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Hila opens her wallet and slides a business card out of its slot. She does this carefully, so as not to damage her manicure. This is more out of habit than necessity, she realizes, given the task at hand. And considering the heavy heart which is weighing down her resolve to perform it.
She stops to lean against the stone fence leading from the apartment complex to the parking lot. In the palm of one hand she cups the card - embossed with a single, long-stemmed red rose against a white satin background - while flipping open her cell phone with the other. When she is done dialing, she does not press "send," however. Instead, she snaps the phone shut and slips the card into the front pocket of her jeans.
She will make the call later, she decides. When she's back home, in the privacy of her living room, where she can collect herself. What's the hurry, anyway?
The thought of those words gives her what would be a chill, if it weren't a million degrees in the shade right now.
"What's the hurry?" her parents and friends had asked suspiciously, upon receiving the tidings that should have made them all jump for joy as far as Hila was concerned. Hadn't they all been worried that she was going to die an old maid, too fussy to settle for anyone who actually belongs to the human race? Hadn't they all been pushing her to get out there and lower her standards?
Had she been pregnant, at least, they all would have understood her motives. They might even have been able to be happy for her. But she wasn't; and they weren't.
The greater the opposition to her getting married to someone she'd just met, the more determined she'd been to go through with it. She'd show them all that her instincts were superior to theirs. She'd prove that love at first sight was no less reliable than the "ships" she was told were the only things that counted: courtship, companionship, friendship, partnership, kinship.
And she'd not only organize the gala event in record time, she'd do it with panache: in a fabulous location appropriate for the drop-dead gorgeous dress she'd be wearing.
THOUGH THE outbreak of the war in Lebanon had put a damper on everyone's mood for celebration, it had added impetus to Hila's personal imperative, as well as giving her a greater selection of available banquet halls. More importantly, it had provided her with a persuasive argument in favor of the self-imposed shotgun nuptials she didn't dare put on hold.
"Couples in bomb shelters in Kiryat Shmona aren't even cancelling their weddings," Hila had pointed out to her parents when they beseeched her to postpone her plans. "Especially not now."
"That's hardly comparable to your situation," her mother had mumbled, trying desperately to fathom the root of her normally level-headed daughter's temporary insanity. "Those are people making a statement about combatting death and destruction by getting on with their lives. You seem to be doing just the opposite."
"Waiting a little longer never killed anybody," Hila's father had interjected, before returning his concentrated gaze to the TV news.
"On the contrary" Hila had been perversely thrilled to be presented with a plum so ripe for the picking. "Waiting a little longer is precisely what's been killing everybody."
HILA FLINGS the phone into her large leather tote bag and begins fumbling for her car keys. This, too, she does with a kind of forced delicacy, as though chipped nail polish were tantamount to the traumatic scene from which she has just absconded. Or the one she is about to have to contend with.
Entering her shiny new Honda - purchased as a kind of consolation prize for her 30-something self-pity, mere days before meeting Yossi at a singles' jeep excursion in the Negev - she puts the purse on the seat beside her and inserts the key in the ignition. The radio, which she had forgotten to turn off when she parked the car, suddenly blasts out the names of the soldiers killed the day before, and the cemeteries in which they will be buried later on today.
That the onslaught of hysterical tears takes her by surprise is as mysterious as the country's having been taken by surprise by the kidnappings and katyushas that precipitated the war. What, she wonders, did she expect to feel? Did she imagine she'd be unmoved by the mourning of her pregnant colleague whose husband had been killed less than 24 hours after packing his kit bag and heading up north?
She'd been so busy envying women like that - who somehow happened upon their soul-mates in high school - that she'd never considered the downside. Or, perhaps, considering the downside was exactly what she'd been doing her whole life.
Was the prospect of being abandoned (in one way or another) so terrifying that she preferred to stick to the safety of the unsuitables?
HILA TAKES a tissue from the glove compartment. She dries her eyes and blows her nose, then forages furiously through her bag to find her phone. She reaches into her pocket to retrieve the business card, and dials the number of the "Happily Ever After Boutique."
"Hold off on the alterations," she tells the proprietor. "But hold onto the gown."
"Oh..." the shop owner tries feebly to veil irritation at a sale gone awry. "Is there some problem?"
Her mind having strayed to the repercussions of her recent behavior in the form of sighs of relief on the part of her parents on the one hand, and of tears of grief from Yossi on the other, Hila does not respond.
"Ma'am?" the person at the other end of the receiver repeats. "I asked if there's some problem."
"Yes," Hila says, snapping out of her reverie. "The groom."