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Authors: Edeet Ravel

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BOOK: A Wall of Light
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N
OAH’S DIARY
, J
UNE
20, 1980.

In the news: the Yarden boy is still missing, day 11, no leads, police asking people to check sheds. We don’t have a shed but I checked under the porch.

T
his is me, Noah Vronsky. Only kids in yeshivas get called Noah—just my luck. I got named after my grandfather, my mother promised him when he was dying. But everyone at school calls me Noonie, or Numi-Numi when they’re joking around. I’m only Noah at home so it’s not too bad.

My family consists of five people: me, my gran (actress and waitress, tall with long blond hair, smells of cinnamon), Sonya (Gran’s daughter, which makes her my aunt but she’s three years younger than me if you can believe it!—chubby with curly black hair in cute ringlets), my dad (bone doctor), and my mom (lawyer whose clients never pay her, short with straight black pixie cut).

I also have a best friend, Oren, and I’m a pretty good soccer player and artist. I like drawing things divided down the middle. One side alien, one side human. One side Mom, one side Dad. One side Mani our soccer coach in his uniform, one side Mani naked with his funny thing hanging down (Oren and I caught a glimpse of it in the locker room). For high school Dad wants me to go to a school with an art program, but I’d rather go where Oren goes.

Today was my birthday, I’m ten. Mom gave me a ten-speed bike, Oren gave me a cool poster of American basketball players, Sonya gave me logic problems she made up (the kind I like: “The man in the red sweater is sitting next to the wife of the cook’s brother …”), Gran gave me songs of innocence and experience, and Dad gave me this diary.

He says he gave it to me because I have “interesting thoughts.” This worries me. How much does he know???

L
ETTER TO
A
NDREI
, J
ANUARY
2, 1957

D
earest darling, I am so relieved that Heinrich managed to get all my letters to you during his last visit! What luck! Of course, by the time you get the letters they are out of date, and your reply with all its good advice is sometimes no longer relevant and it’s frustrating as hell but no matter. Please, darling, promise promise to burn my letters at once, don’t take any risks. It’s a miracle as it is that you haven’t been suspected of helping me escape. I can’t even bear to think about the chance you took for me, and for our Kostya. And what could have happened … I promise to keep copies of all my letters for the day when we will be together again.

I am so happy, dearest, to hear that you are well. Needless to say, I worry about your health all the time. You must take care of yourself, my love. You write that the days are dark and empty without me, but we must think about the future, when you too find a way to leave our beautiful and terrible country. But it is no longer “our” country—only yours now. I must accustom myself to being a real Israeli, with a little identification booklet to prove it. How is that troublesome toe of yours, did the powder help? How is sweet Olga? I miss her as much as if she were mine. Don’t work too hard, darling.

Kostya is fine, getting quite tall, and arguing with all his teachers—but most of them don’t mind. Only one has taken a dislike to him, a young man whose skin is too delicate for his razor but who insists on being closely shaven and so is always covered with cuts. He came over to complain about Kostya, and sat here in our tiny one-room apartment, his knuckles white, his voice trembling, his leg so jittery it gave me vertigo. He was in the Sinai campaign last year.

He complained at length about Kostya talking back in class. I told him it’s a free country (finally I can say that!!—the words roll off my tongue like pearls) with free speech, and my son can say whatever he wants in class, he’s not harming anyone. But this poor man thinks his authority is being undermined. During the entire visit I was of two minds whether to offer him the last piece of cheesecake I brought home from the restaurant. So precious! I was really battling with myself. In the end for Kostya’s sake I took it out of the icebox and gave it to him. He gobbled it up like a starved man and was much appeased, but he is still sending Kostya home with notes and punishments—for example, copying out long passages from the works of the Hebrew poet Bialik “with vocalization.”

Our clever Kostya is fluent now in Hebrew, after only a year! I wish I could say the same for myself, but I am struggling with this language like Jacob with his angel. But now I come to my big news! A group of us are trying to start a theater. Our first production is going to be
As You Like It
—in Hebrew, of course. Now the only problem is to find a hall, a budget, actors and a translation—other than that we are all set! By “we” I mean really only four of us. First, the director, Feingold, who is very brilliant and brimming with enthusiasm and ideas which are constantly coming up against hopeless obstacles; it’s a pitiful thing to see his face fall as each idea gets dashed against the rocky cliffs of reality. Please don’t be jealous, dearest, because you know my heart belongs only to you and Feingold is overweight, has asthma, he wears the same shirt many days in a row and his fingernails are none too clean. He studied with all the greats before the war, however, and he really is a genius. It’s a little sad to see him in these surroundings.

Then there’s Tanya, who is seventeen—she says! I think she’s younger and I believe she is a runaway. Tanya is full of life and maybe even possesses a hint of a trace of acting skill. The third in our little group is Carmela, who is forty or so and a second-generation Israeli. She’s going to be our fund-raiser, trying to get grants and applying to all sorts of institutions here and abroad—and though she’s shrill and bossy, we already depend on her entirely. The rest of us are just too impractical and we don’t know the ins and outs the way that she does. The following exchange will give you an idea of how most of our meetings unfold:

F
EINGOLD
: This is a play about disguise and identity and the instability of roles—the most important thing is costumes. I want the actors getting in and out of them onstage throughout.
C
ARMELA
: We won’t have a budget for costumes.
T
ANYA
: I could have sex with the person in charge of grants if it helps.

Oh dearest, I miss you so much. If I didn’t believe I’d be seeing you again, my life would lose all meaning.

S
ONYA

I
didn’t stay in the shower for long because I knew my brother was waiting for me. Wrapped in a massive oyster white towel, I approached the closet. I’m very fond of beautiful clothes and I’ve collected quite a few skirts and tops over the years. That’s what I like to wear: short skirts and matching tops—outfit of choice, I once read in a silly magazine, for shy but ambitious women. I deliberated for a minute or two and finally chose a silky flowered skirt and a white V-neck top with a strip of lace lining the V.

I dressed, inserted all my papers carefully into my briefcase, and made my way to the kitchen, where Kostya, the family chef, was preparing my breakfast.

Our household had now shrunk to two, but even in the old days, when there were five of us—Kostya and his wife Iris, their son Noah, my mother, and me—Kostya did the cooking. Iris was too busy with her law practice, and my mother was not the sort of person to take an interest in the culinary arts, to say the least; she lived mostly on pistachio nuts and orange juice mixed with vodka. My brother, on the other hand, was a fabulous cook right from the start. He consulted cookbooks with great dedication and used us as guinea pigs for his experimental creations.

As soon as I entered the kitchen Kostya began preparing two poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce for me. An elaborate salad and a plate of apple turnovers had already been set on the table, next to my empty plate. I made my own toast, feeling I should participate a little, even if only symbolically. When the eggs were ready, Kostya went to the bathroom to tidy up after me: spread and shake out the shower curtain, hang the towel properly, realign the bath mat. He used to make my bed, too, but I finally put my foot down and told him I’d like to decide for myself when my bed should be made. That was usually never, and I knew the disordered bedding was hard on Kostya, but he was stoic about it.

While he was tidying up I glanced at the newspaper. The usual mess; there was hardly any point reading the details. A Gaza air strike killing six, Qassam rockets killing no one, a soldier stabbed, settlements expanding, the Knesset in disarray, a pollution crisis looming. If you went only by the news, you’d think you were stuck in the same day forever. As an experiment, the newspapers should reprint an edition from four years ago and see whether anyone noticed. Or maybe even twenty years ago.

Kostya returned and we chatted about nothing in particular—the weather (unchanging), taking the car in for a tune-up (urgent), whether to rent a movie (yes)—and then he ran off to the hospital. He would not have had to put up with my sneezing for very long.

I stepped onto the back patio with my buttered toast and sat down on the first of three steps that led to the garden. I grew up in a comically malfunctioning house in north Tel Aviv, on Yahud Street; its only redeeming feature was a large and glorious garden. My brother methodically uprooted the garden on the day Iris was murdered but resurrected it when we moved to our new house. The new house was a big step up from the Charlie Chaplin bungalow on Yahud; this was thanks to an anonymous benefactor who read about the medical error that changed my life. The story made the front pages for a day or two, with my small, baffled face peering out at scandalized citizens from under a huge mass of black ringlets. Some rich person read about me and was horrified: a poor fatherless child (all my virtues were generously listed) who had gone deaf because of inexcusable negligence. Possibly his incentive was Zionist ardor, a desire to demonstrate that the country was not all bad and that wrongs could be balanced by good deeds; or maybe he simply felt sorry for me.

In any case, he sent a substantial sum of money our way, via a lawyer who was not at liberty to reveal his identity. My brother invested the benefactor’s money successfully, doubled it, then reinvested his earnings and this time did even better. Luck has a life of its own. When my mother left for a nursing home and Iris died and Noah moved to Berlin, my brother and I decided to use the accumulated capital to buy a new home. For my brother the idea of family is sacred, like shrines or holy days for religious people, and I was the last of the Mohicans, now that everyone else was gone. So he bought this house for the two of us and we turned it into a mini Shangri-la. We were like children playing at make-believe, except that we had the means to make our fantasy come true. Our house was not particularly large; houses in this country are not usually extravagant in terms of size. Luxury takes other forms here: an oval swimming pool, original paintings on the walls, bathrooms with sunken baths and two sinks, a fireplace for the winter months, pine furniture, stained-glass windows and matching lamps, Persian tile murals. We went too far, in the end, and though I loved our cozy hideaway, I was sometimes embarrassed by it and more than a little ashamed that we had spent the money on ourselves and not on more needy people or causes. Iris would have disapproved, and even my mother would have preferred to see us help her destitute artist friends, but I believe Kostya wanted to compensate me somehow for my disasters, and like the storybook prince who builds a castle for the king’s daughter, he was compelled by a sense of mission.

I was only slightly offended by Kostya’s assumption that I would never marry and therefore didn’t need a place of my own. His assumption was based, I must admit, on my own insistence that I had no intention of marrying, ever. I had told him many times over the years that I planned to stay single, but I may have expected a protest. “Nonsense, Sonya,” he could have said. “You’re beautiful, charming, and altogether irresistible to the opposite sex, and eventually you’ll fall in love and decide to marry.” But I’d never had a boyfriend of any kind and my brother doesn’t like to intrude. I can’t blame him for thinking that I meant what I said. Moreover, he assured me that I had only to say the word and he would move out; the house was in my name, and he continually reminded me that as far as he was concerned, he was a guest. Poor Kostya!

BOOK: A Wall of Light
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