Arts & Culture

Your Lights Are On

Alongside established writers, Zeek takes special pleasure in featuring up-and-coming Israeli talents whose work has not yet received an American readership. This month’s story, from Yoav Avni’s first collection Those Strange Americans, speaks to the intractable struggle between young lovers, … Read More

By / April 21, 2009

Alongside established writers, Zeek takes special pleasure in featuring up-and-coming Israeli talents whose work has not yet received an American readership. This month’s story, from Yoav Avni’s first collection Those Strange Americans, speaks to the intractable struggle between young lovers, rather than the political “situation,” as the conflict  between Israel and its neighbors is colloquially known in Hebrew. In Avni’s hands, jealousy and disbelief twist a Tel Aviv love story into something that resembles madness and delusion.

-Adam Rovner, translations editor  

 

Suddenly I can’t think rationally again and I know I just have to see her. I run out of the apartment taking the stairs three at a time, and when I remember that she’s not waiting for me and that she probably isn’t even at home, I stop running but I don’t stop my descent. I’ve already decided that I must see her again.

Two people can’t completely separate from one another just because a decision’s been made. It was lucky I left before I started thinking seriously about our separation. What do I mean ‘two people’? She left me. She doesn’t want me anymore. It’s cold outside and I feel alone. Night time. A side street. Everything follows the script, and even though I’m convinced the film will be more American than French, I’m not sure it’ll have a happy ending.

 

I get into the old Dodge I bought, even though the replacement parts are expensive and it guzzles fuel and oil. I drive down the familiar roads with my high beams on. How many times did I drive to her place in the past two years? Maybe a thousand. I put all that aside. I know I’m behaving like a lunatic. I know it just makes me weaker in her eyes, but nothing can be done. I have to see her. I have no idea what I’ll say to her if she opens the door. Certainly not that I love her, but I do.

 

 

Everyone speeds down the coastal road and too many cars go past me without their lights on. The cars seem like blind animals and I can’t see the drivers at all. She lives in Herzliya and I know exactly when each traffic light changes. I’m driving faster than I think I am, and my mouth and heart begin to feel dry. I’m cold. I can’t understand her. We were so good together. Perhaps I loved her too much, but that’s how you’re supposed to love, isn’t it? You can’t be tough all the time.

 

I switch off the radio. When I feel like this, without a chance of calming down, no song can help.

 

What is she doing now? Is she thinking about me? Yesterday my horoscope said I should proceed without any hesitation and hers said that she should re-think the past. That means something, doesn’t it? I decide that if the next car I see doesn’t have its lights on, I have no chance and it’s all over, she doesn’t love me anymore. At a curve a BMW drives past without its lights on. I tense up, but it seems to me the driver did turn his lights on as soon as he saw mine. Another minute and I’ll be at her place. I take a deep breath, deeper than the Loch Ness monster during tourist season. Her house is dark and there are no cars parked outside. Either she’s not at home, or she’s home alone,  or she went out with someone and is running her hand through his hair like used to do with mine.

 

Enough, enough, enough already.

 

I park the Dodge, get out and knock on the door. No one answers. My hands shake slightly and I curse her in my heart, and then she opens the door and is almost surprised to see me, though she doesn’t seem very happy. She says “Hi,” though it sounds more like “Ah,” and I go in to see whether anyone else is there, but no one is. She’s just watching television. Perhaps she’s lonely? I help myself to a drink from the fridge. I know the house so well, even how to turn the lights on in the basement, but she’s not happy to see me.

 

“Yigal, you shouldn’t have come,” she says. She is so beautiful and indifferent. I want to cry out to her: “It’s me!” But I hold on to my last shred of dignity, yes, suddenly it’s become a question of pride. I don’t reply, as though it was me who left and she’s the one who’s causing the disturbance. I know it was a mistake to come. I’m such an idiot. I knew it was a mistake the minute I left home. I’m already planning what I’ll do tomorrow. Maybe I’ll take four thick books out of the library and read them until all this passes. I tell her I’m going. She doesn’t say a word. It’s become so asymmetrical that I want to throw up. Tomorrow I’ll start calling all the girls I met when we were going out.

 

She escorts me to the door. I can’t help hugging her before I go. This time I switch the radio on. This time I mustn’t think of anything. I have to build my strength back up again. Bitch! She completely emptied me. Whores, all of them.


The traffic light at the entrance to Arlozorov is red and some guy in the car next to me signals me to open the window. I can hardly see him in the dark. “Your lights are on,” he says. I nod with my head. What does he want from me? To tell him what’s been going on this past week? That since she left me I can’t distinguish between light and shadow? If I drive with my lights on, it means I need to have the lights on, doesn’t it?

 

The traffic light changes and I zoom ahead. A cat is caught beneath my thick wheels but immediately runs to a nearby garden. I look in the mirror and hope it’s not a black cat. He looked black, but in this darkness everything looks the same.

 

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Yoav Avni was born in 1969 in Israel. He lives in Tel Aviv. After his military service and a long trip to the Far East, he published a collection of short stories, Those Strange Americans (Ayzeh Metumtamim HaAmerikaim. Tammuz: 1995). His successful first novel, Three Things to a Lonely Island [Shlosha Devarim L’iy Boded], was published in 2006 by Zmora-Bitan. Avni’s second novel, [HaChamishit Shel Chong Levi], is forthcoming in May from Zmora-Bitan.

 

Evelina Kuchuk is a lawyer and a freelance translator working in Hebrew, Russian and English. She is based in London, England.

Zeek‘s translations are made possible by a grant from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, supported by  public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

 

 

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Images by artist Brent Faklis