Cover image for Returning lost loves : a novel
Returning lost loves : a novel
Ḳenaz, Yehoshuʻa.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Maḥazir ahavot ḳodmot. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
263 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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'...a subtle, dark novel about loneliness and obsessions, but at the same time it is a wonderful comedy about the paradoxes of love and the fierceness of jealousy' - Amoz Oz Already a bestseller in Israel, this is Kenaz's most entertaining and modern novel to date, yet it is a work that resonates with as much truth as beauty. Using a variety of perspectives, Kenaz takes the reader on a tour of life in Israel today which focuses on several progagonists - a beautiful women involved with married man, a soldier who has gone AWAL, and a Filipino maid.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Modern Israeli society is seen through the lives of the residents of a Tel Aviv apartment house in Kenaz's (The Way to the Cats) latest novel. Loneliness and loss of direction unite their outwardly unconnected stories, while the author's ironic tone lightens the diverse narratives. Divorced office clerk Gabi falls for HeziÄa secretive married man who works in her office buildingÄthe moment she is warned to stay away from him. They rent a hideaway in a downtown apartment building for their afternoon trysts. Despite Hezi's warnings to speak to no one and ignore the phone, Gabi becomes acquainted with their neighbors. Aviram is a middle-aged realtor who listens through the walls to Gabi's robust cries of passion. Shwartz, a bitter old Ashkenazi Jew, complains to the unconcerned absentee landlords about encroaching decay, and resists the influx of Sephardics. Ruthie and Ezra worry about their son, Eyal, who has deserted before completing his army service. Mystery surrounds the domineering Hezi, who demands Gabi cut off all other relationships. When a census taker raises questions about their apartment, Gabi begins to ask questions about Hezi: How does he pay the rent for their love nest? Where does he go on his frequent disappearances? The mystery climaxes when Gabi finds their cleaning lady raped and murdered on the floor of their bedroom. In Kenaz's view, isolation and loneliness afflict modern Israeli citizens. The Ha'aretz newspaper writer evokes a national malaise as he explores the powers of patriotism, parenting, passion and compassion, and how we use them to connect and to separate ourselves from our neighbors. (Mar. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Several plots concerning love in a variety of manifestations are cleverly interwoven here by one of Israel's finest writers (After the Holidays). The central love story features Gabi, alone and single, who is drawn to Hezi, a married womanizer who works in her office. They meet in an apartment he has rented from a real estate agent, another of the book's characters with a plot of his own. The person living in the next apartment is an unhappy, frustrated bachelor who has seen Gabi enter and leave the apartment and yearns for her. There is a Filipino cleaning woman who is the caretaker of Gabi's elderly invalid father and who cleans the love nest apartment, where she is brutally raped and murdered. Another parallel plot involves a bitter old man who lives in the same building and derives a perverse satisfaction from his battle with tenants who have illegally built a basement flat. All of these stories highlight contemporary life in Tel Aviv. Highly recommended for all libraries. Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One A moment would come when one of them would ask: When will I see you again? And this would be a sign that something was ending and something else was beginning, and the grace of the first days, if indeed they had both been in a state of grace then, would disappear. This was more or less what the lecturer she'd been with for a time in her student days had explained to her. The writer he was quoting (she had forgotten his name) argued that the first of the two who asked: When will we meet again? had "lost the love." So, Gabi had wondered then, was the whole thing just a power game? She wasn't convinced. After a while she split up with the lecturer, and at the same time she also dropped out of her course at the university, which wasn't giving her what she had hoped for.     In the years that had passed since then, there was also a short marriage that didn't work out, but which hadn't, at least in her opinion, done her any harm. She looked younger than her age; she was still slender; her face was unlined, her complexion fair and matte; her straight dark hair fell to her shoulders (in the office she wore it gathered up into a dancer's bun on her neck); her dark eyes were long and alert and her snub nose gave her an expression of being shrewder and more sophisticated than she really was.     While approaching the building entrance she glances back over her shoulder, quickly inserts the key in the lock, enters the stairwell, and climbs the stairs to the apartment. Despite the plastic shopping bags holding the groceries she bought on the way, despite her high heels, and despite the fact that she hasn't switched on the stairwell light, she climbs quickly from floor to floor, enters the apartment, and immediately locks the door behind her.     She got her job as a clerk in the firm as a result of a chance meeting with an acquaintance who was about to leave Tel Aviv for a settlement in the Galilee. For a few weeks they worked side by side and she taught Gabi the ropes, and among the other good advice this friend gave her, there was one warning that Gabi particularly took to heart: to keep away at all costs from a shit called Hezi, who was away at the time doing his army reserves duty. I didn't take more than a few days, and even before she set eyes on him Gabi was already in love with him. She waited impatiently for him to come back to work, and when he returned and passed her in the corridor, she had no doubt that he was the man, even though she hadn't yet heard anyone address him by his name. And she knew she had to have him at any cost.     But he showed no signs at all of being interested. Although he worked on a different floor of the building, he would drop in several times a day at the secretary's office where she worked and joke with the other girls, but he didn't even ask who the new girl was, didn't introduce himself to her, didn't say a friendly or encouraging word, didn't pay her any attention at all. And by then she couldn't think of anything else. From snatches of conversation between the girls she shared the room with, who like her friend didn't speak of him with any affection, she learned that he was a married man with a family, and that his father-in-law, a person with influence in economic circles, had helped him obtain his job in another department of the firm. Gabi wasn't a gullible young girl anymore, the experience and lessons of life had taught her caution and responsibility, but Hezi's reputation as a shit and his striking appearance, the face of an arrogant child with a head of snow-white hair, cast a spell on her that she couldn't resist.     They first made love in a little hotel on one of the streets going down to the sea, a few days after he condescended to smile at her for the first time as he walked past the door of her room. Gabi went down to the little diner next to the office building, where she usually had lunch. He was sitting there. He looked at her and she smiled at him. He came up to her table and said quietly: "I want to get to know you." When she said "Okay" he took a notebook out of his jacket pocket, tore out a page, wrote something down on it, folded it, put it on the table, and walked out of the diner. The note contained the name of the hotel and the time they were to meet. The first time he heard her hysterical cries of pleasure, his body froze and he raised his head and examined her face with suspicion and concern.     He laid down rules governing how they were to behave when arriving, while there, and on departing, so that the apartment he rented for their meetings would be protected, secure, impenetrable as far as possible by the outside world -- like a nuclear war shelter, he said. No one, apart from themselves, was to know about it. They were never to arrive at the building together and never to leave together. He usually arrived in a cab, not in his own car. In addition to the apartment's old telephone line, which he left unconnected, he had a line with an unlisted number installed, to be used only by them in the few hours they spent there. And it too was not to be answered at once when it rang; she had to wait for the signal they agreed upon: three rings, a pause, and another ring. Calls on the intercom and knocks at the door were to be ignored. And of course, no contact with the neighbors, not a single word. The name of the previous tenants, Neuman, was left on the intercom outside the building entrance and on the mailbox. And at work they ignored one another, as if they had never met.     She accepted his conditions without asking his reasons. This game -- and perhaps it was only a kind of test she was being subjected to -- didn't put her off. On the contrary. After all, it was only a few hours a week, usually during the day, and she went on living her life as before. And if her heart warned her that she might be in danger from this peculiar relationship -- this was precisely what drew her to it.     In the kitchen Gabi unpacks the groceries and starts making a light meal for the two of them. The dog in the apartment on the other side of the wall howls like a wolf, long, savage, painful howls, like moans of longing or complaint at some terrible injustice. This is how he howls when his master has gone out, as she has learned from experience; for she has heard his other barks too: the cries of joy and gratitude when his master comes home, the proud announcements that he is about to be taken out for a walk, the angry growls warning of an undesirable presence outside the door, and also the nagging, self-righteous scolding on the other side of the bedroom wall, when she is in bed with her lover. And although she has never had any special affection for animals in general or dogs in particular (if she had wanted a pet, she would definitely have chosen a cat), she feels that a strange bond has come into being between herself and this dog on the other side of the wall. To such an extent that when she saw him for the first time, leaving the apartment with his master and walking past her, big, shaggy, and slow, she wasn't afraid of him when he barked at her and when the fur of his neck brushed against her thigh, she was so sure of the secret intimacy growing between them. His master is a rather repulsive man of about fifty, short and very thin, his face hidden by a wispy gray beard and glasses whose lenses cast a gray-brown shadow over his shifty eyes. The name on his mailbox is Aviram, and there's no knowing if it's his first name or his surname.     After finishing her work in the kitchen, she goes into the living room, switches on the radio, which is always tuned to the "Voice of Music," and sits down to read the paper. About half an hour later Hezi opens the door, she doesn't turn her head to look at him but goes on studying the newspaper, and he comes up to her from behind, puts his arms around her shoulders and chest, and buries his head in her neck. On the radio there's a pause in the music and the announcer recites a poem, slowly and in a reserved voice. Gabi feels his warm breath melting her neck. Again she is flooded with the joy of the meeting, always new and surprising, conscious once more of the closeness of his body, hungry for her, about to pounce ungently on its prey.     The day they moved into the apartment she shouted again at the top of her voice when she climaxed, and not only did the dog in the next apartment burst into loud, threatening barking, but one of the neighbors rang their bell and knocked on their door, calling: "Hello! What's happening?" until Gabi was forced to call out in reply: "Everything's all right, everything's all right!"     "From outside it sounds as if somebody's being tortured to death in here," Hezi said then, got out of bed, went to the bathroom, came back and immediately got dressed, refusing to eat anything. Gabi didn't appear embarrassed in the least. Half-serious, half-humorous, she promised that from now on she would shout softly. But she didn't keep her promise and he never mentioned it again. Perhaps he resigned himself to this breach in the nuclear shelter he had erected and decided to take a calculated risk. In any event, he no longer allowed his lovemaking to be disturbed by the fear of attracting the attention of the neighbors with her shouts.     Now they sit in the kitchen, eating the light meal that Gabi has prepared, a niçoise salad. As usual, he eats in silence. In general, he doesn't talk much. And although she doesn't break the silence, she can't help glancing at him from time to time, to examine his face, whose riddle becomes harder for her to solve the longer she knows him. And when her look arouses him from silence, he smiles at her questioningly and murmurs a compliment about the food. And she doesn't want to tell him what a good cook she is, how she can prepare far richer and more complex dishes than this, whole meals, in case he thinks she's trying to expand their meetings to include other hours too, for example, in the evening. She knows that anything like this will arouse his resistance, be interpreted as an intrusion on his freedom, because any such invitation to extend their relationship has to come from him and not from her. And so she confines herself to a smile of thanks and goes on looking at his childish face, which in the eyes of someone not in love would no doubt seem a very ordinary face: only the mane of white hair surrounds it with a kind of halo of spirituality. But even though he talks about himself so little, she already knows enough about him to be certain that there is nothing spiritual about him at all. He himself told her, in a rare moment of frankness, that the only things that interest him are money and sex, and if he had to choose between them, he would definitely choose money, which could procure sex -- but not the other way around.     To Mr. Barzilai Nachman, Even though we haven't spoken to each other for years due to a certain subject because of which I quite rightly stopped talking to you now I haven't got any choice in the matter. I could have sent this letter to your lady too like I did the other times on the subject of money for special expenses on the building but this time the subject isn't suitable for a woman. As follows, I'm writing this letter to you not personally but only as the head of the House Committee. Ever since Neuman left and other people moved into your apartment the situation here has become intolerable. Nobody lives there by day or night and only in the afternoon there's a woman there who receives men for intimate relations and begins screaming Oy oy oy so that the whole building can hear. At first we didn't know what was happening we thought there was some catastrophe and we went to knock on the door to offer help but we saw that it was something else and it's been going on like that to this day a few times a week. It wouldn't be so bad at night when everyone's sleeping but in the middle of the day it's not normal. Lucky there are no more children in the building to hear such things and ask what's going on but it's a shame and disgrace for the women who live in the building too. You must remember what happened in apartment three after Moyal died 7/18/1981 and his wife went to the old-aged home and a person moved in who brought girls and turned the place into you-know-what. People were waiting in line in the stairwell. You yourself were on the committee then. We went to the police and put an end to it. What's to be done now with this girl? We would have gone to the police a long time ago but I know what your temper's like and I thought I should first give you an account of what's happening in your apartment. And now in the name of the committee I demand with all due respect you put a stop to it. Not only is it unpleasant and shameful for everybody but the value of the property is going down too because nobody will want to buy an apartment in a place like this and we wasted our money on the new entrance door and the intercom so everything should be dignified. If nothing comes of this letter we'll have to go to the police. Please give us the name of the person you rented the apartment to which the committee is entitled to as you yourself know. And in addition they don't pay their dues to the committee either, they owe two months, notifications in their mailbox don't do any good or under the door either, they don't open the door or pick up the phone even in the afternoon when you can hear her in there. Respectfully yours, Shwartz Ariyeh on behalf of the House Committee "Tell me, what's eating you?" Ilan suddenly asks, getting up from his desk, standing next to him, and examining him with concern.     After the two clients had left, there was an unexpected lull in the office. Ronit went to the diner down the street, the telephones were silent, even the roar of the buses in Ibn Gvirol Street seemed to subside for a moment, and only the Russian's accordion, next to the bank entrance, went on creaking out its regular repertoire of light classical music. From the big window part of Malkhei Yisrael Square is visible, bathed in spring sunshine.     Aviram raises his head from the computer and looks at him in surprise.     "Nothing's eating me, what's the problem?"     "Lately I've had the feeling that you're angry with me," says Ilan. "You hardly talk. Are you depressed or something?"     Aviram doesn't know what to say to him. He rubs his beard with the back of his hand and prays for Ronit to come back quickly and for this conversation to end.     "Forgive me for saying so," Ilan adds, "but it doesn't exactly make the clients feel good either to sit opposite such a sour face. They'll think we're about to go bankrupt."     "That's just the way I look," says Aviram.     "No, no, it's only lately, something that makes me feel as if you're mad at me, as if I did you some harm."     "Not at all. Sometimes people have personal problems, you know. The trouble with me is that you can immediately see it on my face."     "Is it something to do with your parents?"     "No, no."     Ronit finally returns, bringing three toasted cheese bagels, and goes into the kitchen to make coffee.     For a few years now the two of them have been working together in the same room, partners in the Northern Star Rental and Sales Realtors, without establishing any personal relationship. The only time the framework of formal relations between business partners was breached was when Ilan threw a bar mitzvah party for his son in a reception hall in Holon and invited Aviram. Not knowing anybody there, Aviram barricaded himself in a corner and fled for his life as soon as the guests got into line for food.     Ronit brings in the coffee cups on a little tray. She puts the cup containing half a saccharine tablet on Ilan's desk, the cup with two spoons of sugar on her desk, and the cup with neither on Aviram's desk. In that order. And while they restore themselves with the coffee and the toasted bagels he wonders, not for the first time: Even in something as silly as the order in which they are served, Ilan always comes first. It seems self-evident, but why, in fact, should it be? They're equal partners, with exactly the same status, and Aviram is older than Ilan. And why does she serve herself second, and him last? Why is it so self-evident? He's her boss, after all, just like Ilan. But why pretend -- Ilan's sleeping with Ronit, and this, too, is a classic feature of being the boss. They don't even try to hide their intimate relationship from Aviram, with all kinds of whispers and stolen caresses and inexplicable bursts of laughter. They feel no embarrassment in the presence of the wretched little clerk.     It is not the order in which they get their coffee, however, or the erotic amusements of Ilan and Ronit that are preoccupying Aviram, but a deeper and more fundamental order of things, which in his opinion is also reflected in these trifles. In his eyes he is a rejected person, crushed by life and cast beaten and helpless by the wayside.     Would he have dared to speak to Ilan, who is several years his junior, in the way that Ilan had just spoken to him? But anyone casting a glance at the two of them would have no doubt as to which of them was the boss and which the lowly clerk. Ilan feels like a boss. Look at his executive airs and the self-important expression on his face when he speaks to clients or answers the phone and you'll see that he relates to their brokerage agency as if it's an international concern, especially since it was decided, on Ilan's initiative, to expand the activities of the office to include "real-estate management" -- which in the eyes of Aviram's ambitious partner was more promising, profitable, and dignified than plain old apartment brokerage.     First thing in the morning, when he comes into the office, Ilan sits down to study the financial newspaper, to bring himself up to date on what's happening in the business world, which he sees as his natural arena. Look at what he's wearing: always a necktie, white shirt, and dark trousers. In winter, a dark blue jacket with metal buttons; in summer, a well-pressed short-sleeved white shirt and, of course, a necktie. And a smell of aftershave, patted onto his always shining face, envelops him like a cloud of incense. And Aviram always in the same shabby gray slacks and checked or striped shirt, and in winter a dark blue cardigan with a zipper or little leather buttons. And about this too, Aviram knows, he can expect to hear from Ilan.     Every dog knows who his master is and obeys him. Not only Ronit, who sees herself as Ilan's secretary, with everything implied by this position, and awaits his instructions, but also the clients coming into the office know at once who's boss and address themselves immediately to him. Ilan enjoys the contact with the customers, which affords him the opportunity to demonstrate his importance and speak in a voice full of authority, a quiet voice, almost suffocated by the weight of the responsibility he bears. And thus, of their own accord, things arranged themselves to their mutual satisfaction. As a rule Ilan is the one who goes out with the clients in his car to show them the properties for rent or for sale, or meets the home owners wishing to sell or rent their property. And Aviram, who in any case doesn't own a car or know how to drive, and who hasn't got the patience for conversing with his fellow men, usually stays in the office to do the bookkeeping and other chores that are beyond the capacities of Ronit, who is employed at the office part-time. He lives on one of the streets close to the square, which allows him to go home every day at lunchtime, to take the dog for a walk, to buy a newspaper, to have something to eat, to rest a bit, and to return to the office after an hour or an hour and a half. He often spends the afternoon alone in the office, while Ilan goes out for meetings and all kinds of activities.     There was a moment in his past when he gave in and surrendered to the crushing force of life, and after that he no longer had any control over what happened to him. When that moment was, he is unable to remember. But he is certain that it existed. The image of himself lying wounded and helpless by the roadside accompanies him always, in two versions: in one he is a pedestrian walking on an expressway full of cars driving at a dizzying speed; in the other he himself is driving one of the cars, although he has never learned to drive in his life. And both of them include the moment when he decides to go on walking and not to take any notice of what's happening around him, or alternatively when he takes his hands off the wheel and covers his face in order not to see anything. But when did this accident happen in his real life? When did he decide to give in? This he doesn't know. He sometimes tries to discover this moment, as if the discovery would solve some mystery for him, and at the same time he knows that it couldn't have any practical value. And perhaps there was no such moment and there was no decision and no accident but a gradual process of wearing down until the last fiber tore.     This time on his return to the office after his lunch break he finds Ilan there. He dreads a continuation of the morning's conversation and he tries to smile at him and look relaxed, hoping to escape his doom.     But no. "I don't think there are many partners who've been working together for years like us, without any tension or conflict or suspicion and so on," Ilan says and sits down on Aviram's desk. "I, at any rate, like working with you. Even though we're so different, we're of one mind in everything concerning the business. That's why we can be honest and even criticize each other. Because I've got a lot of respect for you and whatever I say is always well meant. I wanted you to know that and not to take things personally."     "It's okay," Aviram says. "I've got no complaints."     "I want to say something about your appearance. You said this morning `that's the way I look.' That's not true. You can look good, you're not an ugly person, but you do everything you can not to look good. What about that beard, for example? You have a nice face but nobody can see it. What's that beard supposed to mean? And your clothes."     "I knew you'd get to this."     "Avi, believe me that I'm telling you this as a friend. You can afford to buy normal clothes, and change them occasionally, and wear proper shoes instead of Adidas or sandals with socks like you do."     "You know very well that even if I shaved off my beard and wore different clothes, I won't change and nothing will change," says Aviram. "You'll just have to accept me as I am."     "Of course! What a question! Of course I accept you whatever you look like, I like you just as you are. But you'll feel different, believe me."     Ilan looks at his watch. "Ah! I'm late for an appointment." He gets off Aviram's desk, says, "Think positively about what we spoke about, okay?" gives him a paternal smile, squeezes his shoulder, picks up his big leather briefcase, and winks at him before closing the door.     Dear Mr. Shwartz, In reply to your confused letter, I must ask you not to trouble me any further with your nonsense. The man renting my apartment is a respectable person from a large city in the north of the country, a senior member of an important commercial concern in Tel Aviv, who requires a place to rest during the day. He may have brought his wife with him to Tel Aviv on a few occasions, and when she was in the apartment she said "Oy oy oy." It's a shame and disgrace for a man of your age to think of such things. Is this what concerns you? When I lived in the building I never knew that you had the fantasies of an old lecher. It's not dignified, Mr. Shwartz, I'm ashamed for your wife. In general people should examine themselves first, to see if everything is as it should be in their own homes, before going to listen at other people's doors. First ask themselves, for example, why their daughter got divorced twice, and then go and complain about someone who they claim they heard saying: "Oy oy oy." Of course I can't give you the name of the tenant, or any other details about him aside from those I gave you above. With all due respect to the rules of the House Committee, there are more important rules, to respect other people and to respect their wish for privacy. He is perfectly entitled to protect himself from nuisances like you. A man in his position has the right to remain anonymous in the few hours of rest allowed him by his work, without being bothered by the media and interviewers and all kinds of hoi polloi wanting favors. If you wish to go to the police, I can't stop you making a laughingstock of yourself and the rest of your committee. And as long as we're on the subject of laughter, I read your letter two or three times and I couldn't stop laughing. After fifty years in the country you write Hebrew worse than a new immigrant. As a teacher for many decades I had the opportunity to read all kinds of strange compositions, but such a ridiculous pile of nonsense I have never seen before. We laughed, my wife and I, unrestrainedly, as if we were reading a parody, and my wife even read the letter aloud and it sounded even funnier. We decided not to throw it away until we show it to the children when they come to visit us on Saturday. To give them some pleasure too. Nevertheless, Mr. Shwartz, we have had enough of this joke, and if you intend to amuse us with another act in this comedy, we would be grateful if you spared us. Respectfully yours, Nachman Barzilai On Saturday morning Gabi wakes up earlier than usual but goes on lying in bed with her eyes closed. The phone rings. Last night before she went to sleep she forgot to bring it closer to her bed. By the time she reaches it, it stops, after three rings. She stands next to the phone waiting for the next ring of the agreed signal, as if she's in the other apartment. And then she comes to her senses and goes back to sit on the edge of the bed, wondering how the clandestine rules of the nuclear shelter could have invaded the old, familiar world of her home so quickly. For the first time since the beginning of her affair with Hezi she feels a kind of shrinking from the unknown toward which she is advancing.     She goes to wash, hoping that it will refresh her and clear her mind. She pours the bubble bath with her favorite scent into the tub, and while the tub fills with water the phone rings again. She runs naked into the room and hears Ada's voice on the other end of the line. "Did you ring before?" she asks. "Yes," Ada replies, "but suddenly I had second thoughts, I was afraid you were still sleeping, and I hung up. But when I saw the time ..."     "Listen, I'm running water for a bath. I'll call you back when I get out."     Immersed up to her neck in the warm water, breathing in the fragrant steam, the radio playing music on the stool next to her, Gabi wonders whether to tell Ada. It would be a betrayal of his trust. But she can rely on Ada, she's loyal and she knows how to keep a secret. Still, it would be a betrayal of the pact between them. And he, what does he do on the days and in the hours that they're not together? Does he tell people or doesn't he? And what does he tell them? But all this secrecy is important to him, very important, he needs it to protect him. Protect him from what, from who?     When she gets out of the bath, she still doesn't know which of her two inner voices has the upper hand. She dries her hair, puts on a white bathrobe, makes herself a cup of coffee, and sits down by the phone.     "Why did you leave so early yesterday?" Ada asks. "It was actually a lot of fun. That guy, Oded, was obviously interested in you, and you barely took the trouble to answer him."     "He looked so uninteresting," says Gabi, "so normal, I could hardly keep awake."     "What's the matter with you, Gabi?"     "Why do you ask?"     "Because lately you haven't got any patience for anyone or anything, your head's always somewhere else."     Ada's perceptiveness, the intuition she doesn't always know how to make use of in her own life, always give rise to Gabi's affectionate admiration.     "I have to talk to you," Gabi says, "today."     "Either I don't hear from you for weeks, or else it's terribly urgent."     "When are you free today?"     "This afternoon, at five, six?"     It isn't easy to decide on a café that's open on Saturday and has air-conditioning -- there's a hamsin blowing and the heat is unbearable -- and where there's no chance of bumping into people they know. In the end they settle on a café whose dim basement is the meeting place, according to legend, of secret lovers and scheming politicians.     Ada, an ex-kibbutznik with a broad body and unruly fair hair, and Gabi, tall, slender, and dark-haired, met and became friends when they were students at the university, and since then their friendship has survived their respective marriages and Gabi's speedy divorce. They have never lost touch. There have been periods when they met frequently and spoke on the telephone almost daily, and others when weeks or even months passed without them hearing from one another.     The dark hall of the basement café is almost empty at this hour of day. Apart from the two of them, one of the tables is occupied by an elderly couple who look neither like scheming politicians nor like secret lovers. Gabi tells Ada about what has happened in her life.     "Where's it supposed to lead?" asks Ada.     "Nowhere," says Gabi. "As long as it makes us happy, what does it matter?"     "And you think it can go on like this?"     "Why not?"     "You know that one of you will get tired of it first."     "And you're sure that it will be him."     "Right."     "Well I'm not so sure. But let's say you're right. So it'll be over. It was good while it lasted. What did I lose? In any case I'm living my life as usual. The whole thing doesn't take up more than a few hours a week."     "You're not in love with this man?"     "I hardly know him. Everything that happens between us happens in bed."     "And is he so good in bed?"     "He's all right."     "Just all right, or more than that?"     "No more than that."     "So what's the big deal? If you're not in love with him and in bed he's nothing to write home about, what do you need it for? All that hole-in-the-corner secrecy, being dependent on him, waiting for him to show up when he can or when he feels like it, everything by his rules. And where does he get the money to keep an apartment like that, just for your meetings?"     "I don't know. To this day I've never asked myself that question."     "So then, you enjoy playing the role of some kind of mistress or prostitute?"     "Perhaps I do. The thing that attracts me in all this," says Gabi, "is precisely that it's not easy or simple, that we meet like two spies in enemy territory, in that apartment, with all that exaggerated secrecy and those insane precautions. It's all based on some fear of his, and I don't know what this fear is, but he passes it on to me, and I feel as if I'm fighting a war."     "Against who?"     "Against him."     "What for?"     "For him to be prepared to risk everything he has for my sake, everything he's afraid of losing now."     "And if you succeed, do you want to live with him?"     "No."     "What are you trying to prove to yourself?"     "That I can do it."     "If you ask me, you're simply deceiving yourself. You're madly in love with him already."     Gabi looks at the old couple sitting silently in the corner, taking little sips from their tall glasses of iced coffee with ice cream. The air conditioner is on too high for the empty hall and she rubs her bare shoulders with her hands.     Ada says: "And if I was in your place I'd get out while it's still possible."     "It's already impossible," Gabi says.     "It sounds really perverted," Ada replies, shaking her head. "Can't you find yourself someone normal who you can meet outside bed too, live with, find interests in common with, develop a deeper and richer relationship with? Why are you so contemptuous of these things?"     Gabi doesn't reply.     Ada was one of the most brilliant students in the department. She finished her BA with honors and great things were predicted for her. She was curious and full of life, erudite, a lover of books, and an original thinker. She was herself, she always said what she thought, she was incapable of lying and pretense. In Gabi's eyes she was a rare example of authenticity. There were already strands of gray in her fair hair; her skin, always dry and sensitive, had aged prematurely, and her body, naturally broad, had grown fat around the hips and waist. She had married a man she didn't love and devoted all her time to her charmless children. The spark had dulled, the originality, the intellectual curiosity, the candor, the authenticity had worn away. And Ada too had adjusted to a life of pretense and self-delusion, even if she wasn't aware of it. And now she's preaching women's-magazine clichés about developing common interests, about deep, rich relationships, and on Friday nights she invites over some traumatized divorced man to fix him up with "our poor Gabi." Ada's sensitivity and empathy have turned into resentment and envy. Isn't it obvious that in her own wretched, not to say tragic, existence, Ada is simply jealous of the great adventure that has come into Gabi's life?     But Ada's sensitivity and empathy have presumably not yet been entirely eroded, for she smiles at Gabi with an irresistible sadness, a resigned, accepting sadness, and says in a whisper, as if afraid to pronounce the words:     "I know that you hate me now."     Gabi shivers, because of the chill of the air conditioner or because she feels ashamed. She stands up, bends down to kiss Ada's cheek, and says: "How could I, Ada, how could I?" (Continues...) Copyright © 2001 Yehoshua Kenaz. All rights reserved.