Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Encounter 6/9


By Yehuda Berlinger. Copyright 2006, Yehuda Berlinger. All rights reserved.

(Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)

Chapter 6: Mirror

In New York, Sarah dreams.

Sweat streams. Skin burns.

A dark New York haze coalesces into a young woman in Jerusalem, rising from damp rumpled sheets into shafts of sunlight and dust. Her black hair is framed in a golden halo.

Sarah emerges from the bedsheets, picks her white robe up off the floor and slips into it, tying the belt in a double bow. She opens her door, crosses the hall, and enters the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

On the back of the bathroom door is a full length mirror. Sarah drops the bathrobe and her underwear and looks at herself in the mirror. She turns her face left, and then right. She turns her hips left, and then right. Her image is blurry through sleepy eyelids. Her right hand reaches out to the mirror, where it meets the left hand of her mirror twin.

"Touch," she says to her twin.

As she turns around and starts the shower water, the mirror lightly ripples out from the contact point, and then stills.

Dream fog envelopes her body and then sweats down the brow of her body on Long Island. Sarah moans feverishly and turns in her bed. In Queens, she is softly snoring. Uptown, she is sleeping noiselessly. Downtown, a black hand caresses her pale cheek. She is smiling in her sleep, and her face is drenched as the water streams out of the shower and down her skin.

She scrubs herself healthy and pink, ignoring a calendar message about her AI paper. David Lanz restarts in her ear.

She steps out of the fog in dreamy mode, her mind too scattered to focus. Her movements are automatic. She dries, robes, and returns to her room. Her dressing is automatic. She doesn't know what she is wearing. She goes downstairs.

The living room floor is littered with her brother's friends who are sleeping half out of their black and gray sleeping bags. They are scattered across the floor like cocoons. Sarah recalls that one of them is supposed to be dead. Papers, pencils, game books, miniatures, and colored polyhedral dice dot the bridge table and the surrounding floor. She crosses the room with awkward steps, avoiding stepping onto anything, or anybody.

In the kitchen, Sarah packs a yogurt, plastic spoon, carrot sticks, and peaches, while she scrolls through the news. The U.S. Secretary of State will be leaving for Egypt today. A shooting in Bnei Brak, which may have been criminally motivated. Police are still on high alert for a terrorist attack in the capital. The weather will be seasonably average. She stuffs the food into her backpack next to some papers, zips the bag halfway up, and heads out the kitchen to the front door of the apartment.

She leaves the apartment building and walks to the corner, and around the corner market to the dingy bus stop. Two older women are seated at the stop. They speak to each other in Russian.

When the bus arrives, she enters first. She asks for, and receives, a transfer ticket, pays her shekels, and walks to the back doorwell of the bus. There is a pause while the old women slowly make their way onto the front of the bus. The bus driver lurches forward before they can sit down, knocking one of them off balance. One of the women begins to yell at the driver, to the amusement of the other passengers.

Sarah's hand grabs a pole as the bus turns towards the shuk, and grips a blanket as her head tosses right, and then left. She touches the arm stroking her face, right, and then left. She mutters in her sleep. She rolls over, and gets up as the bus stops. She gets off the bus, along with most of the passengers, those in the front struggling to get through a mass of people equally struggling to get on.

Sarah walks past the entrance to the shuk, passing vendors already yelling about their bourekas, sandals, watermelons. Women soldiers check bags and chat amiably. People in shabby coats sleep on the sidewalk, open tin cans next to their still bodies. The cans have priming coins in them. She continues to the bus stop that will take her to Hebrew University.

"Lady! Lady!" someone shouts in an Arabic accent. Sarah ignores the voice, as she ignores all Arabic voices. She is still more than a little scared of Arabs. Of personal violence, of robbery, of rape.

"Lady," says another voice, a woman's. She stops and turns her head to see a middle-aged Israeli woman with impossibly magenta hair pointing behind her. She turns fully around and sees a wrinkled Arab man with a bright white beard and a keffiyah. He is sitting on the sidewalk smoking a hookah, surrounded by trashy souvenirs. He is smiling with half a mouth of yellowed teeth and holding out some papers to her. Her papers, which have fallen out of her open backpack.

"Thank you," she manages in Hebrew to the outstretched hand and smiling face. She takes the paper, stuffs them into her backpack, and zips it. He waves his hand half a wave, looks at her with small black eyes and darkened skin, a deep bronze. She turns around and walks away, embarrassed.

Her bus stop is only five meters away. She turns to look at him once. He is still looking at her and smiling. She looks the other way. Standing next to her is a fat Haredi man in a long black coat. He also has dark skin, like the Arab's, and he is sweating. Behind him, on the inside wall of the bus stop, is a provocative poster announcing Madonna's upcoming concert in Tel Aviv.

The bus arrives. She hands her transfer to the bus driver and gets it back with the driver's punchmark in it. She heads to the rear doorwell again but then sits in an empty seat across from it. The dark Haredi man walks down the aisle toward her.

A Haredi woman stands in front of her, hand on a baby carriage. Three grubby children cling to her skirts. The baby is whimpering in the carriage like Sarah is whimpering in her bed. Her face suddenly frowns under the gentle arm.

She looks back at the dark Haredi. He stops in front of the woman and smiles, reaches into his pocket, and says something that sounds like, "Hello, mouse."

There is an unearthly noise and a flash.

Sarah wakes from a dream and into a nightmare.

No comments: