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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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To a volunteer from New York in an IDF paratrooper unit, the rockets fired from Gaza last week felt like war

The two idiots are off to the side, conferring. Your mind turns to the cool, curvy wetness of her body when she comes out of the sea, the way her hair holds the seawater.

In your head, you’re watching her retreat down the beach, slowly, in an uneven line, so you don’t notice Kobi till he’s by your side and talking again.

“Listen, kid, I’ve got a once in a lifetime offer for you,” he says.

You turn to him, trying to cover the question mark that’s written on your face. “See, Gal and I have been talking. We can get you a spot on the convoy. Six days off, back on the seventh.” He pauses for a beat, to let that sink in, and then continues. “All you have to do is enjoy your vacation as always. Just take Gal’s video camera and bring back some footage of Karin.”

“What do you mean footage, of Karin?” you ask.

He points at you and explains himself succinctly enough with his fist. You understand, but he tacks on an explanation anyway. “Fucking her,” he says.

You snort dismissively. But you don’t say no. You notice the quiet all around. It’s fall in Lebanon. The days are getting shorter. Sunsets are getting sad and cold. For now though the sun is strong and you watch what it does to the shiny oak leaves well below the trench. You wish this wasn’t the case, but you’re seriously considering the offer: Will you perform, will you make a face they’ll imitate forever?

Then you think of Karin. She’s in a ball, crushed.

You look at Kobi, at the smile wilting on his face, at the dull expectation, and you say, “No fucking way.”

But Kobi knows not to buy it. He hears the tremor of excitement in your voice and he nods at Gal, sends him rummaging through the duffel bag between his feet till he produces the camera. It’s wrapped in gray foam and covered with red and white Paratroop Brigade stickers. He takes it everywhere, even films in the dark on ambushes and in your quarters before bed. Lovingly, he hands it over to Kobi, who shows you how to open the small collapsible tripod and how to make sure the Record button is on. Then he points to where the red light would be and shows you the thick piece of green, army-issue tape that Gal’s put over it. “It’s for the ambushes,” he says, “but it’ll work for you too.”

His explanation makes you think like a soldier. When you’re given a chance to get out of the army, you grab it with both hands. Everyone knows that. Ten minutes now versus two weeks later? You take the ten minutes. You learnt that in the first week of Basic. Two weeks down the road, there could be war. Two weeks down the road, you could be dead. You’re like your forebears at Mount Sinai. They lived in the desert. They knew scarcity. You accept first and ponder later. It’s the mother of all gift horses.

“I’ll do it,” you say, “but how the hell are you going to get me a spot on the convoy?”

Kobi slaps Gal in the chest, smack in the middle of his double-breasted flak jacket. “Off, off, off,” he says, making quick shooing motions with his right hand.

The look on the tall man’s face says that this part of the plan had not been discussed in depth, but his muscular fingers obediently work the long Velcro seam.

“You’re serious?” you ask.

“Very,” Kobi says, holding Gal’s Kevlar vest up like a tailor.

“OK,” you say. And then, with the trucks whining up the hill, you slip on Gal’s flak jacket and sprint back to your quarters to pack a bag, the unwelcome warmth of his body radiating down your back as you run.

***

Personnel—you—ride in a Safari, a big bulletproof cage on wheels. You buckle your helmet, check the clasp, snap a bullet into the chamber, and watch the play of light and shadow through the firing holes as the truck bounces down the country road. Up ahead the commander of the convoy rides in an armored jeep. He sees the dense blanket of dusty green foliage and the towering hills on either side of the road. If a Sager Missile is launched, he has a good chance of seeing the bobbing, cigarette-in-the-dark glow of its advance. There’ll be about eleven seconds to impact, which is a lot, for him. By the time it comes over the radio and you make your way through the mounds of gear and the bulletproof partitions, forget it. So you focus on keeping your mind blank.

Back in Israel, the cigarette you pull out of your pack tastes different, plastic, civilian. But you don’t get more than two drags before a family of three pulls up at the hitching spot and offers you a ride all the way to Tel Aviv. The father’s driving and he has a random list of questions that seem to have been prepared in advance, or at least perfectly paced. He asks which battalion you serve in. You tell him. He nods and taps his fingers on the steering wheel to the radio. You settle back into your seat, behind the mom, rolling down the window for some civilian air. Then he wants to know what sector of the Security Zone you’re holding. So you roll up the window and lean forward again and tell him. Later he wants to know if it’s still like it was back in his day. You listen to a story or two, say “pretty much,” and leave it at that. But the questions keep coming for a while. Luckily, the mom asks to stop for the bathroom.

It’s dark already and you’re still two hours from Tel Aviv and around six from Eilat. The list of people you can call in Tel Aviv is short. There’s only one name on it. You put your phone card in the slot and punch in the numbers from memory.

“Adriana, hi, it’s me,” you say.

“Are you okay? Where are you calling from?” she asks.

“I’m fine,” you say, “I’m out on leave. Kind of unexpected.”

“Great!” she says, “but you know Karin is not home.”

“Of course,” you say. “I was hoping to surprise her tomorrow in Eilat and I was wondering…”

“If you could stay here? Of course. I’d be delighted.”

You tell her you think you’ll be in around nine thirty and then hurry back up to the car, where the family waits for you with the back door open.

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Sex, Leave, and Videotape

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