In the still of the night, you are surrounded by darkness in the room of your childhood. Sticky and smelling of semen, you hear the familiar footfalls that you recognize as your mother’s. Next to your bedroom, the door to the toilet creaks open wearily and you anticipate the sound of a thin, intermittent stream of urine, a sound you know so well.
You sense unease in the pit of your stomach; you pick up the magazine and tuck it away beneath your mattress. You listen for the distancing steps of the old woman who gave birth to you, and wait a few moments more, until she falls back to sleep.
You get up to wipe yourself off and rinse your face.
“Menachem, is that you?”
Hearing her shaky, familiar voice, you are overwhelmed with dejection.
“Yes, Mom, it’s me.”
You are forty-one years old, and for forty-one years you have been sharing the same roof – a large apartment, laden with furniture, overlooking the old cemetery on Trumpeldor Street.
You never married. It’s always been just the two of you. Once there was your father who left when you were a boy. What remains of him is a last name and a distant memory, a hazy image of the two of you at Frishman Beach. You heard he was a mechanical engineer, and when you grew up you thought of following him but your mother objected.
“An engineer without fingers is not natural,” she said. “With your brain, you should be a lawyer.”
You are a tort lawyer, an employee in a respectable firm. You make a decent living and you heard that Kornhauser, the managing director of the firm, is planning to offer you a partnership. You’re thinking about it, but for a number of years you’ve also been thinking about the next phase. With your mother’s encouragement, you have applied for a judgeship and have made it to the final committee. You received an offer as a judge in the Magistrate’s Court in the south district.
“What are they sending you there for? You should be in Tel-Aviv. Tell them,” your mother declared with a horrified look when you finally told her.
You deferred the offer and decided to wait until the next round. In another three months, after the holidays, the committee will reconvene. You are sure you have a good chance of getting something in Tel-Aviv or at least in the Central District.
Your mother wakes you up every morning. She knocks on your door and you get up to brush your teeth, and sometimes have a shower. After you put on the toupee that she bought you when you began to bald, you go into the kitchen.
The curtains have already been drawn and the cemetery comes into view from behind the decaying bars that have always been there. Breakfast awaits you on the table. An omelet with cheese, and olives, and tomatoes, and rye bread that your mother has already gone out to buy at the neighborhood grocer’s. Your ironed button-down shirt (either white or checkered) is on the ironing board in the living room. You put it on only after you have eaten heartily – the bread and eggs, and the cheese that softens in your mouth – and take a quick look at the newspaper that arrives every morning. You sip your coffee with milk – prepared exactly the way you like it – focusing on the legal and economics sections.
Most days she cooks you something to take to the office (lunch at 1pm sharp). Usually chicken and rice, or liver with mashed potatoes, and always a salad on the side. She’s not a half-bad cook. On Friday evenings, after you’ve read all of your newspapers and before your evening walk, you sit together at the table covered with a white cloth. She serves the baked fish and potatoes, or some foreign-looking Middle-Eastern dish that she learned to cook from the TV.
In the evenings, you take walks. You wear gloves. You don’t like to attract attention, so they’re off-white, like the color of your skin. They conceal the stump you’ve had since childhood.
You meander through the back roads of the city, but sometimes you walk down Ben-Yehuda and Gordon, where there are plenty of basement apartments, and a dense undergrowth of wild, flowering bushes. Your favorite time is between nine and eleven. This is the time when people are at home and still wide-awake, and it is dark enough so that no one can see you.
Your mother is used to your routine. You get home at seven-thirty and your supper is waiting. She tells you about her day. Sometimes you listen and even ask questions. You have a cup of coffee, watch the news and go out for your walk.
“Yes, a walk is good after you have strained your brain all day,” she agrees, as she kisses you.
You take your bag and go out into the Tel-Aviv summer air, mixed with the smell of stale body odor and dog pee. Your gloved hands perspiring, you make sure that your toupee is in place. When you near Dizengoff Square, your pace quickens and becomes rhythmic. You become excited as you envision your first destination.
You discovered the garden apartment on the quiet Hershenberg Street just a few weeks before while looking for a new place: a side window covered by hibiscus or wild bougainvillea. The ideal yard should be abandoned, and not serve as a passageway of any kind. If the main pipes run across it, that’s even better. You always carry a wrench, just in case anyone asks.
In the beginning, you wandered around Spinoza and King Solomon Streets, checked the yards and entrances, but nothing turned up. You continued up Gordon and sat on a bench on the corner of Hershenberg near a grocery store that seemed abandoned, even though a dim light burned and a family-pack of mineral water stood outside. You looked up at an aging building; behind it was an unattended yard, and you noticed a light go on in the ground-floor apartment.
You decided to check it out.
You walked confidently towards the building and decisively turned to the right. It was dark. With reservation, you peeked into the apartment, and you saw a woman in her late-thirties. You saw her curly hair, and how she sat, dispirited. You discerned that she was quite full-figured, but not necessarily fat. You took a good look at her, her small nose, thin lips, and roundish face. Not especially pretty, you thought, but interesting.
Now, on the corner of Dizengoff and Gordon, you become increasingly excited and you practically run towards the apartment. A car almost runs you over, and the driver yells, “Asshole!” A feeling of shame overcomes you as you realize that people are staring. You continue towards Hershenberg Street and quickly disappear around the corner. You always were light on your feet.
You look at your watch; you notice it is nine-fifteen. You enter determinedly into the yard behind the building. You find the place where you usually position yourself. The woman is sitting in a chair, her pale hands wrapped around a coffee cup. Like every evening, she is watching cable TV – an American series – the name of which you’ll never know. She seems mesmerized by the program. Her mouth is agape and her eyes wide as she is taken in by one of the scenes.
At nine-thirty, the closing-theme melody is heard and she sits back. As usual, when the program ends, her mother comes into the living room (they live together).
The bent-over, emaciated woman has thick glasses and a wrinkled, sallow face. You can’t tell from where you are standing, but you definitely wouldn’t be surprised if this withered, shriveled old woman had long, gray hairs protruding from her chin, just like your mother.
The old woman sits down and asks how the episode was, and the daughter answers, “Mediocre.” You hear that they are talking about the daughter’s work. You figure she is a librarian or a secretary at the university, because sometimes she mentions students. She doesn’t seem smart enough to be a professor (your mother taught you that professors were smart). You expect to hear something about what you saw two days ago, as almost every discussion between them is about men who disappear from the daughter’s life; she, like you, has been living with her mother since the day she was born. Sometimes they talk of a specific man – someone she’s met on the internet or on the bus. You usually detect anticipation in the daughter’s voice when speaking of a new man, and disappointment after the meeting, from which, most often, nothing pans out.
But you hear nothing of what happened the day before yesterday, when the mother was away for the weekend in Haifa, visiting the other daughter.
At nine-thirty of that day, after the Friday evening meal, couscous with vegetables à la recipe from the TV, you arrived at the apartment. It was empty, so you continued on your walk, and on the way back, around eleven o’clock, walking down the street with your hands (gloves) stuffed into your pockets, you saw them approaching the building. He was her height, but his gait had an air of ownership. When they passed under a street lamp you saw that he was rather muscular (from the gym, not the pool), and held a cigarette between his sausage-like fingers.
You slowed down when you noticed them, and continued to walk, as usual, on the opposite side of the street. They didn’t notice you and entered the building. The man snuffed out the cigarette and was about to throw it on the ground, but then paused for a moment and threw the butt into a nearby trashcan (very civilized).
You stood outside and saw the lights go on. You entered the yard deftly and positioned yourself on your footprints that had been made long ago. She offered him coffee or wine, and he asked if there was any whiskey. She replied that there wasn’t any, but she had liqueur, which she pronounced as the French do. He drank the liqueur and boomed, “Not bad,” nodding his head like someone listening to a well-conducted orchestra. His expression was coarse, and his face, pockmarked. She sat in the chair that was ordinarily occupied by her mother.
“So – what – you’re big on the internet scene?” he asked.
She replied with something you weren’t able to discern.
“You don’t say,” he said.
They sat there in silence for a few moments and then he turned to her and said gruffly, “Why are you sitting so far away? What, you afraid I’m gonna bite you?”
She rose and went over to sit next to him and he said, “There. That’s more like it.”
He set down his glass of liqueur and in one short swoop, placed his hands on her breasts, and began kneading them like dough.
“That’s right, this is much better, isn’t it?” he said. She stared into space and said, “Uh-huh”.
For a second you thought she had spotted you, but then you realized that she had been staring at a picture just above you, because the man looked in your direction and said, “You like art, Renaissance, Van Gogh, huh?” She moved her gaze upwards and let out a weak sigh as he kissed her neck.
“Man – I’ve had the hots for you ever since I saw those pictures you sent. Holy-moly… those nipples. Big as tennis balls,” he groaned through his drool-filled mouth.
Unexpectedly, she nudged him back slightly.
“No, Gabi, not here. In the bedroom,” she appealed.
You saw both of them rise. Gabi slid a hand over his erection and said as if to himself, “She wants the bedroom, so it’s the bedroom.”
They disappeared behind one of the doors.
You walked to another window, but it was closed. You went back to the main window and waited.
Fifteen minutes later, you spotted him coming out of the room, bare-chested, wearing American-style briefs. His chest was hairy. His face displaying satisfaction, he lit a cigarette; you saw him coming in your direction. Frightened, you sat down on the ground and saw the smoke exiting his lungs just above you. Now and again, you heard him breathing heavily, the breathing of an animal. He flicked what remained of the cigarette at you and retreated into the apartment. You decided not to risk it and crawled your way out of the yard. It is already after midnight and your mother will undoubtedly worry.
So you went back the next day as well, but the house was empty; you decided to come back again today. You realize that the daughter, who you thought told her mother everything during their nightly conversations, doesn’t intend to mention Gabi. You wonder how mistaken you’ve been in thinking that you knew her. A feeling of gloom overtakes you, witnessing their banal conversation, and you leave.
You return to the dark house on Pinsker Street. You sense the smell of death from the adjacent cemetery. The apartments in the building are uninhabited. Someone has bought them all – except for yours – and rents them out to tourists on a weekly basis (yesterday the last couple left – they were Dutch).
You turn the key in the lock.
“Menachem, is that you?” You hear her sleep-induced voice. You say that it is, even though you know she is just like a dog: in tune with your steps, the sound of the key in the lock and your smell.
“I was beginning to worry,” says the voice from under the heavy quilts with which she shrouds herself, even in the summer.
You go into the bathroom and peer at yourself in the mirror: prominent forehead, shaving sores on your throat, bushy eyebrows, pallor, wrinkles that have begun to appear under your brown eyes.
Lately you have begun to resemble your father, but there is no one to tell you that, not even your mother, who is unwilling to talk about him.
When you were younger, you unsuccessfully tried to crack the barrier that she had built around the mysterious image of the man who bequeathed you his last name. You saw her face shut down when you began to ask her questions that involved more than just technical details, and how it contorted in excruciating pain when you went a step further, and asked about your sister. Deep inside you knew that there was a connection between the disappearances of these two figures, but you decided to respect her wish and let go.
You remove the gloves and toupee, and are left with a shining, absolute baldness staring at you from the mirror. You place the toupee on the small table and wash your face. You pee and look at your mother’s robe hanging in front of you. It is large and pink and smells of mildew and peroxide.
You go back into your room. The barred bedroom window lends a partial view of the cemetery, and in the distance, you notice a man sitting on his porch smoking a cigarette. It seems like he is looking at you.
You close the shutters and pick up the biography of Justice Haim Cohen from the shelf.
You already know that your dream of being a supreme justice is out of the question, but still believe that you could be appointed as a judge in a magistrate court, and maybe even, with your mother’s prodding, a district judge.
You set down the book and move your hand under the covers. You think about masturbating but decide against it. You look at the hand with the three missing fingers and think about Gabi and the woman, whose name, oddly enough you still don’t know. You are curious as to whether they’ll stick it out.
You go back there the next day, and the days that follow, but the daughter isn’t there. Only the old woman is sitting and watching television through her lenses, thick as the bottom of a beer glass. You continue your walks.
On Schatz Street, you listen to the conversation between two young women. One of them is pretty, wearing hotpants. You are aroused. They are talking about the fact that there is a serious shortage of “green”. Even now, almost twenty years since you’ve begun to be familiar with the residents of the ground-floor apartments, you don’t know what this “green” is (after all, you’re an attorney – an officer of the court). Eventually, you understand that it means marijuana. One of them, the less pretty of the two, leaves for a second and comes back with a little box. They sit in the living room and one of them is fiddling with something. You hear someone opening the blinds in the apartment above. You’ve learned to recognize the sounds. You brace yourself against the wall like a lizard and look up carefully through the filigree of the ficus tree branches. You know that no one can see you, unless they shine a spotlight on you. You’ve been at this for years – with the stealth of a skulking cat – and you’ve never been caught.
You look upwards in slow motion, and see light coming from the windows above, while you are still ensconced in utter darkness. The girls begin to smoke, and the smell of marijuana finds its way into your nostrils. You sneeze with the restraint you have learned over the years. Silence. You linger on and gaze at the pretty one. She says she is going to take a shower. You don’t resist temptation, and move quickly, like a squirrel, towards the small, frosted window. The window is locked, and your view is obstructed. You give up and return to the big, wide window. You step on something that makes a noise, and the less-pretty girl is startled. “Who’s there?” she yells out in alarm. But you are already on your way, your gait insistent, towards the street corner.
You’ve been addicted to your other, mysterious, nocturnal life ever since you were in university (you were on the Dean’s list – seventh in your class). Back then, you were in love with Ruthie Witkon. You tried to draw her attention in the cafeteria and in the library, but all she returned was a dismissive glare. One day you sat down not too far away from her while she was talking to another guy. She didn’t notice you, or maybe didn’t even know who you were. You listened attentively while they spoke of where they lived.
In the days that followed, you walked up and down her street, hoping to bump into her. You planned on saying, “Pardon me – don’t we share a class in law school? And if I’m not mistaken, your last name is Witkon, as in Justice Alfred Witkon?” You were sure that that would impress her. When she sees what an interesting person you are, she’ll want to talk to you. Yes – that’s what you thought.
One evening you spotted her from afar, and you wanted to walk over to her, but you didn’t have the nerve. You noticed her enter the building and then the light flick on in the ground-floor apartment.
During the long weeks ahead, you became invisible as you stood like a fixture, dumbstruck by this woman walking around in her underwear, picking her nose, smelling her armpits. You saw her enter the bathroom with a newspaper and cigarettes, and much later, exit, sweaty and spent. You saw her dance to ridiculous music and jump for joy after a phone call from a man, who probably had asked her out (“Yes, we can meet there,” she said with rehearsed indifference). You saw her cry when she came home, dragging her feet, and seething, “Bastard”. You saw her the way people appear when they are alone.
You also saw her packing after a year and a half, to go and live with her boyfriend (not with the bastard – someone else); you saw the old man who took her place. You watched his round glasses and his clumsy gait, ready to keel over. You were privy to his horrendous farts, and impending death that you foresaw.
And then, after weeks during which you found it difficult to part with the apartment that constituted the last memory of the woman you loved, you decided to fill your life with something palpable through the lives of others who lived in other ground-floor apartments.
You mostly saw men: flexing their muscles in front of grimy mirrors, burning omelets, smoking, or jacking off in front of porno flicks. A couple of times you saw these men undressing young women, licking their sweat-coated bodies, mounting them and a few moments later lunging backwards, as though from the mouth of a cannon. There were a few times when men undressed other men, sodomized them consensually in both of the ways defined by the criminal court act (I mean, you are a lawyer).
But this kind of intimacy ceased to interest you after two or three years. You began to take interest in conversations, movements, facial expressions, subtle gestures. From time to time, you stood outside real-estate agencies or accounting firms, watching people clad in worn-out shirts, late in the evening. You listened to their phone conversations with clients or with their wives. You heard them complaining about work, about the boss who left them at the office; you saw the forlorn expression on their face staring at the computer screen, and that of despair, between cupped hands and elbows glued to the desk. You saw them ordering take-away, and then running to their desk to tear off the wrapping, then stuffing the pizza or schnitzel into their mouth.
You searched for people you would like to know, craving their friendship. But for some reason, those people didn’t live in the ground-floor apartments of the city, where wild bougainvillea and hibiscus grew. Eventually, you made do with those you would just know a little more about, just like that thirty-something-year-old woman with the curly hair, who sat every evening watching American television.
It was over a month since you’d seen her. And then, one Friday evening after a supper that lasted longer than you had anticipated (your mother wanted to know what your chances were of passing the last stage of the judicial committee and said that being a judge would grant you a completely different status (“Yes, a completely different status,” you echoed)). You arrived at the apartment. You peered through the window and you saw Gabi. He was amused by what he was watching on TV and blurted out, “Tikva, you gotta see this” (only then did I learn what her name was). Tikva appeared from one of the rooms and looked haggard. She sat down next to him. She was also wearing an athletic shirt and you could make out the curves of her breasts. She held a frozen expression, and sometimes she forced a laugh. The program ended, and Gabi lit a cigarette.
“Believe me, if it was only us two here, we could party like this every night,” he bellowed, even though she was sitting right next to him. Tikva didn’t respond, and he continued, “And she, she’ll have it good there. People her age. And you will, too. People should be with other people their own age.”
“She’ll never go along with it,” Tikva said. Gabi finished dragging on the cigarette and stubbed it out agitatedly.
“She won’t go along with it? We’ll make her go along with it,” he said to Tikva, and began mashing her breasts. She extended her hand automatically, and without interest or desire, began to rub his dick through his tight jeans.
“I feel like doing it here. On the table. Where your mother eats,” he said.
Tikva whispered something, but he ignored it and began undressing her.
“No, Gabi, not here. In the bedroom,” you heard her say to the man who lifted her and dragged her to the table, stood behind her, and peeled off her underwear. You stood there, agape, appalled, as you saw her face contort in pain. It seemed that she was looking right at you, that she saw you, or maybe she thought she saw some sort of angel. Gabi moved inside her, his fired-up expression stretched out towards the ceiling. He looked like some kind of prehistoric beast.
“So that’s what she said to you? That a professor and a taxi driver don’t make a good match?” he yelled, accelerating his thrusts. “So there, Madam Lily. This taxi driver is fucking your fancy PhD daughter,” he exploded.
The pained expression had already left Tikva’s face (so she is a professor and not a librarian or a secretary) and she seemed at peace. At that same moment, you couldn’t help but notice the similarity between her and her mother.
Your mouth opened involuntarily. You thought you were about to vomit, but you were mortified by the scream you heard.
“Leave her alone!”
It was a high-pitched voice, effeminate, hysterical, that erupted from within in times of anguish (you’ll never know that it was actually the same voice that came from the abysmal depths of your father as he witnessed his daughter crawl to her death, almost fifty years before).
The man lunged backward; Tikva jumped up and covered herself. You managed to hear him roar, and maybe even the door open, but you were already running across Gordon Street, blending in with others who were out and about. You decided that it was the last time you would go there.
You leave the room after the committee members congratulate you. From now on, you are “Your Honor Menachem Neiman”. You go home and your mother cries in happiness. She calls to make a reservation at a fancy restaurant. “A table for two, at eight o’clock. The name is Judge Neiman,” she says to the woman on the other end of the line. “Neiman,” the woman repeats. “Yes, His Honor, Judge Neiman,” your mother stresses.
The two of you get there at eight and are the sole diners.
You talk of your improved financial situation, and of the responsibilities of your new position. You decide that you should buy a few more dress shirts, and perhaps turn the closed-off room into a study. You are now a judge and you will have to read a lot of legal material as well as reference books in order to expand your knowledge in the field. You’ll also start reading more novels.
“Russian literature,” your mother tells you, as she inadvertently spits some focaccia in your direction.
“Absolutely,” you reply.
You eat tortellini with tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese. You also dip your focaccia in the sauce and drink a bottle of wine.
Your head is spinning. You are not accustomed to drinking.
At ten o’clock, you ask for the bill, and start walking towards the apartment. The autumn wind is already blowing in from the sea, and your mother says, “Winter’s coming.”
“Yes,” you reply. “It is.”
You like the cool air and your long raincoat that allows you to walk freely with your gloved hands in its pockets. You like that during the winter, people are home, and those who most often sit by themselves, with a cup of tea or a cigarette, seem to be more exposed. You like that the yards are dark and empty, and that most people are less apt to leave their windows open, but not completely closed either – slightly ajar – letting in the fresh air and offering you optimum camouflage. The rain, on the other hand, you don’t like, because when it is raining, people tend to gaze outside.
You both return to the apartment, slightly inebriated, and you tell her that you are going out for a short stroll. She convulses in terror, and tries to dissuade you, saying it’s late and you had a day full of excitement and you need your rest. She offers to make you a cup of tea. But you insist, and leave the house with ease.
Your feet carry you involuntarily, towards Dizengoff Square and then towards Gordon Street. You are filled with excitement from the day’s events, and tomorrow, you plan on entering the office with overstated dignity. You imagine your colleagues green with envy.
“Perhaps we didn’t give him enough credit,” they’ll say.
Unwittingly, you wend your way towards Hershenberg Street, but only to take a quick peek into the window. It’s been three months since you’ve seen Tikva, and almost every night you masturbate thinking of her, of her transposed stare as Gabi, excited, is violently inside her.
Now, due to your new status, you decide to contact her. Although you don’t know her full name – you found nothing on the mailbox, and nothing came up on the university website – you could possibly wait outside the building one day and try to strike up an incidental conversation. You won’t arouse suspicion, because you will do it after you are an appointed judge, and people tend to believe, even admire, judges. You will ask her if she doesn’t happen to work in the courthouse, because you thought you had seen her there. She will ask if you are a lawyer, and you will say, understatedly, that you are a judge. That will immediately impress her.
You stand in front of the building and hear a commotion coming from the apartment. Even though you have already decided not to look inside, you are curious, and decide to check things out anyway. You approach the window (you are a little bit drunk), and you stand next to it, unheedingly. You see five men, and a woman stripping to some pop music you do not know.
The men have gathered around, all geared up and clapping their hands. Gabi is wearing some sort of hat that says something on it. You look for Tikva, but don’t see her. “On him… on him, that’s the guy who’s tying the knot!” whoops a muscular man bearing a vulgar expression, pointing towards Gabi.
Chills go up your spine; you feel as if your blood is trickling out of your body. Your head is light, and you jolt with a sudden carelessness.
“What is that? There’s someone at the window,” shouts one of the men.
Gabi looks at the guy who shouted, then at you, and leaps off the couch: “Holy fuck! That’s the peeping Tom!” he belts out in disbelief.
You try to escape on your nimble feet and jump the fence. Your toupee gets caught in a branch, and you go back to retrieve it. You run across the street, holding the toupee in your hand and replace it quickly. You feel your legs dragging you down; you are losing your balance.
You hear the swift, forceful footfalls of boots. They are Gabi’s violent, leather strides, followed by his small group of muscle (from the gym, not the pool). Not far from the abandoned grocery store, on the sidewalk reeking of fermented ficus fruit and dog pee, you trip and fall. They are upon you.
You begin to feel that your face is searing and wet and you try to protect yourself with only your good hand and your stump.
Gabi, who is kicking you in the ribs, back, and face, doesn’t stop, even when your toupee falls off. “How about some of this, you cock-sucker. And this,” he thunders.
One of his friends pours beer all over you and kicks you straight in the nuts and roars, “Peeping Tom, eh?” as if his outburst reminds him of why he is beating you.
You can hardly manage to get the glove off your right hand, hoping that this might help you. You barely raise your hand, just a moment before someone cracks your head against the sidewalk.
“What the fuck?!” Martin yells in horror, when he sees you have no fingers.
Gabi spits to the side, as though taking five.
“Holy crap – there’s no goddamn fingers!”
The men stop abruptly, not knowing what to do with this, as though your being impaired minimizes the severity of what you’ve done. As though they should let you off easy.
Suddenly, as though from a distant place or time, you hear an uproarious cry, effeminate and tormented – that of a woman being dismembered. And then, when it stops, you hear the shuffling and scraping of the men who have killed you, fading away.
At the same time, your hands by your side and your left cheek to the ground, your head bleeding and your bones crushed, you begin to take stock of your life. Not only of what would have happened if you hadn’t, on the spur of the moment, decided to return to that building, but of how your life might have unfolded if you hadn’t received the judicial appointment that day. You probably wouldn’t have gone out to celebrate and you probably wouldn’t have found your way to the apartment just when Gabi’s bachelor party was underway. Or what would have happened if you hadn’t discovered the apartment on Hershenberg, or listened to Ruthie Witkon’s incidental conversation. What would have happened if your fingers hadn’t been severed (in the winter, when you went with your father to visit one of his buddies, you went into the bathroom; the wind slammed the door shut. You only started screaming after a few moments), or if your sister had still been alive. How different would your life have been, that is, if you had had a life at all, in light of the fact that you were born to fill a death-induced void.
As you hear the ambulance that someone called for nearing, you revert to the unrealized possibilities of your life, to missed opportunities and loss, to the only two women with whom you had slept with all of these years, especially the more serious one you thought of marrying six years before (“European lawyer, bachelor, 34/175, interested in literature and philosophy, seeking same. Feminine features desirable,” you wrote in the classifieds). You revisit your mother’s contorted face when she appraised your choice, and what she had said that evening, in a cold, metallic tone: “My son can do better.”
You know that if you had followed your heart, and hadn’t broken it off with that woman, you wouldn’t be lying here today, being placed on a stretcher by two religious paramedics, one of them saying in a rusty voice as though through a large pipe or metal helmet, “God have mercy. What a mess!”
In your heart of hearts, that is about to stop beating, you hope they don’t find Gabi and his friends, to prevent your mother’s shame. “Israeli Judge – Peeping Tom”, the headlines would claim. What a disgraceful death. A ludicrous death. Worse than dying from a heart attack while taking a crap.
The ambulance begins to drive away, while the sound of the siren is fading. During those moments you feel like you are floating, and you suddenly think of your father. Images of both you and your father on the beach rise and hover before your eyes.
Your funeral procession held in the cemetery under your childhood room – inching towards the plot she bought for you, between her plot and that of another, smaller one, that bears the name of your baby sister, the two years of her life chiseled in the stone.
Your mother was dressed in a black gown and was mumbling some sort of mantra: “He so wanted to be a judge… a judge.” And then, on the edge of the grave – after four men you never knew have briskly carried you on the stretcher – her knees buckle on the threshold of the open pit. Someone pours water on her, and she groans in agony like a wounded animal.
Someone else in a white shirt, sullied with earth, restrains her as she tries to follow you into the gaping pit. She shrieks, as you have never heard her before, “That’s my baby in there. I have nothing else to live for.”
Hundreds of people came to the funeral, after the newspapers’ headlines in the morning papers read: “Another Judge Murdered”—though you never judged; not even one single day in your life.
The President of the Supreme Court was there, as well as the Minister of Justice who gave a speech (“We will catch the guilty parties and justice will be served. In Israel, a judge’s life is not to be forsaken”).
Your colleagues were also there, bobbing their heads from side to side in disbelief, while Kornhauser, who had always thought you were a bit odd, placed a huge bouquet on the mound.
Among the crowd, at a safe distance from the grave, stood an old man weeping silently. He is the man who a few years before you were born had been in charge of his baby daughter as she climbed on the windowsill, and then, a moment before it was all over, still managed to emit the terrifying cry that followed her to her death.
This is the man who could hardly cope with the memory of his dead daughter – that echoed through the bars that were installed after the tragedy and sealed up the house like a dog kennel – and who completely broke down after his second count of negligence, responsible for the crippling of the baby who had been born as a consolation.
This man, a few years after you were born, left the apartment inherited from his wife’s parents, and never came back, not even to sign the divorce papers.
But this man could not sever his old life from the new one, and continued over the years to wonder what had become of you and your mother, his wife, and how your life had changed as a result of his abandonment.
Around the time you were a law student, when she had begun to leave the house less and less, he stopped watching her, and began living his life through yours. Through dark glasses and under a gray cap, without you knowing who he was, he watched you almost every day and every night, while you were watching others. You often looked at his face without realizing that you were becoming just like him: your gaze, your nimble gait, your posture.
This man, your invisible shadow, was also there on the night of your death. He stood stupefied near the empty grocery store on Gordon Street and watched, frozen and powerless, while you were being beaten to death, and only after several terrifying minutes did he let out that same horrific scream from the depths of within.