Caught in the Meshwork — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

When Nir woke up in the dark, Heli was crying in her sleep. At the foot of the bed, Ben Ha-Ha, the cat, was crouched in defecating position, and from the balcony, outside the sliding door, a pigeon screamed. As none of these things made sense, Nir assumed he had only dreamed of waking. He turned over to his other side and, back to all the apparitions, descended to another plane of slumber.

When the alarm roused him, some time after dawn, Nir groaned, turned over, and opened his eyes. Heli was out on the balcony, looking up at the meshwork roof of the pergola they had installed just before the holidays. The balcony, which opened from their room, faced west; a last bit of night remained there. Nir groaned again and then propped himself up on his elbow.

“I feel like I didn’t sleep at all,” he grumbled. “I had this horrible …”

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
“There’s a dead pigeon on the roof.” Heli, in her porcelain-patterned robe and frog slippers, hugged herself against the chill. Her voice was flat. The floor of the balcony was wet—the first, very late shower of the year must have arrived in the early morning hours. “Wake up the kids and then take a broom up to the roof and push it off.” Nir groaned once more, loudly, for the record, and avoided Heli’s eyes. As he flung the blanket off him, he heard a soft plop as something hit the floor. When he swung his feet over the side of the bed, one of them landed straight on a cat turd.

“Shit!”

Heli brought him toilet paper and wipes and a rag to cleanse the dirty spot on the floor. She also reminded him that she had told him not to give in to his mother’s insistence that they adopt her cat.

Nir put on t-shirt, rinsed his foot in the shower, and then tiptoed into the boys’ room. Ben Ha-Ha, a miniature panther curled up blackly in the crook of Elisha’s elbow on the lower bunk, opened phosphorescent eyes as Nir began to sing. For two minutes nothing happened, but then Omer, in the upper bunk, suddenly sat up, eyed his father with exasperation, and dove down to bury his head under his pillow. In the pale dawn Nir thought he caught the glimmer of the first faint fuzz on his older son’s upper lip. Could it be? Wasn’t it too early for that?

Ben Ha-Ha purred as Elisha, eyes still closed, stroked his belly.

“Time to get up,” he announced. Omer’s muted voice came from under his pillow: “Go away.”

“Get your brother up,” Nir ordered. “I’ve got to go up to the roof and get rid of a dead pigeon.”

Ben Ha-Ha zoomed out the door as both boys jumped out of bed and stood before him. “Just a minute, I’m coming,” Omer announced, pulling his pajama top off. “Me, too!” Elisha was already naked. Heli passed by the door. “That was quick!” she said. “We’re going to see a dead bird!” Elisha crowed.

Omer insisted on sandals and shorts despite the rain and the cold, and once he did Elisha would not hear of anything else, so it was with an eleven-year-old and a seven-year-old dressed for Elul rather than Marheshvan that Nir strode down the hall, past the kitchen, and out to the landing where the ladder to the roof stood. When Heli saw them, she opened her mouth to object, but Omer halted, turned to face her, and ceremoniously wished her a happy birthday.

“And didn’t we have a great party last night?” Elisha said, already out the door.

Nir climbed the ladder and pushed the trap door open. He tossed the broom ahead of him and heaved himself up. Omer followed and helped Elisha. The wind was stronger and colder than Nir had expected; a bank of black clouds was looming on the western horizon, outlined in orange by the morning sun opposite. The boys didn’t seem to feel the cold. Nir held out his hands on either side as they approached the ledge. They peered down on the roof of the pergola. Two grey crows were cawing and posturing, readying for battle, on either side of a bloody carcass. Elisha shouted at them. They gave him sidelong glance; each flapped her wings and hopped, in opposite directions, to guard their prey from a perch on the ledge several meters away. Nir held the broom by its brush and tried to push the dead pigeon off the pergola and down into the garden, but after several tries, in which he succeeded only in pivoting the bird around one of the claws on its left leg, he realized what had happened.

“Look,” he said. “Poor thing got its claw stuck in the meshwork and couldn’t get away. The crows saw she was an easy mark and attacked her.”

“Gross,” Omer said, his face stony. He turned away. Elisha started crying. Nir glanced at his watch.

“I’ll have to push its claw free from below,” he said. “But you two need to leave for school. Let’s head down. I’ll go first and spot you from below.” When he was midway down and Omer was helping Elisha get positioned on the upper rung, the younger boy suddenly said: “I heard the pigeon screaming.”

Omer laughed at him. “Pigeons don’t scream.”

“It did,” Elisha insisted as he climbed down. “That’s why Ben Ha-Ha made kaki on Ema and Abba’s bed.”

Omer was down and pushing his little brother through the front door. “You must have been dreaming.”

Elisha eyed his father. “I wasn’t,” he said, sure of himself. “Ema was crying, too. Because of the pigeon.”

Nir figured that Heli had heard, but he was afraid to look at her face.

“Breakfast,” she said. Nir heard a knife slicing vegetables for the boys’ sandwiches. He got the step ladder out from behind the washing machine and took it out on to the balcony. It didn’t take him long to find the pigeon’s claw caught between the warp and woof. The raven’s shadows circled above.

“Was he so stupid that he couldn’t get loose?” Omer stood below.

“You have a cornflake on your chin,” Nir said.

Omer wiped it off. Then, almost at a whisper: “Why was Ema crying?”

Nir knew that he was supposed to know the answer to that question.

“She is now, too,” Omer said, walking past his parents’ unmade bed, back into the house.

Nir was about to get down when he saw that Ben Ha-Ha had stationed himself on the lower of the two steps. His yellow eyes tracked Nir. Nir made a move, assuming that the cat would get out of his way, but it just sat there and kept its gaze on him.

“Screw you.” Nir kicked, but the cat was gone before his foot made contact.

Elisha was whimpering when he passed the kitchen again on his way back to the roof. The boy ran to him and clung to his waist.

“Ema says Ben Ha-Ha can’t stay with us anymore.”

“We’ll have to have a talk about that,” Nir said. He glanced quickly at Heli. She seemed okay. As she ordered the boys to shoulder their backpacks and get going already, he climbed back up the ladder to the roof, broom in hand.

When he got to the ledge, one of the crows was backing off. Her victorious opponent pecked voraciously at the pigeon. Nir wielded the broom to shoo it away. The crow squawked and he thought he heard the loser laugh. With the broom handle he carefully pushed the dead pigeon to the edge of the roof and then sent it flying down into the garden, just as Omer and Elisha passed by on the sidewalk, deep in conversation. They didn’t even notice. The crows descended into the garden to fight again.

Nir climbed down, put the broom back next to the refrigerator, and washed his hands in the kitchen sink. Heli was standing off to the side, coffee in hand.

“That’s done,” he said. He forced himself to meet her gaze.

“The cat has to go,” she said through the steam.

Nir shook his head. “My Mom …”

“Your mother can’t make us live with a fiend.”

Nir tried to offer a defense. “He did it on my side of the bed.”

Heli put her coffee down, hard, spilling half of it.

“Well, then it’s all right, isn’t it?” There were tears in her eyes.

Ben Ha-Ha was watching them from the top of the refrigerator. Could this still be a dream?

Now his tears came.

“I feel,” he said, “like that pigeon.” Then, when she didn’t answer: “Did it really scream at night?”

She shrugged. Then she started for the bedroom. “I have to get dressed. I’ll be late.”

Nir grabbed the cat before it could jump. It squirmed and tried to claw him as he carried it toward the door.

He climbed the ladder with one hand. Ben Ha-Ha hissed and grimaced and tried to bite him. Nir approached the ledge and held the cat out over the pigeon’s carcass. When he was done he went back down. Heli was not in their room. He sought her on the balcony. It was raining again, as if the world was weeping.

Then he saw that she was lying in bed with the blanket over her face.

“Heli, we’ll be late for work.”

No response. He stood there a moment. Then her voice came, muffled by the blanket, as if from a great distance.

He nodded and slipped off his t-shirt and sat down on his side of the bed, then got under the covers. She was right. They needed to wake up again.

He lay on his back for a minute and then, even though it frightened him, he turned on his side and took her in his arms.

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