Katherine Shabat, nee Rubin, was born and raised in London, where she studied languages and literature. She came to Israel as a volunteer after the Six-Day War and met and married a member of a kibbutz. She and her husband now live in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and have two grown children. She has had stories published in the Jerusalem Post, ESRA Magazine, Ang-Lit. Press (Israel) and The Awakenings Review (Chicago.) Many of her poems have appeared in anthologies in Israel and abroad and in 2008, she published her first book of poetry, ‘Back from Beyond’ under the Pen Press imprint. At present, she is working on a novel.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Judy wandered aimlessly through the apartment and then into the kitchen where she stopped to sample, yet again, the Haman’s ears – light pastry stuffed with poppy seeds and sultanas – that her neighbour had made for her. She had planned to give them to the children that night but there were only a few left in the jar.
It was the eve of Purim. Tamar and Eitan must be the only children in Israel who did not have costumes, thought Judy. She felt so apprehensive that she could not bring herself to leave the apartment to buy them.
A ring at the door startled her. Guiltily brushing the crumbs off her mouth, she looked through the peephole. She was surprised to see Rachel, her mother-in-law, who lived in a kibbutz in the north of the country. She opened the door and they embraced wordlessly. Rachel stood back and looked at the young woman with concern.
“How are you, my dear?” she asked, as she put her bag down on a chair.
“I’m fine. We are all fine. I can’t believe you’ve come all the way to be with us for the holiday.”
While Judy made tea and served the last of the Purim pastries, Rachel observed her daughter-in-law, who had been in Israel only a few months. She obviously wasn’t doing well. Of course, one couldn’t expect her to have the stoicism of the Sabra girls.
“Where are the children?” Rachel asked.
“They’re having supper with my neighbour.” Judy’s voice broke and she turned away to hide the tears which sprung to her eyes.
Rachel felt the younger woman’s pain and urged her gently:
“Judy, dear, come to the kibbutz to be with the family. You shouldn’t be alone at a time like this.”
“I must be here when he comes home.”
“He wouldn’t want you to be alone. Think of the children, Judy, it would be much better for them.”
“I know, but I can’t leave my home. It’s a feeling I have. Everything will be all right if… I must wait for him here. ”
At that moment there were frantic bangs at the door. Judy opened it and her two children hurtled into the room. Tamar, a plump four-year old with long dark hair and Eitan, two and a half, with ash blond curls and a winning smile.
“Grandma, Grandma” Tamar shouted, falling on Rachel with joy. Eitan climbed into her lap and settled there with his thumb in his mouth.
“What did you bring us, grandma? asked Tamar.
“That’s not polite, Tamar,” her mother chastised her.
“I think I have something for you. Let’s look in my bag.”
Within moments Eitan was transformed into Peter Pan, complete with a feather in the pointed cap atop his bright locks and Tamar was pirouetting around the room in a white tulle dress and a gold crown.
Judy hugged her mother-in-law warmly.
“Rachel, the costumes are beautiful. You have such flair. I can’t even sew on a button.”
Exclaiming with joy, the children pranced to and from the full-length mirror in Judy’s room. Then it was time for their baths, and afterwards Rachel settled them in their bunk beds. In an effort to calm their excitement, she read them a Purim story then reminded them they had a big day tomorrow and needed their sleep.
Meanwhile Judy prepared a light supper for Rachel and herself, which they ate in silence. Rachel’s suggestion hung in the air between them, as did Judy’s insistence to stay in her apartment.
Tired after her journey, Rachel went to bed. Judy settled down in front of her favourite soap opera. She often felt it was what kept her sane. For half an hour she stepped out of the reality of her life. The theme music had just begun when the doorbell rang for the second time that evening. Irritated, she looked at her watch. Who could it be, so late?
Looking through the peephole she saw two soldiers, a man and a girl. She felt weak with dread. She had run this scene through her head a hundred times. She wasn’t ready for it. She would never be ready. The end of her life, as she knew it, was on the other side of the door. She didn’t want to open it. If she could only go back to her program and forget she had seen them. Shaking, she unlocked the door and the young captain addressed her:
“Mrs Levine? May we come in? Don’t be concerned. We have good news of Moti.”
Judy held on to the door for support. Wordlessly, she indicated they should come in and sit down.
“Moti’s mother’s here. I’ll call her.”
Rachel was just dozing off when Judy entered the spare room.
“Rachel, wake up! They’ve come from the army with good news of Moti. Come quickly!”
Breathless with emotion she practically dragged her mother-in-law from her bed and into the living room where they sat down on the sofa opposite the captain and the girl soldier, who had accompanied him.
“Mrs. Levine, it is excellent news. I am happy to inform you that the Syrians have finally released Moti. He should be arriving at a military airport near Tel Aviv as we speak and you will be able to see him for a few minutes before he is taken for debriefing. A driver will be arriving shortly to take you to the airport.”
Judy discovered she had been holding her breath and clutching Rachel’s arm. She couldn’t believe that the fear and the loneliness were finally over. Moti was coming home.
Rachel’s only thought was to get hold of her husband in the kibbutz and she went into the other room to use the phone. Meanwhile the officer gave Judy a number where she could reach him day or night. She found her hands were trembling as she tried to write it down.
Judy pulled herself together: “Can I get you some coffee?”
“No thank you, Mrs. Levine. We have to be on our way.”
The officer shook her hand and wished her luck. As he went out of the door the captain turned back and said:
“Happy Purim, Mrs. Levine, to you and your family.”