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  • DESERT-DANCE
    (LIAT)

    Since dawn Pauline has been trying to capture Liat's face on canvas-not an easy task. Fatigued and disheartened, she pours herself a glass of red wine and lights a cigarette. She collapses into her soft black leather chair, looks through the window at the darkening sky, watching the evening veils the heavy city it with its soft shadows and she trays to empty her head from pestering thoughts. Slowly she sips her wine and watches the shadows play checkers on the furniture. The wine makes her mellow, drowsy. She is sliding into sleep when suddenly the doorbell rings. Pauline doesn’t stir, she isn’t interested to see anyone now. The doorbell continues to ring. She continues to seats motionless for another moment then sighs and, a little heavily gets up. "So much for relaxation," she says to the shadows as she goes downstairs to opens the door.
    Liat stands at the door.
    "What took you so long?" Liat says, and walks past Pauline into the living room.
    Since Liat’s marriage to Philip, not quite a year earlier, Pauline doesn't see much of her. It isn't that she has a grudge against Philip, on the contrary. Philip is brilliant man. So brilliant that it tends to make people around him feel inadequate, even a little stupid. At times he is gentle and caressing in sort of a big cat way, and at times controlling, cynical, patronizing and contradictory. When Pauline is in the same room with him, she is aware of his presence more than of anyone else. The firs time she met him, he said that she should be a fashion model instead of wasting time being a painter. "Everything worth painting has already been painted," he said in his deep sardonic voice, looking at her amused, and gripping her hand much too long. Pauline was surprised when Liat married Philip. He's in his late forties, Liat, in her twenties. Liat doesn't talk about it so Pauline doesn't ask. Still, she thinks, it was a strange choice, and immediately she admonishes herself: what do I really know about her, who am I to judge others?
    Now she hears Liat say, "It's so dark in here, Pauline, it makes me nervous," and immediately she turns on all the lights in the room. "Give me a cigarette, "she says. "What's the matter with these matches? My eyes feel like pins have been stuck in them. This insomnia is driving me crazy."
    "Relax," Pauline says, and lights a fresh cigarette. She watches her friend pace the room. Pauline's head aches. "Please, Liat," she says, "sit down. Would you like a drink?"
    "No, thanks," says Liat.
    "Something is wrong? Did something happened with Philip?“ Pauline's voice is law and her eyes soft.
    Liat flops down on the sofa. "Everything is wrong," she says. “These endless nights, hour after hour lying on a bed of sand trying to speed up time, praying for daylight to come and erase the dread of the nightmares. In the dream I hear machine guns jarring, and I want to scream, that I am not to blame, but I only whisper that I didn’t mean it to end like that. Every one is dead and the dead don’t listen. Open dead eyes stare at me accusingly. And I hear this shrill supernatural laughter and I see endless open space of white empty desert, and dust fills my throat and mouth, and I am sinking deep into the dust. My hands are clutching my ears, but I can't escape the laughter and the blurred images that are chasing me. Suddenly I am being squeezed between two enormous wings - Philip arms. I struggle to get away, but I am not able to move. Philip breath is spewing scorching fumes on my neck, but, then, in the dream, I know that it isn't Philip at all, and I wake up remembering, and my stomach fills with stones.”
    Liat is silent.
    Pauline is anxious that her silence will be long. It is also clear to her that the dream stirred in Liat something deep and painful and urgent, something she must must get rid off.
    “Did you tell, Philip?” She asks.
    “When I told Philip, he said that I was now in America’ and there are no wars in America, everything is alright in America, there is nothing to worry about. I thought, what stupid thing to say, not at all worthy of Philip. And because he thinks that sex resolves most problems, he began to kiss and caress me, then laid his huge body on mine and moved above me growling like a lion, growling and groaning, his sweat dripping down onto my face, and I shut my eyes tight and hugged his back with my arms and made a tremendous effort not to cry. When he was finished, he held me for a while and then fell asleep, and I lay there facing him, feeling confused and discouraged and terribly sad, listening to his breathing and watching his bearded, lion-like face, thinking, who was I fooling? Not Philip. After a while I got up and carefully left the bed and went to the spare room, where I have been spending my nights alone more often then not, writing letters that I never send.”
    “Why don’t you send the letters?”
    “What difference does it make,” Liat says impatiently.
    Pauline nodes her head and smiles in a pleasant, placating, way.
    “When I stopped writing I realized it was morning,” Liat Continues as if to herself. “I heard the birds beginning to chirp and I relaxed a little. I even began to think that the dream is only a hallucination of my overwrought imagination, and that nothing bad happened.
    Philip gets furious when I spend the night in my work-room. ‘It's insulting,’ he says, ‘a wife should sleep with her husband.’ And I try to explain and argue and plead that it isn’t his fault, that I get restless because of the morbid nightmare, and I am afraid to disturb his sleep. But he insists that I don't love him and he's still angry. It doesn't make sense. Why can't he understand that I can't sleep? he keeps declaring how much he loves me, he says that I am his life. ‘My Jem.’ he calls me. How is it possible that he loves me so much and doesn’t even tries to understand me?”
    “We don't always understand the people we love most,” dares Pauline.
    “I know,” says Liat, “and I don't pretend to understand Philip. I don't know why I love him. Perhaps he's right. Perhaps I don't love him. All I know is that he touches my soul.”
    “I know what you mean,” says pauline.
    “Really? Then you know more then I do. I can't explain it. Maybe it means nothing, and maybe it means all and Philip is also a part of the nightmare.
    “What’s happening to you Liat,” asks Pauline.
    “I am homesick.“ So so home sick,“ says liat, her voice choking. sometimes I wish I had stayed in the army like my brother and forget this rotten real world.
    “How was it to serve in the army?” Asks Pauline trying to divert Liat’s mind away from her trouble with Philip.
    Liat run her fingers through her short’ black hair, her eyes are fixed somewhere above Pauline's head. ”You always want to know about my time in the army,” she says after a moment and gives Pauline a suspicious look.
    “I am interested,” says Pauline. I don’t know anything about women in the army.”
    “You don’t miss a thing,” Liat emits, a short, dry humorless laugh.
    “Nevertheless,” says Pauline. She feels restless, she knows Liat isn’t inclined to talk about he experience in the army. She lit a fresh cigarette.
    “I almost got killed once,” says Liat suddenly.
    “Seriously?”
    “ Did I ever tell you what happened in the desert?”
    “No,” says pauline.
    “Of course not. I never told you. I've never told anyone. Not even Philip. I really wanted to tell Philip because when I married him I thought we'll be able to talk about everything. How naive of me. But he'd seemed so wise and understanding, so big and comforting and deeply psychological. But soon he became jealous of everything that had to do with my past or with my country. Lately he's been watching me in this queer way - kind of cagey, a little evasive. And when I asked him why he looks at me like that, he said, "What way? You're imagining things again." And I begin to doubt myself; perhaps he's right, perhaps I am imagining things.
    “Maybe he is right?” Says Pauline.
    “Maybe.” Maybe I am going mad? He tells me to go do something ‘constructive’ instead of standing for hour staring out the window at nothing. Few days ago he came and stood with me, hugged my shoulders and asked, ‘What is it, Liat? What do you see out there?’ I said that I see the desert.
    ‘Desert?’ he asked. ‘What desert? Come back to me.’
    I said that I'm here."
    ‘No," he said, ‘you're not here, you're there.’
    When I didn't answer, he sighed and took his arm off my shoulders, then silently went to his study and banged the door behind him. Imagine, he blames me for being frigid. My God, if he only knew about the fire that consumes me.”
    Liat is silent.
    Pauline gets up and turns off all the light in the room. She leaves only one lamp lit on the table next to the couch, where Liat is sitting, then goes back and sit in her chair.
    "What time is it?" Liat asks suddenly.
    "Almost midnight," says Pauline. She scrutinize Liat’s face. She know that something difficult is happening in her friends’ life. Liat's black eyes are sunken and also too bright, a little frantic; she is pale and her hands tremble.
    " Almost midnight," Liat whispers. "Time to dream again. To dream about the excitement I had then, in that desert. This excitement which is like a drug in my blood. A perpetual desire to play with death. I spend hours fantasizing, reenacting, reliving every moment of that day. It is as though my body has a memory all its own and the year is still 1953 and the summer rules over sky and sea, growing out of control and spreading itself all over space into lunatic dimensions, and I'm eighteen years old, serving my term in the army, six months into a special training course for military instructors in a camp that used to be a British barracks, perched on a hill by the Mediterranean with the ruins of the gray cement buildings still scattered all over the beach like giant seashells. During the day the place was dazzling with the white beach below the hill and the low waves lazily foaming and softly purring. And above the sea, the sky, so blue, stretching out to infinity. And in these magical surroundings we trained all day and often at night, with the sea breeze always chasing after us. You see, all seems possible when you're eighteen, strong, full of ideals and enthusiasm. We trained hard, men and women together. We did almost everything together, but we slept in separate barracks which wasn't a big problem because about ten minutes after lights-out I would sneak onto the beach and meet my boy friend among the ruins of the old British buildings and swim naked in the rustling and rolling and welcoming sea. Once I was caught and had to stay after training in the barracks for a week; it meant no entertainment and no freedom to move about the camp, that was a little rough. My boyfriend at that time was Danny Oren, one of the officers. A vain and fatuous man, but absolutely gorgeous, as they say here in America. It was all so stimulating, so new, and the summer lasted forever and smelled of sea and sand and innocence, and we were all tanned and beautiful and looked as if we were drenched in honey. My face was painted with freckles as big as copper coins, and there was a lot of gold in everyone's hair and in the air, so much gold that even the moon seemed golden instead of silver. And we never slacked off on our training. The competition was fierce; everyone had to be the first, the bravest, the fastest and the strongest. Everyone of us wanted to be the best. I was the best sharp-shooter, (forgive me for bragging) I won a medal, and my name was mentioned in the newspapers as the only female competitor among hundreds of men. It was fantastic. My ego was inflated to the point of bursting. Everything seemed possible then and I was going to live forever.
    And then, suddenly, and without warning, the summer was over, and so was the training course--and the fun. Even the sky and the sea seemed duller. I was made a corporal, and said goodbye to Danny Oren, solemnly promising never to forget him and, yes, yes, of course I'd write, I'd write to everyone. The next day I boarded a bus heading to the desert city of Beersheba where I was to be stationed. My assignment was to train a group of young men before they reached the age of eighteen and went into the service. The idea was that they would be prepared when they joined the regular army, and would save time in basic training. And so I was stationed in Beersheba and assigned to work in a new village inhabited by Moroccan Jews and situated in the Arava desert about five miles north of the city. I was briefed about the job by my new commanding officer, a small, compact man in his early thirties, immaculately dressed, who even in the worst heat carried himself erect as small people sometimes do in order to give an impression of being bigger than they actually are. Two days after I arrived in Beersheba he drove me to the village to meet the group of boys I was to train.
    And in the jeep, on the way to the village, I remember him watching me with a look I couldn't quite fathom at the time. One minute his forehead would crease with worry and he would shake his head. Then he would chuckle to himself and look as if he had remembered a joke he wouldn't share with anybody. As we approached the village he looked less amused and more apprehensive, and I felt nervous too. The mystery was soon over. We arrived at the village which consisted only of a few wooden huts and some anemic-looking desert shrubbery. On one porch a few old men were playing backgammon and drinking ark from filthy glasses. It was siesta time, so apart from them the place seemed deserted. But as I jumped off the jeep, I saw a group of young men standing by a water tower, yelling and laughing and shoving one another, looking like mental patients who had escaped from an asylum. "Here they are," my commanding officer said. He approached the boys and told them to get in line, which they did reluctantly and grumbling. They were dirty and sloppy, their bodies exuding an overwhelming odor of sweat and garlic and something else which I couldn't identify just then (later I became familiar with the taste and smell of hashish). And when my commanding officer introduced me as Corporal Liat Erez, their new instructor, a sudden silence fell over the entire group, as if a machine-gun had suddenly stopped firing. They stood gaping at me, uncomprehending yet curious, with sort of a weird, black-browed amusement, as apes in a zoo gape at visitors. And I stood facing them not sure what to say or how to handle the situation because this wasn't the army, and I couldn't have expected to be obeyed by giving orders. I knew I had to gain their trust and make them like and respect me, but I felt utterly confused, as if I have lost myself in a blinding labyrinth and couldn't find my way out. They were big and dark and rough-looking in kind of a cocky, shabby way. I looked at my commanding officer for help, but he only shrugged as if to say, they're all yours. So I said, "Shalom," and hoped for the best. I asked the first boy on the left, a small, thin creature with crooked rust- colored teeth and tiny, deep set eyes that glittered like new thumbtacks, his name. ‘Didi’ he said, and they all burst into hilarious laughter, shoving and poking one another, while Didi danced around looking like a mad thing in the night. Then a tall, dark boy with black oily curls and wild eyes, smiled at me crookedly. ‘What is it? A kindergarten? What do I see? A little girl. How old are you, sweetie? Ten? Twelve?’ He said all this in a creamy voice, and through puckered lips he blew little kisses in my direction. The boys doubled over shrieking like lunatics. All I wanted was to stop their laughter and this unexpected mockery of my authority. I wanted to smash that smiling face into tiny pieces and grind the pieces into the dust with my foot, but I didn't move. I stood erect in front of them determined to win the moment and asked the dark boy, his name. He only continued to smile. I strove to find words to save my honor, but all the clever words I had rehearsed vanished from my brain, evaporated into the boom of the desert heat. It felt as if I were watching a play yet being inside it at the same time. I remember thinking, am I dreaming this? Finally, unable to think of anything, I shouted, ‘Shut up! Just shut up!’ To my surprise, the tall one with the oily curls, stopped smiling and slowly straightened himself up. He fixed his eyes on me with a long, penetrating look. I held my head high and glared back. I saw that the boys stopped laughing and stood motionless. Only Didi broke every now and then into what sounded like a shriek, but he stopped immediately after a look from the tall boy with the oily curls. ‘I am Emil,’ the boy said, and I saw him look at his hands; the fingernails were bitten and bloody, and the hands were filthy. As if embarrassed, he rubbed them on the sides of his torn jeans. ‘Emil,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, and again gave me his brilliant smile. "I'm appointing you to be in charge of this group. Now, get everyone in line. I want to talk to all of you.’ And Didi mimicked me, ‘Yah, Emil. Yah, Yah. She wants to talk to you.’ And I heard Emil say, ‘Shut up, Didi,’ but his voice was deep with affection. I didn't feel half as sure as I hoped I sounded. I felt dirty and crumpled. My hair was sticky and damp and stuck out from under my cap pricking my neck. And I was dripping with perspiration. All I wanted was to go home and take a bath. These boys were far from anything I had ever known, so poor and primitive, almost illiterate, utterly undisciplined. To me, born and raised in Kibbutz Regev, they existed only in stories or in movies. Who was I to walk into their lives? I had to remind myself constantly that I was a soldier in the Israeli army and these boys were my responsibility.
    Once Emil got the group in line, they stood ill-at-ease, some kicking at little stones on the ground, others scratching their heads, and some only standing awkwardly with their hands in their pockets looking at me blankly. No one laughed, not even Didi, and I wasn't sure I liked it. I heard the wind whine and I shivered.
    Then Emil said, ‘Commander Liat. We are ready.’ And as he stood at attention, saluting me with his pelvis and belly thrust out, his shoulders hunched, his chest caved in; he looked so comical, it was my turn to laugh. Yet, at that moment, looking at him, I was aware of a floating sensation, a fascination. At the same time I noticed that all of the buttons on his shirt, except one, were missing, so I didn't laugh. I stood staring at him for a long time, probably holding my breath, for I remember feeling dizzy. He just stood there and continued to smile at me brilliantly - perhaps a little mockingly, I wasn't sure, I wasn't sure of anything, the heat was so intense I felt as if I were melting.
    I knew that Emil was making fun of me when he saluted me in such a theatrical way. Yet from that time on he called me Commander Liat. Later he said that it made him feel good to call me Commander, and that it gave me importance. ‘Don't be offended,’ he said, ‘if we call you Commander you look much bigger and more important - even if you are only a girl.’
    Soon the boys came to the training sessions dressed in clean clothes, their hands and faces scrubbed. They quickly learned to drill and to use different weapons, but their favorite time was the night training, orientation by the stars. We had such a good time, lots of laughs and good feelings. Everything was going great. And after a while, I even got used to Didi and came to like him. Didi was Emil's shadow. Where Emil went, Didi went. What Emil said, Didi repeated. Didi had been orphaned when he was ten years old. He didn't have brothers or sisters. He didn't have anyone. And Emil had convinced his mother to let Didi come live with their family. "It didn't really matter," Emil had said, "because there are thirteen of us and one more wouldn't make any difference." It didn't take much to convince his mother. And so, Didi moved in with Emil's family and became one of the clan.
    Sometimes I would visit Emil's mother. I would sit in the shade of her neat little hut drinking spicy tea brewed especially for me, and we would talk. When I asked her about Didi, she said that after a while she didn't even remember that Didi wasn't her own child. But sometimes, when Didi would behave completely nuts, as she put it, she would forget herself and say, "I don't believe I gave birth to such an ugly thing," and then she would remember and squeeze Didi into her gigantic bosom, and with tears in her eyes, she would say that she loved him as much as she loved her own children. But it wasn't Didi she was concerned about. It was Emil. ‘He's very wild,’ she would say. ‘Wild like a big, black animal. He gets in much troubles. Much troubles. You talk to him. He thinks you okay’" She would say this in a kind of a stage whisper, and looking at me in a conspiratorial way she would shake her head and click her tongue and spit against the evil eye.
    Emil was everyone's favorite. The people in the village idolized him, perhaps also feared him a little, feared the toughness of his manners, his raw, and at times violent temper. When people didn't know him, they could never decide how to take him, and yet, they loved him--and so did I.
    But things weren't as smooth as all that, and all wasn't as wonderful as I, in my enthusiasm and naivete, was determined to believe then. Boys from different villages around Beersheba formed gangs and fought one another, and sometimes the fights were so fierce that boys were severely injured. Instructors were strictly forbidden to go alone at night to the villages and we didn't carry weapons with us like other soldiers. We went to the villages in pairs; an army truck would take us from Beersheba to the village and return a few hours later to pick us up. But at almost nineteen, I had the illusion that I was immortal. Doesn't everyone at this age?
    About two months later, Zaki, my partner, was ill, and without him my commanding officer flatly refused to let me go alone to the village.
    ‘You know the rules’, he said. ‘It's out of the question. It's against regulations.’
    ‘Then come with me’, I said.
    You're forgetting yourself, Corporal. Besides there is an officers' meeting this evening which makes it impossible for me to go with you. And,’ he said, ‘I have no one else to spare. All the instructors are busy. Sorry.’ He turned to go.
    But I refused to take no for an answer.
    ‘Nothing bad can happen to me," I argued. ‘I am familiar with the desert, and I love the desert. I know it like the palm of my hand - so what's the big deal?’
    I nagged and nagged until finally he gave in with a loud sigh.
    ‘If anyone can handle the desert, it's you, Corporal Liat Erez. Now go, I see the truck is ready to leave. Go.’
    Even now I see him standing there a neat, small man, looking at me with his eyebrows raised, his mouth a little open as if he were going to say more, but the truck, with me on it, took off, obscuring him in a vortex of gray dust.

    During that evening training session the boys were strangely silent, but I noticed some peculiar hand movements which looked like secret signals. Quick flashes of eyes darted all around me. Suddenly the night seemed to be filled with whispers. I felt it closing in on me. It was spooky. My nerves were on edge. I asked Emil what was going on, but he merely looked at me and shrugged. Knowing Emil, I left it at that. We finished training early, and I decided to take a short walk by myself. I remember feeling agitated, my nerves still on edge; I wanted to be alone. I would meet the truck on its way to the village. But when I told this to Emil he protested.
    ‘You're not going alone," he said, suddenly looking grim, almost angry. ‘Wait until they come to get you.’
    I laughed and told him not to give me orders and not to worry. ‘I can take care of myself,’ I said, ‘and besides, I'm only going a little way to meet the truck.’
    He gazed at me in a sort of sulky silence. I notice a muscle twitching in his cheek.
    ‘You're worried about something,’ I said.
    ‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘I just don't think it's a good idea.’
    I wondered and was about to change my mind to please him.
    I didn't.
    ‘You're always so nervous,’ I said.’
    I left him standing there scratching his head, looking sort of miserable.

    The night was perfect, the desert waiting, everything present in place, silent, beckoning to me, pulling me like a magnet toward its secrets; the desert haunted my mind. And although the moon was only a half moon it was very bright outside, like a white night, almost as bright as day but much softer. You know, one of those nights when The Milky Way flows all around you and you feel as if you were walking, almost floating inside it, touching the stars with the tips of your fingers.
    And yet, it would be a lie to say that I wasn't affected by my last exchange with Emil, and for a time his eyes walked in front of me like two black guards.
    Suddenly the silence cracked. I heard voices and turned. I saw four young men walking a little distance behind me. At first I wasn't particularly alarmed because most people from around there knew me. Then I became aware of a mild sense of panic in my chest and began to walk faster. And when the boys caught up with me one of them grabbed my arm while another put his hand on the nape of my neck, ‘Little girl,’ he purred. My heart began to beat with great force and I broke out in a sweat. I said to myself, ‘Stay cool, Liat, stay cool,’ and I said to them, ‘Hey, guys, what's going on? Who are your instructors? What village are you from?’ But they only laughed and began to push and pull me between them, while the other two stood watching with their grinning mouths splitting their faces like two hyenas. Then one of them said, ‘She's this big shot, Liat. She works with Emil's group. Let's show Emil who's king in this desert.’ And I said with as much authority and coolness as I could summon at that moment, ‘Cut it out if you know what's good for you.’ But my words, stupid and useless, sounded hollow. The boys only continued to laugh, pinching my cheeks, pulling my hair, while they made strange clicking noises in their throats. Then one of them got hold of my hair from behind and yanked with such force I thought my neck would snap. He glued a garlic-smelling kiss on my lips and that made me see red and my adrenaline shot up. I began to fight and I knew how because it was part of my training. I was fast; that's the advantage of being small and light. But soon I was on the ground fighting against what seemed to me thousands of hands and legs and lips. And the night didn't seem so bright anymore with my arms pinned to my side and a grinning menacing face looming above me. I sunk my teeth into hard flesh and a sharp sweetish taste filled my mouth. I spat. A boy slapped my face. Someone laughed while someone else was fumbling with my belt buckle. I kicked hard. Someone screamed. A hand was clamped over my mouth and the world became dark and purple with a million stars falling all around me. Then someone said, ‘I hear something. Let's get out of here. Hurry.’
    And the Milky Way became clear once more.
    I stood up trembling with rage, not even bothering to wipe the dirt and blood from my face. I thought of running after them. And then what? What will I do to them? I stood there and screamed," Bastards! You rotten bastards! Just wait."
    Suddenly I heard a high whistle and Emil's voice shouting, ‘They went the other way! Quick. Get them! And Didi's voice echoed, ‘get them, get them.
    ‘Emil!" I called. ‘Wait!
    He halted abruptly, his body stiffening, then turned and saw me.
    ‘Get them!’ he yelled to the other boys.
    ‘No!’ I yelled.
    ‘Go!’ he yelled.
    The boys ran. Only Didi waited.
    Emil ran toward me. I ran after the boys, shouting, ‘Come back. Don't start anything. You'll get us in trouble. Come back! Come back! It's an order!’
    But they were oblivious to my existence.
    Emil caught up with me. He gripped my arm.
    ‘Don't interfere,’ he said through clenched teeth. ‘You shouldn't be here. What happened to your face? And your clothes? You're a mess. What the hell... Where's the the truck?’
    I saw his face flush and his eyes became almost insane with anger.
    ‘Obviously, the truck is late,’ I said, trying to sound nonchalant, ‘and besides, you're hurting my arm, let...’ but he was looking at me wildly from under dusty curls with eyes narrowed like two black cracks and he was panting like a dog on a hot day and I saw that his face became very pale and I felt again that sweet pain between my throat and stomach that grabbed me every time I looked at him and for a second our bodies came in a close contact and his breath hit me in the face and his mouth came down on mine and it was as if for a split second we were completely alone and all things seemed to pause and stand still until he let go of my lips. We stepped back from one another and he cleared his throat and said, ‘Stay here. It's not your fight’ And his voice sounded hollow and dark.
    ‘Emil!’ Someone called.
    ‘Coming!’ And he ran.
    I ran after him shouting, ‘Emil, don't,’ and I heard my voice as a whisper, and saw the boys holding razors in their hands and they hissed and whistled and circled one another like gladiators and they kept tripping over each other and falling in a tangle then jumping up and circling and whistling and hissing again and I could hardly tell who was who and tried not to lose sight of Emil - he alone mattered, I thought only of him. Emil was the tallest among the whole mad bunch and Didi was jumping at his side like a mad thing in the night, and it was awful, truly awful and yet at the same time terribly exciting. I too wanted to join the fight and abandon myself to some primordial instinct, some mysterious primitive calling. I too wanted to bite and hit and kick and hiss, even cut, and feel and smell the sweat of those crazed bodies. I kept moving in and out of those confusing yet mesmerizing feelings like in a dream when nothing is real yet all is so vivid. It was incredible. I saw Emil and he was dark and predatory and his eyes were narrowed and cold and reflected the light of the stars and his lips were curled slightly away from his teeth in a savage smile, and Didi was dancing around him, shrieking and lisping and laughing. Then I saw Emil pull out a knife, and I leaped into the air, and grabbed his raised hand, and jerked at it with all my strength, and the knife fell to the ground. I heard Emil shout, ‘Liat, stay back!’ And Didi echoed, ‘Stay back, stay back.’ I screamed, ‘Emil, look out!’ And threw myself on the ground to get at the knife, when suddenly I felt a sharp pain, and I knew that someone had slashed my leg.
    The next thing I saw was my commanding officer running toward me.
    I grinned at him stupidly and said, ‘I'm all right.’
    He didn't say a word, but his hands shook as he bandaged my leg.
    ‘I am sorry," I said.
    ‘Shut up, Liat,’ he said. ‘Just shut up.’
    And I did.
    I saw that the boys were attended to by the four other soldiers from other villages who came with my commanding officer, and I saw Emil standing a few feet away, staring at the sky, and I watched the excitement still burning in his eyes and the savage smile still splitting his mouth. And near Emil, gazing at him, stood Didi, and he was holding a hand to his right ear, and blood was oozing through his fingers. And then I heard my commanding officer say that we were all under arrest, and the devil took hold of me and I began to laugh, and my laugh sounded terrible. My commanding officer slapped my face twice and said, ‘Take hold of yourself, Corporal.’ And with tears welling in my eyes I slowly returned to my senses, to the hellish heat and to reality. I swallowed and didn't cry.
    In the truck on the way to Beersheba, Emil sat between Didi and me. Didi's ear was taped and he was moaning softly, his eyes never leaving Emil's face, and Emil's right arm around his shoulder. The boys sat among the four soldiers, expressionless. I was grateful that my commanding officer was driving because I couldn't have faced him at that moment. My eyes followed the withered thistles on each side of the dusty road and my spirit felt withered too. Once my excitement was gone, I felt ashamed and embarrassed and utterly depleted.
    At first Emil wouldn't look at me and when he finally did I saw that the extraordinary wildness had left his face and his eyes had a gloomy, cold expression. He said, ‘You enjoyed the fight.’ It was a statement, not a question. I nodded my head and turned my face away from him so he wouldn't see my tears. After a while his mouth relaxed into a slow smile and he looked at me with his familiar look of teasing affection. He said that when he had realized that I wasn't going to wait for the truck he didn't know what to do because they had gotten into a quarrel with another gang and were going to meet that night to "settle things" as he put it.
    ‘How could you do this to me?’ I said. ‘why didn't you tell me?’ He laughed a short, harsh laugh and said, ‘You must be joking. It was very stupid of you to walk by yourself. You got us all in trouble, and now they'll send you away to do something safe, and they won't even let you say goodbye to us.’
    ‘You shouldn't have pulled that knife,’ I said. He looked at me and his eyes narrowed and he gave a short snort. ‘Don't be so dumb,’ he said. ‘If I hadn't pulled out the knife, you could have kissed this whole rotten world goodbye forever."
    And that shut me up.
    For a while we sat there swaying to the bouncing of the truck, avoiding each other's eyes. He stared out at the moonlit desert and I could see that under his anger was a layer of coldness and an unforgiving distance he had placed between us.
    ‘You're terribly naive about life, Commander Liat,’ he said, it's time you grew up, because the world isn't, as you imagine it to be -wonderful and," he said wistfully, ‘it'll do you good to learn the facts of real life.’ He kept glancing at the blood-stained bandage on my leg and I saw him clench his left hand. In his eyes I saw something of fear, or maybe of shame, but probably I only imagined it.
    ‘It's nothing, I said. ‘It doesn't hurt at all.’
    ‘Yah, sure,’ he said. I saw he didn't believe me, and I had no words to comfort him. I squeezed his hand, and noticed his face softens,’ and as he looked at me I felt as if he were looking directly into the most secret place in me. For only a second I felt his hand close around mine, then he pulled his hand away and lowered his eyes, as if the entrance to his soul had closed forever. A sense of a terrible loss came over me, I wanted to weep from shame and frustration - and love. At that moment it seemed that everything important in my life was retreating. It felt like in a dream, when the heart strains and you want to scream but you can't utter a sound. I didn't weep because I was Commander Liat, a soldier in the I.D.F, but at that moment this thought made me so sick that I hung over the side of the truck and vomited, terrified that the boys would laugh at me. No one even smiled.
    When we reached Beersheba, we were taken to the army hospital where they had cleaned out the cuts on my face and stitched and bandaged my leg and let me go. But I was confined to my room until a decision was reached about me. For three days I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling and thought of Emil. Sometimes I would fall into semi-sleep and my sleep would be infested with dreams of pits and crawling things and I would wake up sweating and breathless, my heart palpitating. And at night, unable to sleep, I'd stand by the open window and gaze at the desert's stars and sniff the desert odors of faraway bonfires and hot dust and think of special moments I had shared with Emil like the night we smoked the hashish: that night when Zaki took the boys for a special night training session. Emil had complained of a migraine headache and so he and I stayed behind. We sat very close, without touching, without words, and watched as the moonlight spread a death mask over the distant hills. Emil was smoking. After a while he said, ‘here, take a puff.
    ‘I don't smoke,’ I said, ‘and you shouldn't either. I thought you have a headache.’ But he merely laughed and said, ‘try, it won’t kill you.‘ His voice was hoarse and his mouth seemed very dry. I took the peculiar shaped cigarette, inhaled and almost choked, but Emil didn't laugh.
    ‘I want you,’ he said’ but he didn't move. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I felt strange, not unpleasant, as if I am detached from myself and very quiet inside.
    I talked with an effort because my tongue felt somewhat paralyzed.
    ‘I don't think it's a good idea, it will ruin everything.’ He didn’t answer, only reached out and took my hands and held them in his, but he didn't make love to me. I sat very still. But he only continued to hold my hands and gaze at me with his eyes half-closed, a kind of vacant smile on his face. And that was all we did: looking at each other smiling, dreaming and holding hands. Probably looking utterly ridiculous.

    Near Tel-Aviv, a few months later, I was sitting at my open window, feeling the sea breeze caress my face, breathing the perfume of apple blossoms, watching the night sky above my head and trying to smile with trembling lips at the cold light of blurred stars that looked as if they were mocking the entire world and especially me. suddenly the telephone rang. I got up annoyed and a little frightened, who could it be at such an ungodly hour? I picked up the phone expecting anything but the voice of my commander.
    ‘Liat?’ he said.
    ‘Gideon?" I said.
    ‘I have bad news."
    I sat down on the bed.
    ‘Liat, are you there?’
    ‘Where are you?’
    ‘In Beersheba."
    ‘Tell me."
    He was silent.
    "Gideon, talk to me."
    ‘Emil was rejected by the army. The medical examiner said that he showed a mental disorder. At eight o'clock this morning he shot himself in the head with his brother's gun. He died instantly...’
    ‘Liat?’
    ‘yes.’
    ‘The funeral is tomorrow at four in the afternoon. Shall I pick you up?’
    ‘Gideon.’
    ‘yes.’
    ‘Thanks. but...
    I hung up the phone and went back to the window and looked up at the sky. I thought about Emil and how for only one moment I felt his heart drumming on my breasts, how his mouth tasted, how it was to smoke hashish. Then I went into the room and sat on the floor and stared at the darkness. My eyes were dry but I couldn't breathe. I didn't go to the funeral. After three days Gideon came, and when he took me in his arms I began to scream, and I screamed and screamed and Gideon just held me without saying a word. What was there to say? Emil's death was empty of reason as can be, and I had never even told him how much I wanted him, One wouldn't believe things like that are possible, but it was possible then, and for Emil perhaps it was the only way. I don't know. I'll never know."
    For a long time Liat and Pauline sit in silence. Liat's eyes are closed, her breathing shallow. Her entire stormy life is etched on her face. Pauline knows that Liat doesn't expect her to say anything.
    The painting is now complete in her mind. She knows.
    Suddenly both women jump. Liat's closed eyes spring open, her hand flies to her heart. "My God!"! she exclaims, "your doorbell! Who can it be at this hour?"
    "I have no idea," says Pauline.
    The doorbell rings again. Pauline gets up, goes to the door and looks through the peephole. She feels her pulse quicken. She opens the door.
    "Hello, Pauline," says Philip.
    "Philip!" Liat cries, "how did you know I was here?" And to Pauline's surprise she runs to him, hugs his waist and presses her cheek into his chest. And he, with his huge palm, strokes her short, black hair like one strokes a little child. They stand like that for a time. Philip looks over Liat's head straight at Pauline and shakes his head, his forehead wrinkled in anxiety. Liat turns her head and smiles. "Goodbye, Pauline," she says. Embarrassed she adds, “thanks.”
    That night Pauline finishes the painting. abashed

    The exhibition was a great success. Everyone wanted to know who the girl in the painting is? And the dark boy? And the half-lion half-man who crouches in the distance, watching them through half closed eyes?
    "Just people I know," says Pauline.
    She walks around the gallery, talks to the guests and smiles and smiles and smiles, she feels as if her her face is cracking.
    Someone taps her on the shoulder. Startled, she whirls around.
    "Big success," says Philip.
    "Thank you." Pauline's heart beats with unusual force. Her hands perspire.
    "How much?" Philip asks. "How much do you want for the painting."
    “The painting is not for sale,“ Pauline whispers.
    "The desert," Philip says. "Liat went back to the desert. To its odors of bonfires and burnt thorns, its white nights and hot, gray dust. To its silence, as she said it. I begged her to let me come with her. She refused. ‘I can’t run away any longer, she said. ‘The images are haunting me. I had no idea what she meant. And when I insisted she cried, 'No Philip, don't you understand? I have to do this alone!' I asked when she'll be back. She shook her head. 'I'm so sorry, Philip, she said. So sorry.' And when I said, I'm your husband. What about me? She said, 'What about you, Philip? You're a strong man. You'll survive.' "
    Philip looks at the floor. Pauline knows he's embarrassed, he said too much. She watches as he rubs his temples. She wants to put her arms around his neck, she wants to caress his graying hair. Instead she says, "Be patient. Liat will be back."
    He looks at her for a long moment, then reaches out a hand and very lightly touches her cheek. "Your eyes are red," he says, "you need sleep." She is unable to read his face. She wants to say something, something consoling, something soothing. Something... She watches him walk away. Pauline closes her eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath, then fixing the smile on her face she turns back to her guests.
    The next day she sends the painting to Philip.
    A few days later Pauline receives a short note note:
    "I told you that everything worth painting had already been painted. It seems I was wrong. I Will pick you up at eight. Thanks. Philip."
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