On Lupine Hill — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Pepe Fainberg
illustration by Pepe Fainberg

Was it the sound of sage leaves parting that first alerted Hanoch? Or a disturbance in the penumbra reflected off a daisy? Whatever it was, his reaction was automatic, a swift movement followed only half a second later by a slower thought and Sitvanit’s scream. He drew his pistol and fired a single shot in the direction of the glint of scales. The snake, now visible, contorted and rolled and stained the ground red. Astounded that he had actually hit the animal and reading its dappled brown markings, he shoved Sitvanit away with his arm, took careful aim at the head, and fired another shot. The now headless snake shivered and writhed and fell still.

He took a step toward the dead animal, taking care not to step on the deep purple lupines that blossomed thickly by the path. Sitvanit stood frozen a few paces behind.

“Viper,” he announced. He looked around. The only others on the hill at this sunset hour were on the next peak over, across the shallow saddle from where he and Sitvanit stood, two pre-teen girls in long skirts and sleeves, accompanied by a mother and grandmother with white scarves over their heads. They were staring and he heard a faint murmur of voices, but a minute later they began descending the path down to the parking area, no doubt in a hurry to get out before dark.

He ran his left hand over the barrel of his pistol and found pleasure in its warmth.

Flicking the safety back into place, he returned the gun to its holster and walked back to Sitvanit. He took her hand. He felt elated, heroic, but behind the surge in his blood also a bit stupid. After all, this was not the right way to deal with a snake. Still, it had worked, so why shouldn’t he feel good? When he looked at Sitvanit’s face, fantasies of the night to come flitted before his eyes.

She shook her hand free of his and walked down the trail, into the saddle. The leg of her black sharwal caught on a buckthorn and she reached down to untangle the offending branch.

“Hey,” Hanoch called after her. He glanced again at the bloody snake, sorry to leave it, and followed.

They’d moved in with each other just this morning, a crazy thing to do in the middle of exam period, but a friend who’d gotten a job in Tel Aviv had vacated his place and it was a steal for Rehavia, so they grabbed it. This trip to Lupine Hill in the Elah Valley, immediately following Sitvanit’s organic chemistry final that afternoon, was the celebration. More time together, no more having to encounter each other’s roommates in the bathroom in the morning.

“It was poisonous,” he said as he caught up with her. She had been unusually quiet in the car after they left Jerusalem, but had hummed in pleasure among the cyclamen reds, sun-yellows, and warm indigos. The long shadows of the mastic trees in the valley below were beginning to blend into the dusk.

She kept walking as if she had not heard, pacing forward slowly but with great concentration.

He put his hand on her shoulder but she shrugged it off.

“Are you upset? What for?”

“Erez,” she said, kneeling down and balancing on the balls of her toes to examine a lupine. Erez was his best friend, from his special forces team, and now studying social work with him, but a year ahead. “He said you were making a mistake. I heard.”

Erez had indeed said that, several times. “I don’t give a shit what Erez said.”

“He’s your best friend. You must have thought about it.”

“For maybe two seconds.” Hanoch knelt next to her, one knee on the ground, pistol cradled on the other.

Sitvanit looked up from the lupine and out at the kibbutz nestled in the valley below.

Was it all about to end, Hanoch wondered, just when all had seemed to be going so well? Erez was right—Sitvanit had twilight moods that fell over her suddenly, for no apparent reason. “I know that type,” he had warned, and shouldn’t he, after living with three different women, three more than Hanoch ever had? “Just when you’re hot and desperate, she’ll turn her back and you’ll be left alone to whack off in the bathroom.” With Gila and Ronit, the only two girls he’d gotten anywhere near close to before, he’d never even gotten this far. Just when he thought they really loved him he’d made a wrong step and turned them away.

Sitvanit rocked back and forth as the valley darkened. The kibbutz was named for a contingent of slaughtered soldiers and, somewhere nearby, David had severed Goliath’s head. Had the lupines and anemones and chrysanthemums bloomed then? The shot Hanoch had fired had been so wrong for him. But he did so many wrong things. It had taken him two weeks to call her after they first met, at the Train Track Park, walking in opposite directions. She was red-eyed, arguing with Tomer, who walked off soon after they encountered Erez and Hanoch, even though Tomer was the connection, Erez knew Tomer from the security company they both worked for part-time. Erez had whistled when Tomer walked off and then made some crack about him that brought a smile to her face. But it was Hanoch who had suggested that they sit down on a nearby bench. Erez proclaimed Tomer an asshole and then somehow segued into berating the chief of staff for suggesting that IDF soldiers’ fingers were too easy on the trigger against knife-wielding Palestinians. But Hanoch had asked what had happened, had offered, in between Erez’s proclamations, in just a few indirect words, solace and understanding. Then they got up and went on their way and she had gone to her mother, which was uncomfortable, but she had nowhere else to go. A few days later her friend Ruti had texted her that this guy Erez in her class was asking for her phone number and should she give it to him. No, she texted back. Not for him, Ruti replied, he’s got a friend he thinks should call you. Ok, she had said, hoping it was Hanoch. She’d waited and nothing happened, she was still in her old room with her Mom and Dad until Tomer got his stuff out and they were driving her crazy. A Saturday went by, a Tuesday, a Thursday, and another Saturday, and then on Sunday morning her phone rang and the soft, hesitant voice from the park had been on the other end, suggesting that they meet for lunch.

Deep in conversation, they lost track of the time. When he glanced at his phone and realized he was ten minutes late for his next class, he’d jumped up and spilled coffee all over her. She screamed at him in front of everyone as he apologized and tried to clean up but she’d told him to leave. But he called back just two hours later, not just to apologize but to ask if she had time that evening, and when she asked in surprise why, he’d said, awkwardly, that it had all been really nice up to that last moment.

She often didn’t sleep well and that caused aches all over her body. Like every guy she’d ever known, he’d get insistent and hurt when she couldn’t find space for him in her pounding head, but he stayed with her nevertheless. When she finally got up the nerve to claim back the apartment Tomer had moved into with her, Hanoch had blocked the door with his body and told him that his stuff would be out in the stairwell in boxes in an hour for collection. Tomer cursed him and tried to push him away, but Hanoch didn’t budge. Then, when Tomer was gone, came into the bedroom and put his hand around her waist and unbalanced her so that she fell back against the shelf over her computer table. She’d cut her head and it bled and she thought she was going to die. She even half-wanted to, it seemed like a good opportunity because she knew he’d leave her. He drove her to the emergency room and stayed with her all night and agreed not to call her parents even though he thought they should.

Erez was right, she thought. It was all a mistake. Better for him to end it right there. She was about to tell him when she saw his hand pass before her eyes.

“Where are you?” he asked softly.

“In the valley,” she whispered. She glanced up the path to where the dead snake lay.

He was handing her a dark stalk studded with flowers of purple as deep as the dusk, edged with a trace of white.

“That’s the wrong thing to do,” she objected. “It’s a wildflower.”

“There are so many,” Hanoch said. “Just one can be ours.”

“Here, among the snakes.” She smiled, but he did not see that. A silence, which he broke.

“Here, as night falls.”

They set off, slowly, down the steep path to the car.

Later, in their new home, they made love. It wasn’t exactly what Hanoch had imagined or what Sitvanit wanted, but it was love.

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Avi Katz -- The DryadMore Necessary Stories!

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