Authors: Edeet Ravel
Also by Edeet Ravel
Ten Thousand Lovers
Wall of Light
For my friend Nada
And take upon ’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies
LEVEN YEARS AGO
my husband caught fire while on reserve duty. He was not a combat soldier; his job was folding laundry. There are women who wonder, when their husbands leave for the army, whether the good-bye kiss at the door is the last one, whether they’ll ever see their husbands again. I was luckier: what could possibly happen to someone who served his country by sorting shirts and towels? I didn’t have to live in limbo between one check-in phone call and the next. Or so I thought. But on the last day of reserve duty my husband caught fire, and before I had a chance to see him, he vanished.
WOKE UP AND DIDN’T KNOW WHERE I WAS.
This happens to me frequently: I emerge in stages from a deep sleep and I can’t remember what time of day it is, or what life I’m living. Am I in my parents’ seven-room flat in the desert, waking to a breakfast of rolls and butter and nine percent cheese, or living with neighbors who are tiptoeing around my sofa bed so as not to disturb me, or in my army cot, facing a day of cleaning toilets because I’m in trouble with my sergeant again? Or have I woken in some altogether unknown place, where people wear black capes, say, and hop from place to place instead of walking?
This process of relocating myself never lasts more than a few seconds. I knew where I was: the bedroom of our U-shaped flat near the sea. It was Saturday morning, the beginning of September, and I had a demonstration to photograph in Mejwan. Odelia was coming at eight-thirty to collect me.
I sat up in bed. When my husband lived with me I’d wear one of
his T-shirts to sleep, but after he vanished I started sleeping naked. I wanted to feel closer to him, wherever he was; if he came during the night I would be prepared. It was just a fantasy, of course. I knew Daniel would not appear suddenly at the stroke of midnight, the way some of the characters in my novels liked to do.
I slipped on my bathrobe and raised the blackout shutters. Bright sunlight flooded the room and settled on the dusty heart-shaped leaves of my climbing plants. “Leaves deserve to be noticed,” Daniel had said, cryptically at first, when he painted one of the bedroom walls black. He hung a mirror in the center, and arranged the plants so they framed the mirror and spread outward until they covered the entire wall, heart-shaped green against night-black, our own reflection peeping at us from the midst of a leafy jungle.
I put on the kettle and while I waited for the water to boil I wrote down a dream I’d had in a notebook I kept for that purpose. I’d decorated the notebook with a color printout of Raphael’s
Madonna with the Fish
, which seemed somehow appropriate. I began recording my dreams when I was fourteen and my mother died in a traffic accident. For several weeks she came to life each night as I slept, and in the morning I would try to recapture our nocturnal encounters so I could relive the experience, and also because I wanted to understand the dreams, which were often perplexing. In one she was riding on a seashell and she called out, “Don’t forget Lord Kitchener!” In another she told me to wash my hair in a kneeling position, never while standing.
This morning, just before waking, I dreamed that I was at the Munjed checkpoint, a checkpoint I’d photographed a few times. I was climbing the watchtower to get a better angle, and the border guards were telling me to watch out for electric wires. I wondered whether they were afraid they’d be blamed if I was electrocuted, or whether they really were worried
about me. I tried to find a good angle for my photograph, but realized it was hopeless because there were seven thousand Palestinians below, lined up and waiting for their IDs, which had been confiscated. I called down to the guards, “How come you’ve detained so many today?” and they answered, “It’s the drugs we’ve taken, they multiply everything seven thousand times.” I tried to figure out how their hallucinations could affect my own vision, and the effort to introduce waking-life logic into the dream woke me.
I left the army to marry my husband. He was the lead singer of the band at my cousin’s wedding and I could not take my eyes off him: his dark brown hair and David Bowie eyes, that smile of his as he sang. It was an extravagant wedding at one of the most ritzy halls in the country—my aunt and uncle were wealthy, and their daughter was spoiled. The small, laid-back band was noticeably out of place in this gilded setting: three musicians perched on a little wooden platform, all wearing jeans, short-sleeved white shirts, and black vests. One of the musicians was a multitalented albino with shoulder-length white hair; he played drums, sax, and keyboard. The other was chubby, with raisin eyes and sweet dimples, and the confidence to shake and bounce about as he strummed his guitar.
There was dancing at the wedding, of course, but the band didn’t follow the standard wedding repertoire. No zesty religious chants, no inspirational nationalist classics, none of the traditional tunes that were considered a must at any celebration. Instead, Daniel sang contemporary songs about waking up in the middle of the night with a feeling of dread, or going to airports to watch planes taking off. He sang my favorite song at the time, “Seer, Go Flee.” When he came to those words I
knew I had to have him.
Seer, go flee. For there is no mercy in this city, and no place to hide. Seer, go flee.
I waited until the band began to fold up and then shyly approached him. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the other two musicians, but I knew that if I didn’t speak up they’d all be gone in a matter of minutes, leaving me alone in the empty auditorium.
Daniel looked at me. He seemed amused for some reason, maybe because of the contrast between my uniform and the confused, unsoldierly way I was standing next to the platform. “Can I help you with something?” he asked.
“I was wondering …”
But now all three performers were looking at me.
“It’s private,” I said.
“Oh, private.” Daniel smiled. He stepped down from the platform and walked away from the others. “Well?” he said.
“Well … I’m due back at the base, but … if you take me home I’ll go AWOL. If you’re free, that is,” I added. It had just occurred to me, with a mortifying shock, that he probably had a girlfriend waiting for him at home. I pictured their flat: candles, incense, Klimt posters. There, amidst the poetry books and leftover hashish crumbs, on a velvet blanket spread over a mattress on the floor, they would have a long and glorious night together.
He burst into laughter.
“I don’t think I’ve ever received such a compliment in my life,” he said. “AWOL …no, I can’t be responsible. You’ll be in deep water.”
“You don’t have plans?”
“I was planning to go home and sleep. And you should get back to your base, or you’ll have hell to pay.”
“Oh, who cares, they hate me anyhow. I can’t clean any more toilets, I’ve done them all twenty times this week.”
“What’s your name?”
“Dana. The bride is my cousin. I guess she’s not a bride anymore. I guess she’s a wife now.”
“Dana. Well, Dana, what are we going to do? Encourage you to be derelict, or urge you to do your duty?”
“You don’t have other plans?” I asked again. After my despairing vision of the flat and the girlfriend (black hair, sensuous mouth, aloof but generous), his availability seemed too good to be true.
“Not at the moment.”
“Don’t pay any attention to my uniform. I only wore it because I don’t have a dress.”
“I guess I’m too weak to resist.”
“I’ll wait until you finish packing up.”
“That’s okay, Gabriel and Alex will look after everything. Let’s go, my car’s just down the block.” He waved to his two friends.
I finished recording my dream and drank two cups of
café et lait
, a coffee drink Daniel had invented and named. The kitchen had a name too, the Dining Car, because of its narrow oblong shape and its position at the end of the U, between the living room on one side and the bedroom and bathroom on the other. The flat had originally been three separate units on the ground floor of the building. There wasn’t enough space in this middle section for a table and chairs; instead, Daniel had built a counter along the wall, bought two wooden stools, and hired an artist friend from work to paint a mural on the wall above the counter. The mural showed two train windows, through which appeared a comical landscape of cows and barns. I loved the painting, and I loved the kitchen. But in fact we rarely ate at the counter.
Daniel preferred to eat Japanese-style, kneeling at the low table in the living room.
I finished my
café et lait
and had a shower. Showering at our place was a particularly pleasant experience because the bathroom Daniel had built for us was very luxurious. We sacrificed space in the bedroom in order to have a large bathroom, but Daniel said he was tired of the closet model he’d grown up with, and he brought all his creativity to bear on this project. The room was tranquil and luminous, like the crystal floor the Queen of Sheba mistook for a pool in King Solomon’s palace, but it was also warm, with a white clawfoot tub, a cushioned window seat, and multicolored ceramic floor tiles. Some of the tiles had come loose and I kept them in a pile by the sink. Whenever my neighbor Benny came to visit he’d glance at the tower of tiles, stacked snugly at the corner of the counter, next to the toothpaste. Among the many things Benny found exasperating about me was my refusal to let him glue the tiles back. “I want Daniel to have something to fix when he gets back,” I explained. “So he’ll feel at home.”
In the novels my father sends me from Belgium, September is an autumn month: the days grow cooler, leaves turn, people become pensive. We like to pretend that here, too, September brings a gentle foreshadowing of winter, and that today and yesterday were exceptions, but we know we’re lying to ourselves. The weather forecast promised a sweltering
day. I extracted a pair of blue cotton trousers and a short-sleeved black top from amidst the household debris strewn on the floor. The place was a mess, as usual. Then I prepared my camera, covered my face and arms with sunscreen, packed water and a hat, and slid my mobile phone into my front pocket.
It was still early, so I sat down at my computer and worked on my latest novel. I pay the mortgage by writing anonymous novels in which beautiful women with euphonious names
swoon into the arms of sardonic but ultimately pliant men, always dark, always handsome.
The guidelines have changed over the years; the list of words they want me to use and the types of sexual acts they want me to describe have expanded. But basically the rules are the same. The plot has to move slowly but inexorably toward a satisfying climax (romantic conquest, marriage) which is also the resolution, and the characters have to speak like imaginary people in a textbook on earthlings, a textbook used on a distant planet by creatures who have never met any earthlings but have done some research and guessed the rest. I wrote without thinking, my mind wandering.