Per Contra

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    All that Flies from You by Daniel Karasik
 

Last time I watched from in front of Diesel Jeans, the shop closest to the action. Young, both of them. Him a little older than her. Him: twenty at most. Her: a mature eighteen. Guesses. I canít do much better. They took a long time. Big ceiling-high window behind them, four planes took off on the nearest runway in the time they took. I could hear a bit. Not everything. Her: promise me youíll e-mail, first thing you get there. Him: I will never forget you. A close dynamic between them. As though almost equals in affection. If possible. Theyíre standing before the security check-in barrier. At Ben Gurion thatís as far as you can go if youíre not flying. Theyíre physically uninhibited with each other, his arm is comfortable around her hips, she squeezes his waist, thereís something of habit there, you get the sense that even if this was a fling itís one thatís had a bit of longevity. My guess: both boy and girl American. Or Canadian. She could be English. She speaks too softly to pull out an accent. A limited number of possible scenarios for meeting: they couldíve been on one of the Zionist-subsidized tours for young Jews (but too short-term for intimacy evidenced; my intuition); they couldíve been working with Sorel, the military base volunteer service (but too much thatís tender and delicate in her face); or they couldíve been volunteers on a kibbutz. That seems to me most likely. Itís how I met my first girlfriend, as a Canadian volunteer on Kibbutz Dan. A hundred years ago. She touches his face. He kisses her. Gently. This is a pattern Iíve observed repeatedly. First the couple will share a small kiss, chaste, as though not wanting to spoil the gentle poignance of parting. Then one or the other or both at once will realize the absurdity, the vanity of such a gesture and kiss the other passionately, with full body, and the other will respond, knowing this to be the last kiss from this particular kisser for a period that may well be indefinite. And so it happens here. Then, typical too, the flyer, in this case him, rushes through the gates without looking back. She, the remaining, waits a few minutes watching his distant back as he passes through the metal detector. Then a few minutes more. Eventually she moves away from the gate. She doesnít leave. She sits down at a table and stares at her hands. If you watch closely, if you are a man like me who has trained himself to watch closely, you can see her shoulders shake. Delicately. Just a little. Giving nothing away.

Iím tapped on the shoulder. The Diesel Jeans clerk, big Sephardi girl, looks at me expectantly. Ata rotzay? You want? What is it I want. I want a one-way ticket to Hawaii. I want two decades returned to me in mint condition. I want my dog to be loyal to me and quit running away. This is what I want. Bíseder, I say, and leave the store, leave the terminal, go find my car in the lot.

Each week this is my Sunday afternoon.

*****

A Sunday late in May. Iím seated outside the airport McDonaldís. Iíve ordered a coffee. Youíve got to order something. Otherwise they harass you. I recognize that this is the same the world over but in Tel Aviv when you talk harassment youíre talking almost bodily.

Already today Iíve seen an extraordinary goodbye. Identical twin brothers, embracing, crying, one says when will I see you again? the other touches his brotherís face, says when will I see you again? They were closer than lovers. Nothing in sight interested each man more than the otherís face, the otherís body. How vain, I thought at first. But even then how unsayably moving.

A few more swing by in quick succession. A mother and her daughter, mother bristling with protective nerves, daughter straining to break loose. An elderly couple: reserved, aware of people watching, how public a place this is for demonstration. A whole extended Asian family, probably Thai, sending off their university-aged son, who walks through the gates with the quiet pride that comes from knowing his children wonít be migrant labourers like his parents. I sip my coffee. There is a lull in traffic at the security gate. A lull in goodbyes. My thoughts drift to ancient history. The wonderful thing about treating yourself to periods of nostalgic melancholy, induced however you wish, is the special brand of paralysis brought on. Paralysis it is indeed, a distraction - if I chatted frankly with history Iíd shoot myself - but because something is felt, because melancholy fills an absence, you think, look at me, Iím brimming with health, Iíve got my life in order, the past canít drive me into hiding. A subterfuge.

Around noon two girls arrive, only one of them carrying luggage. My reveries break. Iím again attentive. Theyíre young girls, eighteen or nineteen, both of them fairly tall, good figures. I canít see either face; both of them have their backs to me. They stand talking for a minute. Canít hear a word theyíre saying. All of it is unemphatic, low-key. The leaving girl takes her bags in hand. The two girls kiss each other on the cheek and part ways. The taller one stands waiting at the gate a minute. As soon as she turns a fraction of an inch I know without doubt she is my daughter.

She sits down at a table nearby, pulls out a cell phone, presses a button and puts the phone to her ear. My daughter Hailey. My daughter who lives now with her mother in New York. Who I had no idea was in Israel. Who I have not seen for two years, five months, and fourteen days. And who, though so close, does not see me. The phone is to her ear but sheís not speaking. Presumably sheís checking messages. My daughter to whom I have not spoken in six months. She used to call me when she got lonely. Now, supposedly, thereís a boyfriend. I donít get called. My daughter who didnít speak to me for a year after she and Hannah left. My daughter who, when finally she called, told me I should get a dog. For company. Which I did.

When she puts down the phone I go over to her, before she has a chance to leave. Iím not a coward. Iíll approach my daughter if unannounced sheís there in front of me, however awkward that approach may be. I tap her on the shoulder. I say, hi stranger. She turns, sees me, takes me in. A long silence. An unsure smile. Hi. I didnít know you were here, I say, you didnít call. Iíve been busy, she says. Sorry. I ask her how long sheís been in Israel. She says since the beginning of the month. A taglit tour. She stayed an extra two weeks. And sheís leaving today. She looks healthy. Sheís tan, good colour in her cheeks. Whenís your flight? I ask her. Later this afternoon, she says. I ask her what she was planning on doing till then. I dunno, she says, sit around I guess, read. I tell her Iíll buy her lunch. Thereís an awful moment when Iím not sure sheís going to agree. But she nods. Sheís cautious. As though always considering what harm there could be.

In a corner of the waiting lounge we have shwarma together. I thought she was a vegetarian. She says she stopped. Why should we be kinder to the cows than to the plants? We talk about how sheís enjoying school. Sheís at Brown University in Rhode Island. Major in philosophy, minor in art history. We talk about her boyfriend, Robert, a nice guy, in pre-med, two years older than her. We talk about her mother, whoís unhappy, not interested in changing. As before. As ever. We donít say a word about her brother, my son, whose death towards the beginning of the intifada precipitated their move back to North America. There would be little point. Why spoil a nice lunch? Why pretend as though a nice lunch on a Sunday afternoon in May might change anything, recast things in kinder light? The way she looks at me as we speak gives me great pleasure. She doesnít feign closeness but neither does she come at me with hostility. When she asks me if thereís a woman in my life these days she does so with an adult equanimity that bowls me over. Iím proud of her. I donít know her at all. And I couldnít be prouder of her. I deflect her question. Itís nice that you met this Robert, I say. When I ask her what itís been like being back in Israel after so long, and not as a child now, she tells me she thinks itís a beautiful country, really fascinating, doesnít think sheíll ever live here again though, sheís not religious, religion makes her uncomfortable, she doesnít really believe. Me neither, I say. I know, she says. I remember.

Weíve talked for nearly two hours. She has to start making her way to her departure gate. I walk her from the restaurant to where I noticed her, by security. She looks at me. As if saying, here we are, this is it, now we say goodbye. My daughter will go back to the States, to her studies and her boyfriend in pre-med. I will go back to my apartment, to my dog. Weíre not going to hug each other. I wonít get a kiss goodbye. Nothing so personal. Anyone watching would think us strangers. Distant relatives. Perhaps he is her parentsí friend. Perhaps she is his distant cousin. Bye, she says. I look at my daughter. A beautiful young woman with much to offer who in another life I mightíve known better. Of whom I couldíve been proud and unlike now known why. I donít walk away. I donít smile and send her off. I am incapable of it. I am incapable of parting. Hailey, I say. Her name. Just her name. Donít make it complicated Dad, she says. But Iím not trying to. Iím not trying to at all. And anyone watching would know it. Anyone watching would recognize immediately this rarest of sightings: the animal failing itself. The man, placed in a situation most primal, like sex, like holding his newborn child, not having the faintest idea how it is done.

-End-