A Story about an ordinary woman in Israel

    July 2011          
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Sumsum Requiescat

By Liora Sara Bernstein

Adapted from Hebrew and Translated Into English by the Author
Excerpt: e-book novelette available at www.amazon.com

Navah was born on the great communications fault-line, in the temporary times that now stretched between the historical past and the virtual communicative future.

The people who lived in the past did not yet know the Internet. They were separate, atomized, each one living in his or her true biological time. Knowledge was still enclosed in physical reality; the universities were not yet virtual; studies and seminar papers were researched from books and in libraries; travelling took hours on end in real clock ticking reality; people went to work by car and did not work from home on a computer. Food was bought in small stores and groceries, not in the supermarkets. Malls were almost unheard of. The year was 1990, the year of Intel Pentium1, or maybe 2. Iraq would invade Kuwait soon, in two or three months. Movie stars smoked on the screen, including the women among them, mobile phones did not exist. When the future arrives it will sweep everyone. People of the past who will not manage to cross the fault line will be left behind.

At that year Dorith was preparing for her matriculation exams. She locked herself in the small cubicle that was her room, a sour expression on her face, and spoke to nobody, as if the members of her family were responsible for her situation. She was by nature an introverted nurturing teenager who kept things to herself, she could be soft hearted and was an animal lover. But now she ignored the creature she herself had brought home. She studied assiduously behind the shut door and entered unaware the process of breaking apart from her family, of starting to walk the course of military service in the IDF, of higher education and of finding a mate. Fourteen years old Matan took over control of little Sumsum. He would put her on the blanket in his bed where his toes protruded underneath; there Sumsum would growl and nibble at his toes through the sheets. Or he would kiss her and provoke her till she bit at his nose.

Navah ran the household strictly, on the budget of a widowed teacher who had no loving family or an economic support. They did not buy their happiness by buying products; they discovered it in their surroundings and in its reflection within themselves. Sumsum was so beautiful. When she deigned to appear, or when she was spotted, she always carried and brought forward with her a cloud of splendor. Her fearless blue eyes delighted the heart. They might shower her with endless kisses and she would always renew and be ready to get more and more, like a reciprocal fountain of love and abundance. The question where she had come from or who, perhaps, was lamenting her absence even now or wondering what had become of her had never crossed their minds. She was theirs, the quintessence of Beauty, a demonstration of its importance, its great worth and its effect on the observer.

After a few weeks had passed the novelty of the kitten still did not wear off. In By now the matriculation exams were over and it was Dorith`s last month at home. She was finding it hard to enjoy the time she had left. She had been cramming the material for the exams over and over to such an extent that she now had bits and pieces of information flashing unbidden in her consciousness and bothering her, like pieces of dust and splinters in the air. Though she was rather reticent by nature she complained about it explicitly. Navah attempted to re-route her mind by different means, but it was useless. Eventually she had an idea and bought her daughter a huge expensive puzzle of over a thousand pieces. Dorith shut herself up in the balcony for two weeks, sitting on a cushion on the floor and putting each piece next to each other where it belonged. As each single piece found its right place a tight knot was unstitched in her brain and she could release and send away the trapped knowledge she had memorized with so much effort for the tests.

The expanding puzzle began to spread on most of the balcony floor area; if Dorith had to leave the balcony they were compelled to shut the large casement doors to prevent the kitten from invading it and toying with the pieces. By then the summer was at its glorious peak and they had to turn on an air-conditioner because of the shut doors. They swore at Sumsum, who was responsible for this discomfort, pouring a generous stream of curses and vociferations at her, but her Beauteous Highness sat in the living room on the tea table, looking at all of them regally from above like a queen watching her subjects from the throne. She was spoiled rotten and they enjoyed cursing and swearing at her, telling her what they were thinking of her, particularly as their beautiful queen understood nothing out of nothing of what they were saying in a human language.


Iraq invaded Kuwait in that summer, Dorith was drafted to the IDF, the newspapers were laden with pages, their headlines displayed in bold, gigantic red letters on a black background. Every night the public sat glued to the television, listening to the news and interpretations. Navah`s days were busy, however, so she ceased worrying about the reality around her, which seemed to turn into a projection of the media on a different planet. In any case, if anything should happen, what could they do?

In the mornings she took care of her house-chores then went to work at school. At night she taught night courses. In August they did not work. She rested in August. The house was empty and Matan now missed his sister. Navah thought it was strange, as they used to fight and argue when his sister was still at home, but now he was confused without her and complained. So every evening Navah got him into the car and took him for a drive along the Tel Aviv promenade of the Mediterranean sea, beginning in Gan haAtzmaoot, Independence Park in Tel Aviv and terminating in the end of the city of Bat Yam, a relatively short mileage in a voyage that nevertheless extended for hours of long lines of cars and swarms of people strolling along the beach in the hot and humid summer nights. The sea was invisible in the darkness and only long frothy lines were etched on its unseen welcoming face. When they returned home Matan would be calmer so she followed this routine for a couple of weeks until he grew used to his sister`s absence and his grief moderated and subsided.

At that time Navah would think much about her absent daughter, who wasn`t sharing much about herself and was now setting her foot on the path of life. She was a good girl, well brought up, but unsuited for the society of Tel Aviv, which was western, liberal, brash, dissolute and carefree. There were times Navah wondered whom she resembled in character. It is true that she had never worried about her future for she had always known, in a mystical, unsubstantiated manner, that `Dorith has a star in the sky`, but from the moment they laid her in her arms, and little Dorith stared back at Navah with Navah`s mother’s eyes, an inexplicable shudder went through her body. Her friends sometimes threw a remark, “you have good children, Navah,” but Navah was not sure what that meant. Still, she counted on the reality outside the walls of their protective home to bring her children up and introduce them to the other rules, the rules of the world, of how to cope with people, not pets. Let the street provide them with what was not present at home.

When the Gulf War first started, it looked in the beginning like photo-scenes from another country; nevertheless, gradually and surely it crept and advanced towards the tiny state of Israel like an oil stain on a piece of cloth. Abysmally serious, everyone bought small radios on batteries, equipped the houses with canned food and distilled water; they purchased large plastic sheets to seal their windows from a deadly gas attack and stood on line to receive the gas masks with the horrible name NBC – Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. An extensive industry for pet items also evolved, with plenty of products and offers presented in the newspapers and on Television. Yet all of it seemed like a dream. Navah did not believe that something could really happen, would truly hit the wall of her apartment.

When the first siren sounded she and her children ran to the room chosen for sealing and shut the door. Navah put on the mask and started choking. Fortunately Dorith, whose basic military training was spent at a special center for instructing senior citizens how to use exactly such masks was with them. She quickly released the screwing on the breathing vent and Navah pulled in air freely. There had been one or two people in that war who were asphyxiated. Dorith served at day but she came to sleep at home by night. Her base was in Tel Aviv. Navah made her children kneel on the floor between the wardrobe by the wall and the bed in the center and covered their heads with a thick eiderdown blanket. They could hear the cats behind the door pleading in vain to come in. Only the dog Piggy was with them.

Then they heard the volley of the rockets. The house trembled, the noise was unbearable. Throughout the alarm till the all-clear siren they kept wondering what would happen when they got out and should they keep the masks on their faces. And the cats outside the room, what about them? Would they be dead? Would they be writhing in the throwes of deadly agony? The announcer on the portable radio was calming down the population. The rocket warheads did not carry chemical substance, he said. They opened the door fearfully. Little Sumsum was sitting on the other side looking at them inquisitively. `A new game,` she was thinking. “Miao,” she greeted them


from the July 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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