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That his car won't start is only the perfect culmination of one of the worst weeks of Dani's life.
It began when Ayelet sprained her ankle. Not exactly a major catastrophe. Not even enough of a mishap to show up on an X-ray. And thank God, she'd said - in that characteristically optimistic way of hers - that it happened. Because if she hadn't broken her fall while lugging the stroller down the steps, the baby most surely would have gotten injured.
"No cause for alarm," Ayelet had comforted her mother via cell phone from the emergency room of Sha'arei Zedek hospital. Or so his mother-in-law had reported when she called to find out how Dani was managing with the kids in the hours-long absence of his wife. This had been Grandma's customary way of "helping out": expressing high-pitched anxiety from afar. This - as she liked to remind Dani at every opportunity - was the unfortunate result of his having "upped and moved" to Jerusalem, a two-hour drive away, without taking his family's needs into consideration.
Dani knew it was no use belaboring the point that taking a job that enabled him to pay the bills did constitute taking his family's needs into consideration. Logic, he came to realize, was not really his mother-in-law's strong suit. Nor, for that matter, was it Ayelet's. Though self-preservation taught him early on in their relationship never to say so in an argument. Not if he wanted to spend the night, that is. Not if he didn't want to waste the whole next day grovelling and apologizing. And gift-shopping.
When they got married, he discovered he would have to hone this particular survival skill with extra care. Especially after their first child was born. It was then that Dani fully grasped the meaning of the complaints on the part of other parents - griping he had taken to be flippant: that children are the best form of birth control. And it was then that he became more than adept at not rocking any unnecessary boats on the home front.
Which is why he didn't dare deliver the forbidden I-told-you-so lecture when Ayelet nearly fell down a flight of stairs with the baby in tow. In spite of the fact that he'd told her many times to leave the carriage in the lobby, and not schlep it up and down, creating one kind of health risk or another.
No, it would not have been prudent at this juncture to remind her of the warnings she never heeded anyway.
Instead, he rushed out of the office, first to collect their eldest from kindergarten, and then their middle child from nursery school - Ayelet's scheduled route prior to the spill that left her temporarily incapacitated. A neighbor had brought a cold compress for her ankle while she sat on the entrance floor with the baby in her lap waiting for Dani to return.
"Just tend to the kids," she'd instructed, both her mischief and her martyrdom intact. "I'll take a taxi to the hospital."
Just tend to the kids. Dani hadn't realized at the time that this sentence would haunt him for the next several days. Days that would come to be endless. Hours upon hours of coddling and cajoling and cooking and changing diapers. And of nurturing. With no respite.
Dani couldn't remember the last time he felt so overwhelmed and exhausted. Except, maybe, when he was in basic training. Stripped of his freedom and robbed of his comforts. Appreciative of things he had so cockily taken for granted until his induction. Like a shower. Or 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
"Don't worry about me," Ayelet had insisted, after being told she had to stay off her feet until the swelling went down, and until it was no longer painful for her to walk. "Just tend to the kids."
Just tend to the kids. There it was again. Dani had thought he'd detected an air of relief in his wife's instructions.
By the end of the week, he'd understood why.
By the end of the week, he'd caught himself daydreaming about being rescued from his plight.
By the end of the week, he'd begun praying for a nice, long stint of reserve duty. The ultimate legitimate excuse to escape from work and family - the two things that make sleeping in a dank tent feel like a vacation.
AND NOW he can't get the engine running. Which means calling a tow-truck. Which means being late to pick up the kids.
"No problem," Ayelet's voice echoes through the car speaker. "I can walk perfectly well now."
"Careful on the steps," he says, instantly wishing he had resisted the temptation.
"Don't start," she threatens in what Dani recognizes as her pre-accident tone. The one that indicates he's in the doghouse.
"All I meant was...," he began a feeble attempt to rectify the situation before nightfall.
"All you meant was that this whole thing was my fault for not listening to you in the first place," she snarls.
"No," Dani denies, though he knows she's right, of course. And he can't think of anything further to say in rebuttal.
"I would have thought you'd learned a little lesson," she says, raising her voice, "about what I go through - how I live."
"I don't know how you do it," he says, happy to latch onto any morsel that might contribute to getting him back into her good graces. But she doesn't soften. Flowers may be his only resort.
"You have a lot of nerve," she says.
"Why?" he asks, exasperated. "What did I do wrong now?"
"You got an envelope from the army," she hisses.
"Oh damn," he curses. "What terrible luck."
"Yeah, right," she sighs sarcastically.
"We'll get your mother to move in while I'm gone," he soothes, glad that she is unable to see the expression on his face.
It's the first time he has smiled in a week.