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Authors: A. B. Yehoshua

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BOOK: Mr. Mani
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—Because there must have been something if he was that determined to keep me out when I had come all the way from Tel Aviv with a message from his son and was standing there on the landing, soaking wet and half-frozen...

—You don't say! I was waiting for that, Mother.

—I was waiting for it. I was wondering when you'd get around to that, so why don't you just spill it all now ... I've been expecting it for the last quarter of an hour, so if you must say it, this is the time...

—Yes, yes, why don't you say it, go right ahead.
There goes our Hagar looking for a father figure again ... as usual, she's latched onto some older man ...
I know that routine by heart ... every time I would tell you when I was in the army about some officer a little older than me whom I happened to like, you'd get that pitying smile of yours right away...

—Yes, I know you didn't, but it's what you wanted to say, why not admit it, goddamn it? It follows logically from all those trite, pathetically shallow clichés you've been taught about the psychology of orphans...

—You mean there's no special field of Orphan Psychology?

—How come?

—Well, you can be sure they'll invent it soon...

—No, I already know all that...

—Just a minute. Listen...

—But that's what you want to say, I know you do, so say it...

—Say it ... what's stopping you?

—I'm not angry.

—Because the truth may be very different. So why don't you try, Mother, for once in your life, to think differently too. Did it ever occur to you, say, that what I'm looking for is not a father for me but a husband for you?

—Yes, a man for you ... an honest-to-goodness man who could rescue you from this sterile life you've chosen to live, which is drying you up without your knowing it, so that even your best friends, as kind and sweet to you as they are ... yes, they too ... for all they admire you ... are a little ... what's the word ... tired of you, and worried about your growing old on them here in the desert—where, as long as you insist on working out in the fields, there's not the ghost of a chance of meeting anyone,
anyone,
with some life in him whom you might feel close to and love ... because one day I won't be here anymore, either ... so that maybe it's not just for my sake that I sometimes, let's say, suppose we just say, latch onto older men, if that's really what I do, but also for...

—Yes. I'm finished.

—Exactly. To marry you off...

—You find that funny? I'll bet you do! What's wrong with it? It's time you stopped being so stubborn and...

—What's the same thing?

—How is it the same?

—Maybe...

—It's possible...

—It's possible ... but so what? It may end up having the same result, but it's not the same thing...

—No, don't turn on any more lights. There's enough light.

—Maybe, but so what? And this time in Jerusalem I didn't thrust myself on anyone, Mother, because I had a perfect right to barge in...

—The right of the formula inside me, Mother, even if you don't take it seriously ... of the little tadpole that's swimming inside me and nibbling away at my cells to create someone new ... of this teensy little bloodball, which, say what you will, is going to burst out of me screaming at all of you next summer whether Efi owns up to being its father or not. And that, Mother, is why it was not only my right to enter that apartment without permission, it was my duty to the future Mr. Mani, who was curious to meet his ancestors on their own turf, because for the time being, until he's old enough to represent himself, I'm his only representative, do you hear me?

—As a matter of fact, I understood in a flash what drew me to that apartment—and don't tell me it was my imagination, because I know better, Mother, and it was not. It was absolutely, definitely not my imagination! I'm telling you right now that I don't agree with a word you're going to say, because I saw at a glance, Mother, the true horror of what was lurking there, which fully explained his strange behavior, and Efi's anxiety, and the errand he had sent me on, and all my determined telephone calls, and there not being any answer, and most of all, the unfriendly way he blocked the door and tried forcing me back out into the foggy cold even though I had come on a mission of good will, because I, Mother, listen carefully, I literally stopped that man, Efi's father, this Mr. Mani, from taking his own life...

—No, I'm not imagining it.

—Yes, I mean it. Listen to me, because it's the truth, and it can happen in life too and not only in books, and by the simple act of going to Jerusalem on Tuesday, and not budging from the door, I kept that man from killing himself ... yes, killing himself ... because that's exactly what he was going to do, it was clear to me then and it's clear to me now. It all adds up ... and if I hadn't come along just then ... when I think of it ... and ... and...

—No...

—No.

—I'm all right.

—I'm all right...

—No. I'm crying and trembling because I'm thinking of what happened then, because I know you can't believe me...

—Because you don't want to ... you simply don't want to ... you've been educated not to...

—Here, give it to me.

—No...

—All right ... that's enough ... I'm through...

—All right.

—All right...

—Because while he was standing there in the living room, wishing he didn't have to talk to whoever was on the telephone, I breezed right in on a blast of all that hot air, and instead of stopping politely in the living room, I kept heading down the hallway until I came to an open door through which I saw, in that dead grandmother's bedroom, which was pitch black except for a bit of light shining through the window from the night outside, something so awful that ... I can hardly talk about it even now...

—There was this hangman's scaffold there...

—Yes. A scaffold.

—Just what I said. I mean, at first all I saw was that the room was in this absolutely frenzied state. The bed was a mess, but really crazy, as if someone had gone berserk in it: the pillows were thrown everywhere, the sheets were ripped, there were books all over the floor, and the desk was littered with crumpled papers ... but the worst thing, Mother, was the blinds on the big window, which were shut so tight there wasn't a crack in them. The blinds box above them was open, so that you could see the bare concrete and the unpainted wood, and in it, Mother, the belt was dangling from its rod—it was like the one in this room but wider and stronger-looking, yellow with two thin, red stripes down its sides—it was off the pulley and hanging free, with this big noose knotted at one end of it ... You're laughing at me...

—No, that is
not
all. Beneath it was standing a little stool, just waiting to be kicked away ... everything was ready, I didn't have the slightest doubt ... it couldn't have been more obvious ... and if any more proof was needed, it was his own behavior, because the minute he saw me follow him inside and head past him for that room, he went absolutely wild. He threw down the phone in the middle of a sentence and ran to stop me, to get me out of there, or at least to shut the door and keep me from seeing. I could tell by how frantic he was, all panicky and confused and I guess embarrassed too, that he realized I had understood everything,
everything
... are you listening, Mother?

—No. Yes. I was already inside that dark room. I was too stunned by that scaffold to move, and he grabbed me from behind and tried wrestling me out of there...

—Nothing. He didn't say anything ... that's the whole point. If we had spoken to each other it might have been different. And by now I was good and scared too, not only because of this terrible rage he was in, but because I could feel he was naked underneath his bathrobe, although at the same time I knew that if I wanted to save him, I had to resist. And so, Mother, I wrestled with him and even tried grabbing the blinds belt and tearing it down, but he started dragging me out of there, pulling me toward the front door, and I knew that if I didn't dig in my heels by finding something to sit or lie down on, I would be outside in a minute, out of the apartment and out of the picture ... And so all at once I made believe, it was just a trick, I pretended to pass out in his arms, and he was so scared that he let go of me for a second, and I threw myself into this little armchair that was standing by the living room door. We still hadn't said a word to each other, because we were too dazed and surprised to, but when he saw me all scrunched up there like some kind of frog, he simply gave up and left me, he went back to the bedroom and shut the door behind him...

—That was all.

—How should I know? I guess he was waiting for me to go away.

—I just sat in that chair, Mother, and I didn't move.

—I sat there.

—I didn't look at the clock.

—Several hours.

—Yes. Several hours.

—It wasn't ridiculous at all, Mother.

—I know what you're thinking...

—Say it, I'm listening...

—Yes.

—Yes.

—Yes.

—Of course. Every word.

—Yes, I understand...

—That's your explanation, Mother, but it isn't mine.

—I already told you...

—Because I knew that my being there was enough to keep him from doing such an awful thing, even though theoretically he could have killed himself behind the locked door without my being able to do anything about it, I might even have been suspected afterward of murder...

—Just a minute ... I know you don't believe me ... but there's more...

—I'll get to that ... it wasn't my imagination...

—I sat there without moving, soaked in that overheated apartment, which felt like it hadn't had any fresh air for days and staring at the receiver of the telephone, which was still lying on the table next to a figurine of a horse and a row of little pottery urns. That was, I realized, why it had rung busy for two days—that is, what it was busy with was lying off the hook by that horse, which actually looked more like a mule...

—I sat there.

—No, Mother, there, in that chair. I didn't move.

—I don't know. I felt like a fossil, as if all the life had gone out of me ... as if the author writing me, or the director photographing me, had put down their pen or camera and gone out for dinner, or maybe just for a breath of fresh air while waiting for some inspiration what to do with me...

—But what should I have done?

—You must be joking!

—You're not serious...

—No. I simply waited.

—I suppose for him to come out of the room. The one thing I knew for sure was that I musn't leave him ... it would have been absolutely immoral to get up and walk out...

—Yes. Immoral.

—Exactly, Mother. That was all. I just sat there ... I didn't touch anything ... I didn't even put back the receiver. At first it buzzed a little, and then it stopped. The front door was slightly open, and now and then I heard voices outside. People went up and down the stairs and the stairway light kept going on and off until in the end it got so quiet that I could hear the neighbors talking in their apartments or listening to their radios and TVs. Mostly, though, I heard the wind, which was howling like crazy outside.

—No. I just sat there without touching anything ... as if something inside me, Mother, were keeping me from moving, because that was the condition for staying in this house I had barged into. I even forced myself to sit with my hands clasped, because I didn't want to leave any fingerprints, anything that might incriminate me if he went and hanged himself in the end...

—Incriminate.

—I don't know, Mother. I thought someone might blame me ... for encouraging him, or not stopping him...

—I don't know, I do not do not do not! Why must you keep cross-examining my insides, Mother? All I know is that I kept sitting in that armchair in the corner of the living room. I didn't even get up when I began feeling hungry and thirsty, because I hadn't eaten or drunk since lunchtime. There was a little basket with some sucking candies there, and I didn't take a single one of them. I didn't take my sweater off either, although I was roasting from the heat. I just sat staring at the black screen of the television across from me, or reading the same lines over and over in an open book that was lying diagonally in front of me and that I didn't even dare straighten out, some book about old neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The more time went by, the quieter the building became and the more I felt that I was being embalmed like a mummy by some invisible hand. I began dozing off in that chair, in which I seemed fated to spend the rest of my life, a fossil waiting for my author or director to return, resigned even to the possibility that my Mr. Mani might already be dangling at the end of the belt, when at last—it must have been about midnight and I was in a total fog—I saw him come out of the room, a new man. He had taken off that raggedy bathrobe and was wearing a sweater and pants, and his hair was combed too, so that instead of some wild, morbid animal preparing to die, he looked like a man who had just woken up and gotten a new lease on life. He didn't even look surprised or angry to find me there. He just looked at me with this slightly embarrassed smile, closed the front door, replaced the telephone receiver, and very politely asked me what my name was and what exactly I wanted from him...

—I don't suppose he really heard me the first time.

—No, Mother. Just wait. It was
not
my imagination...

—Wait, Mother, wait ... hold on...

—Not
every
detail, but still ... the details are important...

—But for God's sake, why can't you be patient...

—No. I'll make the other days shorter.

BOOK: Mr. Mani
8.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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