Before the Next World Cup
It was Amichai’s idea, those wishes.
After Emanuel Petit scored the third goal and it was already clear that France would take the Cup, and there was a faint sense of disappointment in the air because we were all rooting for Brazil, after we’d finished off the tear-flavored burekas Ilana had baked and the last nut had been cracked and only one piece of the watermelon and feta cheese was left, the piece no one felt comfortable taking—after all that, Ofir said, you know, something just hit me. This is the fifth World Cup we’re watching together. And Churchill said, how do you figure five? Four, tops.
And we started going over them.
Mexico ’86 we saw in Ofir’s father’s house in Tivon. And when poor, naïve Denmark lost five-one to Spain, Ofir cried his heart out and his father said that’s what happens when a boy is raised by his mother. The ’90 World Cup we each saw in a different city in the territories, but there was one Saturday when we all went home and met at Amichai’s place to watch the semifinal. No one remembered who played because his little sister was walking around the house in red baby-dolls and we were soldiers and couldn’t keep our eyes on the screen. In ’94, we were students. Tel Avivians. Churchill was the first to move there, and we all trailed after him to the big city because we wanted to stay together and because Churchill said that it was the only place where we could be what we wanted to be.
But we actually saw the ’94 games in Rambam hospital in Haifa, Ofir remembered. Ri-i-ght, I said.
In the middle of supper at my parents’ place, I had the worst wheezing asthma attack of my life. There were moments in the panicky ride to the hospital when I was seriously considering dying. After they stabilized me with injections and pills and an oxygen mask, the doctors said I had to stay in the hospital for the next few days. For observation.
The final was the next day. Italy against Brazil. Without telling me, Churchill got the guys together and put them all into his wrinkled Beetle, and on the way, they stopped at the Pancake House in Kfar Vitkin to buy me peach-flavored iced tea because that’s my particular passion, and a couple of bottles of vodka because in those days, we pretended to be into vodka and ten minutes before the match started, they burst loudly into my hospital room (they bribed the guard with a bottle of Keglevitch when he tried to stop them because visiting hours were over). I almost had another attack when I saw them. But then I calmed down and breathed deeply, from the diaphragm, and together we watched the tiny TV hanging above my bed and saw Brazil take the cup after 120 minutes. Plus penalty kicks.
And… so we came to ’98, Churchill summed up. Four World Cups altogether.
It’s a lucky thing we didn’t bet, Ofir said.
It’s a lucky thing there’s a World Cup, I said. That way, time doesn’t turn into one big, solid block, and we can stop every four years and see what’s changed.
Awesome, Churchill said. He was always the first one to understand when I came up with a remark like that. Sometimes the only one.
You know what’s lucky? It’s lucky that we have each other, Ofir said. You have n-o-o i-ide-ea how lucky we are, we completed the familiar remark.
Bro, I don’t understand how you manage with all those ad men, you’re such a pussy, Churchill said, and Ofir laughed, OK, that’s what happens when you grow up with your mother, and Amichai said, I have an idea.
Wait, let’s just watch them hoist the cup, Churchill said, hoping that by the time they were finished hoisting the cup, he’d forget his idea.
But Amichai didn’t forget.
Did he know that the idea he was about to suggest would turn out to be a true prophecy that would disappoint us time after time over the next four years, and amazingly enough, would preserve its prophetic power?
What I was thinking, he said, is that we should each write down on a piece of paper where he dreams of being in another four years. Personally, professionally. In every sense. And at the next World Cup, we’ll open the papers and see what happened in the meantime.
OK, I said. Bring paper.
But let’s be organized, Churchill said. Everyone writes three things. Three short sentences. Otherwise, there’ll be no end to it.
Amichai passed out thick psychology books so we’d have something to rest the paper on. And pens.
I had no problem with the first wish. It had formed itself in my mind the minute Amichai tossed out the idea.
At the next World Cup, I still want to be with Ya’ara, I wrote.
Then I got stuck. I tried to think of other things I wanted to wish for myself, I tried to expand the scope of my desires, but my thoughts kept going back to her, to her silky, caramel-colored hair, her soft slender shoulders, those green eyes of hers encircled by glasses, the moment she takes them off and I know we can.
We’d met two months earlier in the cafeteria in the Naftali building on campus. At the beginning of the break, she came in with two guys, carrying a large tray with a small bottle of grapefruit juice on it. She walked with her back straight, a brisk walk that made her caramel-colored ponytail bounce, as if she were in hurry to go somewhere else, and they lurched heavily along behind her to the table. She had trouble opening the bottle of juice, but didn’t ask for help. They were talking about a play they’d seen the night before. That is, she was talking, very quickly, and they were looking at her. She said that they could’ve done a lot more with that play if the director had only had a little inspiration. For instance the scenery, she said and sipped her juice, why do the stage sets in this country always look the same? Can’t they think of something a little more original than a table, coat hooks and an armchair from the flea market? She kept talking—about the music and how the director could have got more from the actors if he’d done his job out of a real love for the profession. She stretched out the ‘o’ in ‘love’, pronouncing the word with all her heart, and as she said it, placed her open hand on her shirt. That is so-o-o true, the guy sitting across from her said without taking his eyes off her shirt. You’re absolutely right, Ya’ara, the other guy said. Then both guys got up and went to their class, leaving her sitting alone at the table, and suddenly, for a fraction of a second, she looked small and lost. She took some papers out of her bag, pushed her glasses more firmly onto her nose with her pinky, crossed her legs and became engrossed in reading. Every time she turned a page, she touched a finger lightly to her tongue, and I watched her, thinking how incredible it was that such a gesture, a librarian’s gesture, could be sexy on the right girl. And I also thought that it would be interesting to know what that serious face looked like when she burst out laughing. And if she had dimples. And I thought that I’d never know, because I’d never have the guts to come on to her.
Hey, she said, looking up from the pages, you have any idea what the English word “revelation” means?
Every impairment has its moment of glory. Years of a spartan Anglo-Saxon education, a wildly exaggerated amount of tea with milk, chronic emotional constipation and a basic sense of alienation instilled in me because my parents never stopped feeling like outsiders here, in the Levant, and kept speaking Anglicized Hebrew to each other for thirty years after arriving in Haifa from Brighton—
All those, for one moment, worked to my benefit.
I explained to her authoritatively in Hebrew that revelation meant exposure or disclosure, and when I saw that she was satisfied with my answer and was about to go back to her reading, I quickly added that it could also mean “epiphany.” Depending on the context.
She read me the whole sentence. Then another sentence she had trouble with. So I gave her my phone number, in case she needed more help, and amazingly enough, she called that same night and we talked about other things too, and the conversation flowed like wine, and then we went out, and kissed, and made love, and she put her head on my stomach when we were lying on the grass near the Music Academy and tapped on my thigh to a piano melody that was coming from one of the rehearsal rooms, and bought me a turquoise shirt because “ enough with all that black,” and I kept looking for the trap that whole time, how could it be that a girl who disproves Churchill’s three-quarters theory—“There are no girls who are pretty and smart and horny and also available. One of these elements is always missing”—how could it be that a girl like that would pick me, of all people? True, a few months before she met me, she split with a guitarist who had made her miserable with five years of cheating on her, then begging her to take him back, but there were enough guys wandering around campus who were taller than me and would have been happy to be a corrective experience for her. And anyway, that whole story with the cheating guitarist didn’t make sense. Who would want to cheat on someone like her? Who would ever want anything but more and more of her?
Amichai pushed me to finish. Everyone but me had already given back the pens.
I looked at the first sentence I’d written and added impulsively:
2. At the next World Cup, I want to be married to Ya’ara.
3. At the next World Cup, I want to have a child with Ya’ara. Preferably a girl.
Now you give me the slips of paper, Amichai said. And I keep them closed in a box till the next World Cup.
Why you? Ofir objected.
Because I’m the most stable guy here.
What does that mean? Ofir said, getting angry.
He’s right, Churchill said, trying to soften it. He has a wife, an apartment, twins. We’ll probably go through ten apartments till the next World Cup, and slips of paper like these are just the kind of thing that gets lost in packing.
Okay, Ofir said. But let’s read them out loud first.
Are you kidding?! Amichai shouted. That kills the whole surprise.
Fuck the surprise, Ofir said angrily. I want to know what you all wrote. Otherwise, I won’t give you mine.
Delayed gratification isn’t exactly your thing, is it? Amichai said sarcastically, then added casually, well, this is what happens when a kid is raised by his mother.
You know the story about the man who delayed gratification? Ofir shot back. There’s this guy who delays gratification. Delays, delays, delays—then he dies.
I have an idea, Churchill interrupted before Ofir and Amichai got carried away into one of their verbal clashes, sudden, meaningless clashes that brought out a nastiness it was hard to believe they were capable of. How about if everyone reads only one of the three things he wrote, Churchill said. That way we can keep the element of surprise and we’ll still have the teasing. That is what you advertising guys call it, right?
Teaser, Ofir corrected, and a shadow crossed his eyes, the way it did every time someone mentioned his work.
Okay, I’ll go first, Amichai said, unfolding his slip of paper.
At the next World Cup, I’ll have an alternative therapy clinic.
A-a-men, Churchill prayed, putting into words what all of us felt. If it came true, we hoped, perhaps Amichai would stop talking about it so much.
Ofir unfolded his slip of paper.
At the next World Cup, I’ll kiss the advertising world goodbye and publish a book of short stories.
Short stories? I said, surprised. Didn’t you say you’d make a movie about us?
Yes, Ofir, said, but the whole movie was based on the idea that one of us … dies in the army. And you promised that if no one did, then …
If it’s still an option, I’m ready to die any time, I offered (and as I did, a too-pleasant shiver ran through me, as it always did when I thought about the possibility.)
Forget it, Ofir said. It’s not necessary. Lately, I’m more into the short story thing. My head is full of ideas, but when I get home from the office at eleven at night, I don’t even have the energy to turn on the computer.
So yallah, I urged him, move your ass. You have time till the next World Cup. In any case, you already have an English translator.
Thanks man, he said and patted me on the shoulder, his eyes glistening. You have no idea how lucky…
Churchill quickly unfolded his slip of paper before Ofir could start weeping.
By the next World Cup, he said in a very serious tone, I plan to have slept with at least 208 girls.
Exactly 208? Amichai said with a laugh. Why not 222? Or a round 300?
Do the numbers, Churchill explained. Four years, fifty-two weeks a year. One girl a week—a total of 208. Just kidding. You really think I’d waste a wish on something that’s going to happen anyway?
So what, then, you were just playing us? Amichai asked, his voice dropping. For a person doomed to one Ilana the Weeper, the thought of a wish that included 208 different women must have lit up his imagination.
Obviously, Churchill said with a laugh and read from his list:
By the next World Cup, I want to have an important case. In an important area. I want to be involved in something that will lead to social change.
Ofir and Amichai nodded in admiration and I thought to myself that it was a little embarrassing to read one of my wishes out loud after what Churchill had just read.
Okay, your turn now, Amichai said to me. I looked at the slip of paper and took comfort in the fact that at least I didn’t have to read all three.
At the next World Cup, I still want to be with Ya’ara, I read in a fading voice.
And as expected, everyone attacked me.
Yallah, yallah, that Ya’ara doesn’t even exist, Ofir said.
Till we see her, that wish isn’t valid, Churchill added a legal opinion.
I think she’s probably ugly, I think he’s keeping her under wraps because she’s ugly, Ofir said and looked at me to see if I was annoyed.
Cross-eyed blind, Amichai said.
With an ass the size of a helicopter pad.
Tits down to her knees.
Football player shoulders.
She’s probably a man who had a sex change operation. Before that, they called her Ya’ar.
Oka-a-a-y, I said, I give up. You’re all invited to my place on Tuesday to meet her.
But on that Monday, I put off the meeting for a week with the excuse that I was sick, and I cancelled the postponed meeting too, saying that we had to be at her parents’ house in Rehovot for dinner, and finally, the one who put an end to all those postponements was Ya’ara herself, who told me, one-third as a joke and two-thirds seriously, I’m starting to think you’re ashamed of me. Don’t be silly, I said. Then why don’t you introduce me to your friends, she asked. No reason, I replied, it just hasn’t worked out. And she said, I’m dying to meet them. You talk about them so much. And I said, I never noticed. You mention them in practically every sentence, she said. And your living room is full of pictures of them, out-of-focus pictures, but still. And every five minutes, one of them calls you, and then you get into long, deep conversations with them. Not the kind of practical conversations men have, but real conversations. It just seems to me that you all have a very strong connection, right?
I don’t know, I said. Sometimes I think we do. That it’s for our whole lives. Like a year ago, we went back to our school for the Memorial Day ceremony and I noticed that all the other groups of friends from our grade had broken up, and we were the only ones standing there together, close, during the siren. And the truth is that I have no idea why. Whether it’s inertia or whether even now, after eight years in Tel Aviv, we still only feel like we belong when we’re together. But there are other times when I don’t understand what we’re doing together, like there’s no reason for it. But maybe that’s how it is, and that endless dance of getting close and growing apart is just the basic movement among friends. What do you think?
A fa-a-a-scinating analysis, Ya’ara said, but don’t change the subject. Next Tuesday we’re cooking them dinner, she said firmly, and took off her glasses. And I said okay because it’s hard to say no to green eyes and because I couldn’t find a good reason to object, except for the vague feeling I had that it would end in tears, a feeling I attributed to my chronic pessimism.
But the dinner was actually a great success. They devoured the stuffed vegetables we made, and Ya’ara easily found a common language with each of the guys. She laughed with Ofir about the whole world of advertising (it turns out that she once worked as an assistant producer on the set of a laundry detergent ad that was being shot). She argued with Churchill about the leniency the prosecutor’s office showed towards public figures. She told Amichai about the acupuncture treatment that cured her—to the amazement of her conventional doctors—of mononucleosis. And she kept touching me the whole time, rubbed the back of my neck, put her hand on mine, her head on my shoulder, and twice she even kissed me lightly on the neck, as if she suddenly sensed what I had been trying to hide from her through all the months we’d been together: that I was afraid of losing her. That I’d never had anything like us before.
So? I asked when they’d gone. We could still hear their footsteps on the landing.
They’re terrific, your friends, Ya’ara said and hugged me.
Explain, I said, and went to wash the dishes. Two or three stuffed vegetable corpses were still stuck to the plates.
That Ofir is so sensitive, I heard her voice behind me. How many years has he been in advertising? Six? It’s not easy to stay who you are in that cynical world. And Amichai, that guy has so much patience. I think he really could be a great alternative therapist. And all of them, she said and hugged me from behind, seem to love you very much. So we all have at least one thing in common.
And Churchill? I asked, and I could feel her loosen her grip, then drop her hands.
Seems like a smart guy, she said in a hesitant voice.
But …? I turned around to face her. My hands were still wet with dishwashing soap.
No buts, she said, moving away a little.
It had the sound of a but, I insisted.
Forget it, it’s not fair to judge after one time.
I knew she was right. And that it was much easier to label a person than to stay open to the possibility that there’s more than one side to him. But I couldn’t help it.
Come on, say it, I asked. I’ve known him for so many years that I can’t tell anymore what kind of first impression he makes.
The truth is that there’s something conceited about him. As if he’s looking down at the three of you. From the VIP box. I don’t like that. And I don’t like the way he talks about women either. Did you notice that whenever he talked about male politicians, he called them “Minister” or “Mayor,” and when he talked about women politicians, it was “the airhead” and “the bottle blond?”
Could be, I said coldly. And even though I’d asked for it, I felt the anger rise up in me at how insufferably easy it was for her to badmouth my friend. You should know that he’s a special person, I shot the words at her. When he graduated from law school, he had offers from private firms that would have paid him a lot of money, but he went to the prosecutor’s office because he thought it was more important, and a few weeks ago, at the World Cup final, we each wrote down on a slip of paper where we dream of being at the next World Cup, in four years. We all wrote totally egotistical things, and he was the only one who wanted to do something significant that would affect Israeli society, so maybe … maybe you should wait a little before you decide what he’s like.
What did you write? Ya’ara asked. Her eyes were seductive above her glasses. That was the first time since we’d started dating that I let myself be a little angry at her, and strangely enough, she seemed to like it.
It’s a secret, I said, trying to keep a certain meanness in my tone. If you want to know, you’ll have to stay with me till the next World Cup. That’s when we read the slips of paper.
No problem, Ya’ara said, pressing up against me and putting her hands into the back pockets of my jeans, you can’t scare a romantic girl with love.
Two weeks later, she was with him.
There are a few contradictory versions of how that happened.
Churchill claims that she bumped into him on the street, during his lunch break, and told him she thought they’d had a communications failure during dinner, and if he was up for it, she’d like to buy him a cup of coffee so they could start over. He agreed, because he felt it was important to her. So they sat in a café and talked and didn’t notice the time passing. And in the end, when they stood up to go, she said that there were a lot of things they’d talked about that were left open and perhaps they should meet again the next day to close them.
Ya’ara claims that he was the one who called her, three days after the dinner, and said that ever since he met her, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her and couldn’t fall asleep at night. She told him she didn’t know what to say, and he said he wanted to see her. She said, what are you talking about, they couldn’t do something like that behind my back. But he pleaded with her and said that a lot of criminals, rapists and murderers, were walking out of court free men because he hadn’t been able to function since he met her. She laughed and agreed to see him, just for a few minutes, just for coffee, just because of the rapists. After coffee, when they got up to go, he said that there were a lot of things they’d talked about that were still left open, and perhaps they should meet again the next day to close them.
I imagine that she was probably telling the truth.
I’d like to believe that he was telling the truth.