The Key on the Almond Branch


         Jeremiah  parked his van at the end of Haelah Street in Moshav Beit Zayit. He locked the door and walked down the steep path to the wadi, taking in the smell of sewage from the manhole on his left. Soon guests would be arriving for Shabbat lunch and he would sit the whole afternoon. Now, according to his wife and doctor, he needed to move his legs. In the wadi he turned left towards the reservoir. After a few minutes his shoelace came untied. When he bent down to tie it, there on the dirt path next to his right foot, a silver key glittered in the winter sun.  

     As most keys, this one had neither a name nor a phone number. Jeremiah figured someone had lost it not long ago and if that was so, the person might retrace his steps. But if others walked the path, reasoned Jeremiah as he viewed all the hikers and bikers in the wadi on this glorious Shabbat morning, the key might get buried. He looked up and saw a branch of an almond tree.  Use me, it said. Jeremiah hung the key on the branch and continued to walk, hoping he would remember to tell his wife about the deed when he got home.   

       At exactly the same time, Alex was banging on the door to his apartment in Bak’a. He had left at nine AM, alone as usual, to explore the Jerusalem hills. Helen, his wife, preferred translating Baudelaire at home. Had she fallen asleep?  In addition to enjoying the pink and white almond blossoms, the red and purple anemones and the reservoir in the wadi below Beit Zayit, Alex lately had dared to fantasize meeting a woman on his Shabbat walks, a mature woman, a woman who loved nature as he did, a woman who also walked alone in the woods and wadis, a woman whose husband—if she indeed had a husband—preferred Shabbat football matches in Holon or Sachnin.

     On this particular Shabbat, Alex had parked at the end of Haelah Street, walked down the trail, covering his nose next to the manhole, and turned left towards the reservoir. He wanted water. Bak’a had greenery—thank God for that—but no source of water. Why had he left the Seine for the stones ofJerusalem? He should have settled in Ashdod or Netanya like his cousin did.  The only place inJerusalem that appreciated water was the new Israel Museum, with its entrance pool and falling waters along the  walkway causing ripples on the black granite floor beneath leading to the galleries. And that beautiful wall of a rainbow. Somebody at the new Israel Museum understood that a city of stone needed water, thirsted for water. Water pounded the building housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Even the leaks in the renovated museum added interest.  

     As Alex walked towards the reservoir, which had filled up over the past weeks of rain, he imagined a body of water in which one could sail a paper boat. There had once been a stream in the park across from the Knesset, but like the Kinneret and Dead Sea, that too had evaporated. Empty pop cans and candy wrappers floated where water had once bubbled over rocks and roots.  The land was drying up, which explained why hordes of families headed to the reservoir in the wadi.

      For months Alex had been thinking about leaving his wife, not only on Shabbat, but for good. He wanted to learn to tango; she had no interest. He wanted to buy a small house on Corfu; she didn’t want to leave Jerusalem. He was young—fifty-six wasn’t old; he wanted to love. Ever since the idea had taken root back in November—Was it after the first rains?—he was learning that the idea itself caused him pain, let alone actually leaving his wife of twenty-nine years, the mother of his children, all grown and out of the house. How could he do that? Perhaps today when he returned home, he would say something, throw out the words trial and Let’s just see. He would not use the D word.

     If Alex had had worry beads he would have jingled them in his right hand as he strolled through the wadi towards the water, but he had none so he jingled his key chain, the one with the photo of his grandchildren in New Jersey, who spoke only English. Alex was unaware of the crack in the  chain, wide enough for one key. He did not hear it fall, but an hour later when he was standing in front of the door to his apartment and took out the key chain, he discovered the house key was gone.

     He rang the doorbell. When there was no response, he knocked on the door and finally, kicked. He was pounding on the door with both fists when his upstairs neighbor Mordechai came down and asked what happened. Alex felt ashamed, not only for disturbing his neighbors’ Shabbat rest, but for his thoughts, his behavior, his loss.

     The key, he murmured, the key the key and as he repeated the word over and over, bending his knees and kneeling on the mat outside the door to his locked home, something inside him constricted and turned, as if some door, damp and old, was finally cracking open.

About the Author
Judy Labensohn is a writer and teacher of creative writing in Israel. She leads the Writing Gym on Sunday mornings at Tmol Shilshom in downtown Jerusalem.