Authors: Liad Shoham
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Adventure
Glazer raised the binoculars to her eyes and followed the movements of the young man and his dog walking down the street. He’d moved in as the third housemate in the fourth-floor apartment at 56 Louis Marshall Street a week ago, and every night since, at 12:45, he went out to walk his dog. He made his way back and forth along the block between De Haas and Brandeis until the dog had done its business, and then picked up the poo with a plastic bag. But yesterday she noticed that he didn’t clean up after the dog. She’d focused on the man’s face, waiting to see if it registered surprise at the absence of a bag, annoyance with himself for having forgotten it, or at least a modicum of embarrassment, but his expression remained blank. He continued on his way as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the dog poo was still lying there on the sidewalk. Despite her conviction that such behavior was barbaric, a sign of the moral decline of the country’s younger generation, she had decided not to do anything about it for the moment. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. So now she was waiting anxiously to see what he would do tonight. If he didn’t clean up after the dog again, she would no longer remain silent. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, she’d send a strongly worded complaint to the city, anonymously, of course.
The dog stopped. She adjusted the binoculars. She’d bought them on the Internet a month ago, paying more than ten thousand shekels for what the company website guaranteed was “the latest technology.” But as a woman who always kept an eye on the street, who made sure she was aware of everything going on in the neighborhood, she couldn’t resist. She told no one about her purchase as she waited impatiently for the package to arrive. A few days later it did. Inside was a shiny new pair of binoculars with the finest lenses and a special button. When she pressed it she could see almost as well at night as she could in broad daylight.
Her oldest grandson had come to visit two days ago and asked if she used the computer he’d bought her for her birthday, if she remembered what he’d taught her about how to use the Internet. She almost told him about the lovely present she had got herself with all those impressive features. But she changed her mind at the last minute. She knew tongues would start wagging in the family, and she’d have to explain why, at the age of eighty-two, she had decided to buy binoculars, of all things, and such expensive ones to boot. She and Sefi, may he rest in peace, had always lived frugally, saving their money “for the children.” Squandering it like this would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two among her children and give her two daughters-in-law good reason to mutter behind her back. And so she held her tongue. It was better they didn’t know. She deserved to pamper herself now and then. And at her age she had the right to a few secrets.
The man from the fourth floor at 56 Louis Marshall Street bent down and picked up the dog poo with a bag. Yesterday had apparently been an isolated incident. But maybe not. Just to be on the safe side, she’d continue to keep an eye on him. With things like this, you had to keep your finger on the pulse.
She lowered the binoculars to her lap and yawned. She had to admit to herself that she was a little disappointed he’d cleaned up after the dog. In her head she’d already started phrasing the letter she’d write to the city about the shamelessness of the younger generation, the lack of consideration and basic human decency in the world today. This never used to happen. In the old days, everybody knew everybody. People would not have allowed themselves to behave that way. This was a neighborhood built for the workers of the Tel Aviv harbor. They were all Socialists. The four-story-high row houses, nicknamed “railroad cars,” were assigned by lottery. They were all small and identical, but the tenants cared for them. They invested money and effort in the neighborhood. It was always clean and tidy, and on holidays, they would go down to plant flowers in the garden with the kids. Today, all the new tenants were well off, or the children of people with money. Sure, inside it’s beautiful, but outside? Ha! Nobody cared anymore, to say nothing of planting gardens. That’s why this guy didn’t care about the mess his dog made.
She got up from the chair slowly. Lately, she found her head would spin for a few minutes if she stood up too quickly. She looked over at the second floor of 54 Louis Marshall Street. The apartment was dark. The day before yesterday she’d seen the couple arguing, and the man hadn’t been home since. Every night the woman sat crying at the kitchen table. Her heart went out to them, especially that nice lady who always greeted her with a broad smile when they passed each other in the street.
She dragged herself through the apartment to the bathroom. Dr. Shaham had instructed her to take Nurofen four times a day for her arthritis, and like a good soldier, she always followed doctor’s orders. That was why she’d been forcing herself to stay up until one o’clock the last few days. She took the first pill at seven in the morning when she got up, the second at one in the afternoon with her lunch, the third at seven in the evening, an hour before the news, and the fourth at one at night. If it weren’t for that fourth pill, she’d go to bed at ten, just as she and Sefi had done every night for the past twenty years. Her daughter, Ruthie, had suggested she set the alarm, but she didn’t trust clocks. And what did Ruthie know about pain anyway?
She placed the pill on her tongue and washed it down with a sip of water. Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing and straightened up. A noise was coming from outside. Something was moving around in the yard. It must be the cats, she thought. She went downstairs every morning to give them milk and brought them bones at lunchtime. They were probably fighting again, too, she thought gloomily, shaking her head. She raised the binoculars to her eyes and pressed the night-vision button.
For a moment she thought she was imagining things. But it wasn’t her imagination. It wasn’t cats she heard down there; it was people, two of them. A man and a woman. Like animals, she muttered to herself. Why “like”? They
animals. She grimaced in disgust. The man had a large tattoo on his arm, maybe a dragon, which only added to her repulsion. Barbarians and thugs were everywhere these days. Even in her own neighborhood. It was utterly repugnant. Nevertheless, she kept her eyes glued to the binoculars, unable to look away.
What she was looking at wasn’t immediately clear to her. Her mind didn’t work as quickly as it used to. It took a while for all the details to come together in her head to form a coherent picture. And then all at once she realized: they weren’t lovers. The man was raping the woman right before her eyes, in the yard of the building she had lived in for more than forty years, just a few feet from the Indian ficus tree that her Sefi planted when they moved in. One hand was over the girl’s mouth and the other was holding a knife to her throat. His buttocks rose and fell rapidly, beating at her in a monotonous rhythm. She understood now that the howling she’d heard before hadn’t come from the cats.
Her skin bristled. She could almost feel the weight of the rapist bearing down on her, pressing on her windpipe and preventing her from breathing. She wanted to do something, to scream, to run to the phone and call the police, to help the poor girl lying there in the yard. But she did none of those things. She only stood by the window, frozen, paralyzed by fear.
All of a sudden the man stopped and twisted his head around, staring in her direction. Quickly, she took a few steps back, moving deeper into the apartment, letting her figure be swallowed up in the darkness. A chill ran through her body. If she called the police now and they caught him, he or his gangster friends would come back to settle the score with her. They weren’t the kind of people you ought to mess with. There was no compassion in the underworld they lived in. Certainly not for a woman her age. What would she do if they showed up at her door? She was too old, too frail for such things.
No. She had to play it smart. Keep out of it.
She went into the bedroom and opened the top drawer of the nightstand with a trembling hand. Her heart was racing. She took out the nitroglycerin pills Dr. Shaham had prescribed for her heart, placed one under her tongue, and got into bed, the binoculars still around her neck. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. Besides, maybe someone else heard them, she thought, trying to comfort herself as sleep gathered her up in its arms. A lot of people live here. People who are younger and stronger than me.
Regev was on top of the world. Her light dress danced around her legs in the warm air. She’d just left the pub near her house where she’d been out with the girls from yoga class. They had drinks (too many), chatted (about nothing), gossiped a little (a little too much), and told each other date-from-hell stories that made them double up with laughter. And if that wasn’t enough, a guy who looked great even though he was wearing a suit, which to her mind wasn’t the way to go, exchanged glances with her when she went to the ladies’ room, and just before they left, he came over to her, introduced himself as Kobi, and asked for her phone number. Hers! Not Efrat’s or Michal’s, who looked sensational, but hers. He had a nice voice, a cute smile, and, best of all, she could see the envy on Michal’s face.
She loved Tel Aviv, its fast pace, all it had to offer, especially the old northern part where she lived, because even though it was close to the center of town, it still felt like a real community. She especially liked Saturday mornings, when all the young people her age crowded the coffee shops or rode their bikes to the park. When she moved out of her parents’ house in Hadera to Tel Aviv two years earlier, she was afraid of being lonely in the big city, or even worse, that everyone would think she was provincial. But she found she had nothing to fear. She had tons of friends, and went out almost every night. She was working her ass off, slaving overtime as a secretary in an accountant’s office in the Azrieli Towers, but she was enjoying every minute and didn’t have to account to anyone for anything. Her parents (particularly her father) weren’t happy about it. They wanted her to go to college, to do something with her life, to be like her big brother, who studied engineering at the Technion, or like the rest of her friends from high school, who were buried under a pile of books cramming for some exam. Meanwhile, she managed to put it out of her mind and ignore their aspirations for her. It wasn’t easy, especially because they were still paying her rent. But she was making a determined effort to revel in her freedom.
She walked toward the door of her building, humming to herself. The alcohol in her bloodstream made her feel even more upbeat and lighthearted. Thursday night—a weekend of fun awaited her. Something might even come out of that encounter with Kobi at the pub.
A sound from behind the hedge broke the silence of the night, giving her a fright. It’s just cats, she reassured herself, the ones that flaky old lady in the next building is always feeding.
“Do you live here?” she heard a man behind her ask politely.
She spun around, looking for the source of the voice.
A tall, thin man stepped out from behind the darkness of the thorny bushes. He had on a baseball cap and sunglasses. Sunglasses? In the middle of the night? Her body tensed up.
“You startled me,” she mumbled, moving back.
He came closer, but she couldn’t make out his face under the shadow cast by the brim of his cap.
“Hold on a minute, sweetheart. I just want to ask you something. Where’re you going?” he said genially. Too genially. Her instincts were telling her it was time to run, but she just froze where she was, like a deer in the headlights.
“Good. That’s much better.” He moved toward her, reducing the distance between them. “Don’t be scared. I just want to ask you something, that’s all.”
The words were soothing, but his voice made her nervous. There was something taunting about it, a trace of contempt.
“Sorry . . . I’m late,” she answered, her voice trembling despite her efforts to keep it steady. She turned her back on him and started to draw away.
An arm pinned her around the neck, making it hard for her to breathe. A hand clutched at her long hair close to the roots, hurting her. She fell hard to the ground, landing on her side. He dragged her by the hair behind the tall hedge, her face scraping through the dirt. She kicked at him, trying to make him stop, to free herself from his grasp and get her hand into her purse where she kept the canister of pepper spray she took with her everywhere. But he was too strong.
He sat on her, grabbed her by the throat, and tightened his grip, bringing his face close to hers. He reeked of a mixture of alcohol, sweat, and aftershave, and it made her sick to her stomach. “Scream and you’re dead,” he hissed.
He loosened his hold on her just a little. She tried to get up, to shout, but he reacted instantly, pushing her head sharply to the ground and covering her mouth. Now she could see he had a serrated knife in the other hand. “Don’t play games with me. I mean it. One move and you’re dead,” he warned, passing the cold steel along her cheek until the tip of the blade was against her neck. He pricked her under the chin.
“Do we understand each other?” he asked, pushing the knife deeper into her flesh.
She tried to look away, but he grabbed her jaw and turned her face to him. There was a taste of sand and salt in her mouth.
“Do we understand each other,” he repeated, “or am I gonna have to rip you apart with this knife?”
She tried to say she understood, to nod, but no sound came out and she couldn’t move a muscle. It was just like the time she was sixteen, in the car with her mother, when she watched her drive straight into another vehicle. She tried to scream then too, to shout at her to stop, to keep her eyes on the road, but the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth.
“You hear me, bitch? You wanna die today?” he said, jerking her head back and forth.
The shaking released her from the state of paralysis. She nodded.
“That’s better. You got nowhere to run, right? You gonna be a good girl and behave nice?” he said hoarsely.
As she nodded again, the puke rose in her throat, nearly choking her.
“If you don’t wanna die, you gotta beg for your life,” he said, removing his hand from over her mouth. Tears were running down her cheeks.
“Beg,” he spat angrily, leaning on the knife again.
“Don’t, please, no, let me go . . . just . . . let me go . . .” She was crying so hard she could barely speak.
“More!” he commanded.
“Please! No, please! I’ll do whatever you want . . . just don’t hurt me . . .” Her face was wet with tears.
Rising slightly, he pulled up her dress, tore off her panties, and hunched over her, pushing her legs apart with his knee.
“Beg or you’re dead,” he repeated. His face was only a few inches from hers. She could feel his hot breath on her cheek.
“I’m begging you . . . ,” she began, and then fell silent as another wave of nausea washed over her when she felt his penis tear into her, hurting her deep inside.
“More! Beg!” he commanded again, slapping her across the face.
“Please stop . . . no . . . please . . . don’t . . . ,” she stuttered as he thrust himself into her again and again, his movements violent and painful.
“More,” he whispered in her ear, slapping her again. She shuddered in revulsion.
boiling hot water scalded her skin and made the cuts burn, but she ignored the pain. She had to scour herself clean, to cleanse her body of the filth, to rid it of the odor he had left on her. She scrubbed herself meticulously, making sure to reach every single spot, not to miss an inch of skin anywhere. Then she did it again. And again. And again.
couldn’t tell how long it lasted. Maybe forever. She prayed for it to stop, to be over, but time seemed to stand still. She lay there under him, choked by her tears, begging, while he hammered at her. Again. And again. And again.
Finally, he got off, pulled up his pants, and disappeared, leaving her lying on the ground. As soon as she was sure he wasn’t coming back, she started to puke. She retched until her throat hurt.
Why hadn’t she followed her instincts? She’d heard the noise behind the hedge, so how could she have let herself walk into a trap? Why didn’t she scream when he took his hand off her mouth, when she had the chance? She’d read somewhere that rapists choose their victims carefully. What had she done to make him choose her?
She lay there for a long time, the tears flowing down her face. The sour odor of puke burned her nose. The cut on her chin was bleeding. She knew she should cry out for help, run away, but she felt too weak to move, numb, still under his control. Finally she pulled herself up and made her way slowly toward the door of her building and into her apartment.
shower kept on running, the water washing over her, scalding her skin. She sat hunched up in the corner, sobbing and shaking, still feeling him on top of her, inside her.
cell phone beeped with a text message from Kobi, the guy she’d met at the pub. “Want to get together?” he’d written, adding a smiley face. He’d already called earlier in the day. She didn’t answer the phone. She didn’t answer any of the other calls she got that weekend either. She spent the whole time in bed, sleeping, staring into space, sobbing, blaming herself—why hadn’t she said she had her period, that she was pregnant, that she had a disease? Why hadn’t she tried to talk him out of it? She only got out of bed to change the Band-Aid she’d put on the cut on her chin and to scrub herself raw, again and again. She took care not to catch sight of her face in the mirror, not to see what he’d done to her.
She stared at the phone. What could she say to him, to Kobi? That she was sorry but it was hard for her to go out at the moment because she kept bursting into tears? That even the thought that he might touch her made her sick?
Yesterday afternoon she’d decided that she would put it behind her, get over it, get on with her life. She’d even managed to get out of bed with a burst of energy, to convince herself it was possible. But a minute later she’d collapsed back onto the sheets, wrapping herself in the blanket. What if he’d infected her with something? Gotten her pregnant?
With trembling fingers she texted Kobi that she was sorry but it wouldn’t work out; it’s not you, it’s me. He responded immediately with a sad face. Again she burst out crying. Then she fell asleep, exhausted.
cell phone woke her up. It was her parents. It was the fifth time they’d called and she didn’t answer. The day before she’d texted them that she wouldn’t be coming home for Friday-night dinner as usual. She decided not to tell them. She didn’t want to upset them. And, besides, she knew if they saw her like this, they’d insist on taking her to the hospital and going to the police. She wasn’t ready. She wanted to be left alone, to lick her wounds in solitude, not to be surrounded by cops questioning her and doctors poking at her body.
Her parents rang again. She cut off the call and set the phone to silent mode.
first she thought it was part of a dream. But she wasn’t dreaming. Someone was really knocking on the door. Insistently. Gently to start with, and then harder. She shook in terror. Had he come back?
She looked at the clock. Ten thirty. Saturday night.
Who could it be?
She stayed huddled in bed, petrified, afraid to move. Maybe he’d give up and go away, leave her alone. All she wanted was to be left alone.
But the knocking didn’t stop. It just got louder and more emphatic. What would she do if he broke down the door?
She heard someone call her name. She tried to focus, to force herself to listen.
She wasn’t mistaken. She recognized the voice.