Hotel Malta

 

Hotel Malta

(Excerpt from a Novel)

By Edna Shemesh

Translated from Hebrew by Charles S. Kamen

 

Each morning in the spring of 1945, from the day the war ended and the trains began bringing them home, her father awakened in the empty house that was sodden with silence. Only the loud ticking of the valuable Swiss clock which hung on the wall opposite his bed conferred a rhythm to the endless days. This ticking, he thought, and the daily walk to the train station, were the rhythm of his life. After dressing he carefully wound the spring of his Schaffhausen, the wristwatch he’d received as a gift from his wife on his birthday, focusing his gaze on the repetitive motion of thumb and finger, listening attentively for the brief click that signals he’s to stop winding. Then he placed his round eyeglasses on the bridge of his nose and combed his hair impatiently and, alone, in the narrow dining corner of the hushed kitchen, ate a slice of bread spread with goose fat. He sipped murky, tasteless coffee, his expression stern, and thought: perhaps today. If not both of them, perhaps one. One is his wife, Elizabeth; the other is Eva, his daughter, and he rose and gave Dorex a half-filled bowl of milk mixed with water. Dorex lapped the milk quickly, his body tense, his ears and tail erect, until the dish was empty, until the small, empty bowl gleamed. Her father bent down to the dog and fastened the worn leather collar around his neck.
 
“Maybe I’ll have bones for you soon,” he told him, and donned his checkered woolen jacket, his only jacket, with measured motions. And placed the brown felt hat on his head. And donned the brown leather gloves. And gazed without expression at the serious man wearing a brown felt hat and brown leather gloves who faced him in the round mirror beside the entry door. He paused opposite the mirror for an additional moment or two during which he examined his image with dissatisfaction, then double-locked the door of the empty house. And ensured again it was locked. And when he was certain the house was locked the two of them began walking, silently.
 
For a few weeks now they’ve been making the same short journey every day in the early morning. This morning was colder than yesterday and low, gray clouds huddled in the same corner of the sky where he saw, as evening approached, a yellow light grow brighter before fading. The air was crisp and biting and he breathed it into his lungs like a drowning man swallows water. He stopped beside a half-rotten wooden gate so Dorex could urinate at length. Meanwhile he listened to the suppressed chirping of the birds and observed the wise eyes, the tail wagging cheerfully at him and the ridiculous manner in which Dorex bounds beside him these days. It made him smile thinly, the smile which frequently colors his cold, pale blue eyes but never fully spreads over his lips.
 
When they reached the main road, a shiny black automobile raced by, and its driver, annoyed, peremptorily honked his horn twice in warning. They hurried across the road and climbed the old, worn stone steps, black with dirt, whose corners, where fewer people had trodden, were pale yellow. A large crowd already murmured at the entrance to his town’s old train station, and he and Dorex were swallowed up in the flow of people. They passed through two huge, wide-open wooden doors and entered a giant room which echoed and clamored like an angry beast. It had curved ceilings and a gentle light tapped at its high, dusty windows. Every day at this hour the station bustled: arrivals from the east hurried west, advanced and then retreated as though they’d changed their mind or had forgotten something they couldn’t do without, stood scratching their heads, read what was written on rectangular signs, repeatedly gazed at the white numbers stamped into shiny metal on the locomotive’s brow, compared them to the writing on the creased piece of paper in their hand, firmly grasping the handle of a heavy suitcase in which their entire world was contained and squared away, at a loss.
 
The hands of the large round clock on the wall above the ticket sellers’ booths – one of six identical black iron clocks that hung on the walls at equal intervals – showed the time was 08:37. Two trains growled angrily on the tracks on both sides of the platform. He breathed deeply and stood fast where the place, the time, the horrors had now become his place, his time, and his horrors: a place that no longer had any meaning, a time so illusory as to be unrecognizable, long, difficult days, none the better for waiting. For yearning. For pity. For the fear rooting itself within him for some time now: no matter how often he comes to these metal rails which stretch from somewhere to some elsewhere, he’ll always turn and return home alone, he and his beloved dog stumbling after him wherever he goes.
 
Her father quickened his steps and turned toward Platform No. 3 and pushed among the bodies of those who stood, like him, planted on the concrete platform, impatient to leave, or waiting, like him, to see whether the black metal entities will today, perhaps today, spew out their loved ones.  One wooden bench was vacant but her father didn’t sit down. He thrust his gloved hands into the pockets of his woolen jacket. He felt in the right-hand pocket the quenched ivory pipe, in the left-hand pocket the jagged key to the door of his house. He looked around, felt he distinguished details which were disconnected from one another: the intensity of the light, the force of the wind’s gust behind him moaning as if from a tunnel’s depths, the length of the platforms which narrowed and diminished in the distance. He could smell the fragrance of lilac blossoms on the young tree which grew in a niche at the platform edge, the bitter odor of smoke rising from the locomotives, the smell of roasted chestnuts from the movable wooden stand belonging to dirty old Dziga, one of the train station’s mainstays who for that reason will never die, just like King Matyas, cast in bronze and standing proudly in the town square. All of them were sights and smells that had erupted in his head on those mornings, in a particular order, mingled with the sharp, jarring shrills of a whistle, with the terrifying noise sounding from the locomotive’s belly, the muted drone of people conversing, calling happily to each other, coughing, echoing, the rapping of their heels on the concrete pavement seasoned with the loud barks of his beloved Dorex. They formed a deceptive mixture that will be imprinted in the rear of his skull: a memory of the long morass of time during which questions and fears descended on his head like snowflakes – no, like harpoons – a reminder of time’s measure – morning, and another morning, and again morning – in whose fragments he came with Dorex to the train station and waited. And breathed deeply. And waited. In vain.
 
Her father removed from his trouser pocket a neatly-folded white handkerchief, opened it in his hands and blew his nose. His left hand still firmly gripped Dorex’s leash while his eyes stared pensively and wearily at the approaching coaches. When he grew tired, he bent and stroked the hairy back, grabbed the dangling bit of fur beneath the chin and waggled it gently. “Shh, Dorex, shh, you’ll see, everything will be all right,” he muttered.
 
Dorex whined as if he’d understood his words.
 
A woman with an elegant feathered hat fixed to her head and carrying a heavy, brown leather suitcase approached them and Dorex sniffed the strong fragrance she emitted, and it so excited him that he tangled himself up in the leash and her father gently freed his trapped foot, softly mumbling a polite apology to the woman whose hat and breasts were magnificent. As he did so, he looked down and hurried toward the coaches at the front of the train where there was less congestion and he would be able, he thought, to better see the faces of those descending from the cars. Anxiety seeped into his heart, spread through its chambers. He didn’t know how long his heart could bear it. Above all, he feared the actual meeting. That, he was certain, he’d be unable to bear. He’ll recognize Elizabeth easily, he wasn’t worried about that, but how will he recognize the little one? How will he recognize Eva? She was thirteen years old when he’d been taken from his bed before dawn, snatched, and transported for many days and nights to distant, frozen steppes in a far-off land where he was forced to labor in menial jobs which irreparably damaged his body and his soul. And when he’d already given up and his strength was almost gone, the war ended as suddenly as it had begun for him – one moment he’d been a prisoner, no better than a slave, and the next moment he was set free – released, and began the long, incredible journey home. He’d had no idea whether his house still stood. His house stood, and he returned home, but there was no sign of either of them.
 
He’ll never forget that day. He pushed the door handle, knowing deep in his heart that it won’t open; feared he’d awaken. But he was already awake. The door didn’t open. He ascended the stairs, knees buckling, perhaps he’ll find Professor Radu and his smiling wife Maritza, the neighbors who had once lived above them. Who knows what happened to them all this time, even though they weren’t Jewish, and it didn’t seem they had ever been in real danger. The thick striped mat still lay on the floor in front of his neighbors’ door. One tin flowerpot was empty and the other held the dry skeleton of a small heather bush, a shrub his wife called ”erica.”Once a bush like that had blossomed in each pot, with hundreds of tiny flowers, pink, perhaps purple, he no longer remembers. A slight movement beyond the door interrupted his musing. His neighbor Maritza – she hadn’t changed at all – suddenly stood before him, expressionless, twisting her apron in her hands. She knew him immediately even though he had changed so much. He was emaciated. He’d aged many years though only three had passed, and all his vitality had vanished. Without delay she turned to a massive wooden bureau and removed from its drawer a jagged key and without delay placed it in his hand, her face drawn. The cold metal burned in his palm. He thanked her with a brief gesture of his fingers at his temple, as if saluting her, and immediately fled to the stairs. His neighbor wiped her hands on her apron and looked at his retreating back and again withdrew into her home, her hand pressed to her mouth. He didn’t ask anything; didn’t ask a thing, she thought. Only his shadow has returned, but where is he, this good man? Then she hurried to light the stovetop burners.
 
Her father inserted the key in the keyhole. His hand froze for a moment as if he’d cocked a grenade, and the click of the lock’s tongue sounded to his ears like the pull of a grenade’s pin.  One careless movement and all will go up in flames. The door opened with a faint creak. He removed the key and put it in his pocket. For a few moments he stood between the doorposts until he no longer had the strength to stand, until he found within himself the strength to take the one step after which the unimaginable will occur: he’ll be home.
 
The door closed behind him as if of its own accord. He looked around. And saw: everything is in place. Free of dust. Neat. Empty of people. Silent. Awaiting its master like a faithful dog. Even the odor was the same. Only heavier and darker. And Dorex, he thought, he must have died of hunger. Or from grief. A dog mourning its master, he’d once read, stops eating. His heart dropped. A straining locomotive roared in his brain, voices at the outskirts of the labor camp beat and jabbered and shouted, swirled in the forest depths, among craggy mountains whose summits are snow-covered and wrapped in lovely white clouds. His body gradually thawed. His heart slowly froze.
 
The large wooden grandfather clock suddenly emitted a muffled sound, then another. And another. Her father listened in amazement: the heart of the house began to beat again. His head was still filled with the incomprehensible hunger whose force won’t be dulled by years of eating, strangers pressed into his limbs to warm themselves, warm him, to vent themselves upon each other. For almost a year he’d hardly seen a thing because the golden frame of his eyeglasses had one day caught the attention of a camp supervisor who’d passed by and casually lifted them from his nose and continued on his way. Finally it was all over. He and his comrades were put on a train back to their country, to their traitorous homeland, to their fathers’ empty houses. Along the way, strewn with destruction and soldiers’ corpses of every nationality, he’d received from an Allied soldier a chocolate bar in a white wrapper. Only after they’d also found him eyeglasses – a little too big for him, with thicker lenses than he needed – did he again feel he’d begun to see the light.
 
Her father sat down apprehensively on the arm of one of the deep armchairs – perhaps all he sees in front of him will disintegrate under his weight and disappear as though it had never been. Nothing disappeared. His eyes devoured the old, elegant furniture which had remained standing resignedly, the oil paintings and tapestries on the walls, the broad window facing the empty park, a lace curtain pulled across its width concealing the azalea bushes and fir trees with thick trunks and the niche above which Dorex would urinate freely and from whose base, at the end of winter, bellflowers bloomed. For some reason his thoughts were focused on his dog, which made him uneasy. He didn’t dare picture his wife and daughter. Everything around him was so familiar and also so foreign.
 
After some time, he walked to the bedroom, measuring his steps on the polished wooden floorboards that creaked beneath the soles of his shoes. He collapsed on his bed like a sack dropped from the hand that gripped it and he sat even longer at its foot, until he flung himself back and lay motionless, trapped by the heavy weight filling the rooms, wringing his hands, not knowing what to do.
 
When he realized someone was knocking at the door, his legs raised him upright immediately and his breath quickened. To him, loud pounding on the door has long been an ominous sign. He opened it a crack, perhaps they’d again come to take him, and immediately the air filled with an unbelievable odor of the warm vapors which rose from a small pot that Maritza, his neighbor, held by its two handles in a kitchen towel. Her eyes were red. Why had she been crying? For him? Because he’d returned alone? Perhaps she knows where Dorex is? He regretted he’d appeared without warning on her doorstep, perhaps he’d distressed her. For a moment he imagined he might have made her happy. Perhaps she’d wept with joy. She handed him the pot and when he took it carefully from her hands she greeted him again, shyly and emotionally, and quickly added, addressing him formally, “It’s so good to see you,” and again wiped her hands on the cloth apron around her waist and silently wept.
 
Only when Dorex fell upon him whimpering uncontrollably did he realize his neighbor also held out his beloved dog’s old leather leash which was wrapped around her arm. Her eyes smiled, flooded with warmth, teared with excitement because she’d been able to surprise him this way. He was, indeed, stunned.
 
“I don’t know how to thank you, dear Maritza,” he called to her retreating back. He was helpless. The leash was clenched tightly in his fingers and at its end a small black dog ran frantically back and forth, about to overturn onto both of them the contents of the pot which emitted so wonderful a fragrance.
 
Dorex was beside himself. He whimpered and jumped on his master’s legs and barked and licked the tips of his shoes and his entire black body trembled. Her father bent and petted his head. A faint smile appeared in the corners of his clamped lips and the huge glacier which had formed within him cracked slightly. The dish his neighbor had brought cooled slowly in the small pot on the iron stove. When they had both calmed, they ate her food.
 
 
The following morning her father went to the train station, and hadn’t missed a day since. Now Eva is almost sixteen, he thought. How will he recognize her? He’ll certainly recognize her, a voice berated him, she’s his daughter! He tugged the leash and Dorex rose and followed him. Each time he pulled on the leash, her father looked back to make sure it was really Dorex, his beloved dog. Who would have believed it? His faithful neighbor had looked after both his house and his dog all this time, took care of him and fed him, not an easy thing during the war years. He felt that some of his trust in people was cautiously blooming in him again, perhaps despite everything, some remain human. But still he swallowed, as though forcing a glass ball down his throat.
 
A long, black train stood in the station, emitting clouds of smoke. A bearded station employee in a black, sooty uniform opened the door to one of the coaches. The other doors creaked open from within as though at a signal. For a moment, no one boarded the coaches or descended from them, as if everyone had frozen in place. Suddenly the tumult began. Those wishing to board crowded to the narrow doors, squeezed toward the openings; those who’d come to receive the arriving passengers crowded along the platform’s length. The arriving passengers descended only with great difficulty from the coaches. Her father surveyed the coaches, one by one: first an old man emerged, straining to carry a large leather satchel. A young man moved toward the old man, smiled warmly, and helped him descend the narrow steps. Then another man and woman came out, content, engaged in conversation while their eyes sought whomever they were looking for. Two excited girls waved to a handsome man who hurriedly pushed toward them and they hopped up and down, and an erect woman with curly hair and fine clothes, her high heels tapping, firmly grasped the hands of two elegantly dressed children and the three of them carefully descended the tall stairs. People standing on the platform pushed themselves and their belongings forward, barely remembering their manners. As though there had been no war. Or perhaps because there had been.
 
“Dorex, come.” Her father drew his dog closer. Then he scratched his own head and looked left and right, but remained rooted in place as he had already done ten times, twenty times, and perhaps he was already confused and erred in his accounting. He smelled the odor of roasted chestnuts. One of the station employees blew two quick shrills on a tin whistle. The locomotive tensed, roared, and exhaled smoke. Dorex also tensed. A clump of people descended hesitantly, in a group, from the penultimate coach. He straightened. To his chagrin, their blank expressions, their shorn hair, their open wounds, the clothing hanging on their bodies like on scarecrows, their clenched hands, were already familiar to him. They descended to the platform in a single mass, proceeding along the concrete floor like an animal that’s lost its head and limbs; if they should separate, God forbid, they’d resemble the scattered limbs of a shattered body. When they came down a murmur spread through the crowd. A fissure opened among the waiting forms as though the sea had parted and a narrow path opened for them on which to walk. They stood on the platform like abandoned property. Where will they go? Her father hurried toward them, his heart pounding in his chest, quickly scanned the many faces, reading their features – No. No. Nor her. – And moved to the next array of limbs, skimmed over them also with eager eyes: No. Not her. Nor her either. Perhaps this woman?
 
No.
 
And that girl, is that Eva?
 
No.
 
He well knew: He’ll return to the empty house alone today also.
 
 
*
 
 
The train station in the town she’d lost appeared to Eva exactly as  she’d remembered it in her imagination, but in fact she wasn’t at all certain. Memory plays tricks also on a sixteen-year-old girl who has suddenly become someone whose age is no longer measured in hours, in days or in years, but with a different pulse; whose memory, throughout her entire life, will continue to deceive her again and again so she’ll overcome her terror. The first thing she saw when she emerged from the train in the spring of 1945 was, in fact, the large round clock hanging above the ticket-seller’s booth, a large round clock which may not have been real. The round glass was cracked. A short hand pointed to 3 and a long hand touched the tip of 6. For the rest of her life she’ll be unable to pronounce that hour straightforwardly, “three-thirty in the afternoon” – but only as a fragmented image: a round black frame, cracked glass, white clock face, a short hand pointing to the 3, a long hand touching the 6.
 
When she emerged from the train, every bone hurt in the skeletal scaffold from which her skin hung, a sharp pain that had been made worse by the long journey seated in the shabby coach which shuddered endlessly over the worn tracks. The short coat they’d given her at one of the way stations was too large for her and very light, and she’d been cold during the entire journey. When she got off the train she wanted something to hold onto, but she had nothing in her hand. No parcel. No handbag. No suitcase. She returned home empty-handed. Only a priceless piece of paper, her sole valuable, was folded in her pocket, and she kept repeating, “Ilona,” “Bizhu.” But Ilona and Bizhu, the friends she’d met in the concentration camp and who’d traveled home with her, lived in other towns and both had already gotten off the train a few hours ago, each at a different station. Not before making each other swear, though, that they’d meet again, they’d write letters to each other, that each would always know what was happening with her two friends and what had happened to their families during the war. A sudden urgency made her check her coat pocket again: the folded piece of paper with Ilona’s and Bizhu’s addresses was still there. The knowledge that similar pieces of paper, with “Eva” written on them, also rested in the pockets of her two friends, gave her strength.
 
The train stopped. When she recalls this moment it still seems to her the train had stopped thrice at that same moment and at that same spot, and only after it had stopped for the third and final time and Eva understood it had finally come to a halt, only then did she rise and exit the coach. Her legs, battered and blistered from the cold, halted on every step of the short stair. Her toes, still in shoes too small, hurt as they would her entire life, until the terrible operation at the orthopedic department of Tel Hashomer hospital, where they’ll carefully break each of her ten toes and straighten them and the bones will knit again, and the result will ease her pain somewhat, though never fully. For more than a year and a half, from the time she’d been taken with her mother from the courtyard of the abandoned “Iris” brick factory to the cattle car, and they had been brought to the gray camp, she’d worn the two shoes that were too small for her – they weren’t even a pair, one black and one dark brown, and certainly must have belonged to two different girls – and she’d grown even taller and her feet had gotten longer during that horrible year, despite the hunger, at a rate over which she had no control.
 
At least twice in the past she’d felt a sense of loss as overwhelming as that which now flooded her, like water enlarging a crevice, as she descended from the coach. The first time was when her mother let go of her hand and whispered, “Don’t worry, Edeshem, my sweet, I’ll find you.” And pushed gently on her back so she would quickly do what the uniformed men surrounding them barked loudly and sharply at them to do, and she walked from the gate of the gray camp to where she’d be told to go, lost as a kitten. And the second time, a few weeks later – years later – and she, the girl already dressed in prison garb and her hair shorn to the skull, passed by a high, warm brick wall which emitted an unfamiliar odor – and immediately realized, without anyone having told her, what’s inside, in that hot furnace, and the nature of the revolting, sweetish smell coming from the place whose name would be whispered in terror at night in the bunk of the wooden hut. In that fraction of a moment her life accelerated as though in a movie and she would remain hollow and empty until the day they were liberated, and live like an old woman with the hump of a girl on her back, or a girl with the hump of an old woman on her back, she doesn’t know any longer. Perhaps they’re deformed Siamese twins, sheandher. Or the opposite, herandshe.
 
And now, the station platform is painfully familiar. And the landscape, all the way here, was so familiar it hurt: thick forests, dark and light and dark again, green meadows between them, whose reality was also doubtful, the tracks’ edges speckled white and red, perhaps wildflowers, poppies and daisies; lakes opening briefly like blue eyes and closing again among the tangle of bushes and tree bark, all rushing by the window’s dirty glass through which she saw small houses passing by cultivated fields and a large city in the distance, and another, and church spires and stone buildings, and again a meadow in which black cows graze, and the same emphatic terror that had come over her the day they separated her from her mother reached out its hand to her neck: she doesn’t know where she is. What’s the name of the city they’re now passing? What country are they now travelling through? What day is it? How old is she, exactly? Every place is familiar and foreign, confusing, sending signals she doesn’t know how to interpret. Here, too, in the train station of her lost town, everything is familiar and foreign. And suddenly someone shouted, restraining their excitement, “We’re here!” and the train obeyed and slowed, screeching, until it had stopped completely. Thrice it slowed and thrice it stopped.
 
“You must get off,” someone behind her spoke the name of her city, and she also descended the narrow iron stairs.
 
First she saw the large round clock hanging above the ticket-seller’s booth, saw it mirror a time which had long lost all meaning. Then she saw in a giant pot a young lilac bush laden with flower clusters, and stared at the exhilarating white blossoms and tried, unsuccessfully, to recall their pleasurable scent. The flowers’ beauty smote her with the season as though she could taste it on her tongue: the orgona - the lilac - blooms in the spring. In May.
 
She stepped slowly. Her crooked toes, with the flesh worn away, pressed into the prow of her shoes and transmitted to her the only sensation she could easily recognize: pain.
 
And now, what happens now. Where to now. She didn’t dare speak the word “home.” The door of the coach slammed behind her, the noise startled her and her heart quickened. Eva herself didn’t move. The locomotive shrieked a brief, desperate scream and moved on, pulling its disjointed limbs after it with what remained of its strength, as if mortally wounded. The cement platform on which she stood split silently and she began to sink slowly down. Fiercely she dug her teeth into the inner flesh of her cheek, tasting the blood, perhaps that’s how she’ll stop this slow motion, this descent into the cement floor. Almost no one remained on the platform. Where will she go now? Again she’s alone. Around her, those who got off the train went on their way as though they knew where they had to go, and only she doesn’t know where. And a moment went by, and perhaps much longer, until, she saw, standing on the platform which slowly emptied of the arrivals and those who came weeping to meet them, a tall man wearing a woolen jacket, his hair carefully combed, his eyes behind glasses with round lenses and gold frames, blinded by the yellow glare of the light shining through the high windows as he walked toward her with sure strides, pulling a leashed small black dog behind him. That’s Dorex, the name throbbed in her artery, that’s surely Dorex, her father’s naughty dog, but she wasn’t certain about the tall man pulling it after him and approaching her step by step. Perhaps he’ll keep walking and pass her by.
 
Her brain quickly sealed itself – she’s afraid to meet the man who so resembles her father. If it is her father, she’ll sink even more quickly into the cement floor and the level of the sea constantly rising within her will eventually overflow its banks and drown her in its surge. If the man who resembles her father will come even one step closer, she –
 
Dorex jumped on her, howling terribly. The dog had remembered something about her which she had obliterated long ago. Could something still be alive within her? Was something left, one iota, even a single stray molecule of her former essence? Her heart reaches out to the naughty dog. Dorex scampers around her, extremely excited, and pulls at the hem of the deep red woolen skirt they gave her in the transit camp, licking the tips of her shoes. Only then did the lips of the man holding the leash begin to quiver, his teeth trying to forcibly restrain the quivering so it would stop, until he bled, because only Dorex can so definitely identify this girl who does and doesn’t resemble his daughter. Is it his daughter?
 
The man who looked so much like her father approached until he stood directly before her, looking directly at her, his eyes seared by the pain refracted from hers, his questioning eyes moving from her to the vacant space to her left. In the emptiness to her left he saw the delicate image of her mother, his willowy wife, and his gaze dulled and shifted from the one who was absent, ethereal, and rested upon her, on his only daughter. Only she is here.
 
“Evikém?”
 
She nodded. Yes, it’s me, Eva.
 
A strange guilt spread through her like the tendrils of a prickly bush. The man who looked more and more like her father gripped her shoulder for a moment, holding back as if fearing to hurt her, so fragile and famished she seemed, and his hand fluttered in the air in dismay, lest his daughter’s features evaporate at his touch, and he wouldn’t be able to bear that now. The touch of his fingers on her shoulder seemed to sear her flesh. The touch of a stranger’s kind fingers. She had no real memory of her father’s touch. She forced herself to swallow her saliva: What if he embraces her?
 
Her father recoiled from her as abruptly as he had placed his arm around her shoulder, and Dorex barked with such abandon he almost choked.
 
At that moment she felt even more strongly how she sank incontrovertibly into the concrete platform. The man who was undoubtedly Dorex’s master bent to his dog, reined him in repeatedly with sharp pulls of the leash, and grasped his daughter’s emaciated hand and uprooted her from where she stood. The voice that had come back to him, his alien voice, said to her, “Come, Evikém. Let’s go home.”

 

Her father never asked her anything about what had happened after she lost her mother in the mass of people who’d come out of the train cars and were directed, like penned cattle, in two opposing directions: right or left; not during the short walk home from the train station, which had been the longest journey; not after she’d woken from a restless sleep the first night in her own bed; nor after she wandered through the empty rooms of the house and opened closets and drawers and limply touched dresses she didn’t remember she owned and which were now much too big for her, and objects whose actuality she tried to comprehend – pillow, pencil, vase, the narrow ceramic bathtub, the erica in a small flowerpot, its blossoms pink and stiff – wondering when they would all vanish and she’ll awaken in the cold wooden bunk in the gray camp.

         

Copyright © by Edna Shemesh. Published by arrangement with The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

 

Edna Shemesh was born in Romania in 1953 and came to Israel with her family when she was five. She holds a BA in English literature and theater studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shemesh has worked as a lecturer, and as a Hebrew-English-Hebrew translator; she is also a freelance journalist for the Hebrew and English-language press in Israel. Her short stories have been published in a number of literary periodicals. Shemesh has received the Women Writers of the Mediterranean Award sponsored by UNESCO (France, 2002), and won first prize in a short story competition held by the literary journal Iton 77 (2004). Her short story collection Amstel was shortlisted for the prestigious Sapir Literary Prize (2008).



 

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