‘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
It was evening and I walked on the shore for hours. I couldn’t forget the difficult meeting with Emil, but I didn’t feel any ache. It seemed to me he would come back soon, and I would give him the check I forgot to give him. The silence grew deeper. Without noticing it, I was standing in front of Devora’s café. Devora was glad to see me, asked how I was, and she immediately served me a cup of coffee and a croissant. I thanked her and sat in my place. Hardly had I sat down when my son’s wide face rose before me. I tried to ignore his smile, but the smile, as though to spite me, grew redder on his lips. Without delay I paid and went out.
The silence was dark and deep, but from the distance a thin and dissonant sound reached out for me and began to saw at my temples. I tried to ignore it, and for a moment, it seemed to weaken. I was wrong. The sound grew sharper and sawed in my ears again. I changed direction, but my ear caught it from that direction, too. “Enough!” I shouted, as if I could silence it.
I hastened my steps, the way I always do when music from a transistor radio pursues me, but this time it wasn’t thundering music, just one sound that escaped from a transistor.
After an hour of painful walking I reached the source of the sound. A man was sitting by the water and listening to music that emerged from his transistor radio. The sound was soft, but the sharp noise that came out kept sawing at me very powerfully.
“Sir,” I knelt, “I would be grateful if you would be so good as to turn down the sound. True, the volume is low, but what can I do? It buzzes in my ears. If you turn off your transistor radio, I’ll give you twenty dollars. This is a very personal request, but not arbitrary, believe me.”
“What do you want from me?” the man responded, turning his shoulder toward me.
“It hurts me. Don’t you see that it hurts me?” I spoke to him as if he were my brother.
“The music is barely audible.”
“But I can hear it.”
“Block your ears with cotton.”
“Take pity on me,” I went out of my way.
“Get away from me,” he waved his right hand as if I weren’t a man but an annoying mosquito.
That motion drove me crazy, and I slugged him. The man, who looked thin and short and sunk into himself, rose to his feet, and with an athletic leap, hit me. I felt his fist and the blood flowing on my cheek, but I recovered fast and hit him back soundly. He didn’t surrender but returned the blow. I knew he was one of our own. Maybe we were in the same ghetto and maybe in the same camp and maybe we marched on that march of punishment from which only a few remained. I knew, but still I didn’t subdue my hand.
Finally he didn’t collapse. I did. Apparently I fainted. When I woke, toward morning, I was lying on the sand. My body ached, and blood had clotted on my face and stung me. I didn’t remember the man’s face, but I did remember his agile movements. My tactics were of no use this time. He beat me to everything. Finally I rose to my feet and dragged myself to my lair.
Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green.
Copyright © Aharon Appelfeld. Originally published in Hebrew in Keshet Hachadasha.
We gave the world Anthony Weiner and Michael Bloomberg, and even our holidays screwed up everyone’s summer