Alon woke up immediately at the touch on his shoulder. He tossed off a small flap of sleeping bag, all that covered sweat-damp chest, swung his feet over the side of the top bunk, and looked into the face of his waker. Guy was fully dressed, and looked tired. Alon scratched his crotch with his left hand and tapped his phone with his right. A quarter to two, fifteen minutes before the four-hour shift with Guy at the roadblock. He jumped down from the bunk and fished for his fatigues under his sleeping bag.
Guy threw his rifle onto the bunk below and began unbuttoning his shirt.
Alon froze in the middle of pulling his pants up. Guy stopped unbuttoning and stared at his friend.
“I switched with Rafi,” he whispered, so as not to wake sleeping men. He pointed his chin at the reservist lacing boots on the next bottom bunk across the fusty barracks room and over one. His head then signaled to the left, at another man who was already down to his underwear and holding a towel. “Did the ten o’clock shift with Uriel instead.”
Alon was wordless for a moment and then, almost inaudible, said: “Shit, Guy.”
Guy was defensive. “Rafi asked me.”
Rafi waved at Alon. “Got back only at nine from the patrol. Had to sleep some,” he hissed.
Alon turned his back to Rafi and put his left hand around Guy’s shoulders, holding his half-raised pants with his right. “Shit, guy,” he said again. “I told you I needed to talk.”
Guy shook free, in a way that Alon felt was meant to say that he was a little sick of Alon’s troubles. “We’ll talk tomorrow, Alon. Now let me sleep.”
At the roadblock, Alon pulled at his ammunition vest in a vain effort to get it to sit comfortably. He wiped his eyelids with the handkerchief he always brought to reserve duty in the summer. When he and guy had been in Givati together they had wrapped gun flannel around their foreheads when the sergeant wasn’t around, which caught the sweat and made them look like fierce commandos. When he finished his regular service and went into the reserves, he was old enough to realize that a gun flannel sweatband just makes you look ridiculous. Some of the elders in the unit, those well past thirty, whose foreheads extended sometimes up to the crowns of their heads, brought elastic exercise sweatbands from home. But Alon still had curls that could get in his eyes, so he was at the handkerchief stage.
He stood outside, by the barrels that served as a barrier to oncoming cars, of which there had been none since the beginning of the shift twenty minutes ago. The settlement at the top of the hill didn’t seem to have any adolescents who came home late from parties in Tel Aviv or midnight convocations with rabbis or assignations with girlfriends at hidden springs. Rafi had taken up the station inside the little armored booth and was probably snoozing. Alon was imagining the conversation he’d have with Guy next time they were alone together, on guard duty or riding home to Ashdod.
“You’re moving out?” Guy would be astonished, floored, flummoxed. “But Shiri. And Dafna and Mor. They’re not even in school yet.”
“It’s your fault,” Alon would tell him. “I wanted to talk to you and you switched with Rafi. You could have made a difference but you weren’t there when I needed you.”
Alon considered how Guy might respond to that.
He might grip the steering wheel for a long, silent moment, and then say: “Hey, Alon, I’m sorry. Let’s talk now. We have at least an hour.”
“Fuck,” Alon hissed at the Samarian landscape, and again at a pair of approaching headlights coming round the bend. “Rafi!” he called out. “Customer!” He heard the booth creak as his partner sat up.
Alon lifted up his rifle and held his left hand up, palm outward. The car slowed and halted by him. He circled it slowly, clockwise, around the back. A scraggly beard, streaked with gray, stuck out of the driver’s window and a hand held out a bakery box.
“To help you stay awake,” the driver said.
“No thanks.” Alon motioned him to proceed. “We have plenty.”
Rafi burst out of the booth, strode over to the car, and took the box. “Fucking left-wing idiot,” he informed the driver. He glared at Alon and demonstratively took a burekas out of the box and bit into it. The driver smiled, wished them a safe shift, and proceeded up the hill. Rafi took the stash back into his hideaway.
But more likely, Alon meditated, as a surge of anger and envy overwhelmed him, Guy would just get mad at him and tell him off. In fact, he might not even offer him a ride home. Maybe he’d rather ride with Uriel. If he’d rather do roadblock with Uriel he’d probably rather ride home with him. Uriel was a fun guy, didn’t spend four hours spilling out his problems on guard duty or on patrol, who wouldn’t rather have his company? Screw Guy. Obviously he was somewhere else now, someone else, not like it had been up until now. Everything was going fine for him, he’d finished his degree, had a good job in a bank, had been living happily with Sataf for three years and they were getting married in November. Why should he want to hear that a marriage could go bad? That after five years and two kids you might find yourself more desperate for sex than you had ever been in high school? And of course don’t think that Sataf was going to let you get that anywhere else except in the bedroom at home with her, but hey, Guy, you know what, she’ll be in control and she’ll say when yes and when no and you’ll be left jerking off in the bathroom after you’ve gotten the kids to bed. So fuck you, Guy, you probably get it every night, maybe twice, three times on Friday nights, so how could you possibly understand? Why would you even want to hear that for your one-time best friend it’s not like that at all?
He suddenly felt Rafi at his side.
“Tired of standing?” Rafi asked. “Want to switch?” And then, “Sorry about that before. I was hungry. Missed supper.”
Alon eyed him. “I’m fine.”
Rafi peered at him and shrugged. “Whatever you say.” He turned around and walked back to the booth.
Guy never told him anything about Sataf. Which must mean that everything was wonderful, because when everything is wonderful you don’t need to talk. Screw Guy, really, screw him, and his perfect woman, Guy had of course always been good with the girls, always had someone, not like him, alone most of the time, and lonely, and horny, and jerking off with his fantasy women—just like he still does, wasn’t marriage supposed to mean that you don’t need to jerk off anymore? Isn’t that part of the deal? Guy never jerks off. Why would he need to?
He felt a vibration in his pocket just as another set of headlights appeared at the bend. He fished his phone out of his fatigues and called out to Rafi. It was Shiri. At this hour? He swiped and whispered: “Shiri, what is it, is everything ok?” He heard tears. “I’m on duty, wait a few minutes, don’t hang up.” He slipped the phone back into his pocket.
A scratched blue Peugeot slowed to a halt a few meters in front of him. He shined his flashlight in and saw a grim young driver with several days’ growth of beard, and an old woman and a young woman in the back seat. The young woman groaned. Checking to make sure that Rafi was covering for him, he approached the driver’s window warily. The man was already holding out three identification cards. Alon inspected them. Everything seemed in order.
“She’s in labor,” the young man said in accented Hebrew. “She needs to get to the hospital quick.”
“Check the trunk,” Rafi called out. “No concessions.”
The woman groaned and Alon did his job, though he hated it. The man got out, opened the truck; as Alon shined his flashlight the man lifted up bottles and blankets at Alon’s instructions, to reveal what was underneath. The woman let out a scream; Alon winced.
“Looks fine,” Alon called out to Rafi. “She’s in labor.”
“They always are,” Rafi said. “Whores.” Alon gave the cards back to the driver. “You can go. Hope everything’s all right.” The man said nothing, just gunned up the car and drove off.
Alon took the phone back out of his pocket. Shiri wasn’t there anymore. He hesitated briefly, but called back.
“What’s wrong?” he said as soon as Shiri answered. “Are the girls ok?”
“They’re fine. I miss you.” Alon felt a cool breeze on his face.
“I miss you, too,” he said into the phone. “I love you.” It came out just like that.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“It’s really safe here. There’s nothing to worry about. We’re just guarding some settlement.”
“It’s not that. It’s …” her voice trailed off.
She hesitated. “I promised not to say this, so don’t tell him, ok?”
“Guy. He called earlier, maybe around eleven. He says he’s worried. About you. That you seem really depressed. And he asked if I knew something about it. And he said not to tell you he called.”
Alon looked up at the settlement, where the barracks were, where Guy lay sleeping.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m ok. I just need to be home. Next week we’re done and I’ll be home and we’ll be together and I’ll be fine.”
She was crying again. “Because when you were home on break last week and you wanted to and I just wasn’t up to it, I was exhausted, and the wrong time of month … You’re mad at me. Are you mad at me?”
“Mad at you? How could I be mad at you?” Rafi called out; he looked up. Another car was coming.
“Listen, I have to hang up. A car’s coming. Go to sleep. Think of me.”
“Ok,” she sniffled. “And don’t be mad at Guy.”
Alon took a deep breath. “At Guy? No way. Dream about me.”
The car was slowing down. Rafi was covering him. When it stopped, he peered inside and saw a young driver with his arm around his beloved. Alon smiled and waved them on.
Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is now available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon. Available on other platforms as well. More information on South Jerusalem
Catch the Necessary Stories show at Jerusalem’s legendary literary cafe, Tmol Shilshom, on Wednesday, June 7, at 7:30 p.m.
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