"Call me the moment you land."
I wrote down Mr. Gelber's home phone, repeating his words in halting Hebrew.
Mr. Gelber sensed my unease with the language and switched to English. "The will, it must be filed before the end of the week. This is most important."
Yes, I said numbly in English. I understood. Ill leave tonight
He spoke further about arrangements for paying the burial society (my uncle Mordechai, the other surviving relative, had said he would pay the two thousand Shekel for the burial and I could pay him half later), where we would sit Shiv'a (probably at my uncle Mordechai's home in Tveriah), and a few other matters which by now have completely escaped my memory. All I remember is rummaging in my pocket for a handkerchief to wipe my face, my cheeks, my eyes. My migraine had coalesced into an almost surreal pain, midway between my skull and nose.
Jennys hands stopped in mid movement. "Leave for where?"
I hung up. "My father is dead," I said. Then I sat down and loosened my tie. We were supposed to go to a film festival after supper, before my migraine hit. "I have to go to Israel, to the funeral."
Oh, Im so Jenny began, then her face lost all color. Dont dont let them grab you for the army, she stammered. Tell them you no longer live there
"Im leaving tonight," I repeated, "if I can get a seat. It's a thirteen hour flight."
There was a long pause
I said, I have to. I massaged my temples, shutting my eyes tight.
Jenny said in a quavering voice. "You want to make love first, before you go? To relieve the migraine? It often did, though I didnt like what it made me feel afterwards, towards Jenny; the dangerous gratitude.
I went into the bathroom and washed my face. When I came out I called Auntie Rina. She wasn't really my aunt, only a cousin of my father; Yitz'chak Kramer, her husband, was another cousin, once removed. I called them Uncle and Aunt because in Canada they were the only family I had.
I told Auntie Rina that my father had just died.
"Who killed him?" she said straight off. "The Arab?" Then she began to sob. Behind her I could hear Uncle Yitz'chak muttering.
"He was stabbed by a burglar," I said. "Right in the store. He was working late."
"He was too young," said Auntie Rina, "for a Starkman. Only seventy one. His friend, this Paltiel, he could have been what, now? Sixty eight? Oh, God in heaven! Isser!"
Auntie Rina's crying turned into a choking sound.
"What Arab?" I asked.
Uncle Yitz'chak's voice came on the phone. "It's a terrible thing, what just happened, I heard on the other line. I am telling you! Terrible! Did they catch him?"
"I don't know. It was a burglary." I wiped my eyes. I didn't feel anything inside but oily tears kept streaming down my cheeks.
Behind me Jenny had begun to massage my back with her soft, warm hands.
Uncle Yitz'chak said, "You going for the funeral?"
"Yes, maybe tonight."
He said, "You need money? You got money for the ticket?"
"Yes, I think so." I would have to borrow it from Jenny, who had just gotten her paycheck the week before.
There was silence on the line. Then Uncle Yitz'chak said in a low voice, "You leave her behind, you hear? The Shiksa. Don't you cause your father more grief."
What grief? My father was dead.
"Listen to me," said Uncle Yitz'chak. "Listen--"
"No. It's okay, I am going alone."
Uncle Yitz'chak said, "Don't be mad at me, Duvid'l, but sometimes you gotta say something, so --"
"Sure," I said. Jenny had meanwhile begun to massage my shoulder blades. I tried to squirm away, but my body seemed to have developed self-will, as it always had, near her.
Excerpted from The Debba by Avner Mandelman. Copyright © 2010 by Avner Mandelman. Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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