Tag Archives: Love

Phantom John

The short story ‘Phantom John’ is an excerpt from my novel ‘Very Narrow Bridge.’ It was posted here back in 2014 in eight parts. Now, for the first time, the complete story is published below.

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The train that brought Joy Plummer to Washington, D.C., entered Union Station on time at 1:37 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9, 1988. It was a cloudy, cold, but a rainless day so far. Joy’s state of mind, though, a mixture of low anxieties and high expectations, was not altered by the weather. Her inner weather was mostly sunny and warm.

She was grateful to the elderly couple, especially to the woman, who’d woke her up earlier and handed her the book, which had fallen to the floor. She was thankful because it was close to noon already, and while she was drinking the cup of coffee the elderly man had kindly given her, she had a chance to see some of the countryside: the view of Maryland and the view of the Capital from afar, getting closer.

She thanked them again when they got off the train and thought, as she watched them walking ahead toward the exit, hand in hand, how nice it would be to find such love. And grow old together this way, so in tune with each other.

Like the size and the beauty of this train station, which so overwhelmed her at first, she couldn’t even move. A luxury she could ill afford, as time was of the essence that day, and she didn’t want to waste any of it. Not even on food and drink, or on anything else, like going to the restrooms. The place though, a large, impressive mall, was crowded with opportunities. But not for her, and not today, she had to get out and find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; find her father’s name on that wall. Which will become then, in her eyes at least, his grave.

A grave, however, needs flowers. So she bought a bouquet of a dozen red roses. She had enough money on her, due to the generosity of her mother, who had opened a bank account in her name back in Springfield, which helped facilitate this trip.

She bought a map, too, as she wanted to be independent, and not dependent on others for directions. She wanted to remain in her zone, alone in her bubble, and be self-contained as much as possible. The map was great, and gave her all the necessary info about the city, the Capital Beltway, and all the Monuments and Memorials. Including – most importantly – the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Everything she wanted to know about the memorial was there. Especially a line that she memorized as she walked along Constitution Avenue: “Its black granite walls are gritblasted with the names of more than 58,000 who gave their lives or who remain unaccounted for.” “… who remain unaccounted for,” she kept saying to herself again and again.

She was shocked by the huge number, 58,000, and didn’t exactly understand what the word “gritblasted” meant. But she didn’t let that, or the amazing sight of the Capitol, or all the other beautiful buildings, distract her from her goal. Nor did she let the cold air, or the many people coming and going, interfere with her march. The steady march of a grown, mature woman. No longer a waif; a runaway kid; a loose and confused teenager; an easy lay; an airhead. No – a determined person now. Not yet complete, though; in search of the one thing that would make her complete.

That one thing was waiting for her over there, she believed, not so far away. Where she first saw the white, imposing building of the Lincoln Memorial, the president of all presidents. And then, after she’d already passed the Constitution Gardens, it was there suddenly, as if buried in the ground. So black, so simple, yet so different from everything else around it. Causing her to halt her march, her heart aching with fear.

But she overcame her fear like the true warrior she sought to be, and approached the wall with a steadfast walk. And right away, among the crowd of strangers, she spotted the elderly couple from the train. They were standing still by one of the black panels, hugging each other, the head of the woman leaning on the shoulder of the man, his arm around her waist. United in grief.

A thought had crossed her mind in a flash: maybe, just maybe, they are his parents. Her grandparents. Why not? She would find out in a minute. So she hurried to join the few people waiting quietly in line beside a man, a Vietnam Vet, holding a thick book in his hands. She figured he could help her. And even though most of the people ahead of her, unlike her, were not by themselves, she didn’t feel lonely at all. Maybe because of the elderly couple, and maybe because of the folded piece of paper in her windbreaker’s pocket, which she now pulled out and unfolded. And read, not for the first time since she’d left her new home yesterday morning.

She read the name: Raymond De Rosi. And read the date of his death: February 11, 1969. And read the force: U.S. Marine Corps. It was written in her mother’s clear, round handwriting. The last thing Joy had asked her to do yesterday morning before Ursula rushed out with Trent, taking him to school and then ahead for her first day back at work. She didn’t tell her mother why she needed her to write it down, despite her mother’s protests.

It was a secret, her own little secret, now within reach. Maybe that’s why she didn’t mind waiting in line, and didn’t mind the dark clouds, either. It seemed appropriate, the way the clouds encircled the black wall, making it less distinguishable, but at the same time, strangely enough, more prominent.

Even the white piece of paper in her hand was covered with a layer of gray, she noticed when she handed it over to the Vietnam Vet, who was wearing his army uniform, colorfully decorated with medals and stuff. He smiled at her, then flipped quickly through the pages of the thick book, full to capacity with names.

The process, she’d observed before, was rather fast and problems free. Not this time, though. The first sign that something might be wrong came when the Vietnam Vet halted his search and raised his eyes at her. Suspiciously, she thought. Or maybe it was all in her head, as right away he directed his eyes back to his book-of-names and continued his search.

Until he stopped altogether and handed her back the piece of paper. “Sorry, ma’am,” he said with a heavy Southern accent, “he’s not listed.”
“What d’you mean, not listed?” she almost shouted, refusing to take her note back.
“His name’s not on the wall,” he answered patiently.

Her heart skipped a beat. The color of her face, most probably, had changed dramatically. Because he looked at her more concerned now when he asked: “Are you sure, ma’am, about the spelling of his name?”
She nodded.
“Do you know anything else about his tour of duty, by any chance?”
“He was a marine. That’s all I know.”
“Good enough,” he said, unimpressed, and handed her back the piece of paper. “Go up to the information booth over there,” he pointed the way. “They might be able to help you better.”

She felt like arguing her case, but people were breathing hard on her neck, and she didn’t want to create a scene there. So up she went, past the black wall and toward the white Lincoln Memorial. She was oblivious to all, walking in a tunnel until she reached the lit window of the information booth at the end of it, where no one was waiting but her, of course: only she had trouble finding a name on the wall.

Troubles all over. Because even there, the woman behind the desk, computer and all, couldn’t find her father’s name listed anywhere. She even asked Joy to say the name loud and clear, and then searched again, looking for a Rossi with an extra s. To no avail, though: she marked something on a separate piece of paper and handed it to Joy, together with Joy’s own note.
“There must be a mistake somewhere. He’s not listed.”
“How…” Joy began saying, but couldn’t continue.
“I don’t know how, sweetie. Here’s the list of the dates on the panels. I’ve circled his date, February sixty-nine, panel thirty-three west, line thirty. Why don’t you look for his name there, all right?”

She smiled politely, but Joy couldn’t return the smile, even if what she’d told her to do presented a glimmer of hope. Her tunnel had just lost all source of light. And in it, Joy drifted down blindly, hovering between life and death, until she hit the wall again. Where she opened her eyes and read the inscription on the first panel: “1959 IN HONOR OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR. THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES AND OF THOSE WHO REMAIN MISSING ARE INSCRIBED IN THE ORDER THEY WERE TAKEN FROM US.”

“Who remain missing…” was all Joy could think of while searching for her father’s panel and line. But when she found it – he was still missing. She could not find his name among those who died, or remained missing, on that whole panel. Nor did she find his name written on the panel to the left. Or on the panel to the right. Or anywhere else on this big, black, threatening wall.

She wanted to weep for the dead – like everybody else did. She wanted to put flowers down under his panel – like everybody else did. She wanted to kiss his name – like everybody else did. But instead, how humiliating, she bumped into someone. A grieving stranger. And had to apologize, just as a sudden weakness in her knees, and a hard, knot-like sensation in her stomach, almost took her down to the ground.

She saw, behind a foggy screen, other people finding the names they were looking for. And she wanted – oh, how much she wanted – to be among them. She saw how they stuck flowers in the crevices, and small flags too, and she wanted to do the same. She saw how they lit candles, left notes and even dog tags, and how, using special papers and crayons, they rubbed the names of their loved ones onto those papers. She wanted to do that, too, as a personal memento. But she didn’t have a name on the wall.

Frantically, obsessively, she began to read all the names on the wall. Left and right. But soon felt hopeless. She couldn’t even see the elderly couple any longer. She was alone: no father, no grandparents, no one. She was so weak, she was afraid she was going to pass out. But she used to be an athlete, and remembered how to respond in a situation such as this one, and when to stop. So she managed to walk a short distance away from the wall, still holding the flowers, and under the first tree she found she dropped down to the ground.

She didn’t mind the wet, cold grass. She folded her legs up, put her arms around her knees and buried her head in her arms. She wanted to die, right then and there. Because the wall that heals, as she once heard it was referred to, didn’t heal her. Truth was, it opened a bigger wound inside her, causing her to bleed and cry. She was shaken like a leaf in the wind, receiving finally some help and sympathy from above. In the form of light rain, falling on her gently, its sound dissolving into her cry. Until suddenly, coming out of nowhere, she heard a voice asking: “Why you crying, child?”

She was certain she heard the voice only in her head. Still, she raised her teary eyes and saw, behind a silver screen of steady rain, only the black wall. But the strange, male voice, spoke again: “Want one?”

She turned her head sideways toward the voice and met two shiny, ebony eyes, and a black face covered partly by a rough beard, surrounded by long thin dreadlocks, growing out of a colorful knit cap on top of his head. He smiled at her, revealing missing teeth, as well as some brownish, rotten ones. A wet cigarette was defying gravity by hanging loosely on his broken bottom lip, fighting the falling rain at the same time.

He offered her one. His dirty, yellow-coated fingers, were sticking out of his torn woolen gloves. “C’mon, don’t go shy on me,” he said, blowing smoke into the cold, damp air.

She couldn’t resist, not at her present situation, him or the cigarette. And even though she’d stopped smoking before her reunion with her birth mother, and stuck with it as long as she was there in Springfield – vowing, in truth, not to smoke ever again – she took his filter-less Camel cigarette. And only when he leaned forward to light it for her, protecting the cigarette and matches from the falling rain, did she notice that he was sitting in a wheelchair.

It felt good, man, smoking again. Real good. Like finding an old friend. And it made her warm inside, too: the hell with her health. She’ll never win the gold medal anyhow, as she used to daydream in her early teens, in the eight hundred-meter dash at the Olympics. No, she won’t. She was ready to die, anyway. She was dead already: part of her, at least. So what’s the diff?
“The dead are dead.”

She looked at him amazed. Was he a mind reader or what?
His eyes kept staring at the black wall while he continued speaking: “Ain’t nothing you can do about it, kiddo. Learned that long ago.”

She inspected him now all over and noticed that he was wearing a windbreaker too, not unlike her own windbreaker. It was covered with army badges and stuff, though, ribbons of all kinds and colors. And other such things she knew nothing about.
“But his name’s missing,” she spoke for the first time. “It’s not on the wall.”

He took a long, lasting drag at his cigarette, then tossed it on the wet grass. It was still alive there, smoke spiraling up from it, when he spoke again: “He ain’t dead, then.”

He didn’t even look at her when he’d said that. His eyes remained fixed on the black wall. But not Joy’s eyes – they stared at him shell-shocked. She was unable to speak or move, while everything around her froze accordingly: the trees and the birds and the wind and the clouds and the rain and the people and the city. And time; certainly time.

“Watch your fag,” he said and pointed at her cigarette, which fell from her fingers down to the ground and was still smoldering in the grass. So she quickly stumped her foot on it, crushing it with her wet sneaker. And then, gathering some strength from this simple act, she turned back to him and asked: “What you mean?”
“What I mean what?”
“That he ain’t dead?”
He smiled at her and laid his hand gently on her arm.
“If he ain’t on the wall, child, he ain’t dead.”
She just stared at him. Dumbfounded.
“Ain’t missin’, either,” he said, reading her mind again. And as if realizing that he didn’t convince her yet, he added: “I’m an expert, child, believe me.”

But she was yet to believe him. Her birth mother was standing in the way. And then she heard him saying, “Who is he, anyways?”
“My father.”
“You never met him?”
She shook her head. “He died in Vietnam on February eleventh, sixty-nine. The day I was born. That’s what my mother told me.”
“She did?”
“Yes. He was…” she hesitated to use the word hero. “He got a medal, too.”
“What medal?”
“Of honor or something.”

He studied her for a moment, curiously.
“What else you know?”
She shrugged her shoulders. But then said, “He was a marine, nineteen when he died. Like I’m now. Never knew I was born, even.”
“His name?”
“Raymond De Rosi.”
He was quiet for a while, as if searching his memory. Finally, he shook his head and said, “Never heard of him.”
“So…”
“So he ain’t on the wall.”
“’Cuse me,” she reacted quickly, “you know all the names on the wall?”
He nodded, smiling.
“All fifty-eight thousand something?”
“That’s right,” he said, a hint of pride in his voice. “Used to help people there myself, there by the wall.”
“I see.”
“Tell you something else, though.”
“What?”
“If he ain’t on the wall, he ain’t dead.”
“You said that already.”
“Correcto, dear child, correcto. Because, you see, if he ain’t dead, he must be alive.”
“Alive?!…”
He smiled at her and said, “Facto, if you ask me, facto. Must be kicking dust somewhere.”

She turned her back to him and looked away from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, her eyes stopping on a visible part of the Reflecting Pool, where she saw a reflection of a pair of big dark eyes. As if someone, deep inside the pool, was staring back at her, his eyes crying for help. But Joy, in horror, raised her eyes away from this frightening sight and looked at the city. A city unlike any other city she’d ever seen. Even more foreign to her now than when she first arrived here. And if her wishes at that very moment were to be granted, then that thick layer of dark clouds would have fallen over this city. Over the memorials and the buildings. Over him and her. And it would have buried them and everything else underneath it.

Instead, she heard his voice again: “Come with me, my child.”
And although she didn’t turn her head yet, she saw him coming into view in front of her, spinning the wheels of his chair on the wet grass. He didn’t look back and she knew that he wouldn’t. Deep down, she figured, he was still a proud soldier. But something – inexplicable as of yet – lifted her up from the ground, backpack and all, and pushed her forward until she reached him, until she placed her hands on the back of his wheelchair; leaving behind on the grass only her bouquet of red roses.

The black soldier led her first to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, then to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial Iwo Jima Statue, and on to Arlington National Cemetery, to a place he called “Missing Men Hill.” There, her hopes high, she saw rows upon rows of somber white stones, without bodies in the ground, he told her.

She searched for her father’s name under the pouring rain, but couldn’t find it. So she wheeled the black soldier back to the city, as it got darker and the rain – answering her earlier wish – was falling harder, burying everything with its fury, including him and her.

She didn’t care anymore what happened to her. She just pushed him apathetically into narrow streets and dark alleyways, places she wasn’t, of course, familiar with. Nor did she want to be familiar with. But she pushed him anyway, why not, until he told her to stop, as they were in front of a shabby-looking building. A homeless shelter maybe, a flophouse or something. She couldn’t tell.

“Got me a room here, child,” he said. “You’re welcome to stay the night with me.”
She looked away from the building and studied him with unsparing eyes.
“Ain’t gonna touch a finger of yours, don’t worry.”

She believed him. Because she believed in him – even if the whole world would’ve said she shouldn’t. That this was a trap: a place and a man she shouldn’t trust. But Joy – unfortunately, or maybe not – was an experienced girl. And knew her turf well, bad characters included. From her adoptive father to the track team coach, from the boys at school to the men on the streets of L.A., from the runaway kids to the patrons at the strip clubs. She knew them all and figured she could trust him. So she went in with him. Didn’t even pay much attention to the other strange-looking men there, in the lobby, staring at her. Ready to eat her alive.

No such luck. She and the black soldier reached safely his small room on the ground floor. Where the walls – all four of them, all over – were covered with army stuff: pictures of him and his buddies in the army, some of the soldiers with black marking-pen crosses over them; pieces of camouflaged uniform and a helmet with a bullet hole in it; boots and shells and cartridges; guns of all kinds and ammunition; a long machete; a skull.

He gave her a dirty, much-used towel to dry herself, which she accepted. And didn’t hesitate much before taking off her rain-soaked T-shirt, remaining topless for a minute while digging into her backpack for a dry one, then putting it on. He then offered her a shot of whiskey, which she rejected, but asked him if she can order a pizza for them. He said yes and she did: a combination of cheese and salami for him, an extra-large pepperoni for her. She insisted on paying when the pizza delivery man arrived, then made a cup of tea for herself in his tiny kitchenette.

She sat on his old, worn, dirty-looking couch, preying on the pizza and drinking her tea. While he, after testing some pizza, drank whiskey straight from the bottle and smoked pot. She smoked too, his Camel cigarettes, and zipped open her backpack and brought out her book. She wanted to forget everything; she wanted to know if Florentino Ariza, the hero, would ever again win the heart of Fermina Daza, the heroine. But she couldn’t read. All she saw were black pages with white letters etched on them. With only one name, top to bottom: Raymond De Rosi, Raymond De Rosi, Raymond De Rosi…

Meanwhile, the black soldier (whose name she was yet to learn) sat in his wheelchair, drinking and smoking. Beside him, on his one and only crowded desk, there was (among leftover food, old magazines, empty bottles, artifacts, and drawings) an old, small record player. On it a single record was spinning, again and again. She wasn’t familiar with the song, but kept hearing these words: “Bye bye Miss American pie.”

It was the longest song she’d ever heard. Yet he didn’t seem to have enough of it. Because at the moment the needle hit the end, he started it all over again, without missing a beat. It helped put Joy into a certain mood as well. She felt at ease, and drank some of his whiskey, too, hoping it will help her forget her father. But it didn’t. So she sat on the desk beside him and tried his pot, believing that it might help her forget. But it only made her dizzy, causing her to drop onto his lap, swinging between crying and laughing.

True to his word and loyal to a marine soldier he’d never met, he didn’t take advantage of her and of the situation, even though she was his for the taking. He wheeled his chair to the couch and gently laid her down there, then covered her with an old army blanket. He locked the door, took a rifle off the wall and charged it.

He then lit a thick candle, planted it in the middle of his messy desk, and flicked off the overhead light with the muzzle of his rifle. Then aimed it at the door.
“Go to sleep, my child,” he whispered. “I’m on duty tonight.”
And again, he started that same old record, easing her journey into dreamland, singing quietly along: “Bye bye Miss American pie.”

***

A pie in the sky. High above the white city. Above even the dark clouds. Higher and higher into clear blue skies. Into celestial territory. Like a bird on wings alone, floating in windless air. Until boom – a shot. A black wall. But falling through a white hole; swimming among red roses; floating in a sea of green grass; sucking in a lot of water. Rainwater. Unable to stop the drowning; falling straight into the bottom of the pool. Where someone – who? – caught her in his arms. And saved her, lifting her up like a baby.

Was it her father, who had saved her? No: it was the black soldier, touching her arm now ever so gently. It was morning already, and the time, he showed her on his wristwatch, was exactly 7:00. His shift, guarding her, was over. Though the rifle was still on his lap.

She shook her head when he asked her whether she wanted some coffee. As suddenly, time was important again. She was yet to fully comprehend why. But she was in a hurry, and needed to catch the train. How did he know to wake her up on time, she couldn’t tell. But she returned the favor and gave up on the idea of the taxi when he insisted on leading her to the station. As this part of town, he explained, was a dangerous place for a girl like her to be walking alone. Even the taxis were no good here, he said, hanging his rifle back on the wall. He then opened the door for her, and that when she noticed – was she still dreaming or what – a bullet hole in the door; which wasn’t there, she could swear, when she entered the room last night.

Outside, a new day greeted them with lucid blue skies. The rain had gone away, leaving everything in mint condition. And again, she pushed his wheelchair while he directed her and protected her all the way, a long way, to Union Station. Where he refused to go in with her: it was time for her to walk alone, and go home. And for him, it was mission accomplished. She was safe.

She hugged him and kissed him on his broken lips. And he held her hand long and strong.
“Be happy, child. Your father is alive.”
“How can you tell?”
“I’m an old dog in this game,” he cracked a smile. “And if anyone ever asks you how you know he’s alive, you just tell them because I told you so.”
“You told me so?”
“That’s right, my child. Phantom John told you so.”

And only after he’d said that he released his hold on her hand and turned his wheelchair around. And rolled away from there so fast, he was gone in a second. Disappeared like a morning breeze. Like smoke in the air. A phantom.

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A Surprise Visit

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

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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?”
“Sometimes.”
“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?”
“Difficult.”
“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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A Surprise Visit

Below is the ninth segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never published before.

filmsufi.com


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?”
“Difficult.”
“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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A Surprise Visit

Below is the eighth segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never published before.

filmsufi.com

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 dead 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.

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A Surprise Visit

Below is the sixth segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never before published.

filmsufi.com

“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 close 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.

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A Surprise Visit

Below is the fourth segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never before published.

filmsufi.com

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 suddenly 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.

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A Surprise Visit

Below is the third segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never before published.

filmsufi.com


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?”
“Sometimes.”
“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.

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A Surprise Visit

Below is the second segment of my new short story—’A Surprise Visit’—never before published.

filmsufi.com

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.

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The Messiah

Below is the last segment of my short story, ‘The Messiah,’ published originally in ‘Sambatyon, a Journal of Jewish Writing.’ The story is in an excerpt from my novel, ‘Very Narrow Bridge,’ published in 2011. Enjoy.

“Are you serious?”
“Never been more serious in my life. He used to hike there all over the place. Though he was wounded in Nam, did you know that?”
“Yes. He won the Medal of Honor, too.”
“No shit!” Sid blurted out so loud, pieces of pizza came flying out of his mouth.

Gideon nodded calmly.
“The bastard. Never told me a thing about it.”
“Did he tell you whether he stayed there in a hotel, or–”
“Inn,” the old man cut him short, “I can remember now. The Inn on mount something.”
“Mount something…?”
“Mount Ada, that’s it. Positive,” Sid reassured himself, as well as Gideon. “ Eat some pizza, Gideon, it’s good for you.”
“No thanks,” said Gideon.

He took out of his pocket a small pad and a pen – the way he saw detectives do in so many films he admired – and wrote the info down.
“That’s all the valuable information you have for me, Sid, I take it?”
“That’s all she wrote, man. He was a piece of work Ray, told you. No women, no drinking, no nothing. And now you’re telling me he won the Medal of Honor. I’ll be dammed.”

He hit the play button on his remote and soon the mayhem and noise of the Vietnam War, as depicted so aptly in Kubrick’s film, was on again. And the attention of the old man drifted toward the television screen, leaving Gideon no option but to drift himself toward the door, saying:
“I wish you good health, Sid.”
“Don’t say that, Gideon. Death is sittin’ on my nose already, staring back at me all the time.
Don’t you see it?”

Gideon shook his head, feeling for the doorknob while eyeing Ben, still drinking beer and watching the portable TV. He opened the door, sending a last inquisitive look at the Oscar statuette, contemplating a discussion about it before leaving.

“Shalom friend,” said the old man and raised the jar of soil, shaking Gideon out of his contemplations. “I knew you’re the Messiah the moment the bloody door opened. You’ve made my day, son.”
“Same here,” said Gideon – his voice sad, much more than the simple words could convey –and closed the door.

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The Messiah

Below is the sixth segment of my short story, ‘The Messiah,’ published originally in ‘Sambatyon, a Journal of Jewish Writing.’ The story is in an excerpt from my novel, ‘Very Narrow Bridge,’ published in 2011. Enjoy.

“You see this jar, Ben?”
His son nodded, mouthful of pizza, still watching the portable TV.
“First thing to go into my grave, the soil. Right on my coffin. You hear me?”
“Sure dad, don’t worry,” said Ben and opened a can of beer. “Do I ever forget anything at the store, or the pharmacy, or the bloody video place? Do I?” He lifted the beer to his mouth, before his father could answer.

“No, you don’t,” said Sid quietly, as if talking to himself, his eyes caressing the jar of soil a while longer, before turning his attention back to Gideon. “Now what about Ray. What happened to him?”
“He disappeared, apparently.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“He quit his job at the labs one day, as I told you. He no longer lives where he used to. Left no contact information. No trace at all.”
“It’s a free country, man, the last I heard.”
“Not when you kidnap your teenage daughter, then it’s not. Her mother–”

“A daughter!” exclaimed Sid in utter disbelief. “Don’t tell me that please. Just don’t tell me that!”
“That’s what Ray said, too, when he first heard of her existence.”
“Ha… strange,” said the old man, scratching his head. “Kidnapping his own daughter… something’s fishy here.”
“Exactly,” said Gideon, trying to capitalize on the momentum created by his latest revelation. “When was the last time you heard from him?”

“Oh, no way I remember that,” said the old man. “We were buddies only at the labs, see. No more than that. He had no friends, you know. Never mentioned women, either.”
“He was a fruitcake!” volunteered Ben from his corner.
“Don’t think so myself,” said his father.
“Did he use to go anywhere on vacations?” persisted Gideon. “Anyplace you may know of?”
“Of course. Catalina Island.”
“Catalina Island…”
“That’s the place, Gideon. Like clockwork he went there, every year.”
“At what time?”
“In the fall, I believe. October probably.”
“Where did he stay there, do you know?”
“Let me think,” said the old man and wrinkled his sweaty forehead. “He told me once.”

“Maybe a slice of pizza would help jump-start your memory,” suggested Gideon.
“Sure, son, sure,” said Sid gladly. “And a can of beer to keep it running.”
Gideon was happy to do that, as there was no sign whatsoever that Sid’s own son, still eating and drinking, would help him anytime soon in this regard.
“Did he like it there, in Catalina?” asked Gideon after Sid was already busy with the slice of pizza he’d handed him.

“Like it, man, you must be kidding. He adored the place, even planned to retire there.”
“Are you serious?”
“Never been more serious in my life.

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