Gazing at Iris — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Iris opens an eye to the sun above, then turns it to Yehoshua. Around them, a clearing of May’s green grass, not yet browned by the summer, stretches between the exuberant purple blooms of three jacarandas, among which iridescent blue sunbirds hover. Iris lies, and Yehoshua sits, on the top of a knoll skirted by the paths of Independence Park, so that even the occasional late morning Shabbat stroller does not disturb them. A west wind makes waves in the grass.

Yehoshua had passed this spot a few days earlier while riding his bike to his student waiter job at Tmol Shilshom. He spotted a pair of lovers on the peak of the hill, the girl lying on her back, sleeping peacefully, and the guy seated, leaning on his left arm, gazing at her face. A few minutes after passing, as he approached the restaurant, he circled back to the park to observe them again. The guy, with his short black beard and loose tee-shirt, could have been him. And the girl, in her loose trousers, with light brown hair splayed over the grass, could have been Iris. The guy was still gazing, the girl still dozing, and it seemed to Yehoshua that there, on that knoll, amid the purple flowers and shining dark birds, love was as pure as it ever could be. The sour face from the shift manager for being a few minutes late didn’t faze him. He would bring Iris to that spot on Shabbat, and they would be in love like that.

“What are you doing?” Iris asks, one eye still closed.

He smiles. “Gazing at you.”

“Well, stop it. It makes me nervous.” She closes her open eye. After a minute she opens it again. “I said stop it.”

“But you’re so amazing,” Yehoshua says, his whole heart in it. “How can I stop looking?”

She smiles, opens her other eye, and pushes herself up on her elbows. “What’s gotten into you?”

He’s not sure what the right answer is. He thinks back to that other guy and girl. He hadn’t heard them speak. It seemed they didn’t need to.

“I’m being romantic.”

She glances at his crotch. “It looks to me like you want to head back home.”

“But it’s so beautiful here,” he protests.

She turns over on her side and extends a hand to ruffle his hair. “It is, but I hope you aren’t expecting me to make love to you here, on top of a hill, where everyone can see.”

He takes her hand and kisses it.

“I’m so tired,” she says.

“Go back to sleep,” he suggests. She hesitates, then lies back down on the grass and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, half a minute later, to check on him, he is watching a sunbird sip nectar from a jacaranda flower.

She squints. “Why is that one so drab and gray? I can barely see it.”

“It’s a female. The shiny blue ones are the males.”

But her eyes are already closed. He watches the sunbird for a couple more minutes, and then turns back to her.


“It felt funny because I wasn’t used to it, that’s what I mean.” It’s afternoon, and they lie naked in her bed, on the other side of Rechavia’s hill, a fifteen-minute walk southwest from the park. They are both on their backs, staring at the ceiling, their fingers intertwined. “I’m sorry, I hurt you.”

He says nothing at first. Then: “I just wanted to try something new.”

“Well, new things unsettle me.” Iris readjusts herself. “I like what I’m used to. Usually, when we’re together, and I fall asleep, and I wake up, I see you reading a poetry book, or texting on your phone, or writing in your journal, or … well, you know.”

Yehoshua turns on his side to face her. “Why can’t we be romantic, like other couples?”

She rolls toward him for a kiss. “But we are romantic, aren’t we? We hold hands, we go for walks, we talk, we make love. Isn’t that romance enough?”

“I mean like …” He sighs. “I don’t know what I mean. Forget about it.” He pushes her away.

Iris weeps, softly, with few tears. “I’m sorry, really, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean …”

“It’s ok, I’ll get over it.”

They are both on their backs again, but this time their hands are at their sides.

She turns her head to look at him. “I’m not giving you something you need. I’m giving you everything I can, but it’s not what you need.”

They lie like that, in silence, for many minutes.

Yehoshua turns to her and pulls her over to face him.

“It was really good, making love this afternoon.”

She wipes a tear. “I thought so, too.”

“Maybe I just live in a fantasy world. Maybe love isn’t really like that. At least for us.”

“Like what?”

He tells her about the couple he saw, riding his bike through the park, and how he had circled back to see them again.

“And it was like seeing us. He could have been me. She could have been you. It was weird. Like seeing how we were meant to be.”

Iris strokes Yehoshua’s bearded cheek. “I have an idea,” she says.

“So do I,” Yehoshua replies, moving her hand down his body.

“No, not that.” She pulls her hand away. “Let’s get dressed and go back to that hill and lie there with the jacarandas and the sunbirds. Lie there and just look at each other.”

“It’ll make you nervous.”

She laughs. “I just need to get used to it.”

He pushes himself up and leans over to kiss her bare breasts.

“Before we get romantic, let’s make love,” he suggests.

She tickles his chest.

“Well,” she says, “We could to that, too.”


“Who the fuck is that?” Yoav takes a pull on his bottle of Barzel beer. He watches the bicycle rider appear on the left side of the frame. The head turns, the bicycle slows down, almost to a stop, before going on its way and off top right.

“Who knows.” Sigalon shrugs. She’s done the camera work and will edit as well. “But look. He comes back.” She fast-forwards the footage. The three of them stare at the monitor in her one-bedroom in Nahlat Zion, at the apex of a triangle whose other vertices are Independence Park and Iris’s apartment in Rehavia. They watch. Tzuf sleeps and Yoav gazes at Tzuf and the bicyclist appears again. Sigalon reverts to normal speed. The bicyclist makes a pass, then another, before leaving once more.

Long-haired Tzuf puts a hand on his smooth, bare chest, although he still has his sharwal pants on. “I hate voyeurs,” he complains, the last word in his native English. “What a pervert.”

“I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me,” Sigalon says. “He thought it was just the two of you, alone on the hill.”

“We’ll just edit him out,” Yoav decides. “It ruins the concept.” Gazing at Iris is his final film project for his degree at Bezalel. He takes particular pride in his screenwriting. He isn’t bad as an actor and director, either, so everyone says. They’d spent an entire morning a couple days ago setting up to get just the right light and angle for footage that would amount to about ten seconds out of the twenty minutes of his pathbreaking story of gender ambiguity in Jerusalem. “Also, those birds are too blue. They attract too much attention. We need to tone them down.”

Sigalon takes mouse in hand. “I can do that.”

“I don’t like the name Iris.” Tzuf sulks, for maybe the fiftieth time since Yoav hired him to act in the film. “Can’t you give me another name?”

Yoav rolls his eyes. “I’ve explained it to you, Tzuf, a million times. Iris is the messenger of the gods, married to the west wind. In Greek mythology, where every male is potentially a female and vice-versa. Like Odysseus in drag. I told you.”

Tzuf smacks Yoav’s ass. “You told me Iris is a girl you once knew.”

“That, too.”

“I don’t know.” Sigalon frowns. “I don’t like the way it looks. It leaves a shadow.”

Yoav scoffs. “Really, Sigalon, you can do anything with Premiere.”

“Not anything. Reality counts. If you ask me, and if you want this to be perfect …”

“It has to be perfect.” Yoav looks grim.

“Then we need to go back and film some more.”


Yehoshua and Iris lie on the grass on the top of the hill, facing each other. The sun is low in the west and the jacarandas’ shadows are long; the sunbirds are nowhere to be seen, but green parakeets chatter as the come in to roost for the night among the purple flowers.

Iris giggles. “I think I’m getting used to it.”

“Good,” Yehoshua says. “That’s very good.”

They looked up only when they hear a throat being cleared above them.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, but would you mind moving? We’re filming and we need this hilltop.” Sigalon waves in the direction of the path just below and the lovers turns their gaze to the two actors. Iris deliberately disregards the familiar face that is slightly nodding at her, which looks so much like Yehoshua’s. And Yehoshua cannot help noticing that the long-haired youth in the loose pants could easily, from a certain angle, be taken for Iris. Yehoshua looks at Iris and Iris looks at Yehoshua.

After a moment’s pause, Yehoshua speaks. “It’s ok. I guess we’ve seen enough for today.”


Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon, and on all other on-line stores and select brick-and-mortar establishments. More information on South Jerusalem

To read more Necessary Stories on-line, go to theNecessary Stories archive