The Lost Solos
(Excerpt from a Novel)
By Eshkol Nevo
Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
You’d think a story like this would have spread by word of mouth, whispered in stairwells or bedrooms, detail after detail, generation after generation, but wonder of wonders, right after the incident occurred, despite the witnesses, genuine eyewitnesses, people did not speak of it, neither in Hebrew nor Russian nor American, as if they had decided to cover up the scandal with flakes of time, with seconds heaped upon minutes, like snow. After all, no one would believe it anyway.
But if, let’s say, a ladder were to be placed against the western wall of the city hall building at midnight, and agile legs were to climb it rung after rung, and a firm hand were to push open the right window – no need to break it, Reuven from Archives likes to leave it slightly ajar, for the breeze – then without delay, the light switch could be flicked on and the strictly formal letter – From: Jeremiah Mendelstrum, Hillborn, New Jersey; To: the Mayor – could be found after only minimal browsing, waiting there in the slightly frayed binder Donations 1993-1994 that stands on a very bottom shelf of the second aisle.
A word of caution: though the letter is formal, it is not at all short. Apparently the same thing happened to Jeremiah Mendelstrum that sometimes happens to people who wield a pen: the pen began to wield him. And perhaps loneliness, always the ultimate reason, made its contribution as well. Because despite his original intention to make a brief, direct proposal, Mr. Mendelstrum surprisingly devotes the first two pages to a description of Mrs. Mendelstrum, who has passed away, and the lines he writes are not short and pithy, but long and convoluted, like yearning, and instead of making do with the customary words – pious, a-woman-of-valor-who-can-find, et al. – he speaks to the reader’s heart with small moments from their life together: their first, awkward meeting at the Frishbergs’ brith, when she turned away, unable to look at the circumcision itself, and he turned to look at her, unable not to look at her. And: an evening stroll together, a year later, from the West Village to the Hudson, during which she told him her dreams and said, I want you to know that I’m not one of those girls who stroll along the banks of the Hudson with the man they love and tell him her dreams, only to become pregnant two months later and give it all up, and he said, God forbid, of course not, but his heart filled because that was the first time she had actually told him, in her own way, that she loved him. For the next forty years, her declarations of love were few, but always spoken with utter devotion, as if she were praying; each declaration left him wishing for the next one, and now that she is gone, he unhappily finds himself with nothing to wish for. Yes, he occasionally manages to see her peering out of his children’s eyes, and there is also a granddaughter, his older son’s little girl, who smiles just like her, and also raises her eyebrows like her when she’s surprised, but you must understand that America is not Israel. In America, families are broken bits of pottery, not pieces of a puzzle, and between Rosh Hashanah dinner and the Passover seder, life seems to have no meaning for him, one day blends into another, and even money, which he worked day and night for years to accumulate, even money no longer drives him. And that is why he has come up with the idea: to commemorate the name of his beloved with a new ritual bath to be built in the city of the zaddikim, which he and his wife planned to visit together the previous summer, and had already bought plane tickets and The Complete Guide to the Tombs of the Zaddikim, in the English translation, of course. But one Sunday, when he was reading the weekend papers, he heard a faint sound coming from the bedroom, like the sound of a fist hitting a punching bag.
He doesn’t want to expand on that moment. He cannot expand on it. And perhaps he never will. Instead, he wants to get to the point.
As he mentioned, he intends to donate a new ritual bath to the city of the zaddikim, and will provide funds to cover all the expenses incurred, with only one condition, which is not really a condition, but more a hope that glows inside him like a memorial candle in its candlestick, that the building and the sign at the entrance with his wife’s name on it will be ready by this coming summer, when he plans to visit the Holy Land. God willing.
From the day he put a yarmulke on his head and went up to the city of the zaddikim, Moshe Ben Zuk tried as hard as he could to see himself as a man reborn, now observing his old passions from a safe distance. But despite his best efforts, a few tendencies were left over from his time as a broken-hearted kibbutznik and an Intelligence Corps officer stationed on the-secret-base-that-everyone-knows-about: he continued to collect maps, continued to hum his favorite pop songs voicelessly, continued to smoke a cheap unfiltered cigarette right after lunch and continued to wave away the scent of Ayelet every time it reached his nose.
Ayelet’s scent, it wasn’t like cinnamon. Or the scent of a particular shampoo. It was simply her scent. And though he knew there was no way, who was he kidding, if her scent happened to reach his nostrils as he stood in the dairy section of the supermarket, or near the swings in the playground, or – the devil’s work – in the synagogue, his hand would wave it away resolutely, but his eyes, his eyes kept searching: maybe, just maybe…
This morning, Ayelet’s scent invades his car on the winter wind. He immediately closes the window, but that only makes the situation worse. Now he’s trapped with the scent, forced to be alone with it. So he opens the window again and tries to wave it away with his hand, looking in the side mirror and the rearview mirror, and again in the side mirror, though there really is no way, who is he kidding, and God help him if she has come back – until finally he looks back at the road and steps on the gas. The best thing for him, he knows, is to get to work. As quickly as possible. There he can stick his nose into other people’s problems.
As the Mayor’s personal assistant for everything, Ben Zuk has a large office, whose long walls he covers with as many maps as possible: necessary maps, such as “Map of Synagogues” and “Map of Yeshivas;” fascinating maps such as “Map of Annual Donations;” as well as totally unnecessary maps, like the ones he drew entirely out of his passion for mapmaking, like “Map of Subaru Models According to Year of Manufacture” or “City Map of Eccentrics.”
He arrives at the weekly city council meetings before everyone else, early enough to hang his maps and their transparent plastic overlays – which-I-just-happened-to-prepare-in advance – that he will use during the discussion, something he also does at the meeting devoted to the letter written by the philanthropist widower, Jeremiah Mendelstrum.
This is the picture as it stands now, Ben Zuk says, leaping from his seat and banging a long narrow pointer on an arbitrary spot more or less in the center of the “Map of Ritual Baths.” The force of the blow causes the participants to jump in their chairs. Ben Zuk is a compact man, a human capsule packed with many contradictory desires. His muscles burst from his shirtsleeves, and people erroneously assume that he lifts weights. His eyes are penetrating. Deep. Blazing with a permanent flame. And stubble always adorns his cheeks. Not out of neglect, God forbid, but because the stubble starts growing again seconds after he finishes shaving.
To my great sorrow, Ben Zuk says, swinging the pointer around the map, and as much as we wish to accept the gentlemen’s proposal, there’s no place left in the city for another ritual bath. The number of ritual baths per square meter in the city is the highest in the Middle East. Which is also true for the number of ritual baths per capita.
I don’t understand, what do you mean, “no place left,” the Mayor says in his meetings tone: a mocking, admonishing tone with narrow edges of violence (he also has a completely different tone, does Avraham Danino, which he saves for personal meetings. A fatherly tone. Soft. With wide edges of trust. And even though Ben Zuk has been working closely with him for two years, he still hasn’t gotten used to the rapid transitions.)
If there’s no place left, Ben Zuk – Danino now slaps the desk lightly with his hand – we’ll make a place. As they say – if you will it, it is no dream.
But even if we make a place, Mister Mayor, there’s another problem we’ll have to deal with, Ben Zuk says, unrolling a new transparent plastic overlay on the map. As you all can see – he jabs the map with his pointer again – right now, and I emphasize, right now, there is a very delicate balance between the various religious streams in our city in terms of number of ritual baths that belong to each stream. Every addition of a ritual bath in the city will damage that balance. Not to mention destroy it completely.
The members of the council – its composition also determined by that same sacred balance between the various streams – nod. A serious problem indeed.
So what do you suggest, Danino asks, fixing his green, doleful eyes (people don’t expect a doleful gaze from a mayor. Time after time, Ben Zuk had seen how the sadness radiating from Danino’s eyes disconcerted people. Especially if they were seeing it for the first time.)
No, really – Danino clarifies – I want to understand what your plan is, Ben Zuk. Should we tell Mendelstrum that we don’t want his money? That he should give it to a different city?
In all honesty, if we look at the map of… Ben Zuk begins to say, about to unroll another transparent plastic overlay on the map.
Give me a rest from those maps of yours, Ben Zuk, the Mayor cries, shoving his hand deep into his pants (while most people do that by thrusting the thumb inside and leaving the hand outside, Avraham Danino tends to lead with four fingers until they are almost, and perhaps not almost, touching his private parts, and leaves the thumb outside), give me solutions! He raises his voice at his assistant and drums his thumbs impatiently on his belt buckle. So-lu-tions!
When shouted at, Ben Zuk is rendered speechless. Shrinks back to the size of an “outside child” sent to live and attend school on a kibbutz. The one who’s told to jump, come on, jump already, into the waterfall of the Yehudiya Stream. The one who’s never chosen by any basketball team, even though he isn’t all that bad. The one who falls into a cesspool the first time he participates in night games and is ashamed to call for help because he already knows what they’ll say. The one who prefers not to speak, because even when he has brilliant ideas, others dismiss them –
Wait a minute, if you will permit me, what about that empty land there, the representative from the Ministry of Interior says suddenly. He’s a modest, serious young man sent from the Holy City two years ago to save the situation after financial irregularities in the management of the city were found.
Where? Ben Zuk whips the map with his pointer. Here? Here? Here?
The Interior Ministry representative jumps out of his seat, goes over to the map and places his finger on the no man’s land between the city and the military base. And in truth, there’s nothing there. Devoid of ritual baths. Completely.
Nu, really – Ben Zuk rests the pointer on the wall – you want to build a ritual bath in Siberia?
Everyone in the room chuckles. Except for the Mayor, who now takes his hand out of his pants, bangs on the table and says: that is exactly what we’re going to do with Mendelstrum’s donation. We’ll build the first, historical ritual bath in Sib… in the Source of Pride neighborhood. And with God’s help, the problem will be washed away in the cleansing waters.
But… Ben Zuk stammers, stunned, what are those people going to do with a ritual bath? They don’t even… It isn’t clear that they’re even Jews.
Ben Zuk, Ben Zuk, the Mayor says, smiling patronizingly, who knows better than you that it’s never too late to strengthen your faith. Go there tomorrow and find us a suitable plot of land.
But Avraham, I mean, Mr. Mayor, the women there are old, they’re already way past the age of –
Then there should be a section for men. I expect that ritual bath to be built by summer, Ben Zuk. Just like that man from New Jersey requested.
Two years earlier, on the day the new immigrants arrived in the city, school let out at eleven o’clock. The children marched in straight lines to the main street carrying small Magic Marker posters that said “LET MY PEOPLE GO,” and “WELCOME.” Many unemployed people interrupted their unemployment to join the historic reception, proudly holding up pictures of the prisoners of Zion; enterprising peddlers sold hot corn-on-the-cob and cold ices, and had packed small bottles of cheap vodka at the bottom of their carts, in case the rumors about the new immigrants turned out to be true. Five minutes before the official time, the joyous strains of Hava Nagila burst from the giant speakers that had been placed earlier on several balconies, and a group of local pensioners wearing Red Army uniforms the city had rented for them from a theatrical costume warehouse made their way to the front row in a slow, stately march. The astonished crowd split in two to allow them to pass, and the Mayor, who had orchestrated the entire event, observed his work with great satisfaction, and then looked at the bend in the road to check: were the buses there yet?
For months, Avraham Danino had made pilgrimages to the Holy City, demanding that his city be given some of “them.” All the neighboring cities had received their quotas and had given the new immigrants a cool welcome, which quickly turned into sincere appreciation when it turned out that they had brought with them extensive education, burning ambition, blond women and additional budgetary funds. Again and again, Danino had been forced to watch longingly as the buses left immigrant absorption centers and headed for other cities, not his. Again and again, he pleaded and explained that it was actually in his city… because of the climate… they would feel comfortable. And it was actually him… that is, his city… more than all its sister cities, that was in greater need of new blood. Of a shot of adrenalin. Of productive immigration in every sense of the word.
Again and again, he returned empty-handed. Until suddenly, as arbitrarily as they had always said no, a voice descended from the upper echelons and announced: yes. Full buses bursting with new immigrants would arrive in the city several months later. He would be informed in due time of the exact date.
The Mayor was determined not to miss the rare opportunity. In his imagination, he saw her – Marina, Olga, Irena, he hadn’t decided on the name yet – the last one to get off the bus, her jutting bust heralding her body, and unlike all the married couples that got off before her, she walks completely alone, carrying a large suitcase. Her husband has chosen to remain in Russia. Or – even better – he has frozen to death in a gulag during the years of the Communist regime. And she is no longer a girl, Marina-Olga-Irena, her legs are sturdy, her shoulders solid and her glance simultaneously arrogant and needy.
He knew in his heart that it was inappropriate. And unacceptable. He knew that the Mayor was supposed to imagine hi-tech industries, new investments, a building boom, but all he could imagine was himself going over to Marina et al. as she stepped off the bus, looking deeply into her eyes, shaking her delicate hand and saying – Shalom, welcome to the City of the zaddikim, I am Avraham Danino, the Mayor, at your service – and immediately afterwards, offering to help her with her suitcase and she refuses with a firm shake of her head and says in heavily-accented, seductive Hebrew: I did not know that there are such gentlemen here in Israel.
And what if, God forbid, she agrees to let him help her with the suitcase? That possibility kept him awake at night. After two terms of eating pastries at meetings, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get very far carrying a heavy immigrant’s suitcase, so he immediately began exercising. Every evening, he walked along the poplar-lined path from the Source of Pride neighborhood, where all the lovely houses stood empty, to the secret-army-base-everyone-knows-about – and back. The first time he took that walk, he had to call for his driver because, half-way through, he was panting for air. So he bought sneakers and a sweat suit with stripes along the sides, instructed the Building Department to pave the neglected path without delay to make it more suitable for walkers, and ordered Ben Zuk to join him.
He knew that when someone is watching you, you try harder.
As they walked, he told his personal assistant the story of his life for the first time. When we escaped to Israel, he said, pointing to the east, we came down those mountains at night. My brother Nissim and me. We were shaking with cold. And also with fear. If they caught us, they would kill us. Or throw us into jail in Damascus. Which was worse than dying, believe me. It was winter, like now. And it started to snow. Every few steps, one of us slipped and fell on the wet rocks and the other helped him up. We didn’t cross the border until dawn. The sun came out, the snow stopped. We got down on our bruised knees and kissed the wet ground. Even now, while I’m talking to you, I can taste the earth in my mouth. How old were we? Children. I was thirteen, Nissim eleven. We didn’t have a father. He left. Went back to Morocco when we were little. You’re the man in the house, that’s what my mother always used to tell me. And that night, before we left, she put her hand on my forehead and said, you’re the oldest, it’s up to you to make sure that no one touches a hair on your brother’s head. Later, in Israel, they separated us. They sent Nissim to the transit camp for new immigrants. They sent me to a kibbutz because they thought I had potential. I was an ‘outside child,’ just like you, ya ibni,” he said, using the Arabic for ‘my son.’ “Why do you think I hired you to work for the city? Believe me, there were much more qualified candidates. But I said to myself: I’ll help this boy. Because no one helped me. I did everything myself, Ben Zuk. With my own two hands. So if I get angry at you sometimes, it’s only because I want to make you stronger, okay? Ya’allah, I’m out of breath already. Let’s go back.”
Every day, Danino decided that they would extend their walk to include one more poplar until they reached the grove that had a view of the-sometimes-snow-covered-mountain. And so, step after step, his muscles toned up, his chest expanded and his fantasy of Marina et al. grew more elaborate. He’d help her settle in the city. They’d have a secret affair for several months. Her body would compensate for the cultural gap, caress after caress. He wouldn’t tell her about the child, of course not. She’d understand on her own and melt it away wordlessly. And then he’d leave his sad home and move in with her. It wasn’t too late to start over. It wasn’t too late.
It’s the first impression that decides everything, he kept saying to Ben Zuk. We need to hide the flaws and emphasize the advantages. And most of all, we have to give them the feeling of home. What’s the first thing a new immigrant wants after his long, hard journey? A stool to rest his feet on. A hot bath to ease his lower back pain. And a pillow to lay his head on.
With relative ease, he managed to convince the desperate contractor of Source of Pride to lease him the buildings in the neighborhood. The small, pretty houses, built according to highest standards and finest technical specifications,” as the brochures proclaimed, stood empty and unwanted, and all because of the miraculous revelation experienced by a city resident, Yermiyahu Itzhaki, and announced publicly on kiosks and bulletin boards: I, Yermiyahu Itzhaki, a resident of the Daled neighborhood in the City of the zaddikim, have been blessed by the Almighty to see wondrous things, and as instructed, I now bring the residents of this city tidings from the Natanel the Hidden, who came to me in a dream. He was dressed in white and the light that radiated from his face was like the light of an angel, and this is what he said to me: The things that are being done in the Source of Pride neighborhood are not good. I asked him what is being done and why does he believe it is not good. He took my hand and led me over hill and dale until we reached the houses and the scaffolding of that new neighborhood, and lo and behold, he pointed to the ground and the ground was as transparent as a glass eye, and under it was, a coffin, and the zaddik pointed to it and said: That is the obstacle. I am the Natanel the Hidden, I am the man who is buried here, and no buildings will be built on my grave, for that will be evil in the eyes of God. I asked him: And what must I do, my Lord? And he replied: You must warn the people and the leaders of the city not to set foot on this land, for sin will lie at their doorsteps and they will be cursed.” Nothing the contractor said helped, even though his claims were supported by official documents declaring that the land on which the neighborhood was built had been carefully scanned before construction to make sure that there were no graves, and that during construction, not a single coffin had been found. Nor did any help come from the official announcement made by the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Tombs, stating that their examination had yielded no zaddik who went by the name “Natanel the Hidden,” although, they added (a reservation that sealed the fate of their announcement) that it was possible that the “Hidden” affixed to the name of the zaddik was evidence of his modesty, similar to Hanan the Hidden, grandson of the scholar Honi the Circle-Maker, so named because of his extreme modesty, and therefore they could not entirely refute the possibility that Prophet Natanel the Hidden was so self-effacing that he destroyed every written trace of his righteousness. And no help came even from the investigative article published in the local newspaper disclosing that Yermiyahu Itzhaki had asked the contractor for a very large discount on the purchase price of a house in the Source of Pride neighborhood, and only after his request was denied did he make his vision public.
The residents of the city of the zaddikim were awed by revelations of that sort. Throughout the city’s long history, they had occurred with the frequency of earthquakes and were an inseparable part of its heritage. Furthermore: even those who suspected Yermiyahu Itzhaki’s intentions were put off by the idea of buying a house that might not be sellable in the future if Natanel the Hidden’s threatened curse came to pass.
All of that infuriated Avraham Danino. In the not too distant past, he too had actually participated in rituals that developed around the tombs of the zaddikim. He lit candles. Tied cloth and plastic bags at the tombs. Made requests. And mainly, hoped that heaven would grant one very personal wish that was both his and his wife’s. But then that thing happened with the child, and he opened a personal account with all those dead zaddikim. And waited patiently for the chance to settle it.
After receiving the Rabbis’ blessings for his plan – they were secretly repelled by the ritual that had gradually developed around Yermiyah Itzhaki’s house: bottles for sale with his blessing corked inside; pillows with his picture printed on them – Danino met with the desperate contractor, and after receiving his consent, allocated a special budget for preparing the houses for occupation by their new inhabitants. In my city, he boasted, new immigrants won’t rot in absorption centers for months. In my city, the minute they get off the buses, they’ll be handed the keys to their new homes.
But the buses were late in coming. Three hours had passed since the scheduled arrival time and they were still not visible on the horizon. The school children had long since dropped their signs and were now engaged in youthful brawling, the pensioners disguised as Red Army soldiers had taken off their uniforms and returned to their old age homes in time for their afternoon naps. The peddlers dropped prices, but even four-corns-for-ten-shekels had no buyers, and as always, at moments of abstraction and boredom, the crush of rumors was not long in coming: some claimed that the more pious of the new immigrants had demanded that they stop at the tombs of the zaddikim scattered along the route, and now they were late because each one of them had insisted on prostrating himself at a tomb. Others mentioned a fatal road accident that had caused the bus to plummet into a riverbed. They assumed, dejectedly, that at the last minute, when the new immigrants saw the city’s shabby buildings and its old shopping center, they demanded that the bus drivers take them to a city that had a mall worthy of the name.
At ten at night, ten hours after the scheduled arrival, a single bus appeared on the hill. Except for two scowling men wearing suits that had already been wrinkled at noon, the main street was already empty, and a too cold, too strong wind was curling the WELCOME posters lying forgotten on the sides of the road. The Mayor and Ben Zuk approached the curb of the parking bay somewhat hesitantly. The Mayor’s pulse pounded in his temples and shoulders, and on a spot on his lower back where he didn’t know a pulse could pound. He took his right hand out of his pants and waited impatiently and with sad eyes for the whoosh that would signal the opening of the doors.
Katya asked Anton to let her sit near the window, and he, as usual, acquiesced. She wanted so much to see the road, to burn in her memory every bush, every road sign, everything that would hint at what was to come, but soon after they started moving, her eyelids drooped, maker her long lashes – which always mesmerized Anton – even more prominent. Before sinking down in her seat, she managed to see a few surprising vineyards, and one animal – she couldn’t tell whether it was a dog or if that’s what foxes looked like here – lying squashed on the road. A bad sign! A dead animal on the road is a bad sign! The voice of her mother, may she rest in peace, drummed in her mind and she shushed it, but not completely, because the inner voice of your mother is hard to shush completely, and it stayed with her into the snatch of a dream she had then: she’s riding on the trolley car in her home town with the man who was her first husband, and suddenly, not at a stop, the doors open and Daniel, Danik, her beloved grandson, gets on wearing a hat she doesn’t recognize with writing on it in a language she doesn’t know. She opens her arms to greet him with a hug, but he doesn’t recognize her, her grandson gives her a dirty look, as if he doesn’t know her, and she turns to her first husband to share this painful affront with him, but he’s no longer there, he has simply disappeared (how like him to disappear, the thought crosses her mind in her dream), and then she hears the mechanical sound of the bell that usually precedes the recorded voice announcing the name of the stop, but instead of the thick, official voice of the announcement, she hears the voice of her mother, may she rest in peace, admonishing, prophesying: a bad sign. A bad sign. A bad sign.
She woke up when her forehead banged into the back of the seat in front of her. The bus was in chaos. It seems that some of the passengers had felt an intense need to urinate – age will have its way – and after much consultation, they crowded around the driver. Can you please stop, they asked in Russian, using the plural pronoun out of respect. We are interested in getting off… to drink some tea, they told him, because they didn’t feel comfortable giving the real reason. But the driver didn’t even turn his head to look at them. Excuse us, they said, raising their voices slightly and lowering the level of politeness by using the singular pronoun now: can you stop? Tea, please! But the driver simply looked at them in the rearview mirror, scratched his nose in embarrassment and kept driving. Stop! Stop! Stop! shouted one of the full-bladdered men, and the driver seemed to actually understand that word, because now, he gave them a different kind of look, a firmer one (that driver – he’d already heard stories from other drivers about groups of Russians like these who refused adamantly to go to the places they were sent, and forced the driver to return to the center of the country. No, he thinks, he won’t let that happen. Not on his watch.) And all at once, he slammed on the gas.
The sudden acceleration sent a sharp pain to the men’s full bladders and brought the man who had shouted stop to stand in front of the driver and point to his groin. Now the driver got really angry – don’t they have any shame, these people – and spat out a stream of strong words at the man with the bladder, gesturing threateningly for him to sit down. But the man with the bladder didn’t sit down. Again, with the courage of the desperate, he pointed to his groin, and this time drew a small arc in the air that began there and ended, so to speak, outside the window.
The bus stopped. And that was the stop that woke Katya.
About half the passengers got off quickly to urinate. The men found bushes nearby, the women moved out of sight. A few minutes later, when they returned from their mission, it appeared that Anna Novikova was missing. Now all the passengers got off the bus and spread out to search for her. Anna! Anna! those who had known her well from before called. Anna Novikova! Anna Novikova! those who had known her less well called. Nikita! Nikita! Where are you when we need you?! called Vladik Gogleski, who had worked years ago as an assistant to an assistant photographer in a Nikita Mikhalkov film, and ever since, had considered himself a veteran filmmaker and close personal friend of the legendary director. If Nikita was here, he said to Katya, who was walking beside him, he would turn this into a film: a group of strushkas stop on the way to their new homes in Israel, when suddenly, one of them vanishes. Isn’t that a film, Katya?
In the end, Anna Novikova was found in an unmarked burial cave where she had stumbled and fallen.
A year later, a lost yeshiva student would fall inside that same cave and report on it excitedly to the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Tombs, which, after a series of examinations, would proclaim the site to be the tomb of the zaddik and wealthy man, Shlomo the Tanna. In a short time, the grave would become a site of pilgrimages for everyone who wanted a blessing for his business enterprises, and an entire T-shirt, hat, guided tour and holistic treatment industry would develop around that cave, until the Mayor, Avraham Danino, having no choice, and despite his personal, bitter experience with all those false zaddikim, would be forced to compromise and pave an access path to the place.
But in the meantime, Anna Novikova’s access had been difficult – she had sprained her ankle. And evacuating her took several hours.
Katya looked at her Anton, who was directing the evacuation (her first husband would already have found an excuse to disappear), and she filled with pride, mixed with a twinge of missed opportunity. Why had she met this man so late? When he could no longer… damn it… when he was younger, he probably… but maybe now in this new country… the change… maybe there was a chance. She hugged herself and imagined that it was his strong arms squeezing her in their new bed.
Later, at night, when the bus finally stopped, a moment before the doors opened, Anton took her hand, leaned over and whispered in her ear: we’re starting over, Kotik, at our age. Can you believe it?