Once I was 16 and blond and went around in a miniskirt with no shame, and drivers at traffic lights would whistle at me and shout did I want to have coffee with them or was I hungry for anything. I’d usually answer that I’d just eaten an apricot yogurt.
Until I met the guy with the Suzuki Jeep. I didn’t even know what a Suzuki was until Arik explained — Arik’s the name of the guy in the Suzuki. Actually I met him on the street too, but somehow he seemed different. He didn’t honk, whistle or spit, he didn’t ask if I wanted coffee. He let all the other cars at the intersection pass, pulled onto the side of the road and put his hand out the window as if he was hitching a ride. He waited until I got closer, and began to smile. The closer I came, the bigger and bigger the smile under his sunglasses got, not because of the perspective, but because he liked what he saw. Later he told me they weren’t just any sunglasses, they were Ray-Bans. He told me he needed to have a serious talk with me, but not here. He wanted my number. I gave it to him.
Sure enough, he called that same evening. He asked if I remember him. Was he joking? I tried to recall what he looked like, but I couldn’t. Except for his sunglasses and his teeth in the window of the Suzuki, I couldn’t remember a thing. Arik read my mind: he told me not to worry that I hadn’t seen his body which had been inside the Suzuki, that he’s six foot three, and when we meet I’ll see for myself, and I won’t be disappointed. He said he’s dying for us to speak face-to-face. He said he is asking me to to a movie tomorrow at 9:30. He’ll honk for me from downstairs.
At 9:30 sharp there was a honk and my dad said, you can see right away he is a man of his word—he arrives on the dot. My mother turned on the entrance light and said I should go down quickly, so the neighbors won’t get annoyed. “What do you care? Let them be annoyed,” my father said. “The world belongs to the young.” I didn’t hear “The world belongs…”. I only guessed it from the elevator.
“So, your first time in a Suzuki?” Arik greeted me. I said yes and opened the window. There was a stinking smell, like too much air-freshener sprayed in a public toilet. I told him. “So?” he said, “you don’t like my aftershave?” He stroked his cheeks and continued down the back of his neck. He had a crew cut, sort of like a baby, but a hairy one. Suddenly I noticed that the Ray-Bans were still perched on his head, as if he forgot to take them off since yesterday when we met.
On the way to the movie we hardly spoke. The wind coming through the open windows made such a racket it was impossible to hear the radio, even when he turned up the volume. He lit a cigarette for himself and gestured do I want one too. I yelled that I don’t smoke. He yelled back what else don’t you do. I reached my hand to lower the volume so I could tell him I am a vegetarian, and almost completely vegan, but not entirely, because vegans don’t eat dairy products, and I just can’t live without apricot yogurt. Arik said he hopes I’m not too squeamish because the movie we are going to see is what they call an “agricultural movie.” He asked if I knew what that meant. “Is it related to being a vegetarian?” I asked. He said, not exactly, it means that people get mowed down like grass.
When we got out of the Suzuki he stood next to me and I was a little taken aback by his size, he really was a giant. I forgot about this as soon as the agricultural movie began, I was so busy hiding my eyes each time someone trimmed off someone else’s limb. Luckily he was so absorbed by the film he didn’t notice how embarrassing I was.
On the way out he asked me, so, what’s up?
How do you mean? I asked.
Arik asked am I tired and do I want him to take me home or would I like to check out this place he knows where we can talk. So we went there. It was very dark and crowded, and everyone was smoking. I told him it looked as though everybody sitting there was going up in flames, but he didn’t hear me, it was very noisy too.
A waitress with a black strapless top came over and asked what we would like to order. Arik said he’d have a beer and would I like one too. I studied the menu and ordered orange juice without the vodka. The waitress smiled and Arik winked at her but she didn’t notice, she already had her back to us returning to the bar. He stayed winking like that with one eye half-closed. I found it funny and let out a laugh.
After he opened his eye again Arik asked if I’m not into alcohol.
I said, in general I’m not.
“So when are you?” he asked.
I said “On special occasions.”
“Such as…?” he said in that tone grownups use to speak to a kid, like when they say “ice” and expect the child to say “cream.”
“On happy occasions,” I said.
“You know,” he said, “you have some fucking sense of humor. How old did you say you are?”
“Sixteen and two months,” I answered, “My birthday was in May.”
Later there was so much noise there was no point in even opening my mouth, except for the juice. Too bad, because I really wanted to tell him what I thought about the agricultural movie.
When we got back into the Suzuki he asked me if I was having a good time. I said pretty much. He said he wasn’t turning on the radio now because all the regular broadcasts were finished for the night except for the 24/7 army station and he couldn’t get reception for it. It was quiet. I hoped now we would talk and he would ask me my opinion of the movie and I would tell him that I don’t so much like this kind of movie and he would ask so what kind of movie do you like, and I would tell him the names of all the directors I like and that after the army I want to study screenwriting. But he didn’t ask. I remembered that he hadn’t told me yet what he does for a living. I asked. He said he is a GR.
“JR?” I said. “You mean that creep from Dallas?”
“No, a GR,” he said, “a bodyguard.” He asked what I would think about him being my personal bodyguard and he would make sure I didn’t lose my blond head too quickly, even though he didn’t think it was likely from drinking only juice. As for himself, he said I have nothing to worry about, that up to seven beers have no effect on him. I was hoping he would say something nice but he seemed totally focused on driving and I thought it was probably just as well considering he’d already had six. I pressed myself against the window and I thought now that the radio isn’t disturbing, the wind it can blow and make as much noise as it wants and jangle what’s hanging from the mirror, a Barbie doll with hair the same color as mine, only ironed straight and coming down to her butt. You could see exactly how far down the hair came because someone took off her clothes, and also how pink her plastic body was. When we got to my house Arik said he doesn’t know about me but he thinks it was a hell of an evening and he’ll call and we’ll talk.
He called the next day just when I wasn’t home. My mother said he sounded like a nice guy and asked me if we’re dating. I told her yesterday we went to a movie and today I don’t know yet. As the words are coming out of my mouth he phones again and asks if I feel like joining him a little later for a drive. He has to pick up a part for his jeep and after that we can go somewhere and sit and talk.
I sat on the fence in front of my house to wait for him and imagined how he would come and open the door for me and say something nice. Even a line he had read in a book or something. Then I thought about what books he has on his shelves and how they might be arranged and how cool it would be if we found a book that we both owned. Then I tried to guess what he would be wearing and suddenly I completely forgot what he looks like and then I remembered that actually I hadn’t really seen him in broad daylight, except for the first time but that didn’t count because then he was inside the Suzuki and with the Ray-Bans. This time, too, he was wearing the Ray-Bans and inside the Suzuki, but his face looked more reddish I guess because of the lighting. He asked me what’s new and how is it going. I said good. Generally I say okay because then you don’t have to get into it. I said “good” because I wanted to say more, and immediately I regretted it because I realized that actually I didn’t have anything to add. Luckily he didn’t insist. Instead I asked him how he was. He said, so-so, he was pissed, some asshole had ripped the side-view mirror off his jeep.
The auto parts store was in the middle of a gas station so he said terrific, we’ll kill two birds with one stone. He didn’t wait for the guy with the yellow overalls and got out to pump the gas himself, extended the hose, put the nozzle where it goes and told me to watch the numbers and tell him when it got to 70. I told him. He returned the hose to its place and asked me for the wallet that was on the dashboard. To the yellow overalls he yelled “Come on, blondy” — even though his face was as black as crude oil — “make it quick.” He drove in reverse to the air pump and in between filling each tire he stuck his face in the window and asked me “So, what’s new?” even though nothing had changed. The parts store was ten yards away from us and he drove there so as not to waste time. He said I could wait for him or come in, he didn’t care. I went in with him, because I’d never been in an auto parts store.
Apparently he knew the salesman because as soon as we went into the store the two of them pounced on each other. The salesman pounded him on the shoulder as if he was a broken pay phone. And Arik hammered him back and the two of them yelled “Hey bro!” and actually they did looked a little alike. Arik put an arm around my back and pulled me towards him and towards the parts man, “Meet a friend of mine.” I didn’t want to embarrass him so I didn’t say anything even though I thought he was exaggerating a little. The salesman squeezed my hand and smiled in both directions, at me and also at Arik, and said “A pleasure. I’m Juki.” Only after we left did I realize that Arik forgot to tell him my name.
While he was screwing the mirror into place, I asked him where he knows this Juki guy from. “We’re buddies from the army,” Arik said, “ we were in the same unit.” He told me that he had served in the Golani special unit and asked me if I know what the difference was between Golani and the paratroopers. I said that paratroopers wear red berets and Golani wear brown ones. Arik said that’s correct but there is another difference, and he’ll give me a little hint, it’s also related to clothing. I gave up. “The biggest difference,” he smiled and I could feel his eyes piercing me from behind his Ray Bans, “is that paratroopers wear underwear and Golani don’t.”
I looked at him and his jeans, and thought about what was under them and about the pink doll and how he put his arm around me and had still not said anything nice. I was planning how to open my mouth and say I wanted to go home when he asked what would I think of going to a pizzeria and we’d get a chance to sit down together and talk like human beings, and I couldn’t think straight and said yes, even though I don’t eat pizza because it isn’t vegan.
We drove to the pizza place, which was at a gas station. As we were walking in he said he was dying to take a leak and I should grab us a table. The place was entirely empty and I felt relieved but then the waiter, who was dressed like a waiter, said it’s only because of the time of day, that later at night it would be packed and there would be a singer but for now we can sit wherever we like. I sat down at a table exactly in the middle and I looked around at the walls.
The walls had cheap dark wood paneling; apparently it was a pizzeria in the rustic style. From the ceiling hung flags of Italy and banners of the Israeli armed forces, everywhere you looked you saw pictures of tanks and emblems of all the different units including the Golani tree.
I wanted to get up and run away from there and I didn’t even care what he would think and if he would be insulted that I left him without saying anything, and what the waiter would think about him, or his friend Juki. I started to imagine the look on his face coming back from the toilet and not finding me there.
But just then he returned, and so did the waiter with the menu in his hands.
Arik said that he was having a tough time choosing between pepperoni and anchovy. I asked if besides pizza and Bavarian cream there was anything else in this pizza place to eat. “What do you mean?” he said, ”this is a pizza place, isn’t it?”
I said, actually, I’m not hungry. Even though I was.
“Whatever you like,” he said. To the waiter he said, “I’ll go for the anchovy, with extra cheese. And don’t be stingy.”
His giant pizza arrived and he attacked it and asked if I hadn’t changed my mind. I said, no, I’m not hungry, and even if I was I would never be able to finish such an enormous pie.
“For me it’s a piece of cake,” he said, ”I could devour one the diameter of a hubcap.”
I didn’t know what a hubcap was so I chose to be silent, and so that he wouldn’t suspect my ignorance, I smiled. I smiled even though I wasn’t in a great mood at all and only thought, let him just finish so we can leave already. Luckily he was hungry and ate quickly. His mouth was still full of melted cheese and anchovies when he said to the waiter that it was awesome and that now he can provide us with a couple of Bavarian creams. “But I don’t eat Bavarian cream,” I whispered. I looked at the waiter. The waiter looked at Arik’s mouth as if he was waiting to see words come out of it. “Bring two,” Arik said, “Worst case I’ll down them both myself.”
“Tell me, what’s with you?” he said as soon as the waiter went away with the dishes. “You’re not feeling well? You having your period or something?”
“No, I’m not!” I could feel myself blending in with the red tablecloth.
“So what’s with you today, it’s impossible to talk to you.”
“Nothing,” I said. “I just have no appetite. Maybe it was the fumes from the gas station.”
“So why don’t you say something,” Arik said when we went out into the dark, because in the meantime it had gotten dark. “Do I have to guess? So listen, now it’s your turn to say what you feel like doing and that’s what we’ll do, and if you want me to take you home, no problem, but on the way I’ve got to pass by my apartment to make a phone call, it’s just two minutes from here.”
He thought out loud that I would be interested in seeing his apartment and he even has fruit yogurt in the refrigerator, he just doesn’t remember if it is pineapple or strawberry.
It was pineapple, and I ate it alone standing opposite the kitchen closets while Arik was taking a shower because suddenly he felt “so smelly and sweaty” and said he had to wash himself, but I have nothing to worry about, it will be an army-style shower, in and out in seven minutes, and he will be just like new.
I didn’t measure the time, but he really did look fresh when he came out with wet hair. The hair on his legs was wet and the hair on his chest too. He had a lot of chest hair and I wondered when he started growing it. The hairs grew in a path down the middle of his stomach until they were swallowed up by the black towel that he was wrapped in like the strapless top of the waitress, only around his waist.
It’s strange that actually that waitress was etched in my mind. I even know her name. Dinah. I remember the voice of the barman yelling out to her.
Copyright © by Shoham Smith and Keter Publishing House Ltd. Translated by Naomi Danis. Published by arrangement with the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.
Author Shoham Smith has published two story collections: Libi Omer Ki Zikhroni Boged Bi (My Heart Tells Me That My Memory is Betraying Me), (Keter, 1996)- where these two stories appeared- and HomeCenter(Yedioth Ahronoth, 2002). She is also the author of a graphic novel and seven children’s books. Born in Jerusalem, she now lives in Tel Aviv.