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Calculated Moves

Magical Realism in the Time of Corona

My short story, Calculated Moves—the second-place winner of the 2021 ‘Moment-Karma’ short fiction contest—has been published in Moment Magazine (founded by Elie Wiesel in 1975), both in print and online. The story, “Calculated Moves,” is a timely exploration of aging, COVID, memory and loss

But first, below is what the contest’s final judge, the author Susan Coll, wrote about the story, and then my reflections on her verdict.

“Calculated Moves is the poignant, affecting story of aging in the time of COVID. The protagonist, an elderly occupant of a Jewish retirement center, believes he has become part tree. Resentful of his son and daughter-in-law for forcing him to move into this new living arrangement after observing his forgetfulness, as well as a recent fall, the narrator considers his new home an asylum, self-identifying as an inmate rather than a resident. His struggles with the onset of dementia blend lyrically into the realm of magical realism, creating a moving and memorable story.”

Naturally, I’m inclined to agree. I particularly like, and would explore here a little, the definition of ‘magical realism’ in the context of this story. Because ultimately, that’s what I’ve tried to do: inject some magic into the dreadful reality of the coronavirus pandemic we were—still are, to a degree—facing. Especially at the onset of this plague, it was so, before we had vaccinations and some norm of control over the spread of the disease. Indeed, it had turned our lives upside down in the most ruthless, unexpected ways. And that, in part, is what I’ve tried to convey in this story.

I’m a great admirer of the late, Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, specifically his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, both of which I’ve read twice, in Hebrew and in English. And so, it’s a great honor and compliment for me to be attributed this praise, ‘Magical Realism,’ in the context of my short story. After all, it’s a definition and an art form that Márquez is widely regarded as the modern inventor of.

Throughout the process of writing, Love in the Time of Cholera was on my mind in particular, and for obvious reasons. Even those of you who haven’t read this magnificent novel yet can infer from its title the said connection. And so, whether as a young man you are consumed madly by love, or as an old man you are eaten away by regrets, depression, and the onset of dementia, the horror and seclusion of a global pandemic manage to highlight and heightened your ailments.

And yet… one has to find a way to keep going. To keep the struggle to the end. To not only stay the course, stay alive, but maybe find some extra meaning still, some pure magic in the heavy burden of reality. And in your own life, too. Which is what—without giving too much of the story details away here, since I hope you’ll read it, and would certainly like to hear your thought about it—I tried to do both in my life in the time of corona, and in the life of the hero of this story.


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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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

But the need to find out the meaning of the words in the film’s title remained. And so was the need to learn the name of the actress I’d fallen in love with on the roof that night. It would take some years, though, before I would find that out. Not before graduating from high school; not before serving in the army’s paratroops brigade (jumping was my thing, I concluded); not even after returning to the kibbutz and working for a year in its grapefruit orchards. Where it so happened that driving a tractor on the summer road one hot day, I heard an inner voice calling on me, instructing me to leave the kibbutz, conquer the world and find that woman.

My first stop was the big city of Tel Aviv. And it was there, in a small art-house cinema theater that I joined an all-night retrospective and discussion of Fellini’s films. Among them, of course, La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life. Starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.

I never met her at the end. I never made it big enough as a filmmaker. And though I’d made some films and had met some film stars, our roads had never intersected. And then she died. Just like my two friends, both of them dead now. And even though when I’d left the kibbutz—a backpack with some clothes on me, some change jingling in my pocket, the rhythm of the wheels beating the open road piercing my heart—I hadn’t heard yet of the saying about the world being a book, about the need to travel if one wants to read more than one page; innately, I knew what I had to do.

But now, as I keep staring bleary-eyed at the old picture of Anita Ekberg on my laptop’s home screen, I’m baffled still by the mysterious texture of memory. How it comes and how it goes. How hard it is sometimes to decipher its meaning. And yet, I’m thankful to her for tempting me to leave my birthplace. No regrets now, or almost none, in my old age. Because if life is but a fleeting moment, then that was my moment: Lying there on the roof under the bright stars, a sprinkler raining cold water on me, the people of my beloved village lying on the grass below while she—a woman of celluloid dreams—was having fun under the fountain.

So no regrets now, in my old age, for being tempted by her to leave my birthplace. Well… maybe some regrets. Especially on my walks by the river bank, where on the meandering horse trail, beneath my feet, I can still feel the ground of those narrow dirt paths of my home village. As if I never left.

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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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

I wished it were me down there, under the fountain with that mythical goddess. This fabulous creature from Rome, or elsewhere in Europe. Or from the moon, smiling on me knowingly from above. I didn’t know women like her, looking so unearthly, even existed. Or could exist. Blood was shooting madly through my body, from my heart to my head and down. I fell in love with her right then and there, not knowing her name, and forgetting all about Nechama, my elementary school teacher.

Maybe that was the reason why—a strong, sudden infatuation, feeling so very hot—I welcomed at first the shower of cold water raining hard on me. It made me feel as if I were down there with her, under the fountain. Problem was: though it was a hot early summer, the nights were still rather chilly. I was wet down to my bones soon, shivering madly, while up on the screen the man took the half-naked woman away from the fountain in his flashy sports car.

At the same time, my hold on the tin roof got slippery, and I felt myself sliding down despite all my efforts to hold on to my blanket. Not only I fell in love that night, but I fell from the roof as well, since the rope and carrots’ box had inexplicably disappeared. My coward friends, the schmucks, had taken with them all evidence when they fled.

Or the man who’d turned on the sprinklers had done that. Either way, I half jumped down, half fell from the roof, twisting my ankle badly when landing. And as I limped up to my class-house by the mountain, where King Saul and his son Jonathan spilled their blood fighting the Philistines, I left behind a trail of blood of my own, gushing down from my wounded chin. Worst of all: my wet winter blanket—my initials imprinted on it, sewed with a red thread—had remained at the scene of the crime.

From there, naturally, it all went downhill. Summer camp, with the promise of meeting boys and girls from different kibbutzim for fun in the sun, was fading out quickly. Fading in instead, threatening to bring with it only sweat and toil, was a long summer of working in the fields. Life as I knew it and loved it, was over for me.

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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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

Dani, usually the most ardent tormentor of stray cats among us, was scared out of his wits when that cat suddenly appeared in front of his eyes, blocking his view of the screen.

He cursed loudly first, then reflexively smacked the cat. Who in turn—as if repaying him not only for this time, but also for all those other times—scratched Dani hard on the nose, generating a cry of pain, then gave a terrifying warning cry to his gang of hungry cats. Together, they flew away upon the tin roof like a flock of bats, leaving behind a scene worthy of the one playing on the big screen down below.

“Children go home!” was the dominant shout coming from the arena on the lawn, directed at those on the balcony roof. We could even see someone getting up, his silhouette passing through the screen, obscuring the film momentarily.

This was enough of a threat for Dani and Yair, who knew not what kind of punishment awaited us, but knew very well how severe it would be. Like the cats, they reacted quickly and noisily. They jumped down from the roof, forgetting in an instant The Three Musketeers’ motto—“All for one, one for all”—which the three of us boys had adopted as our own before setting forth on our dangerous mission.

As for me, I was so consumed by the imaginary world playing up on the big screen that I paid no attention to the real world playing down on the ground, oblivious to its dangers and regulations. I understood nothing of the film so far, yet I was completely captivated by its rapidly changing images, the beautiful scenery it depicted, and by the people living in it.   

Furthermore, the meaning of the words “La Dolce Vita” was still haunting me, and the mystery of their melodic resonance was yet to be solved. In fact, my curiosity had run so deep that during the planning stages I’d forgotten not only that there were cats on the roof, equally curious, but sprinklers as well.

During the hot summer days in the Jezreel Valley, where there were no air conditioning systems yet in the kibbutz as I was growing up, water was the main cooling source: on the floors and on the roofs, in dirt valley pools and in clear mountain streams, at the fields and orchards and fishing ponds. And it was especially needed on the roof of the sewing-room, where it could get real hot real fast.

I was aware of the sprinklers’ existence, of course I was, but had forgotten about them altogether. Just as I’d forgotten about the man who’d got up from the lawn, and apparently had turned them on exactly when my eyes, about to pop out of their sockets, were glued to the curves of the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. This fairytale blonde, who was dressed in a revealing black evening gown, went straight under this spectacular fountain, showering herself under its waterfall, laughing and having fun, calling on the man who’d brought her there to join her.

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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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.

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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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

Our opening move was brilliant, but it brought with it some complications as well. We sneaked quietly through the hardly used, narrow dirt paths, known only to us kibbutz’s boys we believed, and arrived at dark behind the big lawn some ten minutes after the film had already started. But no matter: we reached our destination safely, since the attention of the enemy was distracted by the sights and sounds of the film. At the same time, the consequences were that we’d missed the titles and credits at the beginning, and therefore the chances of learning the meaning, in Hebrew, of the three magical words in the film’s title—important especially for me—were reduced dramatically.

Still, I was undeterred. And fortunate enough, as my friends and I knew very well the layout of the big lawn, stretching like a giraffe’s neck between two rows of shacks. On the one side, farther away from us, the shacks were used mainly by young people during their army service, and by new Olim in the Ulpan, here in the kibbutz to study Hebrew. They could, had they wanted to, watch the film from their windows. On the other side, from where our young and small commando unit was launching its attack, the shacks were used as the clothes’ warehouse of the kibbutz, and also as its sewing-room. It was there that some of the clothes we uniformly wore were fixed and sometimes made. Twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah and Passover, we were fitted there with our holiday best.

Behind one of these shacks, our hearts beating madly, our threesome unit came to a stop. We used the carrots’ box as a stepladder and tied the rope to a post supporting the shack’s roof. We climbed up one after the other, and used the thick winter blanket I’d brought along as a silencer to muffle the sound of our crawling on the tin roof. Once our daring operation was accomplished, we lay down quietly on the blanket at the edge of the roof.

The scenery in front of our eyes was magnificent. Down on the lawn there was a large pile of people huddled together, as if hugged from both sides by the bushes, the trees, and the shacks. Two-hundred fifty people or so, about the entire adult population of the kibbutz, were spread beneath us on the big lawn. Most of them were couples in each other’s arms, but some—like my father—were alone with their film-recliners. At the back there were two rows of chairs for the elderly and the infirmed, and in their midst stood the film projector, sending beams of bright lights to plow the field of darkness ahead, and hit the big white screen in front. It stood tall and wide there, that screen, supported by two wooden posts. Behind it, the main dirt road traversing the kibbutz was winding, where the occasional tractor or car would pass by even during the showing of the film.

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The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

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

My father was a kind-hearted man but mostly sad. He made us hot tea in the winter and cold lemonade in the summer, always with toasted bread, then left us alone. He listened to the news constantly on the radio—television was yet to arrive in the kibbutz in the early nineteen-sixties, or in Israel for that matter—and read his left-leaning newspaper, On Guard, from top to bottom. When I asked him about the film, and what was the meaning of the title, he was surprised to hear about it since it was the first film to be screened outside on the lawn that year. In fact, he busied himself thereafter with getting ready for it. Out of his junk-filled little shade outside by his garden he salvaged his old film-recliner, a special device kibbutz members had invented and built, meant to support their backs and heads while lying down on the grass watching films. “I will let you know tomorrow,” my father said nonchalantly.

I heard that before, I said to myself, my curiosity far from satisfied. As a result, I skipped dinner with my small family that evening in the kibbutz’s dining room and returned promptly to my class-house. My roommates, Dani and Yair, were already waiting for me there, as we’d agreed ahead of time they would do, since eating was not as important that evening as watching the film. For that reason, we spent the next two hours—designed and meant to be spent doing homework—on devising and finalizing our plan of attack. Dani and Yair, unlike me, were not so interested in finding out the meaning of the film’s title, as in discovering the secrets behind the “Adults only” part of it. That was enough of an enticement for them and good enough for me, since all I needed was their cooperation in the planning and preparation stages, and participation thereafter in the daring operation itself. I got plenty of both, as it were.

But first, following a long secretive discussion—other boys, even girls, were not allowed into the room—we managed to come up with a plan. According to that plan Dani, the engineer among us (who later, after his army service, would work in the first factory to be built in the kibbutz), had to find and bring a sturdy rope; Yair, the enforcer (who later would fight and die, barely twenty, on the dunes of the Sinai Desert during the Six-Day War), had to find and bring an empty wooden carrots’ box; and me, the dreamer (who later would leave the kibbutz in search of his pipe dreams) had to find and bring a thick blanket. Which was an easy task for me, readily available. The difficult task was to summon the necessary determination needed to encourage my co-conspirators to stick with the plan, and not to give up on our quest no matter what, during the long night ahead.

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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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The Mysterious Texture of Memory

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

The other day, an old picture of Anita Ekberg popped up on my Twitter feed. It was a grainy, black and white photo—back when I was growing up, photos were mostly black and white  —of the Swedish actress I’d never seen before, posing on a sailboat at sea, wearing an old-fashioned white bathing suit, with dark, ominous clouds gathering in the background.

For a long moment I couldn’t take my eyes away from her—so beautiful she looked, so young and unspoiled—as she brought with her a gushing wave of irresistible memories about the place I left behind. One memory in particular, though, of the day and night that had changed, so dramatically so, the trajectory of my life.

It was a summer day, which on that year had arrived early. It brought with it a suffocating heatwave, as well as—though little did I know at the time—the seeds of change that would reshape the course of my life. I was just a teenager then, still trying to catch my breath after crossing half the length of the kibbutz, running like the meshuga boy I truly was. Our class had ended just a short while ago, up where I and my classmates lived and studied together on the slope of that Biblical mountain, Mount Gilboa. And as was my habit every Wednesday, I ran as fast as I could all the way down to the big communal dining room, where the heart of the kibbutz was beating.

The place was always a beehive of activity at noontime: people were coming and going, arriving from work in the fields and orchards, clothes dirty and smelly, while others were leaving already after taking an early lunch, in a hurry to reach their homes for the mandatory two-hour afternoon naptime. The work coordinator’s room was busy with people, checking their work schedule and arguing about it, while around the ‘Parliament Tree’ grownup men were loudly discussing politics or the latest scrimmages on the border with our Arab neighbors. Young women with toddlers strolled by, sneaking some private pleasure-time before returning their offspring to the common kindergarten.

No pleasure-time for me, though, not yet. That would come later at night. For now, I was stuck opposite the large bulletin board; the youngest one there but by no means alone, since that board had functioned as the main artery of the kibbutz, where the most vital flow of information regarding its rhythm of life was posted. I had no interest in reading general announcements from the Kibbutz Secretary, or the extra duties members were assigned to carry out aside from their regular work schedule, or who was on guard-duty at nights during that week, or who was about to get married soon. No, my attention was focused solely on a little piece of torn lined-paper, tacked down at the bottom of the board as if it were just an afterthought. It read: “Film on the lawn tonight at nine. La Dolce Vita. Adults only.”     

It was penciled in longhand, without the translation of the film’s title into Hebrew, and without explanation as to why it was for “Adults only.” Plain and simple as it was, it complicated the rest of the day for me, and—though I was unaware of it at the time—my whole life. I was consumed thereafter by three crucial questions: What was the meaning of the film’s title, why for adults only and, since I was only fourteen at the time, how to nonetheless see the film?

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A Surprise Visit

Below is my entire short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never published before.


A strong autumn breeze, coming from the Mediterranean seashore, rattled the branches of the sycamore trees above the two young men who walked closely on the sidewalk. They came to an abrupt stop and looked up and about, searching for a house number, receiving little help from the lampposts along Nordau Boulevard. One was taller, and was wearing a long black overcoat, which highlighted his shiny blond hair. He rested his arm on the shoulder of the shorter man for just a second, giving him a squeeze of encouragement, or farewell, before continuing his walk down the boulevard.

For a moment, the man left behind stood still, sucking hard on a cigarette. He adjusted a wrapped book he was carrying under his arm, while tossing the cigarette butt down on the pavement. He stepped on it, killing the spark, then looked up again at the old, whitewashed building in front of him, whose cracking walls decorated an adorned entrance. He rolled up the collar of his army bomber jacket, as if shielding himself not only from the cold wind, but also from what lay ahead of him. He turned towards the narrow path that led into the entrance, frightening a black cat into a quick flight, and was soon swallowed by the dark mouth of the old building.

He came out again into the open space of the roof after climbing four flights up the winding stairway. He breathed deeply first, inhaling the cool air of the moonless night, and then looked around. What he saw was a roof like many others in Tel Aviv of the mid-seventies, white in color and bare for the most part, except for some colorful items of female clothing and underwear dancing playfully in the wind, up on the laundry rope.

The door to the old laundry room had a small square window, covered with a purplish curtain, which nonetheless allowed for some fuzzy burgundy light to filter out, imparting an aura of mystery. He could hear low, unidentified voices coming from inside, which caused him a long moment of hesitation, as he rearranged the book tucked under his arm. But the idea of turning back was not an option for him that night, or it was simply against his nature. He knocked on the door.

The voices inside died down immediately. No one looked through the curtain or opened the door for him, though, increasing his discomfort. He plowed his fingers through his long, curly dark hair, and looked around again over the roofs of the white city. Under skies lit by artificial bluish glow, he could see countless television antennas growing up like weeds out of the barren concrete surface, ruling the nightly landscape. Behind him the curtain finally moved slightly, betraying the hope that he was no longer there. But when he turned his head towards it, the door was already open.

In the dimly lit doorway stood a young woman, wearing a flowing, flowery dress that fell all the way down to her bare feet. She held the door ajar with one hand, while the other fixed her black hair in place, even though it was already collected nicely in a ponytail. She lowered her eyeglasses, as her pale blue eyes were flooded with the light of memories, coming from a corner deep in her soul.
“Beni…” she whispered.
“That’s me, Noa.”
“You just fell from the skies, or what?”
He smiled. “You haven’t changed much, you know,” he said and handed her the book. “Happy birthday.”

She took it from him hesitantly, while her cheeks heated up. Her tight lips opened in spite of herself, allowing a childish smile to escape.
“Come on in,” she said, opening the door wide.
“Better not,” he said and took a step back. “I…”
“You what… don’t be stupid.”
She grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him inside, closing the door behind her. She stepped ahead and, giving him no chance of retreat, introduced him to another man who was sitting on a straw mat on the floor. It was unavoidable: the room was so small, with the ceiling bearing down over their heads.
“Dovik, a friend from work,” said Noa to Beni. “And this is Beni, from the kibbutz.”
Without getting up, the bespectacled Dovik, with thinning brown hair crowning his head, reluctantly offered his hand to Beni.
Beside him on a paper plate a partly eaten chocolate cake, with a layer of creamy frosting on top, attracted Beni’s attention. An open bottle of cheap Carmel red wine was there too, with two plastic cups, half-full, guarding it on both sides.

Noa tossed the book Beni brought her on the single bed, with its mattress almost touching the floor, then put her eyeglasses aside and turned to face Beni. She found it embarrassingly difficult to take her eyes away from him, as he brought with him so many smells and sights she yearned so much to breathe and see again.
“Sit down,” she ordered Beni, and pointed at one of the small cushions thrown randomly on the floor. “I’ll pour you some wine.”
She turned to the tiny kitchenette, which occupied only an alcove in the small room, and looked for another cup. The walls surrounding her were colored in deep red, decorated with paintings and drawings, hanging loosely here and there.

Soon she was back at the center of the room, after finding another plastic cup. She poured wine for Beni and refilled the other cups.
“L’chaim,” said Beni and raised his cup. “Mazal Tov.”
“Thanks… you sure knew when to come.”
Her gentle, lovely face grew paler, with beads of sweat glistening on her forehead. Perhaps she was sorry she’d said these last few words, realizing their potential implication; or perhaps she was angry with herself for asking Beni in, to begin with. Impulsively, without drinking any wine, she grabbed her eyeglasses back from the corner of a small easel, upon which a painting of a nude, sleeping woman was in the process of taking shape, and put them on.

“I’ll make some coffee,” she said.
In the kitchenette again, she filled the coffee percolator with coffee and water, then turned it on. She stretched her hand to grab coffee cups from an open shelf but then halted, feeling dizzy. In her head a sweet melody—from a different place and a different time—was playing softly, bringing moisture to her eyes. She carried it with her into the small bathroom, where she stopped by the sink and looked at her face in the mirror.

She left behind a dreadful quiet, percolating deep and steady, together with the coffee being made. Dovik was pretending to read, holding an open, thin paperback book of poetry in his hand. Beni drew from his pocket a yellow pack of Ascot cigarettes and offered one to Dovik, who shook his head in disdain. Beni struck fire and inhaled deeply, releasing a long funnel of smoke.
“You work together, I understand,” he said, trying to break the ice.
“Yes, we do.”
“You’re a draftsman, too?”
“He’s an architect, Beni,” called Noa through the bathroom’s open door, still in front of the mirror, carefully inserting a contact lens into her eye. “Not a draftsman.”
“I see… sorry.”

Dovik responded with a forced smile. He seemed very uncomfortable, preferring total quiet. He couldn’t concentrate on reading the book though, and when Noa returned, placing down between them a round tray with three small Arabian cups of steamy black coffee on it, he closed the book with a thump, releasing an inadvertent sigh.
“I must go,” he said and handed her the book.
“No, you’re not,” said Noa in alarm as she took the book from him. “Drink your coffee first, we’ll read some poetry together.”
“It’s very late, Noa. I’ll see you tomorrow at the office.”
He got up and moved to the door, opening it. Noa followed him, looking at him with concerned eyes. He hesitated for a moment, as if he was waiting for her to say something—make a meaningful gesture, maybe, such as a hug or a kiss—but when she didn’t, he turned around and disappeared into the darkness.
Noa stayed in the doorway momentarily, looking outside, before turning inside and closing the door. She stayed there, leaning back on the wall by the door, one hand on her hip, the other holding the thin poetry book. She stared at Beni with burning eyes and tight lips.

Beni put down his cup of coffee and raised his eyes to her. “Good coffee,” he said nonchalantly. “You didn’t forget how…”
“You bastard,” she cut him off, her eyes flashed with anger. And impulsively—true to her nature, though—she threw the book at him.
It grazed his head first, before continuing its trajectory towards a pile of old records leaning on the wall by her bed, crashing into them.
“Why didn’t you call first?” she demanded.
“You don’t have a phone,” he answered, his hand massaging lightly the spot where the book had hit him.
“I do, at the office.”
She stepped closer and kneeled on the floor beside him, her hands on her knees, looking at him puzzled. “Where did you come from so suddenly, anyway?”
“Here. The city.”
“Don’t tell me…” her voice trailed off as she took both his hands in hers. “You left, too?”
He nodded, a mischievous smile passing across his face, as if a page from a book were turning over. And she: she took that smile away from him and transformed it into a burst of all-out laughter. Crazy laughter, at that; so much so that she lay down on the floor, on her back, her whole body shaking with pleasure.

Unsure how to react, Beni tossed his half-smoked cigarette into his empty cup of coffee. He watched closely the thin, bluish line of smoke that began to spiral up to the low ceiling, as if containing—but not revealing, not yet—many secrets. He took a sizeable bite at the cake, consuming it hungrily.
Seeing that, Noa stopped laughing as sudden as she’d started and moved closer to him, sitting on his stretched legs. She took hold of his hands again, asking, “When?”
“Three months ago, almost.”
“And you couldn’t find a moment to visit me yet, eh?”
“Here I am.”
“At the wrong time, as usual. How come you remembered?”
He shrugged off both her disparaging remark and the question that followed it.
“It’s so unlike you, you know,” she said.
“You’re twenty-one, aren’t you?”
“Twenty-three, sweetheart. Give me a kiss.”
Without waiting for him to respond, she collected his head in her hands and planted a tender kiss on his lips. He absorbed it, but didn’t take full advantage of it. She looked at him straight, as his eyes turned shyly down.
“Thanks, Beni… let’s celebrate!”

Quick as an alley cat, she jumped to her feet and threw open the door to her cupboard. She took off her long dress in one easy move and tossed it inside. She looked at the jumble of clothes there, not shy at all about being practically naked, but for her tiny red panties. She grabbed a thin black sweater and put it on, long enough to cover—just about, though—her buttocks and reach her upper thighs. Next, she removed the rubber band that had held her hair together and shook it loose, allowing the smooth, soft hair to fall naturally on her shoulders.

Beni, who observed her movements with detached curiosity, turned his eyes away from her now and zeroed them instead—appreciatively so—on the nude woman in the painting. But Noa sat down again and, as if on purpose, blocked his view. Her bare legs were touching his, while she unzipped his bomber jacket.
“You’re not in the army anymore, Beni. Take off your battledress.”
“I’m a bit cold.”
“You’ll be warm soon.”
She sent an enticing smile at him, then poured more wine into their cups. They sipped it slowly, meditatively, looking at one another as if they were both back home after a long journey, rediscovering the color of each other’s eyes. He was the one to look away first, though, as he got hold of the present he’d brought with him and handed it to her.
She unwrapped it and looked fondly at the cover of The Lover, a book by A.B.
Yehoshua. She opened it and read his dedication.
“Thanks, Beni. It’s a wonderful book.”
“You read it already?”
“Yes, but I don’t have it. And now I do,” she said and stuck her tongue out. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Did you like it?”
“I… I haven’t read it yet. It just came out a few–”
“Liar,” she said, cutting him off. She put the hardcover book aside and got hold of his shirt, pulling his face very close to hers. “I can still read you, Beni, like an open book.”
He smiled, a flush of pleasure stealing into his face. “And what do you read there?”
“Oh… let me tell you, sweetheart: an old-fashioned story about a lover who never truly loves.”

A heavy silence hung in the dense air now, as if not only suspended, but trapped as well in the limited space between them. They were both challenged by their shared memories, yet were dealing with them separately, differently. Noa was quicker to shake them off, as she finally let go of his shirt and opened some distance between them, still staring at him intently.
“What are you doing here in the city, anyway?” she asked.
“Not much.”
“Not much what?”
“Me and the Arab workers are building a university,” he said, a bitter smile playing on his face. “For the religious people.”
“You didn’t leave the kibbutz for that, did you?”
“And what if I did?”
“Nonsense. What do you want to study?”
He hesitated, unclear of his future plans. Or perhaps he was clear, just unsure about opening that door for her.
“I’m taking art lessons now,” she volunteered. “In the evenings.”
“I can see,” he said, looking again at the painting-in-progress on the easel. “I hope you’ll stick with it.”
“Of course I would. My crazy days are over.”
He looked at her closely, as a smirk was struggling to appear on his face.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said tersely, quick to kill that smirk before it had a chance to spread. “And you?”
“Me what?”
“Still crazy?”
“Just starting.”
“Starting what?”
“I don’t know…” he said, hesitating. “To have some freedom.”
They stayed motionless for a long moment, holding each other’s stare without flinching, and without speaking further. She was trying to read his mind, but he allowed no hint to pass through.
“What… you have a new girlfriend in the city already,” she said, losing patience. “Some stupid blond piece?”

He turned his eyes away from her, towards an empty square of a red wall. What he saw there was not red, though, it was black and white: An old photograph of a young, handsome soldier in uniform, a forelock of blond hair falling on his forehead, a far-off look reflected in his eyes.
“Forget I said that, Beni,” he heard Noa’s voice coming as if from a great distance. “What about the army. Did they release you at last?”
“Release me from what?” He gazed back at her, unfocused.
“From your unit, fool. From the army.”
“They can never release me from that, Noa. You should know better.”
“Nonsense. No one is irreplaceable, even you.”
She got closer to him again. Her bare white legs encircled him, as her arms struggled to hug his shoulders. “Is that why you stopped coming?” she whispered. “Stopped writing, too. The wars… the dead?”
He shrugged, lowering his eyes.
“I would’ve helped you, stupid, you know that.”
She inserted her fingers deep into his thick, unruly hair, and pulled his head closer to
hers. She smelled his hair, inhaling deeply, as her tender lips touched his forehead.
“Did they call you a traitor there, in the kibbutz?” she asked, pulling her head back but still looking at his eyes inquisitively, trying to penetrate them.
“They sure made me feel like one.”
“I bet you didn’t take anything with you.”
“My backpack.”
“Like me,” she said and released him from her hug.
She lay down on the straw mat beside him, her head resting on his thigh, as his hand—ever so hesitantly—smoothed her silky black hair gently. Before long, she was smoking one of his cigarettes, blowing rings of smoke up and around his head.
“My parents, how are they doing?” she asked.
“Your father is worried. He reminded me of your birthday when he gave me your address. Wanted to send you some eggs and cheese, too.”
Noa chuckled, in spite of herself, spitting smoke. “They are still angry, I know.”
“Bitter, maybe, like all the veterans. Seeing how the bourgeoisie destroying their back-to-earth revolution.”
“And blaming their children for it,” she said. “Worse than here in the big city, if you ask me.”

She dropped her cigarette in disgust into the empty bottle of wine. They both watched in silence, befogged by memories, as the smoke searched for an escape first, serpent-like, then swirled up and free into the air.
“What about Gali?”
A shudder ran through Beni’s back, as if a current of electricity had shocked him suddenly. She noticed that and raised her eyes at him, asking, “Still there?”
“Yes… keeping the flame burning.”
“I heard the two of you became… I don’t know, real good friends in the army.”
“Stories,” he said, averting his eyes away from hers. “We haven’t spoken to each other since second grade.”
She giggled, enjoying it, though she knew otherwise. “He intends on staying there, deep in the cream pit?”
“Of course. Who will plow the fields if not him?”
“Not him, I’m sure,” she said. “And anyhow, there are hardly any fields there anymore.”
“There are, don’t exaggerate. Some fields, many factories.”
She raised her hand to his neck, still lying on the floor with her head on his thigh. She drew his head closer, as if to kiss him, but instead she just looked at him deeply for a moment, before whispering, “Will you stay the night?”

He just looked at her; not entirely surprised, yet unresponsive. She kissed his lips tenderly. “You were my first, Beni, you always will be.”
Before he had a chance to respond, or hide his discomfort, she was up on her feet. First, she lit a pink candle on her nightstand, which was just an old cardboard box. She then searched among the records lying disorderly by the wall, and quickly showed him what she’d found, a wide smile spreading on her radiant face. She placed the small 45 record on an old turntable resting on the floor beside her bed, and turned it on.

Soon, a song by a men duo—the same slow, lingering tune she’d heard earlier in her head while in the bathroom—filled the room. Next, Noa turned the overhead light off.
“Pretend it’s your old shack there, years ago,” she said and rushed to the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
Beni stayed put, stiff and pale. He glanced at his wristwatch, and then zipped up his bomber jacket. He collected his cigarettes and matches and shoved them into his pocket. He looked at the small, single record still spinning, resisting the pull of the song. The flame of the candle was gaining strength, just as he looked at the red wall behind the bed. And again, what he saw there was not the dance of the candle’s flame, but a black and white photograph: An open gravesite, with two soldiers standing close by, their heads bowing down; the arm of the tall, blond soldier resting loosely on Beni’s shoulder.

At the same time, by her mirror, what Noa saw—listening to the song, praising old places, old times and old folks—was a bed with two naked bodies lying still, entangled in a lovemaking embrace. Expansive moonlight was pouring down on them through the wide-open window, covering their bodies with a blanket of silvery glow.
“Get undressed, Beni,” she called loudly. “I won’t kill you.”
But when she opened the bathroom door—white naked, only the black sweater tied loosely around her waist—she found her room empty. And empty of music, too, just the sound of the needle could be heard, hitting the end of the record repeatedly.

“Bastard…” she cried and ran to the door. She opened it wide into the dark city night. “Why did you bother me?” she shouted into the wind. A chilly wind that forced her to close the door. She looked at the bed, at the empty wine cups and coffee cups, at the remnants of the cake, at the book he’d brought her. Her eyes were shiny red; her face was deadly pale; blue veins bulged in her neck.
She moved slowly, unsteadily into the center of the room. And suddenly, with much force, she kicked one of the coffee cups. It hit the wall directly and was shattered into pieces, splashing muddy coffee on the red wall. She looked at it for a moment but didn’t care one bit; she was about to collapse on the bed, feeling the tears shooting into her eyes.

But then her look fell on the easel, and on the unfinished painting of the young woman sleeping. Or dreaming. Her eyes caught something and she kneeled down by the easel. Her sweater fell off as she picked up a thin brush and dipped it lightly in water first, then in color. She began to paint, adding some brown into the mostly red background. She soon stopped and examined what she had just done. She liked it. So she continued to paint, both she and her subject stark naked.

Outside, Beni was just emerging from the old building. Above him the windows were mostly dark and shut. A lone lamppost illuminated him with an umbrella of fuzzy yellow light, as he halted by the turn to the sidewalk, drew his cigarettes pack from his pocket and put one in his mouth. But then he took it out, saying, “Want one?”

A figure rose from the dark corner of the concrete fence, guarded by the bushes, and joined him in the circle of light. “No. Let’s go,” he said.
It was the tall man with the blond hair and black overcoat; the soldier from the old photographs as well.
“Sorry I’m late, Gali. I…” said Beni, hesitating.
“I just came back, don’t worry,” said Gali. “How was it?”
“Did you tell her?”
Beni shook his head and lit his cigarette.

They turned to go, the smoke curling up behind them, hanging like a gray cloud over the white building. They crossed the street into the center of the narrow boulevard, and continued to walk closely, Gali’s arm over Beni’s shoulder. They headed up towards Ben Yehuda Street, walking against the strong wind, blowing directly at them from the Mediterranean seashore.

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