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‘On the Edge of Our City’: A Short Story for Yom Kippur by Aharon Appelfeld

A Holocaust survivor wrestles with the angel of history on the beach in Tel Aviv

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Chapter 11

We were sitting in the restaurant where we were used to eat twice a year. For a moment it seemed to me that everything would go the way it always went. We’d eat, exchange a few words, I’d give him a check, he’d go his way, and I’d go mine. But suddenly he turned to me and said: “What are you doing these days, Dad?”

I was so surprised that I said, “Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

“Interesting. You never asked before.”

“True,” he agreed.

“Since you asked, I’ll tell you. I listen to music, I read Primo Levi’s writings, and at night I stroll along the shore.”

Hearing my words, he lowered his head, as if I had scolded him.

“There were some years when you worked, right?” He asked again, annoyingly.

“Many years ago.”

“What did you do?” He spoke in a tone I didn’t recognize in him.

“It’s complicated,” I rejected his question point blank.

“All these years, I wanted to ask you, but I never dared.”

“Too bad,” I said, for some reason, and I added. “Too bad you took your mother’s path.”

“What do you mean?” He raised his eyes to me.

“It’s hard for me to explain to you now. I’ll just say one sentence. You followed after little things. I wanted to lead you differently. Our people mustn’t pursue small things, understand?”

“I don’t understand,” he said in a tone with a bit of arrogance.

“If you don’t understand, I can’t explain it to you. Still, I’ll tell you. For many years I expected you’d come to me and ask: Dad, why are you different from other people?”

“I wanted to ask, but I was afraid to.”

“Were you afraid of me? Did I ever hit you?”

“No.”

“So why were you afraid of me?”

“You were always quiet,” he said, and a smile rose on his lips, as if he had overcome an obstacle that had stood in his way for years. I wanted to rise to my feet, as was my custom at this hour, but, for some reason, I didn’t get up, and, not only that, I added: “All these years I was hoping that what throbs within me would also throb within you.”

“What?”

“You know very well.”

“I don’t understand,” he said and his shoulders twitched.

For some reason it seemed to me that his obtuse face, slightly inarticulate, had become a mocking face. As if he had climbed up to the place from which he was permitted to mock me, to call my thoughts what his mother had called them: great illusions.

“I can’t explain it to you, but still I say it. Big transactions, like the ones I arranged, aren’t carried off with illusions, but with drive. Only drive can bring you to the heights, like music. Now do you understand?”

His full face smiled again, as though my mouth had uttered foolishness.

“You can laugh as much as you want.”

“I don’t understand you,” he twisted his shoulders. That movement contained everything I hated in him. I rose to my feet and said: “Do what you want. I won’t mix in. From now on, I won’t tell you what to do. When the day comes, they’ll tell you what you inherited, but until then, do me a favor, don’t come to me.”

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‘On the Edge of Our City’: A Short Story for Yom Kippur by Aharon Appelfeld

A Holocaust survivor wrestles with the angel of history on the beach in Tel Aviv