Ruth Lacey was born in 1962 in Sydney where she grew up. She earned her Arts-Law degree from the University of Melbourne, and an M.Phil in writing from the University of Glamorgan in Wales, in 2006. Since moving to Israel in 1986, she has worked as a legal adviser, community manager, freelance journalist, magazine editor and copywriter. Her short stories have been published in literary journals in the US, UK, Australia and Israel, including The Best of Carve Anthology, Overland, and Verbsap. Ruth lives in the Galilee and is married with two teenagers.
Ernesto was not the name he used. That was his old life and this life was the one that would change him forever into Uri.
So Uri is what we wrote on his grave.
The grave is fresh, the flowers scattered on it are still alive. His fat white dog still sits in the garden, waiting by the open door. The house is in his name. His pension fund is gathering interest in anticipation of old age.
But Uri has found a different kind of peace. Under the ground that's so hard a tractor broke trying to dig his grave. It's bare ground, now – Uri is the first kibbutz member to die – but the view of the Kinneret's unobscured.
The last few years, says the religious man from the factory, Uri found a kind of peace. The religious man, Izak, is tall and wears a kippah and an unkempt beard. He's the guy we asked to move aside when we made the promotional film about our factory, the one who smells a bit of BO so he often sits alone at lunchtimes. Izak was Uri's friend, the one who once promised to say Kaddish for him because he had no children. Uri was 53 already, and he knew: this was all there was. The sunshine, the Kinneret, the dog the cat the garden. Work. He would probably not fall in love again – unless that Filipino man at the graveside was his lover, but we'll never know. Either way, kids were not on the list of things that would happen to him.
So Izak says Kaddish. But who will sit shiva? Maybe his parents in Argentina?
The list of things that no one knows about Uri is long. We saw him every day, in the workshop under his house where he built stuff, slowly, like the way he did everything, and then one day a chair would suddenly appear, simple and perfectly constructed. The bench he built sits opposite the view from his house, but no one sits there even though it's in a public area – we're not sure if he built it for himself or for everyone.
"How come it's facing the chicken run and the factory?" I ask him one day as he threads a passion vine through the arch he's built. If he'd changed the angle by just a few degrees, he would have only seen the lake.
"Everything here is equally a part of the view," he says.
So that's what Uri became, I suppose – a part of the view, someone who was always quietly there. No one went inside his house, or maybe they did but I never saw anyone come or go and I live next door. All I know about Uri is that he was always around. He took our lawn clippings on Saturdays for compost. He talked to his dog in Spanish. He was in charge of the kibbutz gate and of guard duty, so sometimes we would need to exchange words on that, like which phone numbers to program so the gate opened, or when it was OK to move the drum set back into the air raid shelter after the war.
Once, Uri sat on the administrative committee of the kibbutz. I sat there, too. He got more votes than anyone – we wanted to give him a go at deciding things. Usually, Uri was the guy who shrugged his shoulders when he didn't like something, or voted 'no' but that was all. He didn't come to meetings or festivals or dinners on Friday nights. He did whatever job you gave him slowly and carefully, even when it was the kind of thing that demanded speed.
So when Uri started sitting on the admin. committee, we were full of expectation. In the early meetings, he'd shrug his shoulders when it came to giving his opinion, and said, gravely: I'll have to think about that some more. We waited. It seemed like all this thinking was going to lead to something big, some wonderful conclusion no one had considered. But for two years, that's all he did. And then his two year turn was up.
I would be lying if I said that Uri was slow and considered about everything. There was one thing he was frantic about: the ambulance. Uri was the ambulance driver, and he was always fixing it up in preparation for an earthquake or a war or a sudden heart attack. He drove pregnant women to the hospital and kids who'd had a fall. He resuscitated dogs and mended broken limbs. Anytime, day or night, Uri – who had no wife or children of his own to sap his energy – was available to care for ours.
When Uri dies, everybody takes on a role, a kind of extreme expression of their personality. S. calls up his family, even though she's never met them, takes them into the house he had never invited her to, where she discovers mezuzot on every door. M. digs his grave. In fact, M. has this thing about his grave: he wants it to be beautiful. With native trees and a fence made from boulders that have been dug up along the road. B. is concerned for what will happen to his spirit, wants to give a packet of public money to some yeshiva so they'll pray for him and then in one year's time he will be sure to enter through the gates of heaven. Other people make food for the funeral or give eulogies or write poems or look after his dog. It's the only way we know to keep him here with us a little longer.
Last week, I got a strange letter in my email. A letter from Izak, the religious guy from the factory where Uri suddenly collapsed and died of heart failure three days before. "Please don't talk about Uri in the past tense," he wrote. "Uri is still with us, even if his physical body is no longer here. Just like he protected us from here on earth, he is still protecting us – from above."
I like to think of Uri like that. Still sitting on his chair facing the chicken run, smiling about something no one else can see. Cut off just before he could reveal it to us.
It takes more than a week after the funeral before I allow myself to sit on Uri's bench. All week, I feel like he is still here. I feel like if I sat on his bench I'd be intruding on a space that he made for himself.
But once seven days have passed, it feels like maybe Uri has as well, so I sit on the bench with the wire arch above it, in expectation that the passion vine will grow. I look across at the view – the factory, the chicken run, a piece of Kinneret. That's when I realize: there is a straight line of sight from Uri's bench to Uri's grave. It's the only place on the kibbutz that you can see it from.
And while I'm sitting there I think: life is going by too fast. I have to do something to slow it down.
On the way home, I walk slowly and notice how the birds sing different lengths of song and count the kinds of wildflower.