Sweet Unrest — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz

Saturday, July 20, 1946

Dear Adele,

I implore—I demand—you immediately to cease sending me letters and to stop asking after me at Fink’s. It was a fling and it is over. I do not wish to see you again.

Capt. Hugh Fitzsimmons

PS—Bright Star, I am sure that a girl of your qualities will quickly find a love worthy of her. With affection.

*

Saturday, July 20, 1946

Dear Vicky,

I can understand our Saviour’s reluctance to come to Jerusalem. The heat is oppressive and one can barely breathe, especially here in this inner room at the King David Hotel that no breeze can find. The Galilee’s air is much fresher and cooler. Would you believe that I would welcome a dismal London drizzle? Could you be a dear and send some? Anything to bring relief.

But what do I care if my body is liquefying into pure perspiration? I have come here to be near my Hugh, and to keep an eye on him, for I know very well that he is no more likely to keep his hands and other parts of his body to himself than are the other uniformed men and officers here at headquarters. Vicky, if each British woman who has been fondled, propositioned, and asked to bed by a member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces were to sign her name, we could roll out a petition from my room in Talbiyeh to your place in Bloomsbury.

Hugh is very devoted to his mission here, and I am no less determined to carry out mine. I have ordered him to dismiss the mistress du jour; I have seen the scrawny whore. He objected that a man must have his satisfaction, and I said that we can talk about that only after he sets aside other pleasures. He has had his flings, and I have had mine (oh, how he hates it when I tell him that, but he knows that my best friend lives in Bloomsbury and fraternises with libertines!), but the war is over and it is time to set aside present pleasure for future family. “No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable, / Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,” I told him, quoting his favorite poem. He asked to see the breast first. Men!

The courier is leaving for the post office so I will conclude here and get this off to you.

Yours,

Odelia

*

July 20, 1946

Dear Hugh,

I can’t help riting. I must dy if I do not. I cant live without yu. I am alon. My mama and papa and broder and sistrs in the camps. I hav no frends here, everiwun hates me becuz I love a British soldyer, they say I am traytor. And if yu are not with me, how can I liv, how can I pay rent, by food, if I do not go to Fink’s each nite? From where will I have muny? Yu promised to sev me from that. You called me your Bright Star, I copy from the poem you wrot down for me and told me to learn by hart, hung aloft in the night and watching, and I cant stop waching. I am living this on your desk, I gave a coin to the dorman and he got me into yur office. The King David is so grand and yu promised that we wuld spend a night there together, do yu remember? I no yu have a frend from London but she cant love yu like I du. No wun can. Please cum to me tonight.

Your Bright Star,

Adele

*

Sunday, July 21, 1946

My Dearest Adele,

You are sleeping peacefully and I sit watching you, “with eternal lids apart,” but I know this must be the last time. I want tears to stain this letter, but I have been taught not to weep. I have been taught too many things. Whom I must love, whom I must marry, how I must comport myself, what sorts of people I may associate with. Sentiment, it has been drilled into me, is not a good guide for marriage; station must be preserved; family honor is paramount. My family dates back to the Norman Conquest, I am told, and according to our family lore no man in the direct line stretching back from me to William the Conqueror has been so foolish as to turn an infatuation into a marriage.

You have had a hard life, you have been through horrors that I can scarcely imagine, I found you at Fink’s on a drunken night when my only thought was to satisfy my animal urges, and yet when we lay side by side talking in your tiny room and I heard your story I discovered that you are a far greater woman than any I have ever met. How you live I do not know. Perhaps you will not, because I am hurting you so deeply. I will bear that with me my entire life because I am a coward and incapable of casting my family and class and future aside for so stupid a thing as love.

You cannot, should not forgive me. I may live, but at this moment my soul dies. “And so to live ever—or else swoon to death.”

Your Bright Star,

Hugh

*

Sunday, July 21, 1946

Dear Vicky,

He spent the night with her! Imagine! Told me that he had a mission but all I had to do was ask around and the truth, which I knew full well, came out. I give him at least credit for being honest. We met for lunch today at the YMCA and he told me that it was the last time. He was glum. He said he loves her. But he knows that it is impossible, he cannot spend his life with a filthy Jewess from the camps woman who sells herself for money.

What worries me is that his comportment this morning indicates that I was wrong. This woman is not just his harlot. He has actually fallen in love with her. It explains his excuses for putting off the wedding. Imagine! It has been more than a year since the engagement party that you so thoughtfully hosted in your garden. You have been a sister to me since my parents were killed in the Blitz. And you introduced me to Hugh and noted the advantages of an alliance with an officer from a distinguished family. Innocent me, I thought that an engagement means setting aside other partners. Instead, I find myself in the midst of those interminable Shaw comedies. I sense a weakness of character that I perhaps was not perceptive enough to see then, when he came home on furlough and you plotted to get us together. And I did see love in his eyes when we took that first walk together along the Serpentine, I know I did. After all, he gave me a copy of Keats’s collected poems, and marked his favorite with a pressed flower, “Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art.” I insist he forgets her and does what is right. That is what I told him. Can he? I told him he must cleanse himself of her just as he would after killing a man on the battlefield, as his Keats puts it, with “The moving waters at their priestlike task / Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores.” He usually perks up when I quote Keats to him, but this time it did not work.

Perhaps he is just tense. The Arabs and Jews are both out for blood. The roundup of Zionist leaders last month have turned them solidly against us. The extremists have played it to their advantage.

Don’t worry, I am not ready to give up yet. Please do not start spreading rumors around town that we are through and that my trip here was wasted. I intend from here on out to sit every day in the anteroom to his office to make sure that he keeps his promise. I am not so easily deterred. It is, Vicky, a fight to the death.

Yours,

Odelia

*

Monday, July 22, 1946

Adele:

I am sending this note down because I can see you on the street looking up at my window. This must stop. I am marrying Odelia, we have set a date, I am asking for leave to go back to England immediately for the wedding, and to receive a different posting afterward. I must do this, I must think of my future, I must protect myself from throwing my life and station away. I will not let you stop me. Please leave. If you do not, I will have you removed from my sight. Please do not make me do this.

Hugh

*

Dear Hugh,

I em sending this not up with the soldyer who brauht me yurs. I cam to warn yu, there is a bom, they are puting a bom in the basement. The Irgun is going to blow up the bilding. Yu must escape, that is wy I come. I dont want yu to di, I have lost to meny. I will lev wen I see yu com out.

Your Bright Star

*

Dear Vicky,

She stops at nothing. Imagine, she has sent him a note telling him that the Irgun has planted a bomb in the basement and is going to blow us all to Kingdom Come. He came into my room, ashen, and said that we must leave. How spineless he turns out to be.

He showed me that she is standing outside, on the street, waiting for him to emerge. Don’t you see it is a ruse, a hoax? I said. Don’t you see how she is playing with you? Do you not have the courage to stand up to her? He was nearly in tears, imagine, a grown man, an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, weeping over a slut.

Go down to her if you wish, go down, I said. If that is what you feel you must do, go down. I myself, I said, am “still stedfast, still unchangeable.” He took a deep breath and said he would not. I have made my decision, he said. I will not go down. And he turned and left.

And now, through the open door, I see her lurking in the corridor. Who let her in? Must I throttle her with my own hands? It is nearly 12:30 and I ordered a table for us for 1 p.m. so that we can go over the details of the trip home.

I am sending this off with a courier who is just heading out to the post office.

Yours,

Odelia

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Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is now available as an e-book and paperback on Amazon and all other vendors. Click here for purchase links and more information.

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