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The Teachers’ Lounge: Stories

An original translation of new Hebrew fiction from Bernstein Prize-winner Dror Burstein, author of ‘Kin’

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The School Doctor

In Netanya we had an old doctor, he was a family doctor, a general practitioner, an internist. He was also the school doctor. He went by all those names, he had no real name, he was called the old doctor, the internist, people would say: I’m sick, I’ll go to the internist, I’ll go to the old doctor, go see the family doctor, the school doctor will see you now. And so it was, we would go see the family doctor, the old family doctor, and on the door on the ground floor one word was written instead of his name: doctor, and there he would sit and wait for us, it wasn’t necessary to make an appointment because he had no patients, only our family still went to see him out of loyalty, which cost us our health again and again, but he was a fellow townsman, and a relative, “That’s actually your grandfather,” my mother said to me, “That’s almost your grandfather, you have to see him even if you’re completely healthy, otherwise they’ll throw him out of the clinic.” I don’t remember if the clinic was at the Health Fund, no, it couldn’t have been, it was a simple residential apartment, his apartment, on Herzl Street, and there wasn’t a thing in it, it really was an empty apartment, there was just a rusty oxygen tank in one corner, just a sick bed in one of the rooms, and the doctor’s chair, and a large filing cabinet in which the history of our illnesses was kept, and a cup with dozens of wooden tongue depressors as well as a terrifying reflex hammer. And of course he had a stamp, the family doctor did, and he would stamp prescription after prescription and sign with a fountain pen and tear it off. There was only one inexplicable thing in this clinic, a picture, a drawing, a drawing that was hung on the wall, and I remember that it was a drawing of a lion, a lion deep in sleep. Only a few years ago I discovered that the drawing was by Rubens, and indeed in a catalog it was written that the drawing was located in a private collection in Netanya. When I asked my father about this he said to me, “Of course, you didn’t make the lion up. As a matter of fact, he gave it to me as a gift.” He said, “He would give things away all the time, we were his only patients. He brought them from Belgium rolled up in tubes.” I said, “Who?” And my father said, “What ‘who.’ The sleeping lion.” “So where is it?” I asked anxiously. “Where did you put it?” “The lion?” my father asked amazed. “Why it’s been at your place for some time. Don’t you remember? I hung it at your place, over your writing table, on the day all of you moved to the new apartment, to that new apartment of yours, on the two-hundredth floor. You couldn’t have gone up any higher? You know that I have a fear of ascending elevators. You know I need half a day in order to make it to your front door. And sometimes the staircase is blocked by your crates and I can’t get past. Yes, it’s right in front of your eyes. Day after day. And you didn’t see.” He fell silent. “You know,” he said, “The family doctor is still alive. He asked about you just today. If you are well. He asked why you no longer come to see him.”—“And what did you tell him?”—“I told him the truth.”

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The Teachers’ Lounge: Stories

An original translation of new Hebrew fiction from Bernstein Prize-winner Dror Burstein, author of ‘Kin’