Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories

The bridge between yesterday and tomorrow

When the IDF comes to your home to tell you a son has been killed in action... for the second time (Fiction)

I didn’t hear the messengers knock on the door. It was a bit after midnight and I was sound asleep. Amram was still up. He opened the door. You would think that the knock, considerate but firm, would wake me, but it didn’t. Nor did the whispers and the soft exhalation of cushions being sat on.

It’s the long silence after those that disturbs me. I push off from the bedrock of my mind and drift upward toward consciousness, enough to hear the whispers that follow the silence. My soul returns to my body and I roll over from my back to my side and feel for the pillow with my left hand. My eyes open slowly. Silence again, then a short exchange of whispers, and silence again.

I know what it is. It’s happened before. I look at the clock, push myself up, get my feet into my slippers, stand up, throw my robe over me, and open the bedroom door. I walk slowly down the hall, to the arch leading into the living room on the right. The three messengers in uniform are sitting on the sofa, in the dark. Amram sits in the far armchair, leaning forward, his hands interlocked over his head and his elbows on his knees. The only light is what comes in from the counter light in the kitchen.

The messengers see me before Amram does. Two slim young women with dark hair and dark skin like mine on either side of a pudgy young man with sparse reddish hair. He looks at me uncomfortably. The two women at first keep their eyes on Amram and then, without moving, they swivel their eyes to me, as if to signal to Amram. He lets his hands drop and follows their gaze.

“Etti,” he says. “Etti.”

“Amram,” I reply. I walk through the arch, nod at the messengers, and sit down in the other armchair. I take a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table. It takes me three attempts to light it. My hand won’t go where I direct it. I tell myself that it’s because of the slap I gave last night to Ruth Mutzafi’s Ezra, for making her life hell. But that’s a lie.

Amram and I, we haven’t said each other’s names that way for many years. Maybe we have, but if so we didn’t mean it. You think you marry for love but it’s really just to make the next step. It’s not that we don’t get along. We’ve always been partners, managing the family, the finances. He does his job, I do mine. We sleep in the same bed and we couple when we feel like it. It works, and I know women who have much worse. But I do notice something different in his voice, and mine. It wasn’t there last time.

“He said he didn’t want to wake you,” the pudgy man says. The two women nod, their eyes still on Amram.

“I wanted her to sleep. At least one of us should have a good night’s sleep. It could wait until morning.” He says this to the three messengers on the sofa.

I take a log puff on my cigarette and exhale. “Which one?”

The messengers sit in silence.

Amram stretches his right hand out to me. I stare at it for a second and take it with my left. “It’s Dvir, Etti. It’s Dvir.”

Our youngest. They took from the top and now the bottom. The words I want to blurt out are “Why Dvir? Why not …”. But I choke them back. You can’t say that. It’s wrong even to think it. But you do, you always do.

I look up at the family picture on the wall, from Dvir’s high school graduation. He’s in the middle, his spiral locks long, just before he cut his hair short. He’s laughing, laughing loudly, probably for no particular reason at all, that’s the way he laughs. Yaakov, Yizhar, and Efraim on one side, Tzion, Moshe, and Hadas on the other, Amram and I behind. Not Aharon, of course. Not Aharon.

Amram turns to the photograph. “We need to call them.”

“Call Yizhar and tell him to tell the rest. We can’t do it.” I know we can’t.

Amram nods. He releases my hand to pick up his phone, presses the button on the side, then puts it down again.

“Not yet. I don’t have the strength.”

“But not Hadas,” I say. “Not yet.”

“She drove a friend of hers to Haifa for the funeral of her boyfriend,” Amram explains to the messengers.

My phone is in the bedroom, so I take Amram’s and press on Yizhar’s number. He answers after the third ring. His voice is muddled. I tell him. And I quickly say: “Don’t say it. Not what you’re going to say. It’s not true.” I hold down what I want to say and he holds down what he wants to say, which is that God is a faithful judge. I explain to him that we want him to call his brothers, but to wait with Hadas until the morning. “Give me Abba,” he says. I look up at Amram and he waves his arm in the negative. “Not now, Yizhari,” I say. “He’s not ready yet.”

“I’ll come over right after I make the calls.”

I don’t reply, just leave it at that.

“His sergeant wanted to be the one to tell you, but he was wounded and the doctors wouldn’t let him come,” the redhead says.

“That’s okay.”

We sit in silence. I take the glass ashtray from the coffee table and tap ash into it. They remain mute. With so many dead, the army must have pressed amateurs into the job. Last time, they had more to say.

The two black-haired messengers swivel their heads simultaneously toward the redhead. He glances at each in turn. “Should we — I mean — talk about tomorrow?”

Amram is gripping the arms of his chair. “Maybe you could come back in the morning.” He looks at me and I nod. “We need some time alone.”

The three messengers look relieved. They get up. We get up. I step aside so they can get to the door. They mumble something and I watch them disappear down the stairs.

I feel Amram’s arms around me. I turn. He’s weeping softly. I close the door behind me. I try for a moment to pretend that I’m the Etti Badihi that everyone knows, the one who plows forward no matter what, who always knows what has been and what will be and what needs to be done. But then I feel the tears well up and I say to myself, the hell with it. I toss what remains of the cigarette on the floor and I put my arms around Amram’s shoulders and we cry. Just the two of us, together, in the dark, on the bridge between yesterday and tomorrow.

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“The bridge between yesterday and tomorrow” is the fourth of my ongoing series of war stories. The first two, “Cold Water” and “Shelter,” appeared in the Jewish Book Council’s PB Daily. The third, “In the rubble,” appeared here in The Times of Israel. To receive alerts when a new story appears and some thoughts about them, subscribe to my Substack newsletter.

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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