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  • (RITA)


    ...I brought you the flowers you loved so much, and I can hear you saying, “flowers should stay where they belong, in the ground.” And you have filled every empty spot in the house with potted plants and growing flowers and said, “If I truly, truly wanted to, I could speak to the roots and watch the flowers grow.” And when Father said, “Don’t put crazy ideas into the child’s head,” you ignored him. But you see, I remembered about the flowers, and I dug them out with the roots -so I can plant them here, around your grave, where the ground is fresh and damp, like after the rain, which you had loved so much.
    Remember when life seemed like a forever dream? And it was all right to leave the children at home alone, and people didn’t lock the doors because the kibbutz was a safe place, or so everyone thought, and every day we played in the fields, and the mornings were always blue and the birds screamed in the branches of the trees, and fragrance of wildflowers wafted in the air, and millions of snails and earthworms appeared after the rain. And a honey sun smiled at us, painting with gold our hair and eyes and face, sprinkling our noses with big brown spots.
    And then the wars started, and the boys wanted to be paratroopers, and in class we read the Bible every day because we were told it was our heritage and history. And Old Gara was still alive, and Sam the Cat was slinking around, and Father’s hair was still brown and his tanned face taut. And Nati was a mischievous tiny girl whom at age seven, I was crazy about.
    But not in order to tell you this, I have run away from the army camp and came here all messed up and sweating and without breath. I came to tell you finally about that night when a storm rampaged outside, and I was so scared, and you weren’t there. I still have nightmares about that night, and that crazy memorial day keeps haunting me like a demon from Dante’s, and I want to tell you how it was then when I was only a little boy. Maybe, only maybe, it will ease the pain.

    Wherever you are, Mother, listen well. This time listen really well.

    Once when I was about seven, I was lying on my stomach on the floor of my room, trying to concentrate on a jigsaw puzzle, waiting for Nati to come play with me; but outside the wind roared like a beast, and the windows shook, and I heard sounds like moans around the house, and I knew that Nati would never make it in that storm.
    But in spite of my anxiety, I smiled because one never knew what Nati was up to; she was mischievous and daring and loved adventures—never afraid of anything. Maybe a little of her mother because sometimes, in the midst of a game, she would suddenly say, “I have to go now, my mother is waiting,” and I would notice how her face became suddenly white and tense, and sometimes her lips trembled. You adored Nati;,you would hug her and kiss her and say, “Natushka, you are so pretty.” And then you would sigh and say, “I always wanted a girl,” and I was a little jealous.
    But you never loved anyone like you love Big Micha, even after he left you and joined the dead. I could never understand why you waste so much love on a dead man. And after you weren’t with us anymore, Father hardly ever spoke, and his hair turned white, and his face cracked, and his eyes—it’s difficult for me to describe his eyes because suddenly there was nothing in his eyes. So if eyes can be empty, Father’s eyes were empty after what you have done. Most of the time, he wandered like a spirit in the olive grove or sat near the window with the view of the lawn, the acacia tree, the daisies, and the daffodils; and when I spoke to him, he would look at me and say, confused, “What, what did you say, child?” At such moments, I could have killed you myself.
    Sometimes Nati would come and, for a few moments, relieve Father from the depression that set on him like a beast with her stories about the field, the sheep, and the jokes of her grandfather, Ezra, whom she loved even more than she had loved her grandmother, Marta, who died of cancer. After her grandmother died, Nati said that it is all right because her grandmother is now in a place full of light, and rain falls there all the time. Her grandmother was crazy about rain; she said the rain is the essence of life.
    The thought that Nati wouldn’t come because of the storm made me stand up abruptly and upset the puzzle, and I looked at the mess of little cardboard pieces and snorted in disgust and screwed up my eyes and bared my teeth and screamed, “I’m a tiger! I’m a man-eating beast!” I roared, running around the room with claws ready to gouge the enemy’s eyes. Then I was Sam the Cat, and I crouched on the floor and arched my back, feeling the hair bristle on my neck, and didn’t make a sound. My whole body tensed, ready for war. But the moment I sprang into the air ready to catch my prey, I began to wheeze and choke and collapsed on the floor. Again I was only a little boy with asthma—a questionable fun, especially when you are all alone in a house you suddenly distrust.
    I turned on the radio, hoping music would distract me—even the news, anything. But the radio roared and whistled as if a whole pack of hounds and hyenas were caught inside it, so I turned it off and ran to the window. I watched how the wind teased the clouds, and the whole world was charged with electricity as furious bolts of lightning struck a messy sky, followed by stupendous booms and distant rumbles. And I couldn’t shut the loosely hinged shutters that were banging against the wall of the house, and as the wind intensified, I was certain the house swayed. And when I looked at the clock, it was only a little past six, and you were still out because it was your turn to work in the dining hall. And I imagined you standing behind the stainless steel counter handing out steaming dishes, and I could smell the peas and the roast potatoes and the chicken, and I saw your face shining with sweat and your hands slippery with grease and your green eyes dull and gray and full of fatigue.
    I knew how much you loathed working in the dining hall because the first thing you did when you came home was to kick off your shoes and rub your toes and complain that your legs were swollen and your feet were sore, and that you smelled of garlic and rancid oil. “Disgusting,” I remember you say once, your face contorted with distaste. And Father looked at you and said with this special smile he kept only for you, “You’re so spoiled, Rita.” You stared at him, and I saw your eyes narrow. “Wise guy,” you said, your voice scratchy., And Father said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.” And when he brought you a cup of coffee, you pushed away his hand. “Be careful,” he said, and the smile was gone from his face. You said you were sorry, and I stuck my fingers deep into my ears from dread that you’d fight again. “Michal’e,” you said, “take your fingers out of your ears. It isn’t healthy.” And you asked, “Did you water the plants?” and I muttered aha, and you smiled at me, and I saw a net of tiny wrinkles around your eyes.
    But worst of all were the nights when you were too exhausted to sit on my bed and sing to me because, when you sang to me, your small soft voice made me feel so . . . But here I always reached the boundary of my thoughts because, at the age of seven, I didn’t have words to articulate my feelings when you sang to me.
    And Father was at a secretariat meeting where he spent most of his time arguing with Old Gara about winter crops and the critical (I didn’t know then what critical-meant) water problem, and whether they should keep or get rid of the olive grove, or how many new members could the kibbutz absorb this year.
    And that horrible night when I felt as if there was no one, nothing in the entire world except the storm, the thought of you and Father set off a memory—a memory as distinct as the sound of the thunder that shook the windows, a memory of an early summer evening when I was playing with my tanks and soldiers in a corner of the living room. At that particular evening, you and Father had returned from the dining hall a little later than usual, and Father settled at his usual place, at a small table under the window with the view of the lawn and the acacia tree and the daisies and the daffodils and opened the newspaper. You placed on the table a plate full of freshly baked cookies, which filled the room with aroma of vanilla pecans and raisins. “Enjoy, Eli,” you said. And then you came over to me and cupped my chin and lifted my face to yours and kissed me on my lips and gave me two cookies, and I swallowed them hardly chewing. “Take it easy, Michal’e,” you said, there are plenty,” and you laughed and gave me another kiss. Then you went and stood by the little gas stove, waiting for the water to boil for coffee.
    You looked so pretty, dressed in a white silk shirt and new blue jeans, your hair, loose, fell in waves and tangles all the way to your shoulders, and your eyes sparkled green and deep. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I prayed in my heart that you’d look at me, but you poured for Father a cup of coffee and asked, “How was your day, Eli?” Without lifting his eyes from the paper, Father said, “Like any other day, arguments, endless arguments.” You laughed and said, “Is that so? It seems to me that all you ever do in those meetings is argue.” Father didn’t think it was funny. He said, “Yeah, so it seems,” and he began tapping with his teaspoon on the cookie plate, a habit that drove you nuts until you said, and your voice was cutting, “Stop it, Eli.” And he stopped. After that you and Father sat for a time and didn’t speak at all, only drank the bitter coffee, and you didn’t laugh anymore.
    I continued to play with my tanks and soldiers, imagining myself a general in the commando unit, my soldiers charging heroically, and my tanks perfectly lined up ready to attack, and corpses are strewn all over the battlefield, and the enemy almost defeated. “Fire! Fire!” I shouted and clapped my hands together, a habit keeping the palms of my hands always slightly red. Remember? And you said suddenly, and your voice was sharp as hail, “Michal’e, why do you always play war? Go play outside, it’s healthier.” And I was stunned by your sudden anger. I had been playing war for as long as I could remember myself. All the boys played war. And all I could think to say was because, and you looked at me suspiciously and said, “Because why? Don’t be a wise guy with me.” And your outburst confused me so; I had to restrain myself from crying. And then Father lifted his eyes from the paper and said, “Because boys play war, Rita.” You didn’t say anything and began to eat the cookies very fast and didn’t pay attention to the crumbs falling on the table and on the floor around your chair, and I was so surprised because I have never seen you eating in such a wild way. You were always so pedantic and neat—even compulsively so in my opinion.
    Suddenly Father’s voice thundered, “Listen, Rita!” You stopped eating the cookies and looked at him with startled eyes, and my eyelids began to twitch. And you said, “Don’t yell, Eli, I’m not deaf.” And my father said that important decisions should be made by the younger generation. Again you told him not to yell and asked him what was he talking about, and he said that he was talking about the last secretariat meeting and how the old people had been driving him insane with their archaic ideas. I saw how the line between your eyebrows deepened, and you asked why. And Father said, “Leave it up to them and we’d be back to using mules and plows. I tell you, Rita, older people should know when it’s time to quit and make room for younger people. You should hear the nostalgia in their voices when they talk about the good old days, when they still lived in tents and didn’t have electricity or running water. You would think they had a feast then instead of swamps, malaria, and typhoid fever.”
    And you were silent for a long time, gazing into space with lamenting eyes; then suddenly you said, in a voice that made me wish I could run to you and hug you, that their good old days sound so romantic, and that now our men die in wars and our children play war,. “War, always war. Is it better to die in a war, Eli?” And the pitch of your voice was unusually high and tense, and your eyes saturated with sadness. “I know, I know,” Father said, “wars are terrible, but it’s time for the kibbutz to change. The pioneering days are long over.” Without looking at him, you said, “You have a stone for a heart, Eli,” and you began talking about the days when you and Big Micha had spent many summer dawns in the olive grove, watching the sunlight play on the Judean hills. “Each time,” you said, “the hills looked different. Sometimes clear and close, other times covered with clouds or fog, but”—and your voice became hushed and silky,—“the real magic came at night when...” You didn’t finish your sentence because Father roared, “Enough! This thing has got to stop!” And he stood up abruptly, shoving the chair in big anger. And you continued to talk about your nights in the olive grove with Big Micha as if you were alone in the world; then Father’s elbow hit the cup, spilling the coffee, which spread in a big blotch on the tablecloth. “Damn it, Rita, shut up!” he shouted and, with shaking fingers, lit a cigarette. I heard him breathing hard. I thought in my heart that you weren’t fair, even cruel, and I didn’t want to think of you that way.
    And Father began wandering about the room; stopped in front of your chair and said, “Big Micha, that’s all you’re able to think about. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. This thing has got to stop for the child’s sake and mine.” And you sat stiff and still, your eyes following the coffee stain spreading on the tablecloth until at last you looked at him and said, “You shouldn’t have married me, Eli.” And I saw how Father’s smooth face suddenly turned ashen and terribly sad, and he said in a strange voice, “Rita, I love you.” You lifted to him a drained face and said that you were terribly sorry for your outburst and that this had been a terrible day, and you’re so tired. And then you picked up the newspaper and glanced at the headlines and said, “Bad news, it’s so terrible, all this bombing and killing and hate and—” But again you didn’t finish your words because Father snatched the paper out of your hands, and lifted you from the chair, and pulled you to him, and pressed your body tightly to his. “Rita, Rita,” he said, and his heavy face was buried in your hair. I didn’t like it. You were so tiny and seemed so breakable, and he was so big and rough. It seemed to me that one of his hands could cover your whole body, and I was terrified that he might break you. And you said, “I’m sorry, Eli, so sorry,” and by the shaking of your shoulders, I knew that you were weeping, weeping with your face pressed against his massive chest. And he caressed your hair and kept saying, “It’s all right, it’s all right,” but his voice sounded like when you walk on gravel.
    And while you and Father were carrying on, I sat in the corner of the room and trembled, and I felt the blood drumming in my temples and was dizzy and confused because I didn’t understand anything from what I heard. I was sure that you had completely forgotten my presence in the room, and as always, when you behaved this way, my throat choked and my chest tightened. I longed to see you laughing and happy and light and shimmering like the skin of your face and arms and belly and legs, but you were sad, always sad or angry.
    And when I no longer could bear the tension, I left my soldiers and tanks scattered on the floor and went outside and sat on the lawn and threw stones at Sam the Cat. And there was the cat, and there I was. And for a while, we stood growling and hissing and baring our teeth, and then I heard you calling through the open window, “Michal’e, again you’re abusing the cat? Let him be, it’s time for bed. If you hurry, I’ll read you a story.” But I didn’t move. “I don’t want a story,” I said, “I want you to sing to me,” and I heard you sigh. “Not tonight,” you said in a nervous voice, “I’m tired.” And when still I didn’t move, you said in this irritating voice, “My sweetheart.” But I insisted that you sing to me and said, “Lie by me for only few minutes, Mama.,” And you pleaded, “Come in, Michal’e, now please,” and your eyes were green again.
    That night, I won. You sat on my bed and read to me a sad story about a boy named David Copperfield and sang about raisins and almonds, about the moon and the fields, and then you lay down at my side and fell asleep while I stayed awake and watched over you. At that moment, we were only the two of us, alone, bonded together. And I didn’t know when I fell asleep and you returned to your room.
    The next day, when I returned from school, I couldn’t find my soldiers and tanks. They were not in their usual place in the wooden box under the bed, and I searched the entire house, but they disappeared. I didn’t ask anything, only went to the bathroom, locked the door with the key, sat on the toilet, and cried.
    And on that stormy night, when those thoughts sucked me in and you were not there, I imagined myself as a bird flying far, far away. And you? You’re thinking of me and missing me and crying and pleading and calling me to come back to you. And suddenly a terrible thought struck me—what if you’ll forget me? Never again think of me? And I couldn’t hold back and wet my pants like a baby. I ran to my room, and banged the door shut, and peeled off my pants, and washed my legs that stunk with urine, and changed into my pajamas, and kicked the evidence of my shame under the bed. And shivering, I hid under the blanket and covered my head with the pillow, desperately trying not to think and shutting off the boom of the thunder that became a distant rumble that turned into the loud, clear voice of my father saying to you what I often heard him say, “An accident, it’s always an accident. What are we going to do about these accidents?” And you answered, “It will pass, it will pass. Give the child time.” And Father said, “It is so embarrassing. He’s already seven years old and in second grade. He should be sleeping in the Children’ House like the other children, but no, he has to sleep at home because he still wets his bed. What are we going to do with him?” And you said, “These things happen you know, and besides, I like it that he sleeps at home. If they’d ask my opinion, all the children would sleep at home.” And Father said, “We’ve been discussing this matter in the secretariat meetings. Many parents want the children home at night. We’ve decided to bring this particular problem to a general vote next Saturday. Personally, I’m against it.” And you said, “But, Eli, you’re always talking about changes. Big changes.” And my father answered, “Well, some things should not change, and this is one of them. The children’s place is in the Children’s House, together. It heightens their sense of communal spirit and toughens them up. But all this aside for the moment, what do you intend to do about the child? What is the matter with him?” And you said, “I don’t know, Eli, I just don’t know.” You thought for a moment then said, “We probably should take him to see a psychologist,” and it sounded to me like some kind of a conspiracy. And there under my blanket, in the dark, I imagined you shaking your head and sighing, and I saw your face clearly, and my panic intensified, and I began to think that you’d never come home. So I tossed back the blanket and sat up shaking and snatched the pillow and clutched it to my chest and thought that I didn’t want to go to a psychologist, that I didn’t even know what a psychologist meant. And I shouted no, determined not to cry no matter what.
    For a moment, I forgot the fear and anxiety. For a moment, I forgot the lightning and thunder and decided to play with my soccer ball. Yes! I shouted and clapped my hands and jumped off the bed and ran to take out the ball from the closet. But then I froze, alarmed, as if someone invisible caught me from behind. And I stood there staring at the closet door and remembered that only a few days ago, I broke two of your geranium pots when I played ball in the room, and you were so angry I thought you’d never forgive me. I wet my bed every night, and Father grumbled and grumbled. And with these thoughts, the sudden surge of energy left my body, and I banged my fists on the closet door and kicked it with my foot and hurt my big toe and shouted shit! And I didn’t even care that I promised you never to say that word. I found no relief. Only the rain was beating on the roof, and it sounded like horses’ hooves stamping above my head. And I was sure the world was going to end any moment now, but you weren’t there to protect me.
    Angry with the rain and angry with my father and angry with you and furious with the entire dark universe, I took out a big sheet of paper and my crayons and crouched on the floor on my knees and drew a figure of a man who resembled the man in the picture on your little bedside table, and above the picture, I scribbled a name in black letters. And then I went to your desk and opened the drawer and took out a pair of sharp scissors that you warned me never to touch and gouged the picture’s eyes and cut off his nose and mouth and ears. Then violently, I beheaded him. I plucked each finger separately and severed the right arm, then the left. Then I removed the legs and the feet, and I cut the body into four equal parts. And when I finished to gouge and to cut and to tear and to sever, I scooped up the piece and tossed them into the air and blew on them with all my might and clapped my hands and shouted, “Go away, go away already!” And I looked up and saw the parts of the mutilated body hovering for a moment above me, and I covered my head with my hands, and then I saw him flutter to the floor and lie there. And his gouged eyes stared at me, and the hole of the mouth smirked at me in an impudent and leering way, and my whole body shuddered. So I picked up the pieces one by one and ran to the bathroom and threw them down the toilet and flushed the water and said there and my heart was threatening to burst from my body, so I went back to the living room and took the fuzzy red blanket from the sofa and wrapped it around myself and sat down and pressed my knees to my chest and tried to imagine myself as a fuzzy and big and red bug. But it wasn’t any good to pretend because I remained a little boy. And then a blinding white flash flooded the room, and I squeezed my eyes shut and clapped my hands to my ears and felt the impact shaking my body. And I said out loud, “It’s only a thunder,” and I tried to whistle, but I couldn’t move my lips. And I looked again at the clock and saw that it was only seven, and you weren’t going to be back for two hours yet.
    And so I wrapped myself tighter in the red blanket and dropped my head on the back of the sofa and closed my eyes and tried to breathe slowly in and out, in and out through the nose softly like Dr. Shoham taught me to do when I didn’t feel good. But it didn’t help, and my mind was swimming with images of strange and dark and horrifying scenes. I saw a shapeless and huge body coming right at me from the silence of the Rocky Hill where Big Micha’s body is buried, and I shook my head to shatter the image and sucked air into my lungs and opened my eyes wide and vowed to myself never to close them again until you were home. And the confusion in my head became enormous because as long as I remember myself, I heard people say that Big Micha wasn’t buried on Rocky Hill at all because his body was blown to pieces while he parachuted over Jerusalem toward the Ammunition Hill during the Six-Day War, and he couldn’t be identified. In those days, I couldn’t understand why the name Micha Oren was engraved in the big stone on Rocky Hill, and they said it was symbolic, but what does a seven-year-old boy know about things being symbolic?
    Oh, Mother, I was so scared just like that day when everyone in the kibbutz went to the Rocky Hill (I went because you had insisted that it’s important even though Father was against it) and gathered around a stone engraved with the name Micha Oren, and they were all so deathly serious and grim, and their heads hung down as if they were ashamed of something. They wore dark glasses and looked sort of like how blind people look in pictures, and suddenly I had a strong urge to giggle, but I didn’t giggle and didn’t even smile because I knew you’d be furious with me, and I wouldn’t be able to explain to you that even though I giggled, it wasn’t because something funny was going on there. No, I definitely didn’t think that things were funny. They were anything but funny. And I saw people’s lips move ever so little, and I didn’t understand what they were mumbling without a voice, and then I heard Old Gara reading from the Bible,: “‘Abraham,’ God called. ‘Yes, Lord,’ he replied. ‘Take with you your only son, yes, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will point out to you.” I didn’t believe a word of this horrible story even when Dahlia, my favorite teacher, read it to us in Bible class. And I hated Abraham and pitied Isaac, and to my horror, I began to cry in class. The children looked at me with sort of wonder mixed with mockery except for Nati, of course, but she too cried a little and pretended as if she only had the sniffles. And Dahlia caressed my head and told me to go wash my face and have a drink of water and not to be so sad because it is only a story. Remember Dahlia? Big and soft and very gentle, always raking her hair with chalk-stained fingers like a plow in a wheat field, and sometimes when I daydreamed of you or watched Nati’s legs, Dahlia would stop at my desk and say, “Micha, try to concentrate.” And I never understood how she knew that I wasn’t. The next day, after she read to us this horrible story, you came to school and went with Dahlia to the teacher’s room, and you stayed there forever. I hid behind the school among the pomegranate trees and waited for you to come out, and when you came out, your face was white and worried and your eyes swollen and red and your legs hardly carried you. And I was sure that you were ill, so I too was worried and I too was ill, and I vomited among the pomegranate trees. And thus I stood behind the school, leaning against its wall, and cried. And you never said a word to me about that meeting, and I never asked. And I knew that you liked Dahlia because from all the people who wanted to sit with you at lunch or dinner, you always chose to sit with Dahlia, and when I asked you why, you said you had a lot to talk about.
    And on that memorial day in the Rocky Hill, oh, Mother, I wanted terribly to run away from there. It was so spooky, and the air hummed with whispers and hisses and echoes and faint cries and sighs, and I was sure that in a moment, evil spirits will attack me. And I longed to hide among the rocks, catch tiny snails, dig for earthworms, and watch how the butterflies tease the flowers;, so I looked down at my feet and vowed to myself not to think when suddenly I saw a small turtle, pathetic and helpless, lying on his back on the grass and feebly flailing its legs in the air in a futile effort to turn over. I wanted to bend down and help it, but I couldn’t move because my hand was squeezed inside my father’s huge and sweating palm, and my head swayed. So I looked up at the trees and listened to the birds sing in the branches, and I felt better. And suddenly there was a commotion;, people were running toward me. My father dropped my hand, and bending down quickly, I turned the turtle over and whispered, “Run away, little turtle, run before they’ll kill you.” And when I looked up, I saw you lying on the grass, and your eyes were closed, and your face was white as chalk, and you looked like a broken doll. And Father was kneeling beside you;, then he picked you up and carried you in his arms all the way back to our house. And I ran behind him, and he laid you on the bed and shut the door in my face.
    The night of that memorial service, my father sat on my bed for a long time and was very silent, and suddenly I heard myself ask, “Where do we go after we die?” And Father said that after death we don’t go anywhere, and I asked, “Are you sure?” And he said, “Yes, I’m sure. Who put such absurd ideas in your head?” And I insisted that after we die, we meet in heaven, and Father sighed and kissed my forehead. His serious eyes were sad and very tired, and I thought I heard him mutter under his breath, “Rita, Rita, what are you doing to the child?” And he kissed me again. “Good night, son,” he said. And at that moment I loved him terribly, so I put my arms around his neck, and he hugged me tight to his massive chest just like I had seen him hug you.
    That night, I couldn’t fall asleep, and I tossed and turned and counted to a hundred and listened to the frogs and crickets outside and pressed my fingers to my eyes until I saw strange shapes and colors. I even tried to sing under my blanket, but nothing could chase away the dead from the Rocky Hill, and my mind was alert to the slightest move or sound from your bedroom. Maybe you’ll come to kiss me good night and hold me tight, and the night will be soft and quiet. Nevertheless in the morning, the sheets were soaked, and the hateful stink of urine greeted the new day, and the cold morning air cut through my wet pajamas. But I hadn’t slept all night, so how had it happened? Don’t cry, take hold of yourself, I commanded myself.
    The next day, you were unlike yourself. You refused to see your friends and ignored my father, and when you spoke to me, your voice was flat and monotonous. Father left you alone, and your friends shook their heads and clicked their tongues and said, “Poor Rita.” And I attached myself to you like a leech, and you said, “Michal’e, don’t you have anything better to do than follow me around all day? You’re driving me nuts.” But I tugged at your hands and laughed in a tone that even I could tell was most unpleasant, and I told you stories about school and my friends and about Old Gara, who took me to see how a calf is being born. “So much blood, Mommy, so much blood.” But the cow wasn’t scared, only licked and licked her calf with a tongue so pink and large and rough until her baby was smooth and shining. And he tripped and fell and got up and again tripped until Old Gara picked it up and put it next his mother’s udder, and he sucked and pulled and made funny noises. And Old Gara let me stroke its head, and its head was warm and damp and sticky, so wonderful.” And all you said was, “Michal’e, don’t shout, I’m not deaf.” And I got confused because I wasn’t aware that I was shouting—well, maybe my voice was a little louder than usual—and I was going to tell you how much I loved Nati, but I didn’t because you weren’t listening. And I felt as if I were invisible, unnecessary by the world, and I turned away from you because, at age seven, I hadn’t understood the meaning of the weird gathering at Rocky Hill, and I knew that Big Micha’s body wasn’t there because it had been torn to pieces and couldn’t be identified. I wished then that I knew what identified meant, and although I had wanted to ask many questions, I didn’t because every time the words were almost there, my lips got numb and I couldn’t utter a sound from fear I wouldn’t find the right words.
    And I also knew then that before I was born, you wanted to marry Big Micha because you were in love with him, and I wondered if you had felt about Big Micha the way I felt about Nati. And although this question often occupied my thoughts, I could never really make up my mind about it because grown-ups, in my opinion, were full of dark secrets, and I felt as though I were living in a place where everyone but me knew an important secret. But no one ever said it out loud, at least not while I was present, not even you.
    When did I learn about you and Big Micha? It seemed that I always knew, and I remembered in particular one summer night when the moon was full, and it had been awfully hot and humid. You had left the door to your bedroom wide open, and I was lying in my bed awake, sweating in the sheets, when suddenly I heard you cry and say that you should have married Big Micha. Father answered that Micha wasn’t the marrying kind, that he had the soul of a gypsy. I didn’t understand, but I shut my eyes tight as if I were waiting for a blow. And then you said something that sounded very strange to me. “You don’t always marry the one you truly love,” was exactly what you’d said, and after that there was silence. And I thought that what you’d said didn’t make any sense at all and that maybe you’re even lying because I loved Nati best of all the girls in the kibbutz, and I was sure that I would marry her as soon as I was through with my army service, perhaps even sooner, because when I thought of Nati, I felt a quiver of pleasure throughout my whole body. Nati’s legs were beautiful, and her hair had the color of your hair, and her eyes were huge and brown and almond shaped, and I had no doubt then that I was going to marry her. And later in that night, I heard you say, “I shouldn’t have given in to his romantic talk about living together.” “Rita,” he would say, “what difference does it make what people say?” “But it made a difference to me, and I shouldn’t have listened to him, especially after I learned about my condition.” “Rita, Rita,” Father cajoled, “it’s enough. I’m begging you, it’s enough.” But you only laughed a terrible laugh, or maybe you were crying. And I didn’t hear any more because I jammed my fingers into my ears and saw the walls of my room moving, closing in on me. At that moment, Mother, I hated you. And in my dream that night, I was crushing Big Micha’s skull with a big stone, and I smashed and smashed. But his skull wouldn’t break, and his mouth whispered something I didn’t understand, and I raised the stone to strike again, but instead of a stone, my hand was gripping a hand, and the hand was your hand. I woke up terrified and crying, and you came running from your room and got into my bed and gathered my body into your arms and didn’t seem to mind the stench of urine. I clung to you and sobbed, “Mommy, I had a bad dream.” And you said in a soft voice, “It’s all right, grown-ups have bad dreams too. Hush, my darling, I am here now. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. There are no bad dreams now, hush.” You cuddled me to your body and sang to me in your small, sad voice song after song, and you made my fear melt away. I fell asleep pressing my face into your breasts.
    And I hated to be called Little Micha. I was the tallest in my class, and every time I passed the hall mirror, I saw a broad-shouldered boy with tight red curls and a freckled face that I detested but which grown-ups thought cut. My one consolation was my eyes. Green. Like yours. Big Micha’s eyes, I was told, were brown like my father’s because it’s natural for brothers to have the same eye color. But most of all, I hated my hair. I hated it so much that one day, when I came back from school, I went straight to the kitchen cabinet where you kept a bottle of olive oil and emptied the entire contents on my head, and when I looked in the bathroom mirror, I clapped my hands and shouted, “Magic! Magic!” because my curly hair turned straight and brown like my father’s. But the olive oil dripped into my eyes, and I rubbed my eyelids with my fists, and the world looked like a messy jigsaw puzzle. And then I saw you standing at the door (I didn’t even hear you come home) and pretended to ignore you, but in my heart, I wondered why you hadn’t said anything or got angry. You only watched me silently, your face whiter than usual. Finally, almost blind and the olive oil burning in my eyes, I went to you for help.
    And you didn’t say a word;, you only took me by the hand back to the bathroom and washed my head and rinsed my eyes. And then I was standing between your knees while you rubbed my head with a towel until it felt as if the skin of my scalp were coming off together with my hateful hair. And you cupped my face between the palms of your hands and your eyes were two green stars, and you said, “Michal’e, this is the way God had made you. It’s important to like yourself as you are.” But I insisted angrily, “I want to look like my father.” And you rose from the chair, still holding my face between the palms of your hands, and said, “King David had red hair, and he was the most handsome man in the Bible.” And I felt my anger rising and pulled away from you, and while tears were choking my throat, I screamed at you that I didn’t care about King David’s hair and that your hair wasn’t red either. At that moment, you were standing with your back against the window, and the afternoon sun was behind you, and its yellow rays were making your hair gold. And I said, “Like sunlight, your hair is like sunlight. Only mine is red.” Digesting. And I saw the green of your eyes turning hard and gray and your hands left my cheeks, and you said, “You’re lucky to have red hair. Big Micha had red hair, and he was as beautiful as King David.” At that moment, I knew that he will always be between us. “Big Micha is dead!” I shouted in your face. “Dead people are not lucky. Their bodies get torn to pieces, and no one knows where they’re buried. That’s what happens to people with red hair.” And I saw how you almost stopped breathing and your face blanched, and for a moment, you stood there speechless. Then you whispered, “My god, what are you saying?” And I screamed, “Old Gara said that it brings bad luck to name a boy after his dead uncle. I heard him say so. I heard him say it many times, to many people. I heard him say it to my father!” And your face turned this awful shade of purple red, and you raised your hand. And for the first time in my life, I was sure you were going to hit me across the face, and I stuck my head between my shoulders, waiting for the blow, but you lowered your hand.
    “Gara,” you spat his name, “I should have known, the old fool. You shouldn’t listen to what people say.” “I don’t listen!” I screamed. “I hear. I hear them whisper. They whisper all the time!” And you grabbed me by the shoulders, and my eyes, open to their limits, were in your eyes, and my anger choked me. A sort of wired smile hovered on your face, and you said, “Big Micha was a wonderful man,” and you let go of my shoulders, and I released my breath and let go of your eyes. You said in your soft, sad voice, “My beautiful man,” and you touched my hair. But your gaze was far away, and your eyes were full of longing. I swallowed my tears, tensed my body, and thought in my heart, no, I’m not a baby. I didn’t cling or cry—as long as I could help it. And so I turned away from you and stuck my hands in my pockets and went to play with my friends, but on the way, I threw a few stones at Sam the Cat and scored a point this time. Sam ran away howling like mad, but I didn’t feel triumphant. I only walked aimlessly along the narrow path, hitting the shrubs and kicking the stones and praying not to be seen by anyone. And I thought to myself that you said many things I didn’t understand, and I wanted so much to be sure they were good things because your voice was soft and your face so pretty, but I loved your eyes above all. They were green and clear and, at times, kind of blue or gray. And sometimes I would catch you looking strangely, and your gaze would be focused on something I couldn’t see, something beyond my head, and you would be smiling this special, longing smile. Then I would run to you, put my arms around your waist, and press my face into your belly, longing to tell you not to be sad, Mama, because I love you and I’d take care of you. And you would caress my hair, and your touch would send waves and tingles throughout my entire body, and you would say you loved me more than anyone else in the whole world. Then why would I feel that you were talking to someone who wasn’t there? Mother, Mother. And you never called me Little Micha. You called me Michal’e, and I wondered if it was because you knew how mad it made me to be called Little Micha. It drove me insane when someone would ruffle my hair and pinch my cheek and say Big Micha all the way. The eyes are Rita’s, still, a spitting image. “Big Micha was a brave man. You’re brave too, right?”
    At moments like that, I would feel my anger consuming me like a fire. My breathing would stop, and I would stand frozen. My hands would curl into tight fists ready to punch and do something really nasty like I did that day when, after school, I went to the cowshed where Old Gara worked. I liked going to the cowshed in the winter, but you would grumble and pull a face and say, “Don’t come near me, Michal’e. You stink like a cow. Again you went to the cowshed? What are you looking for there? Why don’t you play with friends?” But I didn’t care if I stunk like a cow. It was friendly there and warm and smelly and dirty and steamy, and Old Gara would let me drink milk right from the cow’s udder. I never told you that because I knew you’d be annoyed and preach to me for days about viruses, bacteria, and health. Sometimes Old Gara would tell me jokes I didn’t understand, like the joke about the farmer and his cow and something about love and tits, and when I asked him, “What’s tits?” that knocked Old Gara out. He began to laugh like a madman and collapsed onto the milking bench. I was afraid he’d die laughing, and suddenly I found myself laughing and mooing like I had never laughed and mooed until my stomach hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. Oh, Mother, it felt wonderful. So what if I hadn’t understood the joke? And I was still laughing and mooing and jumping about the barn when suddenly I noticed Old Gara glaring at me as if I’d stolen something, so I stopped dancing and cocked my head and asked what. And Old Gara said, “They ought to tell you. It isn’t right. You look exactly like him. And why not. It’s absolutely normal for a boy to look like his . . .” The rest of the words hung over me like dirty laundry, and my heart began to pound, and the blood rushed to my face. I screamed, “I look like my father!” Then I bent down and stuck my hand in a manure pile and picked up a handful of cow shit and threw it in Gara’s face. I ran out of the cowshed and hid in the granary. And there, in the granary, surrounded by whispers, I had a huge asthma attack, and I spun for hours on a white cloud.
    In the evening, when Father asked how I could behave in such a disgusting manner, I glared into his eyes and remained silent. What could I say? Tell him about the rage? the despair? the whispers? the double-meaning glances that are thrown at me? “Why, Michal’e? Why?” you pleaded. I wanted to run to you and scream, “Love me like you love Big Micha,” but I couldn’t. I felt like a rag was stuffed into my throat, and I couldn’t even whisper. That evening, I received my first thrashing from my father, and you sat watching, not saying a word. But your eyes were gray—like the stones on Rocky Hill—and wounded, and your hands were tightly clenched in your lap. During the beating, I felt nothing.
    Later that same night, when you thought I was asleep, I heard my father say, “I think we should tell him. It’s better for the kid to know.” You shouted no. And Father asked, “When, Rita?” And you said, your voice full of dread, “Not yet, he’s too young. He won’t understand.” (Did you really think that I didn’t understand? You were very naive, Mama.) And Father said, “It’s time, Rita. He isn’t a baby anymore.” And you began to cry. “No, Eli. God no. He’ll never forgive me. He even hates his own name, and he’ll hate me.” (How is it possible that you hadn’t known, Mama, that I could never hate you? How could you disappear like that? Betray me? Let me grow up without you? Have a bar mitzvah without you? Go into the army to become a paratrooper without you?) And Father said, and his voice came from somewhere deep inside his belly, “Rita, Rita, what am I going to do with you?” And that night, when I was waiting for sleep to come and take me, I thought to myself that maybe it’s better after all to be an orphan, like this boy Copprfield you’d been reading to me about. So strong was the image of being without you stamped upon my mind that I jumped up and threw away the red blanket and shouted no and ran to the window, and for a moment, I stood there rooted to the floor and shut my eyes tight and listened with all my might. Yes, I shouted and clapped my hands and flung the window open and realized that the storm has blown itself out, and the silence was as complete as if God had turned the whole world off.
    I stayed for a while by the open window and sniffed the wetness and savored the stillness, and then I went to your bedroom, and I sat on your bed, and my eyes fell on the picture of the soldier with the red hair and found myself face-to-face with my own smile. And with my eyes locked on the picture, I squeezed my body under your blanket and hid my face in your pillow and hissed venomously at the man in the picture, “I’m glad you’re dead. I hate you. I hate you.” But the truth was I didn’t feel hate for anyone, and the silence was soothing, and I was so tired, and soon the buzz in my head became vague as if it came from a great distance or belonged to someone else, and I turned my face to the wall and squirmed deeper under the blanket where it was dark and warm and smelled like your body and hair, and my eyes closed with pleasure. Suddenly I heard a noise. Someone was coming. I bolted out of the bed and was running. “Mommy! Mommy!” I shouted and clapped my hands. I jerked the door wide open. But it wasn’t you who was standing there, smiling. “I promised, didn’t I?” said my little friend, Nati, and walked right past me into the living room. “Why are you wearing pajamas, Michal’e?” she asked. “Are you ill?” I didn’t answer; I only gazed at her as if she were a miracle. “I saw a million snails and earthworms by the dining hall,” Nati said. “Really?” I said and caught my breath, feeling the shreds of the storm in my head retreating, backing off, as if being chased away by this little bit of a girl. “Wonderful puddles,” Nati said, “everywhere.” Her brilliant huge almond-shaped eyes were fixed on my face, urging, teasing, and I knew she was up to something mischievous. I looked away from her down at the floor and said, “I was scared of the storm.” And she said, “Me too.” I looked at her and asked, “You really were afraid?” And she said, “Ah ha.” And I watched how the rain dripped from her hair into her eyelashes, into her shoulders, into her blouse, into her shoes, into every part of her body, and rainwater ran down her legs into the floor. She was sucking out the moisture from a bunch of hair between her lips, and my body relaxed, and I laughed. “You’re lying, you love storms, you told me so yourself,” but she ignored my words and said, “You know, Michal’e, I saw a turtle on the way.” And I asked, “A big turtle?” She chuckled, “So-so,” and suddenly we were laughing and jumping and shouting, and making a big wet mess on your spotless carpet. And I felt my pajama bottom slipping down my legs toward the floor, and I caught it just in time. And that’s how we were when you came home. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw you standing at the open door, watching. Your eyes were their deepest green, and you said in your soft, sad voice, “Michal’e, my beautiful boy,” and my heart leaped with joy.

    How did you leave me, Mother? How did you leave me? You pointed the rifle toward your heart and squeezed the trigger. Didn’t you know that you were everything and everything in me goes back to you? They say it was an accident, and they say you didn’t know the gun was loaded. What do they really know about you? And they’re still whispering . . . always whispering.
    (RITA)


    ...I brought you the flowers you loved so much, and I can hear you saying, “flowers should stay where they belong, in the ground.” And you have filled every empty spot in the house with potted plants and growing flowers and said, “If I truly, truly wanted to, I could speak to the roots and watch the flowers grow.” And when Father said, “Don’t put crazy ideas into the child’s head,” you ignored him. But you see, I remembered about the flowers, and I dug them out with the roots -so I can plant them here, around your grave, where the ground is fresh and damp, like after the rain, which you had loved so much.
    Remember when life seemed like a forever dream? And it was all right to leave the children at home alone, and people didn’t lock the doors because the kibbutz was a safe place, or so everyone thought, and every day we played in the fields, and the mornings were always blue and the birds screamed in the branches of the trees, and fragrance of wildflowers wafted in the air, and millions of snails and earthworms appeared after the rain. And a honey sun smiled at us, painting with gold our hair and eyes and face, sprinkling our noses with big brown spots.
    And then the wars started, and the boys wanted to be paratroopers, and in class we read the Bible every day because we were told it was our heritage and history. And Old Gara was still alive, and Sam the Cat was slinking around, and Father’s hair was still brown and his tanned face taut. And Nati was a mischievous tiny girl whom at age seven, I was crazy about.
    But not in order to tell you this, I have run away from the army camp and came here all messed up and sweating and without breath. I came to tell you finally about that night when a storm rampaged outside, and I was so scared, and you weren’t there. I still have nightmares about that night, and that crazy memorial day keeps haunting me like a demon from Dante’s, and I want to tell you how it was then when I was only a little boy. Maybe, only maybe, it will ease the pain.

    Wherever you are, Mother, listen well. This time listen really well.

    Once when I was about seven, I was lying on my stomach on the floor of my room, trying to concentrate on a jigsaw puzzle, waiting for Nati to come play with me; but outside the wind roared like a beast, and the windows shook, and I heard sounds like moans around the house, and I knew that Nati would never make it in that storm.
    But in spite of my anxiety, I smiled because one never knew what Nati was up to; she was mischievous and daring and loved adventures—never afraid of anything. Maybe a little of her mother because sometimes, in the midst of a game, she would suddenly say, “I have to go now, my mother is waiting,” and I would notice how her face became suddenly white and tense, and sometimes her lips trembled. You adored Nati;,you would hug her and kiss her and say, “Natushka, you are so pretty.” And then you would sigh and say, “I always wanted a girl,” and I was a little jealous.
    But you never loved anyone like you love Big Micha, even after he left you and joined the dead. I could never understand why you waste so much love on a dead man. And after you weren’t with us anymore, Father hardly ever spoke, and his hair turned white, and his face cracked, and his eyes—it’s difficult for me to describe his eyes because suddenly there was nothing in his eyes. So if eyes can be empty, Father’s eyes were empty after what you have done. Most of the time, he wandered like a spirit in the olive grove or sat near the window with the view of the lawn, the acacia tree, the daisies, and the daffodils; and when I spoke to him, he would look at me and say, confused, “What, what did you say, child?” At such moments, I could have killed you myself.
    Sometimes Nati would come and, for a few moments, relieve Father from the depression that set on him like a beast with her stories about the field, the sheep, and the jokes of her grandfather, Ezra, whom she loved even more than she had loved her grandmother, Marta, who died of cancer. After her grandmother died, Nati said that it is all right because her grandmother is now in a place full of light, and rain falls there all the time. Her grandmother was crazy about rain; she said the rain is the essence of life.
    The thought that Nati wouldn’t come because of the storm made me stand up abruptly and upset the puzzle, and I looked at the mess of little cardboard pieces and snorted in disgust and screwed up my eyes and bared my teeth and screamed, “I’m a tiger! I’m a man-eating beast!” I roared, running around the room with claws ready to gouge the enemy’s eyes. Then I was Sam the Cat, and I crouched on the floor and arched my back, feeling the hair bristle on my neck, and didn’t make a sound. My whole body tensed, ready for war. But the moment I sprang into the air ready to catch my prey, I began to wheeze and choke and collapsed on the floor. Again I was only a little boy with asthma—a questionable fun, especially when you are all alone in a house you suddenly distrust.
    I turned on the radio, hoping music would distract me—even the news, anything. But the radio roared and whistled as if a whole pack of hounds and hyenas were caught inside it, so I turned it off and ran to the window. I watched how the wind teased the clouds, and the whole world was charged with electricity as furious bolts of lightning struck a messy sky, followed by stupendous booms and distant rumbles. And I couldn’t shut the loosely hinged shutters that were banging against the wall of the house, and as the wind intensified, I was certain the house swayed. And when I looked at the clock, it was only a little past six, and you were still out because it was your turn to work in the dining hall. And I imagined you standing behind the stainless steel counter handing out steaming dishes, and I could smell the peas and the roast potatoes and the chicken, and I saw your face shining with sweat and your hands slippery with grease and your green eyes dull and gray and full of fatigue.
    I knew how much you loathed working in the dining hall because the first thing you did when you came home was to kick off your shoes and rub your toes and complain that your legs were swollen and your feet were sore, and that you smelled of garlic and rancid oil. “Disgusting,” I remember you say once, your face contorted with distaste. And Father looked at you and said with this special smile he kept only for you, “You’re so spoiled, Rita.” You stared at him, and I saw your eyes narrow. “Wise guy,” you said, your voice scratchy., And Father said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.” And when he brought you a cup of coffee, you pushed away his hand. “Be careful,” he said, and the smile was gone from his face. You said you were sorry, and I stuck my fingers deep into my ears from dread that you’d fight again. “Michal’e,” you said, “take your fingers out of your ears. It isn’t healthy.” And you asked, “Did you water the plants?” and I muttered aha, and you smiled at me, and I saw a net of tiny wrinkles around your eyes.
    But worst of all were the nights when you were too exhausted to sit on my bed and sing to me because, when you sang to me, your small soft voice made me feel so . . . But here I always reached the boundary of my thoughts because, at the age of seven, I didn’t have words to articulate my feelings when you sang to me.
    And Father was at a secretariat meeting where he spent most of his time arguing with Old Gara about winter crops and the critical (I didn’t know then what critical-meant) water problem, and whether they should keep or get rid of the olive grove, or how many new members could the kibbutz absorb this year.
    And that horrible night when I felt as if there was no one, nothing in the entire world except the storm, the thought of you and Father set off a memory—a memory as distinct as the sound of the thunder that shook the windows, a memory of an early summer evening when I was playing with my tanks and soldiers in a corner of the living room. At that particular evening, you and Father had returned from the dining hall a little later than usual, and Father settled at his usual place, at a small table under the window with the view of the lawn and the acacia tree and the daisies and the daffodils and opened the newspaper. You placed on the table a plate full of freshly baked cookies, which filled the room with aroma of vanilla pecans and raisins. “Enjoy, Eli,” you said. And then you came over to me and cupped my chin and lifted my face to yours and kissed me on my lips and gave me two cookies, and I swallowed them hardly chewing. “Take it easy, Michal’e,” you said, there are plenty,” and you laughed and gave me another kiss. Then you went and stood by the little gas stove, waiting for the water to boil for coffee.
    You looked so pretty, dressed in a white silk shirt and new blue jeans, your hair, loose, fell in waves and tangles all the way to your shoulders, and your eyes sparkled green and deep. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. I prayed in my heart that you’d look at me, but you poured for Father a cup of coffee and asked, “How was your day, Eli?” Without lifting his eyes from the paper, Father said, “Like any other day, arguments, endless arguments.” You laughed and said, “Is that so? It seems to me that all you ever do in those meetings is argue.” Father didn’t think it was funny. He said, “Yeah, so it seems,” and he began tapping with his teaspoon on the cookie plate, a habit that drove you nuts until you said, and your voice was cutting, “Stop it, Eli.” And he stopped. After that you and Father sat for a time and didn’t speak at all, only drank the bitter coffee, and you didn’t laugh anymore.
    I continued to play with my tanks and soldiers, imagining myself a general in the commando unit, my soldiers charging heroically, and my tanks perfectly lined up ready to attack, and corpses are strewn all over the battlefield, and the enemy almost defeated. “Fire! Fire!” I shouted and clapped my hands together, a habit keeping the palms of my hands always slightly red. Remember? And you said suddenly, and your voice was sharp as hail, “Michal’e, why do you always play war? Go play outside, it’s healthier.” And I was stunned by your sudden anger. I had been playing war for as long as I could remember myself. All the boys played war. And all I could think to say was because, and you looked at me suspiciously and said, “Because why? Don’t be a wise guy with me.” And your outburst confused me so; I had to restrain myself from crying. And then Father lifted his eyes from the paper and said, “Because boys play war, Rita.” You didn’t say anything and began to eat the cookies very fast and didn’t pay attention to the crumbs falling on the table and on the floor around your chair, and I was so surprised because I have never seen you eating in such a wild way. You were always so pedantic and neat—even compulsively so in my opinion.
    Suddenly Father’s voice thundered, “Listen, Rita!” You stopped eating the cookies and looked at him with startled eyes, and my eyelids began to twitch. And you said, “Don’t yell, Eli, I’m not deaf.” And my father said that important decisions should be made by the younger generation. Again you told him not to yell and asked him what was he talking about, and he said that he was talking about the last secretariat meeting and how the old people had been driving him insane with their archaic ideas. I saw how the line between your eyebrows deepened, and you asked why. And Father said, “Leave it up to them and we’d be back to using mules and plows. I tell you, Rita, older people should know when it’s time to quit and make room for younger people. You should hear the nostalgia in their voices when they talk about the good old days, when they still lived in tents and didn’t have electricity or running water. You would think they had a feast then instead of swamps, malaria, and typhoid fever.”
    And you were silent for a long time, gazing into space with lamenting eyes; then suddenly you said, in a voice that made me wish I could run to you and hug you, that their good old days sound so romantic, and that now our men die in wars and our children play war,. “War, always war. Is it better to die in a war, Eli?” And the pitch of your voice was unusually high and tense, and your eyes saturated with sadness. “I know, I know,” Father said, “wars are terrible, but it’s time for the kibbutz to change. The pioneering days are long over.” Without looking at him, you said, “You have a stone for a heart, Eli,” and you began talking about the days when you and Big Micha had spent many summer dawns in the olive grove, watching the sunlight play on the Judean hills. “Each time,” you said, “the hills looked different. Sometimes clear and close, other times covered with clouds or fog, but”—and your voice became hushed and silky,—“the real magic came at night when...” You didn’t finish your sentence because Father roared, “Enough! This thing has got to stop!” And he stood up abruptly, shoving the chair in big anger. And you continued to talk about your nights in the olive grove with Big Micha as if you were alone in the world; then Father’s elbow hit the cup, spilling the coffee, which spread in a big blotch on the tablecloth. “Damn it, Rita, shut up!” he shouted and, with shaking fingers, lit a cigarette. I heard him breathing hard. I thought in my heart that you weren’t fair, even cruel, and I didn’t want to think of you that way.
    And Father began wandering about the room; stopped in front of your chair and said, “Big Micha, that’s all you’re able to think about. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. This thing has got to stop for the child’s sake and mine.” And you sat stiff and still, your eyes following the coffee stain spreading on the tablecloth until at last you looked at him and said, “You shouldn’t have married me, Eli.” And I saw how Father’s smooth face suddenly turned ashen and terribly sad, and he said in a strange voice, “Rita, I love you.” You lifted to him a drained face and said that you were terribly sorry for your outburst and that this had been a terrible day, and you’re so tired. And then you picked up the newspaper and glanced at the headlines and said, “Bad news, it’s so terrible, all this bombing and killing and hate and—” But again you didn’t finish your words because Father snatched the paper out of your hands, and lifted you from the chair, and pulled you to him, and pressed your body tightly to his. “Rita, Rita,” he said, and his heavy face was buried in your hair. I didn’t like it. You were so tiny and seemed so breakable, and he was so big and rough. It seemed to me that one of his hands could cover your whole body, and I was terrified that he might break you. And you said, “I’m sorry, Eli, so sorry,” and by the shaking of your shoulders, I knew that you were weeping, weeping with your face pressed against his massive chest. And he caressed your hair and kept saying, “It’s all right, it’s all right,” but his voice sounded like when you walk on gravel.
    And while you and Father were carrying on, I sat in the corner of the room and trembled, and I felt the blood drumming in my temples and was dizzy and confused because I didn’t understand anything from what I heard. I was sure that you had completely forgotten my presence in the room, and as always, when you behaved this way, my throat choked and my chest tightened. I longed to see you laughing and happy and light and shimmering like the skin of your face and arms and belly and legs, but you were sad, always sad or angry.
    And when I no longer could bear the tension, I left my soldiers and tanks scattered on the floor and went outside and sat on the lawn and threw stones at Sam the Cat. And there
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