I looked around my mother at my sister seated in the opposite aisle seat. After my father’s funeral, Ivy had started collecting records of incantations from India or Africa, with record jackets on which cameo pictures of spiritual amulets and naked black warriors would appear. She also made notations onto little index cards she took from the high school library stack about the Amish who lived in some of the colonial farmhouses further down the road from us. She put a motto up on her bedroom wall in Westchester which read: “The Amish people live kindly and decently. They love what is… and are joyful.” She had already tried marijuana and knew about the places in the woods in Katonah we could take some six packs of Colt 45 malt liquor and consider the all-embracing energy waves of nature. We drank nips of Southern Comfort, too, in the cold, raking through the Westchester snowdrifts in large rubber boots where sometimes the rocks were stained with deer blood, fallen fragile and beautiful animals. We had searched for hunter’s tracks, to find enemies. We had to be careful about how we moved about now, Ivy had said, and about what we said, about what secret thoughts swam in our brains, in case it had been our bad spiritual vibrations that had made my father leave us, or that had made him do what he did.
Now Ivy was sipping from a container of Tropicana orange juice she bought at the duty-free shop while we waited for our flight. Ivy was sixteen. She was taller than me, with long, chestnut hair and a thin, difficult face—small-eyed and sharp. Her long body gave off the odor of cigarettes and soap. My moods were as changeable and labile as my mother’s, they darkened or lightened. Ivy often prided herself on not being one of us at all and could easily establish her emotional residence elsewhere.
Once my mother was safe again, with her first family, and if I planned it right, I could find a way to leave. I would find the places my father told me about in Paris. I could wire back to my sister and she could come, too. I will enjoy that, I thought, pulling my sister out with me. Somehow, I thought I would stay in Israel for only as long as it took me to find enough money to get to Paris, to what I knew of the famous streets that could be described in the large, sensual words Marcel Proust had brought my father and me when I was still too young to understand what they meant. Lyrical overtures about the loveless and abandoned. I had no knowledge of airfares, but I believed the situation, all of us being in Israel, once the plane landed, could be undone if I acted forcefully enough.
After my father’s “accident,” my mother could not recognize herself in the picture of her life. If the white drifts on the ground were tall and thick, she would let me stay home from school. She lay silent in the house in Katonah, ringing her hands under her bed sheets, stunned and outraged as if it was just at that moment that she heard the news of my father’s death. And then she would look at me, look appealingly to me. She grew more careless about herself as time went on. Her body was usually without undergarments which gave the sheets a hot, wettish odor. Her hair and face creams gave off a strong, fruity smell and tempered the raw coarse aromas that got loose from her flesh. And then her strength appeared more muscular in its war against grief and distress than I had ever seen it. I wanted to be near it. Sometimes I stayed home from school and she took me into bed with her. We watched television in her bed together: Our Miss Brooks and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Queen for A Day. We watched a chimpanzee at Cape Canaveral complete his one-day space flight towards the moon. I believed I knew what we were doing together those long, housebound mornings and afternoons. We were preparing for the possibility that there would never be another man in our lives, that we better get used to it being just us.
“Look.” My mother adjusted herself in her seat, reached into the left pocket of her tent dress and whisked out an envelope my aunt had sent her from One Metaduleh Street. She pulled out three recent photographs, fanning them out with her fingers like a trick deck of cards and holding them in front of my eyes. There was Jerusalem, “The Border Confused City,” the 1963 Life magazine article called it. My mother had left the article on my bedroom bureau in Katonah. “In a Pentateuchal sense of the word,” said the article I read that night two weeks ago, “Jerusalem is a geography that is everywhere a matter of more or less chaos, looking still like a Biblical place where the sea had not yet separated from the sky and the land was not yet.”
I had looked up “Pentateuchal” in the dictionary and had not even found a definition for that.
Now I stared at her photographs. The white Jerusalem houses with their fences of barbed wire and warning signs in the fields; the powerful, endlessly complex hills and recesses; the naked desert-like earth and pearl-gray edifices whose boundaries were as open to interpretation and vulnerable to disintegration as lines drawn into the dust.
My mother put the photographs back in the envelope and slid them into her dress pocket but, when she shifted in her seat, they spilled to the floor. The reading light passed through her uncombed hair. “My sister Esther inherited the house on Metaduleh Street,” she started to explain. “Did I ever tell you how it was in Israel? Now Esther is married to Yakov Hendel, who lives in my father’s house with her. And your grandmother. I think Yakov is only in the ministry of hostels, a low position and he doesn’t have much money of his own. What a shame for Esther when all of our friends married diplomats or generals after the war and built their own houses.”
“I think you told me all this already,” I said.
“You look like him.”
“Like my brother, Elizar. When you were born, I swore it was Elizar come back to me.”
I looked down at the floor, trying to see if any other photographs had spilled there.
“Get some sleep,” my mother said. “We will be there before you know it. You must learn to be a survivor, Liana. Do you want me to take your hand in mine. Will it calm you?”