now reading: The Monkey | Boaz Izraeli

The Monkey

Boaz Izraeli | from: Hebrew

Translated by : Maya Klein

Introduction by Moshe Ron

There is no Israeli short story writer, or simply no Israeli writer, who knows how to imagine extreme situations like Boaz Yzraeli; situations that supposedly diverge from the web of social and realistic conventions yet actually express this web in the most clear-cut manner through contrapositive means, or doubt, or failed attempts to hold on to the web or what it seems to be, and imagine these situations, as baseless as they are fundamental, with detail, precision and especially impeccable logic.

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 It’s done, I got the final punishment. It seems that way.

I can see and hear; there’s no need to prove it. Surely that must mean something. I’ll soon report what I see and hear. There: I just heard a voice saying that my head could turn out to be hard and my brain dry after all (obviously the speaker put it a bit differently); and I could see that whoever said it was not the guy sitting across from me. His mouth didn’t move when the words were spoken. It was one of the others, the ones behind me and on either side of me, and I couldn’t see them. I only heard them talking.

I am in a state worthy of a monkey. Or a prisoner. A round wooden slab with a hole in the middle is fastened to my neck and I cannot turn my head. This slab, which, from another perspective is simply a table, stands on four legs. The rest of my body, from the neck down, is crumpled beneath it. I suppose it is; I can’t feel it crumpled there. My limbs are numb and I cannot move them, although from time to time I can sense them giving off signs of life, involuntary movements, things like that.

When the guy sitting across from me looks at me, anticipation is the only thing present in his eyes. His hair and moustache are light. He isn’t familiar. I think he is out of breath, it could be because of the heat. I assume there are three or four people seated at the table. The sounds that their language emits are familiar to me; it’s something European, but I can only catch a few words here and there, and they don’t amount to a distinct statement. Everything is flooded with a bright light and behind the guy across from me I can see the low hills of the jungle. At some point a black man dressed like a waiter passed through my field of vision and afterwards another guy and then another. We are in Africa then. Aren’t we? Why not; Africa it is. It’s not entirely unreasonable. Killing takes place in Africa. Obviously, it doesn’t take place exclusively in Africa, killing happens wherever possible, but it seems to come more easily on that continent, even somewhat naturally you could say, with of course, no offence to any particular nationality or race.

At some point the guy across me lifts his gaze and his eyes focus at something over my head. I assume that something is about to happen. He lights a cigarette. Maybe it’s the pressure. I hear someone clear their throat above me. And afterwards comes a bash over my head, and after it, at regular intervals, a second and a third bash, though not as hard. I couldn’t see that it was a wooden hammer with a flat head. It affected me, I’ll admit. Mainly it was the surprise. I heard a kind of ringing in my ears, my eyelids flew open with the first bash and then got tired and drooped a little. It’s strange how quickly you get used to it: by the fourth bashing I lost all sense of surprise or bewilderment.

The guy across me looked at me fixedly when the hammering started, and when it ended he shook his head to the others and said: No, he’s moving the eyes. It’s not working. He said it in English and I understood.

Words were exchanged and then someone else, someone I couldn’t see, grabbed the hammer and the pounding resumed. He started on the lower forehead and after two hesitant ones there came a hard blow from above, followed immediately by another one. Those two caused a strange dryness in my throat and a cloud of fog that blurred the man across me who was evaluating me. He seemed skeptical. Someone said, come on.

I start to realize that these people intend to cause harm. That is what the poundings aim to do. What other reason could there be to pound a person over the head. And if not to cause actual harm, then at least they intend to deliver a message. They must know that it’s hard to deliver a message without causing harm. If you don’t cause harm it won’t work, the other side won’t understand. And oftentimes, when someone wants to deliver a message, it could indicate that he is seeking justice; he wants to “do” some sort of justice. And justice, they say, must be seen, must be felt. Someone needs to feel it, justice. This time it’s me. That’s reasonable. It happens that you suddenly need to be held accountable.

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But I’ll still refrain from jumping to any radical conclusions about the events taking place here. I don’t have enough evidence to reach radical conclusions. If I were the type to conclude such things, I would surely latch on to the thought that they are trying to execute me. Meaning, the blows are aimed to do that. But I will not come to such a conclusion merely on the basis of a few blows to the head, bashings that can’t even stop the flow of thoughts but rather exacerbate it. People hit each other over the head. It happens. You hit, then stop, move on, and even reconcile. These situations do occur.

But under ordinary circumstances people hit each other over the head mainly when they are angry at someone to the extent that they lose a most important quality – self-control. And the people around me do not seem particularly angry, nor have they lost their self-control. They strike me as being in the midst of some sort of ritual, a ritual that pertains to me.

Alright. Let’s assume that’s correct. But what’s the sense of executing someone like me? Why should someone want to do that and have the power to do it? There’s usually a reason for such things. And there are serious-minded people who are qualified to determine the reason, I remember that. You can’t just hold someone in such an unpleasant situation. If there is a reason it could possibly be some bad thing that I did – so bad that I no longer have a place on the face of the earth. It’s also possible that there is an opposite reason: meaning, that I refrained from doing something bad. And as a result, I am a victim of injustice. Who knows. With so little information there’s practically no reality to my character.

In the meantime, we wait. The people seated at the table have apparently realized that cracking a head open with a blow is harder than one may think, and they sip beverages, smoke and converse. I look around as much as is possible without the full use of my neck.

There are all kinds of possibilities, and as the respite from the bashing continues, I begin to conjecture. All of this was most likely preceded by a period of incarceration, but I have no distinct memory of it. I try to reconstruct some persona, a figure with a human aspect; it’s imperative in order to learn something about the reason and circumstances. The last two blows have awakened guilty feelings within me; perhaps it is guilt about the act that I have committed. It’s better than nothing: you can create an entire character based on guilt if there’s nothing better available. And then there arises some sort of doubt as well, the type of raw doubt that animals and perhaps even plants possess, doubt that elucidates nothing. Nonetheless, it casts a shadow upon the credibility of the possibility of prison. No, it was something else. What do I have to do with prison? Perhaps I wasn’t located in prison but rather in a different edifice, somewhere closed but not locked, like an office building. So maybe I was an office worker, not a prisoner. The two are easily confused when consciousness isn’t at its best.

If those are the only two memories I managed to conjure up – prison, or some sort of office work – perhaps there is comfort in the fate that awaits me. Wait a minute, just one minute please, something is coming through clearly: I was head of the department of human resources. I think. Not just any clerk. A kind of administrator. The stain of this memory begins to spread and echo: something is becoming clear here, there is a sense of identification arising that perhaps only a true memory could induce. Let’s suppose. Yes, head of the department of human resources. I’ll agree to that. That could also explain my situation: as head of the department of HR, I could not avoid firing people – it comes with the territory- and that must be the reason I am here, as punishment, waiting for strangers to bash my skull open and eat my cursed and wicked brain alive. Perhaps I was in charge of dozens of workers and occasionally had to let someone go. It’s unpleasant but it’s part of the job when you are head of HR. There are things that you need to do even if they go against your will. And maybe I even actually enjoyed it – and that is why I am being punished, for the pleasure I took in it, and not the actual act of firing people.

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From this another memory branches out: a fairly good looking woman and two children playing with a puppy, and a freshly mowed patch of grass on which we are sitting. The woman is definitely my wife; as head of HR it’s only logical that I have married a fairly good-looking woman, and that we should have two children. A real memory, therefore, however it’s unclear whether it belongs to me. It’s missing a personal aspect to it’s sense of reality. Something experiential, as they say.

Nothing is clear, and in any case the things that are clear don’t form a good impression. If this is really an execution, then it’s one of the most humane forms of capital punishment: no one informed me ahead of time and thus I have been spared the nerve-wracking anticipation of an execution. I haven’t been told anything about my impending punishment or when it is to take place. They simply help you somehow lose your memory and at some point, with no prior warning, slam a hammer in your head. It’s better than waiting for years on death row.

However, these people, due to their gentle and sensitive nature, cannot crack the skull of a person who is fully awake. I presume that they will try to cause me to pass out beforehand. And only then deliver the really strong blows. Only when I am practically asleep, because they are delicate types. That’s why they’re taking their time. Preferring to light another cigarette. Wait for a shallow breathing.

Although I don’t have a clear picture of my specific personality, I do remember my hands, I cannot see them, yet I know they are the hands of an office worker. And it goes beyond saying that that in itself is no crime.

The guys at the table are on their third round of drinks. It seems that their mood is improving and the courage in their hearts is growing stronger. The guy facing me, whose face seems somewhat familiar after all, wants to demonstrate something. He balls his hand into a fist, waves it like a hammer and stops mid-air just above my head. It was a demonstration of something, and he returns to his seat. Although there was no contact between his hand and my head, it did have an impact. It’s hard to define what it is. The conversation continues and even though I do not understand their language, I do note the tone, which is businesslike and civil and I come to the following conclusions: these are most likely educated people, maybe even scientists. If they are scientists it’s possible that this is an experiment designed to examine the effects of a blow to the head on some kind of behavior. In my opinion it’s something to work with, if indeed this is the situation at hand; a scientific experiment is usually done under some kind of supervision and control, it’s conducted in an orderly manner, with no unnecessary rituals.

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The guy gets up and raises his arm high again, then he makes a fist and delivers a blow. This time he follows through. My head is thoroughly cleared – but in a discouraging sense; a rough motion of external force has the knack of bringing one back to the throes of reality. But that is merely unnecessary indulgence. What matters is that the blow released a memory of an act of abuse that is quietly taking place behind closed doors.

There are two figures there in the room, an adult and a child and both are silent; you could say they are frozen in necrophilic stagnation. An adult and a minor, to use the legal terms. Although I do not know their names I have some sort of a connection to one of the two. Otherwise why would such a demanding memory arise. You cannot remain neutral. One of the inhabitants of the room is me: the adult who is doing the act, or the child to whom the act is being done. Now that I am confined in this brace, and assuming that there is justice in the world, there’s no doubt that I was the adult in this event. Whatever act was done – it was of my doing. Nothing was done to me. I wasn’t the victim in the aforementioned event. On the contrary. It was in the papers. Maybe even made the headlines. Certainly wasn’t a minor story. But by God, I find it hard to believe that I would do things like that. No? They wrote about someone in the paper. It wasn’t me. Probably not. Most likely I only read about it, that’s all. I didn’t do it, I just read about it. I could be a sensitive type, and therefore an item that I read in the paper had such a strong impact that it proceeded to shake the foundations of my identity. And in any case, that kind of guilt doesn’t indicate anything. It’s readily available to anyone who reads something filthy in the paper. No, not at all; for sure – the only connection that I have to the matter is that I read about it in the paper.

What an exaggeration of dramatic guilt. As if I was responsible for every filthy thing that happens anywhere. And how pretentious! Some saint. Reaching out to the worst of criminals. In that case, better to be dealt the blows.

And as if they could somehow hear my heart’s innermost desires, the blows promptly resumed. At first there were just a few weak ones. Ones that would hardly wake you from sleep. I didn’t see who it was. And then a little stronger. And then the weaker ones again. It’s probably the same person. He delivers them in a series, a rhythm that could be interpreted as a code. In the short intervals it seemed that I finally understood something. I am in a process. They do not want to cause me to lose consciousness before dealing me some “final blow” out of the goodness of their hearts. They are aiming at something else; this ritual will last for a long time, on and on. That’s it. And why not? They have a role, these guys. They are supposed to sit here with me for a long time; I did hear one of them say something like, well, let’s continue tomorrow, alright? One substantial blow, brief and to the point – that’s not what they are after. They probably want something that will be proportional to a sin. Some kind of sin. That’s it, there’s no strong one, not in the near future. They don’t intend to settle anything here.

*Featured image: Dedo

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