They say I have to go.
She asked if it couldnt wait a little while, so they could at least do the trip for two or three days, because she realized immediately that a whole week with him was a dream now. She added with a pathetic smile, Didnt we say wed have a few puffs of family-together time?
He laughed and said, Mom, its not a game, its war, and because of his arrogancehis, and his fathers, and his brothers, their patronizing dance around her most sensitive trigger pointsshe spat back at him that she still wasnt convinced that the male brain could tell the difference between war and games. For a moment she allowed herself some modest satisfaction with the debating skills shed displayed even before her morning coffee, but Ofer shrugged and went to his room to pack, and precisely because he did not respond with a witty answer, as he usually did, she grew suspicious.
She followed him and asked, But did they call to let you know? Because she remembered that she hadnt heard the phone ring.
Ofer took his military shirts from the closet, and pairs of gray socks, and shoved them into his backpack. From behind the door he grumbled, What difference does it make who called? Theres an operation, and theres an emergency call-up, and half the countrys reporting for duty.
Ora wouldnt give inMe? Pass up getting pricked with such a perfect thorn? she asked herself laterand she leaned weakly against the doorway, crossed her arms over her chest, and demanded that he tell her exactly how things had progressed to that phone call. She would not let up until he admitted that he had called them that morning, even before six he had called the battalion and begged them to take him, even though today, at nine-zero-zero, he was supposed to be at the induction center for his discharge, and from there to drive to the Galilee with her. As he lowered his gaze and mumbled on, she discovered, to her horror, that the army hadnt even considered asking him to prolong his service. As far as they were concerned he was a civilian, deep into his discharge leave. It was he, Ofer admitted defiantly, his forehead turning red, whowasnt willing to give up. No way! After eating shit for three years so Id be ready for exactly this kind of operation? Three years of checkpoints and patrols, little kids in Palestinian villages and settlements throwing stones at him, not to mention the fact that he hadnt even been within spitting distance of a tank for six months, and now, at last, with his lousy luck, this kind of kick-ass operation, three armored units togetherthere were tears in his eyes, and for a moment you might have thought he was haggling with her to be allowed to come back late from a class Purim partyhow could he sit at home or go hiking in the Galilee when all his guys would be there? In short, she discovered that he, on his own initiative, had convinced them to enlist him on a voluntary basis for another twenty-eight days.
Oh, she said, when he finished his speech, and it was a hollow, muffled Oh. And I dragged my corpse into the kitchen, she thought to herself. It was an expression of Ilans, her ex, the man who had shared her life and, in their good years, enriched the goodness. The fullness of life, the old Ilan used to say and blush with gratitude, with reserved, awkward enthusiasm, which propelled Ora toward him on a wave of love. She always thought that deep in his heart he was amazed at having been granted this fullness of life at all. She remembers when the kids were little and they lived in Tzur Hadassah, in the house they bought from Avram, how they liked to hang the laundry out to dry at night, together, one last domestic chore at the end of a long, exhausting day. Together they would carry the large tub out to the garden facing the dark fields and the valley, and the Arab village of Hussan. The great fig tree and the grevillea rustled softly with their own mysterious, rich lives, and the laundry lines filled up with dozens of tiny articles of clothing like miniature hieroglyphics: little socks and undershirts and cloth shoes and pants with suspenders and colorful OshKosh overalls. Was there someone from Hussan who had gone out in the last light of day and was watching them now? Aiming a gun at them? Ora wondered sometimes, and a chill would flutter down her spine. Or was there a general, human immunity for people hanging laundryespecially this kind of laundry?
Excerpted from To the End of the Land by David Grossman. Copyright © 2010 by David Grossman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. 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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