Authors: A. B. Yehoshua
First Mariner Books edition 2009
Copyright Â© 2007 by Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation copyright Â© 2008 by Stuart Schoffman
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
First published under the title
by Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 2007, in the imprint "Hasifria Hahadasha."
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Yehoshua, Abraham B.
[Esh Yedidutit. English]
Friendly fire: A duet/A. B. Yehoshua; translated from the Hebrew
by Stuart Schoffman.
I. Schoffman, Stuart. II. Title.
ISBN 978-0-547-24785-4 (pbk.)
Text set in Minion and MrsEaves
Designed by Liz Demeter
Printed in the United States of America
DOM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For the family, with love
holding his wife tight, is where we have to part, and with a pang of misgiving he hands her the passport, after checking that all the other necessary items are tucked into the plastic envelopeâboarding pass for the connecting flight, return ticket to Israel, and her medical insurance certificate, to which he has taped two of her blood-pressure pills. Here, I've put everything important together in one place. All you have to do is look after your passport. And again he warns his wife not to be tempted during the long layover to leave the airport and go into the city. This time, don't forget, you're on your own, I'm not at your side, and our "ambassador" is no longer an ambassador, so if you get into trouble...
"Why get into trouble?" she protests. "I remember the city being close to the airport, and I've got more than six hours between flights."
"First of all, the city is not that close, and second, why bother? We were there three years ago and saw everything worth seeing. No, please don't scare me just as you're leaving. You haven't slept well the past few nights, and the flight is long and tiring. Set yourself up in that nice cafeteria where we parked ourselves the last time, put up your feet and give the swelling in your ankles a chance to go down, and let the time pass quietly. You can read that novel you just bought..."
"Nice cafeteria? What are you talking about? It's a depressing place. So why for your peace of mind I should be cooped up there for six hours?"
"Because it's Africa, Daniela, not Europe. Nothing is solid or clear-cut there. You could easily get lost or lose track of time."
"And I remember empty roads ... not much traffic..."
"Exactly, the traffic is spotty and disorganized there. So without even realizing, you could miss your connection, and then what do we do with you? I beg of you, don't add to my worries ... this whole trip is distressing and frightening as it is."
"Really, that's too much."
"Only because I love you too much."
"Love, or control? We really do need to decide at some point."
"Love in control," her husband says, smiling sadly, summarizing his life as he embraces her. In three years she'll be sixty. Since her older sister died more than a year ago, her blood pressure has gone up a bit and she has grown scattered and dreamy, but her womanliness continues to attract and fascinate him as much as she did when they first met. Yesterday, in honor of the trip, she had her hair cropped and dyed amber, and her youthful look makes him feel proud.
And so they stand, the man and his wife by the departure gate. It's Hanukkah. From the center of the glass dome, radiant in the reddish dawn, a grand menorah dangles over the terminal, and the light of its first candle flickers as if it were a real flame.
"So...," he thinks to add, "in the end you managed to avoid me ... We didn't make love and I didn't get to relax before your departure."
"Shh, shh...." She presses a finger to his lips, smiling uneasily at passersby. "Careful ... people can hear you, so you'd better be honest, you also didn't try too hard in the past week."
"Not so," says the husband, bitterly defending his manhood. "I wanted to, but I was no match for you. You can't escape your responsibility. And don't add insult to injury: promise me you won't go into the city. Why is six hours such a big deal to you?"
A twinkle in the traveler's pretty eyes. The connection between the lost lovemaking and the layover in Nairobi has taken her by surprise.
"All right," she hedges. "We'll see ... I'll try ... just stop looking for reasons to worry. If I've gone thirty-seven years without getting lost, you won't lose me this time either, and next week we'll treat ourselves to what we missed. What do you think, I'm not frustrated too? That I lack desire, the real thing?"
And before he has a chance to respond, she pulls him forcefully toward her, plants a kiss on his forehead, and disappears through the glass door. It's only for seven days, but it has been years since she left the country without him, and he is not only anxious but also amazed that she was able to get what she wanted. The two of them made a family visit to Africa three years ago, and most of today's route he knows well, but until she arrives, late at night after two flights, at her brother-in-law's in Morogoro, she will have plenty of dreamy and absent-minded hours alone.
UTSIDE, IT'S STILL
dark. The reddish dawn reflected in the terminal's glass dome was, it turns out, an optical illusion. He feels a first twinge of longing as he spots a scarf left behind on the backseat. True, he can look forward in her absence to freedom and control of his daily routine, but her surprising declaration of "real desire" revives the itch of missed opportunity.
Despite the very early hour, he knows there's no point in going home. He won't climb back into the big empty bed and get some rest but will instead be seduced by the dirty dishes left for the cleaning lady and then seek out other needless chores. For a moment he considers paying a morning visit to his father, but the Filipinos are displeased when he descends on them during the old man's ablutions. Therefore he quickly drives past his childhood home and heads for the south of the city, to the engineering design firm he inherited from his father.
The treetops tossing in the morning wind bring to mind a complaint that landed on his desk several weeks before. So he changes course and heads west toward the sea, to the recently erected Pinsker Tower. He presses the remote control to lift the parking gate and descends carefully into the belly of the building.
The thirty-story tower was completed by the end of summer, yet even at this early hour he sees very few cars parked in the gloomy cavern of the underground lot. Apartment sales must be slow; meanwhile, the building's small population of residents has already banded together to protest defects in its construction. The first winter storms brought the latest grievance: an insufferable roaring, whistling, and rumbling in the shafts of the elevators designed by Ya'ari's company, which also supervised their installation.
Indeed, as soon as he pushes open the heavy fire door separating the garage from the elevator landing, a wild wailing assaults him, as though he'd walked onto the runway of a military airfield. The previous week, one of the firm's engineers had been sent to investigate the phenomenon and had returned mystified. Are the winds being sucked in from the car park? Or are they invading from the roof? Are the anxious whistles the result of some flaw between the elevators and their counterweights, or perhaps a crack has opened in the rear stairwell and from there the shaft sucks the winds from the outside? It is conceivable that the wind came in by a less direct route, through one of the vacant apartments. A few days earlier the elevator manufacturer had seen fit to dispatch to the tower a technician specializing in the diagnosis of acoustic disturbances, but at that moment the winter retreated and folded its winds, and the silence prevented the sensitive woman from forming an opinion.
The children are afraid to ride alone in the elevators when the winds are blowing wildly, complained the head of the tenants' committee yesterday, following the resumption of the winter stormsâhaving been provided with Ya'ari's cell phone number by the construction company and encouraged to call him directly. Babies are bursting into tears upon entering the elevator. Tears? Hard to believe, Ya'ari thinks, picturing his two little grandchildren. Can it be that bad? But he did not try to make light of the complaint nor to shirk responsibility. His professional reputation and that of his people are precious to him, and he has promised that if the noises persist, he himself will come to tilt his ear to the winds.
And so, at dawn, he keeps his word. Focused and alert, he stands silently facing the four elevatorsâeach of which is currently stopping at a different floor of the towerâbringing his seasoned intuition to bear on the violent wailing of the winds. Finally he calls for one. The closest descends and opens its doors. He sends it one flight up, then presses the button again to see if a more distant cab responds or if the first one returns after concluding its upward mission. Yes, the control panel is properly programmed: the faraway elevators stay put and the nearest one comes back. There is no superfluous movement between floors; energy is being properly conserved.
Now he enters the car and with the master key detaches it from the group system and bends it to his will. This way he can navigate its movements from floor to floor and try to identify the point where the wind flows in. He crouches against the rear wall mirror, leaning on his own reflection, and as the elevator slowly climbs he listens to the howling outside the steel cage. Here the roaring he heard underground is muted, a growl of stifled fury that at certain floors shifts into mournful sobbing. Without question, within this shaft that was meant to be completely sealed off from the outside world swirl uninvited spirits. But are they also breaking into the cars? Have his elevators let him down? For Ya'ari, over the objections of the engineers at his firm who preferred Finnish or Chinese elevatorsâwhich might actually have proven, bottom line, to be cheaperâhad for once insisted on using an Israeli model.
Before he orders the technicians to shut down the elevators and examine the shaft, there is still time to summon to the tower not only the acoustic expert with her sensitive ear, but also a fresh and creative intelligence. Ya'ari is thinking of his son, who joined the business three years ago and has demonstrated an ingenuity appreciated by his father and coworkers alike.
He rides to the top floor, and before he emerges from the elevator, he cancels his control and returns it to the main system. Here, on the thirtieth floor, all is silent. It would seem from the plastic wrapping on the door that a buyer for the deluxe penthouse has yet to be found. He enters the machine room opposite; to his surprise he hears neither growl nor whistle, only the precise, pleasant whoosh of the European cables, which now begin to stir as the earliest-rising tenants leave the building. He edges between the huge motors and walks out onto the tiny iron balcony, which the building's architect opposed but Ya'ari insisted upon, so that maintenance technicians could flee into the fresh air in the event of fire.
Slovenly, dark clouds enfold Tel Aviv. The Pinsker Tower has sprung up in the midst of a quiet, low-rise urban environment and thus commands a wide view and can even conduct a respectable dialogue with the downtown skyscrapers that sparkle in the grayish southeast.
The yellow brushstrokes now visible on the horizon are no trick of the light, and the passenger plane silently gaining altitude is also very real. No, thinks Ya'ari, checking his watch, it's not her plane yet. Even barring a delay, she won't take off for another ten minutes, and there's no point waiting for her in the freezing cold, since there is no way of knowing which plane is hers.
But his love for his wife rivets him to the little balcony. Her journey has begun and can't be stopped, but he can watch over her from afar. In principle he could have gone with her, but it wasn't his workload alone that made him stay behind. Knowing her so well, he understood that his presence would prevent her from fulfilling
her desire to focus on the loss of her sister and to resurrect, with the help of the bereaved husband, the sweet sorrow of childhood memories in which he, Ya'ari, had played no part. He knew that even if he were to sit quietly with his wife and brother-in-law and not take part in the conversation, she would feel that he was insufficiently interested in the morsels of distant memory, of her sister or even of herself, that she hoped to coax from a man who had known her as a child, back when he was a young soldier soon to be discharged who came to the house as her sister's first and final suitor.