Some Day

 

 

Some Day

(Excerpt from a Novel)

By Shemi Zarhin

Translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan

 

 

Two seven-year-olds lie on the roof. A boy and a girl. The boy is Shlomi, the girl is Ella. They lie among the water boilers and watch a dead body being pulled out through a window.
 
This is the moment when Shlomi’s mind begins transcribing.
 
He transcribes sharp and obscure pictures; writes and collects pleasant aromas and nauseating ones; things that had been and things that were just hatching. Shards of speech and tweets of tears and rustles of laughter and screeches of breath pile up alongside fumes of rage and tight waves of longing. And endless words.
 
Piles of words. 
 
 
 
Before, his head was a puddle of water. Now the puddle is seeping and its few remaining drops are replaced by the details of this picture. It is transcribed so deeply that even if someone shook his head and memories escaped through his ears and scattered in the air of his life, even then, like the sun, like the dawn, it would keep rising each day, never diminishing —
 
The two of them on the scorching roof.
 
He, barely breathing. 
 
The haze already piercing his lungs, turning his voice into a whisper.
 
She, lying at his side, tightly against his body.
 
Her lips are violently pursed and tears run down her face. They both look down, to the yard trapped between buildings.
 
*
 
Shlomi also looks to the sides. Around them are many small black chunks his mom once referred to as “probably mouse poop, the mice are running around above my head,” and immediately shouted at Shlomi’s father, “When will you get traps and catch these mice already, what, are you waiting for them to chew my feet off?” And Shlomi’s father smiled and said, “If anything they’d probably chew off mine, you always say my feet stink.” And Shlomi’s mother answered, “I said they smell, I didn’t say ‘stink.’ If your feet stank I’d have kicked you out long ago.”
 
Shlomi clings to Ella, trying to stay away from the mice’s disgusting poop. Ella clutches the edge of the concrete, looks with moist eyes at the people trying to pull her father’s body out the window. No one knows the apartment key is in her pocket. Those people spent ages trying to break in through the door, then trying to enter from the balcony. Finally they had to break the window, but couldn’t open the door even from within, because the key was buried in her pocket and the lock was rusty and stubborn.
 
In the meantime, more and more people came to escort Ella’s father through death, mostly people who never knew him and just wanted to honor him or snoop around. And the sun was a hard sun, the one that usually shines on funerals, and Ella’s mother, Hanna, stood on the sidelines and cried in Polish, “Why does it only rain during funerals in the movies, and here the sun is hitting me.” No one could understand what she said because of the Polish, but they still held onto her to keep her from breaking down and mumbled, “Poor thing, poor thing, as if what she went through in the camps wasn’t enough.” Everyone was so focused on her that they didn’t even notice Ella wasn’t there. Even Hanna didn’t notice, or perhaps she did and thought someone was taking care of the little one so that she could cry in peace about what was in store for her now, without him.
 
Suddenly Ella looks at Shlomi and starts laughing. “Don’t laugh,” he says. “They’ll find us.” And she answers, “But it’s funny when your thing gets hard, I can feel it through your pants.” Shlomi doesn’t really understand what she means but is immediately filled with shame and feels his face swell, his lips about to explode. “Don’t blush,” she says. “It’s natural for boys like you to get close to knockouts like me and then your thing gets hard.” Shlomi once again doesn’t understand but decides to pull away a bit and remembers his mother saying, “Be nice to her because she’s a poor little thing, her parents are hard, miserable people, the camps ground them into human powder. They spent all their lives eating frozen potato skins and drinking snow. But watch out for her too, because she’s too mature. She’s an old child.”
 
Shlomi was completely confused. The nausea from the mouse poop, the shouting in Polish, the burning sun, and most of all Ella’s laughter and tears. He didn’t raise his head again and so never saw the people wrestling with the body, which folded and drooped till its head banged against the window sill. He just gave Ella one quick look and saw her eyes widen at the sight of the chaos bubbling in the yard, beneath the roof on which they lay, no longer tight against each other, shaking, he with shame, she with terror.
 
Shlomi asked, “But why did you lock the door?”
 
Ella answered, “Because I don’t want them to take my father.”
 
“But he’s dead.”
 
“I know, I’m not stupid.”
 
“Did you want to piss your mother off?” he asked.?
 
“She won’t even notice I’m not there,” she answered. “Maybe I should jump off the roof so she can finally notice me.”
 
Shlomi said, “Don’t jump,” and Ella said, “Okay.”
 
*
 
Shmuel’s funeral was held on a Wednesday and the wind began dancing right as he was lowered into the grave. Rain suddenly began pouring and broke the heat wave that awoke that morning and burned the roof Ella and Shlomi hid on. It made Hanna feel a little better and she said, “At least he said goodbye in the rain and we can forget about that sun of yours for a while.”
 
Shlomi’s father didn’t go to the funeral. He stayed home to take care of Hilik, who was sick, but mostly he couldn’t bear being there. Hilik lay in bed with the cold he could not shake off for two months and cotton balls stuffed in his ears to absorb the infection. Shlomi’s father sat by him but kept staring at the doorknob and only once moved his eyes to ask Shlomi, “Why don’t you make a cup of tea for your sick brother?”
 
Shlomi was still dirty from the dusty roof. Only after Ella’s father was finally pulled out the window did her mother realize her child wasn’t there. She started screaming, “My girl, where’s my girl Israella?” and Ella had no choice. She got up, shook the dust and black bits off and told Shlomi, “If I don’t go she’ll keep screaming and her throat will break, I’ve seen it happen to her once,” and ran off the roof and down the stairs and across the yard and clung to her mother. Shlomi kept lying on the roof, and only when the yard was completely emptied of people and of the body and of the shouting in Polish, only then did he get up and go home.
 
Shlomi handed Hilik the tea he’d made, and Hilik withdrew into his blanket. “I don’t want tea,” he said in a congested voice. “It burns and when I swallow my ears hurt.”
 
Shlomi looked for a place to put the steaming cup and finally placed it on the floor, near the chair where his father sat and stared. Then he looked for a place to sit. There was a huge pile of laundry on his bed that his mother hadn’t had time to fold because she had to go and resolve the issue with the body. Shlomi was about to sit on Hilik’s bed when Hilik flinched and said, “Your clothes are dirty, don’t sit on my bed. It’s bad enough that my ears are sick.” Only then did Shlomi notice the whitewash that had gotten smeared on his clothes when he lay on the roof. In the hallway mirror, he saw that his hair had also turned white, and even his face and hands, and he looked like a painting of a ghost. Like in the book he took down from the big kids’ shelf in the library where he hid sometimes from the third graders, so that they couldn’t grab him by the collar and shake him and take the sandwich Hilik had given him.
 
Shlomi went out to the balcony and shook his body clean. He shook and shook and thought it was too bad they didn’t own a television, because if they did he might have watched Ella’s father’s funeral the way he watched the prime minister being lowered into the ground, and he would surely see her standing next to her mother, rubbing her arm and calming her down, so that she didn’t shout and break her throat.
 
When he returned to the room he saw his father drinking the tea he’d made Hilik and still staring at the doorknob. Until suddenly he stood up, said, “Shlomi, you’ll come help me now,” went to the door, and then remembered Hilik and went back and touched his forehead and said, “We’ll be right back, and you’ll be a hero and wait for us in bed, and maybe you’ll even sleep off the disease and get better.”
 
The lock on Ella’s front door really was stubborn and annoying. Shlomi’s father had to take a big hammer from his toolbox and hit the lock over and over again, until he smashed the rusty bolts and managed to rip the thing off whole. Shlomi stood beside him silently, occasionally taking hold of some tool handed to him. “Watch carefully,” said Shlomi’s father. “If you watch you’ll be a lock expert and when you grow up you can make a great living.” And Shlomi really did watch carefully. He was worried that the hammer might break the door, or that it might hit one of his father’s fingers and smash it.
 
“You see how I slowly solve the problem?” said Shlomi’s father. “If he’d have only let me focus on the shutters I’d have fixed them up completely, and maybe then I’d have also fixed this lock and some other stuff in his crummy apartment, and none of this would have happened, and they wouldn’t have needed to break the window just to get him out. Who ever heard of such a thing? Who ever saw such a rundown home? I’d have fixed everything up if he’d have let me instead of trying to educate me as if I were a stupid little boy.”
 
Shlomi’s father sweated so much that water ran down his body and created a puddle outside the door. He took off his blue work shirt and used it to wipe his forehead and arms and absorb the puddle, clean the door and then the new, shiny lock.
 
“Now let’s go in and you’ll help me with the shutters as well. I want to have everything fixed by the time they get back.”
 
Like the wild Wednesday wind, Shlomi’s father moved around the small apartment, fixing all that was broken. By the time rain started pouring the shutters were sliding on their rails, the leaking faucets stopped blinking, the copper gas pipe was attached to the wall and the doors to the kitchen cabinets were placed back on their hinges. Here and there some sweat puddles formed and Shlomi’s father took his pants off as well and worked in his underwear, and then grabbed a mop from the bathroom and cleaned everything up and also washed some dishes that were in the sink and folded two towels and finally mopped the stains left on the kitchen floor.
 
When they got back home Hilik was deeply sleeping his disease away. Shlomi’s father sat in the chair in his wet work clothes and went back to looking at the same spot on the doorknob. By the time Shlomi’s mother returned from the funeral his clothes had dried off, but the salt stains on his shirt caught her attention and she asked, “Why did you sweat so much? What did you do?”
 
“I was at her place. I fixed her apartment.”
 
Her forehead contracted in wonder. “What apartment did you fix?” she asked.
 
“I fixed her lock and her shutters and everything,” he said. “Shlomi helped me.”
 
Her wonder was replaced with shock. “And what did you do with Hilik?”
“Nothing, he slept,” he answered, and she became even more shocked. “You’re irresponsible,” she said. “Who leaves a six-year-old with an ear infection alone?” And Shlomi’s father said, “Nothing happened, but I feel like my lungs are about to explode.” And Shlomi’s mother saw that he was breathing fast and that his eyes were red. She came closer and put his head against her stomach.
 
“Robert,” she said, “it’s not your fault that he’s dead, I already told you he was mad from all the torture and beatings his miserable life had given him.”
 
And then Shlomi saw that his father was crying and went to bring him a glass of water. He drank some and told Shlomi, “Don’t worry about me, it’s just that I’m emotional and Argentinian so sometimes I cry a teeny bit,” and when he spoke the Rs rolled in his mouth as if trying to prove his point—Arrrrrrrrrgentinian ... Crrrrrrrrry ... Rolling and mixing with his multiplying tears, not a teeny bit anymore but a roaring flow of Arrrrrrrrrgentinian crrrrrrrrrries.
 
Shlomi knew this was true. His father would often come home early from work with tears in his eyes and Shlomi’s mother would say, “What’s wrong? Are you depressed about not having work again?” And he’d answer, “I drove around and around with my truck and no one needed anything.” She would nod, cross her arms and say, “You have to specialize. Just because you have good hands doesn’t mean you have to do everything, find something to specialize in, be an expert and then you’ll have a lot of work, and in the meantime stop worrying because we’re not dying of hunger yet.”
 
But it didn’t help. For days he’d walk around with that face and those red eyes until Shlomi’s mother said, “Stop walking around like a fallen palm tree, bringing bad spirits into the house,” and would stroke his cheek and suggest that he go shower and sit for a long time in the water, until he felt better. He’d smile and whisper in her ear, “Only if you come with me and cheer me up.” Then she’d sit the children down in front of the aquarium, give them plates of date cookies and go into the bathroom with him.
 
While they sat silently, watching the imprisoned fish, Hilik would hand Shlomi his cookies and say, “Make up a story about the fish and I’ll give you my cookies.” “I can’t make up stories,” Shlomi would answer and Hilik, with his throat infection or ear infection or runny nose would say, “You’re just like Mom, that’s why you won’t make up stories for me. But I’m like Dad and that’s why, when I grow up, I’ll make up stories.”
 
Then their parents would come out of the bathroom smelling like eucalyptus. Shlomi’s mother would look at Hilik’s plate and say, “Good job, Hilik, it’s good you finished your cookies. That’s the way to get strong and healthy.” And Hilik would be pleased by the compliments even though he gave Shlomi his cookies because he couldn’t stand dates, and Shlomi gobbled the whole thing up in seconds. Shlomi’s father would come out with a towel to dry his long, thick hair and walk around completely naked looking for clean underwear in the piles of laundry Shlomi’s mother didn’t have time to fold. She would look at him, wide-eyed, and whisper, “What are you doing walking around naked like this in the middle of the day in front of the children.” And he’d answer, “They’re boys, they have the exact same thing.” And she’d whisper, “They’re children, they don’t have the same thing, and this is the example you give them? Walking around naked?” And he would dig into the pile of clean laundry and say, “Don’t worry kids, when you get older you’ll have one of these too.” And Shlomi’s mother would smile and whisper in a different voice, “I hope for their wives’ sake that they don’t have one of those. A little less would be better.” And Shlomi’s father would be surprised. “You’re the only one complaining. All the men are jealous of me.” “What do you mean ‘the only one?’” she would get upset. “Are there others that I don’t know about?” And he would burst out laughing and put on the underwear he finally found, and then stop laughing because he’d see her go to their room and shut the door and she wouldn’t let him in until he’d apologize and promise that he was only teasing.
 
 
 
 
This novel was first published in Hebrew in 2011 as Ad she-Yom Echad.
Copyright © 2011 Shemi Zarhin.
Published by arrangement with the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
English Translation Copyright © 2013 New Vessel Press.

The English version of the novel Some Day, from which this excerpt was taken, was published by New Vessel Press and can be purchased at http://newvesselpress.com/books/some-day/.
 
Shemi Zarhin (the author) is a novelist, film director and screenwriter who has created some of the most critically-acclaimed and award-winning films in contemporary Israeli cinema, including Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi (2003), Aviva My Love (2006), and The World is Funny (2012). His films have been box office hits, have received dozens of prizes in international film festivals and have been shown around the world. Zarhin was born in Tiberias in 1961 and graduated from the film department at Tel Aviv University. He now teaches filmmaking at the Sam Spiegel School in Jerusalem. Some Day is Zarhin's first novel, and it was a bestseller in Israel, receiving the Steimatzky prize for the bestselling book of 2012, as well as the Kugel Prize in 2013.
 
Yardenne Greenspan (the translator) is a fiction writer and translator, born in Tel Aviv to a bilingual family. She has an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University. A recipient of the American Literary Translators Association Fellowship, she also works as an English-language manuscript reader for the Israeli publishing house Kinneret Zmora-Bitan. Yardenne is writing a novel about fatherhood, and her translation projects include works by Israeli authors Rana Werbin, Yaakov Shabtai and Gon Ben Ari.

 



 

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