Omsk

 

 

Omsk

By Maya Arad

Translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

 

 

For the heat, she was unprepared. She had packed a ski jacket, military socks, thermal undershirts. She had borrowed everything on offer from acquaintances: gloves, ear-muffs, a fur hat. Nothing seemed like it would be enough—after all, she was going to Siberia.
 
At the children’s clothing shop back in Israel, they gave her a derisive look when she asked for a warm coat. “Come back in six months, lady.”
 
Oh well, she reassured herself. She’d buy something there.
 
“How can this be?” she wonders, pointing at the thermometer on the wall of the jam-packed office with no air conditioning.
 
“That’s the way it is here,” answers Lydia. She laughs and wipes the sweat off her face with an embroidered handkerchief. “Below zero in the winter, over a hundred in the summer. That’s Siberia.”
 
She nods, but something has been damaged, spoiled, and the immense joy she anticipated is already tainted. She had pictured herself carrying a baby bundled up in blankets through a landscape of snowy plains.
 
Yes, she knows you can’t adopt newborns. That it’s almost impossible to adopt before they’re a year old. Still, she can’t give up on her dream: a baby bundled in thick blankets in the snow. Now she hears Lydia talking about a lovely, beautiful, sixteen-month-old boy. Not far from here. At an orphanage four hours from Omsk. His name is Constantine.
 
“Constantine?”
 
“Constantine.” Lydia smiles with her pink-painted lips. “Kostya,” she adds, to soften the sound.
 
She knows the name has no significance. Some nanny or aide stuck him with it. Once the boy is hers, she’ll give him the name she came up with. A lovely name. Unique. A name she spent months thinking up but is unwilling to reveal to anyone yet. Still, the stain from before grows larger, spreading until it extinguishes all the elation she felt earlier. Yes, she knew her child would come with a different name, a Russian one. She’d been prepared. Sasha. Andrei. Grisha. Victor, even. But Constantine? Sixteen months old. And it’s ninety-five degrees outside. Where is the newborn bundled in blankets in the heart of a snowy plain?
 
 
 
Eleven p.m. and she can’t sleep. She’s been in bed since 8:30, with the alarm clock set for 3:45. At five o’clock she will leave with Lydia and the driver on a four-hour trip to that town whose name she can’t remember, to meet the baby.
 
The boy.
 
Constantine, she practices, trying to get used to the name. But then she scolds herself: What for? He’ll have a different name anyway. Her name. The secret one. But she persists: Constantine. Constantine. Kostya. Kostya. Kostya! A shout echoes through her mind. Where is it from? She tries to remember, in vain. Kostya!
 
Only after midnight, still awake, does she recognize it. The Seagull. Masha running all over the estate searching for her Kostya. And what does he say when she finds him? Leave me alone. What do you want from me? Why do you keep chasing after me? It’s been almost fifteen years since the last time she saw that play. She went with a friend. A student production.
 
Soon she won’t have all that. She’ll have a baby. Constantine.
 
She sits up and turns on the lamp. The alarm clock shows ten to one. Sleep is not going to happen. The coils under the fluffy mattress creak. It’s supposed to be a double bed but looks only slightly larger than a twin. She has no complaints, though. All in all, it’s fine. The furniture is old and the bathroom is awful, but she was prepared for worse. She even packed toilet paper. No, the conditions are fine. In that respect she has been pleasantly surprised. And by the welcome she received. Lydia, the local representative. Dima the interpreter. Even the driver.
 
Constantine, she insists. Levin. Constantine Levin. That was his name, I swear! What more could she ask for? The Seagull and Anna Karenina too? Chekhov and Tolstoy? Still, it’s not the name she dreamed of. This was not how she envisioned finding her child. For too long she kept believing it would be all right, that she’d manage in the end, it would work out for her like it did for everyone else. She’d meet someone, get married, have a baby. Only at forty did she realize she had to put the baby first. But still she wasn’t willing to do it alone. She was convinced it would work out, just like it did for other women. She’d find a gay friend who really wanted a kid. Someone with a supportive partner. The child would have a real family. But she didn’t have any friends. She went to an “alternative parenting” evening. Before the meeting she reassured herself: gays. No one would judge her by her appearances. They were looking for mothers for their children. You could tell straight away she’d be a wonderful mom. Besides, she was the one examining them. A woman could easily find sperm, but them—
 
 
 
At the meeting, no one looked at her. She noticed how their gazes wandered beyond her as though she wasn’t there. She was used to that look from parties, singles events. But she thought it would be different there.
 
“Who would want a boy with my nose?” she grumbled to a married friend. “Or a girl with this ass?” She patted her behind and pinched it in disgust.
 
The friend didn’t know what to say. “Maybe it’s not that at all?” she offered, trying to sound encouraging. “It’s just that you’re over forty, you know, and they’re thinking: What are her chances of getting pregnant? And…in general,” she added authoritatively, “women these days start earlier, around thirty-five.”
 
 
 
“Even there…” she told her therapist, but she couldn’t finish the sentence. Even there, after she’d given up her dream of meeting someone and all she wanted was a co-parent, even there they didn’t want her.
 
The therapist gently pushed a box of scented tissues toward her and said in a contemplative voice, “That must have been very difficult for you.”
 
She spent months debating, then finally went to the sperm bank and started trying, first naturally, then with fertility treatments. After almost eighteen months and nine attempts, the doctor told her, “Look, you’re almost forty-three. What did you expect?”
 
The therapist, who absorbed her tears all those months, violated the professional distance she’d always maintained and asked, “Why not adopt?”
 
They worked on her resistance. What did it mean? Where did it come from? Was it a refusal to give up the fantasy, or a fear of fulfilling it? Or perhaps they were both the same thing. The inability to contain compromise. She could sense where the therapist was going, what she was trying to say. After all, there was a reason she hadn’t found a partner.
 
When she started looking into international adoption, she kept telling herself, the therapist, her parents and friends: This was what she wanted. She was positive. A hundred percent.
 
It wasn’t what she wanted. Not exactly. But she reassured herself and refused to let the doubts get in her way. A child. She wanted a child. Didn’t matter where it came from. True, she’d have to pay a fortune for international adoption (her parents promised to fund it “from your inheritance”), but in Israel they’d only give her an older child, with special needs, and that was something she was absolutely not prepared to take on. She wanted a baby. The younger the better. And healthy. As healthy as possible. That was the minimum.
 
 
 
Alla, the director of the “Parents” non-profit, explained the situation patiently. Children whose parents cannot raise them aren’t adoptable for at least six months. The hope is that during that time they find a family in their home country. Only then do the bureaucracy and paperwork for adoption start. “And you know how long things take in those countries…”
 
“Which means the child will be how old?” she cut Alla off.
 
Alla sighed. “At least one.”
 
She got angry again. Nothing was going her way. A one-year-old! A child who’s spent his first year, his whole life, in an orphanage. With neglectful nannies. Without any warmth. What chance would he have of being normal? She thought about backing out. But then she realized: this was her last chance. She had no other options. It was either this or be alone forever. But she couldn’t stop vacillating. The age was one thing, but how would she know if he was healthy? There were no end of risks. Maybe the mother was a junkie.Or an alcoholic. Or just a chain-smoker. All three, most likely. A mother who didn’t eat right, didn’t take vitamins. And how could he develop normally without stimulation, without touch, without the bare minimum a child needs in the first few months?
 
“Let’s see,” the therapist said. “What are you trying to say here?”
 
They “worked through it.” Her need for control. The anxieties. Pessimism as a preemptive defense against potential frustration. All the things, as the therapist enjoyed pointing out, that had come up in therapy so many times, in so many other contexts.
 
She tried to redirect all that into positive channels. To study the issue. But the more she learned, the more anxious and frustrated she became. Developmental delays. Behavioral problems. Communication disorders. Dyslexia. Hyperactivity. These were all the “normal” things she could look forward to.
 
Then there were the forms she had to fill out over and over again. The stupid questionnaires from an employment agency moonlighting as a parental assessment specialist. The social worker she had to meet. “How ridiculous is it,” she grumbled to the therapist, “that a stranger who doesn’t know the first thing about life gets to decide if I can be a mother. I mean…”
 
Every cow with a womb, after all, could easily, coincidentally, without even meaning to, achieve what she’d been trying to do for almost four years.
 
 
 
But from the moment they called from the organization to tell her there was a child, everything seemed to change. The anxiety was replaced with optimism and a sense of urgency. There’s a child. Her child. The things she would give him, no one else could give. No couple. She started darting around, making inquiries, thinking up names. She put together a nursery no other child had. She painted the walls herself and hired an illustrator who specialized in nurseries to decorate the wall above the bed. She ordered a real hardwood crib from a high-quality shop in a village up north. Bed linens made with undyed organic cotton. She bought hand-made toys. Wooden blocks. Wonderfully soft dolls without facial features. Easily graspable rattles painted with natural paint made from plant extract. The best stroller on the market. The kind that would glide smoothly over the bumpy sidewalks of Tel Aviv. A car seat from a French manufacturer she’d heard about from friends. It cost almost twice as much as the others, but the safety was unparalleled. A video camera…
 
 
 
Now she gets out of bed to make sure the video camera is in the backpack she prepared for tomorrow’s trip. It’s two-thirty a.m. There’s no point in even trying to sleep. Instead, she empties out the bag to make sure it contains the wooden rattle, a small packet of wipes for sensitive skin, and a bag of special sugar-free, gluten-free baby biscuits. And the camera, of course. She’ll ask Dima to capture her first moments with the child.
 
Stop calling him the child, she scolds herself. Her son. And reluctantly she adds, Constantine.
 
 
 
At five she squeezes into the back seat of a beat-up Russian-made car. She dimly remembers seats like this from her childhood. Made of foam rubber without springs. Pleather upholstery in a light shade of cognac. No safety belts. The driver speeds down the road wildly. She is rocked around and occasionally thrown forward, then slammed backwards. Lydia is not her usual chatty self—perhaps she’s too sleepy.
 
Cramped into the corner of the seat, she puts her face up against the window and tries to take in the landscape so that she can describe it to her son in the baby book. The ugly blocks of apartment buildings and desolate fields begin to mingle with one another, and when they leave the city and continue along a bumpy road dotted with sporadic groups of shacks, she is occasionally drawn to gaze at a patch of forest or a water source in the distance. But she soon switches off and stops paying attention to the scenery. Another four hours of this? Maybe four hours is at normal speed, she consoles herself.. Not like this guy drives. She glances at the speedometer. Sixty miles an hour. She feels as if they’re going at least a hundred. Maybe it’s the bumpy road. Or the car.
 
They stop at a gas station on the side of the road. Lydia, Dima, the doctor and the driver stand together, smoking and talking among themselves in Russian. She stands some distance away and sips a cup of watery, murky coffee. Dima says something and the driver laughs out loud, exposing his bad teeth. What are they laughing about? she thinks bitterly. This is her big day. The most important day of her life. But for them—she looks at the chortling Russians—it’s just business. Money.
 
When they reach their destination, a provincial town whose name she doesn’t even know, the cigarette smoke and the bumpy ride and the coffee coalesce into nausea and dizziness. It’s just exhaustion, she reasons. And over-excitement, she adds begrudgingly.
 
 
 
The orphanage looks surprisingly nice, she notes with relief. After seeing the town, she was expecting the worst. But the buildings are whitewashed. Flowerbeds in the garden. Nannies in white smocks. Outside, kindergarten-aged children walked in twos, holding hands. How sweet! she thinks tenderly. Poor things. They have no chance. Who will take them?
 
Nina, the orphanage director, shakes her hand and launches into a monologue she cannot understand. Dima translates: Constantine is a lovely boy. Gorgeous. Healthy as a horse. Quiet as an angel. Never makes any trouble.
 
The door opens. Nina grins, exposing silver teeth in the back of her mouth, and points to the door. A woman in a nanny’s uniform walks in holding a big baby who is bald except for a pale-yellow tuft on his large head. He wears a gray flannel outfit.
 
She rouses herself, unprepared, and quickly shoves the video camera into Dima’s hands. She thrusts the digital camera at Lydia. “Here,” she says, showing her the button. Then she reaches out and takes the baby. Constantine.
 
 
 
The boy squirms in her arms. The room is warm. Stifling. The flannel outfit is oppressive. She bounces him up and down, trying to calm him. Maybe she’s rocking him too hard? He’s not used to it. He grimaces, and a moment later she realizes he is crying. This is how children like him cry. She read about it. Silent crying. No sound. They’ve given up.
 
“Shhhhh…sh..sh…,” she tries to settle him. He feels heavy. She’s sweating. She can feel the flannel clinging to her blouse. She has an urge to throw him back at the nanny, straighten her clothes and recompose herself, but she is embarrassed. Then she has an idea. She sits down, puts her backpack on the floor and digs through it, still holding the baby on her lap. “Here’s a rattle.” She shows it to the boy and shakes it.
 
He doesn’t take the toy. Shows no interest. Does not look up at her. When she looks at him she sees an indifferent gaze. Extinguished.
 
She rifles through the bag until she finds the biscuits. “Here,” she holds one out.
 
She has to place the biscuit in his hand. After a long time, he puts it in his mouth and sits there, withdrawn, sucking on it.
 
“I told you!” Nina proclaims. “A precious child. Quiet as an angel.”
 
 
 
Still sucking on his biscuit, the boy is transferred to the physician’s office by the nanny, who exchanges some words with Dr. Bakin after he looks over the file. Dima stands next to them listening.
 
“What does this say?” she interrogates the interpreter. She has to know as much as possible about the baby’s background.
 
Dima counts: Three ear infections. One hospitalization for bronchitis at eight months. Otherwise, nothing special. Everything is completely normal. All the vaccinations are in order. Blood test is normal. No jaundice, no herpes, no AIDS, God forbid.
 
She looks at Dr. Bakin, who picks up Constantine, tests his hearing, his vision, his range of motion, and tries to get the baby’s attention.
 
Something is wrong. That’s clear to her. The boy is apathetic. Doesn’t communicate. Introverted and unobservant. All the doctor’s efforts are in vain.
 
“Can he walk yet?” she asks Dima. Dima addresses the question to Dr. Bakin. Dr. Bakin asks the other doctor, and she gives a tortuous answer.
 
“Not yet,” Dima translates. “But it’s very common with such children,” he adds. “Even normal children don’t always walk at this age.”
 
She isn’t sure whether the last part was his own contribution.
 
“Who is the mother?” she wants to know. “What is known about the parents?”
 
Again from her to Dima, from Dima to Dr. Bakin, and from him to the doctor, who squirms.
 
“There’s no information about the mother,” Dima explains.
 
This shocks her. How can that be? No information about the mother? That would have been reason enough to consider rejecting him. If only they’d told her sooner.
 
Lydia intervenes. It’s not unusual to know nothing about the mother.
 
“But how can that happen?” she asks. “Isn’t it required?”
 
Then she understands: children are abandoned. This boy was left on the front steps of a building. Or outside a hospital.
 
 
 
When the doctor finishes examining Constantine, he writes his report at length. Then he turns to her. The boy is healthy. Slight developmental delays, but within the norm.
 
And yet she knows. The boy is not right. Possibly autistic. Or maybe retarded. He can’t be fine if he’s so apathetic. She’s studied the topic. Practically done a Ph.D. on it. She knew exactly what to expect. Children are in shock at the first meeting. They recoil. She knew he wouldn’t leap into her arms and shout, “Mama!” But this kind of apathy?
 
Looking at him now, she thinks his upper lip might be too thin, stretched. “Tell him to look at it,” she says to Dima. “It looks like fetal alcohol syndrome.”
 
Dima talks with the doctor. What good will it do her now? There’s no information in his file about the mother. Probably not by chance.
 
The doctor glances at the baby.
 
“He says it doesn’t look like fetal alcohol syndrome. And believe me, he’s seen lots of those.” That last part, she assumes, Dima added on his own again. The doctor’s answer was too short, spat out with an irritation she could easily detect through the language barrier.
 
Why should she believe them? Why should she trust this doctor? He works for the organization. They sealed a deal behind her back, Lydia and Dima and him, to give her a defective kid.
 
 
 
“What does that mean, developmental delays but within the norm?” she demands to know.
 
More whispering, consultations. “It means,” Dima interprets for Dr. Bakin, “that compared to children who grow up in a home with a mother and father, there is a developmental delay. But the delay is certainly within the norm for children raised in institutions, and usually, at this age, there’s no trouble catching up if the child has optimal conditions.”
 
Usually. She can’t settle for ‘usually.’ She has to know exactly.
 
“Can he promise that this child will be normal?”
 
Dima interprets. The doctor looks impatient.
 
“No one can promise that. All he knows is that he’s seen many children in this condition, and worse, who grew up and developed like any other child.”
 
The kid is not right. That’s obvious. And they’re all trying to hide it, to pretend everything’s okay so they can get rid of him, and her. Yes. She knows they don’t like her. Just because she’s putting her foot down. Asking about everything. Demanding her rights. Now they’ve made up their minds to set her up and give her a defective child.
 
“Look,” she tells Lydia. “Look, this isn’t…”
 
Lydia takes her aside. “I suggest you give it some thought. Things are very difficult now. Huge bureaucratic hurdles. Every child costs us enormous efforts. Today there’s a child, but tomorrow no one knows what will happen. So if there is a good, healthy child, it would be a shame to say no. Think about it carefully.”
 
Now she’s not sure. Dima and the doctor are one thing, but she’s always trusted Lydia. Lydia wouldn’t stick her with a no-good baby on purpose. Now she can’t decide: maybe she’s being too suspicious? After all, this doctor has seen endless institutionalized kids. He knows what he’s talking about. He does have his professional dignity. He wouldn’t risk his reputation by making irresponsible pronouncements. Maybe the whole thing is her problem. Maybe he really is completely normal. Which means that the next child she gets, if and when that even happens, will be exactly the same.
 
If only she had someone to consult with. It’s too bad she wouldn’t let her mother come. True, she would have made her crazy, driven her out of her mind, but now she could have been such a big help. It’s too bad she cheaped out and didn’t fly over that psychologist people had recommended who specializes in developmental issues in adopted children.
 
She looks at the boy again. At his dull, empty eyes, his vacant look. Then again, just because she has anxieties doesn’t mean he is all right. She’s not making this up. He has a real problem. She’s the one who will have to raise him. Not Dr. Bakin, not Lydia.
 
The boy, as if comprehending that his fate is being sealed, starts scratching himself and crying softly.
 
“Are you sure?” Lydia asks.
 
She nods.
 
They take Constantine out of the room. It occurs to her that now he will always be Constantine. She feels sad about the name she chose so thoughtfully. What will she do with it? For a moment she wants to run after the nanny and give her the rest of the biscuits and the rattle. Too late. The nanny is gone. And besides, what for?
 
Now there’s more bureaucracy, forms to sign, a letter of refusal (“a waiver,” she corrects them) stating she has no claims against the organization. Only when she gets back to Omsk that evening does she remember: tomorrow is her birthday. Her plan was that, at forty-four, she would finally have a child.
 
 
 
The hotel bar, pathetic in its attempt to appear vibrant, is almost completely empty. She sits down alone and has a cup of tea, hiding behind a giant philodendron with holes in its leaves, the kind that was fashionable when she was very little. The only other people there are a heavily made-up woman wearing a sparkling dress and high-heels, and two dark-skinned men in suits.
 
“Hello, Ronit,” she hears a voice behind her. “How are you?” the woman asks, in English.
 
Martha puts a bottle of Coke and a glass on the table and sits down next to her, as if that were the natural thing to do.
 
They met yesterday. At breakfast. Pegged each other as foreigners. Martha introduced herself and her husband, Jeff, and proceeded to tell her that they were from the U.S., from a small town in Indiana, two hours from Indianapolis, that they had four children and had come to Russia to adopt another.
 
She examined Martha and Jeff. Both fat, of course—everyone in America was. At least in the Midwest. Simple people. You could tell immediately. Clothes that went out of fashion maybe twenty years ago. Shoulder pads. Huge crosses around their necks. Devout Christians, for sure. Primitives. Four children and they needed more?
 
“From Israel!” Martha exclaimed. How she longed to visit there. She prayed to God to allow her to go, so she could see Bethlehem with her own eyes. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee.
 
Ronit nodded impatiently and prayed Martha wouldn’t ask what she was doing there. Anything but be like her. In the same boat as her.
 
But Martha didn’t ask anything. She just told her it wasn’t easy to leave four children and travel. The older daughter wanted to come, she was fourteen, but who would look after the little ones? And the flight… They’d barely been able to cover their own expenses.
 
“Yes,” she quickly agreed. “Huge expenses.” Then she realized she’d incriminated herself. But Martha prattled on: “It wasn’t easy for us as it is. Four children on one salary.” She smiled at her husband. “But God gives, God gives.” The repetition seemed intended to validate her claim. “We went to our minister and he gave us his blessing. We have a wonderful community, so supportive. Everyone pitched in to help us cover the adoption fee. They had a bazaar at the church. Everyone brought things to sell. Moms baked cakes. Kids sold homemade lemonade. It was very, very moving. Truly heartwarming.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“We decided to make it a tradition. Every year. To raise funds for the orphanage. Toys, medications.”
 
“That’s very nice.”
 
“Connie, our oldest, recruited all her friends to knit socks and scarves for the children.”
 
“Good for her.” She got up and said goodbye. “Good luck.”
 
 
 
She spent the whole of yesterday trying to avoid them. Now, when Martha surprises her, she tries to look indifferent.
 
“Fine. Very well,” she answers.
 
“Did you see anything nice? Do anything interesting?”
 
“Nothing special,” she says with effort, wondering what Martha must be thinking. As if Omsk were a natural tourist destination. “And you?” she tries. Let that chatterbox take over now.
 
“Oh, we had a very important day. Very moving. We went to the orphanage to see our child.”
 
“Yes…” she says, hardening.
 
“It’s difficult. Very difficult. I asked God to guide us to make the right choice.”
 
She tenses up. The steam from her tea clouds her vision. She can feel beads of sweat on her forehead.
 
Maybe they got a defective kid too. Maybe all the kids here are defective. A cursed place. She should never have come.
 
“You know, we came to take the child who needs us most. But how can you decide? They all need us so much. How can I be in God’s place and decide who needs us most? A boy missing a hand, or a boy born with drug addiction, or just an eight-year-old who no one’s ever going to take?”
 
She stares at Martha, confused. What is she talking about?
 
“Of course, the most noble thing is to take an HIV-positive child. It’s truly awful, the way they treat them here. Like lepers. But the U.S. regulations won’t allow us. And we’d never get insurance coverage. So we wouldn’t be able to help a child like that anyway. Still, the choice is so difficult. Jeff went off to be with himself for a while. I think he wants to pray for guidance.”
 
She isn’t sure she’s heard correctly. “You mean… you purposely asked for a child with… special needs?” she corrects herself before blurting out something else.
 
“Of course.” Martha smiles at her. “Didn’t I tell you before? That was the whole purpose. Other children, healthy babies, they’ll find families. We wanted to take the one who would have the hardest time finding a home. Not that I’m judging anyone, God forbid. Not everyone has the strength. But I feel the Lord has given me a lot of strength to help others, and I want to use it to bring good to the world. God forbid, I’m not judging anyone,” she reiterates.
 
She looks at Martha suspiciously: Does she know something? Then she gets up, says goodbye and quickly leaves.
 
“I wish you much grace,” Martha says in parting. “God gives. God gives.”
 
Only when she lies down in bed, after washing quickly and cursing the hotel and the whole city for not having any hot water, does the image of baby Constantine come to her. His head too large, covered with a sparse, pale-yellow down, his eyebrows and lashes barely visible, enveloped in the flannel outfit, confused, nervous, silently crying. And for the first time, she thinks not of the name she chose, which now too remains orphaned, and not of the stroller and the toys and the expensive clothes that will go unused, and not of the endless expenses, tens of thousands of dollars that she forked over to the organization, and not of the hours she wasted getting the room ready and the weeks she wasted preparing for the trip and the months she wasted on the whole registration process. She no longer thinks about how nothing goes her way, or about the fact that she won’t be a mother at forty-four like she planned. Now she thinks of the baby, who will stay in the institution. Who will forever remain Constantine. She thinks about him and knows she could not raise him. Impossible. She has no husband. No supportive community. No fourteen-year-old daughter, a free au pair. Not to mention God thrown in as part of the deal. God hasn’t given her anything. Never has. She has nothing. Nothing to give a boy like that. Those who have, can give. Those whom God has given to.
 
She gets out of bed and angrily tosses the packet of biscuits into the trash. She wonders what to do with the rattle. She can’t bring herself to throw it away. After all, it’s handmade. A pity to waste. Such fine wood. She throws it into a corner of the room. The maid will find it. She can give it to her child. She lunges at the red suitcase, the one she hasn’t even opened yet, and empties out its contents. Bottles, diapers, outfits in baby-blue and cream that she washed in special, gentle detergent. Jars of organic baby food. The pacifier she spent ages looking for: good for the teeth and environmentally friendly. She throws it all on the pale beige carpet scarred with cigarette burns. Let the maid have it. She can do what she wants with it. Maybe she can make a few pennies.
 
She must have finally dozed off, because at 2:30 she wakes up in a sweat from a deep but wildly disturbed sleep. She turns the light on, takes out the thick leather-bound notebook from her bag and the pen she bought in Tokyo, and quickly writes down the dream she awoke from before she forgets it and misses the opportunity to discuss it with her therapist.
 
Omsk. July 30. 2:33 a.m. I’m standing bundled in a fur coat, gloves and a hat. I hold a thick baby blanket. I look inside. The blanket is empty. I want to shout out for help. But then I discover that I’m standing in a huge icy wilderness. All around me is only snow, all the way to the horizon. Not a single living soul.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Copyright © Maya Arad 2013. Translation copyright © Jessica Cohen and Maya Arad 2013.
 
Maya Arad is writer-in-residence at the Taube Center for Jewish Studies, Stanford. The author of seven books – the most recent: Xashad Leshitayon (Suspected Dementia) from 2011 – she is widely considered one of the leading Israeli novelists of her generation. Her body of work expands the traditional forms as well as the traditional themes of modern Hebrew literature, throwing light on the experience of the Israeli diaspora in the USA.
 
Jessica Cohen (the translator) was born in England, raised in Israel, and has lived in the U.S. since 1997. She translates contemporary Israeli fiction, non-fiction and other creative works. Her translations include David Grossman’s critically acclaimed To the End of The Land, and works by Yael Hedaya, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund and Tom Segev. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, Tablet Magazine, Words Without Borders, and Two Lines.


 

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