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"First of all...First of all, he is your child. That's the first thing I know about him, that's the first thing I think about him."
"That's what I always think about him: that he's yours, with your light and your goodness, and the things you've always given him, his whole life, the way you know how to give. Your abundance, your love, and your generosity, always. And that is what will protect him everywhere, there, too."
"Yes, yes." Avram looks beyond her and presses her limp body to him. She feels cold, and her breath is shallow.
"Tell me more, I need you to tell me."
"And you let me hold him together with you. That's what it is. That's what I see. Yes."
Her face grows distant and weak. She seems to be falling asleep with her eyes open, in his arms, and he wants to wake her, to breathe life into her. But something about her, something in her vacant gaze, her gaping mouth ...
"And it's like," Avram struggles, "like you're trying to take him with you somewhere, alone, but he's too heavy for you. And he's asleep the whole time, right?"
Ora nods, understanding yet not understanding. Her fingers move, weak and blind on his forearm, distractedly feeling the edge of his sleeve.
"It's like he's been anesthetized," Avram murmurs. "I don't know why, I don't fully understand it. And then you come to me and ask me to help you."
"Yes," she whispers.
"The two of us have to take him somewhere, I don't know where, I don't understand why. And we hold him together, between us, all the time. It's like he needs both of us to take him there, that's it."
"Only the two of us can take him there."
"I don't know."
"I don't know."
"Is it good?" Ora rustles desperately. "Is it a good place there?"
"I don't know."
"What is this, what are you telling me? Is this a dream you had? Did you dream about him?"
"It's what I see," Avram replies helplessly.
"But what is it?"
"We're both holding him."
"He's walking between us."
"Yes, that's good."
"But he's asleep, his eyes are closed, one of his arms is on you and the other on me."
"I don't understand."
Suddenly Avram shakes himself off. "Let's get out of here, Ora."
She moans. "This isn't good. He has to be awake the whole time. Why is he sleeping?"
"No, he's asleep. His head is on your shoulder."
"But why is he asleep?" Ora shouts and her voice cracks.
Avram shuts his eyes to wipe the scene away. When he opens them, Ora is staring at him in horror.
"Maybe we were wrong," she says, and her face is strained. "Maybe we got it all wrong, from the beginning. This whole path, all the walking we did-"
"That's not true! Don't say that, we'll walk, and we'll talk about him-"
"Maybe the whole thing was the opposite of what I thought."
She slowly turns her palms out. "Because I thought that if we both talked about him, if we kept talking about him, we'd protect him, together, right?"
"Yes, yes, that's true, Ora, you'll see-"
"But maybe it's the exact opposite?"
"What? What's the opposite?" he whispers.
Her body flutters at him. She grips his arm: "I want you to promise me."
"Yes, whatever you want."
"That you'll remember everything."
"Yes, you know I will."
"From the beginning, from when we met, when we were kids, and that war, and how we met in isolation, and the second war, and what happened to you, and Ilan, and me, and everything that happened, yes?"
"And Adam and Ofer. Promise me, look me in the eye." She holds his face in both hands. "You'll remember, right?"
"And if Ofer ..." Ora slows down and her eyes glaze over, and a new wrinkle, vertical and deep and black, suddenly runs down between her eyes. "If he-"
"Don't even think that way!" Avram grabs her shoulder and rocks her wildly.
She keeps talking, but he does not hear. He holds her to him and kisses her face, and she does not surrender to him and his kisses, all she gives him is the sh.e.l.l of her face.
"You'll remember," she murmurs through his shaking. "You'll remember Ofer, his life, his whole whole life, right?" life, right?"
They sit for a long time, hidden away in the small crater. Holding each other like refugees from a storm. The sounds slowly return. The hum of a bee, the thin chirp of a bird, the voices of workers building a house somewhere in the valley.
Then Ora detaches her body from his and lies down on her side on the rock ledge. She pulls her knees into her stomach and rests her cheek on her open palm. Her eyes are open yet she sees nothing. Avram sits beside her, his fingers hovering over her body, barely touching. A light breeze fills the air with the scents of za'atar za'atar and poterium and a sweet whiff of honeysuckle. Beneath her body are the cool stone and the whole mountain, enormous and solid and infinite. She thinks: How thin is the crust of Earth. and poterium and a sweet whiff of honeysuckle. Beneath her body are the cool stone and the whole mountain, enormous and solid and infinite. She thinks: How thin is the crust of Earth.
DECEMBER 2007 2007.
I BEGAN WRITING this book in May of 2003, six months before the end of my oldest son, Yonatan's, military service, and a year and a half before his younger brother, Uri, enlisted. They both served in the Armored Corps this book in May of 2003, six months before the end of my oldest son, Yonatan's, military service, and a year and a half before his younger brother, Uri, enlisted. They both served in the Armored Corps.Uri was very familiar with the plot and the characters. Every time we talked on the phone, and when he came home on leave, he would ask what was new in the book and in the characters' lives. ("What did you do to them this week?" was his regular question.) He spent most of his service in the Occupied Territories, on patrols, lookouts, ambushes, and checkpoints, and he occasionally shared his experiences with me.At the time, I had the feeling-or rather, a wish-that the book I was writing would protect him.On August 12, 2006, in the final hours of the Second Lebanon War, Uri was killed in Southern Lebanon. His tank was. .h.i.t by a rocket while trying to rescue soldiers from another tank. Together with Uri, all the members of his tank crew were killed: Bnayah Rein, Adam Goren, and Alex Bonimovitch.After we finished sitting shiva, I went back to the book. Most of it was already written. What changed, above all, was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written.DAVID GROSSMAN
A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
David Grossman was born in Jerusalem. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His work has appeared in The New Yorker The New Yorker and has been translated into thirty languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome's Premio per la Pace e l'Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia-International Award for Journalism, Israel's Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Gunter Gra.s.s Foundation. and has been translated into thirty languages around the world. He is the recipient of many prizes, including the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome's Premio per la Pace e l'Azione Umitaria, the Premio Ischia-International Award for Journalism, Israel's Emet Prize, and the Albatross Prize given by the Gunter Gra.s.s Foundation.
A NOTE ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR.
Jessica Cohen was born in England, raised in Israel, and has been living in the United States since 1997. She translates contemporary Israeli prose, as well as commercial material from and into Hebrew. Her published translations include David Grossman's award-winning Her Body Knows Her Body Knows, and critically acclaimed works by Yael Hedaya, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund, and Tom Segev. Her translations have appeared in Words Without Borders, Two Lines Words Without Borders, Two Lines, and Zeek Zeek.
Also by David Grossman
In Another Life
Someone to Run With
Be My Knife
The Zigzag Kid
The Book of Intimate Grammar
See Under: Love
The Smile of the Lamb