Flipside: Between the sheets

October 26, 2006 13:43
4 minute read.


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For lack of anything resembling a proper piece of paper, Ella rips a handful from her son's history notebook. She does this from the back of the binder, to avoid inadvertently removing any used pages. She then carefully tears off the extra strip along the perforated line of the left margin. This act evokes a mental memo to buy stationery on her next round of errand-running. But she knows she won't really get around to doing it. The letter she is about to write is the first in so many years that she doesn't even know how much a stamp costs. Nor, she realizes, does she remember how to put anything in handwriting other than a grocery list, or a note to her son's teacher. What if she misspells a word? - she wonders anxiously. Or worse, what if she needs to retract a phrase she regrets using? Where is the "delete" button when she needs it? Her chicken scrawl is bad enough, she thinks. If it were to be full of marks and crossings-out, it would not only be impossible for Elad to read, but it would reveal Ella's ambivalence. There is no choice, she decides, but to begin with a rough draft and copy it over neatly when she is satisfied with the content and tone of the message she feels she needs to convey. Isn't this what she constantly harps on her son to do with his homework assignments, after all? She reconsiders, for the millionth time, skipping this torture and simply sending Elad an e-mail. But there is nothing simple about what she has to say. Nor does she consider it appropriate to jot such a jolt onto her keyboard. Words have never come easily to her. These particular ones - which have been sticking stubbornly to her soul and begging to stay put - would seem sullied somehow if typed. BEFORE CONFRONTING the anxiety-producing task at hand, she makes herself a large mug of mint tea. This she does slowly, rinsing individually each leaf of the stalk she has plucked from the potted plant on the window ledge above the sink. Whether she is aware that this is her way of postponing the chore she has been putting off for the weeks following the funeral is not clear. Given her usually high level of self-awareness, though, it is safe to assume she has a pretty good idea. Where she is at a genuine loss, however, is at self-expression. Which is why procrastinating feels preferable to picking up a pen. After stirring many more times than a single teaspoon of sugar would normally warrant, Ella places the cup next to the thin stack of paper lying on the counter that serves as a divider between the kitchen and dining area. Hoisting herself onto a stool, she stares at the lined sheets - as blank, at this moment, as her mind. "Dear Elad," she scribbles, then sighs. It's a start, at any rate. "A first step into the abyss," she says, trying to steady her shaky hand. "You don't know me," she continues, this time making an effort to print neatly. But when she reads it over, she crumples up the page and flings it aside. "That's no good," she says. "He does know me." Well, he knows of her, at any rate, she frets, ready to renege on her promise to her father before he died that she would get in touch with Elad after her mother passed away. As if mourning the loss of both parents in the space of a year weren't painful enough, now she has this to contend with. Trying to regain composure, Ella takes a few small sips of tea, before beginning again. "Dear Elad," she writes. "I am contacting you under instructions from my late father." Here she stops, crosses out the word "my," and replaces it with "our." "Oh, for heaven's sake," she groans. "This sounds like a lawyer's letter." She tosses this draft in the direction of the first. "Dear Elad," she resumes, with a contradictory sense of determination and despair. "You have known about me your whole life. I, on the other hand, only learned of your existence last year. It was a shock for me - an only child who grew up in Ra'anana - to discover that for most of my life I had a brother living in Kfar Saba... practically next door! If you would like to meet, I would, too. Other than my husband and son, you seem to be the only family I have left. "If you'd rather not, I'll understand. Ella. "ps. I know about the money you and your mother have been receiving all these years, and about the secret trust set up for your inheritance, so if you're worried that I'm going to contest it, don't be." As an afterthought, Ella adds her phone number, then folds the finished product and slides it between the pages of the pocket diary in her purse. Now she must go to the mall to purchase an envelope. She looks at her watch and sprints to her car, hoping to make it to the post office before it closes. But luck is not on her side, and she is disappointed at having to wait to mail the missive that has been weighing on her for so long. Suddenly, she steps on the gas and heads for the Kfar Saba intersection. She will deliver the letter directly to Elad's mailbox, she decides, shuddering at how short a distance his house is from hers, "WHAT'RE YOU doing here?" Ella's son asks, surprised to see his mother waiting for him outside the school building. Ella signals that she is talking on her cell. When she ends the conversation, she looks up. "I'm taking you to meet your uncle and cousins," she says, starting the engine. "Who?" he asks, making a face. "It's a long story," she says, pulling away from the curb. "Pages of our history." ruthie@jpost.com

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