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Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories
War Stories: Fiction

Sticky kids: The crater (part 3)

I want to tell Gidi I can’t take it anymore. It’s not fair I’m the one who has to try to explain to the children what’s going on
Illustration by Avi Katz
Illustration by Avi Katz

(Continued from ‘The Crater’ Part 2. Part 1 can be found here.)

Part 3

I’m in the crossfire. Not just me. My whole generation. The women, I mean. When we were raising our families and there was a war, the country expected us to manage at home while the men went off to Lebanon or Jenin or Hebron. We had to handle the kids by ourselves. In this war, our sons go off to Gaza. But their wives don’t stay home. They get called up, too. So now I’m a Savta, a grandmother, and here I am again, stuck taking care of two screaming boys and a girl.

When Gidi called and said that Efrat was going in, I was furious. Of course, I tried not to let that show. But I’m not that good at playacting. Gidi got mad at me and said he’s really proud of Efrat. Did the army really say she had to go in? Don’t they realize that children need at least one parent? She wants to do her part, he said, and I support her. So because she wants to do her part and because Gidi supports her, I’m a wartime mom again.

What’s different this time is that we’re living in a hotel. It’s no vacation, let me tell you. Because Gidi and Efrat wanted quality of life, a house with a garden, to live in the midst of nature, they moved up to Ilanit, smack on the Lebanese border. Ilanit means tree frog, which are these little amphibians with sticky toes. But it’s also the name of a really treacly pop singer who made all those cassettes of children’s songs that played in our house over and over and over again back in the seventies and eighties. I have no idea which the name refers to, but I personally would not want to live anywhere named after either glutinous alternative.

Thanks to Hezbollah, the government told the several dozen families living there that they had to evacuate, quick. Gidi had already been mobilized and was down at that devastated kibbutz on the Gaza perimeter. He called and asked if Efrat and the kids could move in. But I live in Ramat Gan. Missiles were flying there, too, but my building is old and doesn’t even have a bomb shelter. Efrat told Gidi that there was no way she was going to live with me, it wasn’t safe, and that she was going to Jerusalem. Fewer missiles and better air. The government gave them a hotel room. Since there are no tourists, the government turned all the hotels into refugee camps.

Then Gidi was wounded and Efrat went ballistic and I moved in with them to help her out, even though that wasn’t legal. All of us in one room, she gave me the bed and slept on the floor. She was running back and forth from the hospital in Beersheva for two days until he checked himself out, came to Jerusalem for the funeral of his friend who got killed next to him, came for half an hour to kiss the kids and then went straight back to his unit. My son is wounded, bandaged up after some bomb got him, and I don’t even have a moment to take a deep breath and worry that next time he might get killed.

Then Efrat wanted to do her part. Maybe she just wanted to get away from me. Anyway, Gidi supported her, so here I am at the hotel, stuck with sticky kids, because who’s going to take care of the kids? The bellman?

Avni and Niri are in first grade and Sapiri is three. They also get all gummy from the avalanche of candy and cake that crashes down on us from locals who mean well but should know better. So I’m constantly washing hands and faces. The boys spend weekday mornings in a makeshift classroom, or they’re supposed to anyway—I tend to find them roaming the halls, plotting who knows what, when they should be at school. Sapiri hates the cloying National Service girls who lead activities for toddlers and I don’t really blame her. I tried taking her to Liberty Bell Park or to the one behind the hotel here in Abu Tor, but they’re full of Arab mothers and their kids. I’m a tolerant woman but I just can’t deal with that right now. Gidi says it’s irrational. Why irrational, I asked. Because they’re going to invade the hotel anyway and slaughter us all? Ema, he said, stop it. So I’m irrational. You wanted me to take care of your children and I’ll do it my way.

Of course, Efrat would never dare ask her parents to take charge. They’re too busy, too important. He’s a former general who’s now a pundit on Channel 12, analyzing the war moment by moment, very good at filling up time when there’s really nothing to say. She’s a prize-winning novelist who can’t be disturbed by the needs of anyone without a degree. They’re divorced and they hate each other and Efrat dislikes their respective spouses and I personally try to stay away from all four. It would be nice if Eli helped out, but I lost him to leukemia a year after Gidi and Efrat got married. He had a good pension and life insurance and I didn’t need to work after that, so I took early retirement from my teaching job and decided to have fun and try to be a better grandmother than I had been a mother. Ha.

This morning I discovered Avni and Niri building a fort at the end of a corridor on the fifth floor. They were piling up cardboard crates they’d found in the bin behind the hotel and were trying to stick them together with glue they’d palmed off the National Service girls. Sapiri wriggled out of my arms and started running toward them.

“Bang! Boom!” they shouted at her. “You’re dead!” Sapiri stopped in her tracks. Her eyes opened wide and she started screaming, then dashed back to me, holding her arms high.

“What is going on here?” I shouted, picking her up. She started bawling.

“We’re killing all the Arabs, just like Abba!” they shouted back.

“I’m not an Arab!” Sapiri screamed.

“Yes you are! Arab! Arab! Arab!”

I stared at them for a moment as they fired broomsticks at me from behind their cardboard ramparts. Sapiri was clinging to me as if Hamas terrorists were about to kidnap her. I felt tears welling up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I sank down and sat on the floor, Sapiri in my lap, and put my face in my hands.

The pace of their bang-booms slowed and softened. I heard the cartons fall. They approached me and I felt their gooey hands touching mine.

“What’s wrong, Savta?” Avni’s voice was confused and worried. Niri sat down next to me and burst into tears himself.

“Did we do something bad?” Avni asked me urgently, as if his whole life depended on it. He tried to pet Sapiri but she cringed and pushed him away.

“I want Abba!” Niri wept.

I want to call Gidi. I want to tell him that I can’t take it anymore. That it’s not fair that I’m the one who’s left to try to explain to the children what’s going on, to explain it in some way that will make them feel secure and safe, as if our country and our leaders and our intellectuals and our talking heads on television know what we need to do and how we can ever live normal lives in this country again. Because I don’t know. I’m as frightened and helpless as a small child.

But Gidi’s busy. And Efrat’s busy. There’s a war going on and they’re fighting it. And here I am, stuck again, bringing up another wounded generation.

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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