Elisha Porat

translated by Alan Sacks

in memory of Shaya Cohen

A. At the canteen in El-Arish
    In the summer of 1968, I went south with my battalion to take part in a big army exercise in the Sinai Desert. On our arrival that afternoon, I entered the huge canteen that sprouted like an oasis at the El-Arish junction. The mob of soldiers in the hall created a deafening din.  Hungry men crowded around small tables overburdened with heaps of food and queues of diners.  While I mulled whether to join the long, jostling line or settle for the lunch box my wife had slipped into my pack, I heard voices calling my name.  I searched through the crush in the giant hall, wondering which of my long-lost friends had chosen this place, this time, to renew severed ties.  My eye alighted on a knot of soldiers smiling at me from their seats at one of the tables.  A hand waved hello and invited me to join them.  Steering a careful course through the tray-laden men dashing around me, I went towards the group.
    "So, how are you? How long has it been since we last saw each other?  Ten years?  Can it be more?"  I shook hands and nodded my head in greeting to men I didn't recognize.  Only Yeshayahu Barak I knew at once.  Shaya hadn't changed a bit.  The same cigarette nervously clamped between the fingers of his left hand, the same dark, drooping mustache that seemed never to have been trimmed, the same fine eyes radiant with light.
    "Come down with the others for the big exercise?  Let's thank reserve duty for bringing people back together and reviving the past."  Shaya shifted his chair, pushed another forward and said, "Come on, take a seat, it'll be years before we meet again.  Don't be in such a hurry to get away from me this time."
    One of his comrades rose from his chair.  "Shaya, for you I'll even give up my seat."
    "Thanks a lot," Shaya shot back.  "You slept on my shoulder the whole stinking ride from Tel Aviv."
    I took the vacant seat. The bedlam in the huge canteen was forgotten, as though I were sitting with Shaya Barak in the open Sinai under a shady tamarisk tree surrounded by the desert's perfect, silent tranquility.
    We had been dear friends ten years earlier.  Military service threw us together entirely by chance, but we instantly became inseparable.  Yeshayahu Barak took a close interest in those matters that I shielded from others, including him, while I was interested in precisely those things that he didn't trouble to hide.  Friendships like these bloom and wither during your years in the army, and you can never guess if they'll stand the test of time, but ours grew stronger through the ups and downs of our military service.  We even felt the need to exchange short notes in the first months after our discharge, when each of us was busy finding his way for the first time in the new world of civilian life.  Eventually, however, even we grew apart.  Now and then, we still dropped each other a line like this:  "You schmuck, I came looking for you today, but you weren't in.  When can we meet???"  Later, even that stopped. The closeness between us slowly became a memory.  I missed his coughing and hacking on cold mornings, I pined for his long-range spitting and the Arab curses he growled when truly enraged before seeking silent solace in the smoke of a cigarette.  He was an expert at brewing aromatic coffee, which he always served with an instructive story drawn from life before induction and told in his hoarse morning voice.  Looking back, I realized that the days we spent in our army tents were numbered from the start and only our youthful naivete had misled us into the expectation that they would last forever.
    "So," Shaya needled me, "tell the truth now, how many books have you written?"
    His question flustered me.  Who had given him permission to speak in public of my secret desire to write?  If I had yet to write a single line, if no book or newspaper had printed so much as a word of mine, I had whiled away many an idle hour dreaming of being an author.  I was in such a daze that my answer was uncharacteristically feeble, lacking my usual wit and humor, as if I had been caught in a blatant lie.  
    "What, you still haven't written a book?"  Shaya persisted, apparently unaware of the confusion gripping me.  "That's strange.  I was sure you would have at least 10 books to your name by now."
    Suddenly, I felt ill and sweat poured over my body.  I feared that my face was turning a shade of red.  I'm in the hot, stifling army canteen in El-Arish one afternoon, the air thick with the coarseness of hundreds of milling soldiers, when an old friend suddenly pops up and asks me, straight out, a question so painful I'd never had the courage to put it to myself.  It might as well have been a terrible, swift sword slicing my flesh. I had the feeling that he was right; it hurt, but he was right.  It wasn't just that I ought to have written 10 books but that I should have become a well-known author, if not to the hundreds of soldiers on their way south for the large exercise in the Sinai, then at least to my comrade Yeshayahu Barak.  He was an old friend, we went way back.  Was that why he dared foretell what I would write?  Didn't he sense the chutzpa in this challenge to my future fortunes?
    "No," I answered in a faint voice.  "No, I still haven't managed to write even one book."  I was so ashamed the instant I replied, and felt so guilty in his sight, that I nearly sprang from my seat onto the table to shout, "Here I am, I'm guilty.  The 10 books I haven't written stand against me as so many indictments.  I can't deny them.
 Charge me with them, accuse me of everything if you wish, of indolence and sloth, of addiction to life and neglect of my duty to compose.  But for God's sake, do it quietly.  Keep your voices down and don't make a scene of my condemnation.  You can see for yourselves how hard it is on me to stand in the dock."
   We parted as abruptly as we had met.  The men of Shaya's battalion were summoned on the loudspeakers to their buses.  I accompanied him to the parking lot.  Camped far apart, we wouldn't meet during the maneuvers. He called to me through the window of the bus and made me swear that my first book would be written and published by the time we met again. His neglected mustache drooped over his lips and the eternal cigarette burned between his fingers.  He brushed the hair from his eyes, smiled at me and waved goodbye with no idea how his words had disturbed me.  The convoy of buses set out in the summer afternoon heat.  The desert swallowed it in shafts of dust and shimmering light.  A few moments later, every-thing settled down and no sign of the column could be seen.

   Shaya's comments had brewed in me such a storm that I could think of nothing else.  How had he divined what it was that secret-ly never ceased to torment me?  The stories with which I had regaled our outfit, the word-pictures I painted at night when we kidded around in our long barracks after a march, the impressions I did of the way our officers spoke, even in our commander's presence, "That all testified with the strength of 100 witnesses that you were born to wield an author's pen," Shaya's words echoed in my ears.  "I was sure of that even then, and that's why I never doubted for a moment that you had put 10 books under your belt a long time ago."  I can't say just how many years I bore within me Shaya Barak's pointed question.  I'm certain, however, that his question, and the kindness and affection that had prompted it, set in motion for me thoughts and actions that ripened into my first composition.  His unwavering faith in my talent, his pride in our friendship, his child-like amazement at anything I did, all did something for me that no others, even people far closer to me than he, had done.

B. At the kibbutz headquarters snack bar
    I sat at a table with Yeshayahu Barak at the snack bar in the United Kibbutz Movement headquarters in Tel Aviv.  He gnawed at the edges of the mustache.  Did his lopsided mustache conceal a birth mark?  Did it screen an ugly mole beneath his nose?  I remembered clearly how, chewing with his lower l, he lapped up the last of his drinks.  He would dip his handlebars into the cup, on purpose it seemed, as though slobbering were a natural part of his drink-ing, wait a few minutes while some drops rolled off the strands of his mustache, and then suck them up one by one.  He did this veryloudly, breathing hard, as if this slurping gave him a sublime pleasure.  It was just like that time, many years before, when I had first observed this strange habit and told him that it was unsightly.  Was this show specially for my benefit?  Had he dredged up this quirk from years gone by just for me?  Did he wish to impress me with a hint of his new inner strength, as if to say, "Even if I am a mid-level functionary in the UKM offices, here I'm still master of my body and soul"?
    We met on a boulevard near Kikar Atarim.  I was walking arm in arm with Nicole, a young American poet staying at my house for one surprised-filled summer.  We had roved through museums to exhaustion and returned that afternoon to her rented room.  I was jittery and acted on impulse, while she was easy-going by nature.  My impatience annoyed her.  She hopped into the shower and put on her bathing suit.  Then we left for the beach, where she rested her head on my knee and dreamed aloud of her future.  The coast was deserted at this season.  I tired of her reveries and begged her to get up so we could go back.  As enthusiastically as she described for me the life ahead of her, her studies and her writing, I could depict for her my own future veering away from me in an unforeseen direction, her imminent return to the United States, the two of us torn apart, our chance to unite missed.  Everything that sparked in her the joy of promise pricked me with the pain of separation.  I told her all this, but only in a nutshell, for I didn't want to be infected by her overwrought state. She grumbled that I would make something of my life too, if I burst out of the cage into which I had crawled to let myself feel more and act more freely.
    We rose from our nest in the warm sand.  She dressed while I brushed off grains that had stuck to the back of her lovely neck.  From behind, I gave her a belated hug, but she resisted and slipped out of my hands, as if beholden to the clear command of her body ordering her to sever the rash and empty physical bond between us. We slowly climbed the steps from the beach, walked the length of the new promenade and turned onto the boulevard.  And there I heard Shaya calling my name with undisguised elation.  Oblivious of Nicole on my arm and the faint halo of soured love encircling us, he pounced on me and insisted that I drop into the UKM offices with him.  He had a cubicle there, a sort of office, and the coffee at the snack bar next door was always hot and ready to drink.  I introduced him to Nicole.  The meeting had caught me off guard.  I felt uncomfortable and sensed that Shaya did too.  Nicole, however, took a youngster's delight in my friend Shaya.  In an instant, all reserve between us melted away and we escorted Nicole to her room.
    "Excuse me, Shaya," I said, "I want to see Nicole off by myself."
    "Sure," he replied.  "Say goodbye.  I'll wait for you here."
    I faced her in the chilly stairwell.  She pushed away my hand, rejecting the lips I offered and my body quivering through and through for hers.  I too knew that everything between us was over but, like a little boy who can't stop sucking a candy, so I craved her sweet pleasures and couldn't restrain myself though I knew all too well that I had to stop.  Now, when she implored me to leave her alone, and I was obliged to let her ascend the stairs to her apartment on the third floor, I wasn't doing the decent thing.  I simply couldn't control my body. Just one more brief caress, another kiss, a final, wet lick of her salty skin.
    Our words flew past us.  We both knew they were hollow.  There would be no more secret calls from secluded phone booths, no more letters invariably concluded with the cute pictures she drew, no more notes scribbled in her distinctive script and pressed into the books she borrowed from me.  There would be no more outings in the last light before sunset and no more steamy, breath-stopping clinches in "our" path through the rushes on the bank by the bridge.
    I slowly dropped my hand from her back as she turned up the stairs.  "Write to me, Nicole," I bade her.  "I always look forward to your letters."  She promised to correspond, even to send me recordings of her poems.  If I didn't understand some of the obscure words in her verse, I could still appreciate the unique way she chanted them.  "Now go," I heard her voice at the top of the stairs.  "Your friend is waiting for you outside."
    I returned to Yeshayahu Barak killing time by the stone wall.  He was leaning back, chain smoking just as he had when we were boys in the army.  Fine plumes of smoke, streaming through his mustache like twin rivers, converged above his head in a single limpid cloud.  "At our age," he intoned gravely, "it doesn't pay to get stuck in these affairs.  They end with a lot of heartache."
   "These American girls can make anyone's head spin," I answered.  "Anyway, it's all over between us.  Nicole is flying back to the United States tonight."  But deep within me, I cherished her promise that we might meet again the following summer, when she had to return to finish some translation projects.  Still, our relations had been fundamentally altered.  We would never be close again.  The most I could hope for was to preserve our good fellowship.  Please, let it be so.  I sighed aloud, took a deep breath, put a cheerful expression on my face and said to Shaya, "Lead on to the snack bar at the UKM offices."  As I followed him, I never looked back towards the window of Nicole's room always opened to the sea.
   "By the way," said Shaya, "I saw your childrens' stories in the kiddie paper I read to my son.  You see, I was right.  You were meant to be an author."  He reminded me of our chance encounter at the army canteen in El-Arish some years earlier.  
   "Why did you deny everything?  You were writing even then, weren't you?"  I remembered my distress at his pointed questions and the quizzical looks his buddies had cast me, the shame suddenly overtaking me like the flush on an adolescent's cheek and how I had squirmed under their gaze, wanting nothing more than to flee at once to some place far away.
   "After the newspaper stories will come the book.  Then another and another.  Soon you won't be very far from the 10 books we talked about."  During the course of this high-spirited chatter full of assurances, he showed me his small room at the UKM head-quarters.  "I knew right away you'd become an author.  I just knew it from thefirst time we talked.  Didn't you feel it?"
   "Enough, Shaya," I said.  "Whether I'm a writer or not, what counts is that your children enjoyed the stories. As for what the future might bring, I can't say."  As we sat at the snack bar, Shaya ordered coffee and sandwiches, joked with the counterman and shouted out greetings to friends. He suddenly recalled a caper we had pulled years before, when we tricked our commanding officer, ignored his order and set off on an unauthorized leave.
   "Why don't you write about that?  How we switched shirts and papers to fool the military police if we got caught?  Remember?  What a wild night.  We were picked up finally by an army guard, a real stickler, who threw us into his wagon and drove to the MP building.  You remember, don't you?  But the wagon slowed down at one point.  That's when we plucked up our courage, jumped off and got away in the dark streets.  We hiked back to camp, singing and laughing all the way until the sun came up.  Don't you remember how promising life seemed then?" Shaya asked.
   "Sometime you'll write about that night, too, right?"  I never imagined that Shaya, too, was soon to leave me. Saying goodbye to Nicole was enough for me that day.  I hadn't the strength for yet another separation.

C. At the aid station
    I met Yeshayahu Barak for the last time at the divisional reconnaissance battalion's aid station.  Battalion's physician, needed immediately at the station, quickly came to an agreement with me:  if I delivered him speedily but safely, he would exempt me from the evacuation work.  He jammed a helmet over his head and made space
beside the driver inside the cramped armored compartment.  Shells exploded along the road. From time to time, streak-ing jets dived in bombing runs on the convoy.  After one errant attack, I banged my head on the cab of the old half-track. When I looked up, I saw that nature's creatures carried on their lives despite the explosions.  Frogs hopped madly over the pitted route.  Lizards lounged on warm rocks.  Meadow saffrons bloomed in a soft, mauve glow.  Far to the west, beyond the smoke and scorched tracts of basalt, sparkled the Sea of  Galilee.
    The unit medical crew was waiting for us at an abandoned settlement.  The doctor, looking for the unit's own physician, jumped up to speak as we approached.  "Follow us," the men bellowed before he could open his mouth.  "Now, and no ifs, ands or buts."  They broke into a gallop across the dry ground, raising clouds of dust in a rush to the aid station.  "Sit down, doctor, sit down," I told him, "and let me hold up my end of the bargain." The doctor had gone pale.  He looked to his left and his right.  "Are you sure we're going in the right direction?" he asked.  The hills around us, which all looked the same to him, had totally disoriented him.
    Tank fire, thundering close by, occasionally closed off the narrow road.  I spurred the aid station driver on. Our evacuation half-track was already locked against the vehicle ahead of us, but I wouldn't let up for even an instant.  The driver swiveled his dusty face and I saw in his eyes that he understood what I wanted.  We turned towards a hill at the shell-blasted crossroads and immediately arrived at the collection station.  The work went quickly.  Glad as they were to see reinforcements, the evacuation teams, dragging with fatigue, hoped their replacements would soon arrive.
    "Here we are, Doctor," I told the battalion  physician. "Our deal is done.  I've brought you to the aid station."  I climbed out of the half-track and left without a glance at how the staff was getting along.  Some wounded soldiers were resting beneath a tent flap lashed to the side of a disabled tank.  As I came forward to offer what little help I could, Shaya Barak stood up and called me.  I rushed to him in surprise.  He had been lightly wounded in the leg and evacuated to the aid station, though he had asked to remain with his squad.  He felt fine, just dead tired from the nights of battle.  I sat beside him under the tent flap and told him of the deal I had struck with the battalion physician.  Encouraged by the smile that brought to his face, I described the bombardment of the field hospital I had endured the day we went up to the Golan Heights.  No one knew what was happening, people fled in confusion and panic, a number of operating tents received direct hits.  I amused him with an account of trucks loaded with medical supplies maneuvering over the narrow road until it was completely clogged.
   Immense convoys backed up in two directions while their commanding officers dismounted to try to untangle the mess.  It was fortunate that the barrage lifted as suddenly as it began, or the scene would have ended in tragedy.  Shaya fought back his weariness to tell me about the blocking action his battalion had conducted.  A raging fire had threatened to ignite the ammunition column to which he was attached.  In desperation, the commanding officer asked for volunteers to drive the trucks through the inferno.  The drivers prostrated themselves in a ditch of water, too fearful to raise their heads.  Then one young fellow from the battalion staff, in whom you would never have suspected such courage, got up and quietly went from truck to truck, starting the engines and extricating them from the flames.  Eventually, the drivers couldn't bear their shame and just as they were, ashen and splattered with mud from the ditch, loped to the trucks and moved them out of danger.
  Now it was my turn to tell Shaya how we had arrived at the charred fences of an abandoned farmstead.  Turkeys running free from their shattered coops became trapped among the rails.  Some birds, skewered on fence prongs, bled white in the distance.  We thought of them as flags of surrender left as relics of the battle.  In the deserted packing shed rose mountainous crates of tomatoes picked hours before the bombardment.  The soldiers from our battal-ion infirmary, who hadn't tasted fresh food for days, attacked the crates and stuffed their mouths with tender tomatoes.  They couldn't give a hoot about defensive measures.  Afterwards, shrieking like children at play in a wild game, they loaded the boxes, ran to the convoy and emptied the contents, crate after crate, into the passing vehicles.
    The wounded men at the aid station were soldiers whom Shaya didn't know from another unit.  He was eager to have his leg tended so he could rejoining his comrades, who had carried on the assault without him.  Even as we spoke beneath the tent flap, an evacuation vehicle pulled up and Shaya hoisted himself aboard with the rest of the walking wounded.  The doctor, who needed additional medics from the unit, welcomed my request to go with him to the battalion command post.  I rode with Shaya Barak as far as the abandoned farm, where I got off at the battalion camp.  We said goodbye.  "Don't worry," Shaya assured me, "the war will end, and we'll meet again at the UKM offices snack bar.  Don't forget to bring along some young American singer."  But I felt that nothing, not even the snack bar, could be as it was before the war.  I thought of my sweetheart Nicole and our farewell that summer.  The beach where we had lain was sweet and the sand in which we had buried our limbs so tranquil that it confounded all thought of the coming war.
  Where was Nicole now, at this very moment?  Was she, like all the Jews of the world, glued to her television? Had she tried calling my home to see how I was?  Had she kept the promise to send her drawings enclosed in breezy letters?  Had the war reminded her of the recordings of her poetry she hadn't yet sent?
   I arrived at the battalion command post.  While the evacuation vehicle was reorganized, I checked around the tents to find out what was new at the front.  Someone mentioned that the armored carrier bringing wounded men to the field hospital from the abandoned village had been badly hit.  I dug my face into my shoulder.  "It can't be," I said.  "I just left them at the farm."  We had already seen worse surprises than that, answered the soldier, a radio man.  Anything could happen in this damned war.
  I dashed out of the communications tent and wandered among the defense works around the post.  I wept into my hands.  Before me blew a dry wind redolent with the smells of smoke and dust while a medical column slowly formed up.  It was a strange fit of brief, choking sobs.  I knew that Yeshayahu Barak would never drink coffee with me at the UKM headquarters snack bar.  We wouldn't sit in his little office in which he took such pride, nor reminisce of days gone by.  He wouldn't chew his mustache just to annoy me or tease me through swirls of smoke, "So, we're writing, right? Dirtying paper, right?  When will you write about your last friend?"  Through my tears, I told myself that I would never forget him no matter how much time passed.  I wouldn't forget to write about him, even if I had to produce one book more than the 10 he had foretold in his well-meaning jest that summer long ago in the dreadful commotion of the giant army canteen at the El-Arish junction.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Scar of Pride
Elisha Porat

Translated from the Hebrew by Asher Harris

    Once, in the summer of 1946, I accompanied my father on a visit to Tel Aviv.  Before the trip, father, a proud, reserved man, was beside himself.  Yehuda, his best friend, had arranged a meeting with Nathan, the wonderful Tel Aviv poet, and the prospect gave my father no peace.  He was tense and irritable, and quick to lose his temper.  When he passed his hand over my smooth boy's cheek, he wasn't aware of what he was touching, and when he stroked my unruly curls, he didn't notice what he was stroking.
    Yehuda was already waiting for us in the Tel Aviv street.  Father put his arm round Yehuda's shoulder, Yehuda pulled Father close to him, and they were as happy, as if they hadn't met for a long time.  Father sat me down at the table, and in childish contentment, I leaned my elbows on the sticky oilcloth.  Flies circled sluggishly above puddles of spilt coffee and in the remains of sweet lemonade.
    Father and Yehuda found plenty to talk about so I began to look around .  A rain of overripe berries dropped out of the deep shade of the ficus trees, burst onto the table and under it, and spattered stains of inky juice all around.  The numbing summer heat engulfed me. The cars racing along the street at my back, the cries of hawkers, the bustle of passers-by, the clatter of hooves as horses passed, pulling their carts of kerosene or ice; all these assailed my ears like the clacking of castanets.  And within the shimmering bubble of heat, the drone of the sultry street mingled with the staccato conversation of my father and Yehuda.
    Of all the people who surrounded my father in the days of my childhood, Yehuda was the only one whom my father truly loved. Looking through the eyes of my childhood, misted over with the dried-up tears of memory, I can still see my father mellowing and changing whenever Yehuda entered our house.  Despite the years I still recall how the familiar layers would fall away one by one, and how a different man would emerge from the sloughed-off skin, a man I didn't know at all.  Father's hands, cracked and furrowed from work in the fields, work from which he allowed himself no respite, became as soft as a gentleman's.  His tanned face paled, like those wild creatures which change color according to their surroundings.  His abrupt, peremptory way of talking became gentle, uncertain.
    Suddenly he would turn from giving orders to asking questions.  When Yehuda was around, Father would lose his decisiveness.  To this day I am still amazed, still waiting to get over my wonder.  Father greeted Yehuda, who had quickly stood up as we arrived.  I had the impression that he saw our approach, slow and ponderous, as that of country yokels.  He waited until we came right up to the table diffident before embarking on the formalities of welcome.  He signaled something to the waiter and immediately a number of large glasses were set on the table, along with a jug of cold water which tinkled like a bell. Father asked Yehuda for some soda-water, as well, and Yehuda turned to the waiter in his gentle manner, "We ordered soda-water too, didn't we?"
    The wonderful way in which Yehuda half acknowledged, half ignored my presence filled me with astonishment even in those days of innocence.  It was as if with one eye he saw all of me, my whole being with all its childish elements, while the other, half closed, saw nothing but my soul, that which, in the fullness of time, would blossom into the essential me.  He would blink and stare in my direction as if he were weighing up what he saw.  What that one eye surely saw was nothing but a child, not really grown up enough to sit with the adults.  On the other hand, the other eye seemed to guess at a young man who would often search his memory in an attempt to recapture the long-lost years.  So Yehuda hopped around me, yet also hovered somewhere else nearby. When he shook my hand, it was as if it wasn't a real hand of flesh and blood that he held loosely, and when he patted me on the shoulder or tweaked my nose, it was as if he were tweaking a paper doll and not the real me.  Then, embarrassed, I cringed from his caress, flinched from his touch and retreated to the other end of the table.
    Deep inside me some tune or other sang to itself in harmony, "The kids say that your father is strong and he can knock this little Yehuda down easily."  When I had finally shrunk back into the furthest chair at the edge of the pavement, that childish song of vengeance was still singing in my heart, and my contempt for this milksop was clothing itself in clearer words and music.  At that very moment, this same Yehuda, with the loud absent-mindedness that goes with insight, turned to my father and warned him loudly, "That boy of yours had better be careful!  He's too close to the street and the traffic is crazy."  But father merely waved his gentleman's hands and let them fall onto the rough wooden table, on the stained oilcloth cover.

    Yehuda, a small, likable chap with a genuine ability to bring kindred together, tries to make the waiting pass pleasantly.  He regales my father's spirits with the name of each passerby, and the vague image I recall with difficulty from my confused memory is of him dancing about, wiping the front of his khaki shirt, moving swiftly from chair to chair, shuffling there and back around Father and throwing backward glances towards the table, as if he were being scolded.  Father remains haughtily, almost aggressively silent and refuses to be mollified.  What has he got in common with these intellectuals, skipping about in their open sandals?  What are these actresses to him, prancing along the street in their skimpy dresses?  What, for that matter, is Yehuda, who knows each passerby by name and eagerly holds forth on the wonderful talents of them all? Father remains silent and waits in stubborn awe for this Tel Aviv poet to whom Yehuda has promised to introduce him.  None of Yehuda's comments are interesting, neither the brilliant notions of that one nor the incisive opinions of the other; neither the astonishing new book that left Yehuda amazed by the power of its language (" The language, do you hear?") nor the obscene gestures of the British occupying troops, nor even the gut-wrenching article that pits ("pits, you against the lofty moral principles of the workers' movement, understand?") the fossilized, vacillating morality of the petite bourgeois.  And what else can I say that I haven't yet said?  But Father refuses to soften.  Haughty and silent, he sits there at the table, haughty enough, as Yehuda told me years later, to destroy himself, and he tightens his hand round the heavy water glass, leaving Yehuda not the smallest crack to creep through.  Later on, when memories break free from the bounds of time, I try to disentangle scenes, words and sounds from the jumble, but I find it difficult to arrange the events in any sort of sequence.  If only I could at least grasp the main points.  If only I could be sure that the outlines had not blurred, bur even of that I am not always certain.
    Nathan suddenly appears, actually materializing out of the street, with a buoyant, lifting step.  Father stands up immediately, tipping his chair in doing so.  It tilts sideways and almost falls.  His water glass slides along the table-top.  Father stands quite still and turns pale, paler than I had ever seen him.  He moves forward a little to shake hands, but Nathan's left hand avoids Father's grasp.  It is shaking uncontrollably, as if his arm were not joined to his shoulder, as if he had a life of its own, as if its trembling could not be stilled.
    Nathan is wearing khaki trousers with a khaki shirt, worn outside to give the impression of suit.  His eyes take us in at a glance, pass over the three of us and move on to rake the street.  It is almost as if he has been invited to meet someone else who hasn't turned up so he is forced to wait and sit with us for a while.  Really, only for a minute; and if he has consented, it is only out of respect for that fine fellow, Yehuda.  These yokels from distant Kibbutzim, an all-pervading smell of brimstone clinging to them, are as excited as children in his presence.  They actually force into the hand that doesn't tremble pieces of paper and extracts from earnest articles. They are formless, so damp with excited sweat they're nearly colorless, illegible. Ah, how tiresome is their love.
    Yehuda capers around him. "Sit down, Nathan."  "What would you like, Nathan?" "Nathan, I'd like you to meet my friend from the Kibbutz.  My kindred soul, my twin spirit who works himself to death in the hot and steamy realm of manual labor.  And this little boy is his son who has accompanied his father to the city.  They have taken the trouble to come all this way to meet you because I promised that you would find a moment for them.  They admire you poetry and wanted to meet you so much; just a short meeting, nothing like 'the man who came to dinner'!"

    A pause.  The flow of memories is dammed for a second.  Then, the flood-gates open once again and the tide surges through.  The tension breaks.  We all laugh.  People who have crowded round the table for a moment laugh with us.  Suddenly, I feel Nathan's roving look rest on my face.  I show my young, even teeth in a smile, trying to ingratiate myself with this strange man in whose presence Father has become so pale. Over the reaches of time, from the depth of that elusive image, I seem to remember that after that the conversation went more easily.  There were even smiles.  Nathan constantly exchanged greetings with passerby.  Some approached our table, snatched a few words, put in a quick plea, shook hands, smiled at Yehuda, waved a friendly finger in the direction of Nathan's gleaming forehead or shot an inquiring glance at Father's heavy form.
    Yehuda now would not allow the conversation to flag.  He tended it with words and revived it when it suddenly languished.  From time to time he darted as severe look at Father, as if urging him, "Come out of your shell, man.  Don't be a bumpkin.  You wanted to meet this fellow, didn't you?  Wasn't it because of him that you bothered to come all the way from your distant Kibbutz with the boy, who only cramps your style anyway.  Don't be boring, that 'holier-than-thou' face, as if someone had forced you to descend from your Olympian heights to consort with the untouchable."  Well, that's how Nathan was.  The sleeves forever frayed at the elbows, the pullover unraveling, the compulsive untidiness.  How thin he was close up.  What fire flashed again and again from the depth of his eyes.  Even in the white light of summer noon in Tel Aviv, his forehead shines, while from his wizened throat comes the cry of a whole people.
    Father sits drawn into as if remembering the words he wrote in our Kibbutz broad sheet himself, not long before, when Nathan's new poems had first appeared.  Father had been possessed, stalking in his room like a caged tiger.  He was unable to sleep because of what he called "an inner quaking."  The poems had gripped his heart, constricted it.
    Or maybe that's not exactly how it was.  Maybe I am getting my memories confused with what Father really wrote.
    The beautiful girl who used to recite in her low, thrilling voice read Father's article together with the poems at one of our Friday evening meetings.  Sitting there in the large, brightly-lit dining room, I felt a childish pride swelling within me.  Such a proud, reserved man; I felt that I was one with him, come what may.  I would stand by him, and the two of us, shoulder to shoulder, would move forward together against the whole world.  Suddenly, a slightly hoarse voice breaks in, "Take care, boy!  Don't lean so far back.  You're going to fall right into the path of the traffic."  But Father was sunk deep in a vision he saw in his water glass and didn't hear what Nathan had just said.  He didn't notice the danger so close behind me and didn't even raise his head to look in my direction.

    Drunk or not, Nathan was now in full spate.  He supported his trembling left hand with his right.  His glance darted from Yehuda to Father and back to the street again, where it followed the young Jewish soldiers passing by, and then returned to us.  The man might have had two faces. All the while Yehuda, a dwarf by comparison, was trying in awed revenge to get a word in edgeways.  Of course, it wasn't long before the subject of morality was forcibly dragged in, where it became confused with the state of the worker's movement.  And the things Nathan said when he was drunk!  Even the "god of the elephants" was invoked to buttress his arguments.  Truncated sentences trembled from his lips like the trembling of his hand.  He would type his outpourings with his right hand while his treacherous left would twitch and shake poetic, until at last it would be cast aside like some unless object discarded on a rubbish-heap.  In this business of poetry Father was a fervent but taciturn admirer.  Moreover, he respected Nathan as he respected no other man. But when it came a question of the labor movement, or the murder of the Jewish writers in to Russia, or the issue known as "the music of the mortars" or morality in general, Father had pronounced and trenchant opinions of his own.  So while pallor heightened, signs began to appear of his anger, that tempestuous fury that both Yehuda and I feared.
    Father's rage was finally ignited over nothing.  He was on his feet, pacing up and down, head down as if about to butt, his tongue dry with anger.  Yehuda was in such a state that he began to call upon the god of elephants to arise and take pity on them.  Had Mother been with us, she would probably have thrown herself at his feet, clung to the legs of the table and cried from the floor, "I'm moving until you two make it up."  But Mother wasn't there and Yehuda, squeezed between the two of them, didn't know which way to turn.
    "OH! Mountain strikes mountain, peak clashes against peak."  There was Yehuda, dancing around them, pulling at their sleeves, trying to calm them down. The table shook.  Chairs went flying.  Curious passerby began to gather and Yehuda suddenly stopped hopping about, folded his arms and, grinning in embarrassment, said to me, "Two toreadors tearing at each other.  Two bulls taking each other on.  Ah, well, there's a time and place for everything.  Toreador and bull butting each other!"
    When Nathan was drunk he could say some very cruel things.  "You had better go on, you lot, all of you, go straight to the youngsters.  I call on our unspoiled youth, the ones you haven't yet managed to ruin.  Let them turn their backs on you, I say.  Or go appeal to the children, not yet stained by sin, as someone once did, long ago and far away.  What do you mean by 'the music of the mortars', eh?  What you know of the pen that was smashed in Moscow?  Words you aren't capable of understanding!  All you can do is chew around and then spew them out to defile the well you drink from!"  Father was in a ferment.  I couldn't take my eyes off him.  I understood the smallest movement of his face, the merest clenching of his fists.  He was beside himself with fury.  Never in all my life had I seen him so agitated.  The wrecked table got in his way and he pushed it aside with a violent gesture.  Roughly he kicked the chair backwards.  The glasses slid along the table and Yehuda was almost crushed under Father's great hand.  Suddenly the two of them advanced towards me, boxing me in at the end of the table.  In the heat of the argument, the shouted exchanges, the faces grimacing in sweaty rage, I sat there at the apex of a converging triangle.  I could smell their clothes.  I could see the sweat seeping through their Khaki shirts.
    Then, without realizing it, I felt an overwhelming urge to press myself to my father's shoulder.  I leaned backwards slowly, unshackled by earthly laws of weight and gravity.  The Tel Aviv poet, in his drunken anger, hurled at Father the worst accusation of them all, the absolute bottom of the barrel, calling him one of the amateur journalists in remote Kibbutzim whose writings reeked of brimstone and who did more harm with their narrow-mindedness than fools did with their simple-mindedness.  Father was stunned; a furrow of pain appeared on his forehead and he began to writhe like a wounded animal.  Yehuda, charming little Yehuda, realized that the whole encounter was collapsing in chaos. Suddenly time stopped.  In a drunken haze, Nathan cried out "The boy!  He's going over!  Look out! Oh, right under the cars!"
    As if caught in a globe of light, within a bubble of time held still for a short moment, I see Yehuda running round the table and crying to Father, "Oh, the boy!  Oh, my god!  He's fallen."  The noise of a car swamped over me and I was engulfed by a great darkness.  An overwhelming sense of distress that I hadn't risen to stand by my father, shoulder to shoulder, clutched at my heart.  Afterwards an enveloping silence fell and I saw hurrying flecks of white, specks of brightness, flowing blood, for I had fallen backwards right under the wheels of a car.

    Two crossed stitches, clearly visible on my cheek today, are the only ones left.  If you look closely, though, you will see faint signs of the others.  If you were to draw a line joining all the stitches, you would trace a diagonal scar running the length of my right cheek, from the chin to a light patch between temple and eye. Whenever I am carried away by a fit of temper, the scar takes on its original redness.  If I run my finger along it to try and soothe the smarting, I can see, once more, three heads bending over me.  And yet I find it hard to remember.  Who exactly was leaning over me?   Who was talking?  How did the quarrel end?  And who was it who whispered above my bandaged face, "This red scar had such a cruel birth?"
    Then there were the kids who teased in the Kibbutz children's house, "Scar face! scar face!"  And that reserved man, my father, standing by me when I came to.  And the flickering memories of the hospital. Whenever I make a serious effort to piece together the shards of memory, I am confronted by a jumbled mass of veiled moments, time snatched away, never to return.  What happened when I fell?  Was I run over?  Was that how I acquired this scar of pride?  And then, after I had been extricated from between the cars and carried off in my father's arms, and after Yehuda had summoned help, and after Nathan had stood alone in the confusion wondering why he had argued so wickedly in the presence of a child and the very edge of a menacing street; after all this and everything else that followed, I had to undergo the ordeal of facing my mother's searching gaze, still answering all her questions and trying to restore some kind of order to my memory of the muddled events.  Lying there, convalescing in my white bed, I had go to over and over the whole affair from very beginning.  How could I have deserted my father in the cruel argument with Nathan? What had happened to those vows about "Shoulder to shoulder?" and "Father and me against the whole world?" and "We shall never be defeated if we stand together?"  How is it that they came to nothing and I kept none of them?  What about that nasty habit my mother was always scolding me for, of tilting my chair backwards 'til you could hear the crack of rusty screw and split wood?  How could I have left Father complaining alone between Yehuda prancing about and Nathan looking way beyond him?  Why didn't I jump to the front of the table, mountain clashing with mountain, toreador butting against bull?
    Then, when I feel the inner compulsion to pour out my words, I sit up straight in bed, the white bedclothes slide off me and the scar that cuts diagonally across my face leaps out.  I set that drunken poet against my pure father.  I have no weapon to attack him with only my beating heart, words that will stay with me all my life, memories that will never fade.  The sight of my father standing downcast in the face of the gross drunken attacks of the Tel Aviv poet fills me with a depressing sense of helplessness at not being able to do anything for him, and leaves a weight on my heart over the long years.  The pain slices through my cheek and catches my heart because I did not do what I should have done; bit through his Khaki trousers like a puppy gone berserk.  Don't little ones have their own ways of fighting: teeth, weak fingernails, childish screams, something?
    Sitting there in bed I read again those simple, artless words that Father had written in our modest Kibbutz paper.  I pored over them for a long time.  They contained a kind of sad beauty that was not easy to understand.  Was it really so strange that Nathan, hasty, haunted by drink, did not have the eye to perceive nor the heart to care for them?  Through the shimmering bubbles of time I go over the few lines again.  "The throat of a whole people; the cut throat of a whole people bleeds from the throat of the poet.  Drops of anguish and blood."
    "Mountain against mountain!" Yehuda's voice roars in my ears. A sea of sparks flies up; the smell of scorching.  The memory of one of those three sitting round a cafe table in that Tel Aviv street, in the summer of the year one thousand nine hundred and forty-six, in the shade of those dark ficus tree, is branded into me for all the days of my life, and his memory goes with me as I am gathered up from between the screaming brakes and burning tires, from the melting asphalt of the steaming mid-day street.  So when father, as always, unconsciously passes his large hand over my healed-up scar of pride, and I, as always, take countless oaths of loyalty, time stands still in its cycle and I look within, deep within my fading memory's secret depths, and through my childhood eyes I see how this reserved man, who may not even have wanted to meet that wonderful poet Nathan, turns pale with pride.  On the table between them pride lies dishonored while the heart of a child bleeds.  And at the far end of the table, at the menacing edge of the street, the little boy defies the laws of physics.  Leaning back on the chair until the bolts snap, he does the only remaining thing and throws himself into the path of traffic.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

More works by Elisha Porat will be added during August '99.

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