The Mysterious Texture of Memory

Below is the second segment of ‘The Mysterious Texture of Memory,’ a new short story—based, however, on my award-winning short memoir, the ‘Sweet Life.’

Later that evening, there would be a meeting of the minds with the intention of solving these same crucial questions. But before that, the people I’d met and had asked about the film had no clue about it, or any interest in knowing anything about it. Upstairs at the crowded dining room—a large hall busy with members of the kibbutz not only eating lunch hungrily but discussing also, and with some urgency, matters related to work, family, war and peace—I was easily dismissed: “We will see the film, then we will know.”

Easy for them to say. For me: a question of life and death. A state of mind which even Nechama, my elementary school teacher (with whom I was secretly in love), had failed to notice. She usually had all the right answers to my prematurely inquiring mind, but not this time. “I’ll let you know tomorrow, bubeleh,” she said and continued on her way.

 Oh, how I wished she’d stop talking to me like a child, call me by my real name—Hillel, the old, wise sage of Jerusalem—and treat me more like an adult. Which was, of course, the crux of the matter. Understood by none.

Case in point: Uri, the man in charge of the kibbutz’s vegetable fields. “Don’t be such a nudnik,” was his reply to my twice-repeated question about the film, “and jump on the wagon.” He then put the tractor in gear and drove some twenty of us school-kids down to the valley, where the fields outside the kibbutz stretched as far as the eye could see. And it was there, as we were leaning over rows upon rows of green-leafed carrots, pulling them out of the ground with our bare hands and putting them side-by-side in wooden boxes, that I caught a glimpse of Tirzah’s breasts as well. She was two years older than me, thin and tall, but when she leaned over the fruits of the earth she partly, unintentionally, exposed also the fruits of her own naked beauty.

 Naked beauty that, I suspected then and there, had something to do with the fact that the film that night was for “Adults only.” I kept thinking about it, and about Tirzah’s partly hidden treasures while taking a shower after work, feeling new sensations coming alive inside me. I could hear the girls of my class talking, singing, and giggling in the adjacent shower, which didn’t help one bit in soothing my sexual excitement. I was used to it by then, or so I thought, because as kibbutz’s children of the same age we grew up together since our mothers had brought us back from the hospital shortly after giving birth to us, directly to the babies-house.

      We did everything together as equals, going our separate ways only when visiting our parents’ homes in the early evening for an hour or two of “quality family time.” As I did that Wednesday when I visited my father. My young sister was there too, but not my mother. She was living and working in Tel Aviv by then since my parents were already divorced. Only on holidays, and occasionally on Fridays, she would come back for a visit, bringing us candies aplenty and entertainment magazines from the big city.

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