worn down most of the population, and the courage to venture out dissolves like sizzling water. “This is where Anna used to work,” my brother said as we passed Café Cassit. I knew, of course. I had often sat in the cafés my mother frequented and tried to imagine what it was like for her, hanging out with the Dadaists and rebel writers. The artists and poets sat around being artistic and poetic, and my mother either waited on them or sat around with them, her wavy blond hair sweeping down her back, her shoulders bare above long Gypsy dresses. They all drank heavily: the bohemian patrons as an act of defiance against the pioneer ethic, and my mother because she was unhappy. Some of her friends had written poems about her, and the words of one had been set to music. The song became part of the popular repertoire and was often played on the radio.

These cafés were no longer the haunt of the bohemian crowd. Now ordinary citizens sat at the tables drinking beer or strong coffee while pinched-looking guards kept an eye out for bulky shirts that hid suicide belts.

My father, whoever he was, had also sat at these tables. My mother’s pregnancy took her by surprise; she had thought she was too old to conceive, and only when she had a desperate craving one night for a horrid sardine sandwich did it come to her, in a flash, that she was expecting. She’d always longed for a daughter but had lost faith in her parenting skills. “I thought the only thing I was still good at was surviving,” I’d often heard her say. “And remembering who ordered what,” she sometimes added, with a slightly ironic but melodious laugh. Now that I was on the way, however, a new faith in life seized my mother. She switched from vodka to milk and went on a fanatic health diet. And so I arrived, not blond like my mother, or even brown haired like Noah and my brother, but with a mat of tiny black curls. Apparently I was playful and well behaved. It is probably not a great feat to be well behaved in a family of doting adults who want nothing so much as to kiss your toes and sing you nursery rhymes all day long.

As I was growing up, I registered, on some level, that my mother was disappointed with life, but at the same time I was filled with admiration for her. She was exotic, placid, and surrounded by friends. She deferred to Kostya on the technicalities of child-rearing, but she was unstinting in her love, and sometimes skipped work to spend the day with me in the park. “The angels took pity on me and sent me you,” she often said, as she pushed me on the swings.

I asked my mother on several occasions who my father was but she always replied, vaguely, that he could have been one of a number of people. When my face appeared on the front pages of our newspapers I hoped my father would notice that I looked like him, or like one of his other daughters, if he had any: my Medusa ringlets, the pouting curve under my bottom lip, the matching indentation above my upper lip, my crescent-shaped happy-clown eyes, eyes that make it impossible for me to look sad—none of these features came from my mother. I had her high Russian forehead and straight nose, but otherwise I didn’t resemble her in the least. I thought at first that the anonymous benefactor who had sent us money when I lost my hearing might in fact be my father, but my mother assured me that she had never been so fortunate as to attract the attention of anyone with money.

It occurred to me, finally, to ask her for a list of all the men she’d slept with around the time of my conception, but her memory had already started fading by then, and she wrote down the names of people in the news, people she had never met and never known. Some of them were not even alive: Ben Gurion, as I remember, was one of the candidates. I always had it in the back of my mind to do some research of my own one day and try to find out who my father was. I would pay him a visit, surprise him in the middle of dinner. I’d bring a gift, and he’d say, “I’m so happy you found me, Sonya. I never knew.”

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