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Giora pops the top off a bottle of Goldstar with the palm of his hand, using the ledge as a lever. He's been doing that a lot lately. Finding excuses to stand at the window.
He appears deep in contemplation. Which he is, in fact. Though he is not thinking, as he is sure his wife believes, about the fate of the tree he has been fighting to save for the past two years.
That battle was finally lost this week. Due to root-rot, the huge oak that has mercifully blocked the eyesore that is the opposite tenement - separated from his own by a patch of unkempt grass and a dilapidated swing-set - is slated for the municipal chopping block. The voluptuous mass of green which has allowed Giora the illusion of country living in a spacious house in the Galilee - over the reality of his cramped existence in a low-scale Jerusalem apartment - is going to be cut down. And there's nothing he can do about it.
Not that he wants to anymore. But his wife doesn't know that. Which is lucky for him, since she can still attribute her husband's window-gazing to distress of an environmental nature. As far as she's concerned, Giora is devastated by the defeat. As far as she's concerned, Giora will insist on moving - since he has claimed all along that the oak is the only redeeming quality of their residence.
What she doesn't know can't hurt her, Giora thinks. Though what he really means is what she doesn't know can't hurt him. Whether he is aware that this is precisely the sort of intellectual exercise for which he would have had so much disdain a mere few weeks ago is not clear. What he is keenly aware of, however, is that his heart is racing.
The prospect of having his line of vision unfettered fills him with a weird thrill. A kind of adrenaline high. The kind he gets - or, rather, used to get - when in the throes of political intrigue.
The kind he experienced every time he was successful at obtaining a court injunction to prevent the building committee from having the tree demolished.
The kind that nearly knocked the wind out of him when he first met Ronit. That was on one of the days he paid a visit to the "yard" to see up close what the neighbors were carrying on about regarding the tree. And why they were so hell-bent on getting rid of it.
As he turned the corner, there she was. Pushing a toddler in the swing. She was wearing short, cut-off jeans and a skimpy white tee-shirt. A thick, black braid bounced against her back as her body swayed with the motion of the swing.
Giora couldn't see her face, but he was jolted by the sound of her singing to the giggling child in front of her. He was also startled by how out of place she should have looked (and yet didn't) in this neglected dump of a yard - the focus of so much of his negative attention for so long. And the receptacle for his nervous energy.
He was struck by how she made this weed-strewn square seem like a proper garden. A pleasant spot in which to have a picnic. Or make love.
He assumed this girl was the child's babysitter. An import from a cleaner, classier area of the city. Someone who could appreciate the elegance of a tree without nitpicking about the ills of its shedding and of its shade. The way his imbecile neighbors did.
Though Giora stood frozen, the purpose of his being here having slipped his mind altogether, Ronit suddenly turned her head in his direction. It was as if she sensed his presence.
"Oh, hello," she said, holding the swing steady to make sure the baby didn't fall off. "I didn't realize I had company."
The ease with which she greeted him - and confidently took possession of her surroundings - could have been a clue that she was actually the mother of the child in the swing, and not a young girl. But he was too flustered at the moment to give this any real consideration.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to..."
To what? Barge in on her while she was undressing? Strangely enough, however, that's exactly how he felt.
"I'm Ronit," she said, pointing to the building facing Giora's. "We just moved in over there."
"Welcome," was all he could think to say.
From that day on, Giora's routine changed completely. As soon as he arrived home from work, he would encourage his boys to come outside with him to kick around a soccer ball. When they agreed - which they did, occasionally - he would wait for Ronit to show up. Which, occasionally, she did.
But mostly he would stand at the window and stare through the branches of the tree to get a glimpse of her across the courtyard.
NOW, WITH the tree coming down, her apartment would be in full panorama. The possibilities, he muses, downing the last sip of beer, would be endless.
"I spoke to a real-estate agent today," his wife interrupts his thoughts.
"What for?" he asks, his pulse skipping a beat.
"We'll have to move, now, of course," she says matter-of-factly.
"No hurry, I suppose," he mumbles, desperate to come up with a plausible reason for his ideological about-face.
"On the contrary," she snaps, grabbing the empty beer bottle off the window ledge and hauling it to the trash-can.
"I thought you didn't care so much about the tree," he says, sensing a distinct shift in the balance of power.
"As if it weren't bad enough that none of our neighbors is on speaking terms with us because of your intransigent sense of esthetics and lack of camaraderie," she says, as calm as she is firm.
"But if you keep stalking that woman, you're going to end up in jail."