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Liat Elkayam | from:Hebrew

Honey

Translated by : Beatrice Smedley

Introduction by Omri Herzog

A great story relays more than its words recount. “Honey” is a deceptive story: it includes a realistic account of the night a couple spends after their wedding, from the perspective of the newly wedded bride. I believe that this night—fraught with turbulent and surreptitious drama—has yet to be described in Hebrew literature; certainly in this fashion. It must be perfect, of course, because it is the “first night”, a harbinger. But how could it be perfect when the artificial nature of the wedding ceremony and the hard work invested in it leaves its marks on the facial skin, on the body and on the emotion? No, this is a night of total exhaustion, immersed with inevitable disappointment, hopeless longing and also a certain confusion that pertains to the new words: my husband, my wife. All these emotions are conveyed through the remarkable laconicism of the story, which is devoid of melodrama and yet still emotionally stirring. It illustrates simple scenes: standing in front of the hotel room’s locked door; lingering in the bath before the “wedding night”; the imprint of the shoe strap on the ankle. But all this ceremonial, romantic, emotional, erotic and social weight imposed on these scenes makes them “larger than life”, precisely because they are smaller than life, pettier and even ridiculous compared to the fantasy of the “wedding night”. This is Liat Elkayam’s greatness as a storyteller: so much is relayed in “Honey”, skillfully and in detail, in the very heart of things, without words.

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She was so glad the wedding was over. The unadorned car stopped in front of the hotel at the far end of the esplanade. They stepped out, he and the driver, his best friend, hugged before they parted. She wondered whether she should spit on his friend, who had nettled her throughout the entire wedding, but decided it did not chime with her baby-powder pink dress. One hand was holding the clutch, the other the silvery plates with the catering leftovers. If she had had a third hand, she would have held her forehead, which was threatening to drop onto the floor. She congratulated herself for having refused a soaring hairdo with countless pins that would have required hours to be picked out. Her fingertips were tingling with the seven glasses of whisky she had drunk.

The finest part of the bridal role were the constant questions whether she would like to drink anything. The magic word whisky was enough to prompt him or her to fetch a full glass. She sipped her drinks at the deliberate pace of at least twenty minutes between each. As she had eaten and made sure to freshen up with a glass of water after each drink, she did not feel nauseous. And it may have been longstanding practice that protected her from senseless drunkenness. Lightheaded, she smiled broadly, just a bit tipsy. She recalled a wedding where the bride had thrown up on herself in the bathroom; A wedding where the groom had fainted, hitting his head against the stairs and splitting his lip; A wedding where the groom’s father had made a pass at the bride’s mother; And a wedding where the groom’s best friend had drunk enough from the blue whisky in the small bottle to throw up a hardly digested steak in an arch from the edge of the dance floor toward the middle. She recalled these events well and protected herself just in time against the looming blackout. At the wedding she danced herself to death. The photographer will attest that she could not be caught still (and will add, to her dismay: and you’re always blinking). But now, in the hotel lobby, she had to stop for a moment and breath deeply under the myriad whirling lights of the giant chandelier.

On the way in he didn’t hold her hand, as he was busy with his plates, his wrinkled Ralph Lauren jacket and what was left of the fancy shirt he had agreed to wear just because she had asked him to. In the elevator he paused in front of the mirror and looked at himself as he drew his cheeks in, biting and holding them like a female model, as he always did when he was being photographed. This is why in photographs his lips are puckered into a puffed up O. The gesture was etched in her memory, as it was his habit, every morning after he combed his hair many times, to draw in his cheeks and to examine his reflection. The fluorescent light tinged his fair, pale skin pinkish with a hint of grey. It had been a terrible mistake to buy him this pink shirt, and for 600 shekel to boot. The collar gripped his neck tightly, on the verge of chocking. A fleeting glance into the elevator mirror revealed she was in far worse shape. She should have avoided a frontal view, should not have even dared look. The makeup had hardly lasted, only parts of her face were yet to surrender – a beige foundation circle around her left nostril, the carefully, evenly coated forehead – but the chapped  lips were peeling, the pimple on the chin, though less swollen, was surrounded by dry, cracked, peeling skin. She heard light raps on the elevator floor. Bending down, she noticed the tiny beads that had dropped from a torn thread of her embroidered vintage purse.

As they made their way through the hallway, at the far end of which the sea blue carpet gleamed in the moonlight, she wondered whether he would carry her in his arms across the threshold, like in the movies. Yet this option, even if it had existed, vanished when they reached the door. Amid the feverish preparations in the afternoon, amid the makeup drama, with her mother at her side and the hairdresser prattling and brushing at an even pace, she did not check whether she had taken the hotel key, and now, as many other times in her life, she didn’t even recall whether she had taken it. They were standing in front of the right room, on the wrong side. He looked at her.

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“You don’t have the key?”

She already knew, as he did, that she didn’t.

His weary, disappointed gaze almost resembled her state of mind. Still, with a flicker of hope, she went through the obligatory rummaging through her purse. She dredged up a lipstick, a sachet with eye shadow and a Q-tip, her out-of-order cell phone, a hair pin and the bouquet ribbon. While she was rummaging through the small empty purse, desperately looking for a hidden zipper, anything, he noticed a chambermaid and, stretching his chest, walked toward her: “Could you let us into the room? We can’t find the key.” He was very polite, even smiled warmly. The chambermaid mumbled something incomprehensible in Russian. He answered in Russian and was rewarded with a smile, a quick brief answer and a distracted hand brush through hair. She looked at him, still rummaging through her purse, and must have touched the unruly thread because tens of beads scattered through the hallway. He came toward her, sighed as though he had expected even worse. “We should go down to the lobby,” he said. She removed her ballet shoes, her substitute shoes, yet her feet still carried the smarting memory of five hours spent in high-heel silver sandals that bent the foot arch and squashed the small toe. They dragged themselves down the hallway that suddenly turned green.

In the descending elevator she made sure to keep her eyes downcast. Her pink toenails were still impeccable, the result of a French pedicure but a dark red line ran across her foot where the sandal strap had tortured her. He took her hand, and she didn’t know whose hand was cold and who’s warm.

A clerk with a runny nose was sitting at the reception desk, a heap of used toilet paper in front of him. He blew his reddish nose loudly, leaning silently on the desk. “Bless you,” she said. “Listen, we don’t have the key to our room.”

The clerk examined the tissue intently and asked: “What’s your room number?”

“219.”

Even the hotel room number is odd, she said to herself. The clerk foraged in the computer and in his nose. “We’re tired,” she said.

The clerk sized her up, from below, typed on the keyboard and said: “The room hasn’t been paid for.”

Heat rose from her aching feet to her head, painting her red with embarrassment. Once again her mother had forgotten, unless she deliberately didn’t pay. “I can pay,” she insisted, “but my purse with the credit card is in the room. That’s why we need to get in.”

The clerk pouted. “How would I know it’s your room?”

She had no solution. “I have no idea, really.”

He was now pacing up and down behind her, his long steps echoing in the empty lobby. The clerk pulled his nose and looked at the light. “I feel I have to sneeze and it won’t come out,” he said and yawned. She, too, yawned. A cup with the hotel logo filled with greying tea and two floating lemon slices was standing on the counter. The clerk lifted the cup, closely examined its contents, there was an answer in this tea, though not to her question. “We just got married, I had the key but forgot to take it along, please find a solution, send someone to the room, you’ll see our belongings there, you’ll see my name on the invitation.”

At last the clerk was able to sneeze, much to his relief, but since there was no paper left on the roll, he carefully chose among the used scraps one with a clean long tail end to wipe his nose.

“That’s enough! such unbelievable nerve,” Her voice rose and rose almost to sobbing, a cold, firm sobbing. “It’s four in the morning and I want to go to my room.”

As she felt his hand on her shoulder she knew he loathed her at that moment. Here she was having one of her bullying fits. For some reason, low-rank service employees were always the target of her uncontrolled outbursts. Once they quarrelled bitterly at the cell phone repair shop because she had screamed at the female employee who had not bothered to tell her that her new phone could not retrieve the numbers of the old one. He said she couldn’t talk that way to people, that it’s rude. What had they done? They were just doing their job and they had an instruction sheet and they were doing exactly what it said, and there was no need to behave like this. What’s got into her? Why this humiliating tone?

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She knew how much he disliked this conduct and that it was the worst time for it and she gritted her teeth, making an effort to shut up. The silence raised the scream inside her head to an alarm of one thousand decibels. “This isn’t the way to treat customers, this is no service, and stop blowing your nose on me, you creep.”

The clerk examined her again, now curiously, as though he had finally heard her, and silently retrieved a white card, typed a number, got green light and laid the key card on the desk. On the way up in the elevator she began to yawn. She had read somewhere that the duration of yawning in a person infected by another’s yawning indicates the extent of the former’s empathy for the latter. When she inserted the key card into the slot the light went on – red. “Fuck,” she said. “It’s not working,” he said. She sat down on the carpet, he said: “Never mind, I’ll take care of it.”  Crouching on all four in her deceptively breezy dress, her knees scratched, she began to pick up the beads that had scattered earlier. When he returned she was leaning against the wall, rattling her densely beaded purse as though it were a rattler. She needed this background noise to think. He sat down next to her. “He said he’d send someone shortly.”

“Thanks, Pooh,” she said.

Suddenly he smiled and laid his head on her lap. She stroked his straight hair and rough, chubby cheeks.

A young man soon arrived with a bundle of key cards and opened the door. She no longer remembered the carrying-across-the-threshold, he ran to pee. On the table, the banana-punch colored flowers had wilted. The green bottle of cheap champagne, courtesy of the hotel, stood on a silvery tray on the bed, lukewarm and reproachful. She opened the large bag and solemnly took out the nightgown she had bought. He came out of the bathroom in his new white underwear. His thighs were thick but muscular. He said “I’m too tired for a shower, Pooh”.

She was so engrossed in everything she had to do and in the question whether he would sleep with her tonight and in what it meant that he hadn’t looked into her eyes, not even at her, much of the evening, that she said: “Well, I’ll take one, ok?”

Loaded with paraphernalia, she went into the bathroom, but came out to fetch her toothbrush. He was sitting on the bed, foraging into the silvery catering plate, chewing the steak leftovers, dropping onto the bed bloody morsels aglitter with oil. She pulled out the shower cap from the white plastic bag and shoved her voluminous hair into it, hoping to keep one more day her sheeny wedding hairdo. She showered fast but thoroughly, made sure to wash her genitals, including the lips, and was ready to remove any stubborn hair around the anus with a fresh razor blade, then soaped herself with the hotel’s hard soap, as bringing one along had seemed to her an unnecessary dirt hazard. She examined her face in the mirror. Her skin, dried by the makeup, needed a moisturizer. She rummaged through her bag, she had forgotten to take it along. At the risk of bleeding, she peeled the dry skin around the pimple on her chin and covered up the embarrassment with foundation. She wanted so much to look beautiful and, even more so, she wanted him to tell her she was beautiful. In the mirror, as she smiled at herself, the sight seemed wretched. To console herself she examined her white, flat belly bubbling with alcohol vapours. After spreading red lip gloss she pulled out from the fabric bag the knee-length cream colored lace nightgown with black velvety straps, almost beautiful enough to serve as a wedding dress. Her pink nipples were dimly visible below the wide, low-cut neckline, her narrow waist was emphasized, and the chubby knees were hidden. Hoping he hadn’t fallen asleep, she walked toward him. He was already in bed, his clothes dumped on the sheets, his gaze drowsy. But he did smile at her. He had always reacted well to lace. In his soft, cute, childish voice he said “Come,” and, glad he was awake, she crawled up to him under the sheets. Within seconds they were locked, he underneath her, though he seemed to have determined the configuration. His eyes were glazed, hers thinly veiled. He came without seeing, fell asleep at once.

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Lying next to him she said to herself: “My husband, my husband. My husband. My husband.” Again. Maybe this time. Maybe as a whisper. In her heart only. My husband, my husband. This is the truth. Really. She was trying to convince herself.

Thoughts on the wedding were drifting through her mind. Could Nilly be pregnant? Why did Idan let Galit sit on his lap? Why wasn’t Ravit there? She was so weary. But she had felt all right. A month ago, at Ricky and Marco’s wedding, both seemed so cut off from each other. Marco claimed he was really tripping without having touched a joint, he was simply floating within himself, while Ricky was constantly hiding in the restroom with the inhalator to avoid her sister. They were the reason her wedding had been postponed. Maybe that was the date they were meant to get married. How would one know. Really, how would one. She would like a night like Marco’s and Ricky’s, who said to each other all night long, do you remember how? Did you see that… How great it was when…but she was glad they weren’t adding up the checks like Guy and Ilanit.

As she was drawing a bath for herself all the petty humiliations sneaked up on her once again. How Shimshon said to him: “My condolences.” How Marco inadvertently broke the video camera and no one filmed the ceremony. How, when Guy gave too many looks to Galit and Hila, Ilanit left. How Micky jumped up and down, like a broken toy. And her own father and mother, who hardly exchanged a word.

He fell asleep like a log, and she didn’t dare wake him up or scream. In a fidgety mood, she shuttled from the bed to the bathroom and back, measuring steps and moments in her mind, then slipped off the semen stained baby doll. They must get up in the morning, vacate the room by eleven o’clock, he surely wants to make it to breakfast. She would have liked to fall asleep on the carpet for a week. She slipped on his wedding shirt, buttoned it slowly and went out to the hallway, leaving the door ajar with the champagne bottle, tiptoed on the dry carpet toward the window at the far end. Moonlight swept the beach, three palm trees and a yellow gas station. On the other side the sky was already turning purple. She steamed up the window with her breath, drew a heart with her finger, then walked back to the room and fell asleep hugging him from behind, as always. He may have grasped her hand, and even if he didn’t, it didn’t matter.

Morning came with scorching sunlight. She had forgotten to close the blinds, now everything was awash in yellow, his hair glittered, each strand another color. She looked at the clock on the nightstand, they have not woken up in time for the buffet. How lucky. She got up to shower, rinse her face again, correct the concealer on the sore. As they had to leave in an hour, she would have liked at least to go to the pool. She brushed her teeth, packed her lipstick and nightgown, his clothes and the hotel’s fancy soap and conditioner bottles. Now in her red bathing suit, she concealed her dark circles behind the round Jackie O sunglasses she had bought for the honeymoon. He woke up and went down with her listlessly. The pool was swarming with small children and cheerful families. The disco sounds still echoed in her mind. Lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. She stepped alone into the pool, whose design made it seem as though it were a river emptying into the Mediterranean, and floated on her back to the other edge. He came up to her, his eyes half closed, his whitish body casting a shadow. A child threw a colorful ball at him, hitting his buttocks. Surprised, he turned around, the child laughed. He picked up the ball and kicked it beyond the pool edge, then asked her if she had any money for a popsicle, but she didn’t hear, the water’s silence filled her ears as she was floating toward the sea.

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