Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories
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Holes: Part 1

She put her eye to the peephole. It was the man she had shared her bed with for 48 years
Photo by Herr Loeffler, Creative Commons

Ruth Mutzafi had her front door lock replaced on the third day of the shiva for Dvir, Etti and Amram Badihi’s youngest. On the fifth day of the shiva, she received a letter from Ezra’s lawyer threatening her with a lawsuit for blocking his access to his property. So he had a lawyer and she would need one, too.

The next morning she didn’t go to the pool and she didn’t go to be with Etti. She sat on her couch and knitted a very large and very warm sweater for her eldest grandson because winter was coming and he was with his tank unit right near Gaza. She didn’t get very far because she had Channel 12 on and the retired general who was the station’s expert on military policy and always had something to say kept telling her that Israel needed to defeat Hamas and free the prisoners and protect Israel’s civilians. He said it all with a stern look on his face that made her feel like he was chiding her personally for being weak and frightened. He said that Israel’s soldiers were eager and determined and that Israeli society was united and ready for sacrifice. She tried to get herself to feel that way.

The door handle jiggled, and then jiggled again, harder. Then a fist banged on the door.

“I know you’re in there.” Ezra didn’t shout. He made a firm statement, like the Channel 12 general. “I can hear the television.”

She turned it off.

“Why do we need to go to the rabbinate about this?” he said through the door. “Let’s talk and find a reasonable solution, just the two of us, no lawyers.”

He waited for her to answer. When she didn’t, he spoke again.

“I feel sorry for you. Your friend Etti is giving you bad advice.”

She laid aside her knitting and very slowly and carefully rose to her feet. She took care to raise each foot up with each step so that her slippers would not make noise. When she reached the door, he banged again.

“I’m trying to protect you.”

She put her eye to the peephole. It was the man she had shared her bed with for 48 years, with whom she had had eight children. And two miscarriages. Her high school sweetheart. She thought it was love then. She learned the hard way, early on, that it had all been an illusion. But even, many years on, when she had been willing to admit that to herself, she could only tell Etti. Because she knew that he would swat her dead just like he did a fly or a mosquito.

* * *

Etti liked sitting on a mattress on the floor. It was much more comfortable than furniture. Anyway, all the furniture had been hauled down to the landing below or into the spare bedroom to make room for rows of back-breaking plastic chairs. Amram sat to her left and Hadas sat to her right, her head on her mother’s shoulder. Naama, still mourning for her boyfriend, still never speaking, sat on Hadas’s other side, a glass of cold tea in her hand. The five boys sat on low chairs some men from the beit knesset had brought over.

Amram was deep in conversation with his brother. Etti listened to the hum of the other voices. She was getting sick of this. All that could be said had been said, and none of it would make any difference. Holes in her heart, as if two bullets had gone straight through her. Ruth hadn’t come this morning. Something must be wrong. She put a hand on Hadas’s cheek and gently lifted her head. She got up. Hadas gave her a look, asking. She gave her a look back: out, and don’t worry.

“Ema, what do you need?” Yizhar asked her from his spot on the other mattress. “Someone will get it for you.”

“I need a cigarette. And some fresh air.”

Yizhar scrambled to his feet. He caught his black kipah before it fell off his head and took her hands in his. “You need to stay here. You aren’t supposed to go out.”

“Just a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”

Yizhar looked around and motioned to a cousin. “Dafna will go with you.”

“I’m an adult. I don’t need a chaperone.” Dafna gave Yizhar a glance and sat down again. He shrugged.

She pushed her way to the open door. The landing and the stairs were packed with people, too. Some of the women clicked their tongues as she passed; some of the men cleared their throats. When she exited the building she took a deep breath. A breeze caressed her face and that felt good. There were people on the sidewalk and lawn outside. They watched her as she took out a cigarette and lit it. She ignored them and walked up the sidewalk. Ezra emerged from Ruth’s entrance. He saw her and stopped. She stood where she was, a few paces away. They eyed each other like two street cats staking out territory. He looked like he was about to say something, to give her a lecture, if she knew Ezra at all. But he thought the better of it, turned, and walked away. She heard the faintest of exhalations above her and looked up. Ruth was leaning out of one of the windows.

“Is he gone?” she asked.

“Looks that way.”

Ruth’s head disappeared. A minute later Etti heard steps on the stairs. Ruth hesitated when she reached the entranceway. She had a piece of paper in her hand. Etti motioned for her to come out. Ruth took a step forward, looked right and left, shrank back, then stepped forward again.

“He’s gone. Nowhere I can see him. Come on out.”

Ruth came toward her. “What are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Had enough. Needed air.” She took a long draw on her cigarette, then tossed it to the sidewalk and stamped it out.

Ruth took her by the elbow. “Come. I’ll go up with you.”

Etti shook her off.

“You need to be with your family.”

“What’s the story with Ezra?”

Ruth held the letter out to her. Etti took it and read it. Ruth trembled. “I need a lawyer. How am I going to afford a lawyer?”

“I’ll tell Efraim to take care of it. Efraim’s fierce. He’ll scare him and whatever idiot took his case.”

Ruth shook her head. “I don’t want to bother him.”

“You won’t bother him. I will. The shiva is almost over. He’ll get right on it.” Ruth took Etti’s arm again and this time Etti let her lead her back toward where the consolers were congregating. But before they got to the entrance, Etti stopped. She felt in her pocket. Then she took Ruth’s arm, just as Ruth had taken hers, but switched direction. She led her around the building to the parking lot. Etti had not planned this. But now she knew what she needed to do.

Ruth felt uneasy. “Etti, this isn’t right.”

Etti pressed the key button. Her car made a loud click as the locks disengaged, and the headlight flashed.

“Where are we going?” Ruth said.

“We’re taking a trip.” Etti observed her friend. She was certain that Ruth understood what the destination was.

“But it’s wrong.” Ruth stood her ground.

“Wrong for who?” Ruth realized that Etti was serious. As serious as the TV general, but in a very different way. Etti was not talking. She was doing.  They approached the car Etti opened the passenger door for Ruth, who slid in. She turned in the seat to find her seatbelt, then let out a little yelp.

“What is it?” Etti peered in. The figure of Naama suddenly appeared. “How did you get in?” Naama held out a key with a Mufasa pendant. Hadas’s.

“So you’re coming, too?”

Naama nodded.

As Etti pulled out of her space, she spotted, in her side mirror, another car pulling out. Ezra’s red Audi. She stopped her car, blocking his, got out, and walked over to his car. She smiled at him and he rolled down his window. He looked at her and she nodded, as if she were willing to listen to what he had to say. He opened his mouth and she spit straight into it. Then she returned to her car and they started on their way.

For more of Haim’s fiction, including previous installments of his war stories, go to the Complete Archive of Haim’s Necessary Stories.
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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.
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