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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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Karin’s mother is cool. She’s nothing like your mom. Her hair is equal parts blond and silver and her face has kept most of its definition. Ever since the divorce from Shmulik she’s been living in the city. Her apartment’s clean and light and airy. And though she’s originally from Rotterdam, she’s laid an Israeli dinner on the table, which for all intents and purposes means breakfast. After she’s done the dishes and you’ve eaten a plate of date-filled cookies, she asks you about Lebanon. You give the usual soldier’s line, saying it’s better than the Territories because at least up there you know who the enemy is. She asks what you mean and you explain at length about the differences in procedure regarding opening fire. “In Lebanon,” you say, “you fire on anything that moves at night.” She nods, wide-eyed, and you get going on a story about a long column of wild boars that once surprised a sleepy machine gunner in your company.

When it’s over she smiles her northern European smile and looks at her watch. You’re shown to your room. It’s a study. Adriana, you know, is going for a doctorate in some kind of left-wing archaeological history of Israel, but it’s also clearly a bedroom. Although it’s probably used by all of Adriana’s children, the place reminds you of Karin. Her sneakers are in the closet and a few of her old posters are up on the wall. You see her picking out earrings for dinner and you watch what she does with her hair as she puts them on. That’s the image you try to take with you to sleep, but instead your mind turns to the video camera and you drift away feeling like the lowliest of swamp dwellers.

At noon you board a bus to Eilat. Four hours later, leaning against one of those orange public phones, the heavy-as-a-hammer receiver in your hand, the late afternoon heat envelops you. It’s thick and it sits on your face like a mask. Around you are a few sad, sun-weathered locals, enjoying the shade of the outdoor bus terminal, watching the tourists disperse. Like lizards on a hot desert rock, they’re careful not to move more than their eyes. You draw close to the phone, and out of habit lay an exposed arm on the hot metal. At first the slot doesn’t want to take your phone card, spits it out a few times, but you hold your own and in the end it puts through the call. In the instant before you hear her voice, there are the usual jitters, like it’s a first date. And you don’t know what to say or, more truthfully, how to sound. Happiness might be a bit much, especially since she’s been so cool of late. And you, you remind yourself, have not come with the purest of intentions. “Karin?” you ask.

She shouts your name, asks where you’re calling from.

“Tel Aviv,” you say, suddenly desperate to buy time, “I’m on my way to Eilat.”

“Is your kav over?” she asks.

“No, no,” you say, “I just got lucky with some leave, I’ll explain when I get there.” She sounds happy.

She asks for your ETA and you say 20:00. That gives you some hours to burn, so you walk down the hill, to the beach, to the only seashore in the country where the sun doesn’t set in the water. On the sand, you pull off your boots and peel off your socks. The Red Sea resembles a lake, the water sloshing around, hot and heavy, like a vast tub of mercury in the late afternoon light. You swim and turn your back on the horizon, watching the sun dip behind the jagged ring of red mountains that frame the city. Then you dry yourself off and get a beer. Within two sips, sitting barefoot on the barstool, you have a plan. You congratulate yourself on the detour, and, after another beer and a few cigarettes, make your way to her house.

‘Karin and Meital Live Here Happily’ say two smiling sheep on the door plate. You knock up above it, lightly, and she comes to the door smiling. As soon as she opens it, she is the realization of all your dreams, the sum of all you’ve ever wanted.

You breathe in her warmth. Your sense of smell is so damn good you could replace one of those uniformed beagles at the airport. There’s sweet fruit in her hair and honey on her skin. Before you even touch her lips you know every second of this is going to be archived in a steel-doored chamber of your mind and cherished, repeatedly.

She asks where you’re taking her for dinner and you say to the bedroom, and she, laughing, wraps her legs around your torso for the ride.

You make quick work of the little bit of clothes she’s wearing, leaving a trail behind you. Her flip flops are by the door, her hair clasp near the couch, her red tank top at the entrance to her room and her jeans by the foot of the bed. Naked in your arms, she laughs you off her neck and takes control. As you come closer and closer together, you’re surprised by the undisguised thirst in her voice, her urgency.

Afterwards, you order in. You eat in bed, naked, laying the take-out on a towel and feeding each other with chopsticks. She has a cold bottle of wine in the fridge and you drink it together, taking turns swigging from the bottle.

The next few days pass in bliss. You go to the beach every day in the late afternoon, like all of the locals, and drink, read, and lounge while she dives. It feels great to do nothing, to have nowhere to be, no one to answer to. You meet Johann, the real Johann, and he is polite. But before you know it, it’s Friday, and the weight of the weekend is bearing down on you.

On Saturday night you have to head back. Sunday morning first thing you have to be at the gate in Metulla. If the convoy actually departs and it departs without you, there’ll be hell to pay. So it’s tonight or bust. You have a dinner planned. Since you haven’t been able to tell her a thing about the deal in private, you figure post-dinner, before dessert, is the way to go.

The restaurant is dark and cool enough to feel comfortable in. You let her choose the wine and the two of you share your food, although you finish well before she does. While she eats you start to explain. You don’t want to whine about Kobi and his boys, so you explain how it feels up there.

She listens closely, her blue eyes wide, shiny, and understanding over the wine glass. She takes a big sip and refills her glass, nodding and telling you she understands but that it will be over soon. You pause for a breath. You know what you’re going to say. You’ve reviewed this several times, spoken it aloud in the shower. Mostly you’ll stick to the truth. But before she freaks out, before any of it really sets in, you’ll say that, “the ticket is just to mess with the focus, so it comes out so blurry they can’t see a thing. That way I bring back what I promised and they have nothing to watch.”

But before you say a word, she’s taken another big sip and has started to make speaking noises. Her voice is small and she says, “I want to talk to you about Australia.”

You nod and give her a drunk, go-right-ahead sign with your hand.

She looks at you strangely but doesn’t get derailed. “Well, I been doing two-a-days for a while now and the truth is I’ll probably be certified by the end of the month,” she says. “And I’ve been talking to Johann about the dive work down there and he says that I’d have to be there by November at the latest if I want to be an assistant dive leader on a boat.”

“And?” you say.

“And,” she says, playing with her silverware, “I got a ticket for November third.”

“That’s before I even finish my tour,” you say.

“I know,” she says, “but the thing is if I go down now I could get an assistant dive master job and then I’d have the money all set aside for when you come down and then we could travel together.”

Self-pity surges inside you as she reiterates the need to be down there before the start of the summer holiday. And because you know now is not the time for a fight, you’re understanding. “It makes sense,” you say.

And then you’re hearing about schools of fish that only live on the Great Barrier Reef and feed off the coral and the way it’s the only living thing visible from space, and she’s so excited she’s making warm petting movements in your palm, the kind of movements that mean I want to skip dessert, so you raise your other hand for the bill. And she tells all about the house you’ll have on the beach and the stews you can make in the evening and, oh God she loves you, and she knew you’d understand, and shit, she’ll miss you like crazy, but she’ll get everything straightened out. All you’ll need is the airfare, and that by the time you get down there she’ll have made enough money to travel and you can get a car and see the island in style, maybe even take a ferry over to New Zealand. “You’ll love Australia,” she says, and “hey, no worries mate.” Since you’ve been to the cash machine before dinner you have the right amount of bills to leave on the table to cover the meal and the tip, but she stops you and says, “it’s on me.”

Then she leads you out of the restaurant, holding your hand. And as you shimmy past the bar, you start thinking about the shelves in her bedroom. They’re made of pale wooden slats, spaced by gray concrete blocks. Before you met her you always thought that girls were neat freaks. That’s what your sisters are like. But her shelves are lumps of clothing, jeans turned inside out, sweater sleeves dangling down, clean and dirty laundry mixed. And as the two of you move towards the door, you see exactly where Gal’s video camera is going to go, and you know, for the first time since you left the base, that you’ll actually do it.

***

To read more Tablet Original Fiction, click here.

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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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