Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories

Naama–Holes, Part 3

Wikipedia/Creative Commons public domain
Wikipedia/Creative Commons public domain

At first, Naama sees them as tanks deploying for combat but, when Etti’s car catches up with them, they resolve into trees. Acacias with crowns of dark green leaves, convoluted and crinkly and furrowed like the nets that soldiers wear over their helmets to camouflage themselves in the scrubland where they train and fight. They stand in an imperfect circle within an earthen bulwark as if waiting for an order to advance. Etti whizzes by them. Naama twists around against the will of her seatbelt to keep the trees in sight, but in seconds they are gone.

Naama had watched Etti rise from the mattresses on which the mourners sat and, ignoring the eyes of the consolers, walk out of the apartment. Then she noticed the key on the mattress where she sat, her head on her friend Hadas’s shoulder. Hadas was mourning Dvir, her brother, Etti’s son. She, Naama, had only been Ami’s girlfriend, so she was not counted as a mourner, but Hadas made her sit next to her so they could grieve together. The key must have slipped out of Hadas’s pocket. Naama took it in her hand, turned it over, pondered it. It was an electronic car key, and on the circle of wire at the top Hadas had added a pendant with a picture of Mufasa the Lion King. Hadas kept her own key to her parents’ car because she didn’t have one of her own. Naama enfolded it in her hand, raised her head from Hadas’s shoulder, and rose to her knees. Hadas was whispering something to her father, Amram. She gave Hadas a quick glance but turned back. Naama followed Etti’s path to the door and out. Down the stairs and then behind the building to the parking lot. She pressed the button on the key and the car’s lights flashed. She opened the back door on the driver’s side, sat, and waited.

The reason is that she now realizes that Ami is not dead. It came to her when Etti got up and left. She had that determined expression on her face that she has when she irons or adds another chili pepper to her zhug or examines the face of a friend or guest. Etti is going to take her to Ami. He will embrace her, hold her cheeks and kiss her lips, and together they will surprise his parents, who think they buried him. They will get married when the war is over. They will go to Gaza to find the baby in the rubble that Naama had seen when she was trying not to see Ami, before they told her he was dead, even though he wasn’t. They will care for the baby until they find its family. They will have five babies of their own, maybe even more, to make up for all the children who were killed.

When they are old enough, when it will be possible, they will take them on a trip to all the kibbutzim and towns where children were killed. There will be memorials in each place. Then they will go to Gaza and visit the memorials for the children there. People would get angry at them for thinking about babies in Gaza, they always got angry at Ami for things like that. But it never deterred him. He wanted to heal wounds, hers too, and she his. Healing will take a long time, she and Ami will be old by the time it is done, but then they will sit together, hand in hand, in joy and contentment.

But that can happen only if she finds Ami. She left him alone. When the slaughterer came he was alone. They raised their knives with glassy eyes as he lay in bed and he called out to her, to his Naama. He was grateful that she was not there so that she would not be hurt, so she would not see him be hurt. But the messengers had been wrong, the body they found and laid in the earth was not his. He did not die. They tied him up and took him with them, back into Gaza. She will find him.

A dirt path runs along each side of the highway to the south, beyond which stretch bare fields laid out on undulating terrain. It is late October and the fields are drab, yellowed by the summer sun, scythed of their grain. Here and there a spot of green thornbush, amid dry grass and brittle mallow. And every so often a clump of acacias, standing like soldiers in a fort, with heads misshapen, to evade enemy eyes. The paths lead to Gaza. She will follow the trees, when the order comes, and they will help her find Ami.

Ruth, in the passenger seat, peers at her, then out the rear window. Naama listens to Ruth and Etti talk, as she did in the days after October 7, before the news came, the false news. She had never listened to them before. Ruth is not in love, she understands. The man who is supposed to love her harangues and beats her. She is afraid that he is following them in his red Audi. Ruth will see Naama reunite with Ami and perhaps that will hurt her, because she will see their love, a love she has never had with Ezra, although she probably tried very hard. Or maybe she needs to see their love so she will learn how to love, not Ezra, of course, but some other man.

Ami sings to her each night in bed. His voice is gentle but resonant, emerging from deep within him. The songs are ones he writes himself, songs about fields and trails through canyons in the wilderness, about the Bedouin, about lapwings wintering and foxes dreaming by day in their burrows. Once she asks him if he’ll ever write a song about her. He props himself up on his elbow, a look of surprise on his face. They’re all about you, he says, as if hurt she had not understood that. She strokes his beard, they make love, and he sings to her again.

Ruth asks Etti who decides who will die, and Naama weeps. She weeps for Etti, whose son Dvir was killed by a Hamas mortar shell, and for Ruth, who fears that one of her sons or grandchildren will also die. But Ami writes songs, and songs do not die. She feels stronger now, not lost and frightened as she has since the news came to her, sitting at Etti’s kitchen table, clutching a glass of tea, with Hadas sitting next to her, looking into her eyes.

They pass another circle of acacias, readying themselves inside their fortification. Their branches begin to wave. Naama sees that they are ready to set out, to march in double file into Gaza. The order has been given. The time has come.

Etti drives past them and they recede into the distance. She cries out, a wordless warning. Ruth turns to her in alarm and Etti glances at her, lips pursed, through the rear view mirror. What is it? Ruth asks. What’s wrong? Naama points back at the trees, no longer visible, her arm trembling. Soon they stop at a traffic light. On the right is a gas station and a strip of stores and food stands. Etti moves into the turn lane. We’ll stop here, she says, and Naama lowers her hand. She takes a deep breath. Here they will wait until the trees arrive.

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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