Oscar

 

Oscar

By Ofir Oz

Translated from Hebrew by Anati Bloch

 

On the third day into the war, the first rocket landed in Beersheva. People equipped themselves with bomb shelters, news flashes, and a fresh alertness. Only I felt alienated from all this activity. I knew there was no chance a rocket would drop on me—that the chances were akin to winning the lottery—but like all addicts, I didn’t stop hoping.
           
Noga and I live in a nice but cluttered ground floor apartment on Olei Hagardom Street, at the corner of Yad Vashem. We have a little garden in which we grow sage, mint, basil, rosemary, lemon beebrush and which is visited by at least ten alley cats who hop on the pavement between us and the neighbors, as if dancing at two weddings.
           
Now that the lectures at the university have been cancelled, there really is nothing to drag me out of bed. My nights of drinking stretch into the wee hours of the morning, long after the last student has left the bar. People in Israel don’t know how to drink. In Finland drinking is a national sport, a social gathering lasting many hours. Here, I am shocked to discover every time that only the bartender and I are left standing to bring the night to a close. When he tries to pick me up, I give him a gentle hint that I am here only in order to drink, and we toast one final beer to those who appreciate good alcohol before we gulp it down thirstily. I plod along home in morning’s first light. I love the silence, the gaiety of birds, the clean air, before hordes of ugly and obtuse people trample the pavement with their feet, scorching the silence with roaring engines. It’s then that the animals flee for their lives, hiding in fear of arbitrary hearts and crudeness, until the day passes. When I reflect on it, I am much more suited to be a bird than a human.
           
I get home and collapse into bed, falling asleep instantly, prolonging sleep until late afternoon. When I wake, Noga is never there; she is in the middle of her productive day, all vital and active. I drink coffee and land desperately on the couch, reading a book or some essay. Only when evening falls do I leave home to stroll around the neighborhood so my body will not degenerate completely. I walk past the Mafia house with the big yard, which is always covered with green tarpaulin to hide something. To hide what? They have a Jaguar parked there and another old car, windows all shattered and tires punctured, stationary for the past three months. I cross the parking lot towards the 24/7 kiosk to buy some entertainment, before tonight’s despondency sets in. I buy a few beers, joke with the attendant, pretend I’m at the bar; pretend he is the barman and the bowl of licorice between us is a bowl of pretzels. Most likely Ezra, the neighborhood’s homeless guy, has already taken his seat there, slouched on the chair in his perpetual parka, using the chair’s hard wooden back as if it were a soft pillow, staring at the television suspended on the wall.  
           
Siren.
           
A car screeches to a stop near me. The driver leaves the car, slams the door shut and runs to hide under a residential building. After he disappears I hear a beeping sound behind me and the car’s headlights flash twice. Rocket or no rocket, he will not forget to lock his car. I stand in the middle of the street. I look around me. People scamper in the street like in a game of hide-and-seek. For a moment I imagine I am the “seeker” and everyone is hiding from me. One by one they disappear into the alleyways, in the bushes, behind buildings. The street empties. Complete and abrupt silence. I am alone on the road, like on Yom Kippur. Waiting patiently. Maybe it will hit me after all?
 
People don’t know it, but it’s really hard to die. There are actually no good methods, there is no pleasant injection or pill to take with half a glass of water before bedtime. You must suffer even to end the suffering. And courage, you need lots of courage, which at the moment I don’t really have. I read about an excellent way to die once, described in some futuristic book: you hire a gang whose mission it is to kill you. You don’t know how they will do it, where, or when. You only know what type of weapon they will use. You too can have a weapon to fight back; try to kill them yourself—it’s a “sport” for rich people who have had enough of their boring lives—or you can simply wait for death to catch you most unexpectedly, with a blow of an axe to the nape of the neck or a poisoned arrow straight to the heart, like a "Grad" rocket falling from the sky.
 
 
 
A week into the war, I walk home with groceries. When unexpectedly, a little kitten appears: red-haired, ugly, shivering in his wet, scraggly fur, in the cold weather of early January. I bend towards him. He meows, limping towards me on his scrawny legs, like a broken toy. Only then do I notice the infected eye, inflamed, swollen with pus. I open a cottage cheese container, dip my finger into it, and let him lick it off. His coarse little tongue tickles my finger. He gorges it all down in seconds. I dip my pinky this time and give it to him as well. He sniffs, tilting his head slightly sideways and licks from the side, serious and focused on his meal. Suddenly he stops, before he has finished it all, skips over me and runs off. I don’t understand. I follow his escape. A whistle in the sky. Boom. The world shakes. I fall backwards and know at once that it has happened. I was hit by a rocket. Well, I wasn’t exactly hit, he was, the little kitten. He ran straight into that rocket. Through the smoke I can see the hole in the ground and I quickly look away. I don’t want to see, don’t want to know. People run around me. I hear voices: “Everything is fine! Thank God no one was hurt!” What no one? A little cat died here, a kitten. As it was, he spent his entire life wandering around wheels of cars and groups of young thugs, and now because of our stupid wars he is dead. I hate you, hate this hysteria, the “Israeliness” that is so easily shocked. So what if someone dies? What is the great disaster? Only a little more space in our crowded world, a little less evil, with a little bit more room for cats. I hope you all die in this war, along with me.
           
I start crying in the ambulance, not knowing if for me or for the cat. I sit there alone across from a serious-looking, white, fat, Russian paramedic. All sorts of devices hang around us: ampoules, oxygen masks, open boxes with bandages in them. The siren screams loudly, clearing the streets for us. I want to tell the paramedic that there is no need, I am absolutely fine. But he keeps asking me questions, like what my name is, and where do I live, and what do I study. I answer concisely and end up telling him about the cat, too—about how it ran out of my hands straight into the rocket. When I’m done talking, he is silent for a while and then he says: “That cat saved your life.”
           
I stare at him. What does that mean?
           
“If you hadn’t bent to stroke the cat, the ricochets from the rocket would have hit you. That’s why there is a directive to lie flat on the ground if you can’t find cover. You are very lucky.”      
I get it then. If I had ignored the cat and gone on walking, he would have been alive now and I would have been dead.
           
Venom runs in my veins.
           
“Too bad,” I mumble.
           
“About what?”
           
“Too bad that I didn’t die in his place. I’ve been waiting for this moment for ten years.”
           
Right after my words disappear, one by one, into his ear canal, do I understand my dire mistake. He gets a grim look on his face. Me and my luck: it’s so like me to end up with a meticulous paramedic, one who works by the book, informing his superiors. I look at him and totally get that I am in trouble.
 
 
 
On the psychiatric ward I meet Liad. Liad’s purpose in life is to create world peace, and these days he is toiling to get it done. When Liad was in the army, a bullet penetrated his brain. The bullet ricocheted from a rock that was supposed to give him cover from some imaginary enemy, but was shot from behind him, accidentally, by another guy in his platoon. The bullet penetrated the helmet on the left, and miraculously deviated to the right, only slightly burning some nerve endings. Ever since then it has triggered manic-depressive episodes that are becoming more frequent, alongside a few symptoms of schizophrenia.
 
           
 
Liad was admitted to the psychiatric ward after the police caught him wandering around the Bahá’í Gardens long after the last visitor had left. The cops asked him what he was doing there, and Liad tried hard to recall, but could not explain why he had climbed the fences and fallen into the garden. The poor Bahá’ís; now they must work for an entire week to straighten, organize, and arrange the corner he tramped down. The police arrested him, and after they realized who they were dealing with, transferred him to the psychiatric ward. It took them quite a while to understand that he was not a dangerous criminal, but a good kid, an outstanding soldier, whose head had become a little loose on his shoulders.
           
When Liad is manic it’s all fun and play. We all gather around him on the beds and he stands in the middle, entertaining us with his peace plans.
 
“First the world has to be prepared,” he opens his speech. “It will not happen in a day. Because everybody is already used to wars and hatred. Us too. We must first grasp how truly racist we are. Think about it: we were the most victimized in the history of racism at the hand of another nation, but we hate the Russians, we are condescending towards Ethiopians, we want all the Arabs to die, Bedouins are good only for their coffee, the Druze are good for dying in our wars, the French are anti-Semites, and the Swiss are evil just because they have it good while we have it bad. We are enraged by the puniest Holocaust denier, but we ourselves suck up to the Turks, who slaughtered two million Armenians during World War I, but that doesn’t count as denial of a holocaust; we simply must maintain a good relationship with them, because they hate the Iraqis, which is good for us. And the fact that millions are being killed in Sudan and Congo, that’s not a holocaust and it’s none of our business; we have enough problems of our own. Let someone else help them, let America come, let the European Union come—they owe us from back then, when they did business with Hitler.”
           
He stops for a moment.
           
“Where was I?” he asks, and before any of the other patients can get a word in edgeways, he remembers: “Yes! But first I must get out of here.”
 
 
 
Noga visits me almost every day. We catch up on news about the war, we watch television and see the bombings in Gaza and the rockets that fall here: in Sderot, in Ashkelon, in the kibbutzim, and another Grad rocket not far from our flat on Olei Hagardom Street. Noga tries to sound normal and tells me about recent gossip from her department. Her stories are not very interesting. It seems to me that she forces herself to fill our meetings with talk, as if trying to distract me from something. Later we sit on the balcony and remove blackheads from one another. It’s an old addiction we have: to find the tiny ripe heads on the nose, the chin, the forehead, and then, get into proper position, aim the nails, and gently squeeze the flesh, until our reward sprouts—one less blackhead. Sometimes when Noga has no more blackheads, I blame her for betraying me with an esthetician.
           
Liad comes in when it’s my turn to get the blackhead treatment. At the exact moment of total concentration he sits between us so naturally and endearingly—without a moment’s thought that he may be interrupting—and reads to us a sweet poem he wrote about life on the psychiatric ward. I don’t remember the whole poem, only the last two lines:
           
I get the pill when they lose all hope,
           
And don’t ask me who ties the rope.
           
The rope is in reference to him being strapped to his bed when he becomes unmanageable.
 
Noga is enthralled. Liad has totally mesmerized her. She asks him questions and he tells her about the importance of birth control and about a worldwide demographic catastrophe gradually edging upon us in as near as the next fifty years. He intends to deal with that right after world peace is achieved, and Noga promises to do her part, at least in the area of making peace. 
           
We keep at it until it gets dark outside and Noga has to leave. Liad promises her that she has potential to do great things and that the world will know her name, and then returns to his own business. I walk her outside. When we cross the guard post she asks me, amused, if anything is going on between me and Liad. I deny it vigorously.
 
 
*
 
 
Liad and I lie in our beds a few minutes before “lights out.”
           
“So why do you actually want to die?” he asks.
           
“The reasons are plentiful.”
           
“Like what?”
           
“Like because of you.”
           
“Us?”
           
“Yes.”
           
“You mean men?”
           
“Yes.”
           
“Why us?”
           
“Because you crippled us.”
           
“How did we cripple you?”
           
I turn to him. He lies there, all comfy, as if nothing in this world can hurt him, patiently waiting for my answer, playing it innocent, but I can see the mockery in his eyes. He is enjoying this.
           
“Do you really not understand?” I offer him a generous out, a final chance to withdraw.
           
“No, I really do not understand. How have we crippled you?”
           
Instantly, the background noise abates, the patients on the ward are suddenly silent. Maybe they can smell war, or maybe they’re not paying attention to us and are just getting ready for sleep. Distant mumbles from the nurses’ station. The large windows overlook the buildings across the road—the land of the sane.
           
I open my mouth and scream out to the world:
 
“Because you took out your dicks and cut off our hands and feet!”
           
At last he is quiet. The halls are also quiet. Hadar and Sivan come from the nurses’ station, approaching us stealthily, quiet and alert, watchful bystanders, making sure the situation doesn’t escalate into an eruption.
           
“This is why I take Ninjitsu classes,” I continue. “To be able to gouge out the eyes of the next person who pulls his dick out at me.”
           
“But if you kill yourself you won’t be able to gouge out his eyes.”
           
“Liad! That’s enough!” Hadar shouts at him, extinguishing the fire on time.
           
Liad is silent. So am I. Sivan uses the opportunity to turn the lights out two minutes ahead of time. No one argues.
           
Deep under the blanket I scold myself: What are you doing? Relax. You cannot take a chance now. Discharge day is nearing.
 
 
 
I have been in their sights since the Valporal incident. Thousands of mental patients have taken this pill before me and will take it after me, but it was my personal sadist: like a live scorpion in my stomach, it stung, it pinched, and laughed. I took it after supper and it took me on a tormenting journey into the night. I would writhe in pain until the early hours of the morning, or until I vomited it all out into the toilet: a mixture of blood, cheese, and pasta bits. In my counseling sessions with the head nurse, Hagar, and the psychiatrist on duty, I begged them to replace it. Hagar didn’t pay any attention to me whatsoever. She raised her patronizing chin and talked to the psychiatrist over my head, as if I were not there: “It’s all food content,” she explained to him. “She must have eaten something rotten.” He nodded at her and explained to me, once again, about the importance of long-term treatment. I didn’t argue because the psychiatrists tend to do what the nurses tell them anyway, and it doesn’t help to plead and make a scene in these cases. Quite the opposite.
           
The next day, right after I took the pill, I limped back and forth through the ward’s long hallway. It caused me a great deal of pain, but it was necessary. When my stomach indicated that it was time, I used two fingers and successfully timed a most grandiose performance on the table at the nurses’ station, right in the middle of their coffee break. It was the longest, most disgusting yet most wonderful vomiting act of my life. The nurses kept their poker faces on. They did not get angry—you don’t get angry at a vomiting patient—they were very sympathetic and kept saying: don’t worry, don’t worry, and called the cleaners and the doctor on call. I was not given Valporal again. This incident made me the darling of the patients on the ward—the first one to beat the system.
 
 
 
Liad and I sit on the balcony, after we have made up. It’s a quiet night with a pleasant desert breeze. The other patients are sleeping, but we have earned a private hour of grace, just for the two of us. We lay waiting patiently in our beds after lights-out. Liad’s light cough was the signal. We got up, wore our tired faces and sobbed to the nurses that we couldn’t sleep. After short negotiations we received one hour of relaxation on the balcony, along with two Clonex pills. We tried to hide our joy and swallowed the pills like two obedient patients. Clonex is the chill-out drug of psychiatric medicine: relaxing with a slight buzz. We sit on the balcony, looking at the windows across the street. Normal families sitting in living rooms, gathered around television screens, their flickering lights projected through the windows, catching up on news from the Gaza battles. But we, the nuts from across the street, unburdened by worries, raise a toast with our tea cups in celebration of our hour of freedom. I rest my head on Liad’s thigh and he scratches my head, just as I like it. His fingers slide along from one end of my head until they envelope my scalp, then they climb back up again, or massage gently, like shampooing without soap, around the ears, at the back of my head, to the edge of the scalp. No question, the guy is talented.
           
His strokes become slower, heavier, meditative. I look at him. He is off sailing to another land now, the captain of a giant ship, splitting oceans and feeding seals. With one hand he stitches icebergs back together and with his other, he grows back the forests in Brazil. Or he may be slowly mulling over the peace speech he will give at UN headquarters.
           
“What are you thinking about?”
           
“Nothing,” he answers, but it’s obvious there is already a serious matter at hand. I spur him on:
           
“So how do you make peace with Hamas?”
           
But he is not there. He is on another planet, less confident and decisive, more diffident and dumbfounded.
           
“It’s just that your story reminded me of something. Have you heard about Oscar the cat?” Whether he waited for a response or not, Liad continued: “He’s a cat with supernatural powers living in an elders’ care home in Australia. Haven’t you heard the story? Never mind. Anyway, he strolls around the beds, and if he jumps and sits besides one of the old residents, the nurses know that this person only has four hours left to live. They call the family, who rush there immediately to say goodbye to Grandma or Grandpa, and they alert the medical staff, although it’s unnecessary—so far this cat has had a one hundred percent accuracy rate.
           
“So maybe the cat you saw is like Oscar, and if it jumped out of your hands, it means it’s not your time to die yet.”
           
I say nothing. A full round moon hangs above the houses of the sane people. The darkness of night swallows the lit windows one by one. The sound of cars interrupts the silence. The air is still, hanging over us like heavy summer heat. Liad is silent for a long time. So am I. But we don’t mind. We are content. Our tea cups are empty and the Clonex has kicked in. I am drowsy, not knowing how long we have been sitting here—maybe twenty minutes, maybe three hours. For a moment I’m no longer sure if he told me that story or if I dreamt it.
 
 
 
Two days later, I am released with a list of pills to take for a week and a referral to a psychologist. Almost all the nurses come to see me off. Even Hagar, along with her patronizing chin, honors me with her presence. She smiles at me with pride as if I’m her daughter and I’ve just concluded my dance at the school recital. The other patients surround me, looking at me almost longingly, jealous of my easy discharge. Many of them were here before me and will be here long after I’m gone. In fact, I was never really one of them; I was a lunatic under observation, a potential nutcase, who only visited the other side, dipping an uncommitted toe in it and withdrawing; going to take a long refreshing shower; washing off the remains of insanity and returning to my normal life. Liad hugs me and promises to mention me in his speech when he receives the Nobel Prize. Just before I leave, he whispers in my ear that I should start to gradually spread his ideas, by word of mouth, until he is released. I promise and kiss him on the cheek.
           
Noga waits for me outside the gate in her car. We follow the traffic circle leading to the city’s outskirts. I look out the windows. Here it is, the land of the sane, whose citizens are afraid of rockets instead of other people. I will go back to university soon, to our apartment, to real life. I don’t tell anyone that I really belong on the other side. Noga suggests we go to Tel Aviv to get away from the war, but she really means to get me away from myself. I agree instantly. Noga is a good soul, a charming young woman who doesn’t stop saving me, and I love her so very much, but she will not be looking out for me forever.
           
That very day we pack our bags and go to the big city. We stay with Noga’s friend, Hilla, in her apartment. We climb many stairs and go into a crammed, loud, and messy house. I don’t get who makes a couple, who is whose friend, and who is related. I don’t even catch the names, the music is too loud, I just nod and sit on the edge of the vacant couch. Everyone there is so relaxed, laughing, singing along with the music. I wonder if they have any worries, and if they do, how they can detach themselves from them with such ease and enjoy every moment fully. I want that, too.
           
Suddenly everyone gets up, as if they’ve reached some joint decision almost telepathically. The music is silenced. I breathe with relief, finally hearing real Hebrew words. But even then, they share some sort of internal and discreet language of exchanged glances and muted jokes. I would love to understand that language. If I did, I would stop fearing them and I could survive in this world. Noga hugs me from behind. “We’re going,” she says. I guess that’s about all one needs to know.
           
We stroll along the street. Noga leaves me and lags behind with Hilla, to catch up on gossip. I look at our group and try to find some common DNA. The men are tall and tanned, relaxed and confident, advancing with wide steps. Nothing can touch them. They are walking Buddha statues; for them, enlightenment is on their path, to be picked, without having to bend for it. The girls are pretty and cheerful, in their expensive boots, knitted hats and fashionable coats. I know I will never be able to buy clothes like the ones they wear. And even if I could, I’m not sure I would want to. They talk secretively amongst themselves, and some magical glue bonds them together. They crack up laughing from a private joke and then they link arms and continue walking, self-assured and vital.
 
Surprisingly, we arrive at the Azrieli Towers, but instead of window shopping we ascend right up to the roof. Someone fires up a joint. We pass it between us. I take one hit. A second hit, then I pass it on. A moment later I realize that I have made the same mistake again: the stuff takes control of my body, stronger than I had anticipated, stronger than any licensed psychoactive pill I had swallowed lately. Feebleness takes over instantaneously. My arms hang from my body as if I’m a scarecrow. I start to shiver, even though a moment ago I felt nice and cozy inside my old Finnish coat. Another joint comes my way. This time I decline, excluding myself, nor do I speak to anyone, I just sit in the corner and suffer quietly. A few minutes later, Noga leaves for the restroom, Hilla joins her. One by one, the rest of the group follows suit. I keep my distance. They talk amongst themselves and disappear down the stairwell. Silence. I wait a little longer and disbelief sets in: they forgot me. I was left by myself. How did they not notice? I am almost insulted, but happy to be alone.
           
The guard rail is only a few steps away from me. A useless guard rail, as the news report stated in the story about the girl who jumped from here. I walk towards it. I stop three steps away from it. Tel Aviv unfurls before me: the lights, the towers, the pollution. Here it is. So close. Only a few steps, a skip and a hop away, and I’m in the air. Two courageous seconds of thinking about nothing. No waiting. Run and jump. The moment of truth. I stand three steps away from the abyss, still with no voices behind me, as if God himself decided to give me a proper opportunity to do it. I calculate my steps: One. Two. Grasp the rail. Hop over it. That’s it, really. I bend my knees in position, but I already know that it will not happen. Not now. I have the guts, the heart is ready, but I can’t. I’m paranoid, I’m anxious. If I weren’t stoned I would have done it, no doubt about it. But now there’s no chance. I can’t even take one step. What should I do? Should I come back tomorrow? I bend my knees and collapse onto the cold floor. My pulse pounds in my temples. Currents wash over my body, pleasant and stressful at the same time. My hair stands on end. Thoughts are crushed. Quite amazing, the things that prevent my dying: first it’s a cat, then it’s weed. What a strange world. I suddenly understand that just like some women are born with the soul of a man, and some men are born with the soul of a woman, maybe there are some humans who are born with the soul of an animal. And if that is true, then I must be a cat, or a bird, or a little hamster, because things really do not add up here.
 
My next thought is that I must pee.
           
I stand up and walk heavily towards the exit. Noga catches me at the stairs.
           
“Where were you?” She is hysterical.
           
“Just . . .” I don’t know what to say.
           
Suddenly, she grabs my shoulders. Shakes me vigorously back and forth. My head swings in all directions. It feels good, a loss of control in a sense. I hear her voice mixed with tears: “Enough! Stop it! Why don’t you ever talk to me? Why don’t you ask for help? Why did you throw away the referral to the psychologist?”
           
Noga. I love her. She is the only person I have in this universe. But except for her, no one will actually shed a tear when I’m dead and gone. I don’t have to suffer for anyone.
 
 
 
Three days later, on our way back to Beersheva, we hear that the war has ended. That’s it. Back to school tomorrow. We walk into our apartment on Olei Hagardom, as if we are returning from a year-long sabbatical. The cats are festive around us. But we ignore them this time and fall right into bed, and sleep through the entire night.
           
Noga wakes me in the morning. “I’m going out,” she says.
           
“All right,” I answer.
           
She stands there, wanting to say something, but doesn’t manage it. “I’m asking you: call me if you feel you’re losing it, all right? No matter when, I’ll be here within ten minutes, okay?”
           
“Okay.”
           
She leaves, shutting the door behind her. I wait awhile. Then I get up. Walk to the shower. Wash my face. Look at myself in the mirror. So this is it?
 
 
 
I lie on the floor. A kitchen knife is stuck in my throat. Only three shades of green treetops and the deep blue sky are visible from the window now. From this position it looks more like a jungle than the sky above District Gimmel in Beersheva. Soon it will all cease to exist.
           
I thrust the knife in again, as deep as possible. Earlier I actually had a good feel of the pulse, I even marked the cutting point with a marker, but now I can’t find the artery. I push my fingers in, and pull out bits of tissue; thin, disgusting thread-like parts, like dead worms. A bit of blood trickles out after all, the nape of my neck feels tickled, but nothing more.
           
The pills gently start to take effect, making me drowsy. I took them just in case. I have no intention of giving up this time. It’s final this time. I lie there, dazed from the pills, digging into my own neck with a huge knife. I pull it out, adjust the angle, and thrust it in again, knowing it’s only a matter of time before I hit the artery. The trees in the window move with the wind. And silence. Complete silence. Not even the sound of cars or screams of children. Nothing. Maybe in my honor?
           
I don’t quite understand, I think maybe it’s the pills, or a sort of pre-death illusion. I know it cannot be, but his figure is standing in front of me with great confidence.
           
It’s him? It isn’t him?
           
A red-haired tabby is standing on my window sill, looking at me serenely. It’s not one of the neighborhood’s cats; I know them all. Maybe it is him after all? Gained a little size, a little strength, still with an infection in his left eye. But that cat died. It must be another cat. Maybe I’m imagining it?
           
He hops in, ever so naturally, as if this is his home, comes up close to me, sniffing. Now I see his eye clearly, all puffed up with pus. In the middle of that mess, I see a small pupil peering at me.
 
 
 
He clings to my stomach and starts purring. I stroke him, and am suddenly reminded of Liad’s story about Oscar, the Australian cat. Maybe all cats have this sense? If so, I really am about to die. Oscar now lies next to me, a harbinger of my death, but I have no family to call to be with me in my last moments. Mom and Lakka are in Finland, and only the devil knows where Dad is.
           
Goodbye, Oscar. Goodbye, world.
           
I rest my head.
           
Oscar, is it you, the cat from that day? How did you survive? I watched you run into the rocket. Maybe you really do have nine lives? Maybe I do, too. Maybe I am a cat trapped in a human body, which is how I survive death time after time after time. If so, I still have seven deaths ahead of me. Then again, Oscar is sitting right here, glued to the floor. So who is right?
           
I let go of the knife. It’s stuck in my throat like a spike in the ground. I raise my hand and knock my cellular phone from the table to the floor. I call Noga.
           
“Hello?” she says.
           
“Hi.”
           
“What’s up?”
           
“Nothing, I’m just lying here, hugging a dead cat. What does it mean?”
           
“Cat? What cat?”
           
“The cat that was killed by the rocket.”
           
Silence.
           
“Noga?”
           
“Yes?”
           
“Take care of him, okay?”
           
“Who?”
           
“The cat. His name is Oscar and he has a horrible infection in his left eye.”
           
“You take care of him!”
           
Strange. I have never heard her use this tone of voice. She sounds a bit angry, not her usual gentle self.
           
I fall silent, so I will not ruin it all again. But I can’t get up to close the window, and what will happen if he jumps out after I die? Who will take care of him?
           
“Noga?”
           
“Yes.”
           
I am dizzy. Oscar is lying beside me. I feel his placid breaths going up and down. He looks at me through his tiny pupil, listening to our conversation. I can’t take it anymore. I feel pressure in my eyes, like tears that can’t come out.
           

“Come,” I say. “Come quickly.”

         

Copyright © Ofir Oz 2014. Translation copyright © Ofir Oz 2014. “Oscar” is a part of a novel, The First Name [שם של התחלה], which was published in Hebrew in 2013 by Pardes Publishers.

Ofir Oz is an author and a blogger from Israel. He wrote his first story in 1983 when he was six years old, in Hebrew uppercase letters he had recently learned in school. His novel, The First Name, met with critical acclaim and popular success. The First Name is told as a series of short stories, which interconnect and intertwine to become a picaresque novel. The first story, “Criminal,” won the Steimatzky award for Best Short Story of the Year, and is now available on Amazon. “Oscar” is the second story in this book



 

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