It’s like a movie trailer, when Emma emerges from the waves. An early morning sunray coming from between two wispy clouds spotlights her and sparkles the seawater on her skin. Her breasts—well, I look away but then look back, accepting that I am human and male and twenty-four years old, and that Re’ut likes me that way. Tall, sleek Barak’s still out where the waves are breaking, shaking out his shoulder-length curls between one crest and the next.
I’m just finishing winding up the straps of my tefilin when she reaches me. She stops a couple meters away and smiles, waiting patiently as I fold up my tallit and stow my prayer gear in my backpack. Then we both sit down on the mat that Barak brought back from Thailand, along with Emma. I adjust myself to put just one more centimeter between us. We do not speak at first.
“It’s a beautiful beach,” she says in English, with a heavy French accent.
I nod and take a breath to get my own Hebrew-accented English in order. “It’s our favorite. Part of a nature reserve. We used to come here a lot together. On Fridays during high school. When we were home from the army.”
“You don’t want to go into the water?”
After another pause, she says: “You do this every morning? Pray? Even at the beach?”
I shrug. “Just part of waking up for me.”
“Barak used to do this, too, when you came here, before his trip?”
“Funny,” she says. Her smile is warm, accepting, but uncomprehending. “When I wake up at the sea in the summer, the first thing I want is to go in the water.”
Somehow she’s closed up that extra centimeter.
I don’t think she’s coming on to me because, well, Barak is right there racing toward us on the crest of a wave. It must be a French thing, like kissing both cheeks of people you don’t know. She stretches out her legs and I see more than I want to see of what’s between them. Nothing I haven’t seen before but more than I want. Anyway, more than I want to want.
“Tell me about Barak,” she says. “He doesn’t like to talk about the past.”
I have noticed that. I speak slowly, carefully. “Well, like I said, we were friends in high school. Always together. Also with other friends from the Scouts. Maybe a dozen or so, guys and girls. You know, hikes, camping, hanging out in the park on Shabbat nights. But Barak and I, we were the intellectuals. Well, we and this girl, Re’ut. We used to go to classes, you know, lectures on Torah and philosophy. Between high school and the army the three of us went to Greece together.”
I feel like speaking English as a second language to a French girl requires energy that I’d rather use for something else.
“Greece! I love the beaches there!”
“We hardly saw the beach. We spent a couple days in the museum in Athens, trekked through the country to all the historical and archaeological sites.” I laugh. “The others called us the—how do you say—hnunim—geeks.”
Emma’s eyes widen. “Barak?” She looked out at him.
“Yeah, well, he’s sort of different now, since he’s come back.”
I follow her gaze out to sea. I think it’s only now that I really get the meaning of “gamboling in the waves.” That’s what Barak is doing, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.
I fish through my backpack and take out a sheaf of paper.
“You should have fun while you can,” Emma says. “Barak says you have to leave soon.”
I shrug. “Yes, I have a paper to write.”
“Barak says you left your trek together early, too. That you chickened out.”
I sigh. “I didn’t chicken out. From the start the plan was two months in India with him and then come home. I needed to get started with school.”
She seems to be even closer now. I can feel the wet of her bathing suit against my hip. It feels good. It feels like I want to feel more.
“If you had come to Thailand,” she giggles, “maybe I would have met you on the beach together with him. And who knows who I would have chosen?”
Now, for all my careful observance of the commandments, I tend not to believe that God watches over me or that he pays all that much attention to what I do. But my phone rings at just this instant, and I don’t know whether that counts as evidence, but there you have it.
“Hi, Re’ut,” I say, with some relief, because I can switch into Hebrew.
“How’s it going?” she asks in that voice I love, the one that sees the whole world as one big joke crafted by comedian Creator.
“Hey, really great. I’m sitting on the beach with this beautiful French girl who’s occupied my comfort zone.” I glance at Emma just to make sure that Barak hasn’t been giving her Hebrew lessons. “You should have come.”
“I would have gotten in the way,” she suggests.
“That’s what I meant.”
“It doesn’t sound like there’s room.”
“I’m edging away,” I told her, as I edged right off the mat. “Wait a second, my arm is being pulled.”
“Call me back when you’re all pulled out.”
“When I see you, can I kiss you on both cheeks?”
She laughs. “Depends what you’ve kissed in the meantime. Bye.”
I toss the phone into my backpack because Emma is pulling my right hand.
“Come on!” she insists. “You have to go into the water!”
I let her pull me up and she pulled me at a run down to the beach, like a soldier pulling a buddy who’s not able to make it to the end of the forced march on his own. Before I know it we’re gamboling in the water with Barak. He and I catch waves; they aren’t very big but the larger ones give us a few seconds of that zooming weightless feeling as they propel us to the shore. We splash water at each other and at Emma, who splashes back, pushes Barak, and grabs at me. Barak and I catch another wave and as we emerge, shouting, with Emma well behind us, he looks me in the eye.
“Hey, you can have her.”
I tip my head to the side and bang on the top ear to get the water out of the bottom.
“She likes you. Go for it.”
I’m discombobulated. Totally. I stand there staring at him.
“Hell, stop being such a prig. Why not? She’s all over you. Take what’s on offer. Believe me, don’t waste an opportunity. Get past those inhibitions. Have some fun.”
“Like she’s yours to give?” I feel anger coming up. “Like I need gifts from you?”
“Hey.” His fists are clenched. “Don’t you have normal desires? Have some sex! It’ll be good for you. Get you a better perspective on the world than you’re getting at the university.”
“Oh, come on, Barak. Like in Thailand you discovered the truth. Turned you into a fornication missionary.”
“I’m your friend.” He slaps me on the shoulder. “Just trying to help.”
By now Emma has caught up with us. “What’s going on?”
“I’m trying to talk him into sleeping with you. Don’t you think he should?”
But I don’t wait for the answer. I trudge out of the water toward the mat. I wipe my face with a sandy towel and reach into the backpack for my phone.
“Hey,” Re’ut says.
“Look,” I say, “I really need to know what’s going on between us. I have an incredible hard-on and there’s this French woman that Barak brought me from Thailand who wants to deal with it.”
“I’m not going to deal with it. I have an exam tomorrow.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“So what did you mean?”
“I mean, what am I supposed to do? I mean, we’ve been friends for years, pals, but over the last couple months, well, don’t you feel that something has been changing?” We had found ourselves cuddling a few times, even more, and spending a lot of time alone with each other, which we never did before. But we never talked about it seriously, just joked about ourselves.
There is silence at the other end.
“I think so,” she finally says. “But I’m not sure. It’s happened too fast.”
“Two months is not fast.”
“Is this a marriage proposal?”
Before I can figure out whether this is just one of her jokes or she’s serious, Barak and Emma are dripping on me. It’s like the movies again, with me holding my hand over my phone just as the romantic leads start to make complications.
“Hey, sorry, buddy,” says Barak.
Emma has a countenance of great compassion. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I respect your religion …”
“It’s not my religion,” I correct her.
“It’s Re’ut,” Barak informs her. Then he looks to the sky as if he can’t believe it. And they run back into water.
And I have an experience. Let me make clear that I’m not the type. To have communion with God, I mean, or dialogue, or even to talk to Him. I do my duties and I feel good about it, it orders my life, it makes me part of something larger than myself, it keeps me from rushing into things, it makes me think twice and three times before every step in my life. That’s what I mean. But here, on the beach, standing between two wet movie stars, I suddenly have this vision of their life on screen, those beaches in Thailand, their days and their nights. And against that my life, with my three prayers a day to a God I’m not sure listens and keeping kosher and Shabbat, and it’s all very clear to me. Not that it wasn’t before, I mean, but what I mean is, it’s crystal clear now. I don’t want to live in that movie.
“Yes,” I said into the phone.
“Only if you are.”
She keeps me waiting. “I can’t think about it now. I have an exam.”
“That’s ok. But I’m leaving here right now and coming to you.”
“No, don’t come. I have an exam.
“I’m coming anyway.”
Is she crying?
“What about the French girl?”
I look out to sea. It’s like a big screen. “Hey, Re’uti,” I whisper. “She’s out with Barak in the waves.”
Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is now available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon and all other vendors. Click here for purchase links and more information.
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