Yael stirs with the first light through the window. She has been vacillating between awareness and sleep all night, often confusing one for the other. She hoists herself up to look at the clock on the table, otherwise blocked by her husband's broad shoulders. It is 6 a.m., a full half-hour before the alarm is set to ring.
Normally, she would savor the luxury of having 30 extra minutes to doze. Like indulging in an unexpected pleasure. Like splurging on a 50-shekel bill found in the pocket of a jacket not worn since last winter.
But today is different.
This morning, Yael needs to have the house to herself. To be alone before tending to her family. Before rousing the kids. Before making breakfast. Before making sure everyone gets to school on time.
Carefully, she slithers out from under the blanket. Then she quietly lifts her purse off the stool at the foot of the bed and tiptoes with it to the bathroom - flicking the boiler switch on the way.
Here she unzips the purse's "secret" compartment, meant for wallets and keys, in which she keeps the cigarettes her husband and children do not know she smokes. From this compartment, she pulls out a small plastic Superpharm bag.
She removes its contents - a rectangular box - and places it on the counter next to the sink. Jimmying the tightly packed instruction sheet out with her forefinger and thumb, she looks at herself in the mirror and sighs disgustedly at her reflection. The puffiness of her eyes and the lines around her mouth that she could have sworn weren't there yesterday seem to be mocking her with a vengeance. To be emphasizing the ludicrous nature of her current crisis.
She needs her glasses to read the tiny print on the piece of paper she has finally succeeded in unwedging - yet another reminder that she is too old to have gotten herself into this situation.
"For the most accurate results," she lip-reads, "use the first urine of the morning."
How things have changed in the past two decades, she thinks, remembering inconvenient visits to the doctor's office to be given a form enabling her to perform such a task at a Health Fund station - then wait a few days for the results.
She places the device, which looks like a thermometer, on the counter. She steps into the bathtub, draws the curtain, and begins running the shower.
"Please don't let me be pregnant," she prays to the shampoo bottle. Terrified, she purposely prolongs the cleansing process. But she is also conscious of the fact that in a few minutes, her husband will be up making coffee and reading the paper. And that, no matter what, she will have to put on a show of maternal routine for the rest of them.
She shuts the faucet and steps onto the terry-cloth mat next to the tub. Hands shaking, she wraps herself in a towel, grabs the instrument, and holds it up for a verdict. It is negative.
She begins to cry.
"My God, can you believe this?" her husband calls out from the kitchen. "Sharon's actually bolted the Likud!"
Yael slumps slowly to the ground.
"And Hizbullah is attacking the north like there's no tomorrow!" her husband yells, not sure she heard his first news flash.
But she doesn't answer. Instead, she continues weeping hysterically, muffling the sound of her sobs in her towel.
"Yael?" her husband taps on the door. "It's getting late. Is everything all right?"
"No," she sniffles.
"What's the matter?" he gasps, entering and finding his wife curled up in fetal position on the floor.
"It's negative," she wails.
"What's negative?" he asks, bending down to comfort her.
"I'm not pregnant," she says, allowing him to help her to her feet.
"But that's good, right?" he is completely confused.
"I suppose," she nods.
"I mean, you - we - didn't want to have another baby at this stage," he stutters. "Right?"
Yael yanks a wad of tissues from the dispenser and blows her nose. Then she looks at her husband with a mixture of pity and disbelief.
"Men don't understand anything," she thinks.
"CAN I get in here?" their 18-year-old yawns, nudging them out of his way.
to get up," Yael tickles their 16-year-old's scalp. Her daughter groans, then does a double-take.
"Were you crying?" she asks suspiciously.
"No, no, I was just chopping onions," Yael blinks.
"Hey," their 15-year-old protests. "If you put onions in my omelette, there's no way I'm eating it."
"Oof," their 12-year-old's voice cracks. "I hate omelettes."
"You hate everything," their 10-year-old whines. "How come the rest of us have to suffer because of that?"
"How come the rest of us have to suffer because of your big mouth?" their 12-year-old raises his fist.
"Oh, shut up, both of you," their 15-year-old reprimands.
"Or else what?" their 10-year-old puts her hands on her hips.
"Or else you're gonna get punished," their 15-year-old threatens.
"Who died and appointed you boss of the universe?" their 16-year-old chides, furiously brushing her hair.
"I can't wait to get back to my base," their 18-year-old says to no one in particular, yet aiming his wrath at Yael. She is, after all, the only one who would take such a statement to heart.
"Would you all hurry up and eat your breakfast?" Yael looks at her watch impatiently.
"Would you all pipe down and let me finish listening to the news before we go?" her husband beseeches irritably.
"Oh, the news," his 16-year-old snaps her fingers. "What's the weather report?"
"Wear a jacket," Yael answers.
"You always say that," a chorus of voices ensues, not exactly in unison, but in perfect agreement about being put upon.
"And I'm always right," Yael says, shooing them out in a flurry of backpacks, lunch bags and an M-16 rifle - and blowing kisses as they exit.
Inhaling the sudden silence, Yael decides that the only thing she really needs today to make it perfect is a nap.