Below is the fifth segment of ‘The Mysterious Texture of Memory,’ a new short story—based, however, on my award-winning short memoir, the ‘Sweet Life.’
All the films that came to the kibbutz, crisscrossing the Jezreel Valley from place to place, were in 16mm, usually black and white. As was the film that night. They came spooled in tin reels, usually three or four, which required regular breaks in the action for the projectionist—by far the most important person in the kibbutz, in my opinion—to replace them and start again. In addition, the film itself would break occasionally during each screening, evident by strange noises and pictures running at high speed on the screen. These unexpected breaks in the action would always occur, at least the way I saw it, at the most critical, suspenseful moments.
The adults, however, didn’t seem to mind one way or the other and used these breaks for a variety of activities. First among them was the lighting of cigarettes, as almost everybody in the kibbutz smoked back then, especially the men. Small flames flickered here and there, dotting the canvas of the dark lawn with color, before dying out into oblivion. Another favorite pastime activity was watching the stars, searching for the various constellations, and in later years pointing at the Sputniks and Satellites floating by slowly across the nightly skies. Some men used these breaks as an opportunity to take a leak in the nearby bushes. Shouts of all kinds, mainly announcements of urgent meetings or changes in the work schedule, could be heard as well. A new mother would often be called to the babies-house since her baby was crying for milk. There were hugs, kisses, and feel ups on the lawn. And under the blankets, rumors circulated through the grapevine, a baby or two were actually conceived.
Not me. I was conceived either on the boat of refugees bringing my parents, Holocaust survivors from Hungary to Israel from Europe, or in the internment camp the British had brought them to after capturing their boat. It was probably a vacation for them there, compared with what they’d gone through in the German concentration camps, since it was set up on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, they’d both survived the horrors of that war. But they’d left behind in the burning gas chambers, among other relatives, my grandparents on both sides. Come to think of it now, there were no grandparents to be found in my kibbutz at all as I was growing up.
Nevertheless, it was a paradisiacal childhood. Children had fun galore there, especially the three musketeers on the roof on that clear, starry night. It went on for a while, the fun part, but not for long. We were so contented with the success of our endeavor, and so absorbed by Rome’s stunning sights and beautiful people, speaking this exotic, strange language that we’d failed to notice that we had company on the roof. Cats. It was their territory, after all, which we had invaded. One cat in particular, a big black one, was brave enough to check out on us. And with good reason, since by force of habit Yair had brought along some dry, yet smelly biscuits for us to nosh on.