It can’t go on like this. There’s the smell of breaking up in the air of the apartment, like the smell of potatoes cooking. Noa puts on her tracksuit after she showers. I stay late in the library just so she’ll be asleep when I get home. Instead of lying in the fork position (she climbs on top of me, puts her head on my chest and slides one leg between mine forming a kind of four pronged fork), we sleep like inverted parentheses. Our conversation is limited to the bare essentials. She doesn’t tell me any of those little stories from work. I report to her, without comment, that I’ve taken a break from the club. She says, leave me the keys. Buy low fat cottage cheese. I remind her to turn on the water heater. And we both avoid saying things in the future tense.
How is it that in films there are always crises. And dramas. And everything is concentrated into one weekend on a country estate in southern England where the conflicts are sharpened, then resolved, and finally there’s a moral. But with us, here in the Castel, you can’t put your finger on the minute things started to go wrong because there was no minute like that. Just the slow leaking of tensions from the outside world to us, then from each of us to the other. Just a buzzing that got stronger until now we have to cover our ears with our hands and there’s nothing left to hug with.
Still, when we went looking for the hidden spring this week and walked down the path that was supposed to lead us to it and I took her hand, just like I did on that trip to the Judean desert, and we both smiled because we both remembered that first touch, I felt for a few seconds that we could change everything, that under all that buzzing there was something still beating in both of us and all we had to do was sweep a little of the sand off ourselves, the way sand is brushed off a beautiful, forgotten mosaic, and we’d go right back to talking in bed as if we were dancing, and dancing in the living room as if we were talking. But after an hour of searching, we didn’t find the spring and I didn’t understand how that could be. After all, we’d turned right a little before Hadassah Hospital, just like David told me, and then we drove down a dirt road and took a left at the fork, then parked a hundred metres after it on a small patch of grass. We walked down a path that began across from the grass to the place where the spring was supposed to be.
But there was nothing there. Just dead weeds.
It’s all right, Noa said. It doesn’t matter. But I insisted on finding that fucking spring as if everything depended on it, and I knew I was acting like an idiot but couldn’t stop. So I dragged us back to the car and raced back to the fork in the dirt road, and Noa said, you’re ruining the car. I ignored her and kept driving fast. I turned right instead of left and cursed David, that musical scatterbrain, for not knowing how to give directions. But the right turn didn’t lead us anywhere interesting either, just to a rubbish tip full of bottles, and Noa said, let’s go back to where we were, at least it was pretty there. I said OK in a bitter tone, as if we wouldn’t find the spring because she was so impatient, and drove back to the patch of grass. Noa said, let’s spread the sheet here and have a picnic, and I said, OK, if that’s what you want. She asked me if I’d rather go back and I didn’t answer. We spread the sheet and put stones on it to hold it down. We ate our sandwiches and drank mineral water, then lay down on the sheet to look at the clouds and argued about whether one of them looked like a hippopotamus or a vampire. Then Noa drank from the bottle, pulled my shirt up, filled my bellybutton with cold water and said, you see, here’s the hidden spring. I laughed, because I’d really been so stressed before, since when did I care about things like that, but before the pleasure of that thought could spread through my body, Noa said, let’s take our picture, and I thought, that restlessness of hers is seeping into me. I didn’t have the strength to argue, so I agreed, and she got up and started fiddling with her camera. A few seconds later she said, get up, I can’t get the mountains in the frame if you’re sitting down. I pointed to my bellybutton and said, what about the spring? But she came over, pulled me up and said, hug me, it’s going to shoot the picture. And before I could cover my face with a mask of happiness, we heard the click.
On the way back, she said, it was great to get out of the house, wasn’t it? I said, yes, even though I didn’t think great was the right word. Then she said, we have to do this more often. Go out for a drive, I mean. I tightened my grip on the wheel and said, so where do we feel like going on our next outing? There’s a dam under Beit Zayit, she said, and we could walk around the lake that’s formed there. Lake? Near Jerusalem?! I said doubtfully. A lakelet, she corrected herself. But the truth is, I haven’t seen it myself, she went on. I heard about it. Ah hah, I said, and felt the two of us giving a silent sigh of relief, because if we don’t really know whether there’s a lake there, then we don’t really have to go. OK, we’ll see, Noa said and turned on the radio. Yes, we’ll see, I agreed, thinking: it can’t go on like this it can’t go on like this it can’t. That smell of cooking potatoes was waiting for us at home, and Noa said, can you smell it too? I said yes, and she said, it must be Sima and her cooking. It doesn’t make sense that she’d be cooking the same thing all week, I said, and Noa said, you’re right, so what’s that smell. I wanted to ask her, don’t you know? That’s the smell of breaking up. I wanted to tell her that I’d already smelt that smell at least once in my life, if not three times, and it had a thick texture, just like now. But instead of talking, I went to have a shower and under the drizzle I remembered how once, in the Sinai desert, I hooked up with a group of enthusiastic architects for one day, and one of them, who was wearing white flared trousers that had the logo of a local newspaper printed on them, explained to me that you can know a lot about a person from the thing that’s most important to him when he builds a house. What, for instance? I asked, throwing the backgammon dice on the board. You tell me, she said and took a puff of her cigarette. What’s the first thing you see when you picture your dream house? A balcony, I said, straight from the gut. A big, wide balcony facing the view. Very good, she said and scooped up the dice. What’s so good? I persisted, what does it say about me? She exhaled smoke so she could answer, but then one of the architects came over and asked her if she wanted to go snorkeling with him before it got completely dark, and she said, yeah, cool, the water’s full of red sea fish now. She handed me the dice, one after the other, and said, actually, you know the answer yourself, don’t you?
Yes, I do. That’s why I don’t leave now. I’ve headed for the balcony enough times. I’ve convinced myself enough times that there was no point in getting attached because, in the end, you break up. When I was twelve and we were supposed to fly to Detroit for a sabbatical year, I pressed up against a column in the queue at the airport and said I wouldn’t get on the plane. But in the end, my father seduced me into going by buying me a pair of Adidas trainers. I don’t want to leave again. If she wants, let her leave. I’m staying. To the bitter end. The furthest I’m willing to go is to the shower. To the shower over and over again. It’s been a week since we went to the spring, and I don’t think I’ve come out of the shower the whole time. There are lines carved on my fingers. I’m cold. And I’m still under the shower.
She’s knocking on the door.
Once, she used to come in without knocking.