Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Part I: AUTUMN
Part II: WINTER
Part III: SPRING
Part IV: SUMMER
Part V: AUTUMN
Read More from A. B. Yehoshua
About the Author
Copyright © 1987 by A. B. Yehoshua
Translation copyright © 1989 by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. and Williams Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication maybe reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
This is a translation of Molkho.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Yehoshua, Abraham B.
Five seasons /A. B. Yehoshua; translated from the Hebrew
by Hillel Halkin.—1st Harvest ed.
p. cm.—(A Harvest book)
I. Halkin, Hillel, 1939– II. Title. III. Series.
MOLKHO’S WIFE DIED AT 4 A.M., and Molkho did his best to mark the moment forever, because he wished to be able to remember it. And indeed, thinking back on it weeks and even months later, he was convinced that he had managed to refine the instant of her passing (her passing? he wasn’t sure the word was right) into something clear and vivid containing not only thought and feeling but also sound and light, such as the maroon glow of the small electric heater, the greenish radiance of the numbers on the digital clock, the yellow shaft of light from the bathroom that cast large shadows in the hallway, and perhaps, too, the color of the sky, a pinkish ivory set off by the deep obscurity around it. He would have liked to think he recalled the dark morning sky because it added a stirring, elemental touch of nature, but he could not be sure of it, any more than he could be of the whisper of the wind and the rain; yet he was certain that there had been music—yes, real music he himself had turned on hesitatingly but convinced that if she wished to hear anything at all as she died, it was the music she had cared for so much in those last months when reading had become such a chore for her. Like the radio operator of a military vehicle heading into battle, she would adjust the small stereo earphones in the dead, painful twilight hours between the visits of her friends, her talks with her children, and her various treatments and pills; choose one of the cassettes by her bedside; and switch on the tape machine. She discussed this music with him and even once hinted that when the end came (so they referred to her death), she would like him to play some of it for her: if he saw it wasn’t too much for her, she said, he should let her have music—and he was happy to be able to oblige, for she had trained him well during those last months and he had learned to do exactly as she told him, taking everything with the utmost seriousness. And so now, too, he remembered to flip the switch, though he didn’t dare put on the earphones but rather left them dangling by her head as he cranked up the bed, so that from the two pillows came the sound of wind instruments, distant and muffled but assertive, the solemn, aerial flourish of the breathless, staccato hunting horns in the Mahler symphony that he had inserted in the deck three days ago, for though he did not know if its throbbing strains were really the most suitable, he was afraid to surprise her with anything new, no matter how peaceful and simple.
It was thus that he remembered the moment of her death, by its exact bars, the repetition of which could recreate at will that final scene in the silence of the night. He had no way of knowing which of the undulating notes had entered her consciousness as she breathed her last, no way (nor did he seek to find one) of telling if she heard them at all. Never taking his eyes off her, ardent with pity and zeal, he had let himself be led through a black forest in the light of a damp, chill dawn, struggling past heavy branches toward a lit valley or hollow and the soft, tawny doe that stood there, pursued and yet summoned by the throbbing horns.
Just then her breathing had stopped. He didn’t touch her, afraid to wake her or hurt her—and yet that was it, the moment she never would know, though of all the moments in the world it was the one most intimately and individually hers, presided over by that invisible hand that tells us thus far and no further. He had never thought much about such things as life after death or reincarnation, had indeed thanked her mentally for shying away from all that mysticism, whose dark unreason would only have been swept away anyhow by her aggressive, bitter intellectuality. It suited him perfectly to be alone with her now, alert, quiet, and wholly concentrated, with no one to distract him or share his thoughts with and, above all, with no doctor or nurse to try some new tube or drug, but rather all by himself, exclusively in control and in charge—alone with the lights, alone with the sounds, alone with Death, the same Death he once had imagined in the form of the black shot put he was made to throw in gym class, the ball of Death that had rolled into her room several days ago and lain silently beneath the furniture or the bed, despite all his efforts to heave it back even a few feet. That Death was now right by him, astonishingly piercing and bursting forth from her at once, while his only thought was to keep her from feeling any pain—yes, that had been his sole mission in recent months, to ease her pain, so that even now, at the last moment, a whole battery of remedies and devices was available for the task: cranks, handles, crutches, a wheelchair, a washbasin, a fan, medicines, drugs, an oxygen mask, an entire field hospital in one small room, all to lessen her pain, all to help her soul exit gently.
Yes, always, even when sitting at his desk, even when walking in the street, erect, slow, and preoccupied, his head already gray yet his body still youthful, even when eating or sleeping, he had thought all the time of her pain and how to cope with it, had listened continually to her disease-eaten, scalpel-scarred, drug-swollen hulk of a body, which, stewing in the inflorescence of its poisons, had lain for weeks on end in the same giant, ultramodern hospital bed standing like a chariot in the middle of the room, with its jellylike water mattress and its cranks, bars, and wheels, in the hope that her last journey might take place at home and that all those ministering to it—her mother, her children, her family, her friends, and above all, he himself, its general manager—might get her safely past her rampaging illness to the competent quietude of an inevitable death. Lying next to her like a loyal staff officer on the plain, narrow bed that had replaced the old king-size one they had shared since their marriage until the day it was moved out of the room, half beside and half beneath her, he had listened intently, on call to fight her pain, sleeping in snatches, waking up and dozing off so quickly that it seemed to happen automatically, though not without dreams—no, not without dreams. For even on that last, fearful night, he had suddenly dreamed that he was a child again and that someone was whistling for him, looking for him in some street or field, perhaps his wife, perhaps someone like her. At once he awoke as usual, only to realize that the sound, which had frightened him by not stopping and had made him sit up in bed, was simply the wheezing of her breath.
THIS TIME, though, he was not mistaken, and in full possession of himself, he acted sensibly and calmly, careful not to repeat his error of three days ago when, awok
en by the same wheezing in the middle of the night, he had agitatedly sought to do something and had called out to her, sitting her up in bed when she answered, hugging her and trying to wake her, giving her tea and then wine, even phoning his elder son to come at once from his college dormitory. Together, in the hours before dawn, they had made her put on her glasses and get out of bed to wash her mastectomized body, unthinkingly forcing more life on her by propping her almost upright against the pillows, pale, groggy, and breathing weakly as she listened to the news and the morning jingles on the radio. Only later, when her mother and the doctor dropped by and he told them with pride what had happened, did he understand from their silence and lowered, averted looks that they quite failed to see the point of it.
There followed two excruciating days in which the vestige of the death he had repelled caused her great pain. And yet she had chatted, listened to music, and even laughed when shown old home movies of their youngest son as a chubby little tot rolling in the sand on the beach. Why, her laughter is a gift, Molkho thought, scanning her face greedily; I’ve raised her from the underworld! Does she have any idea where she’s been, any memory or keepsake from there? He even enjoyed it greatly when she argued with him about some trivial matter. It’s like quarreling with a ghost, he thought—and indeed, that evening she lost consciousness and then became delirious, so that he gave her a shot of morphine in case the pain started up again. But it didn’t. She simply faded rapidly, and he disconnected the telephone by her bed and took her friends’ calls in the next room, repeating the same bulletin over and over with infinite patience while her old mother sat with her through the next day, moistening her lips from time to time and trying to get her to talk, though in fact she would not even eat, pushing away the food she had always swallowed heartily until now.
In the evening his mother called from Jerusalem and friends arrived, all walking about on tiptoe—but eyelids fluttering, she heard them and knew who they were, now and then murmuring a word or phrase that assumed for them all an intense and ceremonial significance. At exactly 7 P.M. Death appeared in her hand with a fanning, uncontrollable tremor and they all knew the end was near, that it was imminent; yet, though several people offered to spend the night with him, he stubbornly, firmly refused. “There’s time yet,” he said, believing his own words. “We have to save our strength.” And he sent them all home, even her mother, who didn’t want to go, even the student to his dormitory. Later, his daughter arrived from her army base, sat up with the dying woman a while, and then went off to her room, too fatigued to stay awake any longer. His younger son, a high school boy, was in his room too, studying for a history exam, and at ten o’clock Molkho turned off the lights, collected the scattered sections of the newspaper, replaced the books on their shelves, and consulted the calendar, on which the next two days’ visits were already written down, purposely staggered to keep too many people from coming at once and exhausting her. At midnight he put on his pajamas and lay down in his bed beneath hers. Soon afterward his son left his room, passed hesitantly by the open doorway, afraid to enter, and asked if he was needed. “No,” said Molkho. “Go to bed.”
Then he, too, dozed off, only to awaken at 3 A.M. with the knowledge that he would sleep no more that night. He rose, fiddled with the heater, boiled water to sterilize a hypodermic that he knew would not be needed, and drank the last of the cognac from the little bottle they had bought on the airplane two years ago on their last trip to Europe. His wife was restless. “What, what did you say?” he called softly to her when she murmured something, but there was no answer. He went over to her bed, arranged the blankets, and even decided to raise the bars, as though she were a baby who might fall out; then he went to the living room and sat down in the darkness on the couch, inviting Death to come and finish what it had begun. Suddenly, though, remembering the music, he went back and switched on the tape machine. How odd it was, he thought, that after so many years of so many doctors and nurses, now, at the moment of her death, there was no one left but himself—yet he felt sure he had room in him even for Death, and sticking his hands beneath the blankets, he grasped her two feet, which were soft, smooth, and still there. Once again she murmured something that sounded like “Isn’t that so?” “What?” he asked gently, bending down to her after a moment. “Isn’t what so?”
She didn’t answer now either. Slowly she opened her large, heavy, amber eyes, the eyes of a weary animal from which the light had fled, leaving in them neither anger nor pain, but only ultimate defeat. He smiled at her, spoke her name, tried encouraging her as always, but she failed to respond, for the first time not recognizing him, her moist yellow glance spilling out emptily. He had never imagined that Death could be so damp, and when her breathing stopped, he rearranged the blankets and kissed her lightly on the forehead, imbibing her scent. “You’re free now,” he whispered, switching off the little twenty-four-hour night-light and opening the window, though he did not believe in such freedom at all, only in nothingness. A deep, urgent need to look at the world made him step out on the terrace: this was the moment, this was their last farewell. It was late fall, and the first rains had cooled the earth without sating it. His eye followed the line of the ravine in the darkness below the house, looking for some unfamiliar sign of life, but the night was gray and silent, with a slight, motionless mist hanging over the sea. It was, he thought, his last quiet hour before the bustle of condolence calls began, leaving him no time for himself. Meanwhile, however, the exclusivity of his knowledge made him feel advantageously strong. A car sped along the highway by the coast. Soon he, too, would be free.
UPON RETURNING to the room, he realized he should never have turned off the night-light. Suddenly he felt a twinge of fear. The border between Death and Life should be clearer, he thought, the shock of crossing it should be greater: why, if I look at her now in the darkness, I may imagine I see her move. And indeed, he seemed to detect a slight movement as he peered back through the glass door of the terrace, which he vigorously opened, however, refusing to believe in yet another resurrection, striding silently back through the room with his eyes on the floor until, by the hallway door, he turned to look at her again. Now he could see her face clearly, defeat still written on it. For seven years she had fought her illness; four years ago she was actually sure she had triumphed. Yet now the same hand that hours ago had moved with a slow, fanning motion hung lifelessly down from the bed. He glanced at the clock. It was 4:15. All at once he thought with emotion that not only she but her illness, too, that cruel cousin that had moved in with them, was gone.
He walked swiftly out, shut the door behind him, collapsed on the living room couch, and tried to sleep, to rest up for the ordeal ahead, his knowledge like a warm blanket covering him; yet the thought of all the people he was at liberty to wake was too much for him, and rousing himself, he went to phone his mother-in-law, who, perfectly clearheaded, answered at once in her slow, soft, irrepressibly German-flavored Hebrew. “It’s all over,” he said quietly, tersely, flinging her the death in one throw. For a heartbreaking moment she said nothing. Then, though, she asked, “When?” And now it was he who couldn’t speak. With a thickening lump in his throat, he began to sob and shake, the unseen sorrow of the eighty-two-year-old woman stirring up his own grief with unexpected force. The receiver fell in his lap while, with her accustomed restraint, she waited patiently for him to get a grip on himself and answer, “Ten, fifteen minutes ago.” “I’ll be right over,” she said. “Why rush?” he asked. “You may as well wait for it to be light out. You have a long hard day ahead of you.” But she wouldn’t hear of it. “No, I’ll be right over. Are the children still sleeping? Don’t wake them. I’ll call a cab.” And she hung up.
He went to the bathroom and sat doggedly on the toilet until he passed a few drops of urine, washed his hands and face without shaving, and walked down the darkened hallway past the children’s rooms. For a second his daughter opened her eyes and saw him, but as he said noth
ing, she closed them again, while his younger son, deep in sleep, did not stir. They had been bracing themselves for this death, almost angry with it for taking so long.
He opened the front door and turned on the stairway light. It was damp outside. A soft, noiseless rain fell furtively into the world, slicking the front steps with a bright coppery gleam. It occurred to him that in her agitation the old woman might slip coming down the garden stairs. All I need now is for her to take a fall on me, he thought bitterly. His wife had been her only daughter. Throughout her illness she had continued to look after her mother, and now, he thought, all that burden would be his, even if she was a responsible old woman who took good care of herself. Deciding to meet her downstairs, he put on his shoes, an old sweater, and a coat, took an umbrella, and stepped out into the rain, first waiting for her by the entrance, from which he had a view of the street, and then stepping into the garden, treading on the dead leaves that strewed the wet path, all the while thinking of the funeral arrangements. He had already reached the street when the gruesome thought occurred to him that his son or daughter might awake and discover their dead mother, and so he ran worriedly back upstairs, where he locked the bedroom door after a quick glance at her lying in the dark sheen of night flowing through the open window. Relieved to have everything under control again, he stuck the key in his pocket and hurried back down, feeling the light spray of the rain, which, scarcely hitting the ground, seemed to have as its sole mission the cleansing of the air.
The sky had cleared, but the rain, as though coming from elsewhere, kept falling. With an unfamiliar freedom he paced up and down the sidewalk, fingering the key in his pocket, secure in the knowledge that from this moment on, there were no further claims on him. For a moment, as though looking down on her from above, he imagined his wife, utterly alone now, dressed in an old coat among a crowd of dead people in front of some clinic or office that they were waiting to enter, though it was only their first stop. The thought that never again could he help her made him shiver with grief, the hot lump swelling in his throat and sticking there, refusing to overflow, until slowly it dissolved again. By now his mother-in-law should have arrived from her old-age home on the next flank of the mountain—and indeed, approaching the curve in the street, he saw a small light that bobbed in midair like a drunken little star, slowly groping its sinuous way, faltering, flickering, and then flaring up again. Molkho rubbed his eyes. Could she have decided to come by foot? She actually had a small flashlight—he had seen it more than once—yet he was sure this wasn’t it. Stopping short to let the Death-propelled world spin on dizzily without him, he suddenly realized that what he saw was the headlight of a bicycle whose rider, a large, cumbersome newsboy, kept dismounting, leaning his vehicle against the curb, disappearing into buildings with his papers, coming out again, and pedaling on. And yet, when he finally rode by, Molkho saw, he was not a boy at all, but rather a heavily dressed woman, her head wrapped in scarves and the cuffs of her pants clipped with clothespins. Though passing quite near him, she failed to notice him; her eyeglasses glinting beneath the streetlights, she rode on as far as his own house, entering it with an armful of newspapers to stuff into the mailboxes. Soon she emerged and straightened her bicycle—but now Molkho saw she was a man after all, varicose and heavyset, who threw him a resentful glance, remounted the sagging bike, and rode off.
Five Seasons Page 1