My mother put the photographs back in the envelope and slid them into her dress pocket but, when she shifted in her seat, they spilled to the floor. The reading light passed through her uncombed hair.
"My sister Esther inherited the house on Metaduleh Street," she started to explain. "Did I ever tell you how it was in Israel? Now Esther is married to Yakov Hendel, who lives in my father's house with her. And your grandmother. I think Yakov is only in the ministry of hostels, a low position and he doesn't have much money of his own.What a shame for Esther when all of our friends married diplomats or generals after the war and built their own houses."
"I think you told me all this already," I said.
"You look like him."
"Like my brother, Elizar. When you were born, I swore it was Elizar come back to me."
I looked down at the floor, trying to see if any other photographs had spilled there.
"Get some sleep," my mother said. "We will be there before you know it. You must learn to be a survivor, Liana. Do you want me to take your hand in mine. Will it calm you?"
Two summers ago, my mother lay on the bed in Katonah, rolled up in the white sheets and pillow, and stuffing handfuls of them into her mouth, biting them in a rage of grief as my father sat at the desk table where he worked in the bedroom, reading the newspaper.
There had been a fight. It was about money, and how the car he had bought was "theatrical" and "weak" like him, the blue MG which had stirred her into a tirade. It was not like other fathers' cars at the train station, she said. I heard them from the hall.
"Can't you do anything to quiet your mother?" asked my father when I walked into the room. He folded the newspaper page and read the next column. He wore tortoise-shelled half-glasses and smelled of Balkan Sobraine pipe tobacco. "She wants you."
"I can't cope with your father when he gets like this," said my mother. She looked at him the way she would at a long-suffering child.
He said, "I can't stand it either. I'm sorry." He put down the newspaper and went out the door.
I went to my mother. She unhooked her bra and her breasts fell out. "Stroke me. Do that, Liana," she said. Her hair was like a mashed apricot, still wet from the shower and the curls were dripping. "I told you to touch me," she said. I put my hand on the small of her back, on the sweaty, dangerous flesh. "Lower," she said. The sheets dropped from her hand and her underwear was large and oily. She pointed to a spot above the rim of her panties. Calgon Bouquet bath powder and slick bath oil shone on her ribs. A thin but sugary sensation passed through me. I recognized it as love's involuntary and indiscriminate reflex. But disgust and humiliation, too.
I heard my father go down the stairs and I stroked her. I breathed in the hot leak of my mother's pain. I did not get up to see where my father was going. I was a traitor to him, lost in the heat of the night. I lay beside my mother, putting my head down on the pillow where there were still some strands of his hair. The front door downstairs slammed.
My father went to the garage and I heard his car in the gravel driveway, the road out.
I picked up the pillow the stewardess had given me at the beginning of the flight and put it on my lap. The air was stuffy, it seemed dirty.
My mother was blinking her wide brown eyes at me. "I'm having a bad time in my sleep again, you know," she said. "Not because we are finally out of Katonah, but because when I close my eyes, I dream of what happened that made us leave our house in the first place. Now, leave it. Stop this whole discussion." Often my mother talked as if someone else was in the conversation she was having with herself. She beat at the pillow strapped onto her seat. "I have to sleep. I have to be strong and think clearly when we get to Israel. Oh, you and your father talk so high on your kite," she slipped her tongue over one of the expressions she had picked up in Katonah, only it was from my father this time, not a television show.
From Edges by Leora Skolkin-Smith. Copyright Leora Skolkin-Smith 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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