The Night Hall — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Mor felt her way down the hall in the dark. Her hand touched a photograph hanging lower than she remembered and sent it swinging, but she steadied it before it fell. She would make no noise and turn on no lights. If Bar and Ayala woke up she would have no quiet to think in. Halfway down she turned back and peered at Aryeh. He was on his back. Suddenly an arm rose and flopped down where she had formerly lain. A hand searched, fruitlessly. Soon he would snore. He would not stir, though, even if Bar and Ayala began to cry, because, by his account, he had averaged just four hours of sleep for the past week and a half. Now he was home from the army for two nights. She closed the door softly and went back down the night hall.

 illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz

The armchairs cast shadows. Street light, filtered through translucent blinds, penumbraed the room. She sat in the closer chair, older but more comfortable. Looking down, she touched the sore spot on her left breast. Aryeh had fallen right on it after he came. Why did men do that? Couldn’t he hold himself up? She was not made of foam rubber, she had told him many times. “I can’t help it, it’s like everything inside me has come out,” he said. “Not everything, just some semen,” she’d correct him. Then he’d kiss her and roll off and take her in his arms and drip everything inside him all over her. And the sheets. No wonder she could never fall asleep afterward.

If this night were a story, she reflected, here would be the point where the bombshell would come. “She reached under the sofa cushion and drew out a photograph of Eli.” Or, “It was time for her to leave.” Or “The gun felt cold under her nightgown.” But she did not have another lover, she was too tired to leave, and she was wearing a sweatsuit, not a nightgown. It was December, after all.

He was always so eager when he came back from the army. Affectionate, and intense. If it weren’t for the children he would lead her straight from the kiss at the door to the bedroom. Like he used to do.

He was somewhere near Hebron this time. In his phone calls he was angry, upset, forlorn. He’d curse the Arabs, berate the settlers, then fall silent for long moments. At night they went on raids, breaking into houses to capture terrorists. Children crying, women screaming, young men fuming, old men with fear in their eyes. It’s the Arabs’ own fault, he said. They make us do it. If they’d stop stabbing and shooting and running us down with cars, who would want to bother them in the middle of the night? Soldiers, he assured her, would much rather sleep.

A demufflered motorcycle whined and roared its way up the street outside. Its headlight fell on the wall, then swerved behind her and out as it passed. She imagined Aryeh flinging open the door of a bedroom in which a young couple were making love. The man jumped up, naked and suddenly flaccid; the woman cried out and covered herself with a quilt. At Aryeh’s order, rifle trained, the man dressed. He glanced back at the woman as Aryeh pushed him out of the room. Could that happen? When the man was interrogated and released, would he be eager and affectionate or angry and impotent? Sometimes Aryeh was so desperately driven, but also so tired, that he couldn’t. He’d turn bitter and petulant. It’s nothing, we’ll wait. Sleep. We’ll be together in the morning, or tomorrow, she’d say. The kids will be up in the morning and I have to go back tomorrow, and you’ll be pressured and not in the mood, he’d scowl, like a little boy.

She of course wanted him very much when he came back. A week or more was a long time not to have him. Still, it was different. She felt passion, real passion—he liked that. But not desperation. Maybe some women did. Some said they did. Also in the weekend papers, where famous and not-so-famous women told the world about their sex lives and their men. When she read them, she couldn’t help wondering. She knew better than to believe it all. Some of her friends felt left out, convinced they were not getting enough, missing pleasures that were rightfully theirs. Sometimes they sought them with other men.

Mor tensed. Bar cried out in the other room. She listened. A dream.

What about that woman left in bed in Hebron? After the soldiers were gone, did she rise, and dress, and walk down her night hall? Children would have to be calmed, put back to sleep, and there they lived in hamulot, there would be parents and aunts to succor, teenagers to keep from going out and getting into trouble. But when that was over, would she be able to fall asleep? And if not, would she do as Mor did? Would she feel sad, or angry? Angry at the soldiers for taking her husband, or angry at her husband for leaving her unfulfilled and alone?

Bar whimpered, then called out “Ema!” Mor jumped up and entered the children’s room. He was sitting up in the top bunk, eyes wide. “Shh! What is it?” she whispered. “Witches,” he said loudly. “Witches with long knives!” Ayala stirred. “Hush!” Mor said soothingly, smoothing his hair, worried that Ayala would awaken. “It was just a dream.” Bar shook his head. “Not a dream,” he insisted. “They were right here. But they flew out the window before you came.” Mor laughed. “Next time I’ll come faster.” Bar nodded. “And I’ll tell them to wait.” She covered him with his blanket and gave him a kiss. He closed his eyes. She left the door open.

She thought she should return to bed. Aryeh had kicked the blanket off—how was it that the cold did not wake him? He was still naked and he was hard. After repeated denials he had confessed, shamefaced and gruff, that he sometimes dreamed about other women. Ones he had been with, others he had wanted but never had, others—the best, she felt certain—totally imaginary. “But what difference does that make? Why do you need to know? It’s just dreams,” he said. “And you are for real.” Perhaps it was the woman in the bed in Hebron. That was a crazy thought. Once one of his friends from the unit, dropping by to pick him up and take him back, had said they were disgusting, filthy, who could even think of them that way. Aryeh kept silent but glanced at her, as if to say it’s just the way the guys talk. Witches with long knives. She smiled standing in the middle of the living room, not wanting to sit.

The man, she imagined, was not the man they wanted. They questioned him for a few days, a week, didn’t let him sleep, pushed him around, called him a faggot. Then they let him go and he came home to his wife, desperate for her and she desperate for him. And they made love and she entered heaven and he collapsed on top of her and bruised her on her left breast, at the very point opposite the welt on his chest left by the soldiers. And then he rolled off her and embraced her and dripped on her and told her how wonderful it had been, how wonderful she had been, it had never been so good before. “Maybe you should get arrested more often,” she sighed. And he fell asleep, lying on his back, and she looked at him and he was beautiful in the dark, slim and strong, still with the dark hair of youth. But she could not sleep, so she rose from their bed and walked down the night hall and sat and wondered what it was like to be a man, or another woman. She was angry and ecstatic, desolate and satiated, she hated and loved him and wanted him again and wanted to be left alone, here in the dark, casting a darker shadow, in the winter chill.

She heard their door open softly and felt him coming toward her, approaching from behind. She felt his arms around her waist and his chest against her back and his mouth kissing her cheek and his hardness against her bottom. She stiffened, then relaxed and smiled, to herself and then, taking his right hand from where it had crept, under her sweatshirt, to just below her breast, she pulled it out and up to her mouth and smiled for him too.

“Come back to bed. I’m lonely,” he whispered, softly, insistently.

She hesitated. “You hurt me,” she said, turning to face him and looking him sternly in the eye. He was confused.

“Hurt you? How?” He stroked her face. “How could I hurt you? I love you so much.”

She thought, for just a second, about the man in Hebron, but he had taken her hand and was leading her down the night hall.


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