A Line of Who — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Dani turned his transistor on even though a gale from the north was banging on the Perspex windows of the guard post like the ghost of Keith Moon on storm-cloud percussion. The rays of the sun setting over an unseen Mediterranean occasionally broke through, outlining in deep orange the umbras of clouds lying just below and just above the nearby peak of Jebel Baruk. A ray caught the wind-ragged, frost-crusted Israeli flag as if to say that the outpost and its soldiers, so far from home, were trapped between the empyrean above and the hell of the war below. Setting the radio down on the metal ledge on which the MAG was mounted, he glanced over at Adam. Somehow, between the drumming of the sky and the drumming of the Lebanese progressive rock station, he heard that his companion for the coming six-hour shift was crying.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
Considering his response, he unbuckled his vest so that he could settle comfortably into the high chair from which he was to survey the inscrutable landscape for alpine attackers.

Adam spoke.

“What was that?” Dani shouted over the pandemonium.

“It’s against the rules. Taking off your vest.” A shrieking squall filtered out whatever emotion there might have been in Adam’s voice.

“So’s the radio,” Adam went on. “Turn it off.” And then Dani thought he heard a choking sound, although he couldn’t be sure.

He grimaced, tightened the straps on his vest, sat in the chair, and placed his Galil rifle on his lap. His feet were already cold despite his Canadian air boots and the double-coiled space heater glowing forlornly on the floor. Adam looked more like a huge olive than a soldier, hunched in his Hermonit coverall, with only his eyes showing through his stocking cap. Nearly two years younger than Dani, he had arrived with the unit’s new cohort, the most silent of the bunch who had come in straight from basic training just a couple months before, boys who hadn’t been in the real war the past summer. Some were eager to be fighters, others were frightened. Adam simply seemed morose and Dani had avoided him as much as possible. He dreaded having to spend six hours cooped up with him in this plastic and metal box. He noted that the drummer on the radio, if not on the clouds, really was the late Moon.

“Turn off the radio.” Dani had never heard such a growl in Adam’s voice. He turned up the volume. Adam swung his rifle and knocked the transistor off the ledge, its fake leather case thudding on the grated floor. Moon and his buddies kept playing. Dani brought his face close to Adam cheek and warbled “Tinej westland!”

Adam swiveled to face Dani. Was the flash in his eyes anger or just the reflection of a passing sunray? And was his rifle pointed deliberately at Dani or just aiming in his general direction because of the angle at which Adam sat? Dani climbed off his seat, picked up the radio, and placed it back on the ledge. He turned it off. Adam swiveled back to face the mountain outside.

I really have no desire to get chummy with this baby-faced kid, Dani thought. But there’s a limit to how much of an asshole I’m willing to be. He reached out, slapped the back of Adam’s head, and said: “What’s eating you?”

Adam shrugged off the slap and continued to stare out the window. It was as if, now that the music was gone, he had reverted to his usual self. Interesting. Dani flicked the radio on again and a few seconds later Adam was sobbing, real heaves of the chest, the whole package. He quickly turned the radio off again and Adam calmed.

After a minute, he shouted over the shrieking wind and battering windows: “That song must be something for you.”

“Can it?” Adam answered. Dani was surprised. “I don’t even know what the words mean.”

“I don’t even know what they are,” Dani admitted. He sang a couple lines over the din, the way they sounded to an Israeli soldier with only high school English: “Eye don needs a spite/to turns on delight!”

Adam giggled. Dani sat up straight. Another surprise.

“That’s sort of the way Rachel sang it!”

“When did Rachel sing it?”

“Oh, on the twelfth-grade class trip.”

“She’s your girlfriend?”

If Adam answered, it was blown away by the wind.

Dani tried again. “It was, like, your song?”

Adam was still at first, then nodded.

Dani considered. “You know, I never thought of that as a love song.”

“I never thought of snow as something I’d be watching on a mountaintop in Lebanon.”

Dani looked out at the snowflakes.

“Want to tell me about her?”

Adam paused, then took in a big breath, as if making a decision.

“What’s there to tell, a girl. I guess you’ll say they’re all the same.”

Dani suggested that sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t.

“But she’s the only one who ever loved me. Who ever gave a shit about me.”

“On the class trip?”

The sun’s last glow was gone and the guard post settled into darkness. Adam switched on the searchlight and directed it back and forth over the snow. Just below them was a pass between two peaks that, their officers had told them, was sometimes used as a route by smugglers or worse.

Dani grabbed his hand to halt the light. “Not even a bloodthirsty terrorist would go out in this weather.”

The weather responded with a wind-hammer so strong and sudden that they felt the floor of the guard post lift and strain as if it were about to take off for the south. “I think we’re going home!” Dani chortled among the chattering windows and groaning metal. Adam, holding on to his chair, gave no sign of having heard. When the storm settled and the guardroom returned to its bearings, Adam stood up and peered out, again sweeping the searchlight over the snow.

“If I spotted a Palestinian fighter or a Syrian commando or a Shiite whatever, I’d just open the window and invite him in and give him my gun and tell him to shoot me and get it over with.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Oh, I do.”

Dani looked uneasily at Adam’s rifle. It still hung from his neck, but his finger was on the trigger. He no longer looked like an olive.

“So you got together at the overnight, singing Who songs together?”

“I guess she thought I was funny.”

Dani grabbed Adam’s shoulders and swiveled him around until they were face to face.

“Funny is the last word I would ever have put on you.”

Adam shook free.

“I sat next to her on the bus and she let me hold her hand. I invited her over to listen to the cassette. I have it at home. What’s that?”

A shadow had danced through the spotlight.

“Probably a wild pig,” Dani guessed. “So it was your song the whole summer. Tinej westland!”

Adam nodded. “Whatever that means.”

“When you don’t know the words, the music can mean whatever you want it to mean.”

“I don’t think the words mean anything anyway. Do you think in America they understand them?”

“I think the Who are from England.”

“Right, England.”

They fell silent. Adam played with the searchlight. They heard footsteps on the metal stairs leading up to the guard post. Presumably the sergeant or the platoon commander come to check on them.

“So how did it end? And why?” Dani finally asked.

“Why? You’d have to ask her,” Adam said. “How? The worst. Her birthday was a week before my induction I went over to her house to surprise her. The door was open, I walked in, and found her making out with another guy. And …”

“And what?”

Adam choked up again. “Tinej westland. The song was playing.”

The steps grew closer.

Dani put his hands on Adam’s shoulders and gave him a bear hug.

“Wow. That’s awful.”

Adam squeezed his hand. They watched the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the searchlight. They climbed back into their seats.

“You know,” Adam said, “if I had heard that song, and you weren’t here, I would have shot myself. I mean it.”

“I’m here.” The wind was gentler now. “I’m here.”

The door opened and the sergeant’s shadow rose behind them.

“You guys ok? Need anything?”

Dani turned to him and handed him the radio. “Brought this up here by mistake. Can you take it down and put it on my bunk?”

“Sure,” said the sergeant. “Will do. Everything ok?”

Adam stood up and, using his rifle as a microphone, belted out a line of Who: “Tinej westland!”

“What’s that?” the confused sergeant asked.

“The Moon.”

The sergeant looked out at the night. “No moon tonight. Not till morning.”

The two soldiers laughed louder than the wind.

“Everything’s fine,” Adam gasped, almost on the floor. “Everything’s just fine.”

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