By Gadi Taub
Translated from Hebrew by Shira Atik
We’re sitting at the breakfast table, but I feel as if I’m not really here. I have to concentrate on everything I do, to focus all my attention on every movement. I haven’t been this happy since Elia was born. It’s wonderful. But it can’t go on this way; that much I know.
Elia has already taken her antibiotics, and I help her spoon out the white from her soft-boiled egg. I watch her little fingers pick up a strip of toast and gingerly dip it into her egg. She has this certain expression, when she’s concentrating. I don’t know how we ended up with a blondie when both of us have brown hair.
Noam looks at Elia. He also cuts his egg and dips his toast. He sprinkles salt and pepper on his egg, watching her the whole time, like he’s waiting for something. It’s awful — I’m looking at my children, but I’m thinking about Michal.
Elia places her toast at the edge of her plate. The yolk is dripping down her chin. “Daddy, I want milk,” she says, grasping her cup by the handle. I pick up a napkin to wipe her chin. “Me, too,” says Noam.
Racheli comes in from the kitchen, holding a frying pan. She puts a sunny-side up egg on my plate, and another one on hers.
Noam watches the egg slide over the plate. “Mommy, we want milk,” he says.
Racheli raises her eyes for a moment. “So get some,” she says, and goes back to the kitchen.
Noam follows her and returns with a carton of milk. Before he goes back to his side of the table, he climbs onto my knees and fills Elia’s cup. Elia holds her cup in the air, but Noam takes it from her and holds it while he pours. I bend down and kiss him on the head. I love the smell of his hair. And I love the smell of Elia’s head even more.
By the time Racheli comes out of the kitchen and sits down, Noam has finished his egg. “You haven’t touched your orange juice,” she says to me. I look at my cup. It’s true, I haven’t. I stick the handle of my knife into the cup and stir.
Racheli mashes the avocado on her plate with a fork, and adds lemon and salt. Then she spreads the avocado on two pieces of toast, and hands one to Noam and one to me, for Elia. I cut the piece into quarters and pass it to her. Then I start on my egg, but I stop in the middle. I have no appetite. I look out the window and think about Michal. About her smell, and the laundered smell of her clothes.
While Racheli is making sandwiches for the kids, I light a cigarette. She turns to look at me. She is surprised. I don’t usually smoke in the morning. “You’re not eating your egg?”
I blow out the match and put it on the table, next to my plate. “No, I’m not hungry,” I tell her. She shrugs her shoulders and doesn’t say anything, though she does raise her eyebrows when I take a puff.
When the children are ready for school, Racheli grabs her car keys and puts on her coat. “You’re not going to work?” she asks.
“I’m going,” I say, “but not yet. There’s something I have to finish first. I doubt I’ll be out of here before nine.”
She’s standing in the doorway looking at me, but she’s thinking about something else. “I forgot to call my sister,” she says. “I promised I’d call, and I forgot.” She purses her lips and ponders this for another minute. The children are already downstairs. “Well, whatever,” she says, “it doesn’t matter,” and she closes the door and follows the children downstairs.
After they’ve gone, I stand up and turn off the dining room light. The only remaining light is from outside. A gray light; it is raining. All the dishes and the leftovers from breakfast are still on the table. Elia never finished her toast with avocado. And I never finished my egg. I smoke another cigarette, and when I’m done I get up and call the office to tell them I’m sick and I won’t be coming in today. Then I clear the dishes and go into the kitchen to wash them. I don’t turn on the kitchen light, either. Instead, I open the window and the rain-scented air comes in. This is how the house looks when we’re not home. Quiet, dim. It’s a nice house. I like it.
After I wash the dishes and put them on the rack to dry, I go in to make our bed. But when I get there, I lie down on the mattress. I lie on my stomach and think about Michal. I say her name out loud. After a few minutes, I get up and make the bed. Then I open the window and lie on my back, on top of the bedspread. A cold wind comes in. I look at the ceiling. Sometimes, when I was a boy, I would stand on my head on the living room sofa and look around the room. Everything would suddenly look different. It was the same room, and everything in it was the same, but it seemed different. I would try to imagine what it would be like if everything really was upside-down, and we were walking on the ceiling.
Michal must still be asleep. She works nights, and my guess is that she doesn’t get up before two. There’s no point in calling before noon. And surprising her with a visit is out of the question; I wouldn’t want to wake her. Maybe later I can go over there. I can wait in the stairwell until she goes out, or until she comes back. If I didn’t have a family, I would wait for her to come home from work at night, too. The phone rings, but I don’t get up to answer it. I just let it ring until it stops.
Michal is a waitress. I met her at the pub where she works, when Dadi and I went out drinking. We do that from time to time, just the two of us. Without Racheli and Zohar. Dadi saw her first. He gestured towards her with his chin, and shot her a look of desire. I could only see her back and her hair. But later, when I saw her again, I couldn’t stop staring. I stared all evening. By the time we left, I was already making plans to come back.
On the way home, after dropping off Dadi, I smoked a cigarette, and when I parked next to the pub I noticed that my hands were shaking. That happens to me sometimes after I smoke. I sat in the dark and waited for it to pass; in the meantime, I listened to the radio and watched the people going in and out of the pub. Most of them were five or ten years younger than me. After ten minutes I ran out of patience and got out of the car. My hands were still trembling a bit, but I kept them in my pockets. I thought a drink might calm my nerves.
Inside, all the tables were taken, but I hadn’t planned to sit alone at a table anyway. I waited for a seat at the bar. While I was waiting, I saw her carrying trays of food in and out of the kitchen, but I didn’t look at her too much. I didn’t want her to know. It took me two drinks before I could approach her. I kept putting it off, knowing I would regret what I was about to do, but in the end I went over to her. She was standing at the kitchen window taking an order. I didn’t play any games. I just asked her if she would have a cup of coffee with me one morning. I told her I knew she had a boyfriend, all I had in mind was a cup of coffee. It was a guess — I didn’t know whether or not she really had a boyfriend — but it was a good guess. Anyway, she said we would talk first, and then we would see. She pointed to the blackboard that was hanging on the wall at the edge of the bar. “My phone number is listed under the work schedule,” she said. “Michal R. There’s another Michal on the list.” She touched my hand. “We’ll talk, but not right now, OK?”
I told her I’d be in touch. But I was stunned. I was all set for rejection.
I called her from work the next day, and we decided to meet the following morning at eleven.
I arrived early and sat down at one of the outdoor tables to wait for her. In the meantime I ordered a cup of coffee with whipped cream, and I read the paper. Then I ordered more coffee. It was past 11:15 and I figured she’d blown me off. My plan was to finish my second cup, then go. But I didn’t go. By the time she showed up, at 11:30, I had long since finished it.
She stood at the entrance for a moment, scanning the café, and when she spotted me she smiled and walked over to the table. I stood up to shake her hand. She looked terrific. She was wearing a faded denim jacket and boots. This was the first time I had ever shared a table with someone who looked like a model. After we shook hands, she put her keys down on the table and sat across from me.
“Parking here is a nightmare,” she said. She took a ring off her finger and placed it on the glass table-top, next to the keys. “So, how are you?”
“Fine. I’m fine,” I said.
“You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you,” she said.
I turned aside for a minute to signal to the waitress.
“I mean it,” she said, “I’m still in a state of shock. I almost went straight to the police.”
“What happened?” I asked, but I had the feeling my question sounded phony.
“I’ll tell you. But let’s order first. I haven’t eaten a thing all morning.” She was quiet for a minute; then she put her hand to her forehead. “It’s unbelievable. Even now, I can’t believe this really happened.” She picked up the menu. “Are you planning to eat,” she asked, “or just drink?”
“I think I’ll have a salad,” I said.
“Me, too,” she said. “I’ll have a salad, too.”
I motioned to the waitress, and we ordered. Michal also ordered a soda, and I asked for apple juice.
“Well, what happened?” I took off my jacket and put it down on the chair next to me.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me,” she said. “Ever.” She looked at me and smiled. She knitted her brow when she smiled. I thought she was going to start laughing. “Yesterday, after work,” she said, “my friend, Eren, met me at the pub. We hailed a taxi and went out for a drink, and by the time we left the bar it was almost four in the morning. He suggested we go to his new apartment — he moved in just a few days ago — a first floor apartment, in Neve Tzedek. So we got there — by this point I was pretty drunk — and we sat for a while and chatted and drank hot chocolate with rum.” She paused for a minute and looked at me. “God, I still can’t believe this happened,” she said. “Anyway,” she continued, “I went to take a shower, and when I came out he was already in bed. Asleep. I took off my clothes and got an undershirt from his dresser. It took me a while to fall asleep. I don’t know if I actually slept or just drifted. But I must have really slept, because suddenly I was woken up by the sound of someone trying to open the door. And next to me, Eren is sleeping like a dead man.”
“He’s not your boyfriend,” I said.
She laughed. “Are you kidding? Just listen,” she said. She thought for a minute. “Anyway. I was lying there on my back, perfectly still, and I was afraid to wake him, in case they heard us. I was scared to death. I heard the door open, and then I heard voices. There were two of them, apparently, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then they turned on the light by the stairs. From the bedroom you can’t see the door itself, but you could see the light.”
The waitress came over with paper placemats and napkins. She laid out the silverware. Delicately, with two fingers, Michal pushed the placemat so it lined up with the edge of the table. “Thank you,” she said to the waitress. Then she looked at me. I watched the waitress until she went back inside.
“You like her?” Michal asked.
“Not really,” I said. She laughed. “I don’t invite every waitress I meet to go out for coffee with me. You’re my first waitress.”
She was still smiling. “Stop, you’re interrupting me,” she said. Her hand was up in the air, her elbow on the table, and she was looking down. “Where was I?”
“They turned on the light by the stairs.”
“Right. So they turned on the light by the stairs, and one of them went downstairs.”
“But you said he lived on the first floor,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, not understanding what I meant. “Oh, yes, the first floor. Not the lobby.”
“And I’m lying there, trembling in fear. I mean literally.” She held up her hand to show me, but her hand wasn’t trembling. “I had chills down my spine. My forehead was dripping with sweat. I was crazy with fear. Meanwhile, the light went out, then it went back on. I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and the sound of someone dragging something. The light went out again, they turned it back on, and closed the door.”
The waitress arrived with our drinks, but this time Michal didn’t stop on her account. “Now in the hall, there’s a floor lamp. You can see it from the bedroom. But I couldn’t see very well in the dark, and I thought it was a person, understand? So I’m lying there motionless, scared to death, and the shape isn’t moving, and I can’t wake up Eren. I just lay there, not moving, for I don’t know how long. A long time, anyway. Until the morning. Finally, when the light started to creep in, I could see that it was only a lamp. I desperately needed to pee. From all the fear. But first I woke up Eren. I was still afraid to get out of bed by myself. I said to him, listen, there were burglars here.”
I took a sip of juice, then I leaned back.
“So we get up,” she said, “and what do we see?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Four crates of bread. In the hall. Can you believe it?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Just that. Four crates of bread — green plastic crates — two full of rolls and two full of baguettes. And the door was locked. They locked it from the outside.”
“How can that be?” I asked.
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m saying, nothing like this has ever happened to me before.” She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eye. “At first, we thought we’d go to the police,” she said, “but then we decided there wasn’t any point. What would we tell them? If they had taken something, it would have been a different story. But in this case, what would we have said? That they brought us crates of bread? I don’t know, if it had been my apartment I would be afraid to sleep there tonight.”
“And you don’t know anything about this?” I said.
“Nothing,” she answered. “All I know is what I told you. That’s it. Then we got up and had coffee. We talked a little to calm ourselves down, then we went back to sleep. I’ve only been up for about an hour.” She stopped rubbing her eye and looked at me with that smile of hers, her eyebrows raised, like she was waiting for me to say something.
I let out a breath and shook my head. Then I looked over to the doorway to see if they were bringing us our salads yet. I was getting cold. And it smelled like rain. It was getting cloudy. “That’s really weird,” I said. “Really weird.”
She drank her soda with a straw. I looked at her neck. I have no idea why she agreed to meet me here if she had a boyfriend. But I wasn’t about to ask.
Our salads arrived; Michal had ordered a glass of wine as well. Red. She told me a little about what she did for a living, about her plans. Where she was from, where she went to high school, things like that. I asked her where she lived, making sure to remember her answer. I told her about myself, too, about Racheli and the children. Then it started to drizzle, and I suggested we go inside, but she said it didn’t bother her. There was an umbrella on our table, and the truth is I didn’t mind the rain, either. The smell of rain and wet sidewalks filled the air. All the colors looked different in this light. I love those kind of days. I watched her lips as she talked.
Slowly, the drizzle turned to rain, and we had to go inside before we had finished our salads. I took my salad with me. Michal took only her keys and her ring. The truth is, I felt a little silly, holding a salad in my hand while we stood in the doorway and waited for them to clear a table for us. I should have let the waitress bring it.
Inside, they had turned on the lights. Michal stood in front of me, and I could smell her perfume and the laundry smell of her clothes. We waited a little while longer, and when the table was ready I touched her back, motioning for her to go in and sit down. We sat for another hour or so. We talked and drank wine and smoked. It was nice. By the time we left, it was one in the afternoon, and it already looked like dusk.
The next day it poured. I left work early; it was hard for me to focus. I thought about her all day, and finally I just had to get out of there. I went straight from the office to her apartment.
She was surprised to see me, but not angry. She was barefoot, and she was wearing gray sweat pants and a v-necked sweater with no shirt underneath. Her boyfriend wasn’t home. We went into the kitchen and she put up water for coffee, and took mugs out of the cabinet. Meanwhile, I sat at the table. We were both quiet for a minute, and then I remembered the story of the bread and I asked her if they had found out anything new.
“Actually, yes,” she said. “What a riot.” She turned to me and leaned back on the counter. “The apartment used to be vacant,” she said, “and the landlords own a café. There’s a café in the same building. So it turns out, the bread distributors have a key to the apartment, and if they arrive before the café opens, they leave the bread in the apartment. Now, the distributors didn’t know that the apartment had been rented, and they still had the key, see?”
“But cafés are never open so early,” I said.
She narrowed her eyes. “So?”
“So, if they’re delivering bread for a café, they would always get there before the café was open. So they would always leave the bread in the apartment. See?”
She thought about it for a minute. “Oh. I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe I didn’t understand it correctly.” Then she said, “Maybe it’s not the same distributors that the groceries use. Maybe they make a special trip. I don’t know.”
“Did your friend talk to the landlord about it?”
She took some pretzel sticks from a bag on the counter. “I have no idea.”
“And what did he do with yesterday’s bread?”
She laughed and shrugged her shoulders.
“So,” she said, “are you on vacation?”
“No. But I left early so I could make it here,” I said. “This is already the second time I’m meeting you instead of working. They’ll get used to it.”
She smiled. “You see? In my job, you can’t just pick up and leave,” she said.
“That’s true, but you have the whole day to yourself.”
“But I don’t even wake up until noon, and sometimes I start work at seven. Sometimes I work during the day, too.”
“They’re open during the day?” I asked.
“Not at the pub. I have photo shoots sometimes. For now, it’s nothing serious.”
“What do you do, advertisements?”
“Yes,” she said.
I stared at her, enthralled. “Anything I might have seen?”
“I doubt it. I’ve just started. There was an ad for ‘Wella’ shampoo, with two other models. But it’s hard to recognize me.” She pushed the sleeves of her sweater up to her elbows.
“By the time I was two or three years older than you,” I said, “I had to live a conventional life. I was already married. And before long, I had a child.”
“I have trouble with that,” she said, “with living a conventional life. During the day, all I want to do is sleep. And at night I’m wide awake. I know it doesn’t look that way, I always look tired. But I really do want to sleep during the day. It was a nightmare when I was in the army.”
It’s true. Her eyelids are heavy and she always looks like she’s on the verge of sleep.
“Were you an officer in the army?”
“Not exactly.” The kettle boiled and she turned to make the coffee. “How many sugars?”
“Two. What do you mean, not exactly?”
She kept her back to me while she talked. “I was stationed at a transport instruction base. In the beginning I was the officer’s secretary, which wasn’t much of a job. There was nothing to do in the office. And there were five secretaries. Then they assigned me to a course for theory instructors, and for the rest of my army service, I taught theory in the course for military drivers.” She stirred the coffee in the two mugs, and put one mug near me and one on the other side of the table. “Actually, it wasn’t bad,” she said. She sat across from me, leaning on the wall.
I touched my cup. “And you were able to keep them in order? I mean, I don’t imagine that the people in a drivers course are the easiest people to work with.”
“First of all, it was nothing compared to the fire-fighters course, which was also located on the base. And anyway, you get used to it. It isn’t like regular school, it’s the army. You can file complaints, you can stay close to the base. I even sent some students to prison.”
“For being disruptive in class?”
“No. For far more serious offenses.” She put her foot up on the chair.
“Like what, for example?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head.
“No, really, what?”
She laughed. “I don’t want to tell you.”
I raised one hand. “No problem,” I said. There was a moment of silence. I watched her sweater rise and fall with each breath, until she turned around and caught me looking. “So did you enjoy teaching at all, or did you just want to sleep all the time?”
“It wasn’t my first time in that kind of setting. I’d been a counselor before,” she said. “I was the head counselor of my troop in Working Youth. For half of high school.”
“You?” I said. “You were a head counselor?”
She smiled and raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, so?” she said.
She found it funny, how surprised I was. I tried to explain myself, but I couldn’t come up with anything convincing. She watched me while I talked. Her lips moved a bit, like she was trying to say the words with me. And she looked like she was about to laugh.
I stayed there until about four, and then I got ready to go. I didn’t say anything about seeing her again; I didn’t want to pressure her. And I was hoping she would say it herself. But all she said was something very non-committal. “So we’ll be in touch.” That’s what she said.
I was so happy when I got home that I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to just take Noam and Elia on my lap and tell them about what had just happened to their daddy. I closed the door behind me and hung up my coat. Noam was sitting there watching TV. He said hello to me, but he was too absorbed in his show to look up. I went into our bedroom and lay down on the bed to think a little more. I loosened my shirt and took off my shoes.
I must have dozed off, because I was woken up by Elia’s screaming. I ran out of the room. Noam came, too. Racheli sat her down on the kitchen counter and dabbed the blood with a tissue. Elia kept howling. She had a deep cut on her forehead. There was blood streaming down her face, on her temple and her cheek, above her eyebrow, on her eye. Her eye was shut tight. I ran into the bathroom and came back with a bottle of alcohol. I took another tissue, moistened it with the alcohol, and handed it to Racheli.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I left her downstairs for a minute,” she said. “For a minute. The car was still open.”
When the alcohol touched Elia’s cut, she shrieked even louder. Racheli’s hands were shaking. “Noam’s friend was playing downstairs. I asked him to keep an eye on her for a second,” she said. I wet another tissue with alcohol and gave it to her. “I was just bringing up the groceries. And when I went back down to get the rest, I heard the screams.”
I held Elia’s hand. “It’s all right, little girl,” I said. “It hurts, but you’ll be fine.”
The whole time Racheli was cleaning Elia’s wound, the boy who had been in charge of watching her was standing in the doorway. I think he lived in the building next door. He was terrified. And he couldn’t tell us what happened, exactly. She must have fallen off the ledge by the parking lot. I told him it was OK, he could go home.
We left Noam at home and drove to the emergency room. By the time we got to the hospital, Elia had stopped screaming. She was pale and weak from all that crying. Her eyes were red, and wide open. Racheli went up to the window to sign us in, and I sat in the waiting room on a yellow plastic chair. I held Elia on my lap, pressing the tissue onto her cut. She looked at all the patients, and at the doctors and nurses passing by.
“Daddy,” she said, grimacing, “are they going to give me a shot?”
She started to cry. I rested my cheek on her head and rocked her back and forth. “I don’t know, little girl,” I said. She cried a little longer, but in the end she calmed down and closed her eyes. I leaned back and didn’t move. I wanted her to sleep. In the chair across from us sat a woman of about fifty, maybe a little older, with a swollen leg. In the weak florescent light it was hard to be sure, but I think her leg was tinged with blue. Her husband, or whoever it was, helped her sit down, and she winced in pain. I looked at Elia; she didn’t see. Her eyes were closed. On her eyelid, underneath the cut, there were still traces of congealed blood.
Half an hour later, it was our turn. A nurse called us in, and we took Elia behind one of the curtains. I sat on the bed holding the child in my arms, and Racheli remained standing. A minute later, the doctor came in and said hello. Racheli told him what had happened, and he bent down and took the tissue off the cut. It was deeper than he expected. He breathed in through his teeth. “It’s deep,” he said, and I felt Elia stiffen in my arms. “I can’t stitch her here.” I began rocking her back and forth to calm her down, but her body stayed rigid. The doctor stood up. Racheli gazed at him with wide eyes, sucking her upper lip. She waited to hear what he had to say.
“You’ll have to take her for an X-ray,” he said. “There’s something inside, and I want to get a picture of it before I try to take it out, in case it’s embedded in the bone.” I rested my cheek on the girl’s head and kept rocking her. I waited for her to relax, but her little muscles remained tense. Racheli kept looking at the doctor. Her eyes filled with tears.
“Either way,” he said, touching her shoulder, “she’ll be fine. Whatever it is, we’ll get it out.”
They left us alone for a few minutes, behind the curtain. Racheli paced while I hugged Elia. Then the doctor came back with another doctor. His name, Dr. Fuchs, was stitched in red letters on the pocket of his white coat. He had round glasses and a neatly-shorn beard. They examined the wound, then talked to each other. “Can you see what’s stuck in there?” I asked.
The new doctor looked at me. “I think it’s a piece of metal,” he said. “It’s embedded in the bone, but we’ll get it out. We’ll have to give her a tetanus shot and antibiotics.” He put his thumb on Elia’s forehead and pressed the skin above the cut. Elia writhed, once, then froze again. Her back was arched forward. “Get a nurse,” Dr. Fuchs said to the first doctor. “I want to take her upstairs.” He kept his eyes on the cut while he spoke. “How old is she?” he asked.
“Three,” I said.
He stopped touching her forehead and touched her cheek with the back of his finger. “You’ll be fine,” he said. He spoke in that sweet voice that people use with kids.
A few minutes later, the first doctor returned with a nurse. They had brought a bed on wheels, but there wasn’t any need for it; I carried Elia in my arms. We took the elevator upstairs, then walked through a hallway that was almost entirely empty until we arrived at some kind of operating room. Maybe it wasn’t an operating room, exactly, but it was something similar. The nurse spread a paper sheet over the metal table that stood in the center of the room, and motioned for me to lay her down. They turned on the lamps above the table. Elia began to cry and Racheli went up to her and held Elia’s hand between her own. I stood at the other side of the table and held her other hand, until Dr. Fuchs asked me to move. I asked about the X-ray, but he said it wasn’t necessary.
I stood in the doorway so I could see what was going on. The nurse moved a chair over to the table for Racheli and she sat down, still holding Elia’s hand. Then, when Elia saw them preparing the syringe, she started to cry in earnest. Racheli talked to her and tried to calm her down but it didn’t help. When they injected the syringe into the cut, she began to scream. The doctor who had injected her held her head still, and Racheli and the other doctor held her arms and legs. They barely managed to hold her down, the three of them together. Racheli looked away. She couldn’t watch this. But Elia continued to shriek even after the shot. I don’t know how such small vocal cords could produce such a powerful voice. It sounded like a screeching bird. And I don’t know how doctors could work like this, with her screaming, and needing three people to restrain her. I felt a weakness in my knees, and sat down on a bench in the hallway, across from the door. But the shrieking didn’t stop. I don’t understand how such a little girl could have the strength to scream for such a long time. It went on for about twenty minutes, this torture on the table. And the whole time, Racheli couldn’t watch. She looked away, biting her upper lip. From time to time Elia managed to raise her head a little before they laid her back down on the table. The doctors had to shout in order to hear one another. I’ve never heard screams like that, not once in my entire life. I don’t understand how anyone can stitch with all that noise.
By the time we left, Elia was exhausted. Her hair was wet from sweat, and she was sleeping in Racheli’s arms. She didn’t even wake up when Racheli carried her upstairs. I opened the door for her, and she walked straight into our bedroom.
“What’s going on, Noam?” I heard her ask on the way in. It was only after I went inside that I understood what she was talking about. The living room lights were off, and Noam was sitting on the sofa holding two knives: the bread knife in one hand, the giant meat cleaver in the other.
“Where were you?” he said. He was on the verge of tears.
Racheli was already in the bedroom with the child. I sat next to him on the couch, my coat still on. “What happened, Noam?”
“Where were you all this time?” His voice broke in the middle and he began to cry. “Where were you all day?”
“We were in the hospital,” I said.
Noam was still gripping the two knives. His knuckles were white with the effort. “Until now?” he asked.
“Noam,” I said, “what are you doing holding those knives?”
“Do you have any idea how scared I was?” he shouted. He spoke through his tears, and the veins on his neck were popping out. “What if a robber had come? Then you wouldn’t have a little boy! That’s what would have happened! You wouldn’t have a boy anymore!”
I took the knives out of his hands. He didn’t protest. But he started to sob so much, he couldn’t even talk. I hugged him. He hugged me too, punching my back at the same time. “Why did you leave me alone?” he yelled. “Why?”
“Shhh….” Racheli whispered from the other room.
I hugged him and he kept on crying. “You’re right,” I said. “We should have told you we were going to be late. I’m sorry.” I rested my cheek on his head and rocked him back and forth. My neck was wet from saliva and tears. “Shhh….” I said to him. “Everything’s OK now.”
Only when I looked up did I notice Racheli standing next to us, leaning on the doorway of our bedroom. She looked wiped out.
After Noam calmed down I brought him into the kids’ room. I lay him down in his bed and told him I was just going to take off my coat and get a pillow, and I’d be right back to read him a story. First I stopped off in my room. Racheli had just taken off her bra and was about to put on her nightgown. Her reading lamp was on, and Elia was sleeping in the middle of the bed, under our blanket. Her hair had dried, but it was still sticking to her forehead. She was pale. All the strength in her body was gone.
“Is he OK?” asked Racheli.
I said he was. I walked to the other side of the bed, and she got up, and we hugged. “I’ll read to him until he falls asleep,” I said. I stroked her back and her shoulders. I stroked her hair. “Then I’ll go sleep in the living room,” I said.
When I left I turned out the light, took a pillow from the sofa, and went into Noam’s room. He was lying quietly in bed, holding the book he had chosen. It was in Polish. I have no idea where we got it. Maybe from Racheli’s mother. I don’t speak a word of Polish. But I made up the story according to the pictures. I’m sure it wasn’t too far from the original. I put the pillow on the rug, lay down, and started to read. Aside from my voice, the house was silent.
When the story was over, I turned out the light and lay back down on the rug. We talked for a little while in the dark until Noam fell asleep. Then I went into the kitchen to get myself something to eat. A salami sandwich. I turned on the television without the sound, and sat on the couch to eat. Then I made the bed.
But when I lay down under the blanket, I started thinking about Michal. I thought I might go to the pub, have a drink. I tossed and turned and tried to fall asleep, but I could already tell that nothing would help. In the end I got up. I dressed in the dark as quietly as I could, took my keys, and left. But she wasn’t working that night.
The next day, Racheli stayed home to take care of Elia. When I left for work, she was still sleeping. I touched Elia’s forehead; she was running a fever. The bedroom windows were open, and sunlight and cold air came in from outside. I stood next to our bed and looked at her, lying under the blankets, her little head on Racheli’s pillow. I couldn’t believe that this was the same little girl who lay there yesterday, on the operating table, under the lights, shrieking. I was all set to leave. I was already wearing my coat and scarf when I went in to kiss her goodbye. Still, I sat down next to her for a minute. She didn’t wake up. I kissed her forehead, but she didn’t even feel it.
The next day it was my turn to stay home with Elia while Racheli went to work. I let her sleep as late as she wanted, and when she woke up I made her breakfast. Racheli and Noam had already left. I poured her antibiotic powder into a spoonful of raspberry syrup, and she swallowed it like a big girl.
Then we went out. I wanted her to have a fun day. First I took her to a café, and we sat there for a while. She drank a milkshake. I love watching her when she’s like this. She was holding her big cup in her small hands, drinking. I also love it when she asks me things. I love it when she starts her questions with “Daddy.”
Then we went to a toy store and I bought her a present. I let her choose anything she wanted, and she picked some sort of tractor with wheels, which you can sit in and move with your feet. I also got a plastic model airplane, for Noam.
It was nice outside, and on the way home I turned on the radio and sang along. I hammed it up, which made her laugh. When I stopped for a red light, I took off my coat. The cold wind felt good. Then we stopped at the flower shop. I bought a bouquet, and drove past Michal’s house. I left Elia in the car for a minute and went upstairs, but I didn’t knock on her door. I just left the bouquet outside her apartment, with my name on the card.
All of that happened yesterday; today Elia is back in pre-school. I’m lying on the sofa, smoking, looking out at the rain. It’s not even ten, and Michal won’t be up for quite a while. But I don’t mind waiting for the time to pass. In fact, it’s nice to just lie here and think about her.