‘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
At the end of August, the sun weakens a bit, the heat abates, and the sea wind arises before the evening darkness. At six I go to the sea. Sometime it seems to me the cool wind dims the noise. My mistake. The loudspeakers know no respite. Big, fleshy women sprawl on the beach like lizards. I have a weakness for women, but not for women like that. Women like that are a blot on the image of humanity. I stay away from them. This time I couldn’t control myself, and I shouted to one of the women: “Why are you blocking the silence of the sea?”
“Me?” she lifted her head.
“What did I do?”
“You aren’t allowed to play a transistor radio loudly on the beach.”
I was about to go over and slap her. Indeed, I did go, but I didn’t slap her, because I saw a deep scar on her face. I don’t harm damaged people, but I still said to her, “I expect more consideration from you.”
“What kind of consideration are you talking about?”
“You know very well.”
She didn’t answer, just gave me a mocking look.
I let her be. It’s hard for me to argue with damaged people. They cut off my voice.
Even at the end of August the seashore doesn’t empty out. People lie on the beach and play big transistor radios. The music bursts out and saws through the air. I can’t overcome that commotion, but the sea won’t forgive them. Once I shouted, “The sea will take revenge on you,” and they showered me with curses.
But meanwhile we must suffer. Suffering does not appear to purify. I don’t know what the monasteries in Africa do to a person. My struggle, at any rate, is nerve-wracking. From year to year my patience grows shorter. Every time I go to the seashore, my fists clench, and I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone. A year ago I asked a man to turn down his radio. He not only refused but defied me: “Here I do what I want to do. Here no one will tell me what to do.” I threatened him, but he ignored my threat. I got as far away from him as I could, but the sound pursued me. I finally asked him to lower the sound again. He refused and defied me.
This time there was a hard fight. He kept hitting me until, in a rage, I finally struck him in the face and knocked him down. If he hadn’t cursed, I would have let him alone. But he cursed me and added: “Too bad people like you were saved.” I hit him again, though I usually don’t hit people when they’re lying down.
People apparently saw that fight, or they heard about it. Since then, when I ask someone, “turn down your radio,” he obliges. Some people are stubborn, of course, or weak. They plead, “Let me listen to the radio.” I don’t like pleading, but I wouldn’t hit someone who’s pleading.
My ex-wife used to say—and I assume she still says it now: “He’s stubborn. He does what he wants to. He doesn’t consider anyone else.” Most of us are near-sighted, but she took near-sightedness to the highest possible level. Like me she was in horrible camps, but nothing remains of that in her. As if she hadn’t been there. Once I said to her, “After all, you were there and you saw and heard.” “So what,” she answered insolently, in a hollow voice.
I could have shot her then.
We gave the world Anthony Weiner and Michael Bloomberg, and even our holidays screwed up everyone’s summer