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2021-03-29 美文大全 14 ℃ 0 评论
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  A Temporary Solution

  Orly Castel-bloom

  Danny Brava was a rich, handsome man. His millions gave him special class which demanded a high standard of behaviour, and prevented him from getting involved in conversations which didn’t lead anywhere and which he called p r o m i l l e conversations.

  The serious expression he wore on his face was the result of calculation and self control, and without it he would probably not have got where he was: an office in the north of the city with thirty two employees where he was: an office in the north of the city with thirty two employees where he was: an office in the north of the city with thirty two employees and sixty clients, twenty of them heavy and to the point.

  Even though he dealt with large sums of money he didn’t forget to be fair to his employees, and paid them high salaries. They, who were unable to pay him back in money, stayed overtime without financial compensation, and thus they also found a way to thank him for the lunches he subsidized at “Who’s Who”, on condition they didn’t exceed twenty-five shekel a dish, which was enough for tehina, pickles, a decent sized fillet steak and a cold drink.

  Brava hated flattery. Anyone who dared to flatter him openly would be interrupted rudely with the question: What do you want?

  Thus he forced his interlocutor to retreat to one of two corners: either to forgo any wish he might have had immediately and to withdraw into himself, or to say what he wanted immediately, short and to the point, without any frills.

  The friend, although he was already quite careful, sometimes tripped up and flattered him, in which case he would choose the first alternative. He would keep quiet, let Brava feel the sharp, clear boundaries of his personality, and quickly change the subject. Only after talking of some marginal subject, not connected to Brava and his wealth, did he dare to speak of Danny’s difficult years from 1976 to 1981, how he had overcome his difficulties and learnt to turn them to his advantage, or else to ask him:

  “Tell me, Danny, how did it go with those tractor guys today?”

  Sometimes it would work, and Danny would cooperate with him. But when the attempt at flattery was too blatant things would get a little complicated. Danny would turn his eyes away from the friend and say something like:

  “You stupid idiot, why don’t you shut up and leave me alone?”

  Then the friend would shut up and rack his brains for a different subject. But Danny for the most part didn’t need to talk to anyone and certainly not to the friend, for Danny Brava, after all, had a firm personality of his own.

  Evenings like this would end with the friend going limply home after he and Danny had not exchanged a single word, and after the friend had smoked half a packet of cigarettes and Danny not even one.

  In the early years the friend would suffer agonies during the long silences, but after the third year he learnt to find himself special thoughts for these silences. Thoughts, since actual actions were out of the question. When Danny turned his eyes away from him, or stood up and went about his business, he would learn by heart the place of all the objects around him, so that next time he came to see Danny he would be able to tell by the changes what Danny had been doing in the meantime and who had been to visit him. When this amusement paled, he would stare without moving at a point on the white wall and try to force himself to think pleasant thoughts, about lakes in Switzerland, for instance, which he had never seen in his life.

  With Brava too there had been developments over the years, and he permitted himself to retire to other rooms, to hold long telephone conversations, to cook himself light meals, to pour himself a drink. The more Brava isolated himself, the more difficult it became for the friend to exercise his imagination, and he searched urgently for new views, buildings, country landscapes. Always inanimate and always in daylight. If he failed to find any such picture he would simply count sheep, and sometimes he would ring the changes and count cows, or amuse himself and count snakes hiding in the rocks and waiting to pounce on innocent bathers on the sea shore.

  At a certain stage in the evening, when Brava showed obvious signs of impatience, the friend would rise from his seat and say:

  “Bye, I’m going.”

  Danny would turn to look at him reflectively, and wave his big hand in farewell.

  A moment before he reached the door he would shout after him good night, a salutation to which the friend never responded. He liked leaving the luxurious apartment with a slam of the door.

  One Tuesday, exactly on the day when they showed the programme on television about what would happen to Tel Aviv if an atom bomb was dropped on it, the friend came late. Brava sat opposite the colour screen, drank beer, watched the programme and sniggered. It amused him to see the places long familiar to him being blown to smithereens. The explosion, said the usually smiling commentator, who was looking serious in honour of the programme, had been simulated by means of amazing and expensive technology, specially imported for the production of the programme from Japan, where they had shown a similar programme about Tokyo a few months before.

  Danny felt safe. Perhaps because he knew that it was all special effects, and perhaps because he was so often out of town. Five times a year to New York, four times to professional conferences in the capitals of Europe, and four absolutely unavoidable times to Frankfurt, in order to invest the money which he didn’t want to leave in the banks in Israel.

  The pathos in the voice of the commentator increase when he recited the figures of the damage to life and property which the bomb was likely to cause. After this, the programme began to repeat itself boringly, and Danny switched off the seat.

  With one big gulp he finished the beer and threw the empty can out of the window. The can traveled eight floors and landed on the pavement. Sometimes Danny would throw things from the balcony which even if they hit someone on the head wouldn’t have done any great harm, certainly not fatal.

  The friend, if he had been there now, would have burst into loud laughter, clapped his hands and run to hide behind the big plants on the balcony to see if the can had hit anyone, and to report back to Danny, looking at him with a smile from his seat.

  Brava opened another can of beer, switched on the television and watched the end of the programme. As soon as it was over the telephone rang.

  “What’s up?” said Danny, who was sure that it was the friend.

  “Danny?” he heard his sister Tirza’s voice and was sorry he had answered the phone.

  She asked him if he had watched the programme. “No,” he said, because he couldn’t stand members of his family knowing what he did. Especially not Tirza, who shot her mouth off to everyone after wards. She was divorced, and in past he had rescued her from the legal tangle between herself and her husband. He had paid for her lawyer, and she was grateful to him. Ever since she had felt obliged to phone her younger brother every day, and try to amuse him with all kinds of funny stories from her place of work. At the end of the conversation she would reveal an interest. Usually she wanted the male point of view on a new man she had met. This time she asked him about her ten year old son’s private tutor in arithmetic.

  “Tell me, is it true what I think?” she asked. “That he’s trying to start with me? He put his hand on my shoulder when he saw me to the door, and left in there until the last minute. In other words, until I left. How can I be sure…”

  Yes, he was definitely trying to come on to her, her brother interrupted her, maybe he was even in love with her, who knows? He thought of how transparent and boring his sister was and he wanted to be rid of her. Tirza said he was a real honey and put the phone down on the excuse of not wanting to stop him from watching the news on television.

  Danny stood on the cool balcony and wiped the sweat which had collected on his forehead away with his fingers.

  The lights of the meaningless city twinkled in the distance The place where he had chosen to live was perfect, in spite of the noise of the aeroplanes which he had learnt to live with. The airport even soothed him. It reminded him of his trips abroad, which he had missed for the past six months. A small civilian plane was about to take off for a destination inside the country. Brava looked at its shadow. The little plane took off, and on a momentary impulse Brava threw the half-full can of beer at it. The can did not hit the plane. On the long way down the liquid parted from its respectable.

  The bus stop where the friend was supposed to get off was deserted. Danny went downstairs and leaned against the bus-stop pole. In the distance a figure approached. He decided not to bawl the friend out. But it wasn’t the friend at all. It was only Shmulik, a parasite and a donkey who lived at the expense of his parents, Danny’s neighbours.

  “Hy, Danny,” said Shmulik.

  “Hy,” Danny grunted.

  Shmulik coughed and went on walking.

  “Have you got a cigarette?” Danny called after him.

  Shmulik offered him the white pack. After Danny pulled a cigarette from it Shmulik went on walking to his parents’ place, to squeeze a few more pennies out of them.

  Brava smoked and remembered how once ha had come late to a date with the friend. It was in the winter of that year. He had a meeting with a good chance of half a million clear profit a year, and he didn’t want to miss it. For six hours he sat in his office opposite the customers, two fifty year old brothers with a coffee import company, and negotiated with them, while telling them witty jokes to reduce the tension.

  While he mixed them cocktails in his office and described what they were made of, he worked out that in the light of what he had in front of him here it was no big deal if the friend waiter half an hour in the rain. A calculation that proved to be quite right.

  When he got home the friend was wet. He was afraid to wait for Danny in the stairwell in case the neghbours got suspicious and called the police.

  When he saw Danny his eyes expressed intense hatred. He was stinking too. And Brava felt a little disgusted by him. The two of them hurried up to the apartment because they couldn’t wait any longer. Nevertheless Danny asked the friend to take a shower. He well remembered the slap he gave the friend when he came out of the shower wearing the bathrobe he had brought back from Singapore.

  “You’ve got big eyes,” he said and slapped him in the face.

  The friend took the robe off indifferently.

  The conscienceless Shmulik walked past Brava again. Brava ignored him, and Shmulik too pretended not to know Brava. After the quarter of an hour that he had allocated himself he went upstairs, took his car keys and drove at high speed to Bat-Yam.

  “He’s not home,” said the friend’s mother.

  Brava pushed her gently aside and saw the friend lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling. He didn’t shift his gaze even when Danny approached him.

  “Are you coming?” asked Danny.

  The friend’s mother walked past them with a tub full of wet washing.

  The friend smiled a forced smile.

  Danny sat down on an armchair and sulked.

  “Then give it to me,” he ordered angrily.

  After a short silence the friend stretched out his hand and took a little plastic bag secured with an elastic band out of his pocket and threw it onto the table.

  Brava snatched the bag and left. Passersby looked admiringly at his magnificent racing car.

  At home he clumsily performed all the necessary operations and cursed the friend, who always did them while he himself looked on like a king and corrected him.

  His mood improved beyond recognition. He lay on the sofa and floated.

  After twenty minutes the friend knocked on the door. Brava, who was sunk in colourful hallucinations, didn’t hear the knocking. The friend was alarmed, because it occurred to him that Danny might have taken too much, and he went on knocking harder than before. After ten minutes of continuous knocking Danny realized that it wasn’t a passing train going choo-choo. He got up and approached the door.

  “Who’s there?” he asked.

  Outside the door the friend wondered whether to identify himself or not. Brava asked again, who’s there. The friend pressed the button for the lift. Brava moved slowly away from the door and lay down on the inviting sofa again. The friend heard the heavily receding footsteps. So Danny had managed by himself, he thought resentfully. The lift arrived and continued on its way without him.

  He knocked on the door again. Brava grunted a tired who’s there without getting up.

  The friend called: “Open up!”

  Danny opened the door. The friend came in. Danny lay on the sofa in silence. The friend didn’t have the strength for these silences any longer and he tried to make conversation. He described something he had seen on the way.

  “Don’t ask what an accident I saw on the way. A bus was driving down Herzl and turned right into Balfour. One second after it turned into Balfour a woman crossed the road. The bus didn’t see the woman. I think she saw it but she was too late to get out of the way. I heard her scream. It was terrible. I ran away. I can’t stand the sight of blood. I just can’t stand it. I ran as fast as I could to stop a taxi. The screams of the people in the bus and all that. It was ghastly, I’m telling you,” he concluded and looked at Danny.

  Danny lay on the sofa with his eyes closed and muttered unintelligibly. On second thoughts the friend decided that he was singing. He tried in vain to guess what song it was. He longed to stroke Danny’s smooth cheek, but he didn’t dare approach him.

  In the end, on an impulse, he sat down beside him. There was no room on the sofa for them both, and Danny got up and went to the kitchen. The friend wanted to take the transistor radio standing on the sideboard and smash it on the wall, but instead he followed Danny.

  As soon as he reached the kitchen Danny emerged from it with his mouth full of food. The friend found himself in the kitchen, with Danny in the living room. After a moment in the kitchen the friend pulled his face and returned to the living room too. Danny sniggered. The friend sat on the armchair. Suddenly Danny got up and went to his room. He left the door half open on purpose. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked through the crack between the door and the doorpost at the hesitant profile of the friend. When he saw the friend stand up he laughed maliciously.

  The friend knocked lightly on the half-open door.

  “Who’s there?” asked Danny.

  The friend cleared his throat.

  “It’s me, darling, maybe you can give me a little money before I go?”

  “How much do you need?” called Danny from the other side of the door.

  “Do I know?” said the friend. “A thousand five hundred will be enough.”

  “Take it from my coat pocket,” said Danny, “count seven hundred and fifty and take it.”

  The friend lingered a moment and returned to the living room. He looked at Danny’s coat, which was lying on one of the armchairs, and took a neatly folded bundle of banknotes out of the pocket. He quickly counted five thousand and put them in his pocket. On the way out his eyes encountered those of a Japanese woman standing stuck to the wall. He ripped her from the wall and crumpled her up.

  Because what is reality, said Brava mockingly to himself after he heard the door slam loudly behind the friend. What is it, if not someone telling you something, and afterwards he says to you, listen, that was a lie, and corrects himself, and a few minutes later he says again, listen, that was a lie too and corrects himself, and afterwards he says, sorry, that was a lie too. And so on endlessly until you don’t know what to think any more. Either you go mad or you become like me.