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How Will I Know When I’m an Adult?

“How will I know when I’m an adult Saba?” the boy asked his grandfather. The grandfather looked into his inviting blue eyes, pools of clear water, careful not to fall into them.

“Do you want the answer all adults give to their children or do you want my answer?” the saba asked his eleven year old grandson, whose named happened to be Daniel, but this saba did not believe in chance. Daniel meant “God has judged me” in Hebrew, but every Hebrew name means something. One can’t escape from meaning in this country.

“I want your answer Saba,” Daniel said. His eyes flashed and he grinned.

The saba wondered how he did that. He didn’t answer right away. Rather he looked off into the distance, probably for the right answer to his grandson’s question. “You want to be an adult, yes?” the saba asked. That’s the way people in this country asked questions: they made a factual statement, ending it with yes? Or no?

Daniel said, “Sure, everyone my age wants to be an adult already.”

“Well,” Saba said, “if you want to be an adult, then you’re not one yet. As soon as you want to be a kid again, that’s when you’ll know you’re an adult.”

Somewhat disappointed by Saba’s answer, not because it didn’t ring true, but because it did, Daniel asked, “Okay, give me another sign so that I can know.”

“Well,” Saba said again, “do you love your children?”

“But Saba,” Daniel protested, “I don’t have any children! You know that, don’t you? I’m just eleven years old. Besides, you have to be married, like Mom and Dad, to have children.”

Saba was waiting in ambush for Daniel to say that. “When you’re an adult, you love your children more than you love yourself.”

“Oh,” Daniel said despondently, “I see. Give me one last sign, Saba, please.”

“Well,” Saba said yet another time, drawing this out as much as possible, “do you like coffee or whiskey?”

“I hate those things Saba!” Daniel said. “I don’t know how adults can like those drinks. Besides, what do they have to do with being an adult?”

“When you drink coffee or whiskey, not because you’re thinking about drinking coffee or whiskey, but because it makes you think about something else so far away, it’s over the horizon, then that’ll be a sign,” the saba paused to take a sip of scalding tea and lemon, crinkling his eyes toward the dipping sun, “unless, of course, you don’t drink coffee or whiskey, and then it won’t matter.”

Daniel pondered his saba’s words for a long time. “Saba,” he said, “you knew I wouldn’t understand anything you would answer, right?”

Saba answered, “Well, yes, I suppose I did.”

“So why did you answer me?” Daniel asked.

“Because you asked,” Saba winked.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Whirlpool (Chapter 32: The Story)

The story is about me, I suppose, but it’s not a true story … at least I don’t think it is. I’m in this cabin … I always am in this same cabin and there is a faint knock on the door. I open the door and you’re standing there in the doorway. I say what I said to you and you respond the way you responded. I ask you to sit down and I tell you this story.

You claim you don’t recognize me. You probably don’t. There’s no reason why you would in this god-forsaken universe. But I know you. I’ve always known you … the last time … the time before that … and the time before that too. And every time I am hopelessly … but wait … I’m getting ahead of myself.

I continue with the story. You listen to the end. I’ll say that for you. You always do. You say how flattered you are to be the heroine in my story, but then you begin to look around you for the door, the window. There is doubt and the beginning of fear in your eyes. I can’t stand it, that I’m causing it, and I look away. Would you like a cup of coffee, I ask. Sometimes you say yes, sometimes no. This time you said yes. I walk over to the coffee pot, light the fire under it, spoon the grounds into two cups, and stare at the mirror, wondering whether you will still be in your chair by the time I return with the two coffee cups. You’re there or you’re not. If you’re not, then you are just outside the cabin walking slowly towards the cliff and I catch up with you and tell you there’s an easier, safer way to get down the mountain to the town. I’ll show you the way, I say. You remember the difficulty coming up the mountain and agree reluctantly to be guided by me. We walk without words until we reach the edge overlooking the gently down-sloping path meandering over the grassy mountain side. A breeze wafts up the slope, carrying the pungency of fallen leaves and over-ripe fruit. You become aware of the clicking of cicadas in a distant strand of trees and turn your lovely face in that direction. My arms ache to enclose you within them, as though they were wings folded around you. But …

But sometimes you stay in your chair. I set the coffee cup on the side table beside you. I sit down on my chair opposite you and try to keep my coffee cup from trembling. We sip at our coffees in silence. Would you like to hear more, I ask. More of what, you ask. More of the story, I answer. Go on, you say.

I jump to the end of the story. There’s not much more time. Time for what? Time for you to fall in love with me. Time for me to fall in love with you? It always comes as such a shock to you … more than anything else I say to you today. Although the thing I’ve yet to say that should have been the climax of my story, you react to that as though it were mere dénouement.

You don’t waste much time, you say. You always say that. What should I expect? You’re half my age. You’re lovely, you’re bright, and you’ve got your … These things take time to unfold, to evolve. You search your mind for every pertinent platitude you’ve ever learned, as though it were your wisdom, as though it could somehow extricate us from the terrible spiraling involution we are stuck in. You can’t rush these things, you continue saying. I feel dizzy, you say, and reach for your coffee cup but your hand brushes the side of the cup at the wrong angle. The cup is pushed over the edge of the table, spilling the coffee on the floor.

Don’t worry about it, I say. It’s interesting how every time, some details change and some remain constant. The coffee cup is always pushed over the edge. Do you want me to make you another cup of coffee, I ask. No, you say. Your eyes dart around the room, the door, the window. I hate that. I know, I’ve said it before. I still hate that moment.

You run out of platitudes to say. You run out of words to say. You have no feelings for me. Empty. Empty Dempty sat on a wall. Empty Dempty had a great fall. I don’t know when it happens or if it happens. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I never know. What happens, you ask. You begin to fall in love with me. Why do I fall in love with you, you ask. I don’t know. I never do. I ask you each time it happens why you fall in love with me. Why do you ask? So that I can use it next time to make you love me quicker, I explain sadly. Why is it so important to you for me to love you quicker, you ask. Because there’s so little time left for us to be in love, I answer.

Why is there so little time for us to be in love, you ask. Because you always die at dawn the next day. How do I die, you ask. I don’t know, I say, it’s always different. It’s always unexpected. It’s always heart-wrenching. It’s always gruesome. Do you kill me, you ask, your Isaac eyes staring into my Abraham heart. No, I say. It’s never me. Never me. I try to save you. I try to anticipate, but I never succeed.

Do you make me love you quicker each time, you ask. No, I answer. Every time the reason is different.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Whirlpool (continued)

Chapter 24: The island

The young woman stepped carefully off the hydrofoil craft which rose and dipped and swayed against the mooring. The dock felt solid under her feet and she was thankful for that. The lanterns made yellow cones of light in the heavy darkness settled over the curling wooden plank boards between where she stood and the lights of the village square. She squared her shoulders between the straps of her backpack, picked up her duffle bag, and started walking quickly steadily toward the lights of the square, to fend off the leering shadows that would grab anyone walking without a purpose and pull her into the night, never to be seen again in the light of day. She reached the cobbled pavement of the square and passed the old fountain in the middle, walking purposefully toward a brightly lit public house. As she approached the clatter of dishes and the noise of talking and laughter reached her ears and crescendoed, but when she entered the open doorway the noise and clatter died down to an expectant silence. She scanned their empty faces until she saw the old woman drying drinking glasses behind a long counter. The young woman walked between the tables over to the counter and laid her duffle bag on the floor beside her feet. She pressed two hands together next to her face and tilted her head slightly. The old woman nodded her head and smiled toothlessly. The young woman raised five fingers of her hand and the old woman brought out a pad of paper from behind the counter and wrote a number on the blank page. The people sitting at the tables nearby strained to hear the young woman’s voice for a familiar or foreign word or accent, but there was nothing to hear since she did not speak their language and the old woman only knew the local tongue. The young woman nodded her head, took out a wad of local currency, and counted out the faded paper onto the counter. The old lady swept up the paper with a heavy hand and reached under the counter, slapping a thick key on the countertop. The young woman nodded again, put the key in her pocket, picked up her duffel bag, and walked to the staircase by the far wall. After she reached the top step the noise and clatter resumed. She found her room without much difficulty, opened the door with her key, and turned on the light. She closed the door behind her, locking it with her key, and tossed the duffle bag onto the only chair in the small room. She opened the window looking down at the fountain in the square. A cool breeze moistened by the saltwater rippled the gauze curtains and lingered on her skin. Ellen turned off the light, lay down on the bed, still in the clothes she had worn that day, and fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter 25: Morning

The dream had begun to evaporate from the crevices of his brain. He became vaguely conscious of the lightening violet of the inside of his eyelids. He opened one of his eyes directly into the full volume of the sunlight flooding through the gap in the tree line and squinted. His head ached terribly as though some angry god had thrown a house at him. He stood up on wobbly legs and steadied himself against the back of the couch. He scanned the room in the morning light. His eyes settled on a cupboard next to a kind of stove in what must have been a kitchen of sorts. That’s where I would put the coffee, he thought to himself. He walked over to the cupboard, opened the door, and looked from the bottom shelf to the top one and back down until he saw it. He lifted the heavy paper bag to his nose and inhaled the rich deep odor of coffee beans. There were cuneiform markings on the paper bag, but he could not make any sense of them. He rummaged through the cupboard until he found a brown stained iron grinder and cupped a handful of coffee beans into the grinder, turning the handle around and around. The smell of ground coffee beans rose to his nostrils as the coarse grounds fell out of the grinder into his cupped hand. He dumped the coffee grounds into a dented metal pot. He took the pot outside behind the cabin and with one hand raised and lowered the water pump handle and with the other hand held the pot under the gushing water. He returned to the kitchen, lit a fire in the stove, and put the pot on the fire. While waiting for the water and coffee grounds to boil, he went back to the cupboard and found an egg. He cracked the egg shell over the pot, so the thick raw contents slid into the boiling water, immediately congealing into a white and yellow disk. He took the pot off the fire and found a ceramic cup. He poured the scalding rich brown liquid into the cup while the grounds stayed behind the egg. He drank the bitter-rich coffee, hoping the pain in his head would diminish somewhat.

He walked around the cabin with his cup of coffee, surveying the rooms. He saw a low cot with a blanket and pillow, a cabinet with a wide bowl, and a broken mirror hanging from a wall just over the wide bowl. He looked at himself in the mirror, but the man who peered back at him from the other side of the glass was most definitely not himself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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