Monday, October 16, 2017

F-15

 Even with my modicum of Hebrew I can read the sign in the pharmacy. It says “Medicines only. No food may be stored in this refrigerator.” So I understand what’s happening when Irit, my pharmacist, replies to a scolding voice from the inner office, “It’s fine Grandfather,” she says. The voice roars, “No it’s not fine. Please come here and bring it with you.” Irit fishes out something from the fridge, nods to Esther, her assistant, and crosses into the voice’s lair.  A freckled hand reaches out and takes the lunch pail from Irit’s hand in his pinky. The pail is white, afloat in pink balloons, and features at its center a ta-da sketch of a kitten wearing a stupefying hair bow. There’s an interjection Israelis use when a difficult problem is before them. Grandpa Inspector has to make a case for the danger, in an orderly pharmacy, of the staff confusing Hello Kitty with ampicillin. In a tired bass, the inspector intones, y-y-y-y-y-y.
 Esther comes to where I’m waiting with my prescription. Though there’s a line behind me, she reaches across the counter and takes my hand, “I haven’t seen you all summer. How are you?”
 Esther is a widow. Her eyes do not look worried at the inspector’s reprimand, they look, as always, sad. We schmooze until she asks me what I’m doing for Shabbat. When I tell her I’ll be home with my cat her eyes get sadder. “Irit” she calls to the pharmacist. Esther commutes in from a nearby town but Irit lives in my village. Esther rattles to Irit in Hebrew; both women shake their heads: Shabbat, alone? This cannot be permitted. Irit presses me to join her and her family. When I decline, her eyes become as sad as Esther’s. The people in line behind me make none of the can you believe this? noises heard in New York; they wait. Esther has been watching out for me since my aliya, since I moved to Israel.

 In the supermarket I find myself picking over grapes with a woman who was in line in the pharmacy. She asks me, “Are we shopping together today?” and I laugh. There are a lot of men shopping alone this morning, many with small kids. In my grocery in Brooklyn getting stuck behind a man and his shopping cart in a narrow aisle was nerve-wracking. At the rice he’d call his wife to ask brown or white and then again to ask instant or regular. By his umpteenth call at the yogurt section I’d be shouting into my megaphoned mitts, Take six plain and six with the candy on top and go.”
 Here the man in front of me has a toddler over his shoulder, another in his cart, and is decisive in his choices. When I reach the dairy section I see a stockman plop a yarmulke on his head, hand out white booklets to his co-workers, and take a count. There are nine guys; they lack a tenth for mincha, the afternoon service. The father takes in the scene, adds the shouldered kid to his shopping cart, and accepts a booklet. With his two kids quiet and amazed and the other guys ready, he turns his back on Dairy Products for mincha.

 My last stop is the pizza place. I’ve heard more Hebrew today than usual in my Anglo village. I decide to ditch English. I order two quanta of pizza with mushrooms which must able to walk with me to my house. The fat pizza guy leans forward on his beefy arms. “Madam,” he asks, “Do you want your escorts hot, or cold?”

 Walking uphill towards my apartment with my greasy escorts and my grapes, I wait until the delta between overhead sound and vision converge. It is no passenger plane, no Jet Blue, above me. As the crow flies, I’m the same distance from Damascus Syria as my home in Brooklyn was from the state capital at Albany, a gorgeous drive up the Taconic State Parkway. When the Taconic opened out of its twists, I wanted to drive north for the rest of my life; past the border, past the latitudes of Canadian cities, up, straight up, to Hudson Bay, to meet polar bears.

 Straight up above me now it is noon in the Middle East. I wait until white contrails arc towards the horizon. Now I can see the unmistakable lines of F-15’s. Every time I see them, they’re travelling in twos.

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