A Better View (Flash Fiction)

Esther Nussbaum sniffed her dentures and decided they could use a clean. She tottered to the bathroom in her embroidered blue-and-purple dressing gown, the cheap, easily replaceable grey slippers from Shuk-Hakarmel on her feet, and began running the water in the sink. She turned the old handle to the left, as far as it would go, where it only trickled very slowly. There was a problem with the pipes, but every time he came to unplug the toilet, the plumber told her that the only way he’d be able to fix it would be by tearing up all the tiles between the bathroom and the kitchen. It would cost too much and what would she do without a bathroom for a week while he worked there, stinking and dirtying up the house? And who’d clean up afterward, huh? No, Esther wasn’t going to let anybody fix anything, not till she was dead. Then her good-for-nothing kids and their beautiful-but-ungrateful, children could do whatever they wanted with the old apartment.

Leaving the faucet dripping the slowly heating water into the sink, Esther shuffled to the kitchen to get a glass to put her dentures in. There was a tablet she would add that would clean them well and get rid of the stench of her old mouth. If there was one thing she was meticulous about, it was her personal hygiene.

Someone pounded on the door. She almost dropped the glass, she was so surprised. Her family members all knocked in different staccato raps, little taps that sounded rude and impatient, barely bothering to graze their knuckles on the door before sticking their keys in and invading her privacy. This wasn’t them. There was a large, flat palm on the door, knocking again and again and again. It reminded her of barely remembered days, being very, very small, in her big sister’s arms, hidden away in a closet in Poland.

“Giveret Nussbaum? Please, it’s very important!”

She recognized the voice. It wasn’t a man, as she’d imagined, but her neighbor across the stairwell, a woman of about fifty who lived alone with a dog and a cat. They sometimes had coffee together. Esther shoved her dentures back in her mouth, left the glass on the counter and opened the door.

“Ruth?”

“Giveret Nussbaum, thank God you’re home! Oh, I was so worried. Come on, we have to go downstairs.”

Ruth’s hair, a brown so glossy and shiny that it was obviously dyed, was stuffed in a messy bun and her makeup, normally very neat and put together, was a little smeared. Convulsively, Esther’s hand shot out the doorway to clutch Ruth’s.

“Why? What’s happening? Downstairs?”

Ruth stared. “Giveret, didn’t you hear the alarm? ..oooooOOOOOoooo?”

“Wasn’t that just for Shabbat? Or is it not Friday yet…”

“Wednesday, Giveret, come on,” Ruth said, and she pulled Esther out of her apartment and began to tug her, bodily, towards the
flight of stairs that led down to the building’s small lobby.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy? Aia, you’re hurting me!”

“Slicha, Giveret, but I’m not leaving you up there. Haven’t you been reading the newspaper? Didn’t your kids call you? The war started last night and the scuds are on their way just like in 1991 and who knows, maybe even worse, some people say they have other things, chemicals, diseases, I don’t know.”

“War? Oy, and I left the water on upstairs, I need to go back up-”

“No, just leave it, come on.”

Ruth and Esther finally reached the building’s pathetic bomb shelter. It was little more than a storage space; the walls were as thin as the rest of the building, it was above ground, and there were two metal doors that led outside that nobody had the keys to anymore. The only good thing about it was that it had less debris in it that could fall on people than anyone had in their own homes – the kids of most of the building’s residents were grown-up and their bikes had been outgrown and thrown out. There were a couple old, rusting refrigerators in a corner of the shelter, a small and dirty faucet that might or might not work, and that was it. With Esther and Ruth, they were fifteen people. Everyone else had stayed in their homes, even after the siren. A young couple who’d moved into the building after one of them had inherited an apartment in it had gotten onto the roof to watch for falling bombs, if they came. Ruth told Esther about how she’d seen them going upstairs.

Esther laughed and looked around, holding a hand in front of her mouth, just in case anybody came near her. “They’ll have a nicer view than the rest of us.”

A Small and Rewarding Moment

I used to work at T.N.S. International, a survey company. It wasn’t fun. I got hung up on, I got yelled at, I had to deal with elderly men and women who didn’t understand the questions and hung up in the middle of conversations, I got to hear tirades about the questions I asked and their irrelevance. The single, and only, interesting survey I ever conducted was one that had to do with the elections for Prime Minister which had been counted and the results announced the night before.

Just now, I got a call from another survey company – Shiluv. I’ve heard of it before and I know that it was based pretty near where I used to work. The man on the line asked if I could please answer a few questions in regards to many different subjects, and he promised – lying through his teeth – that it would be interesting for me. It wasn’t, since it dealt with a TV show I don’t watch, cigarettes, and ice-cream. There was a little bit of interest when I got to diss the Israeli army by saying I believe it was 10 (“How corrupt is the Israeli army, from 1 to 10?). Other than that, the survey itself didn’t give me kicks.

At the end of every survey, there are questions that are “purely for statistical purposes,” as I remember saying so often – age, family status, income, health insurance etc. When I finished answering the questions quickly and succinctly, I asked again what survey firm my friendly caller was from. He told me, and I revealed the fact that I’d worked at another one.

And there, right there, was my small and rewarding moment. I could hear him smile through the phone as he said “Ah! That’s why you answered so well and quickly! You know how it is here!” and I told him that I hoped he’d have an easy day and that he wouldn’t get hung-up on too many times and he wished me a happy new year.

I remember being so happy when someone helped make my horrible job just a little bit easier, and it’s fun being able to return the favor by giving this guy another check-mark to add to his number-of-surveys-an-hour page as well as an easy and quick five minutes that I know are more fun than dialing number after number and getting angry responses in return.

It’s the little things that make a day, or an hour or a minute, just a little bit more special.

Those

There are those who browse, touching the books as they go.

There are those who straighten the books as they pass over them, as if, like me, it bothers them to see a messy booth.

There are those who look down resolutely, in denial that there’s someone on the other side.

There are those who look up if you greet them with cheer and a smile.

There are those who ignore even that.

There are those who watch other people, who pick up a book someone has just bought, or snatch it up if they didn’t want it.

There are those who listen in to my conversations with customers and try to glean information from them so that they won’t need to talk to me themselves.

There are those who think they’re witty and who continue to badger on with their friends and block the booth with sheer volume and an annoying aura.

There are those who are excited to buy books.

There are those who buy books only because they’re on sale or even for free with their frequent-flier cards.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is good.

There are those who tell the stranger next to them that the book he or she is holding is bad, even though they’ve only read the reviews.

There are those who are so passionate that they almost have tears in their eyes, and they do my job for me, convincing people to buy this or that book.

There are those who are mean, for no reason at all.

There are those who are nice, maybe because I’m cheerful, but maybe for no reason at all.

There are those who are old.

There are those who are young.

There are those with their lovers.

There are those with their children.

There are those who don’t care a whit about books.

There are those who love them as much as I do.

The Concert of My Dreams

A lot of it was a blur. Hours seemed to pass between the time spent in a strange mall, all closed up except for one store blasting out strong music, and the actual event. It was strange, the way everything lost proportion. Time either crawled or hurried past. Scenes and people and views changed in a flash. Only some moments stand out clearly in my memory… That’s how it always is in dreams, isn’t it?

But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. We got to the mall at 15:00, found the neighboring stadium and the cluster of people. It felt like coming home. They were happy, energetic, giddy with excitement. There were nerds, and girls and Goths and metal-heads. There were young boys, barely into puberty and women in their thirties, clearly original fans.  Bottles of beer, vodka and even white wine littered the ground along with what seemed to be a thousand cigarette butts. But it was the one place, the only place, in which I felt perfectly comfortable with it.

We were there for a concert, a show. The rules are different when music pumps in people’s veins and the sun burns their backs to a crisp as they wait at a gate guarded by a couple heavy-set men. The rules have to change in an environment like that – it’s inevitable. Better to throw bottles on the ground where the organizers know it’s going to happen than throwing bottles into a crowd later and injuring someone.

It seemed as if we were in and out of the mall for food and bathroom breaks a hundred times, but finally, at 16:45, we were in the crowd waiting at the entrances. It was hot, sticky, and the sun was piercing and bright. People kept whooping for no reason, getting everyone just a bit more pumped up. Sir B. F. and I played games, guessing at what this or that person was like outside of Concert-Time.

Concert-Time is a different dimension, holding a dream-like quality, and consisting of no more than twenty-four hours in which time itself seems to shrink and elongate. The sunlit hours are the longest, whereas the moment evening falls, the breezes hold sweet and short promises. Crushed in a crowd, time elongates again in the heat and airless place. But then, suddenly, time seems to jump forward – by fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour. The opening bands are on the stage forever, and then they’re not. The stage is empty forever, and then, suddenly, gloriously, it’s not.

They came on-stage, four men in the their mid-forties, and the crowd roared. We were part of a beast, a many-headed animal that thrashed and begged and demanded to be satisfied. The moment the first note started, we began to feed. Music, loud notes one after another, lyrics yelled at the top of our voices while the men on-stage sang loudly with us, for us. The speakers, huge and foreboding when the sun was up, were now a welcome friend, giving out the drug that we needed – the music.

**

Metallica haven’t been in Israel for eleven years. Finally, on Saturday, May 22nd, they performed at the Ramat-Gan Stadium to the ecstasy of long-time and new fans alike. There were sound issues, issues that the stadium staff blamed on Metallica’s equipment. But it didn’t matter whose fault it was – only that it was fixed, and that the crowd, and I inside it, roared approval at each return of the full blast of the speakers.

There are concerts you can’t ever go to again. Concerts that you know were likely once in a lifetime opportunities. This was one of them, and I cannot express how glad I was to be there. It was a night of enchantment – a night of dreams coming true.

Boys Are Mean

Here are three things you need to know about me in order to understand why the following incident means something to me:

1. I have piercings. Eleven, to be exact. Five in my right ear, three in my left ear, one in my nose and two in my bottom lip. Why? Because it’s a personal fashion choice as far as I’m concerned. I used to be a sort of tomboy goth in high-school, wearing band t-shirts and black cargo pants all the time. Then I went a little emo in my fashion sense – tight sweatshirts with skulls on them and skinny jeans. Then I went indie, trying to find witty t-shits to go with my jeans and Vans sneakers. Now I’m sort of in between things, I guess. When I go out to a club, I try to look as goth as I can, because I go to music-clubs that have metal or dark electronic music. Day to day, though? I wear tank tops and regular jeans.

2. My weekly exercise is four extremely brisk walks a week. My speed is almost at five miles-per-hour. What do I wear when I exercise? Just a tank top and short-shorts, because it’s already very hot here. Also, and this is the weird part, I read while I walk. I physically take whatever novel I’m reading at the time, and bury my nose in it. I have good peripheral vision, and I’ve never walked into a tree or a person or a lamp-post or what-have-you. I DO know it’s weird, and even though I HATE the comments I get (“Woah, reading and walking, impressive!”  “What’s more attractive, your book or me?” “Hey, what chapter are you on?” “Look at her, she’ll kill someone like that!” – these are all quotes translated into English, and all are said with extremely mocking tones.) I’ve learned to live with them.

3. I’m seriously oversensitive.

I realize that I just wrote a lot more than three things about myself, but I’ll let them stand as it is. Three is a powerful number, after all. Now, to the matter of the title of this post.

Yesterday I took a walk in the afternoon. Towards the end of my regular route, I walk through this pathway that I love – it’s got houses tucked away behind walls on one side of it, and tall, thick trees in the other side. You can’t hear the traffic on that path, even though there’s a main road just over the wall of trees. It’s a place where lots of people run or walk, because it really is so pleasant, hearing the birds chirp away in the trees and seeing cats loll around in the sun. When I walked yesterday, though, I was alone. Or so I thought.

Towards the end of the path, three or four boys were sitting on a bench. They were probably eleven or twelve, but they all had that Israeli male attitude that lots of boys get here – it’s an attitude of over-confidence, of egos the size of the moon. It’s the sort of attitude that allows them to feel like kings of the world, and making fun of people doesn’t cause one twinge of guilt. But again, let me stress that these were kids.

As I walked by, huffing, puffing, sweating and reading, they started to laugh. As I got nearer one of them said “Yo, she’s a freak, be careful!” in a mocking, laughing tone [“freak” in Israel means anyone who has band t-shirts or piercings, basically]. I ignored them, although my face was burning with both anger and shame. When I’d walked past, one yelled that he could see my… erm, my behind. Maybe the shorts had ridden up a bit or maybe he was just making fun. Either way, I walked really quickly away from them. I read on, let the book and the motion soothe me, and got over it.

Today, I took another walk. Guess what? As I was walking up the last hilly part of my route, just five minutes from home, I saw a group of boys in the periphery of my vision. For a moment, I was thinking to myself “Oh no! Wait, it can’t be them again, these boys are quiet, they don’t sound raucous like that other group was.” Walking on blithely, I found out my mistake. As soon as I’d overtaken them, I heard “Yo! Look, she’s the same one from yesterday!” and “[Laughter] Reading again.” and “But she’s a freak, right?” and “But she doesn’t look like it!” and “Yeah, that’s what I said!” and finally, as I was ignoring them again and thinking that I must look like a right twerp, sweaty and red and reading, the last one said “[Laughter] She can’t here us again, see?”

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. For one, I feel hurt whenever anyone comments on my weird habits, but something about these boys’ pure malice as they talked about me loudly really got to me. Second, I guess I hate it that I never put any effort into what I wear anymore and prefer being comfortable to looking goth [which is still how I’d look if I had the money to go out and buy tons of new black items. But goth clothing is expensive, and wearing it every day takes effort]. Of course I know that it’s a silly thing to think and that if I’m comfortable, then I should stop looking for an “image”. Third – well, I guess I just am really oversensitive, and I let a few boys’ cruel remarks make me want to cry.

I do hope that I haven’t estranged anyone with this long, rambling post. You all know that I don’t tend to do this a lot and that I lean more towards trying to practice my creative writing here. But this incident was weighing me down, and now I feel all the lighter for having put it in words.

Back!

I’m back in Israel, land of Jews, Jesus and Jonflicts [because “conflict” doesn’t start with a “J”].

I took over a thousand photographs during my two-week visit to Los Angeles – something I’ve never done before. I never was a photographing kind of person, but I had a camera of my very own that I received for my nineteenth birthday, and I decided to finally use it properly. Plus, this way I’ll be able to show Sir B. F. some of the City of Angels’ marvels. I know they may not seem so special to many people, but the fact is that I grew up in a country where the architecture of choice for apartment buildings seems to be concrete boxes on concrete pillars, naked of any ornament or exterior decor. The houses in Los Angeles are like looking at the window of a candy store for me – each is more beautiful than the next. This is excluding the many monstrosities, of course.

Can you tell I’m jet-lagged? I sure can. Whenever my mind is confused about what time zone it’s in, I begin rambling, words tumbling out too fast for anyone around me to make the connections between subjects that are perfectly clear in my overdriven thoughts. Which is why I’m now going to post a photograph, and shut up. Starting tomorrow, I’ll try very hard to get back to my schedule of writing every day, and writing fiction, poems or at least more coherent ramblings. See? I said I’d shut up, but here I am, still a-writing. Okay, here we go – photo:

Leaving

Exactly a week from now, I’ll be on an airplane somewhere over the ocean, just a couple hours away from the shores of New York, my new home-state. My orientation week will begin on August 29th, move-in day, and my classes begin on September 7th. The new experiences that are looming in front of me are overwhelming but exciting and enticing nonetheless. I’ll be able to study again – bury my nose in books, strain my brain and hopefully become passionate about the new things I’ll be learning.

But as the time to go draws nearer and the free moments I have grow few and far between, I realize just how much I’m going to miss about living here. First, of course, is the simple physical aspect of my home – the apartment my mother and I live in and have lived in for thirteen years; the bookcases lining our walls and the messy lived-in atmosphere that permeates each and every room; the cats perching on the counters or sprawling on the beds, tummies up to catch the nonexistent breezes of late August.

Next, the people – my mother, my boyfriend and my friends. These are people who I care about and who care about me, people for whom I have great respect and with whom I enjoy spending my time. I know, of course, that I’ll be meeting new people and forming new friendships, but they won’t be able to replace my friends here, most of whom I’ve known for at least three years, and the rest of whom I’ve known since I was a tiny tot.

Finally, and this is the thing that shocks me most, I’m going to miss Israel. Yes, this place I bitch and complain about constantly – the rude people, the bad drivers, the unbearable heat and humidity of Tel Aviv, the pathetic winters – all this, I’m going to miss. Most of all, I’m going to miss the Hebrew language. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep and my mind was racing with the thoughts and worries that are forever nagging at me at this stressful time, I began reading a book that I’d bought at the Israeli book fair last year. It’s wonderful, absolutely amazing, and I realized that the roots of my love of writing come from writing in Hebrew. The first creative writing piece I did was in a seventh grade literature class – I wrote, basically on my own, a thirty page story for a big end of year assignment. A few years after that, I began writing poetry in Hebrew. I still have a page on a well known Israeli creative writing site with my poetry and a few short stories on it – all in Hebrew. My father, who wrote a book in Hebrew and was a gifted writer both in Hebrew and in English and who, incidentally, was very Israeli in so many little ways, was the first who told me that I had a gift for writing.

So yes. Despite everything I can say about this place, this country full of drama and upheaval and stupid religious wars, I will miss it. I’m glad that I’ll be able to come back here for my vacations.