Tamar presses the mute button on the remote control with one hand, and the speed-dial button on the cordless phone with the other. Channel 1's Mabat has just ended, which means she can still catch her parents before they turn in for the night. "Mom?" she says, as though asking. "Have you and Daddy been remembering to lock the bars on the back terrace?" "Mom?!" Amir yells, as he enters, slamming the door with a thud that makes the windows rattle. Like a sonic boom. One of many the family has to put up with, due to their proximity to Ben-Gurion Airport. Tamar cups the receiver and heaves a loud shush at her son. "I'm on the telephone, for God's sake," she hisses through her teeth, seething, while trying to keep her mother from hearing the exchange. "How many times have I told you not to interrupt that way?" "But Mom, I'm in a hurry," Amir protests, hopping from foot to foot as though he were six years old, not 18 and soon to be entering the IDF. "I need NIS 250 - quick - the guys are waiting for me downstairs." Tamar glowers, trying to focus on two conversations simultaneously. "And have you been keeping your money in the place I showed you in the freezer?" she asks. That item on the news about the two unrelated senior citizens violently mugged in broad daylight has once again reminded her how vulnerable her parents are these days. "But still, make sure to have some in your wallet," she adds, thinking that it could be just as dangerous for them - perhaps even more so - if someone broke in and couldn't find any cash. "I'll pay you back," Amir groans, acting as though Tamar is torturing him on purpose. "I don't have that much on me," Tamar signals, by mouthing the words and pointing to her purse. "And anyway, what do you need it for at this hour?" And exactly from what reserves, she wonders, does he imagine he's going to be able to reimburse her? But she already knows the answer. He'll be getting Hanukka gelt from his grandparents. "It's for tomorrow morning," Amir says, furiously typing an SMS, as he hears a horn honking. "I'm coming home late and you'll be at work when I get up." "I'll check on you before I go to work," Tamar says into the phone. "You're always up by then, Mom." "Mom, nu!" Amir grunts. "Amir sends his love, by the way," Tamar says, flashing him a glare before hanging up. "MOM!" AMIR beseeches. "I asked what the money's for," Tamar reminds him. "A tattoo," he says, making an unsuccessful stab at nonchalance. When Tamar doesn't respond, he hurries to add: "I'm old enough now, so it really doesn't matter any more whether you approve." "Why do you want to mutilate yourself?" Tamar asks, shaking her head sadly. Pictures of the elderly woman with a fat, bloody lip, and the old man with gashes in his cheek and on his nose, continue to appear in her mind's eye. They were unwillingly cut and bruised; and here her son wants to pay someone to scar him for life. Like some primitive rite of passage into - what? - manhood? But that's what a bar mitzva is supposed to be. And if that doesn't do the trick, there's always the army. What could be more macho than that? She wishes Amir spent more time reading National Geographic than he does acting like a member of some tribe featured in it. "Maya's got one," Amir answers defiantly. This is in spite of his being well aware that his older sister was put through a similar third-degree when she first announced her own intention to be branded permanently. True, her tattoo turned out to be so small - a heart and Cupid's arrow on her ankle - that from a distance it could be mistaken for a birthmark. Or a scab. She says it looks cute. Sexy. Feminine. That's not the look Amir's after. No sir. He can't wait to feel the sting on his skin from the ink-filled needle, engraving the logo - part skeleton, part animal - of his favorite band onto his upper arm, above the muscle. Half-menacing, half-challenging. His ideal trademark. The height of masculinity. Not that his mother would understand. Or his father, for that matter. But the former is a better bet where managing to squeeze out the funding is concerned. The latter is a much tougher nut to crack - financially and otherwise. "Go, get out of here," Tamar says, shrugging. "I'll walk over to the bank machine in a bit, and leave the money - which you will pay back as promised - here." The bank machine. Tamar thinks of that poor, terrorized woman, who'd just made an ATM withdrawal, when she was brutally accosted for her handbag. "It's not safe on the streets any more," she told the reporter. "I don't feel secure." The battered man responded differently when interviewed. He insisted insult was added to injury by virtue of the fact that he had been unable to defend himself. Defend himself! How could an 85-year-old fight off punks a quarter of his age and with four times the testosterone? TAMAR REACHES for the phone, then stops short of redialing. The only purpose of the call would be to warn her parents not to go unaccompanied to the bank, in case anyone is watching and waiting to pounce. In the first place, they are sure to be asleep by now. In the second, what good could possibly come out of frightening her mother unnecessarily, and making her father feel even more helpless than he does already? She goes to the closet to fetch her jacket, since the nights have begun to bode winter. Curled up on the couch with a copy of the women's magazine La'isha, Maya waves good-bye with her foot, revealing the tiny heart - the kind that Tamar used to draw in her notebooks when she was a girl. Those were the days when her father always walked her to the bus stop when it was dark out. The times he used to quip about needing a rifle to fend off Israel's entire male population. Tamar is suddenly overcome with concern for everyone she loves. Shutting the door with a nearly inaudible click, she sighs, wishing the coat of armor her son clearly needs didn't have to sear his flesh.