Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Smoke of Time

In Twilight

The smoke of time, it rises to the fore
A muted day is dying and still fair,
It lies behind the tightly locked door;
The book of poems sleeps upon the chair.

It dreams in silence of the hands,
Those have once washed the whiteness of its pages,
And in its wrinkled lines still stays,
Their oddly smell, a memory of the sages.

A small vibration goes from page to page
And hush… above the sleeping book they pend,
The shadow of the lamp – a man of age,
It dreams that these must be his hands.

Leah Goldberg


Terry Pratchett once wrote that magical bookshops selling magical books, turn up from time to time in the middle of town, on a side street, without any reasonable explanations. The citizens accept their appearance with indifference, as well as their disappearance, which is bound to happen some time afterwards.

Even before I got in, I hoped that it would not disappear too soon; it looked like a nice one – a pleasant surprise for the last day of the first month of the new calendar year. I examined the sign, trying to guess what I may find inside, and then I got in.

My eyes have rested upon some poetry books themselves resting on shelves as if expecting someone to reach out and touch them. The classic Nathan Alterman and the controversial Yona Wallach lived happily one next to each other, not disturbing one another. I could not fathom why fine sand disturbed my eyesight; there was no smoke in the store.

One poetry book wanted me to read it more than the others. I reached my hand out, and started browsing, but there was no click. Shame, I do like poetry, but it is a matter of clicking. I closed the book down, wondering if I will ever open it again. Then I paid attention to the store keeper, short and smiley, she kept watching me the whole time. I had asked her why the store is called ‘the smoke of time’, and without saying a word she pointed to the column, where a Leah Goldberg poem was hanging. I read it. This time the click was just there. Maybe she is talking about herself. Perhaps she is the book dreaming that every shadow on the wall is a man longing to hold her and read her. Maybe she is talking to me, about the book that is yet to be written… this is how I am in book shops, slightly philosophical.

When I got out of the shop, it had already been dark outside, and so I went straight home. I didn’t notice anything special until the next day. On the clock there was a date, but I rechecked, to be on the safe side - January 31st 2007, also on the cell phone display. No, this cannot be true! Not twice the same day! I must be on a Groundhog Day rerun, or better yet, someone was trying to save my day. Mighty Mouse, How come I thought of him now? This did not happen since I had been ten years old.

I got up, got dressed, and got out. I had a few things to do at the uni, but I found myself going to the store over lunch. I managed to compress the rest of the day, postponing some very vital tasks, in order to create some quality leisure time. A day saved is a day earned. I decided that I’d leave the shop, and go straight to Haifa, to that other shop, down there, below Herzl Street. Everything else will just have to wait – do not do tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow. Jasmine translations will manage to live even if I’ll send everything in a week, a few boring translations, of a few boring reports, of a few boring companies. No one would really miss me if I disappeared, certainly no one special.

I was wandering among the shelves – they keep adding new shelves – and reread the poem about the smoke of time. The book ‘Momo’ peeked at me from one of the lower shelves, reminding me that you should use time efficiently, but still give yourself time to have fun. It was Thursday noon, and so I got out of the shop, ready to travel.

This sounds much simpler than what actually happened, because I thought I would walk to the train station, and started walking there, but Beer Sheva, where I am a new citizen, and do not know my way around so well, looked suddenly different, more deserted, and I could not find the train station. So I got up on a red and white bus, stood in front of the driver and stared into blank space, finally I gave him a few pounds and sat in my seat. Blue seat, some sort of cloth, covered with rubber, a little torn, the yellow foam, also torn, peeking from underneath. The sign asked me not to smoke, not to spit, and not to throw away the litter, or otherwise deal with sunflower seeds. The traffic was very calm, and I proudly told myself that I know all the car models on the road – most of them were Subaru.

The bus must have been going slowly, because after a pretty long while – no rush on my part though – it reach the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. That was surprising, but I let my feet walk me to the 901 bus and from there to the old central bus station in Haifa. For some reason, it was brand new. Anyway, I took the number 10 bus To Hadar Hacarmel, a familiar and pleasant experience. I could hear: ‘and after all you are poem’ by Shlomo Artzi on the radio, probably the driver was listening to Galei Tzahal, the military radio station, and I was wondering again, who is the girl who is a poem to me.

Ann so, a little dreamily, I walked into the book store. It’s funny how Hadar almost didn’t change as a neighborhood, ever since I was a kid, and went to the ‘Reali’ elementary school. A few Russian delis here and there, but otherwise everything stayed just the same. Oh, yeah, and the Science Museum, up at the old Technion building. I decided to go up and see it. Hey funny, there was no museum, only the deserted shell of a building, standing there, thinking of the students in the new campus. I now remembered that there were no Russian delis on the way either.

Deep down inside I already knew what was going on, and so I remembered what is the first thing to do in this occasion – read today’s paper. I went over to Steimaztky’s - The old sign, shiny and new. I checked the paper, confirming my suspicions. You should only believe the paper’s name, the price tag, and the date: January 31st 1980.

I think I always knew that this would happen at some point, or at least figured it would happen, getting ready. I stopped and took a few deep breaths; the philosophy of the situation is not that important right now, the economics is crucial. I have a little money, I have my wits, but that is all. For heavens sake, it’s already four o’clock in the afternoon, and no place to lay my head down for the night. I well remember where I used to live, but my old home had no place for 37 year old me. Ten year old me barely managed, and he didn’t need all this now, my life had been complicated enough.

Complicated indeed, but who knows, maybe this will give me back some long lost simplicity. Yes. Simplicity. That’s what I was looking for all along, right? I didn’t want to meet myself, so I went to the bookstore instead, maybe that will give me some idea, they have an excellent science fiction section.

It’s cute, the store I mean, all sixty Robert Heinlein books are lined up almost by the order of publication. ‘The Menace from Earth’, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, ‘Stranger in a strange land’. But only when I saw ‘Time Enough for love’ did I remember how complicated it is to meet your own mother, when you are already grown up, and she is not. I immediately knew what I had to do: Go to Eli and Aviva, they have a large house. Mom and Dad will only show up tomorrow night, like every Friday night, but I’d hide. I’d explain to Eli this whole matter, it will be fine, and our financial situation, his and mine, would improve, so nothing to worry about.

I stood in front of the door and smiled. Gaby must have changed the door to steel after they had died, but this was the old good one, hand made oak, with squares. I was thinking that’s it’s funny how there is no Hebrew word for knocker, maybe because there aren’t that many. Anyway, someone should make up a word for it. The knocker looked coppery, but was made of some harder metal, the center of it was fashioned into some beast of prey. I knocked gently on the door, using the knocker of course. Eli stood in the doorway. How come it’s Eli? Maybe Aviva went shopping. He didn’t recognize me, which is not too surprising, since he never saw me as an adult.

“Hello” He said, and I remembered how tall and handsome he had been before he bent down. His smoky voice easily made me smile.

“Hello yourself, do you remember telling me to read Robert Heinlein?”

“No, who are you?”

“I’m Uri Meir, Rachel and Peter’s son. Actually, you can’t remember having said that to me, because you haven’t said that to me yet.”

“ I don’t get it, do you want a donation?”

“No, I want to tell you something about the future.”

“That sounds dumb, but maybe you can tell me a good story at least. Get in.”

I got in, and went straight to the blue and white porcelain cow on the marble mirror frame in the fore room. It was brand new.

“So? How was the conference?” I was so glad I remembered. Two years of preparation, three day of sheer madness, and then, a month ago his time, it was all over.

“How do you know about the conference?”

I heard Aviva coming in from the porch into the kitchen starting to arrange the shopping into place in the oh so familiar sounds. Eli heard that too: “Bubale, please make coffee for the two of us, there is someone here saying that he is Uri Meir, but older. You do look a little bit like your dad.”

We got into the living room. “One moment” Aviva’s voice hovered among the books and the heavy leather couches. In less than two minutes she came in, all smiles. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and saw her. Not Aviva, Shell, why did I remember her now? I opened my eyes, and kept up with the conversation as if nothing had happened.

“Nu, so how is the future?” asked Eli, Aviva was smiling peacefully.

“I’m not sure, It’s safer here.”

“You mean they are up to something?”

I explained my idea to him, but he was not impressed.

“Look kid, Menachem Begin, I’d believe anything you say about him, Yigal Horvitz, even more so. It may just be that they are going to change our currency in a month’s time, and it’s just like the prime minister an the minister of finance to keep it a secret, and then drop it on the public like a god damn bomb shell. The time out you gave me is useful. If I start collecting the coins issued this year now. But that’s not the real thing, you have to remember what happened at the stock exchange.”

“In the next two or three years you should be fine. Afterwards it gets messy.”

“That’s a little bit much more interesting. What kind of messy?”

“There will be a war in Lebanon, the stock exchange will crash, some people will even think that the Messiah got killed.”

“Now you come up with the Messiah, you want some cold water?”

I refused politely.

“But do go on, What about South Africa, do you know De Beers?”

“”Oh yeah.” I smiled inwardly and told him all about Nelson Mandela.

I was mad at myself for not taking more courses on Israeli economics at uni, but we managed to weave a decent plan from his thoughts and my memories. I knew his thread was cut loose in 1996, afterwards I’d have to talk to Gabi. Suddenly I discovered I can’t remember the funeral, but the Shiva with the Tel Aviv Terrorist Attack was unforgettable. Afterwards we’ll make some serious money, Gaby and I, sadly without Eli, but I couldn’t really explain to him all that.

Back to the present. We only had three and a half week, not a lot of time. The Agora coin, with the grain pressed the wrong way. I was so happy I remembered that. He immediately found an auction. This was not about money, this was personal - he wouldn’t le Horvitz get the better of him. I asked myself what he was going to tell daddy tomorrow night, but I could trust him to come up with something.

I went to sleep in Gaby’s room, he was doing his military service far away. I got up in the morning lazily, and went to grab something from the kitchen. Aviva did not ask questions, and I knew where to find everything. I was nice to her, and that had always been enough, even when I lived here in 1987, in seven years time – funny but now, like then, I was without a family.

I went for a walk up Derech Hayam street. I had some time to kill, and then suddenly it hit me like a wave. Shelly, I cannot explain why the salty smell of the sea reminded me of her. Maybe it was the smell of the mastic shrubs around. Shivers ran up and down my spine. They say that no love is like the first love, true enough in my case. There had been some that were fairer than her, but not one was as fair as she was. Not one as fair as she is. I guess this cool breeze, the Haifa Friday morning scent defrosted what I never realized had become so frozen.

In short, An ancient sight as well has got its moment of creation, and I was so close, time-wise, and space-wise. Once I remembered, I could not forget. Shelly the girl scouts counselor, suddenly, after so many years I had flashbacks of her wide laughing mouth, for crying out loud, they could be flashforwards. She’s here, if that’s what I really want, I can go and see her. Well, isn’t it just like me to forget her address.

Never mind, Haifa is not such a big city, I will find her at some point, and then… I had no idea what would happen then. Like a poem. How I wanted her as a kid’ I was ten’ she was seventeen. Two years later I grew up a little, she grew up a lot. Till I was fourteen I had some hope, she kept coming to the scout meetings even as a soldier. She was totally into it, Oh I forgot that would be very devoted with the scouts. Then she just vanished, never saw her again. I have looked for her a little when I grew up, they said she went somewhere abroad, she wanted to become a singer. What could I do as a kid?

At the end it was just another case of paradise lost, and no other woman ever captured my heart. Strange, did I wait for her all these years? Am I that much of a romantic? Tomorrow, if the activity will be as usual, I’ll get to see her.

I hummed a tune from the new Shlomo Artzy record, I guess ‘ways’ in English, and went back, down the road leading to the sea shore, to Eli and Aviva’s home. The state of our union has never been sounder, strategically speaking. I will have to make a few concessions, but nothing too extraordinary.

I passed the time at their place pleasantly, just like when I was a kid, I read some books, and every once in a while grabbed something from the kitchen. It was funny hearing Mom and Dad coming at night, talking like two youngsters, who married two days ago. I wanted to go down and say hi, but I remembered that time is a complicated thing. So why mess with it? I don’t want to meet dad when he is younger than me. Don’t want to have to beat him up. Certainly I don’t want to meet Mom at that age’ I remember very well what had happened to Lazarus Long. I kept reading without disturbing the public order. When Aviva went up to sleep she said I was right.

I read a little, and then went to sleep. I have a long walk to take in the morning, and then I’ll see Shelly. Ten o’clock in the morning, oh my god, I’m so scared, I’m so excited. I didn’t realize she still scared me this much.

From afar I could already hear children’s voices, see in my mind’s eye the different shades of khaki, yellow and green ties the not so orderly triplets getting ready for the morning parade. I was not concerned about anyone asking what I was doing there, I easily looked my father’s age. I did not worry about meeting myself. Ten year old me had such regular habits that I was very easy to avoid, not even challenging.

And then, as I was walking down the path, with the yet to bloom daisies decorating its edges, I saw her. I froze, it was as if time stood still. A lot of people will tell you that time erases all the flaws from memory, but in her case, time only dimmed her beauty. Now, when the spring has not even begun, she took my breath away.

I felt weak and dizzy. I consciously took a deep breath. I tried but I could not get at her scent, only the mastic shrubs, and sage. The tiny raindrops like pearls in her shiny red hair glistening to me, more precious than diamonds. The sea was washing itself at the end of the dry riverbed, and I so wanted to go there with her. But now, like then, I was dumb, and she just looked right through me.

I saw my young self from far off, walking like a turtle, surrounded by friends despite my being overweight, discussing with Tzachi (where are you now friend?), the Nimzo Indian opening in Chess, looking at Shelly from the corner of my eye. My young self would never dare face her like that, smack in the middle of the path. At least I had improved on that account.

She didn’t notice me, talking to Haim instead. I remembered that they would start going out in a month’s time. Already now, when I listened to her then, I could hear her voice becoming hoarse when she talked to him, of him. I realized that she is lost for me, maybe now even more than then. Then was now, she was with me here, yet she was gone.

I went down the river bed, following the girl’s group, and found a smallish oak tree nearby where I could listen without being seen. I worked. Among all the stupid voices of the girls from my class, I could hear her calm Alto, my heart dancing Rumba against it. I don’t know anything about dancing, but I swear it was the rumba.

Only at the end of the activity did I realize how lost I was. My footstep led me back to Eli and Aviva’s home. I knew that in a month’s time I would be rich, and later even richer. I had to wait her time with Haim, and make plans in the mean time. Planning was always my strong suit.

I stayed with them for another two weeks, and then Albert and Nira helped me find a small apartment in Ein Hod. Everyone agreed to keep ‘my little visit’ as we all called it, a secret from my parents, my sister Tali, and Yair and Michael, my best friends at the time. There had been no choice.

Who were my best friends now?

Every Tuesday and Saturday I watched shelly from afar. I strolled down the riverbed, and wrote poems. At last, after all these boring translation I was in the right mood for poetry, and with a muse like that, it was not surprising.

After tow months I was happy to see I had been right. They got separated, and I was standing on the path again. The daisies started opening up, the Anemones were long gone, and Shelly was in front of me.

“Hi.”

“Hello, Do I know you?”

“That depends.”

“What?”

“Do you read science fiction?”

“I have a ‘Fantasia 2000’ subscription, why?”

“Because you know me as a ten year old kid.”

“Wait a minute, you are Uri, right?”

“What, how did you know?”

“I’m good with these things,” She smiled, “Time travel paradoxes. You are a really cute kid, do you know that?”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Well, sorry, I have an activity to run.”

“Ok, maybe I’ll come again next week.”

“Do come.” She smiled again, and I thought I was going to faint. Luckily she walks fast, and she didn’t see that. She will not be mine, at least until the end of the decade, I I’ll get to see her, if I play my cards right, maybe even once a week. I should find something to keep the conversation going. I went to get ‘Fantasia 2000’.

My idea was quite involved. There was a price to pay, and more than a few technical details. I wanted to consult someone, and found Eli on a rare free moment.

“What do you think about the smoke of time?” I asked hesitantly.

“Uri, what’s wrong with you, did you decide to become a poet?”

“Maybe I did, should I stay in this year?”

“Is there a choice?”

“Not in the next twenty seven years, but what about later?”

“Later, you decide later! It’s not easier to determine, what might happen in two minutes time!”, he said with conviction, and did not know how right he was, about himself. Me, I’m a different guy, and I had other ideas, that would suit me better.

After a few weeks things started to clear up. Shelly kept smiling at me from time to time, and we both waited anxiously for the new ‘Fantasia 2000’ issue. She started believing that I come from her future, and I could not decide if she was playing a game or really believed it. Any I still couldn’t tell her about the Iranian nuclear weaponry. Patience.

Eventually I would have money, and knowledge, and maybe a few published poems, if anyone would agree to publish. I couldn’t tell if it would work out, but poetry is the most important thing, isn’t it?

I’ll build us both a safe haven, far from the Iranian bomb, far form the Ayatollah Khomeini, he would die eventually, but long after the running bets. I should not worry any more about the future starting in 2007, and all the future up to that point is familiar. We could always come back here together, to this safe and quiet place, the paradise of our childhood, if we only enter every time, at the right moment, to the smoke of time.

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