For Isaac Bashevis Singer
Malachi was born in Israel in 1976 and came to Miami with his mother and older brother in 1986. They watched Rocky IV on the flight to Florida. Back then, as a nine-year old, he thought they were going on a family vacation to Disney World but they ended up staying.
Hadar was born in Israel or Miami. Malachi doesn’t remember anymore. Her father was a non-religious Arab from Bet Lehem and her mother was a Jew from Haifa. At that time, she was working as a kindergarten teacher. Malachi and Hadar met at a club in downtown Miami in early June of 2010.
He wasn’t even supposed to go out that night. He was sick of going to clubs. But his friend Josiah was celebrating his birthday with their friend Ben and a married woman he was having an affair with. That woman’s name Malachi forgets.
The memory of that night is murky now, but he’s confident about certain facts. He remembers buying tequila shots for the birthday boy. He remembers dancing. He remembers standing next to Ben, facing a small V.I.P. area while Josiah danced with the married woman. He remembers two girls in brightly-colored club dresses sitting on a red sofa. Were they looking at Ben or Malachi?
Malachi couldn’t tell. The boys looked at each other and then they looked at the girls. The girls smiled. The boys returned the smile. The shorter girl, the prettier one with eyes like coffee beans pointed at Malachi with her index finger.
Now in a situation like this, a man can do many things. Most men would walk over and introduce themselves. Other men would not be so quick to do that.
Malachi was usually a disaster with women. At thirty-two he had only had two girlfriends his entire life. But despite that, there was always casual sex with strippers, bartenders and lonely girls that kept him from wallowing in self-pity. So yes, under normal circumstances, he would have walked over to her but there was a voice – a commanding voice — that said, ‘DON’T GO OVER THERE.’
It may have been the voice of God.
‘DON’T GO OVER THERE.”
‘Don’t go over there? Are you sure?”
‘YES, I’M SURE, DON’T GO OVER THERE.’
Ben looked at Malachi like a Marine awaiting orders. Malachi in turn did not break his gaze from the girl. Then the voice said: ‘TELL HER TO COME TO YOU.’
Malachi smiled, nodded and motioned at the girl to come to him. She acquiesced. Her name was Hadar. He asked her if she was from Tel Aviv. Hadar said no, but her father was from Bet-lehem and her mother was from Haifa.
Malachi smiled. “I’m from Israel.”
They talked for about twenty minutes. She was there for a bachelorette party. She didn’t usually come to this club, but decided to come out tonight. Malachi asked her what she was drinking, and bought her a second round. Hadar asked him what he did for a living. I’m a copy editor, he told her. Sounds cool, she said, I’m a teacher. Wow, a teacher, he said, I would have never guessed. She smiled. High school, he asked? No, she said, tiny tykes in kindergarten. The stories you must have, he said. I wouldn’t even know where to start, she said, rolling her eyes in exaggeration and smiling big, wide, and pretty. After some time, to not keep her from her friends, he made sure to get her cell phone number before she went back to V.I.P. Malachi tried not to look in her direction too often, but when he did, they both smiled.
When he got home, he decided not to text her until Monday night. For two weeks they texted back and forth and played phone tag until they went out on their first date. He got the impression that she was a social butterfly, a very busy girl. When they finally got a chance to go out, he had forgotten her face, but not how she made him feel. She wanted to go to a Hooters restaurant to get hot wings. He was not at all surprised at her suggestion.
He picked her up on a Sunday afternoon in Hialeah at her parent’s house. Hadar was wearing blue sunglasses and a purple camisole. He pulled up in his small, yellow Japanese clown car which made her smile when she entered the vehicle.
“This is a very interesting color, dear, very lemony.”
“Thank you, it was specially ordered from Japan for an extra $2 grand.”
“No. Yellow is my favorite color.”
“Post-it-note yellow is your favorite color?”
“Yes, yellow is a happy color.”
“Yay,” she said, “a weirdo just like me. For a second there I was afraid this might be a boring date.”
“Me, a weirdo? Ha ha ha –NO!”
She laughed like a chipmunk and this gave Malachi a warm feeling in his chest as he stepped on the gas.
At the restaurant, she watched him closely as he devoured a dozen raw oysters.
“You really don’t like oysters,” he said, in between slurps. “And you consider yourself a Miamian?”
“It’s not kosher, dear. That’s at least one rule I follow. But please enjoy, don’t hold back on account of me.”
“Oh, I won’t. I don’t believe in any of that stuff.”
“I’m more selective, but aren’t we all?”
“I guess, but sometimes I only feel like a Jew only by name. I want to be more than a Jew.”
“What does that mean? More than a Jew?”
“It means to be a human that is not judged by a book’s made up history.”
“Or is it? Maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.”
“That is the question. I guess we will find out.”
“Yes, we will.”
She removed her sunglasses and put them inside her purse. She sat up, wiggled her little body, straightened her posture and grabbed the pint of beer in front of her and sipped on the foam slowly. Malachi sipped on his own beer and got a good, unencumbered look at Hadar. It confirmed his foggy memory. She did indeed have very pretty eyes. Due to the hot and humid South Florida weather, she wore her hair tied back in a muffin shaped bun. Her friendliness reminded him of a friend that lived in New York City.
At that moment Malachi consciously placed her in the Friend Zone. For some reason, he didn’t feel any attraction. She was pretty, but she seemed more like an interesting girl to just pal around with. His guard dropped and he relaxed, feeling quite glad he didn’t really need to impress her at all since he wasn’t interested. Then he realized that he was being himself on a first date for the first time in a long time.
They shared the twenty hot wings with a pitcher of beer while discussing many topics like Israel, family, Miami, traveling, and life in general. She had very interesting things to say. Moments of silence were hardly uncomfortable. There were many fake and genuine smiles mixed together trying to decide which way to go. It was almost like two blind people feeling each other out.
In one memorable instance, as they sat on that high-top table in the balcony of this particular Hooters restaurant, a noisy passenger jet pierced through the clouds and they both followed the craft with their eyes and ears.
As Hadar gazed at the jet’s lovely trail, she asked him, “Do you think it’s coming or going?”
“Hopefully, it’s going far away from this place.”
“Why do you say it like that, weirdo?”
“I guess I prefer other places.”
“Are you serious? I love Miami.”
“Of course, you do. It’s different for girls like you.”
“Girls like me?”
“All the pretty girls in this town are spoiled with ‘Ladies’ Nights’ and all these thirsty dudes tripping over themselves to get to you.”
“You hate Ladies’ Nights?”
“No, I just dislike the people that attend Ladies’ Nights.”
“All the people?”
“No, not all of them, but most people; Miamians are assholes. Please pardon my French. They say New Yorkers are rude – bullshit – New Yorkers are genuinely good-hearted people. I meet so many awesome New Yorkers just walking down the street by myself. Miami is like a giant strip club. Most of the women here are just good to look at.”
“You sound bitter.”
“Me, bitter? Naaah…it’s just reality.”’
“You just compared all the women in Miami to strippers.”
“I compared the city of Miami to a strip club, not the actual people.”
“Uh oh, someone is backpedaling – beep, beep.”
Malachi smiled, rubbing the thumb and index finger together in front of his face like if he was crushing a fly, “Maybe just a little…bitter.”
“Just a little bit,” she said mimicking his voice, squinting, followed by her big laugh that was deep, but still melodic to his ears.
Then they both got quiet for a moment before Malachi said, “I guess I’ve had a different Miami experience.”
“Let’s just change the subject,” she said.
A breeze hit them and they both smiled at the same time.
“So when was the last time you went to Israel?” he said.
“Last year. I have a lot of family. Stayed with my cousin Avi and ate a lot of Sabich and mangal. I gained about ten pounds! Good times.”
Sometimes Malachi thinks about that first date trying to pinpoint the exact moment he crossed into the land of no return. The only thing he’s sure of is that it must have sneaked up on him like an iguana jumping out of a bush. That was his definition of love; a very green, and large reptile that startles you as you hike a nice, quiet trail in the Everglades. And the Everglades, of course, is the wilderness of your heart.
“And what about you, when was the last time you went to Israel?”
“I haven’t been since I was nine. So, like 25 years.”
“That’s a long time, any particular reason?”
“Recently, I haven’t been too curious, I guess. But before that, I didn’t have my papers in order.”
“But you have family over there? Or are they all here?”
“No, I have a lot of cousins and uncles over there, too.”
“And your parents?”
“They’re divorced. I don’t really know my dad. Last time I saw him I was about three.”
“So he stayed in Israel?”
“Yes, he’s over there. He’s a Rabbi for one of those new settlements.”
“So you don’t talk to him?”
“No, everything I know about him is from my distant cousins. What about your parents?”
“They’re still together.”
“That’s good. Do you ever ask them what their secret is?”
“No, I try not to question it. I feel like I would be jinxing them. They’re so cute though, especially my dad. He drives me to work in the morning.”
“Yeah, you mentioned you don’t drive anymore.”
“I got into a bad wreck. I wasn’t hurt — thank God — but I came to the conclusion that cars and I don’t mix.”
“That’s very interesting,” he said, smiling at her.
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Not at all, why would you say that?”
“The doofy smile on your face, weirdo.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you. I was remembering something.”
“Go on,” she said.
“It’s dumb; just some nerd trivia. It’s nothing.”
“Lay it on me. I enjoy nerd trivia.”
“O…K, well, the writer Ray Bradbury, hated cars too. He hated them so much; he never even got a license.”
“Okay,” she said, laughing.
“Yep, he thought they were death traps. So how do you get around? Do just have weirdos like me pick you up?”
“Yes, my weirdo friends drive. They don’t mind picking me up.”
“Must be nice,” he said, smiling. “Do you give them gas money?”
“Yes, of course. And food and good company and we have fabulous, weirdo conversations like ‘which cafeteria in Miami has the best pan con bistec’ and ‘what makes a Miamian a Miamian?”
“I’m a very generous tipper,” she said, gazing at his hands that were flat on the table.
“Yes, siree I am.”
Malachi rolled his eyes in exaggeration and they both said ‘Weirdo’ at the same time.
“Jinx,” Malachi said.
“Jinx,” she said, quickly, after trying to beat him to it.
They started laughing and Hadar snorted a little.
After dinner Hadar goaded him into an empty piano bar. They sat at a table to the right of the stage and ordered dessert and martinis. As they sipped their drinks Hadar reminded Malachi about the parking meter and gave him most of the change at the bottom of her purse.
He clearly remembers feeling joy walking briskly in the light rain to put quarters in the meter. He wasn’t sure if it was the music, the alcohol, Hadar, or everything combined. When he returned to the bar, there was a man sitting next to her at the table. Malachi sat on her other side.
The man was a piano player. He was effeminate, so Malachi didn’t get jealous, but at first, Hadar seemed concerned that he would get jealous. Malachi could tell by the “oh no” expression on her face, and her body language which seemed to be leaning away from the man. The guy was loud, flamboyant, and flirty, and after telling a few jokes he left to play the piano with another man.
Hadar requested Billy Joel. The piano duo began the set with “Piano Man” and then a second round of martinis arrived at the table accompanied by a big piece of warm apple pie for both of them to share. Despite the piano bar still being pretty empty, the alcohol and the good time piano music seemed to place Malachi and Hadar in some kind of impenetrable “GOOD TIME BUBBLE”.
Then there were more martinis. More song requests. More alcohol. Then shots. Then dancing and finally kissing. Malachi noticed her smile curl and it was exactly like a cartoon light bulb appearing above her head. She squeezed his hand and went to make a song request, placing cash in the small jar on top of the piano and whispering the song in the musicians’ ear. Malachi looked at the whole back of her and everything he could see from where he was sitting and he still remembers thinking that he couldn’t believe she was there with him. That’s when he realized it, he was looking at the girl of his dreams.
They left hand in hand down the sidewalk in the summer August rain and back to his little yellow clown car where there was more kissing, and more embracing and more butterflies springing forth from his stomach. He remembers her there in the passenger seat drunk and beautiful. There was a lot of making out, and rubbing and touching and clothes were almost coming off but Malachi stopped himself because her kisses were getting sloppy. She was too drunk and he was already in love. He looked at her once more and then he turned on the ignition and drove to a gas station where he bought a six-pack of Red Bull. He sat in the car drinking the energy drink as she slept in the passenger seat.
When he arrived at her house, he helped her to the front door. She was able to unlock the door and before continuing through the threshold, she turned to him, gave him a quick kiss and said, “Text me when you get home, weirdo.” He helped her a little more and she was off into her house. He closed the front door making sure it was locked and returned to his car.
Upon arriving home, he noticed that she left her cell phone in his car. The next day, when he got to work, he sent her a friend request on Facebook with a message telling her he had her cell phone. She replied saying, ‘thank you! What a crazy night! No more Baby Guinness shots for me.’ He told her he’ll drop her phone off after work.
Driving to her house again, he recalled anticipating a warm welcome but she didn’t even give him a kiss on the cheek. He was confused about her demeanor, but he gave her the cell phone and said goodbye. Despite that, they went out again sporadically, perhaps around eight times and just like on their first outing, the same things happened every time: the flirting, the good rapport, the eating, the drinking and the drunk make out sessions at the end of the night. It became a pattern, and Malachi – who was turning complacent – became trapped in a kind of dating loop that he enjoyed somewhat but couldn’t seem to break out of. At that time, Malachi was living with his mother and Hadar lived with her parents. Adding to that his dating logistics being out of whack because he and Hadar lived 45 minutes from each other and they never got more intimate than making out in his car.
The last time they went out, he took her to an Oscar Movie Marathon at the multiplex, but she had to leave early to help her friend plan a wedding. Then after that, Hadar just sort of disappeared or was just not around anymore, he couldn’t really remember. Then Malachi noticed that her Facebook status changed to ‘In a Relationship’. So, whenever the subject came up, he became really good at pretending that he didn’t care. But his friends knew he was posing.
“What happened with that girl you were dating?”
“Nothing, I don’t think we were dating. Not sure what it was, just passing time.”
“Did you fuck her at least?”
“No, I did not.”
“I don’t know.”
His own mother on the other hand, did not directly ask him about the girl he had been going out with and never brought home. She circled around the subject like all good, intelligent deceptive mothers do.
“You’re staying home tonight, Malachi?”
“Yes,” he answered from his bedroom.
He was pretending to read but he was really sulking, feeling sorry for himself like an asshole.
“Wow,” she said, placing emphasis on the “O”.
Then she too would be pretending to be cleaning or actually cleaning, as Spanish TV is blaring in the background some novela or three-hour variety show with skimpy girls Malachi could only dream of dating.
And when he stayed silent, then she would press him again:
“Malachi, what’s wrong? You love to go out. Where are your friends?”
“I don’t want to…go…out….Ma. I’m trying to read!”
Malachi was getting angry because he did not want to talk about Hadar even though he had mentioned her before to his mother as the “Israeli girl,” but dropped the subject after she began to ask about Hadar’s last name and her family, trying to find out what kind of Israeli stock she came from.
“And what about the girl?”
There it was. She said it. She said the words he didn’t want to hear. Malachi was about to yell back to her but he took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“You know what girl; the Israeli girl.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Malachi, she didn’t deserve you my beautiful boy. She lost.”
“What?” he said, placing the worn out, green copy of Ulysses on his chest. “What did she say?”
“Malachi you will meet the right girl. You will be happy.”
He didn’t say anything. He turned over on his stomach and sank his face into the pillow.
He turned over again on his back, “What?!”
“Malachi, don’t yell at me please.”
He grabbed the book again and reread the page with Stephen Dedalus walking the pebbled streets of Dublin thinking about prostitutes, Shakespeare and chambermaids.
“Malachi, do you want some strawberries?”
He didn’t respond.
“Malachi, I am asking if you want strawberries.”
“Yes,” he said, quietly looking over at the page again.
“Malachi, are you listening son?”
“Yes, mother, I want strawberries.”
“Do you want a lot, or a little?”
“I don’t want a lot.”
“Okay,” she said, and started washing the strawberries on the sink.
Then she said, right as she was putting the strawberries in a bowl, “Malachi, I love you.”
“I love you too.”
She brought him the strawberries in a green bowl with brown sugar sprinkled on top. He ate them on his bed and after finishing the strawberries and the section he was reading in the book, he went to the living room and sat on the sofa to watch the models on the TV with his mother.
Towards the end of 2010 Malachi traveled to the Dominican Republic for two weeks with his best friend Hezekiah. Hezekiah, a Mizrahi originally from Nazareth, was married to a Dominican hair stylist that couldn’t leave the country due to her immigration status; she was waiting for her Green Card to come through. So, she sent her husband Hezekiah to visit her family and since he didn’t want to go by himself, he tried to convince Malachi to go with him. Malachi didn’t have to be convinced because he said yes without hesitation. His birthday was coming up too, and a trip to the Caribbean sounded like a nice gift to himself.
They stayed with Hezekiah’s in-laws in a little town in the middle of the island called Cotuí. They hung out at gas stations that moonlight as bars called Bombas. They went to strip clubs. They ate fresh seafood. They danced Bachata with a lot of women. They threw a lot of parties — they did everything you’re supposed to do. One night, for some reason or another he started thinking about Hadar, but he was drunk and his thoughts were erratic. In that vision, she was the ying and he was the yang.
On another night, they went to a Bomba to drink and play pool. The waitress that was taking their order was as gorgeous as a famous Puerto Rican actress that Malachi couldn’t remember the name of. She was really friendly, and he ended up flirting with her the whole night. Then one of Hezekiah’s wife’s nephews told him they could pay for the girl and take her back to a cabana. The wife had two nephews who lived in the house where they were staying, and Hezekiah referred to them as the cousins. They were always together, and they looked like twins.
“What do you mean ‘pay for her’?” said Malachi. The cousins explained to him that some girls do prostitution on the side for extra money; that it’s no big deal. Malachi at first said no, but he was drunk and after considering it for a minute, he agreed. The girl winked at him after he said yes and he felt a little heartache.
Hezekiah, who looked after Malachi like a little brother, said to him: “Make sure you use a rubber, brother.”
The entire group of men drove to the cabana located in the outskirts of the town. The girl gave them the address and directions on how to get there, with the promise that she will meet them there once she got out of work. Hezekiah was sitting in the back with one of the cousins, as Malachi sat in the front passenger seat with the second cousin. Both cousins were tall and lanky, with the same elaborate cornrows, and severe fashion sense making it hard to tell them both apart.
Upon arriving at the right location, they pulled into the parking area that was made up of a set of parking garages connected to each individual cabana. They parked into one of the empty garages and told Malachi to get out of the car and wait for the girl inside the cabana.
“Just go in there,” asked Malachi, pointing at the red door at the end of the garage.
“Yes, bro,” Hezekiah said, “time to get your dick wet.”
Hezekiah followed that with a joke in Spanish and everyone inside the car started laughing except Malachi, who was now getting out of the car.
Hezekiah got in the front passenger seat and told him that they would be back in a couple of hours. The room was already paid for, he said, so have fun.
As Malachi was about to turn to go into the cabana, Hezekiah called him once again.
“Wait, come here, and take a hit of this fat joint to calm your nerves.”
The cousin sitting in the passenger seat carefully lit the medium sized joint for Malachi and handed it to him. Malachi took a big puff and started coughing.
“What the hell is in it? It smells like fucking bleach.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hezekiah said, “Take another hit, it will help you.”
Malachi took another puff and coughed some more before he started waving his hands that he was good now. Hezekiah and the cousins started laughing hysterically.
As he watched them pull out of the garage and speed down the parking lot pumping bachata at full volume, Malachi began to have second thoughts. Inside the room, it was awash in red light. After shutting the door behind him, he sat on the bed and waited. There was some kind of S&M porn playing on the television with men and women hanging from ceilings. Next to the bed, there was a night stand with a menu and next to the night stand, by the wall, there was a hatch with a speaker next to it.
The door to the cabana opened slowly and the girl from the Bomba arrived. She smiled as she sat next to Malachi.
“Did you ask for anything to drink yet?”
“No,” Malachi said.
The girl grabbed the menu and spoke into the speaker next to the hatch and ordered beer and cigarettes.
“I didn’t know,” Malachi said.
“You’ve never been to a cabana?”
She undressed and in the red light, her beauty had turned demonic. Malachi began taking his shoes and pants off. He clearly remembers feeling dread, standing in front of this woman in fear like if she was a serial killer.
“What’s wrong amor?”
“Nothing,” Malachi said, smiling.
“Then take off all your clothes. Let’s do this, amor. I’m so hot for you.”
Malachi knew that was a lie.
She grabbed a condom from her purse and placed it on the bed in front of him. It was a local brand of condoms.
He then took off his underwear and was completely naked.
“Get on the bed,” she said, “and try to relax.”
He couldn’t relax but he did as he was told and awkwardly sat back on the bed naked. She began to rub his stomach in a circular motion. At first, her touch felt good but then it made him ticklish and he moved back and away from her, sitting up on the bed.
“What’s wrong,” she said.
Malachi didn’t say anything.
She looked at him and he started laughing. At first, she smiled uneasily, but then her expression turned serious. Malachi couldn’t stop laughing, it was coming in waves. She got off the bed and started putting her clothes back on delicately and slowly as if she was giving him enough time to stop laughing but he didn’t. His laughter was cascading off the walls like if he was a hyena.
After making sure she had all her things, she left the room. Malachi stayed on the bed, engulfed by the red light as the pornography continued playing on the television. Then the hatch opened and a bucket of Presidente beers was pushed through. Malachi also noticed the cigarettes she had asked for, and he decided to smoke a cigarette and drink a couple of beers before his friends came back.
When Malachi’s friends returned, they found him drunk and alone sleeping on the bed. Once they got him back to the car, he told them that it was some of the best sex he had ever had. She was worth every penny, he said, and might go back for seconds. The group laughed at Malachi the entire way back to the house.
Then on the day before their last day in the Dominican Republic, while tipsy on Brugal rum and crossing a busy intersection in Santo Domingo, he swore he saw Hadar walking down the sidewalk. At the same time his eyes were following this doppelganger, an electric current ignited in the center of his chest causing him to stop in the middle of the road and tires screeched, and people screamed, and our poor, dumb Malachi was suddenly bouncing off the hood of a small car. Now flat on his back and facing a blue, cloudy sky, Malachi felt a warm liquid trickle down his forehead. His vision was foggy. He remembered thinking “is this it?”
A circle of faces gathered above him, suffocating him. He wanted to speak but he couldn’t form the words. Then one face from the circle stood out. It was the girl who he thought was Hadar; she was looking down at him. It wasn’t his Hadar; her teeth were like large accordion keys, but from the back, she looked like Hadar’s twin.
He closed his eyes and then when he opened them, he was on a gurney in the back of an ambulance that seemed to be deliberately driving over every pothole in Santo Domingo. His friend Hezekiah was next to him.
Hezekiah didn’t hesitate to say the obvious, “What the hell happened back there?”
“I thought I saw a girl I know-“
“What are you talking about?”
“She didn’t mean anything to me,” he said, sounding defeated, looking away.
Malachi spent an entire week in the hospital before he was released so he could fly back home. He had a minor concussion, and four broken ribs. The doctors recommended bed rest as soon as he got back to Miami.
Once in Miami, the American doctors discovered a ruptured lung as well which would take weeks to heal. His mother was so distraught she called everyone in the family. Some friends came to visit him and others texted him wishing a speedy recovery. As far as his job, he would be forced to use the rest of his vacation days.
With all this time bedridden at home, Malachi spent it on his computer and the internet, and eventually back to Facebook where he noticed that Hadar had posted a Happy Birthday note on his page. At first, he was angry, and then he was sad, and ultimately decided to stalk her Facebook to see what she was up to. He saw photos of her at a wedding; she was wearing a purple dress like all the other bridesmaids. Malachi wasn’t a fan of the color, but she looked very good in it.
There were more photos of Hadar at parties, or at a club, or intimate family gatherings and in each one of them she had that clever smirk. In each photo, she seemed to be the center of the happiness in the room. Her round face was always so affectionate with the cute crinkle at the corners of her eyes.
After going through most of her photo albums, Malachi begrudgingly admitted that she looked effortlessly beautiful in every single image. He then looked at all the other things she posted like funny memes about Miami life, and YouTube recipes by Gordon Ramsey. And still not one sign of the boyfriend. Then Malachi came across her ‘Relationship Status’ which now said “Single.”
He saw the glowing green light next to her name signifying she was online. Then right after that, he saw a message from her at the bottom of the screen: “Hello Mr.”
Malachi stared at the message for almost a minute before he closed the laptop and put it away. He then grabbed an old, worn-out copy of Shosha and started reading until his mother called him for dinner.