As he left the stall he felt something was wrong.
“I haven’t looked at the script for a year and a half, and I’m not getting any younger.”
Looking at the mirror, it seemed that his light hair had lost some of its shine. “I know what I’ll do, I’ll let him get the girl. But how?”
Suddenly, an idea flashed through his pearly mind. “Just as he did in the first act, only now he’ll have to sacrifice even more, to leave his home and his country, everything he holds dear, actually. And she‘ll unintentionally find it out,” he said as he wiped his hands. The air in this clinic is bad for me, he thought. He took his little comb out, straightened his hair and smiled. Only then did he feel he could go back to the waiting room.
“Just a paper for the insurance…”
“There’s a new law we have to rewrite, I have to go back to the office.”
“We got it in the second stage.”
“What is it again?”
“‘Hodgkin’s disease’. Now we have to take blood tests, chest, stomach and pelvis X-rays and CT and bone marrow biopsy. I made sure the Lev Ha’ir clinic takes you in immediately.”
“I don’t need them to take me in, I’m already in.”
“Yuval, I hope I’m wrong, but if I’m not….”
“How long does it take to get an answer?”
Yuval left for the clinic. He started his car and turned the stereo on. “Imagine” was playing on the radio and he started singing along, as if John Lennon’s song was his own private property.
While driving, he checked his hair again, just to make sure everything was OK.
The stereo played “Imagine there’s no heaven”, the weather outside was clear, behind the fence of a city middle school he could see a basketball game, nothing but a wire fence separating the players from the road. He watched the young boys and girls, jealous of all the potential they held. The lawn was mowed and seemed fresh but wishing to grow wild again, and John Lennon was singing “Nothing to kill and die for, and no religion too.” People seemed happy, going out to the streets for a few moments, just to say ‘hello’ to each other. “Imagine all the people, sharing all the world”, and just before the chorus he noticed a bit of dirt on the front windshield. Even though just the day before he spent three hours cleaning the car, and it still seemed clean, he considered going to an automatic car wash. He pressed a button and sprayed cleaning fluid on the windshield. He was very amused to see the water dancing.
“Yuval!” Daniela, the acupuncturist from the alternative medicine ward, called. “Wait a second.” When she turned to go he fixed his eyes on the curve of her waistline, bulging from her white coat, and when she came back on her beautiful blue eyes. He imagined himself drowning in that infinite blueness and soft whiteness.
“I’m here for some checks,” he said.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why are you being so secretive”
“I’ll tell you if you leave him.”
As she turned to go, he was flooded with memories of their encounters: how she would give herself over completely, how he loved hearing her. It had been five years since the last time. Five long years since she got married. A little ember burned his heart, which quivered in a way no woman had caused ever since Maya broke his heart when he was sixteen. He drifted in thoughts until he was called to the examination room.
On his way out he met his past lover and she kissed him goodbye. But when his hug lingered too much, she tapped his face lightly with an open palm, the coldness of her wedding ring accentuating the heat of her hands, and left.
Slightly dazed, he returned to his office at “Schweimer-Hacohen – government-relations”, to prepare for his next meeting.
“And how are you?” Tamara Shaya, the State of Israel’s Minister of Health, came into his office.
Once again he noticed the tall, impressive woman who stood in front of him. Shaya was around fifty, but save for some loose skin on her neck, she seemed much younger. He rose when she was almost in front of him.
“Wonderful,” he answered, as usual.
And as soon as he did she began laying her many complaints regarding the new law he had asked her to pass on government subsidies for new drugs, ones manufactured by his clients.
“They’ll never let me pass something like that. Not even in my own party!”
He was silent for long moments, looking at her feet. When she was finished he told her that even if there would be problems with the party, he would do anything for her.
Lady Shaya asked for an example. Yuval locked the door and asked Svetlana not to transfer any more calls. The pockmarked secretary grudgingly did as she was asked.
During the fruitful meeting, cancerous cells spread through Yuval’s lymphatic system. They multiplied in one gland and ruined its tissue. Some were carried, immersed in the lymphatic fluid, to another one, continuing their violent journey, ceaselessly spreading and uniting. The contaminated cells took over the healthy, developed and serene lymphocytes.
“You have a wonderful body” the minister said, hooking her bra.
“I deserve the Prize for community contribution”
“I’ll check with the committee…”
In the morning he got a text message from Hilli, the head presenter for the shopping channel. She wrote him that last night was great, and how much she wanted to see him again after she’ll finish two long weeks of shooting a catalogue abroad. Yuval smiled to himself. His cellphone rang. A hidden number. He let it go to voice mail, but the caller called again, and again. Finally, Yuval answered.
“It’s positive,” Dr. Stranberg said.
“What’s so positive?”
“We should start as soon as possible. I’ll refer you to chemotherapy.”
“You should take Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine and Dacarbazine.”
“Yes. Some at home and some at the clinic. The oncologist will explain everything. The biggest problem is the side effects.”
“And what about the ‘Yudocyn’ drug?”
“Let’s be serious for a moment.”
“They’re serious clients.”
“You’ve been hanging out with Rafi too much. Now, if you want to get better, listen to me.”
“Is it even benign?”
“With the right treatment you have a ninety-five percent chance of recovery.”
“After how long?”
“You will have to be examined every month, though.”
“The treatments may cause heart and lung issues or other tumors, and I don’t want you to have complications later.”
An older woman forced her way into the doctor’s office, insisting she only had a question. She took a long time talking to the doctor, and Yuval eventually hung up.
It was years since he last took an afternoon nap, and now he just dropped into the office couch and fell asleep. When he woke up, he decided to follow his routine.
It was the day he would usually go to the sports center where he and his partner, Rafi Schweimer, were members. At least once a week they would go there. Sometimes for fun, other times so they wouldn’t feel too sorry for the astronomical figure they paid for membership. Yuval didn’t even consider missing it.
After a long and exhausting game of squash, they headed to the changing rooms, lounged in the sauna and bathed in the Jacuzzi.
After their bodies had been tossed, beaten and tired, they were heated, rubbed and steamed. Now they sat in the changing rooms, wearing nothing but towels.
“How are you?”
“How’s it going with that girl from the shopping channel?”
“Never mind that.”
“What do you mean never mind? Spill it!”
“Do you have any secrets?”
“Yeah. Something really personal, you never tell anyone about.”
“Why do you ask?”
Yuval took a deep breath, and a couple of seconds to arrange his thoughts.
“I went to get a physical, for the insurance policy, and… and I have Hodgkin’s.”
A moment of silence past.
“You… You… You?”
“What is it, Rafi? A cat got your famous tongue, you, you?”
“Of course, if it’s caught early….you, you’re almost a superman you, what’s Hodgkin’s to you? Damn, you beat me three times today, what am I going to tell my wife if she finds out a Hodgkin’s patient beat me in squash three times? You’re a killer, you’ll get over it!”
“That’s right,” Yuval answered. “What’s Hodgkin’s to me?!”
Yuval saw two members in their seventies coming in and lowered his tone. Maybe they wanted to change, or maybe they heard them shouting.
“Don’t worry. We’ll be sitting on some island in early retirement, watching the landscape and the sands and beaches, drinking cocktails with tiny umbrellas by the time we’re done, I promise!”
Reproductions of abstract art hung on the walls of the day ward.
Yuval looked at the security guard, the aging receptionist, the luxurious gray elevators with the “closed for renovations” signs on them, and the two lab-coated oncologists who passed papers between them, as if consulting each other. To Yuval they seemed to be comparing the size of tumors they had taken out of their patients’ bodies.
The patients seemed like walking corpses to him. They were mostly old. The despair in their eyes reminded him of the campaign he and Rafi ran for a real-estate mogul who wanted to evacuate public-housing tenants from a neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv that was flooded with last year’s first rain. The faces of the tenants looked just like those of the patients. He asked them how to get to Dr. Leiman’s office.
The old man, whose skin was sagging and whose eyes had black bags hanging from them, began laughing along with his fat friend.
“What are you laughing about?” Yuval asked.
“Down there,” the old man answered, seriously.
Yuval went down and looked through all the doors, but couldn’t find a sign indicating the doctor’s room. He went back up and asked the old men about it.
“Oh, you mean the doctor? I was talking about the tumors when I said ‘down there’,” the two laughed their heads off. Yuval paused for a second, but ultimately went to the stairs again.
After wandering around the clinic some more, he finally found the treatment room.
“Let’s hope I’ll live to see the end of the renovations,” he said to Dr. Leiman, who didn’t laugh, but calmed him, speaking smoothly about high rates of recovery.
Anesthetized and tired, he drove to his parents.
On the way he remembered he once saw a documentary about cancerous tumors on the discovery channel. It showed a close-up of a tumor that was taken out of a patient. It seemed so oily, amorphous and tiny that Yuval couldn’t believe it could kill a person. “Just a bit of slime” he thought to himself.
The Thai servant opened the door.
“Did you wash your hands?”
“For the hundredth time, Mom, yes!”
“And only drink boiled water?”
“Mom, you don’t have to do all this stuff nowadays.”
“Did you talk to the doctor?”
“These treatments are worse than the disease.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, this misery, the pains, is that how it’s always going to be?”
“You’d kill yourself if you won’t take care of the cancer,” his father said, waving away the Filipina maid who brought roast to the table.
“Hodgkin’s!” Yuval answered.
“Hodgkin’s is cancer!” his father said. Yuval burst into a fit of mad laughter, which scared his parents. “Laugh all you like,” his father said. “I don’t care anymore,” he added as he went into the kitchen, Yuval’s mother and the maid behind him. A few minutes later Mother came back.
“Of course he cares.”
“That’s what he looked like when I was in the ninth grade and bought torn jeans.”
“The British, when they caught him, they tore his clothes.”
“Wow, I didn’t know that. Why didn’t he say anything?”
“You want to live, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Yuval said.
“Then continue the treatments!”
“And take care of yourself.”
At the end of the night he hugged his parents warmly. It was the first time they didn’t ask him why didn’t he find a partner ever since Daniela, who they liked so much.
About once a month he would meet her on the stairs, when she was on her way to school or some party. Eva Donsky, the neighbor’s girl, always hoped he would be there. Once, when he heard her mother’s loud screams, he went up the stairs, knocked on their door and asked if he could borrow some sugar. Her mother, embarrassed, gave him some sugar and Eva peeked out of her room, wearing a nightgown, and smiled at him with gratitude.
At the age of thirteen, Eva’s body has already developed far more than her classmates’, and they laughed at the rapid changes she went through. But it wasn’t only her body that was different. For the last year she and her friend Hanni took to wearing black clothes, mostly rock bands’ T-shirts. Every night, ear-splitting music came from her room. Her parents bowed their heads in tenants’ meeting, where they met complaints and threats, but Eva ignored them, even saving as much as she could to buy her own drums kit.
Yuval came home from a discussion in parliament, where he, along with two of his friends from the ruling party, had managed to pass a law requiring every driver in the country to buy reflective vests manufactured by a company that hired him to help get rid of its surplus stock. Happy and satisfied, he was reminded of the first time he talked to Eva. She was twelve, and he liked the curious girl he met when he came to borrow some chairs for a party he was throwing for his colleagues. Since the cleaner didn’t come that day, and she was the only one home, Eva helped him.
As he approached the building he remembered that the day he learned he was sick he saw a poem she wrote. A note fell out of her diary as they met at the entrance and accidently opened. She saw him picking it up, but didn’t object. Four lines were written on the note. Eva had just learned of Haiku poetry, and she tried her hand at it:
“Don’t want radiotherapy
Don’t want chemotherapy
I want the cancer to eat me inside
Some have all the luck”
Yuval laughed and told Eva he thought she didn’t understand what a haiku poem was. Haiku should deal with the absolute present. He quoted Masahide’s poem:
“My storehouse burned down
now there is nothing to prevent
the moon viewing.” 1
But now he thought there might be more than meets the eye to her, and maybe to her writing, too.
He waited for her in the stairwell. On her way back from school one of the boys in her class tried to touch her breasts, but she was so tall he couldn’t reach.
Eva pleasantly daydreamed of closed urban spaces where rituals she couldn’t fathom were taking place. The dreams changed. Now she imagined horrors that made her yell in fear and run in terror, until she noticed she was back in her own street in northern Tel-Aviv, in broad daylight light. The passersby ignored her.
Yuval came out to meet her just as she was about to put the key into her parents’ door.
He saw something in her face, he couldn’t say what exactly. It’s been a long while since he felt so curious about a girl.
Between one occasional partner and another, he would think of Eva sometimes, wondering how she would look like when she grew up. Now he examined the bulging contours of her chest and her rounding thighs and some energy he felt ignited, a desert burning her from within.
“Hey,” he said.
“What are you doing home so early?”
“You have to know how to enjoy life, too, don’t you?”
“I guess,” she answered, cursing herself and swallowing the water that filled her mouth before he could notice anything.
“I made some pasta, and you’re welcome to join me,” he said. “I can’t eat that much.”
She ate the pasta timidly. When she was done, he took her plate and transferred the leftovers to his.
Seeing this gesture she coiled into herself. To avoid letting on what she felt, she asked for some of the red wine.
“I don’t know… You’re a minor, there could be trouble.”
“No one would know.”
“Fine,” he agreed and poured a glass, which she downed in one gulp.
“I think you’re the only one I can talk to in this building,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re all… out of touch. Closed in.”
“And you’re not?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You sold your soul to the Devil and to Lucifer, his son.”
“I’ll prove to you I haven’t sold them anything.”
“Yea?” she smiled contently. “Don’t you lie for a living?”
“You promise it doesn’t leave this room?”
“I have cancer.”
“I’m serious, Eva.”
“But that’s terrible.”
“I’ve gotten out of worse.”
“It’s not something you get out of.”
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” he touched her nose. She smiled lightly, blushing and silently cursing herself.
“I’m not sure this life is even worth living.”
“Sure it is! I’ll get to see you grow into a woman… who knows, maybe we’ll even marry someday,” he said, smiling.
For one beautiful moment Eva believed him.
“I don’t even think we should be living,” she said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Look at all the damage we’re doing. To each other, to animals, to the planet. Nothing but pollution!”
“Listen, I know these thoughts. But you’ll grow out of them. They’re not real.”
Eva got up and ran to her apartment. Yuval didn’t know what to say and whether to follow her. He ended up deciding to wait. A few minutes later she came back. Cuts ran along her arm, spelling ‘4REAL’. Yuval choked inside. He wanted to call an ambulance, but Eva said there’s no need. He cleaned and bandaged her wounds, and they hugged for long moments. Yuval remembered his script, how in his first year of cinema studies he wanted to make a movie that would move the whole world, shake it so intensely that the pain would linger with the viewers when they left the theater, at least until they were back home. It was about a religious young man. He would be depressed and would want to commit suicide, but know that it was forbidden. He would be so tormented that he would reject any chance of love and rescue. In his grief he would stand at the top of a cliff, preparing to jump. His rabbi would rush to him, reminding him it was prohibited to take your own life, and what happens to those who do. The young man would ask the rabbi if he could at least pray for his death.
Motivated, Yuval left his office just after four, and called a taxi.
In the street he saw Daniela, on her way to work. She approached him, emotional.
“I understand it’s positive.”
“It’s fine, I appreciate the concern.”
“Why won’t you come to me for acupuncture?”
“Why, so I can die faster?”
“You have to consult Chaim.”
“What did we just say about hurting me?”
“I believe there’s more than one way to deal with the disease.”
“How exactly, by sticking needles in ourselves and drinking green tea?”
“I see you’ve read his book.”
“Too bad you won’t try it.”
“Daniela, I’m taking therapy.”
“There’s a meeting at the center today, at eight. It’s in Marmorek, you should come.”
Yuval noticed a taxi turning the corner and hailed it. “You should come to my birthday party. I’ve invited some friends, it’d be more fun if you came.”
“Very funny!” she answered. Yuval got in the taxi and asked the driver to head to the clinic. When he arrived he saw the two old men. One of them burped. The other smelled of garlic, and when the first complained he answered he didn’t care, garlic was the healthiest food there is, and it can do wonders to your circulation. Yuval was terribly weary. He went into the nearby cinematheque, for the five o’clock screening.
Yuval was almost the only one in the theater, except for three balding, middle-aged men who ate commercial amounts of popcorn all throughout the movie and seemed much less healthy than he was. The place was holding a retrospective of Michael Douglas’s action movies. He watched Joel Schumacher’s “Falling Down.” During the end credits, he lay down on the theater floor, between the first row and the screen, until an usher disturbed him and asked him to leave.
On his way out of the theater he glanced at the clinic. It was closed. He was certain he wouldn’t miss his next treatment, but as he waited, a cluster of cells grew in his lymph much faster than normal cells. It was the sick, degenerated, ill-developed cells that began taking over his body. The healthy cells lost their natural ability to reproduce, as well as other abilities that would normally be taken as a matter of course, such as identifying neighboring cells as friends or foes. The natural killing cells swelled and atrophied to the point they could no longer protect his body, and the sick cells spread throughout his body in every way they could, competing for water and food with the yet unharmed healthy cells. Chaos now reigned in his body, and his cells began losing form and structure.
As he left the cinema, Dr. Stranberg called.
“I can’t imagine the chemotherapy having any effects on you, you stallion.”
“Last time you called me a stallion we were south of Hebron and you were the battalion’s medical officer.”
“How was it today?”
“Better than last week.”
“Good,” the doctor said. “Just another step on the way to recovery.”
“Sure. Any small victory on the way to the big one.” Yuval hung up, noting to himself that the dramatic movie that was screened was much more enjoyable than chemotherapy.
At eight he turned up at the Chaim Shalev center of alternative health. Daniela jumped up to greet him.
“Aren’t you tired of the chemo?” she asked.
“I thought I’d see what you have to offer,” he said, and came towards her for a hug, just as Chaim appeared, dressed all in white.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he told Yuval.
“Come,” he said and turned around, without waiting for Yuval to respond. Yuval followed him into a hall where some hundred people sat, all excited and smiling at him.
“You can heal your body,” Chaim said, leaning over the podium.
“Yes you can!” the crowd answered in unison, as if he was a preacher.
“If we just learn to listen, just see. Everyone says stress ruins the immune system. And what causes stress if not our fast, greedy, blind lifestyle?”
“Right!” a portion of the crowd yelled out, while Daniela smiled at her husband, whose body seemed to be engulfed in light. Quiet, calming music invaded the space.
“You don’t know how right you are,” a fat woman yelled out of the crowd.
“We have with us today a new person who has decided to make the change,” Chaim said from the stage, looking for Yuval. “Yuval, where are you? Yuval?!”
“Do you want to change your life?”
Yuval nodded again.
“In a moment we will break up into practice groups. Daniela will find you an assistant who will help you clean your body and learn breathing techniques and other ways to see the healthy side of life, and I’m confident you will soon be cured.”
Everyone applauded. A strange sensation of happiness overtook him.
Fifteen minutes later Chaim changed the subject. He started describing miracles, which had happened that week, miracles you can only see if you focus on the bright side of life.
In class, Yuval learned how to breathe right, cleanse negative thoughts, preform an unselfish service for humanity, eat nothing but green leaves for a week and drink only green tea. A few days ago it would sound ridiculous, but suddenly he was convinced to try. When the evening was over, he thanked Daniela, Chaim and the twenty or so strangers who wanted to congratulate him. He was excited, and again couldn’t believe that was all it took to make a person happy.
When he was finally out, Rafi called to bring him up to speed about a new campaign to advance a law in favor of tobacco farmers, who had lately been pushed aside.
“But just last year they hired us to speak against smoking.”
“That was about smoking marijuana,” Rafi answered.
“Plain tobacco has no health value.”
“It has value for the heads of the Tobacco Farmers Union. We’ll get a one hundred thousand dollar bonus if we pull it off.”
“By the way, how come you’re not getting bald?”
“Not everyone is affected that quickly.”
Yuval got straight to work, checking on his iPad, which Parliament Members smoked cigarettes and which smoked cigars. Some he congratulated on their sons’ bar mitzvahs, some he subtly reminded they still owed him a favor.
Yuval started regretting telling people he was ill. He still looked perfectly healthy and could have lived his life quietly and without anyone disturbing him. Was he destined now to be repeatedly harassed with questions about the fight against the disease?
He began using an electric razor to shave his head every morning. But it wasn’t good enough. His bald head had to look like it was the result of chemotherapy, not as if he shaved it as men sometimes do for reasons of fashion, religion or acceptance of their growing bald spot. To achieve the desired look, he had to completely shave his head, leaving neither hairs nor cuts as evidence of what he was doing. The daily ritual was accompanied by music from his years as a student and from CDs he borrowed from Eva.
The first time Svetlana saw him completely bald, she almost shrieked. “Yuval!”
“I know, I know.”
“What will happen to you?!
“It’s only Hodgkin’s.” He came towards her desk.
“Not so long ago you were so healthy, and look what’s happened to you now.” The secretary burst into tears, and Yuval pressed her head to his stomach.
“I’m not dead yet. It’s part of the treatment.”
“It’s so difficult to me to see you like that. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I’m sorry if that’s how it came out.”
“You were saying the truth.”
“Will you get better?”
“Don’t you doubt it!”
He broke off from her and went into his office. Rafi noticed him and followed him in.
“Are you coming to lunch?”
Yuval knew that from now on he would also have to fake lack of appetite, more than he really felt. He also took care to emphasize his coughs and to spit blood. Like an accomplished actor, he had to calculate every word and every bodily expression. Just like a true dandy he considered every centimeter of his appearance.
On his next visit to his parents, he slept half of the time. He told them he was constantly tired, because of the chemotherapy.
They drank green tea together, and Yuval asked for brown sugar, until he remembered his guru, Mr. Chaim Shalev, banned any sugar from his body-purifying diet.
“Do you know that during the recession brown sugar was the most common item on the black market?” his father said. “Everyone just wanted to get rid of it. But today… the height of fashion.”
“Can’t we just drink tea?” his mother interrupted, but Yuval told her it was fine.
His father drove him home.
Yuval asked him if he would donate stem cells, if it would be necessary for the treatment. His father couldn’t believe he would even ask what should have been obvious. They hugged each other goodbye.
Coming into his apartment, Yuval felt stronger than he did for a long while. Full of energy he went to his regular pub. The bartender recognized him and offered him his regular Blue Label. Yuval asked for bottled water. A girl smiled at him from the corner. It was Noa Teharlev, a television actress he knew a couple of years ago.
“Hello to the best I ever had,” she said.
Noa screamed in delight. Her vagina was a fountain. Yuval felt alive again, virile, real. It must be thanks to that diet, he thought.
When they came simultaneously he let loose an enthusiastic scream, which Noa echoed. They danced for half an hour. Yuval wanted to tell her how beautiful life was and how everything works out if you just believe. He wanted to have sex again, but she started putting her clothes back on.
“My husband is waiting.”
“It’s been years, Yuval.”
“You were supposed to have the lead role in my movie.”
“When you finally shoot it.”
Noa left, and Yuval stayed alone, feeling he could eat up the whole world.
Eva’s school decided to hold an “awareness week”. The kids were lectured against using drugs and alcohol, were advised that abstinence is better than safe sex, were told about the civil duties of each model citizen in a free country and instructed in various other topics the principal thought important.
The height of the week was a lecture and a moving talk with a cancer patient graduate of the school.
Yuval was scheduled at twelve o’clock. The students who knew him were shocked to see his baldhead. They were told they were to meet a flesh-and-blood cancer patient, but him?
The other students seemed indifferent. Some joked with each other.
“You probably had enough by now. I couldn’t stand school either. Especially the middle school’s truancy officer. Is fascist Dolinsky still around?” the students burst into laughter.
“In any case,” Yuval carried on. An awed silence spread. “I came to talk to you about something serious.”
“And you better listen,” their teacher added.
“Well, it’s not that serious. It’s just that a couple of months ago…”
Yuval begun telling them about the disease and what he was doing to recover from it. Some students were openly shocked, others kept their feelings to themselves. The boys who used to pick on Eva hung on his every word.
During the lecture the classroom was completely hushed, apart from a number of whispers and laughs from the right corner, at the back of the class.
“Hanni!” the teacher yelled at a pale, thin, sickly looking student. “There’s a person here you can learn so much from. He’s fighting for his life, and to you it’s nothing! What’s so funny about it, why won’t you tell me!?”
“We’ll talk about it later! Now sit still and show respect!”
“Its fine, I don’t mind,” Yuval said and smiled towards where the noise was coming from.
“Can I ask you a question?” a scrawny student sitting in front asked.
“I really hope you get better, but are you sure you will?”
Murmurs were heard throughout the class.
“One moment,” Yuval said, but the noise continued. “Hey!” he said loudly and waved his arms.
“Look, I’ve got a very positive feeling about the future. The better the treatments get and the longer the pauses between them are, the better chance patients stand. I’ve set a goal for myself. And you should know, whatever goal you set for yourself – you’ll achieve it. I’m certainly going to achieve my goal. I’ll get better. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and our future, and the country’s future, it may not seem so right now but it’s going to get better.
Men are strong. We control the beasts and even nature, we invented the wheel, we developed, built roads, infrastructure, industry, we moved on from horse and carriage to cars and space ships, we reached the moon, you can’t imagine what we can do!
The world is always moving forward, technology causes radiation? We’ll build underground malls where we could get everything. We don’t like the way we look? There’s plastic surgery to take care of anything you’re not happy with. The earth is getting warmer? Science will find a solution. What seems impossible today is more than possible tomorrow. Every problem has its solution if you just focus. And that’s why I say there is hope, there is a future! Believe in yourselves, set goals, think big and break forward. I will not let this disease beat me! I’m choke-full of energy, I’m almost completely cured, and you shouldn’t let the difficulties in life hold you back either!”
Coming out of the school he felt a sharp pain in his chest. Once again he went to the Chaim Shalev center.
“We’ll take it another step forward and the Gutiseoman family will give us a bigger bonus. Another step on the way to retirement on the islands with beaches and drinks with tiny umbrellas.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Every citizen will have to join a biometric registry and Gutiseoman is the only contractor that can do it.”
“But he wouldn’t want to put every citizen at risk.”
“You know what he’d get if we pass this law? Billions!”
“And what if it leaks?”
“It won’t leak.”
“You know that no self-respecting doctor uses the Yudocyn drug.”
“Who told you that, Dr. Satanberg?”
“He’s my doctor. Yours, too!”
“Yuval, what’s going on with you?”
“Good. Because it’s all in the head, you know.”
“You know what, I have an idea.”
“What’s the idea?”
“I’ll tell you after the treatment.
“No, you can’t stop now.”
“But here’s the clinic and I’m late.”
“I’ll come with you,” Rafi said and parked his car. Yuval realized he trapped himself. He couldn’t avoid treatment now. On the other hand, this would make the side effects more reliable. He sweated and shook with fear, his mouth ran dry and he felt like he was walking to the electric chair. Lucky for him, it wasn’t doctor Leiman but a substitute doctor, who gave him the treatment and didn’t ask too many questions.
“Do you want me to hold your hand?” Rafi said.
“So what’s your idea?” he asked.
“Sir,” the doctor addressed Rafi. “We’re having a treatment here. You’ll have to leave.”
“Just a moment,” Yuval said. “We’ll just tell them that with a biometric ID it would be harder to steal other people’s identity, and the registry will have the highest standards of security.”
“It’s perfect. The public would love it.”
When he got back to his apartment, he decided to fight the terrible exhaustion. He scheduled himself and Rafi a drive to Jerusalem and a Knesset discussion about the biometric registry. When he was done, he found in his wallet a piece of paper with the name “Odellia” in a curved, feminine hand, and a phone number.
He remembered a beautiful, luscious woman, sitting alone at the bar. Her friend had met someone and deserted her. Odellia told him that no matter how attractive she was, men were afraid of her. It made him sad to remember how free he was at that moment. It was the night before he went to Dr. Stranberg, to renew his insurance policy.
Odellia was sure he had forgotten about her. She went out with someone once since then, but didn’t think he was as attractive as Yuval.
She met Yuval in a café in Hadar Yosef, far enough from the center to have available parking. The café was deserted and they sat in a spacious private room. After a few drinks they were kissing passionately.
Ten minutes later he woke up in the same café. Two waiters leaned towards him, holding a bucket of ice.
“How can you fall asleep on such a woman?” one of the waiters asked, joking and reproaching at the same time.
Yuval understood what had happened, but was afraid that Odellia might not. Suddenly his father appeared.
“We found your ID and looked up your parents’ number in the yellow pages,” the waiter said. “Good thing people still keep landlines.” In the morning, his mother came into his room with coffee and chocolate cake, just as she used to do when he was sick as a child. She looked at him with infinite love. Yuval woke up with a start, not remembering why he was in his old bed.
“It’ll be fine,” his mother said.
“I dreamt I had cancer and was going to die.”
“You don’t have cancer. It’s Hodgkin’s disease, and you’ll get better. Just a little more patience.”
His mom took his hand and started telling him childhood stories, about how he used to play with kids he didn’t know, how quickly he became friends with them and got them to follow him, how he was the first in his class in math, composition and sports, how easy was his birth and how his father would boast about him in high-school volleyball tournaments, where he was the star of the team, how proud he was of his military service and how happy he was that Yuval stopped cinema studies and decided to do something practical.
Yuval didn’t want to stop listening, he wanted to talk to his mother just a while longer, to be reminded of who he was. He asked his mother, and she told him about how he was always a ladies’ man, and about the first time that girl, Maya, came to sleep at their house during spring break, and she, his mother, insisted they sleep in separate rooms.
Suddenly he remembered the discussion he had to be present in, at the Knesset, and got up in a hurry.
“I have to go.”
“Mom, I have a business to run.”
“You should rest.”
“You said I’ll be alright, I have to plan for the future, don’t I?”
“You also have to rest, Yuval. Especially in your condition.”
“But you said everything is alright and that I’ll get better!” he yelled in anger and left.
Yuval made sure the music was extremely loud and the food excellent and plentiful. On the floor lay, crumpled and squashed, dozens of green teabags.
When one of the songs was over and the cake arrived, Yuval blew the candles and everyone asked for a speech.
“I really don’t want to talk about the disease today, just have fun.”
“Okay,” Rafi said. “But as long as we’re talking, who’s that girl in black down there? She cursed me a couple of times when I left the car. I swear, if she was a guy, never mind he was just a boy, I’d…”
“She asked me a bunch of questions, too. Wouldn’t let me come into the building,” Svetlana added.
“She’s the neighbors’ daughter.”
“I remember that age,” Rafi’s wife, Tehila, said.
“That age? Yuval, she looks like she can burn down this whole building,” Rafi said. Yuval felt like hitting him, but held himself back.
They spent another pleasant hour, until Rafi mentioned that he wanted to buy a private helicopter sometime.
“Only two and a half million Shekels which, sometime, I’ll have.”
“Which reminds me,” Tehila said, “what about the presents?”
“I don’t want any presents, really.”
“Too late,” Daniella said. She appeared suddenly at the door, and took a flash drive out of her purse.
“I edited all the videos you took when we were dating, and put them all on this drive, so you can get better and return to us as strong as you always were.”
Yuval and Daniela hugged, and everyone was happy.
“How is the treatment going, actually?” Svetlana asked.
Everyone looked at Yuval. “It’s going fine, I’m just always tired and don’t want to eat anything.”
“But you look fine, all things considered.”
At the end of the night Daniela stayed seated on the couch.
“Do you want me to bring your coat?”
“No, it’s still early.”
“Do you want to stay?”
“I’m leaving him.”
Yuval held her tight, like something he had lost and, after an endless search, found. “Does that mean you’ll stay?”
They kissed and she caressed his baldhead. Yuval took her hand off, but she, gently, caressed him again.
“It’s kind of sexy…”
Yuval was sound asleep. He would always wake easily, ready for action, but now he lay as if he was becoming one with the bed, clinging to it and becoming one body.
Daniella was awakened by his mobile phone ringing.
On her way to the kitchen she slipped and fell on some leftover dip from yesterday’s party. From the floor she could see a door in the hallway, a door she didn’t know. She stood up, walked towards the unfamiliar door and opened it. Inside the room she found piles of Vinblastine and Dacarbazine. Packets of drugs never opened. She ran straight to his room. Yuval, who was always angry to be woken up for no apparent reason, seemed happy.
“Good morning, gorgeous,” he said with a smile and hugged her. “Let me get up and make you something new I’ve learned, eggs a la…”
“I saw the drugs.
Yuval began stuttering.
“It’s my own business.”
“Do you want to die?!”
“I’ll beat the Hodgkin’s, don’t worry.”
“I said spare me this talk.”
“I’m getting up for breakfast. Are you coming?” Yuval got up. Daniela followed him to the kitchen.
“Don’t do it to yourself.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“I’ll bring the car.”
“I don’t feel like going anywhere.”
“Yuval, listen to me.”
“I don’t want to hear.”
“I can’t believe it, the shaved head, everything! You’re only lying to yourself, you know!”
“What happened to your faith in acupuncture?”
“Yuval, it’s not that.”
“Do you believe what you say, or don’t you?”
Daniela left in anger. Yuval stood in front of the door for another hour, thinking about what she said. Then he went to the kitchen, to prepare breakfast. When he had finished eating he realized he made a mistake – Daniela was going to his parents, to tell them he was neglecting the treatment and could die!
Wearing only shorts, he ran to his car and drove to his parents, where he found Daniela’s car.
He was about to come in. It wasn’t his partial nudity that stopped him, but all the foreseeable repercussions.
Immediately he turned around and returned to his house. He parked the SUV in the main street and walked. His phone rang. It was Dr. Stranberg, but Yuval didn’t answer. When Eva and her parents arrived, he signaled to her from his window to come, without her parents noticing. Thirty minutes later, she knocked on his door.
He hid in her room for the rest of the day. His parents came to his apartment, but there was nobody there. Pieces of his cell phone were scattered everywhere. Nobody knew where Yuval was, not even Eva’s parents. When his parents knocked on their door they honestly couldn’t help them.
It was still too early for him to be declared missing, and Yuval made himself comfortable in the warm room. Eva took care of feeding him without her parents noticing. She entertained him with games and witty conversation, and even put a mattress at the foot of her bed. They listened to her loud music and he showed her short clips he made when he still wanted to make movies, before he sank to the world of lobbying.
Suddenly he felt the need to shower. He washed and soaped his body, cleaning himself. Suddenly the door opened.
“Come,” she whispered, exposing her naked body to him.
Yuval was astounded. He didn’t know what to think. She seemed ready and not ready at the same time, a combination of innocence and softness, along with bursting sexuality and mental strength. He kissed her and she breathed heavily, kissed her until suddenly he stopped.
“I don’t think I deserve to be your first.”
“How do you know you’re my first?” she answered with a smile.
“I never had sex with any man.”
“You need someone special, your own age, who you’d really love.”
“No one will love me.”
“Of course they will.
“So just say I’m ugly.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Fine. Never mind.”
“And I also don’t think you’re ready.”
“Never mind, then.”
She went to her bed and covered her head with the pillow. It was thirty minutes before she talked to him again.
“You were right. Never mind what music I listen to, it doesn’t mean I want to have sex with a corpse.” They laughed.
“I’m so tired.”
“I have cancer, remember?”
“Do you want me to read you a story?”
Eva opened her diary. She put Yuval’s head in her lap, and read to him until he fell asleep. As it got darker, his immune system failed completely. The tumor and its mets spread until his body was overwhelmed. Internal hemorrhages spread through it. He woke up for a moment, completely dehydrated. He leaned towards Eva, kissed her cheek and fell back to the mattress, at peace.
1English version: Gabi Greve
Translated from Hebrew by Tom Atkins.