Sarah Glazer raised the binoculars to her eyes and followed the movements of the young man and his dog walking down the street. He’d moved in as the third housemate in the fourth floor apartment at 56 Louis Marshall St. a week ago, and every night since, at 12:45, he went out to walk his dog. He made his way back and forth along the block between De Haas and Brandeis until the dog had done its business, and then picked up the poo with a plastic bag. But yesterday she noticed that he didn’t clean up after the dog. She’d focused on the man’s face, waiting to see if it registered surprise at the absence of a bag, annoyance with himself for having forgotten it, or at least a modicum of embarrassment, but his expression remained blank. He continued on his way as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the dog poo was still lying there on the sidewalk. Despite her conviction that such behavior was barbaric, a sign of the moral decline of the country’s younger generation, she had decided not to do anything about it for the moment. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. So now she was waiting anxiously to see what he would do tonight. If he didn’t clean up after the dog again, she would no longer remain silent. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, she’d send a strongly-worded complaint to the city, anonymously of course.
The dog stopped. She adjusted the binoculars. She’d bought them on the Internet a month ago, paying more than ten thousand shekels for what the company website guaranteed was “the latest technology.” But as a woman who always kept an eye on the street, who made sure she was aware of everything going on in the neighborhood, she couldn’t resist. She told no one about her purchase as she waited impatiently for the package to arrive. A few days later it did. Inside was a shiny new pair of binoculars with the finest lenses and a special button. When she pressed it she could see almost as well at night as she could in broad daylight.
Her oldest grandson had come to visit two days ago and asked if she used the computer he’d bought her for her birthday, if she remembered what he’d taught her about how to use the Internet. She almost told him about the lovely present she had got herself with all those impressive features. But she changed her mind at the last minute. She knew tongues would start wagging in the family, and she’d have to explain why, at the age of eighty-two, she had decided to buy binoculars, of all things, and such expensive ones to boot. She and Sefi, may he rest in peace, had always lived frugally, saving their money “for the children.” Squandering it like this would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two among her children and give her two daughters-in-law good reason to mutter behind her back. And so she held her tongue. It was better they didn’t know. She deserved to pamper herself now and then. And at her age she had the right to a few secrets.
The man from the fourth floor at 56 Marshall St. bent down and picked up the dog poo with a bag. Yesterday had apparently been an isolated incident. But maybe not. Just to be on the safe side, she’d continue to keep an eye on him. With things like this you had to keep your finger on the pulse.
She lowered the binoculars to her lap and yawned. She had to admit to herself that she was a little disappointed he’d cleaned up after the dog. In her head she’d already started phrasing the letter she’d write to the city about the shamelessness of the younger generation, the lack of consideration and basic human decency in the world today. This never used to happen. In the old days, everybody knew everybody. People would not have allowed themselves to behave that way. This was a neighborhood built for the workers of the Tel Aviv harbor. They were all Socialists. The four stories long apartment buildings were nicknamed “train-carts”. The apartments were assigned to the tenants in a lottery. They were all small and identical, but people cared for them. They invested money and efforts in the neighborhood. It was always clean and tidy, and on holidays, they would go down to plant flowers in the garden with the kids. Today, all the new tenants are well-off people, or the children of well-off people. Sure, inside its’ beautiful, but outside? Ha! Nobody cares, to say nothing of gardens. That is why this guy doesn’t care about the dog.
She got up from the chair slowly. Lately, she found her head would spin for a few minutes if she stood up too quickly. She looked over at the second floor of 54 Louis Marshall St. The apartment was dark. The day before yesterday she’d seen the couple arguing, and the man hadn’t been home since. Every night the woman sat crying at the kitchen table. Her heart went out to them, especially that nice lady who always greeted her with a broad smile when they passed each other in the street.
She dragged herself through the apartment to the bathroom. Dr. Shaham had instructed her to take Nurofen four times a day for her arthritis, and like a good solider, she always followed doctor’s orders. That was why she’d been forcing herself to stay up until one o’clock the last few days. She took the first pill at seven in the morning when she got up, the second at one in the afternoon with her lunch, the third at seven in the evening, an hour before the news, and the fourth at one at night. If it weren’t for that fourth pill, she’d go to bed at ten, just like she and Sefi had done every night for the past twenty years. Her daughter Ruthie had suggested she set the alarm, but she didn’t trust clocks. And what did Ruthie know about pain anyway?
She placed the pill on her tongue and washed it down with a sip of water. Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing and straightened up. A noise was coming from outside. Something was moving around in the yard. It must be the cats, she thought. She went downstairs every morning to give them milk, and brought them bones at lunch time. They were probably fighting again too, she thought gloomily, shaking her head. She raised the binoculars to her eyes and pressed the night-vision button.
For a moment she thought she was imagining things. But it wasn’t her imagination. It wasn’t cats she heard down there; it was people, two of them. A man and a woman. Like animals, she muttered to herself. Why “like”? They were animals. She grimaced in disgust. The man had a large tattoo on his arm, maybe a dragon, which only added to her repulsion. Barbarians and thugs were everywhere these days. Even in her own neighborhood. It was utterly repugnant. Nevertheless, she kept her eyes glued to the binoculars, unable to look away.
What she was looking at wasn’t immediately clear to her. Her mind didn’t work as quickly as it used to. It took a while for all the details to come together in her head to form a coherent picture. And then all at once she realized: they weren’t lovers. The man was raping the woman right here before her eyes, in the yard of the building she had lived in for more than forty years, a meter from the Indian ficus tree that her Sefi planted when they moved here. One hand was over the girl’s mouth and the other was holding a knife to her throat. His buttocks rose and fell rapidly, beating at her in a monotonous rhythm. She understood now that the howling she’d heard before hadn’t come from the cats.
Her skin bristled. She could almost feel the weight of the rapist bearing down on her, pressing on her windpipe and preventing her from breathing. She wanted to do something, to scream, run to the phone and call the police, help the poor girl lying there in the yard. But she did none of those things. She only stood by the window, frozen, paralyzed by fear.
All of a sudden the man stopped and twisted his head around, staring in her direction. Quickly, she took a few steps back, moving deeper into the apartment, letting her figure be swallowed up in the darkness. A chill ran through her body. If she called the police now and they caught him, he or his gangster friends would come back to settle the score with her. They weren’t the kind of people you ought to mess with. There was no compassion in the underworld they lived in. Certainly not for a woman her age. What would she do if they showed up at her door? She was too old, too frail for such things.
No. She had to play it smart. Keep out of it.
She went into the bedroom and opened the top drawer of the nightstand with a trembling hand. Her heart was racing. She took out the nitroglycerin pills Dr. Shaham had prescribed for her heart, placed one under her tongue, and got into bed, the binoculars still around her neck. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. Besides, maybe someone else heard them, she thought, trying to comfort herself as sleep gathered her up in its arms. A lot of people live here. People who are younger and stronger than me.
Liad Shoham is Israel’s leading thriller writer. “Line Up” is being translated by Sara Kitai into English by Harper Collins and is slated to come out in September 2013. His latest title, “Asylum City,” set among Tel Aviv’s African refugee community, is currently #1 on the bestseller chart. The English translation is due out in September 2014.