ruthie blum 88.
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Dani drops his half-finished cigarette onto the pavement and grinds the butt into a pulp with the toe of his shoe. He appears purposeful, as though all of his mental and physical energy were invested in this single methodical act. But he is no more conscious of what he is doing than he is of the eyes watching him from across the street.
His mind is elsewhere, shifting from one awful scenario to another.
"Catch 22 is nothing compared to my situation," he repeatedly complains to Avi, the only person in whom he has dared confide over the course of the year - months upon months of professing to be contemplating suicide, homicide or emigration. Mainly, he's spent this "fall-from-grace" period praying to the God he's always scorned, due to a sort of smug secularism that prompts him to barbecue pork chops on the balcony of his Tel Aviv apartment on Yom Kippur. That his davening involves bastardizing psalms he can't remember for lack of practice only enhances his self-pity, since, at this point in his predicament, divine intervention would seem to be his only hope. Unless the hi-tech company he works for comes up with a computer chip capable of turning back the clock to the day before the incident, that is.
"It would have happened sooner or later," Avi gently tries to remind him. "What with the way things are today."
Dani interprets this statement as an assertion of male solidarity. The implication is that women have gone overboard with all this sexual harassment hysteria. But Avi really means to imply that Dani was bound eventually to get in trouble for his blatantly indiscriminate behavior around most members of the female persuasion - especially at a time when men are legal and social targets for far less.
But self-awareness has always taken a back seat to self-satisfaction in Dani's life, a fact that makes him both magnetic to the ladies and repugnant to them, depending on whether he sends flowers after a romantic interlude or disappears without so much as a post-one-night-stand phone-call.
It never occurred to him to ask himself whether his wife actually buys his arsenal of alibis. Or whether she has chosen to look the other way, so as not to make waves that might drown her. Nor did it ever cross his mind to consider the consequences in the event of her confronting him with evidence. Skirt-chasing has never been conducive to complex thought processes, after all.
It is thus that when Dani was summoned for a "clarification" that fateful morning, he sailed into the office of his CEO with the confidence of someone whose biggest care in the world was whether his tie was the right color.
"We're going to have to suspend you," is all he can recall from that meeting, understanding from the gravity of its tone that his days on this particular payroll were numbered.
"She wanted it, too," he had thought to respond only on the elevator-ride down and out of the life he had been leading so complacently.
Not that such a counter-argument would carry weight with his wife. It's one thing to proclaim innocence in the boardroom or the courtroom when charged with unwelcome advances toward a subordinate. Quite another to "tell it to the judge" who does your laundry and drives your kids to school. The one-woman jury whose verdict rests more on your intentions and desires than on the facts of the case.
Indeed, this was one case Dani didn't know how to contend with. Coming up with an excuse for staying out late at night was nothing compared to explaining his sudden arrival at home in the middle of the afternoon. Even if he could manage to conceal his newfound unemployment for a while, how was he going to hide his search for another job?
"Downsizing," Avi had suggested. "Tell her the company's in financial straits."
"Brilliant," Dani had said, grateful for his friend's clearheadedness.
"Don't you worry, honey," his wife had comforted. "We'll get by perfectly well on my salary and our savings, and you'll be employed in a flash, given your record."
AND SHE had been right. A mere few weeks later, Dani was back in the proverbial saddle. Or at least mounting the horse. He'd been given a handshake on a position at an even more respectable firm from the one he'd left. He was even going to earn more money.
"We're sorry to inform you," he can still hear his prospective boss utter the words that made his blood pressure soar, "that a young woman has come forward threatening to sue us if we hire you."
"What young woman?" had been all Dani could muster at the moment.
"The one who agreed to forfeit a lawsuit against your previous employer when you were fired," the manager had answered.
"This is character defamation," Dani had protested indignantly.
"Maybe," the manager had said, shrugging not unsympathetically. "But she claims to have a compromising videotape."
"She's lying," Dani had said.
"Are you willing to call her bluff?" the manager had offered. "Because if you are, I might be able to persuade the board to presume you innocent and take a risk."
Dani had wanted to jump at the chance and sign the
contract right there and then. But all he could do was say that he'd sleep on it. What he hadn't said - but knew all too well - was that he'd be sleeping on it next to his wife, who was waiting excitedly for his call to tell her how his meeting had gone.
"Please, God, make this go away," he had whispered on his exit, the first prayer of many to follow.
DANI STOPS stubbing out his pulverized cigarette and turns around, deliberating literally and figuratively on his direction. At that moment, the light changes, and he walks across the street.
"Now you know what it feels like to be harassed," hisses a voice from his past - one that has been haunting his present and blocking his future.
"You're a sick human being," he spits out with disgust and rage, when she holds up a clear plastic bag containing a video cassette.
"So's your wife for staying with you," she says, sashaying off into a throng of passersby.