We’d been walking through the old part of Safed, Israel, for half an hour, up narrow streets that wound like serpents past sand-colored houses of prayer and study. My arm was growing tired from holding the tiny microphone up to record the old man’s reedy whisper, dry as a Torah scroll: “The sages tell us that every living thing — the farthest star, the tiniest sprout — has an angel who watches over it.” He spoke in a British-accented English he must have learned back in pre-statehood days. “But there is a hidden teaching that a new angel is born whenever two human beings meet.”
By now, we’d climbed to the same level as the flat rooftops of the houses on the street below, and we walked out onto one of them. The old man smelled of cumin. He stretched out his arm to the narrow streets, the hills and valleys beyond. “Pay attention,” he said. Then he covered his eyes with a liver-spotted hand. “You see: God’s world is vast, but with one tiny hand man blots it all out.”
I recognized the aphorism from a Martin Buber anthology my father had occasionally plundered, trying to lend his sermons a depth they never gained. Though I was disappointed to receive canned spiritual advice from an authentic Galilean mystic, the cynic in me gloated.
Then the old man removed his hand and pinned me with his gaze. “And with our fear of small things,” he said, “we blind ourselves to the very angels we have called forth.”
Back in my room, I drank mineral water, wishing it were beer, and tapped out a short account of my day with the old man, trying to find a tone that was neither too dismissive nor too credulous. When I’d finished, I discovered that the hotel phone lines weren’t compatible with my modem; I’d have to e-mail my latest dispatch in Tel Aviv tomorrow, on my way south. I lay down on the narrow bed, exhausted by the feelings this land was churning up: this lurching between the appallingly familiar — familiar as in family — and the hopelessly strange; this stuttering sense of being forever on the edge of revelation. Every time an old man with a face out of Warsaw or Minsk came round a corner, or a Yemenite street musician sang a Psalm of David’s, some vast possibility fluttered at the edge of my consciousness. But the promised understanding would fail and fall away. And then I’d remember the Palestinian children who had pressed against the windows of the hired car at the refugee camp in Gaza, their mouths full of hunger and curses. I’d seen worse in India, had even seen faces as lost and ravaged in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury as a young man. But this was my ancestral so-called homeland. I wanted to fling open the car door and offer myself up to those children in some futile gesture of atonement. Instead, I told the driver to get me the hell out of there. There would be no dispatches from Gaza.
On the bed, I took a few deep breaths and did some relaxation exercises, imagining the tension running down my back and out my toes. I tried to summon some feelings of gratitude: that I was making a living again; that I’d been given a chance to “reclaim the wreckage of the past,” as they say in AA. I should have been dead, or living on dog food in the Tenderloin, the subject of “Whatever happened to . . .” features in slick magazines. But here I was, writing electronic reportage from the Promised Land, hoping not to make a mess of the new life I’d been handed. In the morning I’d drive south into the Negev Desert to interview a group of Israeli environmental scientists. I resisted the subversive voice in my head suggesting a detour into the slums of Tel Aviv, where hashish was an easy score. Just before I fell asleep, I imagined a dark, misshapen angel standing in the stuccoed corner of the room, watching me with a sad smile.
“I ’m Arthur Daniel from World On-line.”
I’d been told they were expecting me, but the young woman at the desk gave no sign of recognition. It was hot in the cluttered room. I twisted my head to one side, trying to relieve the stiff neck I’d developed on the four-hour drive. I’d overslept and had skipped lunch to get there on time. Through a window, I could see purple bougainvillea climbing the wall of an adjacent building. “I’m supposed to have a meeting with Yehuda Zeitlin.”
The woman nodded curtly and said, in the harsh English of an educated sabra — a native Israeli — “He is gone. Annual military duty. Not in the West Bank, thank God.”
“I see. My editor didn’t tell me. Is there someone else I could talk to?”
“I am Tamar Zeitlin — the wife of Yehuda. He mentioned something about this, but I’ll tell you honestly I wasn’t paying attention. We are very busy here. I think he wanted me to represent the research station to you.”
She found a folder and scanned the pages inside. Without looking up, she asked, “You are Arthur Daniel?”
“Yes, I’m doing a series on cultures in crisis for an on-line publication and —”
“You once wrote novels?” She was still reading from the folder.
“As a matter of fact, I did, but —”
“And now you write for the Internet, yes?”
“At the moment, yes.”
“All right.” She stood up. She wasn’t as young as I’d thought: Thirty? Thirty-five? Her hair was close-cropped. Her arms and legs were very tan, very firm. Stop it, I told myself, and looked down at my hands. They looked like old man’s hands, veiny and spotted.
“Where do we begin?” she asked.
“I suppose you could start by telling me about what you do here.”
“I am a biologist studying the managed reproduction of riverine life forms.”
“I grow algae in tanks.” She picked up a water bottle and clipped it to her belt. “First I must orient you. What we do here can only be understood in the context of the bioregion itself.”
We followed a barely discernible trail in the sand that began just outside the mud-brick gatehouse. Tamar walked fast, and I was soon out of breath. The limestone walls rose higher and higher on either side of the trail, and vegetation cropped up along the canyon floor. She stopped abruptly. Sunlight shone on the rim of the canyon, turning the limestone pink. Hundreds of cliff swallows with yellow, orange, and burgundy undersides darted overhead.
“They are feeding on insects,” Tamar explained. “They must eat ten times their own weight every day.”
The birds plummeted down to within inches of the ground, then shot back up to the canyon rim like divers surfacing for air. I wanted to remember this moment for my next dispatch. As I let my eyes follow the birds’ swoop and glide, the musty weight of my personal history lightened, and for a moment I forgot my incarcerated desires.
“We are in the Wadi Zin. The Children of Israel passed through here during the forty years of wandering. It is in the Torah.” Her voice had taken on a new tone. Silhouetted against the white limestone, her body seemed to glow. She pointed to the canyon wall. “You see?”
At first I didn’t, they were so well camouflaged. But then, yes: clusters of small wild goats with curving horns, poised on narrow ledges.
“Capra nubiana,” she said. “The Nubian ibex.”
“I hear water,” I said.
“The spring is hidden by the tamarisks. It can become quite fierce.” She squatted down and sifted some sandy soil in her hand. Her khaki-colored shorts and olive skin blended into the landscape, but her eyes shone like dark gemstones. She told me how, twenty years earlier, a flash flood had scoured all the vegetation from the canyon. When the tamarisks began to grow back, the vulnerable young plants sported thorns that prevented the ibexes from eating them. Once established, however, the plants dropped their thorns, and the ibexes could feed again. I asked what the ibexes did in the meantime.
“Many of them died.”
“Sounds like a parable.”
“Please, no.” She stood abruptly, brushing the dirt off her hands. “We are crushed by parables here. It is important to let some things alone.”
She led me to a place where ancient floods had undercut the base of the canyon wall to form a gallery. “We will rest here for ten minutes.”
Sheltered by the overhang, I enjoyed the cool, smooth stone against my back.
“After you finish here, where do you go?” Tamar asked.
“Eilat is not really Israel. It is a little piece of Australia or Acapulco attached to the Sinai.”
I explained that my editor had a thing for places that were “on the edge.”
She snorted, the familiar sound of a skeptical and annoyed Israeli confronted by American mishugas — craziness. “You’re supposed to be a Jewish writer, but this is the first time you’ve been to Israel, yes?”
OK, I thought, a test. “No. I spent a summer on a kibbutz when I was fourteen.”
“That was when, in the fifties?”
“No, 1960, actually.”
She drew up her knees and rested her chin on them, making herself so compact she took up almost no space at all. “Are you married?” she asked.
“No,” I said, caught off guard by this new angle of attack. “I was once, but I’ve been divorced for about ten years. Why?”
“Only that I am curious. I meet very few people from outside the research station.” She shrugged, as if to say: This conversation has no real importance.
I tried to find a comfortable way to fold my legs under me on the unyielding stone.
“I have read one of your novels.”
“Really?” If she’d said she knew one of my old girlfriends it would have been less shocking. She must have been about fifteen when the last one was published.
“When I taught Hebrew in the ulpan many years ago, an American girl had one — the one that was famous for a while. She showed me some parts which she thought were very amusing. She had to explain them to me, though, and even then I did not laugh.” Tamar picked up a small stone and inspected it.
I wondered how quickly I could get back on the road. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get any kind of a story from this thorny specimen.
“What other places in Israel will you write about for the Internet?” she asked.
Another setup, but what did I have to lose? I listed the bohemian neighborhood in Tel Aviv, the village of Moroccan immigrants, and the old man in Safed, adding what he’d said about angels.
“Angels.” I thought she might spit three times. “Safed is full of old men who tell the tourists what they want to hear. Angels are for Americans. The word in Hebrew is malochim. They are not like your angels, not pretty or soft. They are indifferent, or they fight with you. Sometimes they kill you.”
She folded her arms across her chest. She could have been posing for an Israeli Army poster. I wanted a cigarette, but I’d quit six months before — the last of the old friends I’d forsaken.
“I know about the indifferent ones,” I said, “and the ones who try to kill you.”
She looked directly at me for the first time. The rawness in my voice must have gotten her attention. I saw that her eyes weren’t brown, as I’d thought, but dark gray. When the silent staring got to be too much, I said, “What was this place again? You said it’s in the Bible?”
“The Wilderness of Zin. It was where they received the manna from God.”
“Remind me how that goes.”
Again that shrug, negating whatever was to follow. “They are in total despair, you understand. They say it would be better to have died in Egypt with full stomachs than here, lost and starving.”
The sound of her voice, with its rolled rs and odd-shaped vowels, wasn’t pretty, but it had something to it: an undertow.
“God becomes very upset, like a father who doesn’t understand what he has done wrong. ‘All right, all right,’ he says. ‘You’re hungry, I’ll feed you. Not only that,’ he says, ‘I will let you see me.’ And he does. He appears to them in a cloud, and then the manna comes down like — what is the word? Like a rain, but not so heavy.”
“ ‘Drizzle’? Is that a word?”
“Yes. It means —”
“No, not drizzle.” She thought for a moment. I managed to twist my legs into a sloppy half-lotus.
“Dew. Yes. The moisture that condenses from the air — that is dew?”
“And no matter how much or how little anyone gathers, in the end, everyone has the same amount. If they try to hoard it, it rots.”
“So they have to start every day with nothing?”
“Except on Shabbat. On the sixth day, they get a double portion — this they can keep overnight — and on the seventh day, nothing. God was very clever this way.”
“Maybe the rabbis put that last part in.”
“The rabbis put it all in.”
In the accent of a pious Russian immigrant, I said, “You don’t believe it’s the word of God?”
She rewarded me with a smile.
“It’s a wonderful story, though,” I said. I wondered what kind of food could drop from the sky like dew. Something that would melt on the tongue like a kiss and fill the body with strength.
“The religious ones are killing us with their stories. They are worse than the Arabs.” She stood up.
When I got to my feet to follow her, I found that my right leg was completely asleep. Before I could catch myself, my left ankle twisted under me and I fell to my hands and knees. “Shit!” I yelled.
“Are you all right?” Tamar asked.
I rolled into a sitting position and turned my head to hide the distress that was twisting my face. A sour and intense pain tore at my ankle, which I imagined was already beginning to swell. “My leg was asleep,” I said, holding my ankle.
She knelt beside me and unlaced my shoe. I winced and drew a sharp breath.
“Can you walk?”
“I think so.” Be strong. Smile. “If I can get up.”
She extended her hand to me and pulled me to my feet with surprising strength. “Don’t stand on it,” she said. “Here, lean on me.”
Her house at the research station wasn’t far, but the going was slow and awkward. Tamar had her arm around me to provide support, and I could feel her hip moving against my thigh. Ankle throbbing, head spinning, I was waylaid by a fugitive memory of some teenage dance parry: my first contact with those other bodies, those heavenly textures and dark, inviting rumors. I was hearing “Unchained Melody,” right there in the middle of the Negev.
In the blessedly cool house, she made me lie down on the couch, put several cushions under my legs, and gently probed my swollen ankle with her fingers. She told me to wiggle my toes. I did, with effort. “A sprain,” she said authoritatively, “not a fracture.” She filled a plastic bag with ice and gave it to me. “Hold this against your ankle for twenty minutes. Then I will wrap it.”
“You’re very good at this,” I said.
“We learn it in the army,” she said and walked out of the room. In a few minutes, I heard water running. I closed my eyes and imagined her taking a shower. Then the sound of the water became the hissing of sand collapsing down a sinkhole. I wondered if Tamar had any brandy on hand. I prayed she didn’t.
She had changed into a sleeveless white dress with eyelets around the neck and shoulders. “Another ten minutes for the ice,” she said.
“Can we talk?” I asked. “I still need to interview you.”
“I need my recorder.”
She brought me my rucksack, and I found a blank tape and inserted it. What to ask first? May I touch you, feel the texture of your short dark hair beneath my fingers, place my two hands on your bare shoulders?
“What would you say is the most important thing you’re trying to accomplish here?”
She considered the question. “To understand that, you have to know our history.”
“I know the basics.”
“I mean the history of our attitudes toward the land.”
“ ‘The land’ as in ‘promised’?”
“In a way, yes. The pioneers saw the land as empty, barren. They needed to make miracles — to ‘make the desert bloom.’ ”
“And they did it, right?”
“But look at the cost: a fortress completely dependent on American aid. We want something different —”
“Just a second.” I was paying more attention to my throbbing ankle than to what she was saying. “Do you have any aspirin?”
She kept talking while she walked to the kitchen, raising her voice so I could hear: “We want to find ways to live in harmony with the land — and our neighbors, if we can — not to impose some Eurocentric idea of how it should be. So we explore mud-brick dwellings. But middle-class Israelis reject them because they look too much like Arab houses. We make more progress with solar-energy research because everyone wants cheap electricity. We experiment with sustainable agriculture, crops that require little water.”
She returned with a glass of something orange and effervescent.
“Aspirin, just as you asked for.”
“Sorry, I was expecting pills.”
“It is a German brand, with vitamin C also. For colds. But it is still aspirin.”
“Let’s hear it for the Germans.” I drank the liquid, which tasted like nothing real. I glanced at the recorder; the tape was still running.
“All right, how about some personal background?”
“What for? I am not so interesting.”
“Of course you are.” I wrote in my notebook: Dark arms. White eyelet dress. “Where were you born?”
“On a kibbutz. Near the Lake Kinneret.”
“Were your parents sabras?”
“No, no.” Her words tumbled out in the rhythm of a bedtime story. “They came during the war. They were orphans. He came from Vilna, in Lithuania, and she came from France. The kibbutz became their mother and father. He learned silvaculture and planted many orchards. She was a psychologist for children.” Then the old admonitory tone returned: “You should go there. If you want to know what this country could have been. You should go and speak with them instead of the goyim in Eilat.”
“No.” It felt good to say the word. “No, it’s your generation that’s facing the really hard choices: Do you sacrifice democracy for security? Can Israel remain a Jewish state without giving in to the fundamentalists?”
“Those questions are for philosophers and politicians. I am a biologist.”
“But you will be affected, and your family. What kind of country do you want your children to grow up in?”
“I have no children,” she said, dark eyes staring through me, lips compressed. The ice cubes were melting in the bag, which started to slide off my throbbing ankle. I grabbed it. She got up, took it from me, walked out of the room, and returned a few moments later with an elastic bandage. I turned off the tape recorder. “Tamar, I’m sorry if I said the wrong —”
“No, please. It is only that I am not used to speaking with strangers. We are like a small family here, much smaller even than a kibbutz.” She sat down and took my foot in her lap, wrapping the bandage around it in a figure-eight pattern. The pressure of her hands was the most comforting thing I’d felt in a long time.
“We have been trying for seven years. The doctors find no reason why it shouldn’t happen, but it doesn’t.”
“What about adoption?”
“That is the most logical, but Yehuda has feelings about this — and so do I. Of course, these feelings are not rational. They are quite banal, actually.”
“It is about my parents and all they have gone through to reach this place. If I do not perpetuate them, their struggle maybe loses all its meaning. My brother will have many children, I’m sure, but he will raise them to be very different from our parents. He has become religious, a ‘black hat.’ They will be little fanatics.” The skin of her face and shoulders began to glow in the late-afternoon sunlight that filtered through the muslin curtains. “Not that I would do any better. That is the problem, you see. What my parents are — you know, what they carry inside them — maybe cannot live in this place. They believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. That is not a good survival mechanism here.”
The softer light made her eyes translucent. She was no longer the thorny sabra, the unreachable scientist. She was a child of Eastern Europe, of the exquisitely wrought culture of Jewish Vilna or Warsaw. I suddenly wanted to take her in my arms and tell her that the war had ended while she slept, that morning had come and the dew had fallen.
“Yehuda wants to begin the in vitro next month, but I do not welcome this idea. I have already spent too much time in laboratories.” She continued wrapping my foot in silence. Then, without looking up: “You are a good listener.” I said something dismissive about it being my job. “No,” she said firmly, “it is deeper than that. People here do not know how to listen.” She took my hand and placed it on the end of the bandage. “Hold it tight.” Opening the drawer of a small table next to the couch, she found a safety pin to secure the elastic. “Do you have children?”
I stiffened. “That’s what everybody here asks. I know what they’re thinking: ‘A Jew his age with no children? He must be gay, or maybe his shmitchik fell off, or else he’s lying: he married a shiksa, and she had the kids baptized.’ ”
She laughed, a completely new sound. “You’re right. It’s your business.” She stood up. “You should not drive to Eilat today. There is a guest house here. I will see if you can stay there.”
But the guest house was occupied by a visiting delegation of Australian entrepreneurs. The only alternative was the futon in Tamar’s study. My response to this was complicated: a lurid movie unreeled in my mental basement, but my psyche was overcome with exhaustion. I didn’t have it in me to be a polite house guest, full of interesting conversation and thoughtful gestures. “That’s very generous of you,” I began, intending to explain that the ankle wasn’t so bad; I could make it to Eilat. But as soon as I put my foot on the floor, the pain took my breath away, and I just nodded.
Tamar made a large salad of cucumbers, olives, and several exotic desert fruits. I limped to the table.
“This is sapote, like avocado,” she explained. “And this is pitahaya. It’s a cactus. An agronomist from California grows them in the southern Arava.”
She placed a chair underneath my bandaged ankle, sat down, and picked up a bottle of white wine. This was the moment I’d been dreading. My hand moved reflexively to cover the glass. “No, thanks,” I said.
“You don’t drink wine?”
“No, I’m . . . allergic.”
She filled her own glass and went on to serve the salad. “Americans have so many allergies. My nephew cannot eat wheat.”
“You have an American nephew?”
She nodded and sipped her wine. I could feel its astringent tang on my tongue.
“My sister married an American,” she said. “She lives near Chicago. And her husband is allergic to strawberries. His skin erupts if he eats them.”
I tasted the sapote. “This is very good.”
We ate in silence. Tamar poured herself a second glass of wine. I tried not to watch her drink it.
“And what happens if you drink wine?” she asked.
I felt a buzzing in my solar plexus. I could tell her that it’s been so long maybe I’m not allergic anymore; maybe it’s time to try a little taste, what’s the harm in that? I could make up anything. She knows nothing of my life. I could go on drinking all the way to Eilat. As long as I keep e-mailing my dispatches, who would know? I could drink only wine. Only with meals. Only when I’m traveling — like now. The sensation in my solar plexus had risen to my jaw and lips, which were tingling in anticipation. “Tamar,” I said, “I’m an alcoholic.” The tingling stopped abruptly.
She tilted her head, as if puzzled. “You mean you drink too much?”
“Anything is too much. If I start, I can’t stop. I haven’t had a drink in four years.”
“And all this time you have wanted to drink?”
“Not always. At first I did. And sometimes I still do.”
“You have more strength in you than I thought.”
Another backhanded compliment. “No,” I said, “it’s not strength or willpower that keeps me from drinking.”
“I’d have to call it grace — maybe that’s not so different from luck.”
“You are religious?”
“Not in any way that the rabbis would understand. I’m not even sure I understand.”
She considered this for a moment, then stood up and carried her glass and the bottle into the kitchen. In the doorway, she turned. “And coffee?” she said. “Are you allowed that?” Her voice was light, but not mocking. I realized I was holding my breath.
“Only real coffee. I’ve had all the Nescafé I can take on this trip.”
“I will grind the beans myself.”
Looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I inventoried my thinning hair, deepening wrinkles, enlarged pores, loose skin, and multiplying age spots, and once again pronounced myself a noncompetitor in the sexual arena. And once again I rehearsed all the reasons why there was no possibility of an adventure with Tamar. But when I hobbled into the study and saw her kneeling to arrange the pillows on the futon, the light of a small lamp soft on her face, these thoughts scattered like frightened birds.
Seeing me, she quickly got to her feet. “It is not so luxurious,” she said.
“I’m very grateful.” Yes, but for what, exactly? A warm bed for the night, or the curve of her shoulder and back? I extended my hand, not knowing whether I intended to shake hers, touch her cheek, or pull her to me.
“Wait,” she said, and picked up a chair, placing it next to the futon. “You can lean on this to undress yourself.”
“Thank you,” I said, relieved she’d taken my gesture as a request for help. I lowered myself stiffly into the chair and took a book from my bag.
She seemed reluctant to leave. “What are you reading?”
It was a nonfiction account of a meeting between a group of American rabbis and the Dalai Lama. She rolled her eyes.
“Tamar,” I said, “will you have some more time in the morning — to finish the interview?”
She sat down on the futon and took my bandaged foot in her hands. “Do you want to sleep with me?” she asked.
Was this an auditory hallucination? A wish-fulfillment fantasy?
“You understand,” she added, “I am not suggesting a romance, but with you I could possibly become pregnant.”
I blinked. I gawked. I couldn’t reconcile the weight of what she was saying with the blandness of her tone. “You want to —”
“Perhaps I was mistaken, but I had the sense that you were attracted to me. And since you are not married . . .”
She took off the shoe and sock that were still on my other foot and began to massage it. My face was suddenly very hot. Blushing, at my age? Responses flashed through my mind: a hundred reasons to say, No, impossible; a hundred desires pushing me toward her. A net result of complete paralysis.
Finally, appalled by my own lameness, I whispered, “Surely there must be more suitable candidates. . . .”
“No, it is very small here.” She pressed points on the sole of my foot that sent waves of pleasure up my spine. “Yehuda would find out very quickly. But you will be far away when he returns. And your coloring is the same as his.”
I found a bit more of my voice. “But you would know. I would know.”
“So? In a while you will forget.” She patted the futon next to her. “Come. I invite you.”
“But how do you know it would . . . work? With us, I mean. Maybe there are reasons why you haven’t —”
“I said before, the doctors find no reason, medically. You know what I think? I think Yehuda and I are too much alike. He also grew up on a kibbutz. His parents also survived Hitler. We are very good together, but there is not that certain gap between us that needs to be filled with a new life. These are crazy thoughts, I know. I have told them to no one else.”
“Have you ever tried with anyone else?”
“No. I have thought of it, but always I told myself, ‘Maybe next month. Be patient.’ Now I am thirty-six. If I am too patient, there will never be a child.”
Something in the shape of her body seemed to enclose an emptiness. I tried to remember ever wanting something the way Tamar wanted this child. She let go of my foot. I told myself I should at least move a little closer to her, for a conversation like this. A child. Some sentimental organ began to hum inside my chest. Old aches returned. Fragments of a dozen late-night conversations with this woman or that one echoed and tumbled inside me. “But to have a child somewhere and never know its name, how it was doing, what it looked like —”
“If you want a child, no one is stopping you,” Tamar said, with a particular note of Israeli exasperation. “Find someone to marry. It’s simple. You are a good-looking man.” Then she shook herself lightly, as if emerging from the water, and stood up. “All right,” she said, “we will say no more about it. Forgive me if I have been too bold. I must be up early. I am on duty in the morning.” Her face was in shadow now, outside the circle of the lamplight. “Do you need help?”
“I think I’ll be fine.” She had just asked me to sleep with her to make a child, hadn’t she? How had she managed to zip that moment closed?
“Just one thing more,” she said. “I hope you will not write about what I have said in this article of yours.”
“No, of course not.” I pushed myself up out of the chair.
Suddenly, I didn’t want her to leave me alone with this knot of confusion in my gut threatening to keep me awake all night. “But you must admit, it is a hell of a story.”
“Please, it is not a story.”
“Why not?” My ankle was hurting too much for me to remain standing. With the help of the chair, I lowered myself to the futon.
“Because it is my life. And Yehuda’s.”
“And mine. I’m part of it now.”
“No,” she said with a faint growl in her throat, “you have refused to be part of it.” She stood over me, looking down. “If I had pretended only to want sex for an evening, you would not have refused, right? But because I ask for something with real consequences, you become nervous and act like a judge.”
“All right,” I said, perhaps too harshly. “I won’t write about it.”
“B’seder,” she said. “OK.” But she didn’t move to leave, and I was strangely glad of this. She was right, of course. If she had offered even the illusion of passion, I would have eagerly accepted. But her overwhelming need had little to do with me, and she refused to pretend otherwise.
Tamar stretched. The movement came from deep in her spine, slowly rippled through her neck, shoulders, and arms. Her face, lit from below, looked older and more tired. Silence, thick and hard to penetrate, stretched out between us. Unexpectedly, a story my father loved to tell welled up behind my eyes: the one about the angels, disguised as wanderers, who come to Abraham in the desert and bless his wife, Sarah, with the promise of fertility. I tried to shake it off. Enough angels! But my imagination would not be stopped. It shamelessly presented me with the image of a child, a little girl with a wide smile, waiting quietly in some hidden room of my body. I struggled to my feet — the hell with my ankle — and, for the second time that night, offered my hand to Tamar. Outside, from the direction of the wadi, came some night creature’s soft and liquid call.