Erez preferred to ignore the comments and got into the shower. He washed himself quickly with cold water, and within five minutes he was ready. He knew it was in his best interest not to contradict an angry woman, especially not Mickey.
They sat in a café at the shared corner of both their streets. Every Tel Avivian has his own ‘home café’ and a falafel stand, chosen from the thousands that are spread all over the city, one exactly like the other.
“You know,” Mickey said, “we don’t appreciate how good we have it right now. We can sit in our café without worrying that some suicidal maniac will blow himself up and us along with him.”
Erez just nodded without saying a word. He totally agreed with her, but he had no desire for political conversations. He was too excited about the events of the previous night.
Mickey took off the trendy aviator sunglasses that covered half her face. Erez was taken aback, seeing dark circles around her eyes.
“What happened to you?” he asked worriedly. “It looks like you haven’t slept in weeks, and we only saw each other two days ago.”
“Forget it. I don’t want to get into that,” she said. “The doctors suspect he may be having a relapse. Today they’re examining him and a final diagnosis will be given on Sunday.” She blew a frustrated gush of air out of her small body. “And I thought I was going to my parents’ to calm down from the exhausting week I’ve had.” She sighed.
“How long will the poor old guy have to live with the axe of death hanging above him?”
Erez knew her father very well. Their parents had been friends before they were born. Mickey was five years older than him, so during their childhood they didn’t hang out with the same crowd in Afula. Only years later after she left the north, when by chance they met again in Bezal’el art academy, did they become close. Sometimes they were great friends and other times they were like a sexless married couple. Mickey went in and out of short relationships, mainly with women, while Erez remained mainly alone, afraid to take chances.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
He took her hand and she immediately withdrew, sitting upright on the straw chair, fixing her hair. She had a wide, loving, understanding shoulder to lean on and cry. But she couldn’t let herself be vulnerable, not even with Erez.
“I’ll be alright. Please let’s change the fucking subject. Tell me something new that will get me excited and help me forget.”
Erez hesitated. He couldn’t wait to tell her, but it didn’t seem appropriate at the moment.
“Will you please say something already?” She slapped his shoulder tenderly. “We are not going to sit here for two hours lamenting his fate, nor mine. It won’t do us any good. I can see you have something to say.” She leaned back and crossed her arms, waiting.
“Okay, so it’s like this,” began Erez. “You know that odd feeling when you meet someone for the first time and it feels like you have known him your whole life?”
“Oh my, he’s starting the drama again,” laughed Mickey. “Let me guess. You met a hunk, but because you’ve been celibate for so long, you’re reading your hormones like a Jane Austin novel.” She leaned over with her arms on the table, leaned even closer to his face and winked. “So what does he look like? Did you meet him at the bar? Please tell me you had sex…”
Erez became irritated. Her curt directness often raised his blood pressure.
“It’s really not like that. Will you listen to me? It’s on another level altogether. Not everything has to do with sex, Mickey, and besides,” he whispered, “I’m quite sure he’s not into men. Believe me, it’s something else, more thrilling than a momentary lover, though God knows I need one of those too.”
“So, my righteous friend, why do you sound so sad when you say he’s not gay?” Mickey asked.
“I don’t know, but I feel he’s here to stay. I just don’t know what role he’ll play in this under budget production known as my life.”
Erez knew he automatically painted a lot of emotions, usually dark ones, on every small aspect, but it was who he was. He just couldn’t help it. He changed the subject to avoid being immersed prematurely.
An hour later, outside the café, they hurriedly kissed goodbye by Mickey’s car.
“Are you sure you don’t want a lift?”
“No, I’m happy to walk a little. I’ve begun to look like your Volkswagen Beetle – too old and slow to climb a hill without choking. Give my love to your mother and tell your father to be strong and that I love him. He is a strong man. He will win this battle too, you’ll see.”
Erez walked down the steamy streets of south Tel Aviv, smelling the smoke and decay. The dust of construction sites blended with the heavy black clouds coming from the many vehicles crossing the narrow streets of the less fortunate side of the city.
He turned right at the end of Abarbanel St. and walked exactly fifty-eight steps to Jacob Gil’s carpentry workshop. Mr Gil was no longer young and hardly worked there anymore.
Erez had met Jacob years ago when he wanted to buy the big cherry desk that was one of Jacob’s favourite items in the annex store. They started to talk business and it quickly developed into a private conversation. Erez told Jacob he was new in Tel Aviv, that he had recently graduated from the visual art department at Bezal’el, and that he was a painter. Something about Erez reminded Jacob of his own youth, and spontaneously he offered Erez the well-lit, back part of his workshop to use as a studio for his painting. Erez declined.
“Thanks, but I don’t have money for both an apartment and a studio.”
Jacob waved his hand as if money was no matter.
“I don’t need your damn money, kid!” he roared with impatience.
“I’ll be satisfied to enjoy a young artist’s creations filling the space in the workshop and maybe my heart. I’m hardly there, so you’ll find me an easy roommate. I don’t know why, but I like you, so don’t ruin this with talk of money! I curse the stupid man who invented this disease called money.”
They shook hands warmly and Erez waited at Jacob’s request until they locked up the store. He listened to Jacob’s stories of when he was in his prime, when Tel Aviv was innocent, bohemian, happy and accessible, not the lonely, crowded metropolis it had become. In those days, people dressed up and courted. Communication with each other seemed natural and simple. The new-born state was celebrated and treated with utmost respect.
At six o’clock in the evening they left the store and went to clear the back space of the workshop.
Four years had passed and Erez had painted there almost every day. Lately, though, he worked much less. He was in a rut, serving drinks all night and sleeping most of the day. It wasn’t healthy sleep, but the kind caused by inner exhaustion. Life in the alienating city, the disappointments of his artistic aspirations and sleeping alone, night after night, were wearing him out. The light that warns of an empty fuel tank was now flashing frequently.
Today he felt again the strong need to hold a paintbrush in his hand. He came to the carpenter’s workshop and was very pleased to see the iron lock hanging on the rusting doors. He preferred to be alone right now. The door had obviously been locked for quite a while and screeched as he opened it. Over the past year, old age had seemed to be hanging on Jacob like a robe or a shroud, and he came there less and less. He had given the store to his daughter who imported clothes from the Far East and only visited the workshop now and then, when he wanted to relax or to repair some of his old clients’ damaged furniture.
An enormous Japanese screen, built by Jacob himself, divided the two spaces into light and dark. It was extremely beautiful. He had made it with paper and straw and had asked his daughter to paint cranes in black and gold on it. It seemed to belong in an art gallery, not a dusty workshop.
Erez moved to his own section. Powerful summer sunlight streamed in from the long, narrow window that spread along the three walls under the old tin roof. During the winter, even mild rain falling on the tin, created an ambience of storm and war. It was great inspiration for Erez’s paintings. Winter had a passion of its own.
Erez approached the large canvas that stood on two easels in the centre of the space. It was huge: three and a half metres long and a metre and a half tall. A little left of centre was an almost life-sized figure of a child. Her facial characteristics were foreign and strong. Her hair was black and contrasted with her sallow skin. She was dressed in an orange woollen coat that was seasoned and patched. The background behind her was painted in greens, blues, shades of grey and black. She looked like she had been cut out of another painting and pasted onto this one: a sad girl on a dismal backdrop, both beautiful and ominous. Erez had begun the painting months ago, but it was far from finished.
He stood quietly before it, looking at the girl who looked right back at him, and tears fell from his eyes. He was mad at himself for ignoring his work. He didn’t understand why he was neglecting the one thing that motivated him to get out of bed each morning. He had been walking in a numbing fog, anger and frustration pulsing against his skin. If he didn’t make a change, he might explode.
He went to the work table, picked out the tubes of background colours and a vibrant scarlet, put on a CD of Paganini’s Caprices for Solo Violin, took off his sweaty shirt and attacked the canvas in front of him. He worked insanely. The brush strokes mixed with drops of sweat from his body. The penetrating sounds of the violin stormed from wall to wall, flooding the space with a thousand invisible needle pricks. The power of creation filled his body. For a while, Erez was really happy again.
My.Kali is commissioned to publish the first 6 pages of NIV. You can by the book (here)
<(Itamar S.N is a young writer, musician and columnist. At university he read political science and middle-eastern studies, and in his first novel he explores with great sensitivity the personal impact of the sexual, religious and cultural fault lines that exist between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish societies of his region.)
You can know more about the book (here)