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Sex, Leave, and Videotape

Tablet Original Fiction: An IDF soldier takes a strange dare, and brings the battlefield home

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You’re in Lebanon, where life is conducted in shifts: four hours with the boys, eating, reading, watching movies, followed by two hours alone in your head, pulling guard duty. This goes around the clock, nonstop, for four months. You sleep in your boots and shower when possible. Occasionally you go out on an ambush; every few days you scurry into the fortified area when the mortars come. But the majority of your days are dominated by the cycle: two on, four off; two on, four off; two on, four off.

At first there were showers on Mondays and Thursdays, then once a week, then nothing. It’s been fifteen days. You have four pairs of socks and five pairs of underwear but have given up the strict rotation you used to enforce. All told, you’re fifty soldiers. Twenty pazamnikim and thirty of you. But since you have six months less time-served than the pazamnikim, or veterans, they eat first, have their own bathrooms, get first dibs on the showers when the water trucks come. They’re also first to get leave.

There’s a convoy laboring up the hills to your outpost. It’s notoriously skittish, and bails at the first sight of trouble. Bails in bad weather. Bails when bad weather’s on the way. It can’t be counted on till you hear the heavy trucks whining up to the rear gate. But now you’ve received word: five vehicles have left Metulla. There are two fully sated soldiers on that convoy, smelling of clean laundry. ‘The precious cargo is on board’ is what the battalion commander said. That means the next two people in the rotation are up for leave.

You are not one of them.

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Kobi and Gal, two pazamnikim, have been racing around the outpost in their dress uniforms for days. “Trust us, learn something,” they say. “You gotta be ready. Because when it pulls in, it draws fire, and when the Brigade Commander hears fire, the first thing he does is stop all convoy traffic in and out of the Security Zone. Ein yotzeh ve’ain ba. Nothing comes, nothing goes. In Lebanon, when you want to go home, you wear dress.”

You figure this is not the wisest advice that’s ever been dispensed. You figure that if ever there was a curse on the arrival of a convoy, it’s their un-shaved, un-washed, aftershave-splashed asses parading around this war-torn outpost in dress uniforms. So you decide not to thank them for their sage advice. You stay at your post. You’re doing your job, looking out over the coils of barbed wire, making sure nothing’s moving behind any of the big boulders on the slope beneath you.

But that only pisses the veterans off more. “What’s wrong?” Kobi says, “you’re bitter you’re not heading home tonight? Can’t you be happy for me?”

You say nothing. You shrug and really work your eyes over the landscape, moving your gaze in big U’s—down, across and up, then over; then down, across and up, then over; but they’re still checking you out, so you shrug and say, “No problem. I’m happy for you. Inside, I’m dancing. We’ll toast your happiness on Friday night with the Kiddush wine.”

“You should,” Kobi says, “one day you’ll be a pazamnik, too, asshole…but in the meantime, since you’re not getting out of here anytime soon, why don’t you give me your girlfriend’s number and I’ll fuck her for you, that way she won’t have to suffer.”

Kobi’s the King of the Pazamnikim. On Friday nights he wears a crown with real bull horns on it and is served first. He’s also the kind of asshole who has etched X’s on his weapon for each of the three lives he’s taken. But it’s best not to say anything to him: he can make your life a living hell and, anyway, you know your girlfriend would rather make a sailor’s knot out of her fallopian tubes than fuck Kobi. But your mind does not remain at ease.

Karin finished her army service months ago. She’s moved down to Eilat, where she’s working at a hotel and trying to get enough dives under her belt for dive master certification. The two of you have an Australia trip planned for when you get out—in eleven months, two weeks—but lately she’s been talking about cutting out early and having you meet her down there, “when it happens.” The “when” for some reason has taken on an indefinite tinge, like an “if”, like there should be a question mark at the end of it.

It’s because of Lebanon; you know that. It’s your second tour already and you know that she does that. She can’t handle the stakes, so she pulls away when you’re gone.

But the truth is she’s unable to even hear about your service. Like she wants you to do your time honorably, but she doesn’t want to know anything about it. Certainly not about the way it’s been scooping out your insides in little, bite-sized balls.

When you went to Gidoni’s funeral, at his kibbutz, out over the Sea of Galilee, a few of the girlfriends came. She passed. She has a job, she lives in Eilat, she’d only met him twice. You understood, but she didn’t want to hear about it afterwards, either. Late one Saturday night, with the frothy sadness of another few weeks in uniform settling in, you tried to set the scene, telling her how all the graves face the water, how there’s something harmonious about them and the soft lapping of the waves, but you felt her get restless as you spoke, so you never got into the whole story, the one you wanted to tell, about Gidoni’s blind father and the way he walked past each one of you before he eulogized his son, asking for your names, nodding as though he knew you, then running his hands over your wet faces, and how you could still feel his rough fingertips on your eyelids, a blessing that sometimes felt like a curse.

But the worst part is that instead of keeping it to yourself, you told the guys about Johann, her Swedish dive master. Now the guys have taken to calling out that name in the shower, grinding their hips and moaning. Worse, somehow, it’s become your nickname. It’s how your name appears on the guard duty lists. It’s what the company commander calls you.

So you tell Kobi to go fuck himself. He laughs like it’s a compliment and then turns all chummy, oozing sweetness and slime. He throws an arm around your shoulders and says he was just kidding. He calls you achi, my brother, with the accent firmly placed on the first syllable, and says he’s sorry. “How is Karin anyway?” he asks, “for real.”

His sidekick, Gal, jumps in before you have a chance to say a word. “How do you know his girlfriend’s name?”

“Believe me, if you saw her, you’d remember,” Kobi tells him.

“What, Johann has a hot girlfriend?”

Kobi squeezes you even tighter. You’re at the south gate. If anyone can see the convoy coming, it’s you, but so far, nothing, and the fact of the matter, you well know, is that you’ll hear it before you see it.

“Ooo-wah,” Kobi hoots. “Smoking hot.”

What the hell do you care? They’re right. Karin is hot. You try pulling the trucks up the hill with your mind. You feel them accelerate and it’s that feeling that keeps you from turning towards Kobi, that sinewy little ars with the big ears and the five o clock shadow, and kneeing him in the nuts. You pivot out of his embrace and walk the trench, flicking your finger in and out of the grip of your weapon.

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Sex, Leave, and Videotape

Tablet Original Fiction: An IDF soldier takes a strange dare, and brings the battlefield home