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"What's the point in killing yourself," Mali asks cheerfully, taking a metallic-tasting swig from her canteen, "if you're going to die sooner or later anyway?"
Doron shrugs, throwing small stones aimlessly into the icy spring at his feet.
"What's the point in doing anything," he responds morosely, "if you're going to die sooner or later anyway?"
Mali removes the kerchief she has tied around her head to keep her hair out of her face. She bends down, dunks it, then wrings it out and puts it back on.
"That's much better," she says, sighing with the relief of someone who has just entered air-conditioning.
"You're dripping," Doron says, holding back a smile. He doesn't go in for amusement these days. Nor does he want Mali to spot any chinks in his armor. Or to think that he's interested in her other than as an intellectual sparring partner. Even though he is.
"Better with drops of cool, fresh water than with beads of sweat," she says, laughing. But she feels more like crying with a renewed sense of futility about arousing in him anything other than philosophical intercourse.
"I don't see what difference that makes," Doron says, standing up and shaking his leg irritably to dislodge the pebble in his sandal. "You're going to be boiling hot again in a few minutes, whatever you do."
"Yeahâ€¦so?" Mali says. "Therefore I shouldn't enjoy the few minutes until then?"
"I fail to see where enjoyment comes into play here," Doron smirks, pausing to look at a butterfly fluttering around him and then settling on a thin streak of sunlight shining on an otherwise shaded leaf.
"Ooooh, look at that!" Mali gasps quietly, so as not to disturb the scene. Slowly, she slides her backpack off her shoulders, unzips one of its compartments and takes out a digital camera.
Doron watches in silence as she snaps several photos - including one of him.
"Life through a lens," he says sarcastically when she's finally finished.
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asks, trying hard not to sound petulant. And even harder not to allow Doron to spoil her day - the prospect of which had filled her stomach with its own butterflies since she'd suggested it last week.
"We capture moments on film in order not to face the fact that they are fleeting," Doron says, leaning over to smell a honeysuckle bush. "Then we show other people the pictures and tell them what a wonderful time we had."
"Maybe we take pictures to remember the fleeting moments," Mali says deliberately. "And we show them to other people in order to remind ourselves what a wonderful time we had."
Mali stares pleadingly into Doron's eyes, as if to beg him not to say something hurtful in response.
Doron stares back, the non-committal expression on his face impossible for her to read. What he is thinking is that it's refreshing to be with a woman who is not only intelligent but optimistic.
"YOU'RE ALL dried up," he says, ending what might have been an intimate pause.
"What?" Mali says, stunned and stung. Why, she asks herself, did Doron - this guy she's been openly pursuing for weeks - accept her invitation to go on this nature hike if he's so down on everything, even her?
"Your scarf," he says, pointing. "You have to soak it again."
"Oh, that," she says, embarrassed, touching her head. "A little farther up the path, there's another stream."
"We could swim in it," Doron suggests, imagining Mali's tee-shirt and shorts wet and clinging.
"What for?" Mali mimics, returning the camera to her bag, now sorry she's bothered to bring it along. "We're only going to get hot again a few minutes later, whatever we do."
"Touche," he says, grinning in spite of himself. "But at least we'll be able to enjoy our lunch."
"I fail to see the enjoyment in a cheese sandwich," she says, again paraphrasing Doron.
"That's the funny thing," he says, more animation in his voice than he would have liked. "Food always tastes better in the outdoors."
"That's probably just an illusion," she says, the muscles in her neck starting to ache from physical exertion and dashed hopes. "You know, one of those things people tell themselves to justify going on ant-infested picnics."
"No, it's probably because moving around in the fresh air works up your appetite," he says, plucking a bunch of wild flowers and handing them to her. "So anything you eat feels flavorful."
Mali takes the bouquet, barely glancing at it. Even if things were to work out between the two of them, she thinks, the relationship will end up - along with all its predecessors - in the "ex-file."
"Now that you mention it," she says, when they reach a secluded alcove with a spectacular view of a brook below and blossoming trees above, "what really is the point to anything?"
Doron spreads a sheet on the ground and seats her on it. Then he takes off his backpack and helps her off with hers. From hers he removes two sandwich bags. From his, a bottle of wine and a corkscrew.
"I guess the point isn't in knowing what the point is," he says, disappointed in her change of mood, yet pleased that she is someone with whom he can actually have such a conversation.
"All of this will go on forever," she says, picking up the flowers she had placed on the makeshift tablecloth and holding them up as an example. "But we're just fleeting entities - like those picnic-ants."
"Don't move," Doron says with urgency, suddenly getting up.
"What are you doing?" Mali asks, as he grabs the camera and begins photographing her from every angle possible.
"I'm capturing the moment," he says, clicking incessantly. "So we can show everybody what a wonderful time we had."
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