Helena takes out her sketch pad and I put a soft hand over the blank page to remind her we don't have enough time. We have to go visit my father, and I didn't plan well; we left the house too late, then hit the worst traffic. The truth is we both tend to lose track of time, and in New York we shared the blame for our latenesses, but here in Jerusalem most things are my fault because I'm the native. Helena looks at me with eyes that say I'm being aggressive again, and I remove my hand. I know I'm a different man in Israel, but I only remember it when Helena's eyes remind me. “We need to get there before dark,” I tell her, “you know how he gets in the evenings.” “But we are not leaving yet, Dror, yes?” Helena says, a light finger tapping my nose. “I can do somm work.”
Helena's accent is a mosaic of all the places she's lived in, but I hear Greece and Italy on her tongue the most. When she says my name, it sounds like a drawer. That's almost the opposite of what my name means in Hebrew, which is freedom. Still, it was Helena who taught me to love my name. Beautiful, she said, listen. A drawer. And I could hear. I could hear it was beautiful.
Helena positions herself a little better on the grass, stares at the convent in front of us for a quick moment, then starts making brisk, circular motions with her pencil. Her preliminary sketches look nothing like convents; they are musings, Helena's notes to her future self. I look away so she doesn't feel crowded. If you ask her, Helena will tell you—I can hear it now— a Drawer doesn't understand that my work need space. When she talks about space, she's talking about a studio. And she's wrong: I do understand her need for space. Sometimes I think I could find us a bigger place, a real house with a basement. Maybe a Palestinian family owned it years ago and was later chased out: it's the sort of thing you have to wonder about, getting a house in Jerusalem. Maybe the children used to fight with each other in that basement and the parents would yell, Stop hitting your brother, you're supposed to set an example. Now this basement would be Helena’s studio, and every time I'd walk in she’d say Be patient, a Drawer, which would mean Get out. But then sometimes I'd come in at just the right moment, when Helena's looking at a sketch and thinking, I’m a gifted artist. I'd stop at the door and she'd look at me with her side glance and minutes later there we'd be, making love on the floor of her studio.
It's a silly dream. When Helena is done sketching all the convents around, she will go back to New York. “For the duration of the proposed project,” her grant terms state. Grant terms can be confusing. When Helena's done sketching is when the real work starts, she tells me, though I get the sense she doesn't know yet what that truly means this time around; each project is a world to invent, to shape. So how does she know she can't do it in Jerusalem? And how do the money people define “duration”? These are questions I work hard not to ask. With a woman like Helena, apply too much pressure and she'll slip from your hands.
My phone buzzes for the third or fourth time—Kinneret office—and for the third or fourth time I ignore it. Helena has a sixth sense when it comes to Kinneret; she always knows it's her without looking. “With a client,” I text Kinneret, my eyes on Helena's sketching hand. Kinneret probably knows that I'm lying but this will still buy me some quiet time. We have a long history of shared lies, Kinneret and I; we recognize when a lie needs space. And as real-estate people, space is something we respect.
After some time I say “Hel, we need to get going,” and Helena quiets her pencil. Often after she's done for the day, we make love in front of the convent. When this happens, I feel like a boy again—afraid of getting caught, thrilled by my own fear, confused. I said that to Helena once, in the car on our way back from Nazareth to Jerusalem. I was careful with my words, and the word boy I whispered. “A boy means young ,” Helena said, “but a boy also means not a man.” Her face was thinking. “Yes,” I said, “I know.” I assumed I killed this ritual, the way anything tender in love can die when you point at it. But the next time, our bodies found each other same as before. I think it's Helena's way of celebrating when she's finished with one of the convents, her way of saying goodbye.
There aren’t many convents in Israel; ninety-six, if I'm not mistaken. Helena never finishes a convent in one sitting, and never starts a new one before the previous sketch is complete. But she rarely goes back to a convent more than once—two visits are sufficient. If you ask her she’ll tell you that she works every day, but that will not be true. Helena lies easily; when she says words that aren’t true she does something with her shoulders like brushing off. She doesn’t lie to deceive anyone—she lies to make herself believe. The truth is she sketches about four days out of seven—five on good weeks, three on bad. If you do the math, this roughly comes up to forty-eight weeks' worth of convent sketching, and it's been seven months now since we landed in Ben Gurion Airport together. In short, we are running out of time.
I touch her hair now, then her neck with just a hint of force; that's how we often start. She sits there staring at the convent, ignoring my fingers. “Hey,” I whisper. She looks at me and her eyes are wet. “What happened?” I ask, “what's wrong?” Helena closes her eyes. “You want me to go with you to your father,” she says, “but when I do you always regret it.” “That's not true at all,” I tell her, “you are a huge help.” She glances at my phone, shakes her head as if to shake the feeling. Then she gets up.
I try to see my father often even if his caretaker says he's doing well—not because he deserves it, but because more than a week and I start feeling silly about leaving New York for him, about coming home. I did well there—made some money, could have made much more if I stayed. And when I lived in New York, I considered Josephine a small miracle—that he had a caretaker meant that I had my freedom, many miles away. But it quickly turned out that the man who always claimed he could love any woman in the world, who probably did over the years love just about half of them, had found the one woman he absolutely despised. My father—like many Israeli men of his generation, I suppose—has never responded well to feeling dependent, least of all on a woman. The better Josephine got at her job, the more he relied on her, and the more he resented her for his need.
In the car, Helena is a new person. When her mood changes rapidly, I often believe the problem is my memory. Did she really have tears in her eyes just now? Was it somehow my fault? Or am I just misremembering?
“ What I lauv about Yizraeel,” Helena says, “is no one gets too excited if you drink a leedal bid before you drive.” She is referencing the white we just drank straight from the bottle, a 2003 Chardonnay from HaGolan winery we passed between us on the grass. ( Why are Israeli wines so dry, a Drawer? Helena asks every time we drink a local, and yet she keeps picking them.) My foot instinctively touches the brake. “I probably shouldn't be driving,” I say. It's so rare for Helena to say anything positive about life in Israel, and she's not wrong to point out this difference. Still, it seems like something I should protest; my need to numb myself before seeing my father is no excuse to be putting Helena's life in danger.
“Oh, a Drawer,” Helena says. “You always worry too much.” She touches my forehead to make the worry go away. “This is why wine exist, yes? To make family just a leedal easier to handle.” This happens with us quite often: we can fight and make up with very few words. I always sense the lightness when we've moved on, even if I can't explain what went wrong or how we made it right. And I feel that lightness now, but a minute later, looking out the window, Helena says “So much conflict.” I say “Hah?” and she says, “The conflict, it is everywhere.” “What do you mean?” I ask, and I take my eyes off the road quickly a couple times, glance out to see what she's seeing. “Is there something going on there?” “No, a Drawer,” she sighs, “nothing is going on. It's in every stone, in every building. Don't you see?”
I don't. The truth is, if you are ignorant of wars, most days you can walk the streets of Jerusalem and keep your ignorance intact. And if you know the history but choose to forget, the holy city will not remind you. The streets of Jerusalem do not tell a story of violence, and some days, on some street corners, they tell a story of coexistence, of du kiyum. Walking through the market, you feel like the youngest child of a large, loud family. You have to fight for attention, and the food is all around you, smelling like it's worth the fight. But that's not what Helena sees. “I thought you liked Jerusalem,” I tell her. “Who said anything about liking, not liking,” Helena says, “eh? You take everything so personal.” There's silence in the car now between us that feels dense, and I don't want to get to my father's with this density. We're close to his place, the streets of Rehavya sprawled before us. “Hel,” I say, and I try to meet her eyes, which is hard to do while driving, “can we maybe not do this right now? Please?”
“What are we doing, a Drawer,” Helena says, “we are doing nothing.”
My father seems shorter every time I visit. “Where is Josephine,” I ask. She'd be answering the door if she were here, and the place smells like she's been gone some time; it doesn't take long with him, and it isn't old age or sickness—the man has probably never washed a plate in his life. I think fast, try to remember when I talked to Josephine last. “Pshh,” my father says, waves his hand in the air, grabs Helena's arm. “Helenka, how is it possible you get more beautiful every day?” “Dad,” I ask, “can you answer my question.” “Would you say hello first,” Helena tells me. Then she whispers, “a Drawer, stop.” I feel pressure in my head but I say “Hi aba,” and we do something like a hug.
Then I sit in the living room while Helena goes with my dad to make tea. They're laughing their way to the small kitchen, laughing as they wait for the water to boil. I hear Helena's voice, loud and rolling, saying my father's name several times. Yehuda this, Yehuda that. Helena believes it impolite not to use a person's name. I try not to look around, because why would I? I see no point applying pressure on a bruise. It's an old man's apartment, and one he hates, which is my fault; I moved him here from my childhood home before I left for New York, eighteen months ago now. He'd just turned seventy; I hadn't even thought of him as old. But he started to say strange things, kept obsessing about his will—the physical copy of it—kept asking me if I'd seen it, if I moved it, if I hid it from him. “Tell you what, dad,” I said once, “I think I'll just keep my trust-fund and give the rest to charity, okay?” He slapped me then—fast, hard. “You think this is funny?” he asked. I saw something foreign in his eyes in that moment, something I was certain hadn't been there before. I tried to ignore it still after, because seeing it meant not going to New York. It was Kinneret who said “You can't leave him like that, Dror. We'll take care of this together.”
I wasn't even twenty when I met Kinneret. I loved my life on base, was thankful to the military for taking me away from the hell that was my home, and when she arrived—got transferred to be close to her then-husband, my commander's commander—she made everything at once even better and terrible. We fell for each other in that way where your unconscious mind talks to the other person's unconscious mind and no matter what you do, neither of you can stop the conversation. So we got to know every hidden nook on base, and when we nearly got caught once, Kinneret asked for another transfer. We meant it, I think: we meant to stay away from each other. But the next day, my mother died. I fainted when I got the news, and when I woke up I couldn't move. My paralysis—which would last for weeks, mystify the doctors and their tests, then eventually lift as instantly as it took hold—shocked me. My mother had been sick for years, and the truth was I'd wished for this moment, her relief and mine. Why couldn't I cope better? But I couldn't, and so right from the start, Kinneret handled everything. She dealt with Hachevre Kadisha to set up the funeral, compiled a list—God knows how—of people to notify and got on the phone to call them, and she cleared everything with the military, got me way more days off than I deserved. She also found me a place so I wouldn't have to live where my mother died, and even though it allowed my father to reclaim that house for himself, and even though my new home was a decrepit room in the middle of the Old City where the walls smelled like broccoli, I was grateful to Kinneret for taking care of me, and for wanting us to have more than a nook to ourselves whenever we got together. And yet soon after that we started fighting, and once we started, we couldn't stop. We fought everywhere, about everything. We yelled and threw things—one time I threw an antique lamp against the wall but it hit the window; we had to wear shoes in the apartment for weeks. Several times, we came close to hitting each other. It was cathartic, in a way—I remember fighting with Kinneret and feeling freer than I ever had. I think a part of me wanted to keep fighting like that forever, just wrecking and wrecking. But eventually she figured she should focus on fighting with her husband, and we broke up.
She reached out some years later, after her divorce. I was in my late twenties by then, she in her mid thirties.“I'm involved with someone,” I said, though I wasn't; it just seemed that all the fighting and lying was something beyond circumstance, that our connection was wired wrong, and I hadn't missed it. “Don't flatter yourself,” she said; “I have a job offer.” Apparently, she and her ex started a real-estate business and she got it as part of her settlement. “I remember you bragging you could sell anything to anyone,” she said, “and you certainly knew how to win an argument and still make the other person feel they didn't lose; you'd make a perfect broker.”
It's funny, isn't it, what we choose to remember. I never bragged about selling anything, I'm pretty sure—never knew I was any good at it until I started working for Kinneret—and I certainly didn't win one single argument the whole time we were together.
I suppose, looking back, that I mentioned my father's strange behaviors to Kinneret because I knew she would take care of things once again. And she did—she found the agency, dealt with the bureaucracy and legalities of trying to hire a migrant worker. So until Kinneret and I met Josephine, in that crummy agency office on Alenby Street in Tel Aviv, I hadn't given much thought to how depressing these women's realities were, how terrible—leaving their lives in the Philippines behind and traveling far to where people like me, by paying a fraction of what live-in care would otherwise cost, allow them to send money back home, to keep their children alive. And I'd be lying if I said I considered it much that day, either—I was mostly relieved that we found someone, that I'd be able to leave for New York. But I do remember the gloominess of those offices hitting me (peeling paint, a clicking old fan, the agent's dead eyes) and I especially remember how something shifted in me when Josephine walked into the room. I realize it's a ridiculous thing to say, but she reminded me of my mother. She seemed about the same age my mother was before she got sick, and while she was much shorter than my mother, she carried herself the same way. And she wore a delicate golden chain—a crucifix, I could see when she got closer—that from a distance looked exactly like a family heirloom of my mother's, one that always seemed to be part of her body. I remember thinking perhaps it's all for the best, that I'm leaving, because now Josephine will be part of our family.
It was Kinneret who, after finding Josephine, suggested that selling the house and buying a cheaper apartment would cover expenses. She helped me with all of it and in record time, too. “One thing,” she said when it was all done: “we got you a job in New York, got your dad's house sold, found him a great apartment; you never get to bitch about working real-estate again.”
“Where is Josephine,” I ask again now, when Helena and my father are back with the tea. Helena touches my knee. It's not like Josephine's never changed her schedule before, taken a day off that wasn't a Sunday, but something in the arrangement of the pillows all on my dad's favorite couch, something in the thickness of this smell in the air, something in his cheerfulness, is making me worry. “She will be back,” my father says, then turns to Helena, “They always come back.” He winks and she laughs. It's easy to make Helena laugh; she has church bells in her belly, ready to be chimed. And when she laughs, my dad is in love, following her head with his eyes and a slight tilt. There's no doubt Helena is a charmer—most men, most people, are charmed by her. But there is also no doubt that my father's reaction isn't truly about her, that though he's not aware of it, my father has always had the tendency to want anything that isn't his.
I try Josephine and the call goes straight to voicemail; I stare at my father and don't flinch. Eventually he will have to answer. “Drorka, teraga,” he says in Hebrew, relax. “I'm relaxed,” I say, “and I'm asking you why Josephine isn't here.” “We had a little fight,” he says, “it happens. I told her she could go.” “Again?” I ask, and my voice is louder than I intend. “Dad, how many times do we have to go through this? You can't just kick her out. She's a person, she lives here just like you.” I switch to Hebrew mid-sentence, forgetting Helena, forgetting Josephine was supposed to call me if this ever happened again—not just leave him and disappear—forgetting everything but my rage, which builds in my lungs, makes my chest tall and my shoulders wide. We yell at each other in Hebrew, and from the corner of my eye I see Helena taking this in, perhaps a little dismayed. She's never seen me lose my temper like this, because I don't—not at anyone except my father, not anymore. Something happened to me in New York—I lived there so briefly but the experience revealed a simple, incredible truth: what Israelis view as speaking comes off to most non-Israelis as aggression. Once I saw that, really saw it, I decided to be different—from my father, from a whole generation of men here who never pause to question their anger. And for the most part I've succeeded; change can be easier than people think if the new self fits better. Yet here I am, raging at my father with violence in my fists just waiting to be let loose. Helena doesn't say anything, doesn't touch my knee to quiet me; she just sits there looking small. She's never looked small before, and the moment this thought sinks, I lower my voice, force myself to take a deep breath. I know that if I look at my father the anger will build again, so I look at the mantel behind him instead, where he keeps his hero trophies from his military days and a few photographs of him and my mother as a young happy couple. This couple surely went on to have many accomplished children, not just one disappointment. This lovely young soldier certainly never cheated on his beautiful wife, never left. And if he did leave—surely for good reasons, because look at him in his olive uniform, how honorable—this woman standing so tall here with her arm around his waist, her eyes at the camera and beyond, surely never fell apart, surely didn't get sicker and sicker until she died.
“We can't afford to lose Josephine,” I tell him. “You know how lucky we were to get her in the first place. I'm not going to deal with getting another Filipina, with getting someone approved.... forget it.” “No one asked you to do anything,” he says, and he motions to Helena like, can you believe this guy?
“Call me if you hear anything from her,” I say before we leave. “Hear from who,” he says. I look at him, and what scares me most is that I can't tell if it's dementia or manipulation. Does he truly not know what I'm talking about? Helena takes his hand. “Yehuda,” she says, “a Drawer is worried about Josephine. You have to call him if she comes back.” My father laughs. “Helenka,” he says, “what will I not do for you?”
“You say 'a Filipina,'” Helena says when we're in the car, “'getting a Filipina.'” I look at her; I know what she means—people here reference migrant workers by their professions, and it's become so integrated in the language that I don't hear it, forget that “a Filipina” isn't actually a word that means caretaker to the elderly, just like “a Thai” isn't a construction worker, and so on. I know it's wrong. And yet I get defensive when Helena wants me to criticize most everything in Israel; this ailing land, for now, is where I have to live. Helena would never admit it, but I know she doesn't understand my commitment to my father, considering we were nearly estranged for years. And I don't expect her to get it—Helena and I are from different worlds, and there are times when the differences between us offer an escape. But there are also times when I wish I knew how to explain to her that in Israel you take care of family no matter what, that I'm my father's only child and so if he's sick it's my problem, no matter our history. Those types of early lessons live in a person's bones. “Why do you always hate everything about Israel?” I ask Helena, and she says “Israel? Who said anything about Israel?” Yizraeel. I have no patience for this conversation, not now. “It sounds like you're talking about.... a washer-dryer or a toaster,” Helena says, “something you go to the store and buy.” “Don't I wish it was as easy as getting a toaster,” I say, and immediately feel a familiar burn in the back of my throat, the sensation of wanting to unspeak my words. I can't name what I see in Helena's eyes then, but she's squinting and shaking her head lightly, like I'm far away and she'd need binoculars to see me. “I didn't mean it like that,” I say. “It's just—a very complicated situation. I was lucky that Kinneret found Josephine when she did. Josephine still had a few years on her visa when the woman she was caring for died, so we didn't have to deal with getting my dad qualified. Which would not only be bureaucratic hell, but probably impossible. He'd sabotage it anyway he could because he wouldn't want to go through the humiliation—it is pretty humiliating—and because he thinks he's fine and doesn't need any help.” Often, when I want to explain something to Helena, I end up explaining something else altogether.
“A Drawer,” Helena says, “you're getting ahead of yourself, no? She might be back in a leedal bid.” “I just have a feeling,” I say. “Oh,” Helena says with teasing eyes, “feelings.”
It's probably a bad idea to call Kinneret from the car—which means having the conversation on speakerphone in front of Helena—because while she would never admit it, I know Helena doesn't like Kinneret and doesn't like how involved she is in my life. Helena looks away, out the window, the whole time I'm on the phone. She's gotten pretty good at picking up bits of conversation in Hebrew, so when I hang up and she asks what Kinneret said, I'm a bit suspicious. “That she'd make some calls in the morning,” I say, and Helena nods.
There's an expression in Hebrew, Yihiye beseder. It means everything will be all right, but the way many Israelis use it—with a tilt of the head forward and sideways, hissing the s—makes it sound more ridicule than reassurance. Why worry? Why check? Yihiye bessseder. Kinneret is that kind of Israeli, so when my phone buzzes minutes after we get home, I know it means she was concerned, and I know it's bad news. I hold the phone in my hand for a few seconds before I answer. When I do, Kinneret says, “She's in jail, she's been taken in.” My face must be communicating something, because Helena is looking at me with worried eyes, but there are no words coming out of me until Kinneret repeats what she said, then says “Dror, are you there?” This is why I can't find the words: it must be a mistake, but Kinneret isn't saying anything about mistakes. Josephine has a visa, a work permit, she can't be taken in. I know this for a fact. And yet I also know Kinneret, and that's the first thing she'd say, It must be a mixup, we'll get her out in the morning, yihiye besseder . “But Josephine is legal,” I tell Kinneret finally, though I know as I'm saying it that somehow it isn't true. “Right,” Kinneret says. “Kinneret?” I say. “It seems she may not be,” she says.
In my dream that night, an unexpected turn. Helena wakes up and declares, “I’m all done! No more convents!” We are lying in our bed but it is not our bed, it is a boat. Light comes in through the window because we have no curtains, no shades. We are both squinting. In the dream, being done doesn't mean leaving. Instead, I realize that less sketching means more time for me, for us, and I say to Helena, “We can sail!” Sailing, apparently, is something that excites us both. Helena wants to sail with me, but she thinks I'm joking. “How can we sail?” she asks, and I know in that moment she is mistaking our boat for a bathtub. “Sweetie,” I tell her, “look!” I pull her to me and start rowing, and Helena smiles, then laughs with all her bells. She stays close to me and rests her head between my shoulder and my face.
I should mention that in the dream Helena is wearing a blue sari that I got for her when I went to visit my brother in India. Now, I do not have a brother and I’ve never been to India. We were other people in that boat, I guess you could say. Maybe change is only possible in dreams, I think when I wake up in the morning.
Helena isn’t next to me—even the warmth is gone. I trudge to the living room, where I see her looking at a blank sketch pad. “No bath?” I ask. In the morning, every morning since I've met her, Helena takes a long bath. “I took a shower,” she says, eyes back on her pad. “Oh,” I say and something in my stomach tightens. In our first months together I would ask Helena countless times if she would like to take a shower with me. I became a bit obsessed with this particular intimacy she seemed reluctant to share. “I hate showers,” Helena finally said to me once; “it feels like someone very tall is peeing on me.” “So you only ever take baths?” I asked, amazed at this somehow. She kept her eyes on me then, nodded slowly, smiled. “Your face,” she said, “when something is new.” “What about it?” I asked, feeling as I so often did back then, like she was teaching me something she didn't want me to learn. “Priceless,” she said, with her rolling r, and then again, “priceless.”
I stand there for a bit watching her; she's flipping through the pages now. She never looks up. “Everything okay, Hel?” I ask finally, and she raises her eyes, seems confused, says, “I'll be ready in time.” “You really don't have to come,” I say once again, though I said it twice last night; I'm not looking forward to a long drive with her and Kinneret both in the car, not looking forward to Helena seeing the facility—that's the term they use—where migrant workers are held before their trial or deportation. This trip is unlikely to showcase the Israel I want Helena to learn to love, so that she doesn't leave. But I see my mistake right away, the sadness in her eyes. “A Drawer,” she says, “if you don't want me to come...” “No, no,” I say, “that's not what I mean.” She nods. “I'll be in the shower,” I say. Then I remember and turn around. “I'm sorry about the change of plans for today,” I say, “we'll reschedule our Kinneret trip when this whole mess is resolved.” Helena knows, of course, that I'm talking about Israel's only water source, a beautiful lake we were going to see today, not about Kinneret the woman. Last week, I took her to the Dead Sea. I've been trying to show her the Israel I grew up loving, show her there's more here than convents and conflict. Still, the sound of that word, Kinneret, lands a particular way on her face, and she looks like she just tasted something sour. “There's no rush, a Drawer,” she says.
One thing I learned in New York is that feeling rushed isn't always bad. Back then I was always returning to Israel soon, and Helena had to pick a destination within the year or she'd lose a big travel grant, but thinking we were running out of time only freed us, allowed us to love without the burden of future. There was a way about us then, unspoken rules of passion under time constraints. If one of us wanted chocolate-mint ice cream at three in the morning, the other would get our coats. Crying—any form of sadness—seemed a waste of time. A touch was always met with a touch. And when one of us—say, me—mentioned next month, or worse, next year, the other always pretended not to hear.
Or maybe all that never happened. Maybe that's just the story I've been telling myself because it makes the rest of the puzzle hold. Maybe Helena was just as distant then as she is now, maybe I woke up most mornings half expecting her gone. Maybe I had big plans for important talks in which I’d ask her why she even stayed with me. Maybe I imagined finding the words that would heal us from an ailment I couldn't name, from this distance she kept, and imagined her voice soft and her eyes shiny, imagined holding her and seeing what she saw in me, seeing that she truly loved me. And maybe I was scared, like I'm always scared of that moment when life separates itself from fantasy, and all you have is an end to something you wanted continued.
But see, I have proof: when I got word from Kinneret that my father was getting worse, when I told Helena that I bought a ticket to return to Israel, she said, “Do you want me to go with you, a Drawer?” Do you want me to go with you. Can you imagine? That's what I remind myself when I think there's no way she'll stay much longer.
Kinneret picks us up in her car. She doesn't like it when anyone else drives and I've long ago given up. I remember being twenty-two and still in love with her, fresh out of the army, feeling emasculated by the passenger seat. But those days are long gone. Now I just let her drive whenever we go somewhere together, because at thirty-eight I know that most things in life aren't worth a fight.
Helena doesn't smile when Kinneret first pulls up, doesn't smile when we get into the car. Kinneret tries to engage her—she asks if she's ever been to the Negev before, asks if we got a good night's sleep, asks Helena how her work is going—but when Helena continues to offer one-word answers, Kinneret switches to Hebrew. “Ma habeaaya shela,” she asks me. What's her problem. I quickly shake my head no, but it's too late. “Why would you ask a Drawer when you can ask me,” Helena says, “when I am right here.” “You didn't seem to want to talk much,” Kinneret says without missing a beat. There's a pause after that and I try to think fast how to move on from this moment. But I'm not fast enough. “I just don't understand,” Helena says, “how you didn't know about Josephine's visa problem.” Kinneret looks at me with raised eyebrows. “I'm sure Dror can explain it to you,” she says. I should say something, of course—this is my father, after all, at the heart of this situation; both of these women are only trying to help me, each in her way, and so there's something absurd about the idea of them arguing about it as I sit silently in the car and listen. And yet I seem incapable of anything but silence. When Helena feels helpless she often chooses to feel mad instead, which is what's happening now. And she does have a point—I trusted Kinneret, who assured me all was well. But Kinneret isn't really at fault—she was only doing me a favor. Apparently, a caretaker's visa binds that worker to one particular employer. So while Josephine's visa looks okay on paper, she's in fact illegal and has been since the elderly woman she worked for died. Kinneret explains all that now but her English sounds like Hebrew and I wonder how much of it Helena understands. “Yes, I know” is all Helena says in response.
We are quiet after that for most of the ride. I ignore Kinneret's eyebrows, avoid Helena's eyes in the mirror. I wait for time to pass. The air gets drier the further south we drive. I prefer it that way—less humidity—but Helena keeps scratching her nose, coughing. “Coming down with something?” Kinneret finally asks her. Helena shakes her head. “Something is making me allergic,” she says.
The facility looks like a deserted military base, so sparse it seems like the image of absence. A barbed-wire fence, bright sand all around, a one-storey building in the distance. The security guard shakes his head no when Helena hands him her passport. “Only blue IDs,” he says to us in Hebrew, then to Helena in a heavy accented English, “I can only take Israelis.” Helena looks at me and I know that this is important, holds weight much heavier than the moment itself—she needs to see that I can protect her in this exact way, against the vagaries of bureaucracy, but of course I can't. I should have thought it through—in an instant it seems the most obvious thing, that she wouldn't be able to enter this area with her tourist visa, and yet in my angst from the whole situation I failed to predict it, and I suppose Kinneret did too. She's out of the car now, on her phone and talking to the guard at the same time; she's doing her best. “Can you guys walk from here,” Helena says, “I'll wait in the car.” “Yes, okay, yes,” I say, because I've got nothing better.
The meeting room seeks to educate its occupants, it seems, about the men leading the Israeli government and military: framed photographs of Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz ridiculously hang alongside each other in the center of a big naked wall. Kinneret and I sit on the metal chairs staring ahead and Kinneret takes my hand, says “It'll be okay,” though really I was just thinking of Helena, what she'd be thinking if she were here, that maybe it's for the best that she stayed in the car. There's nothing horrific about this room that I can point to, nothing that isn't what you'd expect, and yet I'm finding it hard to breathe. When the guard escorts Josephine in, she looks like she could fit in his pocket. He is a big man, and the kind that grows larger in uniform. And she is unreasonably tiny, unfamiliar. My first thought is that I would not recognize her in the street. I glimpse at Kinneret, half expecting her eyes to be squinting as they do when something is wrong or unclear—perhaps this isn't Josephine? But Kinneret gets up, walks over to give her a hug. I expect the guard to bark something at us for this, but he is a silent giant. His face is pleasant, I can now see—much more so than the first guard's, the one probably hitting on Helena just about now. When Josephine meets my eyes for a quick moment, I think of that time when I first saw her, when I imagined she looked like my mother. How ridiculous.
“The prisoner must sit down,” the guard tells us in Hebrew and using the third person even though it's clearly Josephine he's referring to, her standing next to her chair that is breaching protocol. Josephine sits down, an expert in deciphering men's disrespectful Hebrew, and we immediately sit too, on the other side of the bare metal table. Kinneret starts explaining the basics of the situation, the mistake we made, and I can see from Josephine's face this is information she's already aware of, but she doesn't interrupt. When Kinneret pauses, she nods. “From what I understand,” Kinneret says, “you're scheduled for trial in three days.” This is new information to me, but Josephine still looks unfazed and I'm starting to wonder if I'm just misreading her. But when Kinneret continues, says “We'll try to extend, of course, but either way we'll do our best to get Yehuda qualified in that timeframe,” I see the way actual news hits Josephine's face and realize I had not been wrong. I look at Kinneret—what the hell is she talking about, how come I know nothing about this—but she won't meet my eyes. “No no,” Josephine says, and we both look at her perplexed. “Mr. Dror” she says, “I think about it, and I leave.” She pauses for a moment, then adds, “Is for the best.” “Why? “I ask her, and it seems such a ridiculous question—would I want to take care of my father, live with him, suffer his moods? But I repeat it still, feeling desperate, as if maybe she won't know how to respond and then she'll have to stay. “Why?” She takes her eyes off me then, looks at Kinneret, thinking perhaps that Kinneret will save her from the awkwardness of the moment, but of course not. Kinneret purses her lips, ready for a fight. “What about your daughter?” she asks and her words are sharp, “isn't staying here your only way to support her?” I knew, of course, that Josephine had a daughter back home—I must have known—but somehow that information never stuck, perhaps because it seemed so foreign. I can hear Helena in my head lecturing me about conditions in the Philippines, citing statistics about the many women in Josephine's situation who are forced to work in some rich country just so their kids can survive, who are unprotected and often even worse off than she is—abused, demeaned, killed. Israeli privilege is a curtain you can't see through, a Drawer.
“No,” Josephine says, “my daughter is why I go back to Cagayan.” Kinneret pauses, then asks what the hell Josephine's talking about. Kinneret's face muscles tighten; she's lost control of the conversation. Josephine bows her head and for a quick moment she looks like she's praying. We're all quiet, waiting for her to speak—even the guard, it seems. When I first notice tears in her eyes it shocks me. Her voice quivers with the first words out of her mouth. “I trust,” she says and shakes her head, “but my trust is wrong. They lie to me. My daughter: for two years she lie to me.” She pauses here but doesn't let the quiet settle; it's clear that she doesn't trust us to let her speak. “Ever since my daughter is small,” she says, “I always tell her, and my mother and sister tell her too, that if she go to school, we do everything, we help, because school is the future, her only way for good life, and nursing school best because you can find work. So when she start, and early too, sixteen, I so happy! I send more money, everything I send, and I praying on it every night that she succeed. But now I find she lie—all this time she never go! And my mother and sister lie to me too. When they catch my daughter, my daughter convince them to keep secret!” Josephine looks at us now and I nod, try to show her that I understand. I find it admirable that she wants to go home, face her reality. “So you want to return, because in person you may be able to talk sense into her?” I say, and Kinneret looks at me, stunned, how the hell is that helpful, but Josephine shakes her head and her eyes well up again. “It's too late,” she says. “She. Pregnant.” The last word is a whisper. “So please, no extend, Mr. Dror. No fixing. I go home. I caretake my family.” Then she covers her face and cries, quietly sobbing into the palms of her hands. The word caretake echoes in the room, or perhaps just in me. I look at Kinneret, wanting her to get up and hug Josephine, but she's stone cold, ignoring my eyes. “It's another mouth to feed,” she tells Josephine. “You should stay for the sake of that child.” I start to say “Kin, it's okay,” because while I know Kinneret is only trying to help, what she's saying is harsh, and seems manipulative. But before my words register with either of the women, something changes in Josephine's face. She's no longer crying. She says, “My sister get visa to work in America. She make the money now for some years. My daughter need me home.” Kinneret takes a deep breath. “Josephine,” she says, “surely you understand that this is the worst possible time for Dror; he has a guest in his home. He has to focus on her now.” I start saying “Oh that's not a reason for....” but Kinneret squeezes my hand under the table and continues. “Why don't you let us fight this thing, then stay just a few more months, save money, and leave at a time when Dror is more... free?” I release my hand from Kinneret's grip as she's saying, her voice soft and sweet, “Otherwise, there's always the risk of being stuck in this little hellhole a long time. That would be terrible, wouldn't it?” The cruelty of her threat shocks me, though it shouldn't. I used to think of Kinneret as fiercely loyal, someone who would do anything for the people she considered family, but it's occurring to me now for the first time that she simply does what she believes a moment calls for, that it's about power, not devotion. Josephine doesn't waiver. She looks straight at Kinneret. “Maybe this bad time for you I leave,” she says, “but we always know this risk.” I feel a strange sensation, like someone is pressing a block of ice to my spine. Kinneret holds Josephine's gaze and her upper lip tightens. Whatever she's about to say shouldn't be said, so when she starts, I interrupt. “No,” I tell Kinneret, and both women look at me like you look opening your door to a guest you forgot you invited. “If Josephine needs to leave,” I say, “then she needs to leave.”
When we say goodbye, Josephine looks at me for a long moment, as if weighing her words. “God,” she says finally, and lets the word hang between us before she continues, “often send Filipinas to do good in the world. But never to people too bad for help.” I nod, unsure how else to respond. “Mr. Dror,” she says, “Mr. Uda not a bad man.” At first I think she's saying my father is a bad man and I start nodding—she has every right to say that after what he put her through—but then I understand she's saying the exact opposite, and I pause, confused. We stand there for a minute, a chasm between us. “I wish you good luck,” I say and touch her shoulder.
“I can't believe you just... gave up,” Kinneret says on the way to the car. “You know you'll regret this by tomorrow. And I won't help you when you're not helping yourself.” I can't stand to look at her face. “Not now, Kinneret,” I say. “But what are you going to do?” she asks. I open the car door.
When Kinneret drops us off, Helena is out of the car in seconds. See you is all she says to Kinneret, and then she's gone. I get out of the car and walk over to Kinneret's side. “Thank you for everything,” I say, because this is no time to start a fight, and because she did just drive us for hours. “The German's really done a number on your life,” Kinneret says, her chin pointing toward Helena in the distance. Kinneret knows Helena isn’t German, of course, but she still calls her that sometimes, a subtle reminder of the destruction Jews can face in foreign lands. “How's any of this mess her fault?” I ask. “Didn't say it was,” Kinneret says, “though she obviously loves that I messed up. And now that we've actually lost Josephine, she can play the hero.” “I don't even know what you're talking about,” I say, “you just don't like her.” “I don't,” she says, “you haven't been yourself in months. The man I know would have fixed that whole situation in there, fought. But the only thing you're fighting for these days is. . . what exactly? Is it her? And Dror, I don’t know, maybe things can work that way in New York, but here, you need to fucking fight.” I tap the shield of the car. Perhaps this is a good time for a fight after all. “You knew Josephine was illegal,” I say, and before the words are out of my mouth Kinneret says “I most certainly did not.” We look at each other. “But so what if I fucking did?” she says, “you're so concerned about poor Josephine? She's better off for it, got to work an extra year!” “That's not the point, Kinneret,” I say, “you should have told me.” “You're full of shit, Dror,” she says. “All you cared about back then was going to New York to become some kind of mogul. Because what? That would prove once and for all that you're better than your father? You wanted to know none of it, nothing that would keep you from your fantasy.” She's right on that, of course, and the fair thing would be to admit as much. But I can't help myself, now that I've started. Something deep in me is awake, hungry for conflict. “Did you pick her for this reason?” I ask, “a ticking bomb you could set off whenever you wanted me to come home?” Kinneret looks at me with rage I haven't seen in her eyes in years. She starts the car. “Of course,” I say, or perhaps I'm yelling, “back to your old ways, leaving when I ask hard questions.” I'm outside my own body, don't know what I'm saying. Is that even something Kinneret did in the old days? I kick the tire. “Calm down, you maniac,” she says, and the words echo a hundred times, a thousand times, making their way back from the past. I see the shadow of a smile on the edge of her mouth. It used to be that her telling me to calm down would set me off like nothing else. I take in a lot of air, hold it in my lungs for a moment. Helena has taught me to exhale like it's my last breath—this is an expression in one of her languages. As I do, I look down at the gravel underneath the wheels. “I think I should take some time off from work,” I tell Kinneret, “deal with this whole thing with my dad.” I can tell this surprises her, and she softens, pauses for a few seconds, then says “Drori, I can help; you don't need to quit your job.” “I think I could use the time off,” I say, “focus on my guest.” I mean it in a jokey, teasing way and I smile, but Kinneret looks like I just punched her in the face. “If that's what you really want,” she says. Her voice sounds shaky, though perhaps I'm imagining it—Kinneret is never shaky. She takes her eyes off me now, looks straight ahead through the windshield. We're silent for a bit, then she says, “I should have let you go a long time ago. For both our sakes.” “I'm sorry,” I say. She's still looking ahead and I'm not sure if I should leave or stay. “Kinkin,” I say and touch her arm that's resting on the window frame, but she still won't look at me. “I'm sorry.”
I assume Helena is waiting for me at home, but when I'm about to push open the front door of the building, I hear her calling my name and I turn around. “Aren't you coming home?” I ask. “We are getting your father, a Drawer, no?” Helena says. I'm not sure what she means; is she suggesting he should stay with us? “I was going to call him,” I say, “make sure he's fine?” I see Helena's eyes and I add, “He's been staying on his own once a week anyway.” “I know, a Drawer,” Helena says. That's all she says, and she says it softly. For a quick minute I consider her offer. This would be his second night since we found out, his fourth altogether. And yet the thought of the three of us in my small apartment makes all my muscles stiffen. Helena is being polite, being a good girlfriend, but in reality she'll feel even more crowded, suffocated; tomorrow morning, the next day, next week, she'll pack and leave. “It's really okay, Hel,” I say, “I'll find him a temporary person tomorrow.” “You mean Kinneret will,” Helena says. It takes a few seconds for her words to register. “No,” I say, “I will take care of it myself.” I pause before I add, “Kinneret will be less.... involved in my life from now on. I don't think we'll work together anymore either.” Helena nods a few times. Her face is hard to read; does she think I'm lying? Finally she says, “a Drawer, you are being a lidal bid heartless, no? He is your father. We should take him in for now, until you find a new caretaker.” I feel an itch in my throat. I should probably say “thank you” but what I want to do instead is scream. I clear my throat but it still itches when I tell Helena that no, I don't think I'm heartless. “I've taken much better care of my father than he ever has of me,” I say. “That man has ruined most good things in my life. There's no way I'm letting him ruin this, ruin us.” Helena smiles. “You are like an actor sometimes, a Drawer,” she says, “everything so dramatic.” This makes me feel a little self-conscious, but I smile back. “A Drawer,” she says, “if two people break up because they have less privacy for somm time, maybe they needed to break up anyway, eh?” She kisses my cheek. “Your father will not ruin us,” she says.
I call my dad from the car. I expect him to protest when I say we're coming to get him, but he sounds happy. “Are you sure you have enough space for me, Drorka?” he asks.
I wake up the next morning to noise from the other room. I hear Helena commanding “Sit still, Yehuda!” and my father laughing, saying something I can't make out. When I walk the narrow corridor that leads from our bedroom to the living room, I am so sleepy I'm not sure I'm awake. And what I'm seeing next, certainly could be a dream: Helena is sketching my father. He is sitting perched up by the big window, and Helena is sitting across from him, her sketch pad on an easel. “Morning, Drorka,” my father says when he sees me, and Helena sees me too then and smiles. “What are you guys doing?” I ask them, ridiculously. “I am Helenka's new artistic project,” my father declares, and I can't tell if he's being funny or serious. I look at Helena. “I told you about my new portrait project?” Helena says. I have no memory of her telling me anything about a new project. “What about the convents,” I ask her, “don't you have to finish the convents for the grant?” Helena makes her shoulders brush off my words. “Do you think the rest of the place will get enough light if we put up a partition here?” she asks, signaling a line with her hand. “Sure, yes, I think so,” I say, “there's still the other window.” “Good,” Helena says, pleased, “then this will be my studio. I need a space for the portraits.” “Great,” I say, and try to smile, but Helena's eyes have already gone back to work. “Stay still,” she commands my father, but he's moving because he's getting up and off his chair. “I think Dror should sit for you a little,” he says and he motions me to come over. Helena laughs. “I'm working on you now, Yehuda! I can't just switch in the middle.” My dad isn't laughing with her, and he looks at me, confused, that lost quality in his eyes. I think he has moments when he suddenly doesn't know where he is, but he never admits it so I can't be sure. “It's okay, aba,” I tell him, and I go on to orient him, “Helena is doing your portrait now, you can sit back down.” I walk over to help him but he raises his hand in the air to stop me. “Don't patronize me,” he says, and then “Helenka, I'm a little tired.” “Of course, Yehuda,” Helena says and gets up. My father waves her to sit back down but she looks at him, then at me, and says “We are out of butter; did you know that?” I mumble something and Helena says “How can I make spanakopita for dinner without butter?” She smiles at both of us, grabs her keys. “Back soon,” she says to no one in particular, and she's out.
I have no idea why Helena thought my father and I needed alone time just now, but she was clearly wrong. There's nothing we want to do less than talk to each other. “Got yourself a good woman,” my father says in Hebrew. I want to say Why, because she spent hours focusing on you, asked nothing at all of you, then left the minute she thought you wanted her to leave? I want to punch his face. But instead I say, “Yes, she is.” We nod at each other and my father says “I'm going to lie down.” Since we don't have an extra bedroom, he slept on the pullout last night, but he seems to be heading out of the room now. “You want to lie down in the bedroom, dad?” I ask, and he realizes his mistake. I expect him to get angry—that's what usually happens after a moment of confusion—but he's quiet. “You know, son,” he says, “you can let it go every once in a while.” “What are you talking about,” I ask, though I know exactly. “Nothing,” he says, and starts fixing the pillows on the couch.” I look at him, an old man anyone would feel sorry for, an old man I'm supposed to love. And out of nowhere, it rises in me. “She took care of you for so long,” I tell him, “gave you everything she had. How could you do that to her?” He seems confused again. “Who are you talking about?” he asks. “Josephine,” I yell, “Josephine! She's all alone in that horrible place!” He turns around, looks at me, squints. “You went there, Drorka,” he says, “you talked to her, no? Didn't she tell you?” “Tell me what,” I ask, but I'm screaming with no question marks; I don't really care about what he's trying to say. My father shakes his head. “Stop screaming,” he says, “you are hurting my head.” “Are you fucking kidding me,” I scream even louder, “you have been screaming my whole life!” “Well, I'm speaking quietly now,” my father says. “You are being a hothead. I'm trying to tell you Josephine got exactly what she wanted—a free ticket back. I wanted her gone and she wanted to go. So we planned it this way so the government pays the bill!” I stop shouting now. He's probably lying—he's lied to me since I was born. And didn't Josephine say she was already in custody when she got all the news from home? We stare at each other for a moment. “Even if I believe you,” I say, “what difference does it make? It's not like it's the first time, dad. You always hurt the woman who takes care of you.” For a second there, he looks like he's about to hit me. Then he sits down on the couch. He says nothing and the silence stretches like a rubber band. When eventually he speaks, it's to the floor. “I loved your mother more than anything,” he says. Then he looks at me. “I thought by now you knew a thing or two about being so damn scared of losing the woman you love, that out of that fear you wound up acting like a fool.” Something in his eyes makes me feel like a child. “But I guess I was wrong, son,” he says, “one should never assume.” He’s shaking his head at the floor.
In the middle of the night I reach for Helena. This has happened before—sometimes we make love half asleep. In the hours before dawn, when the world is still, Helena's touch feels like the wind; sex with her resembles what you’d feel if you lay naked on a bed of sand under the Negev desert sun and the wind came and wrapped itself around you. She opens her arms to me now, folds me in. Eyes closed, she is drawing shapes on my chest, on my neck, on my face. “Helena,” I whisper, “I've been such a fool.” The hum of her breath is all I hear in response—sleepy and slow at first, then getting faster. When I say it again, Helena puts a finger over my lips. Then she inserts that finger into my mouth. I suck on it hard, then push against her ribs for leverage. We often get rough, but I feel a charge in my body now that's new, that's different, that's building, building, and the moment I top Helena, her finger still in my mouth, something happens in my body—a surge of energy, a thunderstorm, a thousand births and a death.