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Authors: Edeet Ravel

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N
OAH’S DIARY
, O
CTOBER
3, 1984.

In the news: the Russian cosmonauts are back, they were in zero gravity for a record 237 days, including six space-walks. Also a 67-year-old East German woman was arrested for spying! Guess she hid the secrets in her walker ha ha.

T
oday Dad got into a rage. This doesn’t happen too often, he’s not the type. Even when he and Mom fight, which is most of the time, he doesn’t get angry, he stays calm, which I think drives Mom even more crazy. They always fight about the same thing. You’d think they’d either find a solution or give up.

Dad’s side: She’s away too much, we never see her, what about us, we’re as important as her clients, she’s running away from responsibilities, why did she bother getting married and starting a family, this house is just her hotel, she comes here to sleep and grab something from the fridge.

Mom’s side: It’s not her fault that she’s doing the work of twenty people and it’s not her fault that there aren’t enough lawyers who care about what’s going on, and she can’t say no, people in desperate situations need her, and she’s working on one case that might change the whole course of the country (she always exaggerates). She loves us and she’s doing her best and she can’t split herself into two and it’s only temporary. (Dad says it’s been temporary since they got married.)

I don’t know whose side I’m on. I don’t miss Mom, I’m too old now, so it’s easier for me to see her point of view, but I can tell Dad misses her so I can see his point of view, too.

Anyway, the reason Dad got angry today was that Sonya’s teacher let some scientists come to the school to do experiments on Sonya without getting Gran’s permission (which means Dad’s permission). It’s the first time I’ve seen Dad lose his temper since the person putting a new string on his violin got a scratch on it, and that was around three years ago. I was with him in the store—it was pretty fearsome.

He phoned the teacher, Galit, and really let her have it. I felt sorry for her. But Sonya said she had a great time at the laboratory.

They were interested in her memory, which is very good. Or maybe they were interested in her whole brain. She can memorize any number she sees right away, and stuff she reads in books after just one time, and whole movies scene by scene. She says she sees things twice—first she sees it, and the second time there’s a click and it gets locked in. I can’t imagine keeping so much junk stored in your mind, but she says she has a lot of storage space, like a big gym, where each thing she remembers is just the size of a button. She can look at people in a room and tell you how many people are there without counting. Or matches on a table, up to about fifty. She can do math in her head and she understands university math books. She plays hard pieces on the violin and she’s good at chess—she even beats Dad. Also she knows the time without checking a watch, but Shimi can do that, and he’s probably the biggest moron in the class.

If they knew how stupid she was in other things maybe they wouldn’t be so impressed, but they don’t get to see her at home the way I do. They don’t get to see her talking out loud to her dolls and spiders, nagging me, making stupid sounds outside the door while I’m peeing, and a million things I can’t even begin to mention. And if they heard her playing violin they’d run from the house. They’d be lucky to have that option.

I have to go now, I’m meeting Ilanit at Ariella’s. It’s the only way we can meet, because of Ilanit’s family. They’re
very
regressive. We’ve already kissed and I saw and touched her boobs. The kissing was great. The boobs were a bit disappointing. They have a strange shape.

L
ETTER TO
A
NDREI
, M
ARCH
8, 1957

D
earest, what a wonderful week we have had! You know, I never really saw this country because I was so sick when we first arrived, and I couldn’t go on any of those organized tours for
olim
(immigrants). Everyone I know told me it was a scandal that I had not set foot outside of Tel Aviv. When they heard that I had not even been to Jerusalem they were filled with horror and offered to accompany me that very day.

But really I have had no time, no energy, and no money. It’s been all I can do to familiarize myself with this city and hold our lives together here.

However, I now understand all the expressions of dismay, because I joined Kostya and his school (as a class mother) on a five-day trip, and it was an unforgettable experience. There are such amazing sights here! You feel yourself transported to another world, a world of infinite time and of deep, buried emotions. We saw Jerusalem, Haifa, the Sea of Galilee, the desert, Caesarea, and many other places along the way. If only I had the talent to describe them, but I “pity the paper” if I tried, to rephrase Vanya. I missed you so terribly during every moment of this trip, wanting to share it all with you. Jerusalem is pink and gold, the stones give off a pink glow, it’s most unusual and mysterious. The Sea of Galilee, which is called Kinneret, is like a sheet of silk, so serene you want to be a water lily and float away on it. Now I understand the story about walking on water, as well as the haunting song, “My Kinneret,” which asks whether the Kinneret is real or a dream. On the way to Haifa we saw fields covered with wildflowers—so delicate and passionate, so innocent and cruel! When I crouched down and touched the petals of a cyclamen (flowers with white, pink-tipped petals soaring up like the wings of a swan) with the tips of my fingers, I was nearly in tears. We saw some of Herod’s ruins and coral reefs and ancient burial caves and the Dead Sea. This is a country full of soundless messages—everything in it is trying to tell us something we can’t hear. It’s painful not to be able to hear the messages, for one feels the landscape quivering and pulsing with the effort to express itself.

The children also climbed Masada, which you can read about in the writings of Josephus, my love. But I stayed behind, my feet weren’t up to it. The landscape at Masada makes one feel small and important at the same time. Important because you have the ability to see and feel the red and orange and crimson hills, and small because no matter how much your heart swells at the sight, you can’t embrace any of it.

Do you know, I believe I was asked to be class mother because word got around that I had not seen the country. I’m very glad they asked me, even if it was really not anyone’s business. Throughout the trip I had to make an effort to cut myself off from the others so I could enjoy the magnificence around me. I paid no attention to the guides, and my poor Hebrew helped me do it.

Darling, I don’t like to say this, but I simply can’t stop feeling that there is something a little amiss with the school system here. It’s the only part of living in this country that disturbs me at times. If only they knew where all these attempts to direct every aspect of the children’s thinking can lead! They don’t see the dangers, there is such naïveté in the air. The teachers are wonderful and the atmosphere in the school is not at all restrictive. On the contrary! It’s very free and progressive, and the teachers take courses in all sorts of new theories of education. But all this enthusiasm—sometimes I get shivers. Maybe I am just reacting this way because of things we experienced. All those candies “Stalin” used to give us … but it’s nothing like that here. The children are encouraged to form their own opinions, they are not intimidated the way we were. Oh, really I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m all mixed up, maybe because I have just poured myself a little vodka.

I only missed three days of rehearsals, and I wasn’t needed in those scenes. I am covered from head to toe with mosquito bites, by the way! Kostya fared better: his tent had a net.

My love, I am drifting off … good night, sweet prince.

S
ONYA

M
y brain was quite empty, for a change. It was about five past one, but I wasn’t in the least bit hungry. Kostya always tried to come home for lunch, but on most days he was too busy at the hospital and he phoned me instead. I wondered whether he’d show up today. “If he does,” I said out loud, addressing the ladybug, “he’ll have to eat alone.”

I decided to shower, though a part of me didn’t want to wash off the man’s sperm, which had leaked out of me. There was no connection at all between what had happened today and the drugged assault in the classroom; a wall composed of several galaxies separated the two events. After the twins had left, all I could think of was washing. You’d think I’d be worried about other things, like whether my bones were broken, whether I’d ever walk again, whether I was about to die from a brain concussion. You’d think that what I would want most would be drugs for pain. But all I wanted was to wash. And when the janitor heard me moaning and found me, I said, “I need a shower.” The ambulance arrived and I told the medics the same thing: “I need a shower.” They tried to move me and I passed out. When I woke up in the hospital, the first thing I asked the nurse was: “Did you wash me?” “Of course,” she spelled. I said, “Don’t tell anyone what happened,” because I didn’t want people who knew me, especially my brother and Noah, to be upset, but it was too late by then. The whole country already knew; I was surrounded by flowers from well-wishers, and the police were waiting in the hallway to talk to me. An hour later the twins were arrested: how many identical twins are there in this country, with shaven heads and dragon tattoos on their arms? They were easy to track down.

What had taken place today was the exact opposite. I stepped into the shower a little wistfully; I was sorry to be removing all traces of my lover. Even though the episode had perhaps borne a closer resemblance to Bottom’s version of
Pyramus and Thisbe
than to anything in Ovid, it was something I had wanted, something I had decided on. A man had never come inside me before; I had never felt a body shivering on top of me. The twins had come on my face.

When I stepped out of the shower I realized that I was no longer sleepy; instead, I was in the mood for a swim. Kostya and I both love to swim, and our biggest extravagance was the oval pool we had built on the east side of the house. I changed into my bathing suit and jumped into the pool with the imperiousness of an Olympic diver. I let my body fall down, down, to the bottom of the deep end. Then the water pushed me back up like seaweed or driftwood, unwaking, undrowning, impervious to human voices. I caught my breath, turned on my back, and propelled myself with my arms. I heard the rhythm of my body, the trickles and spurts and ripples of water caressing my body as it surged from one end of the pool to the other.

My brother appeared suddenly in my field of vision; he was standing by the edge of the pool. I smiled at him, or rather at his tanned feet, partly visible through brown leather sandal straps. I swam to the edge of the pool and lifted myself out. During the summer months my brother wears a navy baseball cap. With his short gray beard, blue jeans, and the baseball cap shading his eyes, he looks more like a fisherman or a bartender than a doctor. Fisherman by day, bartender by night.

He smiled at me.

“Am I getting too fat?” I asked, slightly self-conscious in my bathing suit.

“You’re exactly the same, beautiful as always.”

I went to my bedroom and put on a black skirt and burgundy top, which suited my slightly more sober mood. In the meantime my brother had poured himself a glass of wine, put on a CD, and settled himself on our living-room sofa, a rather outlandish but irresistible four-seater with a birds-of-paradise print, which I’d bought on impulse. Amidst these extravagant birds my brother looked wise and reliable, like a slender Buddha.

“I’m not at all hungry,” I said. “I’ll just keep you company.”

“Unusual for you,” Kostya said.

“Maybe because I had sex today,” I told him, somewhat smugly.

He was taken aback, and immediately a wave of concern swept over his body. I said, “I met a man, a very nice man—polite, shy. I invited him in for coffee. He drank, he ate, he thanked me. I asked him to have sex with me and he agreed, but then he ran away in a panic.”

“Who was he?”

“I don’t know. A taxi driver.”

“Someone you didn’t know?”

“He drove me home from the university. He was nice, so I invited him in.”

My brother looked exasperated. “Did you at least use a condom?” he asked.

I shook my head.

He was very upset by that. “That’s extremely stupid.”

“What are the odds?” I asked.

“What do odds matter when you’re dead?” he said. “Now you need to get a test. Several tests. We had four new cases of hepatitis at the hospital just today.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.

“You didn’t use any contraceptive at all? What if you get pregnant?”

“Well, as it happens, just by luck, I’m two days away from my period.”

He shook his head but didn’t say anything.

“And by the way,” I added, “that pill you gave me
was
soporific! I could hardly keep my eyes open during class and I fell asleep in the taxi.”

“Sorry. It specifically says ‘non-soporific’ on the box.”

“That’s why I took a taxi. The driver didn’t talk at all. He never said anything, so he didn’t know I couldn’t hear. I fell asleep in the taxi because of that crazy antihistamine, and I forgot my briefcase in the car. He ran after me and he was sweet, so I invited him in and after he ate I took him to my room.”

“What made you decide, suddenly?”

“I don’t know.”

My brother could not conceal his dismay—not at my failure to protect myself from disease but at the cultural mores that had dictated my behavior. It was a subject that had often come up in our conversations. My brother found attitudes to sex in our country depressing. And it was getting worse all the time, he would say: male and female prostitutes invited to parties, sex in public bathrooms, meaningless mating between strangers. A carnality that bordered on pathology, he said, though in his more generous moments he attributed it to stress and constant contact with death: those things made people dispense with caution; it made them angry and their anger made them hungry and cynical. Monogamy used to mean something, he would say with a sigh. Some sort of … consideration, investment, respect. Now it had become an archaic concept. He found it astounding that not one of his friends or colleagues had a monogamous marriage. Either the husband was cheating and his wife knew but pretended she didn’t, or the wife was cheating and the husband didn’t know, or else they were both cheating. He was convinced this was a sign of a society in decline.

I didn’t agree with Kostya; I teased him and told him, unfairly, that he was a prude. There was nothing wrong with sex, I said, nothing wrong with inviting a young attractive person to a party to satisfy the desires of the hostess. And if more people would learn to sign, I’d join in the fun. That’s what I said, but my brother didn’t believe me. He thought my situation was complicated, and he wanted me to see a therapist. I felt insulted by the suggestion. I was well adjusted, I told him, and far happier than almost everyone I knew.

“Maybe this was a sort of necessary first step,” he said, supposedly to reassure me but really to reassure himself. “A first step to meeting someone, dating, getting to know them.” The Valley of Death look I’d come to know so well crossed his face; he was thinking about the twins. I was reminded of the menacing shadow that falls dramatically on vulnerable protagonists in animated Disney cartoons, and the image of a cartoon Kostya peering up at the shadow made me laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“I just thought of you in a Disney movie. For heaven’s sake, Kostya, stop dwelling on that. It’s been fourteen years—I don’t even remember what happened anymore. The only thing that bothers me at the moment is that my lover got scared and ran away.”

“Do you know why?”

“He thought I was mad. I told him he was my first lover, and then I told him I was deaf. He mumbled something and ran off.”

“I’m so sorry, Sonya.”

“But I’m sure if I could just find him and explain, he would give me a second chance. I should have spoken to him first but I was too impatient.”

“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter now.”

“It does to me. I think I love him.”

“How can you possibly love someone you know absolutely nothing about?”

“You can know a lot about someone by spending some time with them.”

“Not enough for love.”

“Everyone knows there’s such a thing as love at first sight.”

“There’s sexual attraction at first sight, that’s all. Whether or not it develops into love, or whether we persuade ourselves that it’s love, is a different matter. Besides, Sonya, he might be married.”

“No, I don’t think so. You know I’m good at sensing things like that.”

“Yes, that’s true. I’m really sorry,” he repeated. “I was hoping your first experience would be more meaningful.”

“It
was
meaningful. I love him. And I’m going to find him and explain.”

“How will you find him?”

“His license number … It’s odd, but I also kissed one of my students today.”

My brother smiled. “Downpour after drought.”

“It was just a coincidence. The student with the eyes—it turns out he has a crush on me. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe that kiss brought me to my senses.”

“Yes, very sensible to invite a stranger into your house and take him to bed.”

“He probably lives in Jaffa.”

“Jaffa?”

“That’s my guess.”

Kostya looked confused. “He’s an Arab?”

“I’m not sure, but I think so.”

He dropped his chin and folded his arms, the way he used to do when I was a child and didn’t want to help with chores. In Kostya-language that meant, “Fine, do what you want, I’m not going to bother arguing with you when you yourself know what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“What?” I insisted.

“Nothing.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Think how he must have felt!” Kostya blurted out uncharacteristically.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m sure I can get his address if I have his license number. Maybe I can go to the police, they’ll be able to tell me who he is.”

“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. They’ll assume he’s done something wrong and arrest him, after questioning you.”

“I’ll make up a story.”

“What story?”

“I’ll say he dropped something. And that I have to return it.”

“Just how stupid do you think the police are?”

“Okay, I’ll say I’m in love and I have to find him.”

“An even better idea.”

“You’re not being a jealous brother, are you?”

“No, I’m a worried brother.”

“Stop worrying about me. I’m thirty-two. I’m a university professor. I know what I’m doing.”

My brother pondered for a few moments. Finally he said, “All right, I’ll use my pull. I’ll call the police and say he’s a patient, I have his test results but we’ve lost his file—we only have his license number.”

I jumped up happily and brought him the phone. “Do it now,” I ordered him.

Kostya made several calls before he found the right department. He took his pen out of his shirt pocket and scribbled something down in the margin of a medical magazine that was lying on the side table.

“That was easy,” he said when he was off the phone. “They believed me immediately. Doctors are holy in this country—a doctor couldn’t possibly be making up a story in order to track down and harass some hapless stranger for his sister.”

“What did they say?”

“His name is Nazim Sharif, and you’re right, he lives in Jaffa. I have his address.”

“Oh, what would I do without you, sweetheart!” I gave him a hug and kissed his cheek, or rather his beard.

Then I gathered my things, not forgetting to take my makeup. I wanted to look my best.

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