A date made in heaven?

An excerpt from Amnon Rubinstein’s new novel, ‘The Black Sun’

June 27, 2013 14:34
Amnon Rubinstein

Amnon Rubinstein521. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Shaul makes a visit to the psychiatrist’s office.

“What do you mean, ‘The doctor is dead?’” The secretary realizes that she is dealing with a patient who is difficult to get rid of.She replies with a question of her own, “What do you mean ‘What do you mean?’” “Well, when did he die?” “Dr. Pinford didn’t die. He was killed.

Two weeks ago.”

“Do you mean to tell me that Gideon was killed? Two weeks ago? Who killed him?” “Dr. Pinford was killed in a suicide bombing. It was in the paper. Sir, didn’t you see all the articles? Don’t you read the newspaper?” “Two weeks ago? But I just ran into Gideon one week ago!” “A week ago was the end of the shiva mourning period!” “And we made a date to meet here today at 3 pm. Sharp. Gideon told me, ‘If you arrive at 3 sharp, you will not have to wait in line.’ Gideon knows how much I hate waiting in line.”

At this point the secretary lifts her head up from the computer and looks Shaul up and down. She doesn’t notice a look of embarrassment on his face. He continues looking at her in a demanding way from behind his glasses, without attempting to avoid her probing gaze.

What the secretary sees is a typical patient standing in front of her. He’s a man in his 60s, with that stubborn type of expression so common among Dr.

Pinford’s patients. He is slightly heavy, partially bald and wears a short-sleeved white shirt that exposes his thin arms.

The waiting rooms at psychiatrists’ offices are full of these types.

Only his eyes are unique; she can see them through his glasses – they are bright gray-blue. But other than that, there is nothing out of the ordinary about this man who is standing in front of her, insisting that he met Dr. Pinford a week after the seven days of mourning had elapsed.

“Sir, didn’t you read in the papers that our doctor was killed in the attack at the Ginat Ha’ir Café? All the papers covered it. The defense minister even said, ‘We will cut off the terrorists’ hands.’ Everyone wrote about it in the papers.”

“All of the papers? You must be mistaken, my young lady. I am an avid reader of newspapers. I am addicted to newspapers.

Every day I read the entire paper from cover to cover, starting with the headlines and ending with the weather report.

“Nothing escapes my eyes and I did not read one word about Dr. Pinford and about his alleged death in a terrorist attack. Ma’am, you are mistaken.

Absolutely mistaken. Exactly one week ago I met the doctor in the café you mentioned that is just across the street from this clinic. If you would be so good as to stand up for a moment, you will be able to see it with your own eyes through the window. The doctor told me…” “To come today. At 3 sharp. Yes, I understand.”

“He told me, ‘Shaul, you are in very good shape. You are in no need of medical treatment. So what if you occasionally forget the names of acquaintances or movie stars? Everyone our age forgets names. And the nightmares, well, that is not such a simple issue. Do your cries wake up Mira? Well, then I suppose it is a problem, but we can deal with this. There is almost nothing modern psychiatry can’t solve these days. Come see me for a few minutes and we’ll see what we can do for you,’ the doctor told me. And I really am quite troubled by the nightmare thing. Only he can help me.”

“Sir, I do not want to argue with you.

I came here at the request of his widow.

To put some order in the late doctor’s papers.”

“The widow? You’ve been in contact with Stella?” “Stella? I’m talking about Mrs. Pinford.

She asked me to put some order into the late doctor’s papers. It’s a complete mess.

I’m the only one who could possibly take control of the mess he left.”

The patient is showing no patience for the secretary. “I’m talking about Stella. I’ve known her for… how many years? Not many – just 50! I met Stella when she was just 18 years old! You cannot imagine how beautiful she was back then…” “And I’m asking you to excuse me, but I have a lot of work to do now.” But Shaul was not about to give in. “And I’m telling you that Stella was the most beautiful woman in Israel! It’s difficult to believe it these days, but it is a fact.”

“Sir, Mr. Shaul, I am asking you as politely as I can. Please leave me alone.”

“So, when can you give me an appointment to see the doctor? Again, my name is Shaul. Shall I give you my surname as well? Or my ID number?” “Sir, if you would like to meet with Dr. Pinford, you will have to go up to heaven. There he will – perhaps – be waiting for you.”

“Don’t talk dirty to me. I also know how to use foul language. But I am speaking to you politely, aren’t I?” “Ok. Maybe I can refer you to Dr.

Berlitzheimer. Many of Dr. Pinford’s patients switched over to him after the terrorist attack.”

“To Dr. Berlitz – what?” “Dr. Berlitzheimer. He’s also a psychiatrist.

He works here in the same clinic.”

“Why should I go see him?” “He and Gideon were partners, as well as friends, and they specialized in the same type of… problems.”

A glimmer of understanding flashes in Shaul’s eyes. “Gideon never mentioned him.” And then after a moment of reflection, he says, “I’m beginning to understand something. This Dr.

what’s-his-name doesn’t have enough patients. Now I’m beginning to understand everything.”

“Mr. Shaul, I must now ask you to please leave the clinic immediately!” “No. I am not someone who can be pushed around. I understand. All of this is a ruse to bring more patients to Dr. Berlitzwhat’s his name again? You can’t cover up the truth from me. And you? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Sir, do you take Prozac? Do have a prescription from Dr. Pinford?” “Prozac? What use would I have for Prozac? I was coming to Gideon just to be on the safe side. Just to be safe, as they say.

He made an appointment for me at 3 pm.

Sharp. So that I wouldn’t have to wait in line. I’ve known Gideon and his wife Stella for 50 years! Do you know what it’s like to have known someone for so long? I went to school with Gidi. I did indeed – why are you raising your eyebrows like that? That’s what I always call him. Not Gideon and not Dr.

Pinford, but Gidi. We are friends. The best of friends. And when we bumped into each other – by chance – in the café last week, I told him that I’ve been having some memory problems and that I haven’t been sleeping well. I have nightmares that unfortunately wake up my wife, Mira. Gidi told me that I look completely healthy to him, but just to be sure… you understand… just to be sure… he wanted to give me a once-over. And I never suspected, not at all, that there was a conspiracy to send patients over to what’shis- name – Berlitz something.”

“Sir, Dr. Yehoshua Berlitzheimer already has many patients and besides, there is a limit to my patience. Get out! If you do not leave, I will be forced to call the police.”

Shaul withdraws from the aggressive secretary. The word “police” hit him hard, but he managed to regain his composure.

“We will just have to wait and see who will be going to the police. I will be leaving now, but you can tell this Dr. Berlitzstein that I am onto him. Nothing can help him now. I will not let him get away with this.”

Shaul turns vigorously toward the door and leaves the clinic without another word, slamming the door firmly behind him.

Shaul makes his way home. He doesn’t need to hear news reports and bulletins on the radio to learn about security tensions in Tel Aviv. The number of cars on the road has decreased, and the streets are no longer bustling as they used to be before the intifada. And there aren’t many pedestrians around either. A strange and foreign quiet has descended upon the city of Tel Aviv. As he walks along the streets toward his house, he is careful to take all the security precautions Mira taught him. He is walking home on foot. He is not allowed to take the bus. And he himself has added a number ofprecautions: He always walks on the edge of the sidewalk that is closest to the road, where it is safer. The farther away he can get from the stores and cafés, the better. The guards at the entrances of businesses are not capable of preventing a suicide attack from taking place.

Shaul spoke about this with his son, Shimshon, who is a general, and explained to him that there is no point to these guards. An older gentleman, a new immigrant whose trembling hands have never handled a gun in his life, sits outside a café. He’s supposed to prevent a suicide attack from occurring? And so Shaul walks on the edge of the sidewalk just next to the road. But, of course, disasters also occur on the street – there are car bombs, exploding buses and suicide shahids. But still he makes his way along the street where there are no buses.

In any case, Shaul’s eyes are watchful for suspicious people: anyone who is wearing a jacket or coat in this sunny weather is in his eyes a terror suspect who is hiding a bomb under his clothing. And if he sees a suspicious person out of the corner of his eye, he immediately moves away from him.

From time to time, Shaul suddenly stops walking, turns quickly around and retraces his steps, while his eyes examine the man or woman whose dress indicates a lurking danger. Recently, it was reported that Muslim women also carry out suicide bombings. Granted, “no amount of caution can prevent deaths if that is our fate,” his friend, Yanush, who was his schoolmate back in Warsaw, told him many years ago. However, he added that “it doesn’t free you from the obligation to take precautions.” Yanush remained in Poland, and since those days when they used to go ice skating together on the frozen Lazhnikovski Lake, he hasn’t heard one word from him. Shaul, to this day, still follows Yanush’s advice and is always ready for the sudden blast of a bomb, so he takes the necessary precautions and keeps his distance from people wearing coats.

While he is walking on the edge of the sidewalk on Frishman Street – which has no buses – he suddenly notices a suspicious man wearing a dark coat walking down the street and peeking into cafes and shop windows. A warning light immediately goes off in his head. Such a heavy coat in Tel Aviv summer weather? So Shaul decides to follow the man from afar and notices that his gait is indeed uncertain, and that he occasionally stops and checks where he’s going. Suddenly, the suspicious man sits down on a bench. Shaul deliberates whether he should yell out, ‘Terrorist! Terrorist!’ or continue tailing him. He decides to wait and watch if the man sticks his hand inside his coat, in which case he will call out to people walking by. But if he doesn’t, then Shaul will continue following him until he uncovers the mystery.

From afar, Shaul steals a glance at the man. He has a beard and a strange walk.

Shaul’s suspicion increases. The man is looking at passing cars in a very fishy manner. Why has he sat down on the bench if not to say a last prayer to Allah before blowing himself up, taking down all of the people around him? Suddenly, the suspicious man gets up and begins walking briskly. Shaul stumbles after him, huffing and puffing, trying to keep a safe distance from him. When the man stops, Shaul also stops, while keeping his eye on the coat that stands out in contrast with the summery clothing of passersby.

When the man turns onto Dizengoff Street, weaving through the cars to get to the other side of the street and entering a corner bookstore with unexpected determination, Shaul is horrified. His heart begins beating frantically while he waits to hear the expected boom. But there is no noise. Just silence. People continue to enter and leave the store, oblivious to the imminent danger.

The time for action has arrived. Shaul runs into the store and sees the man in the coat standing in line for the cashier.

Quietly but decisively, the man takes his hand out of his coat pocket and puts it inside the inside pocket of his coat – this is an omen of death. At this point, Shaul has completely lost control over his actions.

An inner force compels him to jump on the man in the coat and scream loudly, “Terrorist!’” Shaul wrestles with the man and they fall together to the floor. “Get out of here, you dirty dog!” Shaul yells in Arabic. Shoppers and workers alike run out of the store, fleeing in fright. On the sidewalk outside, they shout, “There’s a terrorist inside! A suicide bomber! Call the police – no, the army, the bomb squad. Run! Get away! There’s going to be an attack – inside the store!” Inside the store, the man in the coat manages to overcome Shaul and screams at him in Yiddish, “What do you want? Are you crazy? Why did you jump on me like that? Are you an Arab?” Shaul, who is still sprawled out on the floor, wonders, “How do you know mamaloshen [Yiddish]? Are you really not an Arab?” The man in the coat stands up tall and brushes off his clothing. “An Arab? What are you talking about? Good Lord! That’s all I need. The streets are full of people and this crazy guy had to pick me.”

Shaul turns toward the cashier, who didn’t have the time to run out of the store, and asks, “So why are you wearing a coat in such warm weather?” The man in the coat starts getting very angry. “What do you want from me? I was on my way to daven [pray] minha-ma’ariv in the synagogue and I just popped into the store to buy an evening newspaper. Leave me alone or I’m going to call the police – who would surely throw you in the loony bin.”

Shaul leaves the store, where people point at him and grumble, “He’s just another crazy guy. People like him should be kept locked up inside hospitals.” He considers explaining why he was mistaken – if in fact he was – but decides not to. He begins walking away, hunched over, keeping his focus on the sidewalk. It’s a good thing his wife has not seen him embarrass himself so badly. She would have turned toward the shoppers and the man in the coat and said, “I would like to express my sincere apology to all of you. Please forgive my husband – he has not been well lately...”

But the suspicion does not leave him.

Maybe these days suicide bombers learn Yiddish? Why not? Haven’t they worn kippot before? Didn’t they teach them how to grow out their sidelocks? So why wouldn’t they also teach them to speak Yiddish? Why wouldn’t they also tell them to say that they were on their way to daven minha and ma’ariv? Maybe the man in the coat really did intend to blow himself up inside the store and Shaul actually saved the shoppers from certain death? IN THE meantime, Mira has been waiting for him at home on Four Nations Street, with a cold cup of tea in her hands. She is filled with a mix of concern and anger. When Shaul walks in, she says forcefully, “Where did you disappear to, Shaul? I started to worry. I was afraid that you had gotten lost. I was just about to call the police.”

“I never get lost. Ever. There’s no reason for you to worry about me. I went to the doctor and just stayed a few minutes afterwards to chat for a few minutes.”

Adopting her compassionate, nurse-like voice, Mira asks, “Which doctor did you go see?” “Which doctor? What sort of question is that? I went to Gidi, of course.”

“Pinford?” “Yes. That’s who I went to see. And he’s fine. You know how he is, of course. He is an honest and open man. He told me straight away, ‘Shaul, at your age we cannot expect miracles. You have high blood pressure and you don’t sleep well. Nu, so you have nightmares – who doesn’t? Your memory isn’t what it used to be? That happens to everyone over 60. And one more thing – he said to me – you have not been eating properly and you are overweight. You have to pull yourself together. You have an iron will and if you decide to take this on as a project, you will succeed in getting yourself healthy again. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t live to be very old.’” Mira’s tone becomes questioning and she asks, “That’s what he said to you? Are you sure?” “Of course I’m sure. 100%. He’s not worried about me. At all.”

Mira sighs deeply. The two of them sit silently, until Mira part whispers and part roars in a tone used by people who know they have completed their mission. “Stella called me 30 minutes ago. Gideon’s, may his memory be blessed, secretary told Stella all about the scene you made at the clinic. I think I’m going to die from embarrassment.

How dare you go there without me?” Shaul, outraged, says, “That secretary is conspiring with some other swindler of a doctor to take patients away from Gideon.”

Mira, with a raised voice, says, “But Gideon is dead. Dead! Don’t you remember? Dead. He was killed. He was murdered in a suicide attack at the Ginat Ha’ir Café. How could you forget that? Granted, you didn’t attend the funeral. You lay in bed with a terrible migraine. We thought you might b e having a heart attack. And all the papers wrote about the attack.

Haaretz even printed an obituary. Do you really not remember reading about Gideon being killed in the terrorist attack?” “And I’m telling you that I read all of the newspapers. All of them! And I am telling you that I saw no obituary.”

“So you think I’m lying? Look me in the eye. Am I lying? I went to Gideon’s funeral.

You stayed at home. You said you had a terrible migraine. Stella even reprimanded me for not dragging you and your headache to the funeral. ‘Migraine, shmigraine!’ she scolded me. That I should have brought you. Even by force. That’s what she told me, Shaul. In those words. But you stayed home, sick in bed. Gideon is buried there in the Yarkon Cemetery. Gideon is dead, Shaul. Completely dead. How could you say that you spoke with him one week after he was buried in the ground? Shaul, I’m really worried about you! Really! “Mirush, my love. You don’t understand.

Life is so strange and full of paradoxes. All sorts of interesting things happen in life.”

“Shaul, what on earth are you talking about? You really are in a bad state.

Extremely bad. We need to go have you looked at again. Talk to your son and you will hear from him how serious your condition is.”

Shaul responds with a weary voice, “And I tell you once again, there was nothing in the paper about it. Of that I am quite sure.”

“I just don’t know what to do with you anymore. If I bring Stella here and she tells you herself, would you believe then that Gideon is dead? If she can convince you that he was killed in a terrorist attack, will you agree then to go be tested?” “Stella believes that Gideon is dead? That’s hard for me to believe.”

“Stella? Yes, Stella does believe it. Stella sat shiva for him. All of their friends were there except for you. And she again expressed her anger that you had a migraine for an entire week. Who’s ever heard of such a thing? ‘And that’s the reason he didn’t attend the funeral and shiva of his best friend?’ Every person you know – in fact the entire world – knows that Gideon was killed in a terrorist attack, that Gideon is absolutely dead. And why don’t you know this? Because you are sick and you won’t do anything about it. You always were and still remain the most stubborn person I’ve ever met. But I cannot continue like this. I just can’t go on anymore.”

“Mirush, I swear to you – I saw him like I’m seeing you right now. He looked absolutely fine. It’s just a shame that he wouldn’t stop smoking. A doctor who smokes – unbelievable! I told him, ‘Gidi, if you don’t stop smoking, something’s going to happen to you.’ And there was nothing at all in the papers about it. Of that I am sure.”

“Shaul, do me a favor, take the telephone. Call Stella. Ask her if Gideon is really dead.”

“Stella? I should believe Stella when I saw Gideon with my own two eyes? He is the one who asked me to come to meet with him today at 3! That’s the only part that makes sense.”

“Shaul, if you continue on like this, I’m the one who’s going to have dementia.”

“And besides, I’m not even sure that Stella’s not part of this conspiracy. They are all jealous of Gidi. They want to steal away all of his patients and send them to that other crook of a doctor.”

“Shaul, listen well to what I’m about to tell you: you are crazy, you are completely and utterly bonkers. I cannot stand your dementia anymore. You need to go to the hospital. I’m giving you one last chance.

Stella will bring the newspaper clippings about the terrorist attack and the obituary that was printed in Haaretz about your oldest and dearest friend, Dr. Gideon Pinford, who was killed by a suicide bomber.” ■

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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