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Haim Watzman
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In the rubble

Ami has been murdered, but all Naama can focus on is her vision of a baby she knows is dead (Fiction)
Illustrative. Rubble. (View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, seen on October 15, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90))
Illustrative. Rubble. (View of the destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, southern Israel, seen on October 15, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90))

A weak and distant sun shines through the window. The glass of tea scalds Naama’s hands, but she holds it tight, craving the pain. Ami is dead, his body slashed and his blood and brains spattered on their bed. Yet all she can see in her mind’s eye is a baby in the rubble. She grips the hot glass even tighter.

Hadas, her friend, sitting cattycornered to her at the kitchen table, tries to take one of her hands from the glass, but Naama holds tight.

In their still-clean bed, on Wednesday night, as he held her from behind after luxuriant slow love, Ami had asked her, his voice low and uncertain, if she would be disappointed if he did not come to Jerusalem with her for the weekend. He was in the middle of composing a cycle of songs about what makes a room a home, and a weekend away would turn him, even if ever so slightly, into a different person, who could only write different songs. She smiled and reached a hand back to stroke his thigh and asked, and a weekend without me won’t? Won’t what? he said. Make you into a slightly different person. He took her hand and kissed it. It will just make me more intensely what I am. What is that? Ami who loves Naama, he said. Of course she agreed. And she came alone.

His call woke her early Saturday morning, the day before she was to go back. I’m wounded, they threw a grenade, they’re firing through the door, he cried. I love you! And then the call disconnected. After that, days of oblivion, sitting here in the kitchen in Hadas’s mother’s small apartment off Ben-Zakkai, not knowing, not knowing whether to hope he had been abducted and was alive and perhaps wounded in Gaza. And the army was bombing Gaza and was he in danger from our own forces. His parents called from Kiryat Haim day after day but she could not talk. Hadas took the calls, put them on speaker so that Naama could hear. Their little two-room that they rented, one of the three rows of the original homes that the Kfar Aza pioneers had lived in many years ago and now rented out to students and young people, had been gutted with fire. They found two teeth. Then came the call when Hadas began screaming and weeping and they said that the teeth had been identified as Ami’s.

During one of those days, she cannot remember when, but it was early on, she was still desperately trying to block the images her mind was crafting of the terrorists breaking into their home, pushing through the little kitchen at the entrance, into the living room where Ami’s keyboard and computer were set up, shooting open the lock on the security room where they slept, the grenade exploding inside, Ami’s blood spurting from his thigh as he fumbled with his phone, it was then that the radio that Hadas’s mother kept on all day and night in the kitchen broadcast a series of booms and the announcer said that the air force was bombing Gaza City and that the foreign press was reporting that hundreds, maybe thousands were dying, and babies, too.

And it was right then that the image of the baby in the rubble appeared in her mind. And since then it has not left, and there has been no Ami, and she feels that she is evil, truly evil, because she desperately loves Ami, she knows she does, but she no longer sees him, she sees only the baby in the rubble.

The baby is dead. His lower body is buried in debris. One arm lies motionless on his belly, clutching a blue toy elephant, one that probably squeaks when you squeeze it. His other arm stretches up by his right ear. He wears a knitted cap, stained with blood. There is a deep cut above his left eye. His eyes remain open, but she knows he is dead. He is an infant, not more than a few months old, and he is dead. She loves Ami, who loves her, and she sees only the baby in the rubble. It is not a picture she saw on television or in the newspaper, she has not looked at either, she sits in Hadas’s mother’s kitchen looking out the window at the sun that seems as if it is about to flicker out and die, and she sees the baby just like Ami hears songs in his head that no one has ever heard before and he writes down the notes and the words and then the song lives in the world. And no one has ever seen this baby, it is her baby, only hers, and she has brought it into the world, and it is dead.

Naama, Hadas says. It’s Ami’s parents. About the funeral.

Naama speaks for the first time since Ami called. I’m so cold, she says.

The funeral, Hadas insists. Will you come, they ask. Tomorrow, in Kiryat Haim. We should leave today, to be with them.

Naama turns to her friend and looks at her, for the first time since Ami called.

The baby?

Hadas looks at her and begins to cry. So does Ami’s mother, over the phone. And his father’s voice asks, in awful pain and confusion, the baby? Is there a baby?

The baby is dead, Naama whispers. Dead, in the rubble.

“In the Rubble” is the third in Haim Watzman’s ongoing series of war stories. The first two, “Cold Water” and “Shelter,” appeared in the Jewish Book Council’s PB Daily.

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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