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"What time is it?" Sari asks, her neck and back aching from the strain of her position.
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," answers Itai, jumping up from behind the Steinway and throwing a paper airplane at his sister, who has been hammering out the first bars of "Minuet in G" over and over for the past half-an-hour.
"Quit it!" Sari stomps her foot on the pedal, causing the slightly sour notes to reverberate with intensity. "I'm trying to practice."
"And I'm trying to watch a movie," he yells, to drown out her playing.
"Bach is more important than Tom Cruise," she says haughtily, wishing she could at least mean it momentarily, if not believe it deep-down. Defeated though relieved, she shuts the lid over the keys and rises from the bench.
"Not today he isn't," Itai asserts, plopping down on the couch and reaching for the remote control.
"You've seen that DVD millions of times," Sari protests half-heartedly, knowing that it is pointless to argue. Itai always watches Top Gun before a swim-meet. He says it brings him good luck. "Like a televised rabbit's foot."
But the real reason for her forfeiting the fight has nothing to do with her brother. Not directly, anyway. What is actually at the root of her concession is that she's been contemplating giving up piano lessons altogether. Like a string of other past pursuits, this one hasn't been panning out as well as she'd hoped. As had turned out to be the case with ballet dancing, sculpture and coin collecting, music doesn't appear to be the arena in which Sari will make her mark. Nor prove herself worthy of her environment - either of the peer-group or the parental variety. Indeed, so far, her only claim to family fame has been her inability to take an interest in something - anything - and stick to it.
What sticks to her, as a result, is the nickname "Start-Up" so cherished by its instigator, her high-tech executive father. Whom she worships. And can't stand. Not unlike the way she feels about Itai. A person everyone else looks up to, but someone she has to live up to. In school and at home.
That she is clueless about how to achieve this has been the source of her insomnia for the better part of a year.
"Hey, Start-Up," Itai pauses his mouthing of the film's dialogue to use his sister as a waitress. "While you're over there, bring me a Coke."
Huffing as though extremely put out, Sari is glad to have a legitimate excuse to be in the kitchen undisturbed. During the daytime, no less. She takes a glass from the cupboard "imported from Italy," as her mother loves to reiterate whenever a new visitor to their Herzliya home steps in for a peek at the competition.
She presses the cup against the automatic ice-maker on the left door of the massive, stainless-steel refrigerator, while removing a bottle of cola from the door on the right. She completes the task of pouring her brother a drink on the butcher-block island in the center of the room. In the process, she nearly bangs into a hanging salami - one of many items suspended from an antique ship's wheel rigged to the ceiling.
"Damn," she mumbles, glancing at the array of copper pots and other paraphernalia dangling overhead - her mother's Better Homes & Gardens tribute to the esthetics, rather than the endeavor, of meal preparation.
"It's no wonder," her father often comments on his wife's negative attitude toward cooking. "Treating patients with eating disorders all day long is bound to have that effect."
"I COULD tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," Tom Cruise's voice wafts through the air like a loud echo.
Sari half-sighs and half-yawns, sleep deprivation by now a shadow that accompanies her everywhere. As are the rituals she has developed in response. One of these is a tic-like shaking of her head at regular intervals, to "wake up."
The other she keeps a secret.
"Hey, Start-Up," Itai calls out. "How about some munchies with that Coke?"
Sari slinks over to the cabinet she has come to love and loathe with equal passion. She slides open the large bottom drawer with utmost care, to prevent even the slightest squeaking, and takes out a bag of potato chips. Only her brother's impatience keeps her from remaining glued to the spot.
"Here's the poison you requested," she says to Itai, placing his order on the coffee table in front of him. "It's so disgusting. I don't understand how you could put that junk in your system."
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," he answers, thumbing his nose at her before taking a gulp. Normally, Sari would shoot back with some kind of reply. At the moment, however, all her focus is on The Drawer.
Doing as casual an about-face as she can muster under the circumstances, she scampers to the hallway to fetch her knapsack, laden with books and heavy with yet-to-be-completed homework assignments. This she slings over one shoulder and reenters the area she has come to think of as her repository.
Hurriedly, she unzips the backpack and begins filling it with the contents of The Drawer. Like a bank-robber at a safe-deposit box, she stealthily scoops packages of marshmallows, pretzels, chocolate and licorice into the bag. Making sure to leave enough behind so as not to arouse curiosity - let alone suspicion - Sari shuts the drawer and takes her hoard upstairs to her bedroom closet.
When Itai leaves for the pool, she will get an early start on the ritual she usually reserves for the middle of the night - the binging-and-purging cycle without which she cannot make it through a single day. The only activity she adheres to religiously, she thinks sadly, is the one she cannot tell anybody about.
"What're you doing up there?" Itai shouts from the foot of the steps. Finally finished with his own pre-swim-meet ritual, he is seeking his sister's company.
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," she says, wishing she didn't mean it.