the short story project


Iftach Alony | from:Hebrew


Translated by : Geremy Forman

The man who has been the dearest person to my mother for the past 42 years is dead.

Facing a dead man is a shitty feeling.

A baby’s howling creeps through the open window.

It’s midnight.

I imagined that I was rummaging through all the junk at home and found a suitcase and filled it with his body parts.

And then going away.

“He loved you,” Mom says, “until that incident with the military court. That was the worst thing you did.”

“Yes. That was a significant junction.”

She nods her head, leaning it forward and pulling it back.

“It’s a good thing I was acquitted …That’s what’s important, isn’t it?”

She is standing on the other side of the bed. She catches my glance. And I think to myself: She won’t need to clean up his shit anymore. That certainly must also be a good feeling.      

“He suffered…” She looks into his white face, and I make the noble motion with my right hand, using my forefinger and thumb to pull his eyelids closes.

Then the police officer arrives. He instructs me and my mother to leave the room, and he asks the doctor who had been sent along with the ambulance to step into the bedroom with him. “The paramedic, too,” he says.

We stood facing the television set that was on the shopping channel. He liked to follow innovations and keep up to date.

Mother turns her head in different directions. Her face changes, as if she’s searching for the most appropriate expression for the situation out of scenes she has seen in movies.

“I have the contact information of someone who can take care of all the details of transporting the body and the funeral,” the ambulance driver says. “He’s a good man.” He hands me a business card: “ Chop-chop Ze’ev : 0544-000000.”

The police officer steps out of the room and stands between my mother and the television set. “Look, ma’am…” He stares at the floor. My mother gazes over his shoulder at the black-haired presenter who appears to be trying to strike up a friendship with her while recommending a high quality spring mattress, the kind that turns bad dreams into good dreams.

“You two will need to come down to the station with me.” His illuminated facial expression grows solemn. “That’s how it goes…” He wants to add something but relents.

Mother opens her mouth but no sound emerges. The black-haired woman proclaims that the good dreams thing costs only six thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine shekels, payable in twelve equal installments.

“We’d like a chance to say goodbye to him properly,” I interrupt.

“That won’t be possible.” The policeman turns forcefully to face me. “He is a critical exhibit in the investigation.”

My mother stares at him in embarrassment as the forces of inertia keep her standing. She is breathing heavily. I think about her internal control panels and all the tensions and anxieties running through it the moment before the collapse. She trembles, lets out a cry, and falls toward the policeman, whose arms open without giving it a second thought. He embraces her. Of course, this is the moment at which more or less everyone takes the time to anticipate what is going to happen next.

If my father were present, he would say: “Oh, sure, guys.” And then he would sing: “When you walk through the storm hold your head up high…” And I would finish: “And don’t be…afraid of…the dark!”

“It’s OK ma’am.” The doctor wants to check my mother’s vital signs, but she refuses and sings the way she used to sing with my father: “There’s a golden sky…and the sweet silver song of a lark…Walk on through the wind…”      

“That’s his song,” I explain, and I join her. “…Walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown…”

“Sing with us!” my mother encourages everyone present. “Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart…”

At the station, the police officer sits us down in front of a hot beverage machine. Attached to the button panel is a yellow post-it with a blue arrow drawn on it, pointing to one of the buttons. Beneath the arrow are the words: “This, apparently, is the button that is best to press.”

“We are modest people,” my mother says and suggests we share a cup of coffee.


In the interrogation room she passes the cup of coffee to the interrogator and the three of us share it. My mother tells the interrogator the story, coming closer and closer to the edges of the truth.

“It’s wonderful to meet you,” the interrogator says and then coughs. The cough sparks a wave of kinetic energy. My mother moves her arm until her palm is holding mine. I am surprised by the tenderness.

“I’ve been living like this for more than three years…I want to cry. But at times like this…and it all happened while we were singing. Did the police officer tell you? It was during the chorus. “You’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk…alone!” She scratches her scalp, breathes heavily, and shifts her gaze to me. “My son – he’s a hero. Is that written down in your notes?”

The interrogator turns to me with a look of the bold ones and affably suggests that he and I step outside to get some more coffee. My mother looks into my eyes: I’ve been so good to you all these years, and now you’re going to turn me in?

I also looked at her: Sometimes you ask for too much.

Then her eyes said: Alright, go on. Do what you have to.


Next to the coffee machine, I take off my prosthetic arm, scratch my sweaty stump and let it breathe. My eyes meet those of the interrogator, and an unfriendly emotion passes between us.

He glances at his watch. “You have three minutes to get it over with.”

“You should have seen my father’s shin stump,” I say. “It’s a six minute story that will also leave you with time to hear about the hand he lost. There was a landmine…it’s a condensed story. Mine is at least 17 minutes…”

The interrogator looks at his watch again.

“So, do we have it?” I ask.

He sniffles. “You’re wasting your mother’s time.”

“She’s in no hurry,” I say. “She’s always saying ‘what’s the hurry?’ And you know what? If you think about it, she’s a prophet. She’s also a prophet about me losing my hand. She saw it in a dream. That morning, she sent me a text message about it: ‘Take care of yourself, son.’”

There is a lull.

“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” I chuckle. “I saw the text when I woke up after the operation, without my arm. I knew that even without an arm I could do everything my father did, which is a lot. So I smiled – at her, because he didn’t come. I immediately remembered the shit that had happened. I say ‘happened.’ Things happen. They flow from many different places inside the skull and cause you to do things that you’re sorry about later.”  

“Your mother – she killed him, right?”

“It takes a toll. But I felt…I felt like I needed to. I had to. I was compelled to. That flow. You understand? The fact is that I pulled the red pin on the safety switch and squeezed the trigger, which was forbidden. It is to be done only if this and only if that, and overall, it’s better to die, to be taken prisoner, to be tortured and so on and so forth, rather than to squeeze it. But I squeezed it, as if I was telling a particularly bad joke – so bad that the ground erupted in laughter. That’s what I was put on trial for, and from that point on he hardly ever spoke to me.”

“This is your chance…to tell us. We’ll understand. We really will. You’ll come out of it OK. She will too…” The interrogator looks at the prosthetic. “It’s unnecessary, all of that,” he says in a soft voice.  

“Bring my mother some coffee,” I say, with comparable softness. “She…coffee makes her a queen. She has a lump…I’m not crazy about her, but she doesn’t deserve a lump. Virtually nobody does.”

He finds this touching.

“She can be wonderful,” I say. “He just took off. I can’t understand it. You have this great woman in your life. Then the woman suddenly get’s sick, and you take off?”

“Hmmm…” the interrogator hums.


We go back in with the coffee for Mom. I sit on the interrogator’s side of the table, facing her. She takes a sip and smiles at the two of us.

“Mom,” I say. “I told him.”

“My son always makes up crazy things about me. It’s like his hobby,” she tells the interrogator. “He told Baruch from the office supply store that I faint from the slightest things and that I foam at the mouth when I get angry. He told Shmuel from the grocery store that his father hits me with his prosthetic hand while holding it in his healthy hand…”

To show that she is strong and in good shape, she stands up and starts doing jumping jacks, spreading and closing her arms at the same time that she spreads and closes her legs.

The interrogator looks at her, then at me, and then at her again. “Ma’am,” he says, “sit down now, please!” Then he ushers me outside again. 


I tell the interrogator that it all began on the day that I did not believe my father when he told me that my mother had a lump and that she wanted him to die along with her. The interrogator gives me a pen and paper and asks me to write down the whole story. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?” he says. “Save your mother.”

So I write:

On Tuesday I popped over for a visit, and Dad asked me to make him some coffee. He ambled after me into the kitchen, and told me: “She’s sick. She has a lump. We need to do something about it.”

“Mom doesn’t have a lump,” I told him when the water boiled. “Who told you she has a lump?”

“Shmuel, from the grocer’s. He saw her test. She wrapped the bread in it. You know how she is – she hates plastic bags.”

I grabbed his face with both my hands and turned his head to look out the window at Mom, who was watering the ferns and the caper bushes that had sprouted out of the rocks in the garden.

“Does that look like someone who is about to die?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

It did not look like it, not at all.

“God,” I said. “Does anyone tell the truth in this house?”


“Is this good?” I show the interrogator what I had written.  

He looks it over. “Keep going. It’s great.”


That night, father insisted on sitting in the living room without his foot and his hand. He always does that on October 6. For my mother, it’s a state of emergency, because at night he screams: “An enemy ship has landed on the planet. Armed invaders in Zone 8-A. All men to defensive positions! All men to defensive positions!” And then it’s the hardest to move him into bed. But this year, because of the lump, she phoned me and told me that Dad was going to die. She needed something that sounded good. And “Dad is going to die” – well, that’s everlasting.      

So, I certainly say yes to idealism and yes to dignity and to the enduring quest for all forms of the truth. But I’ve reached the point that I suspect that if there is such a thing as the concrete truth, it points to the fact that the all-encompassing, multi-dimensional infinity of the universe is undoubtedly managed by a bunch of disturbed individuals. Mom and Dad never agreed on that. That is to say, he never stops seeking the truth, and she always tells him: “That’s your way of leaving Earth. There is no answer to life; you should be grateful that you’ve remained.” In any event, by the time I arrived, the seventh of October had already begun. He asked me who I was. We put on his prostheses. He said that he was ready, that he sees a small hovercraft of sorts, emitting a weak light that surrounds it. He called out to the television: “You picked a cold night to come visit our dead planet.” I tried to ask him what he was talking about, and he said to the television: “I’m not afraid. You won’t do me any harm. I’m ready.” Then he collapsed, and when I bent down to him, he said: “But you shot at us! Those missiles…”

We picked him up and lay him down in bed. His eyes were open, a radiance shone from them. Shadows fell on the walls. He coughed and Mom called an ambulance. He held my hand and pulled me toward him. “An automatic system,” he said, and swallowed a groan. “Our computers are dispersed across the planet, counting the thousands of dark years. They sometimes go crazy and shoot in order to alleviate the boredom. I’m going down to the machine room to sort it out.”  

That’s more or less how it ended. We sat beside him. Mom looked out the window and said that she saw the hovercraft gliding toward the nighttime sky. I didn’t see anything, but when I looked at Dad I was seized by a moment of doubt: I could see the grey hue moving over his body. The infiniteness of time worried me. I felt as if I were in its presence. What are you looking for? I asked her, and I think I heard – a bit of curiosity, a bit of adventurism, but I think primarily it’s the fame and fortune…to use Dad’s words.  


My story convinced them. 


Nobody came to Dad’s funeral.

And Mom said: “This is how it goes.”


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