Flip Side: Through a distorted lens

Anger might subside, they'd acknowledged to each other and to Amnon; but apathy was more likely to take its place than acceptance.

October 19, 2006 14:51

It is not unusual these days for Amnon to enter his home - a two-bedroom rental in the center of Jerusalem - and find one or the other of his children there in one or another form of activity. One might be on the computer or watching TV. Another might be making brownies or frying an omelette. When he moved in, the first thing he did was to have a key made for each of them. Not that it was reasonable for him to assume, the kids had indicated directly or indirectly, that any of the four would actually ever turn up unannounced. Perhaps they wouldn't visit at all, in fact. Visions of strange women in their father's "bachelor pad" would have been deterrence enough. But, coupled with their mother's depressed state, the very idea of getting familiar with the "city digs" was unthinkable. Nor would they have any particular interest in cramming into their father's small quarters, with such ample space in the house that, up until that fateful day of his departure, he had shared with them, as head of the family. Anger might subside, they'd acknowledged to each other and to Amnon; but apathy was more likely to take its place than acceptance. Yet, as it is wont to do, fate twisted. Within a year of the divorce, Amnon's ex-wife was remarried, and the cottage in suburbia became suddenly too emotionally crowded for comfort - what with a step-father (and frequent visits by step-siblings) descending upon them, as if from out of nowhere. Rather than feeling relieved at their mother's recovery from rejection and despondency, Amnon's children reacted by spending more and more time at his place in town. Lack of real room for them was outweighed, they said, by the great convenience of his location - close to school and scouts and other social-life venues. Not to mention a safe distance from the nauseating "honeymoon hotel" that used to be their haven. AMNON IS therefore not entirely surprised to be greeted by the smell of cooking upon his arrival after work today. Or by the sight of his 18-year-old daughter standing at the kitchen counter stirring a pot. What does strike him as out of the ordinary is her failure to look up when he enters or say hello. Particularly since she hasn't been around for several days. "What's for dinner?" he asks, pretending not to notice her reticence, and hoping it's not due to to any unwitting misdemeanors he has committed for which he will have to apologize. His daughter moves her shoulders, a gesture Amnon initially interprets as a surly shrug. Before he has a chance to vent any paternal frustration at her unfriendliness toward him, however, he realizes that she is in fact sobbing silently. Here he is at almost as much of a loss as he was two years ago in the aisles of Ikea, on the special trip he made to Netanya to embark on his newfound freedom by buying furniture. His impulse now, as it was then, is to phone his wife, on whose expertise in such matters he had always relied. But now, as then, reality winks a reminder to him that her no longer being under his wing also means that she is also no longer at his beck and call for consults. "What's the matter?" Amnon asks his weepy teenager hesitantly, considering the possibility that her mood is related to hormones, something in the presence of which he has learned to lay low. "I can't tell you," she answers barely audibly. "It's gonna make you really mad." At this, Amnon panics. Could she have been kicked out of school in her senior year? Was she caught doing drugs? Not wanting to commit to taking whatever it is she's done in stride, Amnon goes for a rhetorical question. "What could be so bad?" he swallows, trying to fend off the onslaught of dry-mouth. "I don't know how I let it happen," she moans. Amnon shuts his eyes in terror. "I'll pay for it out of my own money." Oh my God, she's pregnant, Amnon thinks. Why couldn't she be having this discussion with her mother, for crying out loud? "Uh... " is all he can come up with to say. "I still don't know what you're talking about." "Your video camera," she says, facing him and bursting into tears. "My video camera?" he responds, completely puzzled. "What video camera?" "The one in your desk," she says, sniffling. "I borrowed it for a school project without your permission, and now I can't find it." THE HUGE sigh of relief Amnon heaves is one his daughter misinterprets as rage. Which causes her to sputter out her explanation at the speed at which she normally gossips with her friends over the phone. "I was using it all over the city last week, and I must have put it down somewhere, maybe when I bought something to eat, I don't know, but I've been retracing my steps, and it's gone. And I'm really sorry." "What's the project?" Amnon asks, smiling. He'd forgotten all about the item he snatched on the sly from his wife's briefcase the morning he moved out. That his daughter used and then misplaced it, without seeing what was on it - her mother and the man who became her step-father in bed together - is proof to him that God doesn't always abandon children to their feckless parents. "Poverty," she says, wiping her face on a dish towel. "I got great footage of homeless people and beggars and even of a soup kitchen that ran out of food before the end of the holidays." "That's very impressive," Amnon says, rendering his daughter as speechless as she is shocked. "Too bad you're going to have to do it all over again - with the brand new camera that we're going out to buy you this minute." "But they cost a lot of money," she protests, while he ushers her out the door. "You're worth every shekel," he insists, calculating the cost of what might have been. [email protected]

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