By Shira Gefen
Translated from Hebrew by Ronnie Hope
He hadn’t spoken to him for a few years now. Not because they had quarreled or something, just because there was nothing close between them. They had even postponed this meeting already about eight times. In the end, it came out on a Tuesday afternoon. Exactly my busiest day. But I had to go, because he asked me so nicely, and he is my father—Menachem’s son.
When I got to the intercom door, I saw Menachem getting out of his car, stroking his whitening mustache and looking around. I thought I’d go and say hello and we’d go up to Dad’s apartment together, but he stood there for a long time, concentrating on the avenue of trees.
I didn’t want to disturb him.
I skipped up all the stairs at a run.
“I saw him. He’ll be up in a moment.”
“Where was he?”
“Looking for parking?”
“He’d already found somewhere.”
“Next to the building.”
“He say anything to you?”
“He didn’t see me.”
“So where is he?” Dad sat down and got up. “You’ll help me with him?”
I laughed. When he came in they hugged. The pat-on-the-back kind of hug. Me, he patted my cheek.
“So, this is where you live?” said Menachem, stretching.
“Yes,” said Dad.
“You know, it’s strange. This is the first time I’ve been in this street. It really amazes me that I didn’t know it before… what’s it called again?”
“Hatam Sofer,” Dad replied, the Seal of the Scribe, a famous work by a famous old rabbi.
“Oh, that must be the name of some writer, huh?” said Menachem, and he laughed on his own.
“Because after all, every lousy rock in this country I know, but this street… never heard of it in my life. In my opinion, it’s also not on the map. I can sign on that. ”
“Sit,” said Dad, and he disappeared into the kitchen. I stayed alone with him, a man I didn’t know. I thought it would actually be nice if we suddenly started talking and I’d tell him everything about what I do and he’d tell me about my grandmother who I didn’t know and about his new family. Perhaps he’d even take some Hanukkah money out of his bag, I mean the chocolate kind, and give it to me after all these years that I hadn’t seen him.
“So my girl, are we at college?”
“Yes, finishing my senior year.”
“What are we studying?”
“History you don’t have to study. You just have to go through a few good wars, and that’s that.”
My father came in with a tray of nuts.
“Sit already. Let’s talk a little,” Menachem said but my dad had already gone back to the kitchen. “Tell me, what about a boyfriend, is there one?”
“Ah… yes,” I answered.
“A good guy?”
“Yes, for me.”
“What did he do in the army?”
“I think something secret in intelligence.”
“Well, you know, me you can tell.”
“Yes,” I smiled, “but I don’t know myself.”
Dad came in and put down a plate of tangerines and another one of oranges.
“Tell me, do you mean to go on running around like this?” asked Menachem.
“No, here I’m sitting down now,” and he really sat down next to me and right away he asked, “Why don’t you eat something?”
“Fruit, I never touch.”
“And nuts?” Dad tried.
“So crack me a nut.”
Dad put a nut between his teeth. The nut was tougher than he thought it would be. He dropped
it and said, “You know who I met a few days ago? Big Shlomo.”
“Forget about him,” Menachem interrupted. “Big Shlomo… he’s very little. Big Shlomo, he comes to do business with me and he begins screwing with my mind. He tells me what’s best, you get it, he tells me.”
Dad tried again to get his teeth around the nut. Without success. Menachem went on and asked:
“Did he tell you anything?” And without waiting for a reply, “Just let him try to say anything, he doesn’t know who he’s messing with, that piece of…” The nut shattered inside my father’s mouth. It was full of bits of shell that he spat out elegantly, but he offered the kernel that had miraculously remained whole. Menachem looked at the nut, and right away said to Dad:
“Can’t you see it’s completely rotten. Is that how I brought you up? On a farm, yet?”
My dad got up. “Want coffee?”
“Oh well, if I came this far I may as well have some tea. Put two sugars in it.”
Dad went back to the kitchen. I tried again to get a conversation going, but every topic led to the army in the end.
“Tell me, how long does it take your father to make a cup of tea?”
“Dad,” I called out. He didn’t answer.
“To command a whole company, he managed, but a lousy cup of tea he can’t make.”
I got up and went into the kitchen. He wasn’t there. I went through all the rooms in the apartment. He couldn’t have just run away, I thought to myself. I went back into the kitchen. The water in the kettle was boiling and next to it a cup was ready, with a tea bag and two sugars and my dad inside it. He sat there, shrunken inside the cup, hiding his face in the tea bag. “Dad,” I shouted. “What’s happened to you?”
“Nothing,” said Dad, without showing his face. His voice was broken.
“You have to get back to your regular size!”
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“You must!” I yelled into the cup. “You are my father and look how big I am and how little you are, it’s not natural.”
“I am not going to come out of here,” said Dad, and some very little tears ran down his miniature cheeks and were immediately absorbed by the tea bag. I took a teaspoon and tried to get him out. But my dad clung to the side of the cup. “Leave me alone,” he cried in exhaustion. His tears began to fill the cup. “You’ll drown!” I told him, but he didn’t respond, he just went on crying. The cup was already full of tears. I picked it up, and suddenly I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.
“So, where is he?” asked Menachem, and before I could think of an answer, he said:
“Well, I have to go.” He snatched the cup out of my hand and swallowed what was in it in one gulp.
“Yuck,” he spat out in disgust. “Cold and salty. Even a cup of tea he isn’t capable of making. Who’d believe he’s been in three wars.”
Copyright © Shira Gefen 2012.
English translation copyright © 2012 The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.
Shira Gefen was born in Tel Aviv in 1971. A playwright, director, children’s author and actress, she studied at the Nissan Nativ Drama Studio and has performed at the Habimah National Theater as well as at the Cameri and Khan Theaters. Gefen has published four books for children. She was awarded First Prize at the Haifa Children’s Drama Festival in 1998 and the Hadassah Prize in 2003. In 2007, Gefen and Etgar Keret won the Cannes Film Festival’s “Camera d’Or” Award for Jellyfish, for which Gefen wrote the screenplay. The French Artist and Writers’ Guild also gave Gefen and Keret its “Best Director” Award (2007).