Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories

Akatziya–Holes, Part 5

Illustration by Mizmor Watzman

This silent girl who has just mussed his hair is really weird, Akatziya thinks. He looks questioningly at the two older women, the driver and the one next to her. He feels like he ought to try to start up a conversation with the girl. Is she coming on to him? Right now he doesn’t have the strength to talk, and doesn’t want to think about it.

He hasn’t had sex with Ayelet since before Rosh Hashana, more than a month. During the holidays she was exhausted, between dealing with the demands of the two-year-old Ahva and the baby Kerem and the demands of her parents and his, and on top of all that his attempts to cajole her into physical intimacy, which he thought had been gentle but which she had not taken as such. He realized that she needed rest and time and space and tried his best to deal with his needs on his own, but his need was for her in his arms, not for himself in his hand.

When the air raid sirens blared and news of the massacre started coming in on that black Shabbat holiday, his pals from his old reserve unit started calling each other. Not just the ones who’d always been soldiers even after years of civilian life, but also those who in the past had grabbed at any excuse to avoid showing up for training or active duty. Lawyer fathers of four children and New Agers seeking karma and Swedish blondes on Thai islands; leftists who marched against the occupation and right-wingers who called the leftists traitors; slim marathon runners and former athletes gone to flab—they were all angry, all rummaging in their closets for their fatigues, all intent on defending their wives and children and country. Akatziya felt that, too, but he felt the hunger in his groin even more. He deserved, he required, at least one night of love before leaving home for God knows how long. Before, maybe, coming back in a wheelchair or not at all. He knows he’s an asshole for feeling that way. So he’s an asshole. What else is new?

He glances at the silent girl. She opens the window a crack and the inrushing air makes waves in her hair. She looks really nice. Must be at least ten years younger than him, though. He begins to imagine—then stops himself short.

He’s learned a lot about patience from Ayelet, and he’s grateful for that. They’ve been married eight years now, and his love and respect for her has only grown. Really. He’s also learned a lot from Shaked Bashan, the cartoonist who has a page with an illustrated story in Ha’aretz’s Galeria supplement every weekend. The feature’s called “Asking for a Friend,” and each story is a young woman telling about a relationship with a guy. Mostly single women, Tel Aviv types, meeting guys at bars, falling in and out of love, sometimes having regular sex with guys they are friendly with but without any romantic attachment, just to satisfy the physical needs of both. Bashan, he has told Ayelet time and again, has made him understand how love and sex look from a woman’s point of view in a way he never understood before.

Ayelet asks if that’s the life he regrets not having. He says no, and he really means it. When he was still in yeshiva, and the rabbis impressed on him the laws of ritual purity that restricted physical relations to two weeks each month, if you were lucky, he knew it wasn’t for him. He’d never manage that, and it was one of the main reasons he cast off his kipah as soon as he enlisted. He wanted to have sex whenever he felt like it. When he was in the army, and then while he was a student, he tried to live that way, to be casual about it, to be in the moment. When it worked, it was great, but more often than not it didn’t. Finding a woman who wanted to have sex at the same time he did turned out not to be so simple. He wasn’t so good at getting them in the mood. The other thing was that he soon realized that what he really wanted was a home, a family.

At first he thought he was weird, still caught in his inhibitions. But when he was called up for reserve duty and the guys talked about women, most of them seemed to be like him. Most of them were either in or wanted serious relationships. The others didn’t seem all that happy. Where were all the men in Bashan’s stories? Maybe they didn’t do reserve duty. Maybe they lied when they did.

Has she deliberately moved her thigh over to touch his? It makes no sense. The nicer of the women in front, the one in the passenger seat, Ruth he thinks she called herself, whispered to him, glancing back at the red Audi that has been trailing them, that Naama lost her boyfriend in the massacre and that she’s grieving deeply. It’s just his sick male mind imagining that she wants him. He hates himself for even thinking of it. But his groin is burning, ravenous, and he’s heading into Gaza for who knows how long.

That feeling has led him wrong before. After Ahva was born, Ayelet, instead of joyous, had grown silent, unresponsive to him, and to the baby only, it seemed, as a chore. It didn’t last long, maybe only a couple weeks; their doctor told him that this happened and that it would probably pass (but let me know immediately if you think it’s getting worse). Just give her a lot of support and love and be patient, the doctor said.

He looks at the girl and winces. He’d still been a student then, last year in Earth Sciences at Givat Ram, and this woman from Atmospheric Sciences, in the same building, who he’d chatted with a few times over coffee and sandwiches on the lawn outside seemed to pick up on his feelings and had put her hand on his on a fine sunny day and suggested that he come home with her. He mumbled something about being married, being a new father, and she looked at him sympathetically and said that he needed to look after himself and that she was just offering help. And he’d followed her into her car and up the stairs to her apartment and into her bedroom, his heart beating and his desire exploding within him. They undressed and got in bed and she did all she could but he couldn’t get it up. And he got angry at her and put his clothes back on and she drove him back to campus. What did it matter that he hadn’t gotten it off, he’d betrayed Ayelet. And the doctor was right, the depression passed and when they were together again it was wonderful and he hated himself and felt he ought to confess to her but was afraid to and never did.

Anyway, all the guys in the unit had reported for duty. More than a hundred percent of the roster, because guys who had aged out or been released for medical or other reasons insisted on volunteering. He talked to one or another of them every day, promising that he was coming, that he was just dealing with some stuff that had to be dealt with, and as soon as it was he’d head south. Ayelet asked him why he hadn’t gone. I just need one night with you first, he whispered to her in bed after the girls were asleep. And she said, I can’t, I know I should, I know you need me, but I can’t. Why, he asked. I don’t know, she said. I just can’t. I don’t feel it. They had the same conversation night after night. And last night he’d been on the verge of telling her about the atmospheric woman who’d taken him home to her bed. To clear his conscience, and also to get across how desperate he was. But he couldn’t do it. If things were bad now, they’d be even worse if he did, he was sure.

So in the morning he got up and dressed in his fatigues and took the girls to day care and kissed them goodbye. And he went home and told Ayelet he was going and packed his duffle bag. And she hugged him and cried and said she loved him and that she was sorry. For a minute, he thought she was going to say that they’d do it now, before he left, but she released him and stepped back and turned away. He waited a moment, then told her he’d call as soon as he got there.

The girl turns to look at him. Her expression is just like that of the atmospheric woman that day on the lawn. He averts his gaze and catches the red Audi behind them from the corner of his eyes. He’s so horny that he’s hallucinating. He’s got to stop it. He’s got to fight.

About the Author
Haim Watzman is a Jerusalem-based writer and playwright. He is also one of the leading translators of Hebrew works into English, with more than 50 books to his credit. An archive of his stories and more information about his books and translations can be found on his website.
Related Topics
Related Posts