the short story project


Zeev Smilansky | from:Hebrew


Translated by : Zeev Smilansky

The alien wasn’t green and had no antennas on his head. He looked ordinary except that he was about a quarter size. In fact, with his gray clipped mustache and his gloomy countenance he reminded me of Tzuberi, my late father’s accountant, and his expression was just like that of Tzuberi when father would bring him his packet of invoices, hanging his perplexed eyes on him and saying, what will you do with all these? Tzuberi had many clients, taxi drivers, shop owners, building contractors, absolutely practical people, none of them except father would ask him such questions. The alien was wearing a kind of a gray gown and appeared as though he had always been standing there on the cupshelf, breathing – if that was what he was doing – since from time to time he would swell and inflate and immediately shrink back. Lissy called me in the morning, Dad come see, but since her tone was so quiet I calmly finished my morning things and only then went down to the kitchen and we stood there the three of us – Lissy, me and Glenda the cat – and looked at him inquisitively. Lissy tried to speak to him– first in Hebrew, than in English, and finally in Arabic, which she had started learning on the internet – but the alien didn’t answer and didn’t even change its posture, just continued to stand and stare blankly, and from time to time to expand and shrink back. Even Glenda from her seat on the kitchen table by the sink looked at him disinterestedly and continued to lick her magnificent mustaches. What shall we do? I asked Lissy, I have to be early today at the clinic, I have a really full day, and Lissy said I have zero time, I have to run, took her backpack, phone, and earphones, and ran out to the schoolbus. I too had no choice, left Glenda her meal, locked the house got in the car and drove away

In the clinic the first two patients were already waiting and from the dental assistant’s room rose the screeching of the cleaning instrument. I really had a long full day ahead of me, what with Tilly who had said she would come by around mid-day and the two hours I had cleared off for us, in the afternoon I had two complex root-canals and one preparation for an implant and a visit by the vice chair of the ethics committee to discuss the coming elections to the review board of the association so that when I returned home towards eight, hungry and tired and remembering nothing from the morning events, I was surprised to see Lissy sitting and watching “Home and Moss”, the new Finish series, Mr. Alien sitting on her lap as though this was his destiny and Glenda napping by the fireside as usual. What’s this supposed to mean, I asked Lissy, what’s going on here? But Lissy hardly looked at me, It’s alright, Dad, she said, nothing to worry about. The alien laid in her lap stiff like a stick but without doubt watching TV with her. Maybe we should notify someone, maybe do something, perhaps it has diseases? Stop it, Dad, you’re such a weirdo, said Lissy and started punching vigorously at her phone. Maybe he needs to eat something? Please Dad, said Lissy again and the alien inflated even more and seemed reddened, almost angry. Well, I said, OK, I didn’t mean it. I stood a while longer watching them and went back to the kitchen, to eat and read the morning’s paper. When I was done I went back to the living room. What will you do with him at night? I asked Lissy, and she said I don’t know Dad, why do you worry so much. Do you have exams this week? Yes, Cinema and Chemistry, I’ll go tomorrow to study with Sivan. OK, I’m off, I said, Goodnight, said Lissy. The alien and the cat said nothing.

We live in an old rented house in the outskirts of Nes-Ziyona. The house is a bit big for two people but it is convenient and we have lived there for so long that we have gotten used to it. On the first floor there are two bedrooms, one for Lissy and the other is empty (except when we have guests), a nice living room with a porch overlooking faraway hills, and of course the kitchen; upstairs my bedroom and office room. After Lissy’s mother left us when Lissy was a little girl, I was in a hurry to find us a new place so as not to stay in the old apartment with all the memories, and this house in a quiet neighborhood fit me perfectly. My clinic, on the other hand, is in the town center, on the twelfth floor of a busy tower with shops, offices, and apartments, people coming and going all day long, elevators, noise from morning till night. Besides me in the clinic are Erdwina the dental hygienist; Natti the implant specialist comes twice a week; and of course Rachel the secretary whom I detest with all my heart: first because she is old, stupid, and ugly; and second because she’s a star for frightening clients away – with her rude speech and overall incompetence. At least once a month I vow to fire her but when I get to the clinic and stand before her shaggy form – tangled gray curls stiff as steel wool and her wrinkled face wearing an empty gravely expression – my decisiveness melts and I retreat, defeated, into the treatment room, before she starts telling me again with her voice, hoarse from so much smoking, all the wonders of her genius son who apparently is pushing papers in some bank in Wall Street, but who has not yet come by to see his mom since I opened this clinic.

I usually like my patients, I enjoy taking care of their teeth, even though I can understand people who may find this disgusting. A well cared for mouth for me is no less appealing than a beautiful photograph of autumn in Japan or an advanced vacuum cleaner, and when I see a neglected mouth or teeth that were improperly cared for I am pained for the patient, for whoever took care of him, and in general for our world that is so full of wrongs of all sorts, and that the efforts to fix it – even of a proficient expert such as myself – are doomed to failure from the start, like trying to empty the ocean with a syringe. Suddenly, the phone rings. Lissy what’s going on? She does not speak but I can hear muffled sniveling on the other side. A familiar horror grips my back and then the throat. Ever since we were left alone the two of us, she a young girl of seven, Lissy was for me the main, perhaps the only, anchor in this world, all the patients and doctors and the hygienist and Tilly and all the others pale, blur, and seem unreal next to Lissy, and apparently she feels the same for me, although neither she nor me are great talkers nor do we express emotions easily, no exaggerated hugs or wet eyes, both of us are practical people, maybe too practical, but from the day we were left alone in this world we became allies, perhaps together with Glenda the cat, against the other, numerous forces acting opposite and against us in this arena, the arena of our life. Lissy rarely calls me, certainly not in the middle of schoolday, not that she’s such an outstanding student but to call Daddy every couple of hours that’s not her. -What’s going on sweety, I try again, the Cinema exam? -No, no, never mind  -But…. -No I’ll tell you later  -Give me a hint… What is it, Nir?  -Nir…. -Ah, I said, Nir.   –OK, bye dad  -Bye sweety, if it’s Nir you have nothing to worry about, bye dear. Truth is I was glad, this Nir I didn’t like him, Lissy is a nice young girl of seventeen and not really surrounded by friends, boys or girls, perhaps she’s been like that from birth or perhaps because of her circumstances or perhaps I contributed to this, and now some guy is interested in her and she in him but somehow it was clear from the start that from this Nir nothing much would come out. Nir is athletic, friendly, clever, and nice, I would say too nice, there’s too much niceness about him, a blunt happiness that just doesn’t suit Lissy, over her head by several degrees, always happy to help, always a smile on his face, nothing you can’t ask him and he won’t be delighted to do, nothing he doesn’t know or is incapable of doing – from fixing a hydroponic system to settling things with the cable company to programming something on the printer or the phone, never angry, never obstinate, a perfectly positive character, Lissy clearly needs a slower pace, something more distant, a somewhat more complex outlook on life, a drop of irony, of cynicism, that feeling that what is going on here is not really the whole or true story, it doesn’t make sense to take this life here with such exaggerated seriousness, how can you believe this silly children’s fable, it’s clearly ridiculous, that’s what it is. So when I finally came back home a little after seven I wasn’t too surprised to see Lissy calm and even contented, sitting by the table munching peanuts and reading some booklet while peeking at a movie on her little tablet, with Glenda sitting majestically as always between the book and the tablet pretending to be a statue. Do you want some soup? I asked and went to the kitchen, where I was surprised again by the alien standing between the mugs, continuing to expand and contract in his strange rhythm, except that after the first glance when I looked at him again I realized that he didn’t simply expand and contract uniformly, like some depressing birthday balloon, but that some of his parts inflated differently. In particular there was one part that inflated rudely – it could not be denied, this alien had a penis, even a large one, and this penis had a life, perhaps unfamiliar but certainly active. I watched him a bit more with a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment, but he just continued to stand there and inflate, with the same gray mustache and the same expression of Tzuberi with the invoices, I didn’t even try to communicate with it but continued with my dinner preparations, took out the soup from the fridge and placed it on the stove, took out two bowls and two spoons and cut some bread and brought salt and pepper and butter and took everything to the messy dining table and arranged it a little so you could sit and eat like human beings, sent Lissy to wash her hands and the cat on its way and we came the two of us and sat across from each other and hungrily ate the tomato soup which was tastefully seasoned with some orange grating and a sweetish sour taste—soul-reviving or mechaye nefashot as my mother used to say. After that I sat down in the red armchair to watch some TV and when I woke up I looked around a little, Lissy wasn’t there, only Glenda was sitting next to the fireplace looking at me, I went to the kitchen to get some mineral water and by custom glanced at the cupshelf but the alien wasn’t there. I went back to the red armchair and sat down heavily with the water in my hand and called Glenda kss kss and she immediately jumped in my lap. It’s not easy to explain how wonderful it is when your cat is sitting on you, with that strange friendship of cats, which even if entirely imagined by you still has something more special and pure than any other friendship. She sat on me and purred happily and I scratched her between her ears as she liked and then down her back while she curved her spine and raised her tail, I always envied cats for their tail and thought how excellent it would be if humans had a tail too that they could wag according to their mood, right left for example or alternatively up and down, with small or wide sweeps, slow or fast, wagging the entire tail or only its tip, openly, honestly, or with hidden intentions, with deep expressivity or just automatically, angrily or contentedly according to your mood, and as I continued to scratch Glenda’s back her moaning kicked up a notch and then she nearly dissolved in my lap in what we used to call the disappearance of materiality. Someone else would have said that the cat was having an orgasm, quit it I scolded her, get off, I raised my knees and the disappointed Glenda jumped down to the rug and hissed at me angrily. I sat a while longer and finally got up, come here, I called her, kss kss kss, and the gray cat readily agreed and came upstairs and went in with me under the blanket.

Usually Lissy gets up first and when I come down she’s already in the kitchen poking at her phone, but this morning the house was quiet. I went down to the silent rooms and treaded carefully through the corridor towards her room to see if she needed to be woken up. The door was open, and when I stepped in I saw the bed all disheveled, and on it was Lissy, perfectly naked, lying on her belly, her lovely amber mane encircling her head and flowing over her right shoulder with her arm extending from it to rest under her head, the other arm under her belly, the gorgeous back, adorned with spinal beads like a necklace, the splendid cheeks of her behind, the young, luxurious, golden skin, radiant from overflowing youth and health, the strong legs, one straight and the other folded under her, the dark spot between them, all this image was as striking, wonderful, and breathtaking as though it had come from Modigliani’s hand, oh God how could a father stand like that and admire his daughter’s naked body, but oh horror, next to her, on the pillow, all covered with a blanket except for the tip of his gray head was the loathsome alien, a bitter wave of regret swelled in me, look what happened, look what you did, why didn’t you do anything, why didn’t you respond, how can you be so inert, are you mentally ill, why didn’t you kick him out or call the authorities or do something, just like Lissy’s mother told you ten years ago when she left, I can’t stand it anymore your apathy, the taxi stood outside waiting with the few suitcases she took, I can’t take it any more she said and got into the cab and since then we’ve never seen her again.

I went back to the kitchen to grind coffee, make noise, and indeed after a few minutes Lissy showed up, all happy and radiant, her hair beautifully knotted and her eyes shining and she said Pappy can you take me to school today I missed the bus. We drank the coffee and she chewed some cornflakes and we went out to the car. Outside it was a bit rainy, we drove through the old pleasant neighborhood, it was a lovely mild winter day with some rain and some clouds and some sun, on the fences around the houses the bushes were flaming with orange flowers, left the sleepy streets and passed into the busy part of town, crossing with difficulty the main road through heavy traffic full of trucks and buses, passed the ugly shopping mall, towards the other, new side of town where wide empty boulevards had been recently laid connected by flowering traffic circles, up to the feet of the sandy hills where her highschool is, and dropped her off to mix with the hundreds of young boys and girls crowding the schoolyard, sparkling like soda bubbles in a soda bottle, waved goodbye and turned to drive back home.

What shall I do now, I thought, what should I do, what can I do. I drove back again through the wide empty boulevards, circled the flowering traffic circles, passed back through the town center with its ugly shopping mall, crossed the busy main road, returned to the old part of town, between the small houses and the flowering fences, a useful idea did not cross my mind, only blind futile anger and humiliation, I parked and ran up the three steps to the house, we have an excellent front door but we always come in through the kitchen, I turned the lock and opened the door boldly with a clear intent of doing something decisive but as yet undetermined.

But when I opened the door the alien was already lying there on the floor, or more accurately what was left of him, bitten and torn to pieces in a pool of blood, and next to him proudly sat Glenda, licking her magnificent mustaches with satisfaction.


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