Saturday, September 29, 1990
The sun rose over the city, and the dawn flowed in on Haim who sat cross-legged on the bed. Outside the fifth-floor window, Paris did not exist. He no longer inhabited his tingling body. There was the scent of ionized oxygen in the room. His skin and stomach were in pain. His sensations were signs of decomposition in the corpse to which he was attached. Whatever life remained was concentrated in the black rectangle sitting in the center of the room. If any will had survived in him, Haim would have killed what remained of himself. He registered the morning silence punctuated by murmurs and ticks of sound. The apartment door was smashed open, and Haim welcomed the bullets piercing his head and chest, throwing his body against the wall.
Dan slept fitfully on the living room couch, always dimly aware of the guest in the bedroom closet. The telephone, which might ring with further instructions, took on a grotesque life. He had left on the television set, which buzzed and flaked before him. Through the early hours of Saturday, bored and riveted, he had kept watching the American coverage of the crisis: A heightened alert had been put in place across the world; still Arie’s threat could have an effect. Maybe the powers that be would use the chaos of rioting and protests across the world as an excuse to pull back from the abyss. His thoughts had grown gradually diffuse. He could not rest, and he watched the trembling television screen. His taut and vigilant body tossed about on the couch.
Sasha had taken up his position looking out over the metropolis awake and bustling on Yom Kippur morning. At his window with the telephone and the short wave radio on at his elbow, he watched the shoppers at the markets near the complex, their movements, the objects they carried, the cars and trucks which drove about. It was a Russian pleasure to take comfort in ordinariness, in an orderliness of struggle and consumption, on the verge of collapse. Patient and appalled, he waited for his room to be invaded and he destroyed.
The apartment stank of fever and vomit and ozone. Eli lay naked on his bed. It had been light for some time in the Austrian capitol. He was unable to move, almost to breathe. For thirty-six hours, he had lived inches from the leaking radioactive case beneath the box spring. A Greek army trampled the air, a disfigured woman screamed, a melody grew grotesque, a dissonant burlesque.
* * *
Pink-gold light filled Arie’s office as the sun glinted off the city and the Judean hills east toward Jordan. Brown stubble grew on his face. Scattered before him on his desk were reports from his remaining staff, the tan monograph, the ivory-bound bible. The government had isolated him completely, yet they had not moved against him. Occasionally before, a minister or functionary was allowed his maverick extremity. If what he said or did led to embarrassment or failure, the government found a way to disavow their instrument. Yet Arie’s isolation was such that he was beyond being any government’s plot or strategy. He was solely an instrument of human opposition. At his desk, he worked to finish a last message to be wired to the world powers. Forging his protest, he worked to break the circle of silence, which had tightened around him.
The phone rang. It was security. Rami was at the compound’s entrance and wanted to come up. Through the wall of window, Arie saw his father standing by the checkpoint entrance; nearby was a sheroot taxi. The old man and the car and the slouching Arab driver waited in front of the agents guarding the compound. He told security to allow Rami through.
A knock sounded at his door. Rami entered, his wiry arms in short sleeves, the sport-jacket carried under his arm, the same tall man with white hair. Yet his father had changed. There was a pallor to his skin. Neutrally his eyes surveyed each object in the office. He glided about for a few seconds, past the computer console and the tables laden with books and files. “A remarkable place,” he said, his distracted voice peculiarly resonant, raw and teasing.
“I have only a few minutes to spare.”
But Rami still walked about. “Here we have Morris’ radioactive brick, even encased behind glass,” he said. “Nice and safe. Almost four decades ago he gave it to you. What wonderful years. When Morris visited us then, he was dismayed. He brought you this legacy, and what did you do? Seven years old, you played with it. A toy to play with. How your uncle yelled. The shy man shouted.” Rami sat down on one of the chrome chairs across from Arie at his desk. “He couldn’t help himself.”
“Ever since, I’ve hated such weapons.”
“Your aversions have a way of getting out of hand,” the old man grinned.
It was a burlesque Rami was enacting, and Arie cut in: “The bomb is part of mankind’s gamble now, and obviously we’re losing. The world is given the simplest choice between life and death, and each of its leaders is willing to choose death.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Rami’s voice was intimate and vulnerable now. “No one is choosing to let life be, to struggle on in nature, not to turn it into weapons of will.”
“I revolt against the weapons.”
“Yes,” Rami’s eyes flashed, “because these weapons mean the opposite of everything that is alive to you, the opposite of creating, of loving, of forgiveness, of struggle, of tolerance.” His father had become radiant and possessed, a presence, a mouth, beyond the being who had entered the room. He embodied all that Israel seemed to have lost. Yet the rigor of revolt sustained Arie, and he knew that Rami still circled. “Why, Arie, why can’t man accept the gift of his genes, of nature?”
“It’s a fallen world. Should I be telling you it’s a corrupt world, father?”
“No.” The survivor’s voice was suddenly cold, and now he stared at his son. “In an hour, Benjamin is sending a delegation here. I refused to join them. They will have a large escort, Arie—an army escort. Before they arrive, you must tell me where the bombs are and who are your operatives.”
“Save yourself the humiliation and despair they’ll bring down on you.”
“What if you’re killed or imprisoned? What if there should even be an accident? Your men will blow up their cities. Apocalypse will begin. Call a halt.”
“No, father. It will not happen because I will not stop this operation. If the world’s leaders contemplate nuclear war being waged here, they must not doubt that the horror will engulf them.”
Rami gazed at Arie as at a rock, an insect, not his son, no longer a man. The white haired survivor rose and paced. He picked up the ivory-bound bible on Arie’s desk and held it as if it were a stone. “Yes, they are barbaric. But you have rejected what makes you different from them. You are a man who threatens to use atomic bombs. For power, for protest: it makes no difference. Why have we bothered to crawl from the slime?”
“What I am doing,” Arie shouted, shaking his fist at the Nagasaki tile on the wall, “is to reveal power to itself. These men can be stopped only if the image of their horror is tangible, immediate, irrefutable.”
“Then man is hateful. He is evil,” Rami yelled. His body twisted and keened in a circle of rage. “Our lives are repulsive. We deserve to be destroyed.” He hurled the bible at the framed tile on the wall, and shards of glass exploded about the room. Arie rose from his desk and lunged at the old man.
“You’re pathetic, father,” he hissed in Rami’s face. “Your heart has failed. This pillar of fire is given to us, and if we ignore it, we will perish. The threat of it is the only language men understand.”
“Empty words,” his father whispered and began to cry. “I can’t tell you what death I’ve seen, I see, I foresee. There are no words to express it. And the words you use, they’re dead. You think you oppose the machine of nuclear war. But you’re hypnotized by it, just as the machine of the death camps hypnotized them. You’re a dead soul.”
“Goddamn it, what I say is just not what you want to hear. My words are not ‘humane.’ But the atomic world is not humane. What I say and do is the only way humanity will find the way back to itself.” Arie saw his father, a foot away, as if Rami were a distant figure on a charred landscape.
Rami sank to his knees. He cried at his son’s feet. Arie shrank back a space, stepping onto the shards of glass.
His father spoke in a hoarse whisper: “Must that beautiful being which is man take the shape you give it, Arie? You’re the representative of homo sapiens I must bow down to? You, my son, who fashion this fiery, evil image of revolt? Then I’ve fashioned an image too, and it’s false.” His throat choked with tears, and his mouth gagged out his words. “If this is so, all I believe is false. I am a dead man. I have no self, no son, no world.” The old man showered blows at his own body, his chest, his thighs. On his knees, his body began to tremble. “Everything I am is poison. I have no right to a voice, a mouth, to live, to speak. I must be silenced.” He ripped and beat at his face with his hands so that the blood came. “I cannot speak—my tongue, my mouth, I have no mouth.”
Rami curled on the floor into a posture of birth or sleep. The son was cast down into the landscape of death. He vanished as a person. Yet the twisting particle of life which was his revolt held, a tick of sound within the silence. Solely protest lived, almost the word alone, hypnotic and obscure, yet it was the language which housed what remained of his being, a black space enclosed by the language of his dialectic. Power and his revolt against it.
Rami lifted himself up. His lips and nostrils were bloodstained. His eyes turned and beheld Arie. A mechanical voice emerged from his father’s mouth.
“Something has never passed my lips, but I will say it now. I lived with this guilt all my life, and I believed it would be buried with me in the grave. Where does your hatred come from? You think you’re in revolt, but, Arie, you hate. A hatred greater than the self-hate which tortured your mother. What is its source within you? Not every survivor has it, not every child of survivors. The most brutally tortured mute their hate with despair. We even delude ourselves with hope. Why does your hatred go deeper?”
The father’s hoarse whisper emerged from the dead space around him.
“After Auschwitz when you were born, your mother had died within herself and this new-born animal gave her the sole motive to struggle back to life. For that reason, I embraced you as my son. We heard her screams when she was taken from us before the liberation. She was raped in the Nazis’ quarters. You were conceived. You were born. You live on.”
Rami’s face contracted to a rectangle of white flesh. Arie saw gazing at him the gaping holes, which were his eyes. Rami walked away, closing the door behind him.
His gorge rose. His body fluttered and trembled above the glass-strewn floor. The words Rami had uttered screamed on. They obliterated and exposed him as a sham, a corpse. Arie stumbled over the slivers of glass, a shattered mirror. Torturer and tortured were trapped within, and out of the shards the torturer stepped, coming to claim his body. A new being entered, and he saw the corpse of what he had been. The dead language of revolt betrayed the obscenity of his genesis.
He pressed his face against the unopenable wall of glass. The luminous, arid hills glared. He brought death to them when he had sought to strike water from the rock. His revolt arose from hate and will, not from the desiccated beauty before him. He saw a radiant cypress, olive trees, a forest of pine. He saw Rami and Israel wandering. Then everything joined together: the sun over the forest, thin threads of ash covering the land, his body joined and cleaving to Elena’s, the infinite silence of being, the golden vista of Jerusalem, the ineradicable image of a flash falling from the sky.
Arie let go his grip on the glass. He sat down at his desk and wrote out the names and locations of the four terrorists he commanded. Opening the drawer of his desk, he took out the loaded pistol, the remnant of the death camp. The barrel in his mouth, he pulled the trigger. The bullet hurtled through his skull.
* * *
Sayeed did not look at the odious dogs he drove past in his dilapidated truck packed now with explosives. He was living in an eternal present, alert, floating above the multitude, feeling nothing but scorn for everything around him. A stream of incantations flowed through him, verses and imprecations filled with images of the ruin and destruction to be wrought by him, the falling building, the slaying of the false, the proud. Two blocks from the fate he would embrace, he noticed a peculiar commotion before him, and he slowed his truck to a crawl.
It was incredible. Rather that the Sabbath and Holy Day laxity he expected, there was a roadblock ahead and a cordon of military vehicles filling the street. A squadron of soldiers was visible in the parking lot. Emerging slowly from the mass of men and trucks was a decrepit Arab taxi. He must decide what to do instantly. He could plow his pickup into the roadblock, the crowd of trucks and men, and the taxi emerging from the lot and pointed directly toward him. Or he could turn at the corner and save his terrible load for another time, perhaps another place than this Mossad building which was now unreachable.
A glaring smile formed on his face. He turned, and floating on a wave of power and hatred, he drove his dusty lethal truck back toward the Arab Quarter. He drove east, insignificant and terrible, committed to the purity of his idea: the use of terror to resurrect the Palestinian nation. No one noticed him as he passed undetected, a deadly wraith haunting Israel’s streets.
* * *
Elena sat in the living room of their apartment. An Israeli novel lay unopened by her on the couch, and she stared across the room. She could not blot out her last sight of Arie standing in his office, frozen in rage. She felt helpless before the gap between them, and she knew that the failure was not only his but hers as well.
She heard distant children’s voices. Gily was playing on the slope in back of their flat, and Moshe was still in his bedroom, sleeping late after his flight. It was the morning of Yom Kippur. Arie was not home. Normally they would witness the nation’s observance everywhere around them, the atonement as ancient as the blood baked into Israel’s earth. The day would pass slowly. They would float together in airless space. But Elena was alone. Waiting for the approach of noon, the emptiness of the holy day suffocated her.
The telephone began to ring. It would be Arie. She walked wavering to the phone and picked it up. She heard Rami’s voice distant and exhausted.
“Rami. What is it?”
“Sit down on the couch,” he said softly; “listen to me. Call Moshe to the phone.”
As she called him, she imagined Rami was hurt, struck by a car, beaten up; the shock and nakedness of his voice terrified. “What’s happened to you?”
“I must tell you something, Elena. Arie is dead.”
She plummeted through the air. Her eyes began to stream, and a whimper sang in her throat.
“Elena,” he cried. “Moshe. Call Moshe to the phone.”
She screamed her son’s name. Barefoot in his pajamas, he ran down the hall and picked up the phone she dropped. He sat by her, speaking with his grandfather.
“Dad killed himself!” he cried.
“No more! Not another word!” she called out, covering her ears with her hands. Her last hold was loosed, and she tumbled in an arc above the earth, in a region of ice and fire. Then she soared beyond the boundaries of her hatred. Its object vanished. Only the corpse remained.
Elena sat on the couch and quietly screamed and plummeted. Her son moaned, rocking slowly back and forth next to her. He gasped for air and began crying in heaving breaths. She reached to gather him in her arms, and she held him until the gulping cries quieted.
Then she stood and glided, automatic and possessed, through the room to the credenza in the dining area. She took out and placed on the dining table a box of candy, a bottle of brandy, the half-consumed chocolate cake. Her dazed voice rang out, “You must eat.” She went to the kitchen and brought plates, silver, glasses, a dish of cold lamb, a wilted salad, cold pilaf, chalah. She made her son stand and walk and sit with her at the table. Moaning, he began to take small mouthfuls of the sacrilegious food. She poured him a glass brandy and made him sip.
Moshe began to talk, and Elena listened to the distant voice rising from his throat. It was a sin to have done this to her son, to take an axe and hack him down. Tears came from her eyes, and quiet crying came from her mouth. The youth stood up from the table. He walked to his mother and held her head against him.
* * *
Jaeger kneeled across the room from Haim. The smell of blood and ozone was in the room, and he wiped his hand down his nose and across his unshaven upper lip. By him on a table were Arie’s instructions, and open on the floor was the suitcase baring the nuclear bomb and its triggering device. The American did not call his handler. Instead he sat studying the instructions, glancing occasionally at Haim’s body. With sudden decision, he began to work at the timing device. He set it for a half-hour, to coincide with noon in Jerusalem. Then he opened the door to the fifth floor hall. In front of him two Israeli agents trained their machine guns on him.
Eli lay on his bed as the bomb in its faulty, radioactive case was hoisted into a steel chest. Two men in glittering, radiation-proof suits lifted the agent onto a stretcher. His body, twisted in an arc of retching, was marked by sores. His eyes and mouth were inflamed.
The patio doors admitted a glimmer of light as sunrise neared in Washington. The urban vista beyond the glass flickered in a steady, mechanical pattern. It was all a matter of indifference to Dan: Arie’s instructions discarded on the table, the phone knocked off its cradle, the suitcase open before him on the living room floor, the image trembling on the nearby television screen. Sweat poured from his face and body. He kneeled slowly over the case and moved in mechanized gestures as he worked with the triggering device for the nuclear bomb. He set it for fifteen minutes when it would be noon in Jerusalem. Then he sat cross-legged in front of the purring, black case.
There were no messages, no communication from Arie. Listening to the television, he heard that Israeli fighter-bombers were on highest alert in the air on Israel’s borders and out over the Mediterranean. Protests were being exchanged back and forth among the world powers and the Middle Eastern nations, and Iraq’s threats had only intensified. The suitcase with its bomb was open on the floor of his room, but Sasha did not even glance at it now. Instead he sat with clenched hands by the phone, the radio, the television. He had continually to control an impulse to weep. It is nearly noon in Jerusalem. What if the imperial bureaucrats and paranoiac leaders of the world wage nuclear war in Israel and the Gulf? What next? Though soon the Secret Service will come to bear me away. Death will be the welcome blossom of my grief.
* * *
Jerusalem stretches before Rami as noon approaches. Alone and with the wrenching roar of grief in his ears, he climbs the stairs to the Temple Mount, to the high expanse of Haram ech Sharif, with its edge atop the western Wailing Wall.
The tissue of lies must crust and scar. All these acts of terror and contrition must remain unrecorded. Lying is our only chance. If not, man would long ago have perished of the truth. If not, my lie is as obscene as the horror which maddened Arie. No Nazi spawned my son. I, his father, became the Nazi thrusting him into the fire.
How can I endure except to lie, to imagine the presence of hope? In this world, there is so much contempt for the human in the name of purity—the only recourse is to act as if hope exists. Hope’s illusion is the child of possibility, the brother of acceptance, the father of forgiving. But, no, I’ve released an unforgivable lie into the maw of silence. It’s I who should have died, not my child, my flesh, my soul. I know only that Israel will not now bear the final blame.
I had to lie to you, Elena. How could I tell you the truth? You too would die to me. Moshe and Gily would be lost forever. I could not endure it. I want the children to live.
But it may not be. Soon, enemy missiles may flash out of this crystal sky and drop their nuclear blast on Jerusalem. An archaeologist in a thousand years may dig into the transfigured earth like the earth over Troy. Will he find a crater where once lived hundreds of thousands? Will he imagine a wall of steel speeding down on Temple Mount and out to the Garden of Gethsemane, to Mount Zion and the surrounding suburbs? Will he see that from this crucible arose a globe of fire, burning to ash all within the crater? Will the evidence of fire be found not only in the burnt circle and its rim of rubble, but miles away in the skeletons of buildings, of animals, of men? Will he test the earth and discover that it was ravaged by radiation spewed by the blast over all Israel and beyond? But who will be left to excavate Jerusalem? Death will come to all—if not now, later; if not later, now.
The flesh of cities everywhere may be interred. The radiating earth will tear at testicles and ovaries, and the mutated race will yield up the earth to insects and tufts of grass: the species which tears the future to shreds.
Over the elevated mount, Rami bears the weight of his body past the gold mosque where Mohammed leapt to heaven and where Isaac bound beheld the fire. Finally, with the helpless tears of mourning in his eyes, he stumbles to the sheer, southern edge with the Golden Gate bricked below.
Arie, you were born amid memories of the Nazi camps, and the machine of death transformed you. I failed you. I did not teach you to transfigure, to give the lie to savagery and hate. Didn’t you know the furnaces shed no light? Now will Jerusalem vanish into death’s oven? Will mankind follow you into the blackening fire?
I saw your head shot away. But already before your skull hung open, my Arie had vanished.
Moslem voices wail their call to prayer. It is noon. Warplane streak through the blank sunlit sky. He stares at the white globe shining down on Jerusalem. Everywhere he looks now, there is the black disc of the sun’s absence.
I hear no sound: nothing is said. Jerusalem’s streets are hushed.
An infinity of death. Words vanish.
—Cleveland, Berkeley, Fresno, Cambridge, Jerusalem: 1982-2012