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Haim Watzman
Necessary Stories
War Stories: Fiction

Victory: Holes, Part 2

Ruth took a deep breath: 'Who decides which soldiers get killed and which ones get to go home?'
Photo by Neil Ward
Photo by Neil Ward/Flickr

(Continued from Part 1)

Etti merged her car onto the entry ramp for Route 6 South. Ruth craned her neck to peer at the car behind them, as she’d been doing every three minutes since they left Jerusalem. Each time she saw a different car behind them, none of them Ezra’s red Audi. And Naama looking blankly out the window from her seat behind Etti.

“Stop it,” Etti commanded, gripping the wheel and staring fiercely ahead.

“Why did you have to do that? Spit on him? He’s coming after us, I know it,” Ruth countered. With some help from her two older sons, she’d forced Ezra to move out of their apartment a few weeks ago, even as he protested that he loved her and that it was a great crime to break up the family.

“He’s a coward.” Etti put a comforting hand on Ruth’s shoulder for a second before using it to turn down the volume on the radio. “Deep down, he’s a rabbit, not the tiger he thinks he is.”

Ruth put a hand to her cheek. The bruises on her belly and shoulders were no longer visible, but she felt them as if they were fresh. Etti’s husband, Amram, had already called her to ask where she had disappeared to. His voice on the speaker had been hard to hear against the background hum of the consolers at the shiva. But the drone’s doleful cadence, one of quiet but tender acceptance, had comforted Ruth. Etti, who harbored no doubt about walking out on her family while they were mourning the loss of her youngest son, seemed to need no comfort, so Ruth felt she could take it for her own.

“Call Gidi,” Etti ordered her phone. It connected and rang twelve times but there was no answer.

“Who’s Gidi?”

Etti didn’t answer. Kept her eyes on the road. “We’ll stop at Beit Kama for coffee and gas and restrooms.”

Ruth nodded and looked back at Naama. No reaction.

“Do you think she can hear?” Ruth whispered.

“All she can hear is Ami,” Etti whispered back, a loud rasping whisper in contrast to Ruth’s faint undertone. Ami was Naama’s boyfriend, butchered by Hamas terrorists in the bed they shared.

“And you, Dvir? His voice behind everything else?”

Etti’s hands went pale as she intensified her grip on the wheel. She would never say that. Ruth felt as if she had to say it for her.

“If you need to smoke … ” Ruth offered.

“I’ll wait until we stop.”

They were silent for several minutes. A small grove of acacias, huddled together inside a sort of earthen rampart, appeared alongside the road, then got left behind. The reserve general pundit was saying something about the total and utter defeat of Hamas, which would require a long war and cost the lives of many soldiers, but the Israeli nation was united and determined and we will succeed.

“It’s so stupid.” Ruth sighed, looking out her window.

“What, what he’s saying?”

“No, this question that keeps eating away at me.”

“It can’t be stupider than what he’s saying.”
Ruth looked at her friend. “You don’t believe that we need to win this war? Throw Hamas out and rescue the people they kidnapped?”

“Just ask your question.”

Ruth hesitated. Then she asked: “Who decides?”

Etti glanced at her. “Decides what?”

She put her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry. Forget it. I can’t.”

“Decides what? I want to know. What the war is about? When it starts and when it ends?”

Ruth took a deep breath. “Who decides which soldiers get killed and which ones get to go home?”

Etti’s hands went white again.

Ruth felt confused, unable to find the right words. “Like Dvir. A bomb fell on him. Who decided that he would be there, right where the bomb fell? Who decides where my grandsons are standing right now? What happens to my sons, my granddaughters?”

Etti gave Ruth a rapid and skeptical glance. Ruth caught something out of the corner of her eye and turned to see Naama leaning toward her in the back seat.

“The army doesn’t tell soldiers to stand on a particular spot,” Etti said. “They don’t tell a soldier to stand on a spot where a bomb’s going to fall. They don’t know where it’s going to fall.”

“But in Jerusalem,” Ruth protested, “they fire Iron Dome to blow up rockets that are going to fall on people, but if they see that it’s not going to fall on people they don’t blow it up, they let it fall.”

“That’s not exactly how it works,” Etti said. “They have computers, I think.”

“I keep worrying that some officer’s going to tell my Efrayim or my Moshe or God forbid Meital to stand where a bomb is going to fall. When they call I tell them make sure to be a good soldier, to do everything you’re supposed to do, don’t get your commanders angry. Because I’m afraid that if they don’t an officer will get mad and tell them to stand in a dangerous spot.”

Ruth began to cry.

“Don’t do that,” Etti said between her teeth. “I can’t take it.”

Naama started crying, too.

“God in heaven,” Etti shouted. “Try to keep it in! It’s hard for all of us!”

She handed Ruth a package of tissues. Ruth gave one to Naama and took one herself. They dried their eyes.

“At least we know we’ll win,” Ruth said, trying to comfort herself.

“Do we?” Etti adjusted herself in her seat.

“But he says.” Ruth pointed to the radio.

“He doesn’t know.”

“But he’s a general. Or was. An expert.”

Etti snorted.

A wave of despair washed through Ruth.

“We won’t win?”

“Maybe we will, maybe we won’t,” Etti said. “No way we can know. No way he can know. He’s just blabbing to fill up time.”

“But that can’t be true,” Ruth shot back at her. “If we don’t win, Dvir and all the others will die for nothing.”

Ruth waited, but Etti took a long time to answer.

“It won’t be the first time,” she finally said. “Aharon in Lebanon. For nothing.”

Ruth watched as another huddle of trees passed.

“I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that.”

Etti gave a little laugh. “I’m jealous. You can decide what you believe. Me, it just happens. It comes to me and I can’t change it.”

Some moments passed. Naama was staring out her window again. Voiceless as always.

Ruth stirred in her seat. “Why are we making this trip?” Her voice was soft and desperate.

“I don’t know.” The Waze on Etti’s phone told her to keep right. “It just happened.”

“Nothing just happens,” Ruth objected. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, makes it happen.”

“I thought it was the officer who tells a soldier to stand where a bomb is going to fall.”

“Etti!”

Etti touched her on the shoulder again. “Sorry. It’s just the way I talk.”

Ruth had a bad feeling. She turned and looked out the rear window. The red Audi. Right behind them.

“Etti!” she cried out again, but with a different urgency.

“Yes, I saw a couple minutes ago.”

Ruth trembled. “What are we going to do?”

“You’re going to have to trust me.”

Ruth looked at her friend.

“This one,” Etti said, her eyes looking through the windshield with perfect focus and determination. “This one we can win.”

––

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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