My First Story by Elisha Porat
 

                   translated from Hebrew by Asher Harris

I

That summer, a few days after I was demobbed, I had a  very strange experience.  One afternoon I had a sudden urge to take an old school exercise book and a large yellow pencil out of one of the boxes in which I kept my few belongings. I didn't yet have a permanent room in the ibbutz, and I was constantly moved from one old hut to another.  Once I was condemned to a room that was narrow and dirty, and once I found myself in a room where the floor tiles were sparkling but the walls were cracked and there were no windows.  Another time I awoke in a strange room filled with a stinking pile of mattresses among the decaying huts of the
Nachal unit.

I used to get up for work in the sheepfold while it was still night.  The sand paths were still damp, and the snail tracks clearly marked.  I would spend the day working hard in the humid heat, burrowing away in the manure and absorbing deep into my skin the sharp smell of sheep which never wore off.  In the afternoon I would wake up from a steaming sleep, soaked in sweat, lying between the sheets and thinking of my young life.  Between one duty and the next and between one awakening and the next, there is always a time when the soul flutters here and there, searching for its future.  But I was so eager to know what my life held in store and at
the same time so caught up in the pressing details of the present that I never even managed to plan one step ahead.  Everything that happened took me by surprise and nothing was done out of choice, and yet everything was so expected and so natural that I couldn't even imagine that beyond the steaming horizon there might be a different life, close enough to touch.

After stretching out this sweet interlude as long as I could, slowly waking up out of a fantasy dream full of memories of my recent army service and full of strange visions of the future, I got up and left the hut.  Beyond the hut encampment, just behind the walls, there was an abandoned plantation of subtropical fruit trees, guavas that had ceased to bear fruit, worm-ridden pomegranates and a few loquat trees whose leaves had withered.  I spent many hours in that forsaken garden when I felt weak and drained, examining the veins of the leaves and the peeling trunks, looking at the clusters of white snails packed together in the upper branches.  In the silence that reigned after the overpowering bleating of the sheep, I imagined hearing voices calling me and directing me to my new path.  My whole body was taut. I strained my ears to their utmost.  I climbed up to the tops of the trees to shorten the distance to those uppermost regions.  But I heard nothing, and I had to come down and beat a path through the dry thorns out of the plantation  and search for what I so much needed somewhere else.

There was nobody waiting for me in the whole, wide world.  I had done my duty. I had completed my stint and felt free to wander half the night.  On the other side of the hill the kibbutz hummed with life.  Mothers called their children with long-drawn-out cries whose echoes could be heard all over the green fields. Those days I had already begun to ask myself those same questions which trouble me today.  Does my young life have any meaning?  Why do I drift aimlessly from hut to hut?  Who is it that directs my life in such a way that I wake up to the stinking breath of sheep?  Is this a test that I have to go through?  And what comes after, after I have passed through each of its difficult stages?

This habit of asking myself questions about my life while I wander along the paths and by the hedges hasn't left me until today.  And eventually, as usual, I find myself in the small, leaf covered plot of the cemetery.  I have already written elsewhere that our cemetery is outside reality.  It is outside space, for its surroundings are neither dwellings nor garage, but a beaten down piece of ground that preserves the place as it used to be years ago.  I have also written elsewhere that our cemetery is outside time, for what meaning can there be here to the passage of the hours? What does it matter if it is now late afternoon?  And what if the wind that rustles through the branches soon dies down and gives way to the waves of croaking that rise from the swamp, from the thousands of frogs that will soon come out to hunt mosquitoes?

I sat down on a mound of sand.  The cool sand penetrated my clothes and touched my skin.  If there is one memory that I cherish, it is the touch of sand on my bare skin.  When I move my leg about in the tunnels of the ant-eating insects, the grains of sand slide out of the holes and along my muscles, get caught up for a moment between the hairs and continue to slide as far as the delicate folds. I was beginning to consider letting myself fall a prey to that kind of self-pity I enjoyed so much.  I would fix my eyes on the sun sinking into the not-so-distant sea and abandon myself wholly to daydreams, an almost unchanging series of yearnings, each one leading to another.  A parade of longings would arrange itself in my head and step out on its tireless march.

But all at once something slipped.  A figure stole into the shadows of the cemetery trees.  I heard footsteps and then the farm sounds of water rushing through pipes and the short tap-tap of the prongs of a rake on gravel.  And suddenly time stood still and it was as if my whole being burst out of the sand and out of the earth itself like some shining balloon.  I began to hover between the slowly darkening sky and the lengthening shadows on earth.  Everything came to a halt.  The yearnings disappeared and I had the strange feeling that I might be vouchsafed a rare glimpse into my future life.  Deep inside me I felt a thrill of excitement.  It was as if someone had promised me that a small window would now be thrown open, and through it my life would run as if on a screen.  In my ears there were voices which I imagined were telling me the longed-for story of my life.  It was as if someone

were measuring out the years of my labour, distinguishing between one job and another, permitting and forbidding and offering advice.  All I had to do was give myself over to the sweet sounds and not even allow myself to think that I agreed to it all.  Nor in fact was I terribly surprised since I had long hoped for some such illumination.  When I was still walking along the thorny path between the withered guava trees, I guessed that I was approaching a joyous revelation such as this.  I was already on my feet, shaking the sand from my trousers, and hurrying barefoot towards my suffocating hut, to the old exercise book and the thick pencil.  I remember:

On the unmade bed, in the cloud of sour stench, dripping sweat on to the exercise book and dampening its pages, I began to write with the stupid feeling that I had to record for posterity the wonderful vision I had just seen.  I was in such a hurry not to forget anything and not to mix up the details that the pencil tore the pages, but I took no notice.  I turned the pages without stopping, panting with passion as I wrote down everything about the strange incident that had happened to me, the figure that had stolen into the cemetery, the hands that had carried out the holy task, watering the plants and raking the leaves and cleaning up around the
tombstone.  And there was a kind of insubstantiality about the whole incident, as if the figure had no name and as if I did not know her, and as if I didn't exactly know who she was or what she was doing here now at this disconnected moment.

I threw myself into the writing until darkness filled the room and I had to stop. When I got up to put on the light, it seemed as if I had written all there was to write. I felt how I was slowly being drained of the extreme tension that had held me. Afterwards I took the exercise book in my hands and wondered at how I could have written so fast and what actually was lying there between the pages.  I was sweating terribly and went outside to get some fresh air.  One of my friends was already getting ready to go to the dining-room for supper.  While I was writing I had been so detached from time that I did not realize how late

it was getting.  Whistles and shouts began to echo between the rotting huts, while a wonderful feeling of liberation came over me, a great lightness of my whole body.  I threw the exercise book on to the bed and flung the pencil at the wall.  I joined my friends and hopping on one leg I went with them to the dining-room.

II

In the same way I sent the story to the editor of the literary quarterly.  I found the quarterly, which was then a new publication, in the magazine reading room on the top story of the Cultural Centre of the kibbutz.  After the exhausting night milkings, I used to go into the empty room, turn on the lights, sit by the window and lose myself completely in reading the magazine. Fellows of my age, who had just been released from military service, used to publish poems and marvelous maiden stories. Their way was already laid out before them.  Somebody pushed them and somebody else pulled them, and they wouldn't have to wait like me until they couldn't deny their writing.  They wouldn't spend ten years in silence, eating themselves up, maddeningly distancing themselves from what they really had to do. I dot remember any more whether I copied out the story once or twice.  Be that as it may, it was that same old exercise book and clumsy engraving pencil that I used.  I gave the pages to our post office clerk and together we arranged the rebellious leaves in a brown envelope.

Are you sure this is the correct address? she asked me.  Are you sure there is an address like this in Tel Aviv?

Yes, yes, I answered hastily.  I turned pale and began to sweat and my pulse raced.  The whole business was not very pleasant.  It didn't suit people whose destiny was to work until they dropped.  What a strange occupation, out of the ordinary!  And just you wait, I said to myself, wait until it gets around in the kibbutz. I quickly forgot the whole thing and

put my writing out of my mind.  I immersed myself in hard work and in the details of the daily routine.

With whom could I share my distress?  My co-workers with the flock were occupied with the sheep, and on their free evenings they would roast lambs meat, drink beer and make pigs of themselves.  The other youngsters in the kibbutz were immersed in their jobs, their girl-friends and the modern machinery.  I, on the other hand, felt wonderful music around me and wonders that were about to take place, while the world looked new from moment to moment.  I sensed from afar that there was a different world which was destined for me as I was destined for it, but in the meantime I was a prisoner in the rat race.  As a matter of fact, I wasn't unhappy with the situation. Somebody would have to appear from nowhere and drag me by my coattails until I realized that my time was getting short.  If it didn't happen soon, I would never be able to join the chorus whose fresh voices I heard as I excitedly leafed through the pages of the literary quarterly.

Only our experienced librarian seemed to suspect me of something.  Although he was always grumbling and complaining, he had a particular soft spot for me. After I had overcome the hurdles he used to place in the way of the readers, I could feel a kind of unspoken invitation.  "Not everyone can be a reader, a genuine reader," as if he was trying to hint, "You have to exert yourself in order to ascend the ladder of reading." He used to hum old tunes to himself while bent over his files and shoot annoying questions at the tormented readers.  "Why do you need to read, anyway?  Isn't the newspaper enough?  Anyway, who said that there was such an author whose books you insist on reading?  In any case, its much more interesting outside. They're building the kibbutz, fighting wars.  Why do you have to squeeze yourself into this miserable library where you cant even find a decent catalogue?"

But I couldn't suddenly open up, blushing with sudden shyness, and tell him of my attempts at writing.  He would have asked me, "Why do you have to write yourself?  Have you read everything that others have written?  Who told you that what you have written hasn't already been written by better writers than you? And anyway, there's more than just a little bit of audacity in what you're doing. Who are you altogether?  Here are all the works of Y. H. Brenner, have you read them? Have you seen the stories of A. N. Gnossin?  Have you spared a glance at the volume of new poems by Avraham Shlonsky yet?"

But I knew that there was no way I could reveal my deepest thoughts to him. For even if he knew more than others, and even though he loved books to distraction, he would not be able to understand my little melody.

In this way three weeks went by.  Actually, I didn't even expect an answer. The sudden fit of writing passed and I returned almost to routine.  What I had experienced at the time of writing had already quieted down, and if annoying afterthoughts arose, I silenced them.  I didn't go by the cemetery again, and I tried not to remember that unique picture of the small figure stealing in to look after the tombstone.  I also made an effort not to resurrect the moment of illumination that had impelled me a with a power that was completely new to me.  I had learned my lesson and taken the hint.  But I had no power to change the rest.  I didn't even dare to imagine that there might be groups of budding poets in the big city, and that I, if I only wanted, might be able to join them, and that everywhere, young men, beginning writers, were pressed against bookshelves.  The post office clerk met me in the burning hot dining-room at midday, between one milking and the next.

"You've got an answer from Tel Aviv," she said, and since it was a big envelope, I was invited to the post office to collect it myself.  Puzzled, I followed her.  What was the meaning of the large envelope?  Anyway, who had expected an answer from the editor of the quarterly?  In fact, what did I have to do with all that remote and forgotten business?

We went into the post office and she handed me the envelope.  After she closed the door behind her, she asked, "Have you told your father yet?"

"What about?"  I asked her.  "What do I have to tell him about?"

"About this envelope," the post office  clerk said.  "And about your first stories."

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and went off.  I looked for a hidden corner where I could be alone with the editors answer.  I ran down the hill to my little, isolated hut, closed the door firmly behind me and opened the envelope.

Pages of my old exercise book fluttered out of it.  I recognized my hasty handwriting immediately and my wild pressure on the pencil.  Then, when I shook the envelope, a piece of office paper with the name of the quarterly printed on it fell out as well.  My young heart began to beat and I sat down on my pallet and began to read.

It wasn't the editor himself who had answered but his assistant, the secretary of the editorial board.  "Since the editor is busy and cannot read all the material that arrives " and then, "It is obvious that this is your first story.  There is a great deal of your souls outpouring and many important sentences.  I am sorry to say, however, that this is not enough.  You have much to say but you do not yet have your own poetic language, etc. etc."  After that she continued, "Why don't we wait a bit, we, the editors, and you at your table, say another year or two, until you produce a more satisfactory piece of literature?  What do you think?"  And finally, "You should know that we have done you a personal favor by taking the trouble to read your jumbled handwriting  and in pencil, too!  Something we haven't come across in our literary tower for years!  In future, if you want anybody to take the trouble to look at your manuscript, please be so good as to type it out on a typewriter as they all do!  Now we are sending you your manuscript back even though you didn't enclose a stamped, addressed

envelope as required.  Yours faithfully, Signature, Secretary to the Editorial Board." Stunned, I began to search around me, in the boxes and the crates, for a box of matches.  I threw things aside and dropped all kinds of articles on the floor but I couldn't find any matches.  I grabbed the packet of papers and ran to the guava thicket.  There, above the main sewage pump of the kibbutz, I bent down over the wire grating and tore the pages into little pieces and furiously threw them, together with the letter from the assistant editor, into the powerful, swirling current of the sewage water.  I stayed there, bent over the grating, till the very last
piece of paper disappeared, and then I sat down panting on the concrete wall, so upset that I didn't even notice the horrible stench.

III

When I went to my parents room in the evening, my father was sitting at his large desk, as was his practice these last few years.  The desk was piled high with dictionaries and lexicons, and other books, which he was translating, lying open.  He was leafing through a Russian booklet and said,  "Sit down and make yourself a cup of tea.  Mom isn't back yet but Ill gladly join you."

While I was busy at the sink making the tea, Dad said from his desk, "So you've started to write, eh?  Why all the secrecy?  Why the mystery?  The post office clerk told me something.  What did you write, a poem or a story?"

"Something not fully worked out," I said casually, not wanting to continue the conversation which had suddenly become too revealing.  Sometimes, when my father opened up because he was excited, he used to tell me about new words he had found in the course of his translation work.  He would marvel at an excellent story he had come across by chance in a foreign language journal.  He would praise a young author nobody had yet heard about.

"Writing is a serious business," Dad said, "and it can't be done just like that, at the drop of a hat, between the night milking and taking the sheep out to pasture."

The post office clerk really annoyed me.  Who asked her to report on every letter that went out?  What's it got to do with her if this was my first attempt? And anyway, who gave her permission to report to my father and scrutinize everything I did?  I poured out the tea, set the cups on saucers and didn't answer.

"Where shall I put your tea?" I asked, coming to the desk.  There was a think volume of Mishpat HaUrim lying there and I spilt a few drops of boiling tea on Isaiah Steinberg.

"Never mind," Dad said, "You have to know how to pour out tea, as well.  And for some reason or other I thought you, too, wanted to be a volleyball player."

My brother played volleyball on the kibbutz team.  He was an outstanding player, and when Dad could get away from his desk, he took a lot of pride in his son.

"If not a player then in charge of the sheep, or work rota organizer, or even farm manager.  Why not?  These are also important things for a lad of your age."

We sat and drank tea.  Dad put down the Russian booklet, took off his glasses and gave me a strange look, as if we had were meeting again after a long absence.

"Have you brought the manuscript with you?  Give it to me and well have a look."

"No," I said.  "It was a ridiculous effort and its not worth talking about. Anyway, I got rid of it myself."

"You threw it away?" Dad cried out in amazement. "Didn't you leave yourself a single copy?"

"No," I said.  "I don't need a copy."

"But maybe I need a copy," Dad burst out.  "Don't get into bad habits.  Its about time you began to cultivate correct working habits."

I looked at the Midrashim that were always to be found on Dads desk and the books of commentaries with papers stuck in between the pages and his dog-eared black Bible.  Even though I had made one small, abortive effort, that doesn't make me a writer, and even though I had caught a glimpse of distant places, the night milking still waited.  And even though the time would come for me to choose between different worlds, that time was still a long way off, hidden away in the folds of the long years that were still to come.  Why should I bother with it now? The time that waited for me in the pastures, or chained to the little milking stool or in the dust of the feed that rose from the milking stalls seemed long, infinite, immeasurable.

Dad tried to approach me in a different, gentle way.  He might succeed by placating me instead of rubbing me up the wrong way by being too straightforward.

"Why don't you try to write out the story again?  You must surely remember most of it.  Words are not so easily forgotten.  Do it for me.  I only want to glance at it. In any case, its better to make a number of versions.  There's always room for further polishing."

I thought I might have left the first draft in the hut.  I had impetuously torn the pages out of the exercise book so maybe they were still there  if they hadn't been blown

away by the afternoon breeze that swept up between the rotten floorboards. Suddenly we were closer, almost against my will.  The cup of tea, his gentle manner, my surprising story.  All right, not all the sons of immigrants will be volleyball players. They may be stronger and taller than their parents but, who knows, some of them may be drawn to the world of books.

"Have you read Chekhovs The Woman with the Puppy?" Dad asked.

When I was a boy I used to devour well-known authors according to the rows of their books in the library. How many volumes did Dostoievsky write?  I took them all in one lot and read them one after the other.  How many of Thomas Mann's books had been translated?  I swallowed them all.  And so on, according to time and place and the recommendations of my girl friends who were great readers.

"Yes," I said.  "Ive read a bit of Chekhov."

"Excellent," said Dad.  "In that case you will understand what I want to say.  Do you remember the frivolous officer and the bored lady?  Do you remember the amusing game they played as if it were just to pass the time and enjoy a chance meeting?  Then suddenly, in a flash, almost without them realizing it, everything turned upside down.  She fell deeply in love with him and he knew he couldn't live without her.  You see, that's the genuine Chekhov.  He leads you, as it were, up the garden path.  He tells you a slight tale about a small platform at a station in a summer resort, a most enjoyable cruise on a river boat during a southern summer, and suddenly you know, almost at the same time as the characters themselves, that the lives of both of them have become dependent on that small adventure.  I call that, Chekhovs point of reversal, and you can follow it in every single tale that that wonderful story-teller wrote."

I listened to my Dad.  It was a long time since we had had such an intimate conversation.  But inside I thought, "What have I got to do with Chekhov? What are his be-hatted ladies to me?  What have I got to do with his painful point of reversal?  All I wanted to recall was one moment of illumination in the cemetery wood after a fantasy dream, and to respond to a secret invitation that was sent to me.  I didn't want to waste time but to write everything I had felt inside and everything I had seen outside.  What kind of literature would sprout from that?  I had certainly exaggerated in my description of the trees, the leaves, the ground.  I had gone overboard in picturing the rake, the hosepipe, the hand that was stretched out to tidy up.  But they had been no less important to me at that moment than the nameless but familiar figure that in total concentration and disregard had been so absorbed in some kind of ritual that riveted my attention.

Meanwhile, Dad continued on his own track, "And here, in this excellent Russian booklet, some scholar has published a wonderful article on Chekhov.  Never mind the point of reversal, that's an old discovery.  Just listen to this original idea," and he began to translate straight from the text.

"Chekhov the story-teller has a wonderful quality, the quality of surprise. You never know where his sentence is gong to lead.  You never know how his characters will behave.  Will they sink into despair, will they quickly board the showboat, will they disappear in the accelerating railway carriage?"

Dad put the booklet down.  He could have gone on reading to me for a long time, but he noticed that inside I was moving further and further away.  "This world," he said, "the world of writing is full and mighty, and if you want to enter, at least know what you are letting yourself in for."

My visiting hour was nearly over.  I stood up and began to get ready to go. I gathered the cups and saucers and put the spoons in the sink.

"I would very much like to read the story," Dad said before I left.

"O.K.  Ill check in the hut and see if maybe some of the pages are left."

When I left my parents room, the old questions tortured me.  Is this really what my life is going to be like?  Piles of books and bits of paper stuck in the pages to mark the place?  Booklets thrown about in every cranny with tea stains printed on them?  Translated paper chases after Chekhovs surprised characters?  What kind of a paralysed life is this?  Its a barren life.  Where are all the promises of the colourful lives of writers?  Where is all the pleasure, the power, the wisdom?  Is this really what my life will be like if I join the vibrant chorus of the journals?

On the way to my bed in the rotting hut, at the edge of the abandoned guava plantation, I heard a host of voices out of the night.  A whole world of living creatures was noisily active under cover of the darkness, and from afar, out of the jumble of sounds, I could also make out the bleating of the sheep waiting for milking time.

IV

Today, sitting at my desk, which is covered with open books with bits of paper between the pages marking the place, I am trying to remember without getting things wrong.  Many years have passed since those distant days, and when I fall into the act of remembering, it is difficult to guess where it will lead me.

Did I respond to Dads request and bring him the rough copy of my confused story?  Did I, in fact, find the pages of my first draft?

"With an ordinary pencil, just like that, straight on to the paper?" Dad exclaimed. "Its a long time since I saw such a primitive job."  Its hard to remember. A hurried visit to my parents room.  As I come in, Dad puts his glasses up on his high forehead.  "Well, did you find it?  Give it to me.  Well read it."

I hastily drop the handful of papers on his desk, cutting the affair as short as possible, hardening my heart, trying to make the whole thing seem completely trivial.

"Oh, really.  Its not important.  Im in a terrible hurry.  You can put the pages in order yourself, and if one or two are missing, it doesn't really matter. You can make it up.  The most important thing is that Im in an awful hurry.  Tomorrow were taking the sheep to the beach for their annual wash.  Im sure I wont sleep at night and well come back all burnt.  See you!"

Did my Dad hear these last few sentences that I threw him, or was he already immersed in reading, bent over the pages, holding them to the light and gripping them as if they were some tool?  Did he answer me, or was it his usual humming, telling me that he was already far away?  For even if he had heard my question, and even if he had had more than one answer, he was already well on his way to another place.  Did he say "Bye, bye!" and add a mild threat, "Wait a minute till I finish reading and then well talk"  Or perhaps he asked whether it was true that they had returned my manuscript, and wasn't that just like them.  Was it so immature that it set the teeth on edge, or had the editors just been too idle to read the untidy pages, scratched with a hard pencil and permeated with the smell of sour
milk and yard manure?

That Saturday, at the table for the afternoon snack, when all the family was gathered on the veranda of my parents room, Dad took the pages out of an envelope, put them in front of him and said:

"Your awful Hebrew, and where did you dredge up such incorrect sentences, and why were you so hasty in your descriptions?  Where are you running, man?"

With that he turned the family meal into a whole lesson on the study of writing. As he turned over the pages, I was shocked.  The whole lot was completely covered with his corrections in red ink, literally poured into the indentations of my pencil.

"I read everything," Dad said, "and not like the editors of the quarterly read it in Tel Aviv.  Then, when I finished reading it, I read it again, and a third time. Wow, what a lot you still have to learn!"

And I sat in front of the pages and didn't recognize what I had written. Where had all the crossings out sprouted from?  Where had all the commas and question marks appeared from to stain the pages?

All I had tried to do was bring back to life an elusive sight, a shadow that stole away, a breath of wind.  I had no intentions of creating literature.  The only reason I had rushed and pushed to send it away to the journal was because I also wanted to be among the intrepid of my generation, who had only just taken off their uniforms and were already the neophyte poets, those whose poems were recited at night by young girls, their blouses dripping with slim volumes of poetry.

"Once," Dad said, "Faustovsky went to visit the famous writer, Maxim Gorky. He placed his first few stories in front of Gorky who read them and gave his opinion.  Go away,

young man, and live among people for ten years, and after that, write.  Then and only then, come back to me and bring what you have written."

Was it because of Dads words on the veranda that evening towards the end of summer, when my story, slaughtered and bleeding, lay on the family table, that I was silent for ten years?  Was he too severe in his criticism of me?  Today, from the distance of years, I ask myself whether a childish desire for revenge wasn't born on that occasion.  Was that the reason that I turned away from my notebooks for so many years?  Was it
because of the memory of that conversation and those pages that I buried myself in the dusty fleeces, the hooves of the sweating sheep and the smelly piles of animal feed?

After Dad died, Mom asked me to go through the carton of papers he had left. I pulled a bundle of papers from among the cardboard files and when I began to read I was amazed .  It was a short note of his in memory of his mother. Corrections in red ink, obviously added in a fit of fury, criss-crossed the typewritten lines.  Not a word was spared, not a line had escaped unmarked. The margins were full of endless alternatives and suggestions.  I put down the papers and distant scenes suddenly flooded over me.  On the table, between the cups of coffee and slices of toast, lay my first story, scarred with the red lines of Dads pen.

"You know how hard he was on himself," Mom said, as if she had read my thoughts.

"Yes," I said.  "He was hard on me, as well."

"Not really," Mom said.  "I remember how pleased he was when your first stories began to appear in the newspaper."

"True.  But what did he really think?  He was never completely satisfied."

"Silly boy," Mom said.  "You have no idea with what love he followed your career. He felt that you were writing during all those years when you hid everything from us.  He guessed that you were going through a new stage even when you denied everything.  You were so closed up it was impossible to get a word out of you."

"That's not quite true," I said.  "You don't remember any more.  Have you forgotten how much he wanted me to be a volleyball player?"

"Ha!  Don't I just remember!" Mom said.  "And I will never forget how afraid he was that you might fail. How he worried that someone would turn you off and he wouldn't be there by your side to encourage you."

Dad died about a year before the war, and after the war broke out I couldn't contain the writing inside myself.  In the end I let the stories burst out. A few years later some editor or other suggested that I prepare a collection of stories.

"You already have some good bricks with which to start the building," he wrote.

At first I didn't want to listen.  A book?  Who needs a book?  Aren't the stories good enough on their own?  Still, I listened to a voice inside me, sat down and chose the stories for the book.  Dad never saw my first book, but his photograph, which always stands on my desk, went with me while I worked.  Was he with me during all those difficult hours of organizing?  Did he raise his finger to warn me of the haste that mars, of faulty language, of feeble characters?  Did he tell me about Chekhov's points of reversal and his surprises, which are the soul of short stories?

Did he ask me how I had spent my ten years of silence?

"Silly boy!"  I can still hear Moms words echoing in my ears.  "You have no idea what a stubborn mule you were, or how much he tried to get close to you in his last few years.  What a shame that he never lived to see your book."

Now, when I remember that crazy moment on the sandhill at the edge of the cemetery, and how the editors secretary made a fool of me, and how I crouched down over the grating of the sewage pump, and how my story lay in front of me, pierced and reddened by Dads strict pen, I begin to realize how close I was to stumbling that summer when I wrote my first story.

(c) All Rights Reserved.
 

to Elisha

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