ruthie blum 88.
(photo credit: )
Mali puts one foot into the bath, so boiling that it feels cold at first. She grabs hold of the shower curtain to keep her balance, while hoisting her other leg over the edge of the tub.
She yelps slightly, then flinches, but remains standing in the bubble-filled cauldron, welcoming the pain.
Three thick candles - the ones he gave her - flicker on the ledge where she normally keeps the shampoo. The eerie patterns they form on the walls of the bathroom are the only light now visible in her small apartment.
Slowly, Mali eases the rest of her body into the water. She closes her eyes, to get the full effect of the darkness and the heat. She reaches for the glass of wine she had prepared while setting the scene. Then she extends her other arm, searching with her fingers for switch of the CD player on the floor.
The disk she had burned - a "medley of misery" downloaded during a previous bout of depression (carefully selected songs from sad times past) - is the perfect catalyst for the serious crying she intends to indulge in this evening.
The tears begin to flow freely, adding salt to the soap and steam in which she is submerged.
Mali imagines Avi witnessing the drama for which he is responsible. She envisions him standing there - invisible - like a love-struck Peeping Tom, staring at her body, illuminated by the candles he had bought her for her 34th birthday, exactly a year ago. The day he had declared his intention to leave his wife.
Since then, the details of that day, and that promise, have been her trusty companion, helping her get through the nights, the weekends and the holidays. The times when Avi is unavailable, even by phone. The times - Mali now thinks bitterly - when Avi is off leading his real life.
The music and alcohol now taking full effect, Mali again replays in her mind the day she'd actually believed her own real life was about to change. The day she'd finally felt vindicated for having hung on to her hope of having Avi as her husband. Hope she'd spent the better part of her child-bearing years harboring. Hope all her friends had warned would be dashed.
Why hadn't she listened to them? Why had she repeatedly run back to Avi every time she'd finally mustered the will to look elsewhere?
"It's his fault," Mali wails out loud, remembering the events surrounding that birthday.
She'd been invited on a date, and decided accepting would be the perfect way to turn over a new leaf. She'd cancelled her regular rendezvous with Avi, which coincided with his coming to Jerusalem to teach a weekly class at the Hebrew University.
But Avi had protested - by providing her with a morsel so delicious she couldn't resist it: His wife would be in Brussels, which meant that he would not only be able to spend her birthday with her, but would be able to spend the night.
That had clinched it. Mali cancelled her date, of course, and focused all her energy on fantasizing about having an entire night with Avi. Hours upon hours. They'd be able to have a conversation. Watch the news. Share a meal, maybe even two, if breakfast counts.
And Avi had arrived, bearing gifts, among them the candles - individually wrapped - each with a miniature card on which was written a word. Together, they spelled "I love you."
"Before these candles burn down," Avi had said, "you and I will be together."
This wasn't the first time Avi had alluded to a joint future. It was, however, the first time he'd ever come out and stated in no uncertain terms that he was going to get a divorce. "When she comes back from her trip, I'm telling her."
Mali had never been so elated. Now she could get on with it. Give birth. Exchange stories of teething and terrible twos with her friends, all of whom had a good head start on her.
Not that she was so anxious to be like the rest of them. Fettered; fighting with their waistlines; fretting over finding a nanny; feeling sorry for themselves over lack of sleep.
Still, she did want to have a baby. She couldn't pinpoint why. Something about being needed. Loved. Looked up to by a creature who came out of your own body. Someone cuddly. Like her cat.
THE SOUND of the telephone jolts Mali out of her reverie. She knows it couldn't be Avi; he only calls her on her cell. Something he hasn't done in two weeks. Not since running into her at that awful party in Tel Aviv. The one at which he coldly - formally - introduced her to his wife: A "glowing" woman, in a clear, proud state of pregnancy.
"Who needs men, anyway?" Mali sobs, lifting her glass as though she were giving a toast. "I'll go to a sperm bank."
That's right - she decides with vengeful determination - "I don't have to sit around waiting for some male to take responsibility for my biological clock."
Euphoria replacing existential angst, Mali gets up and towels herself off. She flicks off the music and turns on the light. She makes a mental note to schedule an appointment with her gynecologist in the morning to ask about procedures for single motherhood.
Again she hears ringing, this time the jingle of her mobile. Frantically, she rushes to her bedroom to find and answer it.
The sight of Avi's name on the screen fills her with a combination of relief and dread. He still cares. Or could he be calling to explain his marital reconciliation?
"What do you want?" she asks, as haughtily as possible.
"To wish you a happy birthday," he says sweetly.
"I can't talk now," she says, desperate to gain the upper hand. "I'm out with somebody."
"I'm coming over," he says.
"Why bother?" she asks, her heart in her throat. "Your family is about to expand."
"That's only a temporary glitch," he assures.
"Yeah, right," she says, sarcastically, already contemplating her outfit - and thanking God there's still a chance.