Winner Energheia Israel Prize 2017
The tenant left the block early in morning. The thing about apartment blocks is, that if you want to sneak out from them you have to get up early, at a time that there is no light yet but it’s not dark, a threshold that doesn’t belong anywhere. Indeed, she did not meet anyone – it was half past five in the morning, it was very cold and she came down the stairs quickly and quietly, without turning on the lights, and was outside thirty seconds later. The broken rocks path leading outside the building looked nice in the deep-blue light, like it were accidentally here in the neighborhood, a path that could have led to a Roman Amphitheater and fate had it stolen and brought here. Clouds moved rapidly above her. Today should be a rainy day. She knew it supposed to rain because she overheard the weather report last night from the apartment next door. They always turned their TV loud and sometimes you could catch something important.
It has been a week since the miscarriage and she was fine all together. That means
that the body is healing nicely. The tenant could return to work already, in spite of the
excessive bleeding, with a pack of sanitary pads stuck deep in here handbag. Her soul was not okay though, no. The tenant knew it was not well. You could tell that by the way she fell asleep on the brown couch the past week, as if accidentally but on purpose, because she did not want to be alone in the big bed. Her neck was aching because of that but as far as the dreadful contractions in her tummy, as if someone was crumpling inside a fist her internal organs- she did not feel those anymore. She longed. When you long for something this much, you must lose it.
She passed the empty basketball court. The asphalt was cracked and the hampers
looked as if someone burned it and then re-painted carelessly. She wondered how those blocks looked like fifty years ago, when it was built. One of the neighbors told her, when they just moved in, that all these blocks were brought here prepared. They did not even build it, only assembled. Prepared walls, prepared floors, everything ready in advance. Probably it looked a lot better than today.
When something is new, it is always shinier, even if from the inside it is dark.
Light started floating in the sky and everything was bathing in the luminous of a new day. Morning mists wrapped the group of buildings in front of her. Her bus station was empty and she decided to walk forward to the next stop. It was a twenty minutes’ walk more or less. The tenant will be alone in the street and she did not mind walking. The doctor said that she should rest only for a week, and a week has passed and she is still not one hundred percent well but maybe a short walk will do her good. The clear air of the morning. While walking she thought, one week is not enough. My body will take at least a month to recover fully but I am not sure if, and when, the bad thoughts will pass.
Maybe she will have to stay permanently with a fading memory of something that did not manage to become. It will exist with her even if it has never been. She is an organic graveyard. It got her to think about people that lose an organ and after the amputation, they claim that they still feel the organ that was cut. They still feel an itch on their left elbow although their left arm was amputated; they still feel as if their right leg is touching the ground when they limp on their crutches. She thinks it’s called a phantom pain, the shadow of the missing organ. Well, she will be a phantom mother. Phantom moms are giving birth to their son who fell on the fourteenth week, experience the labor, remembers the midwife’s voice right after she pulls him from between her stumbling thighs. They know the sleepless nights with the baby that is writhing in agony of pre digestion. They smile when they imagine the first hesitating steps and the first words, confused with childish grace. They accompany his spirit on the first day of school and plan what to make for lunch when he returns.
The tenant planned to make grilled chicken for lunch. Boaz liked grilled chicken and you do not have to put a lot of effort in to it. You through the chicken as is to the oven with some spices. Her chicken will probably be tasteless today and in any case will suffer overroasting but that was all she had to give. Boaz lands in one hour. She will already be at work by the time he calls, cheerful and relaxed like he did not spend the past twelve hours on a plane. The tenant will answer him, she will sound a bit hoarse and maybe not able to hide and when Boaz will hear of what happened he would demand that she comes home.
A Sharpe pain in her belly shriveled her and she stopped mid-road and held to a stone fence that was covering a group of buildings decorated with rusty triangles on the rooftops. She leaned like an old woman and felt, all at once, a warm stream between her legs. Another pain appeared, sharper then the first one. She sighed and tried to be silent but you could still hear a fading “fffffff” sneaks from between her lips. The warm stream had breach the borders of the pad and was now staining her pants. A huge lump of pain exploded inside her after a few seconds. She sat down on the sidewalk and her sight became vague but she could still see sunlight peeking between the blocks and a child with a thumb in his mouth looks at her curiously from one of the windows and then she collapsed.
Someone was spraying drops of water on her face until she opened her eyes and sat
An elderly, broad-shouldered woman had cast a shadow on her. Her bright eyes shined in a pool of makeup and skin slots of her face. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly with a foreign accent. She nodded slowly and looked at her pants. It was soaked with blood, all the way down to her knees. “You’re as pall as the clouds”, the foreigner leaned towards her and handed her a plastic bottle. She took it and drank.
“How long are you here like this?”
“I am not sure. What time is it?”
“Fifteen to eight”.
The tenant bit her lips until she could feel the rusty taste of blood. Her whole evasion strategy has faded. Now, she straightened up as far as possible but her belly was a trembling ball of electrical, paralyzing pain. It cannot be that something is not alive in there, she thought. Little maggots eating her body. What is left of her baby.
“Should I call an ambulance?” the woman asked.
“No. I can walk home, I live nearby”.
“Over at Stern street”.
“Stern street is at list a fifteen minutes’ walk”.
“True. I can do this”.
A young father with his little girl had stopped near them. The girl was blond and looked as if she was three years old and she gazed at her with big eyes. “Is everything ok?” the father asked.
“We need some assistance here”, the foreigner announced.
“What happened to her?”
“I’m fine”, she said and to prove herself she tried getting up but a paralyzing lighting exploded from her thighs to her groin and she sat right back. The blood passed from her pants on to the sidewalk and her face was fiery with shame. Just like getting your period on the first day of school. “I think we should call an ambulance”, said the father apprehensively when he saw the blood on the sidewalk.
“Do not call for ambulance”, she said, her lips clenched while holding her tummy.
The foreign woman bent towards her. “Listen, it happened to me once too. You must see a doctor to check you and complete the natures did. You cannot go home…”
“I was already treated by a doctor”, she whispered to the woman.
“Ahh”, an understanding spread on her colored face. “You”, she got up and turned to the father. “You have a car, right?”
“You need to take her home. She lives right here, on Stern street”.
“I was just taking my girl to the kindergarten….”
“I will stay with your kid until you get back. It’s a two minutes’ drive”.
“But…” the father looked at the blood. The foreigner pulled out a black wide scarf from her bag. “Spread this on the car seat”.
“I can walk by myself”, Said the tenant weakly.
“Say nothing else. Get the car here, we’re waiting”.
“But…” the father stood there, hesitating, his little girl holds his hand. “Daddy”, the girl said.
“Yes”, said the father. “I want you to stay here with this nice woman for two minutes okay? We need to help the lady”. He stroked her bright hair and the foreign elder reached her hand.
“Look there”, she pointed on a random spot in the distance behind the stone fence and the girl smiled, fascinated.
The father told the tenant, “I’m bringing the car and coming back to pick you up, okay?” She nodded, her face shrunken with concentration.
After a few moments she found herself bowing in the back seat, muted tears in the
angles of her eyes, the blocks are passing by quietly from the window: broken pieces of hanged laundry, concrete surfaces that separates buildings, bare cables, drapes flapping in the morning breeze. The tenant closed her eyes and breathe deeply.
She directed him to the entrance to her building. The father stepped out, opened the
door like a valet driver opening it for his mistress and reached his hand. Her organs were stiff and she stepped out carefully, holding his hand, looked behind, embarrassed, to see if she left any marks but everything looked okay. She was not bleeding anymore, in any case.
The blood started coagulating on her body and her pants felt like sandpaper. The tenant leaned on the strong hand. His face were serious and he had stubble like the one Boaz had; only his was not so dense. He was wearing a black hat, she noticed, and escorted her to the entrance. “I can go on from here, it’s fine”, she said. “I’m fine”.
“Go as if victory is yours”, said he who wears the hat.
“What?” She was still holding his hand and could have looked into his eyes when he spoke to her. “Go as if victory is yours”, he said again and his eyes shined. “Like you came back from the battlefield and won”. The tenant nodded slowly. He led her to the staircase and watched her going up. She did not turn but she knew he was there, looking at her from the cool darkness of the stairway. Summer is coming soon, and the stairways in the blocks always were extremely hot, she thought. Someone told her once, that in the blocks the insulation was not good enough, that is why it is so hot in the summer. On the next staircase, she walked upright, her hands clenched and the nails are stabbing the flesh, covered in blood from her lower tummy and down but upright.
When Boaz entered home she sat on the couch and stared at the empty television,
her hair clean and still moist from the shower and she was vaguely smiling at him. The scent of grilled chicken was everywhere. He was holding a small bouquet of Narcissuses. Boaz always knew to match the flowers to the occasion. Phantom pain flashed in her belly. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had fallen somewhere else and not in the blocks, a random thought passed in her like a ghost when Boaz sat down by her side and hugged her. He inhaled her neck and she breathe the heavy scent of the Narcissuses. The smell of dead winners, she thought. “How was it?”
“We’ve made it”, said Boaz. “We made a sale”.
“Good”, she buried her head in his shirt.
“What are you doing at home?” he gently touched her shoulders and then her breasts.
“When do we get to leave this place?”
“As soon as I get the bonuses for the sale we can start thinking about another neighborhood. A better one”.
“Maybe we can stay here just a little longer”, she said and touched his firm abs through his shirt. “Maybe it’s not so bad”.
“I thought you can’t wait to get out of here”.
“I can wait,” she took his hand off her breasts, “it’s not so urgent”.
They stayed on the sofa and at a certain point dozed. She opened and closed her eyes and could see how sunlight of noon was playing with the narcissuses on the table. The flowers were beautiful and straight. It should go it the water so it will not die, her stomach hummed.