Transfigured Night — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Two sit in a café. The cold penetrates the windowpane. Their gaze is not on each other but on the moon, shining through the eucalyptus leaves in a cloudless sky. The woman speaks.

illustration by Avi Katz
Because you followed me in the wilderness, she says, in a land unsown. They are both trying to be polite, to the point. Their oldest son’s wedding is next month.

The man wears a uniform, with a colonel’s insignia. Why don’t you stop fondling your gun, she suggests. He had not realized that his left hand had wandered there, and quickly removes it.

He clears his throat. There must be some sort of protocol for this. We can’t be the first. The hand that had been on the gun is now on his head, playing with the clip on his kipah. He brings it down, carefully intertwining its fingers with those of its counterpart, keeping both under control.

The woman shrugs. It’s not up to us. It’s what Eliav wants. And Sivan.

He lets out a long breath, very slowly, focusing on control of his breathing.

Let me put it to you straight, he says. Eliav hates me. The two of us are divorced. Now he’s located his father and invited him. Do you really want me to come?

She sips her cappuccino. The left side of her mouth goes up. He doesn’t know if it’s a smile or an attempt to hold a tear back.

He wants to take her hand in his, in the moonlight coming through the window, but knows that he can’t. He wants to sleep with her again, but puts the thought out of his mind. An intelligence officer can function properly only by thinking clearly, by analyzing the facts while keeping passion in check. On base, out in the field, on the Syrian frontier, he does that. When he returns to Jerusalem on leave his mind blurs.

She shakes her head. You were with me that night, when he was in my womb, she whispers. You didn’t leave me then. How can you not be at his wedding?

Two are walking in a gully in the Judean desert, down toward the Dead Sea. He looks at her shyly. They have been walking nearly an hour. She stumbles, he steadies her, and he takes her hand, for the first time. They walk on wordlessly, in the light of a full moon. She takes her hand away.

I want to go home, she says.

He gazes at the moon in despair. He is failing again. He does not know how to do this, how to make a woman love him.

The way home is to keep going until we get back to the car.

They walk on. He tries to take her hand again but she pushes his away.

He gets up the nerve to ask. Why?

She does not answer at first, but after they round a spur of rock, a dark triangle set against the gleaming black of the sky. She speaks.

I can’t let you fall in love with me. It wouldn’t be fair.

It’s not fair not to let me.

She laughs, a cynical laugh.

This never happened to me before, he says. This morning we met on a bus and here we are on a night hike together. It’s never been so, well, so uncomplicated before.

It’s complicated.

What is?

Because I’m pregnant with another man’s child.

You? He thought of the family she came from, the midrasha where she studied. It seemed impossible.

Of course he hates me, the man says, in the café, to the woman he once loved, still loves, the mother of his children. But she could not live with the love of a man who was home once every two weeks, who betrayed her two too many times. I could never be his real father, he says, as much as I tried.

She looks him in the face for a long moment. You worked very hard at it. Some day he will appreciate it.

He hates me because I hurt you.

She does not answer.

They reach the edge of the cliff and stop to gaze at the moonlight on the water. He looks up.

The sky is so radiant, he says.

The sea is cold, she responds, looking down.

He moves behind and puts his arms around her. She stiffens. He places his right hand on her belly.

This child is mine, he says.

She looks up at the sky and turns to face him. He sees tears.

I’ll do what I have to do, she says.

You don’t have to do anything. You will bear this child. We will, he says.

He downs the last of his Turkish coffee, the grainy dregs like sand in his mouth.

How did he find him?

She shrugs. It’s not hard, these days.

We shouldn’t have told him.

How could we not?

You’ve seen him.

How could I avoid it?

He feels anger rising within him, represses it with all his might.

How did it feel?

She does not answer. He shivers from the chill coming through the café window.

Don’t you have any conception of how horrible this has been for me? To be faced again with who I really am?

I’m sorry.

She wipes away a tear. I tried so very hard, she says. She shrugs wearily, as if to say that nothing she has ever done has ever worked out the way it was supposed to.

He knew that shrug. When she heard, through the grapevine, about the girl soldier in the operations room, Eliav had been eleven. Gaza was flaring up then, he was getting home even less than usual, and when he did get home, well, once she had the flu and another time she was too tired for anything but going through the motions. The girl had made herself available in the clearest possible way (he didn’t want to think about it), and once it started, it was hard to stop. He repented, truly and sincerely. She had shrugged, resigned.

I did, too, he says. Try. Very hard.

The second time she didn’t shrug.

That was another operations sergeant, from a new crop who had just gotten to the base. The tough thing was that he had held back. Yes, there had been a kiss. Kissing, more accurately. But then he got hold of himself. It was hard. When she accused him of molesting her, he realized he was in trouble.

You still don’t believe me.

Why should I?

You could believe me, or say it doesn’t matter, like …

The lifted her head up. There was fire in her eyes, not moonlight.

Not matter?

The investigation could not prove anything, it was her word against his. He was cleared, although he didn’t get the promotion he had been up for. But the reporters knew about the previous affair and so did his wife. Things deteriorated very quickly. She was not so much angry as grim, fatalistic, as if she had always known that this would happen. It had been horrible.

Eliav was sixteen, was going through a tough period, was distraught at the prospect of his parents separating. They decided it was time to tell him the truth. They put everything on the table. From that day on, Eliav refused to talk to him. They had been so close once, and now nothing. A month later he moved out of the house, and the divorce proceedings were completed three months later.

I’ve had no one since then. Three years.

She looks out the window, at the moon.

Eliav had chosen a yeshiva without consulting him, had gone into the engineering corps without asking his advice, and had met and decided to marry Sivan without his knowledge. He heard from Eliav’s two sisters. His wife, his ex-wife, had been seeing a man seriously for a while, but that seems to be over.

The moonbeam slips beyond them, and her gaze returns to him. It is softer now, sad and wise.

She reaches over and touched the corner of his eye.

You’re crying.

I’m allowed to.

After a moment, she says: We were so much in love, that night.

It’s my fault, I know.

You’ve said that so many times.

He puts his face in his hands.

She gently takes his wrists and lowers his arms.

It was too hard for me to believe you. And then, after a moment: What are you thinking?

He waves his hand at the other coffee drinkers. I can’t say it here.

He thinks he sees hope in her gaze.

I can’t let you, he says. You’d be making a mistake.

You are making a mistake, she says, there in the desert, as the gully opens up into the plain where the road and the Dead Sea lie. We both are.

He embraces her, and holds her tight at the waist.

With this much love, what can go wrong? he says, and kisses her, for a long time. And they turn, and walk into the night.


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