Chapter One: Seaside Kibbutz 2019
Eve is alone in a kibbutz guest room. With her eyes closed she can smell Manny’s cologne on the pillow next to her and she sneezes. She reaches for a tissue as she recalls the sales robot’s assurance of only natural fragrances. Holding her hand up to the light, she smiles at her new ring. She turns her hand so that the diamond catches in the sunlight. The squared-off stone is flanked on both sides by each of their birthstones; for April babies that means two smaller, identical diamonds. Eve considers their shared birthstone a sign of fortune.
The ring is guaranteed never to get lost; she had the tracking chip beamed into her finger on the spot at the jeweler’s with a single push of a button. She thinks about how lucky she is to have found someone she can spend the rest of her life with, unlike her own mother, who never dated after her divorce, twenty-four years ago.
She fumbles for his cell phone on the bedside table, but that is gone too.
“Hello phone,” she calls. No response.
She circles the room in her nightgown. It takes two minutes to assess that nothing belonging to Manny remains in the main room or in the bathroom. Every item appears packed and gone.
It dawns on her that Manny is at her sister’s house. He must have packed his clothes into a duffel bag and taken it with him, perhaps as a prelude to yet another gift, one that may be even more exciting than her dream engagement ring; Manny is always surprising her with the latest gadget or concert tickets. But she shouldn’t assume there are more gifts waiting for her. Maybe he’s just gone to her sister’s house to borrow a pair of nail scissors or fresh soap.
Never mind that this could not explain why he doesn’t have a toothbrush or towel in sight; it’s a mental rope Eve can grasp. She checks her watch. She’d better get dressed if they’re choosing wedding invitations in an hour and a half. She throws on her jeans and a white t-shirt and gallops down the gravel path, ready to give it to him for scaring her.
Outside, the sky is blue and bright and Eve can hear the hum of air-conditioning, even at 7:30 AM. Back home in Jerusalem she feels far from the coast, in spite of the fact that both Jewish states combined—the new State of Shalem run according to Jewish Law and the secular State of Israel—form barely a bullet point on the world map.
Jordannah never locks her front door, so Eve lets herself in only to be immediately set upon by Jordannah’s growling cyber pet Adlai. Artificial saliva drips down his furry front. Her stomach muscles clench.
“Shush. Adlai, it’s me. Smell. Pipe down or you’ll wake up the kids.”
Eve extends her hands, palms up. She forces herself to smile while she waits for the tail wag that indicates Adlai has recognized her smell as friendly. The cyber dog immediately goes into relax mode, hurrying back to his basket and curling up with his artificial lids closed.
Eve dashes into the living room. Disappointed, she pokes her head into the bathroom. Empty. She dives for the telephone and dials Manny’s number. “This mailbox is full” she’s told by an automated voice. “Please try again.”
Eve sends a text: ‘TTMN. ♥ E.’
Come on, Manny, she thinks, blocking out images of him unconscious in an avocado field or face down in the mud by the dairy farm. ‘TTMN. Talk to me now!’
As Eve presses the send button for the third time, the front door opens and Jordannah enters covered in sweat from her morning jog along the beach. She has her cell phone on her right ear and her heart monitor on the left.
“Hi little sister. Don’t tell Regev, I left the kids to go jogging. He’s absolutely paranoid and doesn’t believe me that Adlai is enough of a guard. Hey, why the face? I thought the name of the game was wedding bells to begin ringing at 9:00 AM over invitation euphoria? And where is Mr. Smooth?”
“I was kind of hoping you’d tell me that you’d seen Manny.”
Eve looks directly into Jordannah’s eyes. A wrinkle forms on Jordannah’s brow.
“No one’s been here, but we can rewind Adlai’s viewer and double check. Relax. Maybe even your man got jittery and went for a walk. Adlai. Wake.”
The cyber dog is on all fours in less than a second. He trots over to Jordannah, his rubbery tongue almost touching the floor. Jordannah lifts up the flap of his curly, black fur and presses the orange button on the roll-down screen.
“Date. Today. Time. From midnight until present. Only outsiders.”
No one appears on the teabag-sized screen until both sisters see Eve herself entering the house and hear Adlai barking.
“Sorry, Eve. He hasn’t been here,” says Jordannah, as she returns Adlai to his basket. Silently the screen rolls back up and Jordannah smoothes the dog’s fur down again.
“I don’t understand. Where could he possibly go on his own for so long? And with all of his things? His clothes, towel, even his toothbrush is gone.”
Jordannah raises one eyebrow.
“Did you hear him mention anything?”
“Your man Manny and I don’t speak much, Eve and I don’t want to state the obvious, but did you try calling?”
“Of course, I tried calling. He doesn’t answer and I texted him three times.”
She digs her fingers into her abdomen, and massages the spot where tension has begun to gnaw at her insides.
“Sit,” Jordannah says, pointing at a kitchen chair. She switches her sunglasses to indoor mode, and takes two coffee mugs out of the cupboard.
Eve does as she’s told and takes a deep breath. Visualize. This would be the advice of her Life Relax instructor. She imagines Manny breezing in, smiling and immediately offering a reasonable explanation for his absence. Just picturing Manny softens the muscles in her shoulders. The effect his presence has on her has not changed in three years.
Jordannah sets a mug of steaming coffee before her. “Look, he knows where the invitation studio is. Perhaps he’s got something up his sleeve and he’s planning to meet you there as a surprise. Check out the rock he’s given you. It seems serious enough.”
Eve gives Jordannah a half smile and sips the coffee. She holds her left hand up. It is a sensational ring.
“You’re not thinking about how Dad ran out on Mom are you?”
“No. Of course not,” says Eve. There’s no way she’s going to explain that she’s visualizing positive images. Jordannah would sneer.
Jordannah tilts her coffee mug and sips. “I’m going to make sure the kids’ schoolbags are packed and send them off with Adlai before they miss the first bell.”
Jordannah’s four young sons are so engaged in their 3D holograph play cube that Eve hasn’t even noticed they’re in the room. In the secular state of Israel children are mandated to go to school on Saturdays to ensure that no one is keeping the traditional Sabbath. Sundays are the official government rest days.
“These new laws about going to school on Saturdays are driving me and Regev nuts. Did I tell you the kibbutz tried to move Yom Kippur to the first of May? Ridiculous! Luckily the vote didn’t pass, but it almost did.”
“Pass where?” Eve asks, trying to sound interested so as not to insult her sister.
“We still vote on everything here. Everything we decide on is a referendum. ‘Democracy of the absurd,’ as Regev always says.”
Eve is only partly paying attention. She never could understand the way the kibbutz worked and she certainly never wanted to get involved with the national politics leading to the civil war; especially not the religious issues.
“Moving Yom Kippur to the first of May to coincide with Worker’s Day,” Jordi continues, knowing very well that Eve isn’t going to respond. “Tell me if you’ve ever heard of anything so ridiculous?”
“Whatever,” Eve answers, too preoccupied with her missing fiancé to care, let alone the fact that she doesn’t know anything about the Worker’s Day holiday the kibbutz rejuvenated after the split between the two countries.
“Can I phone Regev? Maybe he saw him.”
“Try it,” Jordannah calls from the hallway.
Her brother-in-law gets up at four in the morning to milk the cows—this way he can finish work by noon—then volunteers for the afternoon or evening patrols around the kibbutz. That’s assuming he’s not called up for army reserve duty to serve in an infantry unit. Since the war they pushed up the yearly service from one month to two months a year. Nobody but kibbutzniks could manage being away from work for so long without it affecting their standard of living. Once school is over, the children are looked after in children’s houses until dinner time.
Eve says Regev’s name out loud and her phone automatically dials his number. His face, covered in mud, flashes onto the screen of the phone.
“Shalom Eveleh, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
She can see him looking at his wrist phone.
“What happened to you? Your face is covered in mud.”
“That’s not mud, darling,” he answers, wiping what she now realizes is cow manure from his face. “I’m at work, you know. Just pulled a calf out. Here, take a look.” He put his wrist in the direction of the newborn calf struggling to get up as her mother licks her dry. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your life?”
“Uch, that’s disgusting,” Eve says.
“You should come on down here with your boyfriend. Come have a cup of coffee when Jordi goes to work.”
“Listen, Regev. Have you seen Manny?”
“Sorry, Eveleh. I haven’t seen him since last night,” says Regev, lighting up a cigarette. “I always have a smoke after pulling a calf out.” He winks at Eve. “I know, I know, I gotta quit, so save the lecture.”
Eve distances the receiver from her ear and watches her brother-in-law hack away, waiting for Regev to catch his breath. On the one hand, he works all day surrounded by nature, on the other, he doesn’t stop smoking—just like all the kibbutzniks, she thinks. She looks at Regev’s tanned dirty face on her phone and doesn’t know what to say.
“What time is it anyways?” Regev says. “It’s still early. Not as early as in Jerusalem though—we’re an hour later here, so I hope you remembered to turn your clock ahead.“ He turns and coughs once more. “I’ll ask the guards to look at the cameras if you like. We have cams everywhere—they don’t always work—but I’ll let you know if they find anything. Meantime, I’ll keep my eye out and call you right away if I see him. I’m sure this’ll all work out.”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“No bother, Eveleh. The guy on duty is a good friend of mine. What do you think we pay him for?”
“I thought you kibbutzniks didn’t get paid,” she says to him, trying to smile into the phone.
“We don’t. You know we don’t. You know what I mean.”
“Not really, but thanks. Let me know if you hear anything. Bye,” Eve says, sinking into the couch with her head in her hands. Kibbutzniks, she thinks to herself. Eve still couldn’t figure out how they all worked different jobs yet received the same pay. They also paid no rent despite not owning their homes. The phone rings and her thoughts return to Manny. Eve holds her breath, but Jordannah doesn’t call her over.
Although Eve spends a good portion of her time theorizing about other people, including her sister and her husband and their strange communal way of life, it disappoints her that she has run out of theories as to where Manny, her own fiancé, might be. She considers calling the police. Then she debates calling Regev back to see if the guards caught Manny on the cams, but knows that would be ridiculous as she just got off the phone with him two seconds ago. Visualize, she says to herself. A grown man missing for two hours is not a need to panic.
She looks at her watch: 8:00 AM. She remembers that she did, indeed, forget to turn her clock ahead an hour. Ever since the split, Israel keeps daylight savings while Shalem does not. It’s a hassle having to remember what time it is, especially for those who commute daily back and forth between the two states. There is nothing to do but wait.
An hour later, Eve finds herself with Jordannah at the Invitation Ecstasy Shop awaiting word from either Manny or Regev. The sisters don’t exchange full sentences as they sit in the graphic artist’s office looking in opposite directions or at the parquet floor.
The air-conditioner in the small room is barely working and the summer heat, combined with her obvious embarrassment, forces Eve to look away from the heart-shaped wall clock. Openly staring at the time would only redden her hot cheeks and cause her to swallow harder. She has already used the bathroom twice. In an attempt to ward off a tension headache, Eve sips mango flavored water from the office cooler.
For the first thirty minutes the atmosphere is put-on pleasant as the two sisters flip through invitation mock-ups, almost wordlessly point out appealing colors or energetic designs. There are invitations with combinations of smells and sounds, as well as edible ones, and ones with links for automatic clicking into personal diaries. Jordannah smiles while taste testing tonic water, beer, almond, olive and orange peel. Mumbling something about her sister being a farmer’s wife, Eve nibbles on honeysuckle, pomegranate, orange blossom and lavender.
“You’re hopeless when it comes to Manny, Eve. I swear he’s cast a spell on you.”
Eve shrugs and marks the invitations she might consider on a computerized customer pad. The heart-shaped clock reads 10:00 AM.
“We’ve been here an hour.” Then in a low voice. “I think he’d have shown up by now. I hate to say it, Eve.”
Her sister’s words sound harsh. ‘I hate to say it’ really means ‘You’ve quit your job, flown halfway across the world and gotten dumped.’ They both know this.
Eve doesn’t admit to Jordannah how deeply she has been longing for the sound of his footsteps, his mumbled apology. So she nods instead. She doesn’t want to cry, so she bites the insides of her cheeks. Then she stands up, breathes deeply to steady her stomach, takes small steps down to the exit, and closes the door behind her.
Gila Green has published tens of short stories in literary magazines and anthologies in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel and Hong Kong. Her first collection White Zion was nominated for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award and her work has been nominated for six international awards and for a Canadian literary fellowship (Montreal). Her first novel, a futuristic satire titled, KING OF THE CLASS will be released April 2013 by Now or Never Publishing: www.nonpublishing.com.