Read The Last of the Wise Lovers Online

Authors: Amnon Jackont

Tags: #Espionage, #Fiction, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers

The Last of the Wise Lovers

THE LAST OF THE WISE LOVERS

 

Amnon Jackont

Translated from the Hebrew by M.
Weinstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 1992 Amnon Jackont

All
rights reserved

ISBN:
978-1491244081

ISBN-13:
1491244089

 

Image
credit: Charles Wollertz / 123RF Stock Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

To My Late Father

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

The
events described herein are completely fictitious. The municipal library
mentioned in the story is not the one that stands on 5th Avenue in New York
City, nor is there any Patrician Club on 42nd Street in Manhattan; East Neck
cannot be found on any map; there is no hospital near Prospect Park; and
"Temple Beth Hashem" is a figment of my imagination.

 

The
riddle presented in the First Notebook was originally created as

a
psychological test by Dr. Meir Ehrlich.

 

 

THE
FIRST NOTEBOOK

 

 

Two hours and twenty minutes
have
passed since you brought me back home, gave me a few blank notebooks and told
me to write down everything that happened.  The minute you'd locked the
door, I pressed my ear to it.  I heard you say something in a low voice.
 One of the two men who were to guard me answered, "Don't worry, sir,
I've also got one like this at home."  When I heard the front door
slam, I went to the window and watched as you crossed the garden to your car.
After you'd driven off I carefully lifted the telephone receiver. But then I
remembered that I didn't have anyone to call; Dad would only be back two days
from now, Mom was lying in some clinic in the city, and everyone else was
asleep at this hour, before dawn.

   So here I am stuck in my room, and
I'm not sure whether I'm a criminal, or crazy, or both.  And I can't
figure out why it's so very important that I write it all down.  The empty
notebooks scare me.  It's especially hard for me to decide where to start:
with the fact that I was born a little over 17 years ago in Tel Aviv, but that
I've grown up in eight different cities around the world?  But you already
know that.  Or with the fact that we've been in the United States for
several years now, and that Dad works for the Israeli Foreign Service as a cultural
attaché?  But you know that, too (and you've probably caught on
that `culture' is not why they've stationed him here.)  I could also have
started with Mom, but I'm totally confused about everything concerning her.
 So, maybe the only thing left to do is what I once read in a book: to try
and remember the day when things first started to go wrong.

   And that was the day of the party.

Here's what happened: our school, Dickinson High,
has a tradition that every summer vacation, one week before school starts,
there's a party.  On the invitations they send home it's called a
"keep-in-touch-party", and for those who don't get it they explain
the importance of keeping in touch, and class unity and all that.  It all
would have been almost bearable if we weren't supposed to have come in costume.
 The whole thing seemed childish and pointless.  When the invitation
arrived, I chucked it in the wastebasket in my room.  The next day I found
it on the kitchen table.  The date of the party was already circled on the
calendar, and Mom asked if there was anything I needed for my costume.

   I informed her that I did not intend
to go.

   Of course, Mom thought this a
mistake.  "How will you have any friends," she asked, "if
you don't cultivate your friendships?"

   "What friendships are you
talking about?  At the end of the year school will be over, everybody'll
go off to college and I'll be in Israel, in the army, forgotten, in some hole
on some base in the middle of nowhere...”

   She pursed her mouth in annoyance.
 "First of all, you won't be `forgotten in some hole'; after all, you
know English, and your father has already spoken to someone in the IDF
spokesman's office.  Second of all, you will finish the army one day, at
which time you'll undoubtedly want to come back here to study, so it's
important that you keep a few friends...”

 When Mom says "friends", she means
-- first and foremost -- Debbie.  Mom hangs a lot of hope on her, maybe
because she's the first of my girlfriends to conduct an independent relationship
with her.  She stops over for a cup of coffee in the morning, goes with
her to garage sales, remembers to bring all kinds of little presents, and even
talks to her about all sorts of women's stuff.

"What's Debbie dressing up as?" she
asked.

"Debbie's on vacation, in Louisiana."

"What are the others dressing up as?"

"How'm I supposed to know?  The usual.
 Indian chiefs, marshals, go-go dancers, batmen, robots...”

   These were too hackneyed and worn out
even for her. "A few jerks," I added, in order to end the discussion
once and for all, "will probably even wear their mother's dresses, or
their father's pajamas, or dress up like their little sisters...”

   I went to my room and started to read
a book, feeling certain that the subject was closed.  An hour later she
poked her head in and said, "I've found it."

   "Great," I said, without
lifting my eyes off the page.  She progressed to the center of the room
and said, "You're going to dress up as a woman."

   "Ha!" was all I managed to
say.

   There was a spark of enthusiasm in
her eyes.  "If we put a wig on you and let out one of my dresses,
you'll be so ...” she searched for a suitable word and finally said,
"special...”

  
"I
don't want to be special," I said.  "I don't even want to go,
let alone leave the house looking like that, let alone get on the bus looking
like that...”

   "I'll give you the car."

   This was totally unexpected.  A
month earlier I'd gotten my license, but neither of them had let me drive.
 Dad because his car belonged to the consulate, and Mom on the pretext
that her car was old.

 "See how important you are to me?"
she said. "I'm willing to sit home all night and worry that you're driving
alone at night just because I know how important it is that you be socially
accepted...”

   "I'm not going," I
announced for the last time.  She went out without saying another word,
leaving me alone with my book.  But then I started thinking: I pictured
myself driving along the highway through the sparse night traffic, the needle
on the speedometer rising to 60, 65, 70.  My imagination is so active that
sometimes I can even taste and smell the things I dream of.  This time I
could hear the music blaring from the radio, the whine of the wind through the
window, and the little shivers caused by the seams where the road's been fixed.

   Later, when I went to the kitchen to
grab a bite, I noticed that the door to the basement was open and that Mom was
picking through one of the large trunks we drag with us from country to
country.

"Oh," she said when she saw me, "I
think there's something here that's just right."  She rose to meet
me, a large and ridiculous-looking dress draped across the front of her.
 I didn't say a word.  The dress looked awful, but the idea of the
car had already taken root deep in my consciousness, where it was waiting to
ambush me in a moment of weakness.

   On the morning of day of the party,
during our weekly baseball game (which takes place every Sunday, even during
vacations) I was sitting on the batters' bench waiting my turn.  Suddenly
somebody asked, "So, what are we dressing up as tonight?"

 Without thinking I blurted out, "Why
not women?" Everyone burst out laughing, and I determined not to go to the
party.

   But something happened on the way
home, the same thing that always happens to me: outside I'm known as a rowdy
guy, a bit bold and even daring.  The minute I enter the house, everything
changes.  Something about Mom's presence turns me into a good boy,
dedicated and obedient.  Especially obedient.  Maybe it has to do
with the fact that we're so much alike, her and me, or that Dad is on the road
most of the time.  In any case, on that same Sunday afternoon I found the
dress she'd prepared on my bed, and next to it pantyhose, a long necklace of
pink beads, and even a curly wig exactly like Mom's hair.

   Once I was dressed I felt sort of
weird.  Mom made me up and powdered my stubble.  I glanced in the
mirror.  As you know, I'm a bit more athletic than she is, but otherwise
we're identical:  the same full lips, round jaw, dark skin, black hair,
the same smile - it was really possible to think it was her, twenty years ago.
 This made her very happy.

"How alike we are," she said, "look
how alike we are!" and wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to stand
next to her in front of the mirror and exclaim that we looked like twins the
same age.

   Things started to get uncomfortable.
 I had this strange, stifling feeling that the costume and the car had
created a new situation in which
she
was going to the party at school
and I was just providing the legs and the friends.  I pulled the wig off
and said quickly, "I think this is not such a great idea."

   She looked at me, shocked, as if I
had changed my sex or converted to a new religion.

"It's not like you to back out at the last
minute."  She stood on tip-toe and put the wig back in place on my
head.  Then she added a small beauty mark on my neck, just like the one
she had, straightened the padded bra, and smoothed out the stockings until I
was an exact copy of herself.

   It was time to leave.  She
accompanied me to the garage, where it suddenly hit her that she was sending me
out into her own nightmare: driving in the middle of the night, colliding with
a truck or a train.  She said, "You're just driving to school and
back. Right?" Her eyes darkened as her brain scanned all the possible
excuses she could use to change her mind and go back on her word.

 "Yes," I said, "to school and
back."

   As I drove away I could see her in
the mirror, standing in the rain that had started to fall and tightening the
robe around her body.  I was alone in the car just as I'd dreamed, and I
tried to milk it for all it was worth: except that that wasn't much.  The
trip was too short, the roads were clogged with traffic and the parking lots
around the school were jammed.  I parked by the side of the road, two
wheels in a ditch.  (Dad calls this "parking Israeli" because
even though it's not illegal, no American driver would even think of parking
this way.)  I crossed the wet lawn and jumped over a wooden fence.
 One of the high-heeled shoes filled with water and the stockings started
to slide down.  At the entrance to the school a couple of cowboys were
talking to a black pirate.  The girls were dressed up as prima donnas, prostitutes,
or farm girls (it's hard to tell with these costumes).  They were milling
around restlessly at the top of the stairs, exchanging rude jokes with the
guys. I stood in the dark and listened.  I actually had a few amusing
things to say, and some of the kids there were even part of my permanent fan
club.

   So why did I turn around and walk
away?  Maybe because my feet were wet, maybe because I thought being
dressed up like Mom was too serious a joke - or maybe because I knew I'd spend
most of the evening trying to make everyone there like me, feeling lonely all
the while.  I went back to the car.  It was tough to turn around
without landing in the ditch, but I managed.  The way back was empty and
fast, and within a few minutes I was home.

   The first thing that surprised me was
the darkness. It was dark in the living room, dark in the entryway, dark in the
garage (which is usually lighted when the car is gone to make coming back
easier), and dark in Mom and Dad's bedroom, too.  I stopped the car in the
driveway and opened the garage door with the remote-control.  The door
made its usual sound - like trains colliding - when it hit the ceiling, but no
lights went on anywhere in the house.

   Where'd she gone at this hour,
without a car?

   I didn't feel like going in, anyway.
 I pushed the button that closes the driveway door, and before the door
had reached the ground I had already pulled out of the driveway and onto the
street.

   I drove back to the highway, turned
on the radio, opened the window, and melted into the music, the wind, and the
sheer pleasure of driving.  Now I was feeling all the things I had missed
on the previous ride.  The adventure of it blocked out everything else, it
even made me forget my costume.  I drove about five miles south to the
next exit, which led off to a mall where there was a great cookie store. Only
when I got to the exit did I remember that I was dressed up like a woman - and
I couldn't go into the mall looking like that.  I kept going, watching for
an exit that would enable me to turn back northward, toward home.  I
remembered that there was a bridge over the highway at Exit Four, and as I
neared the exit I bent forward to find it.

   That's when I saw them in the mirror.

   Like I said, the visibility was bad
that night, but there was something peculiar about them that left no room for
doubt: they were interested in me. I was sure of this because I was travelling
exceptionally slowly, in order not to miss the bridge.  The lane next to
mine was empty - but they didn't pass me.  I slowed down even more. So did
they. (I say "they" because against the background of the headlights
that shone from behind I thought I saw two figures, along with the chrome front
of a Chevrolet and a bit of blue hood.) I remember weighing whether to go off
onto the shoulder, but just then it started raining again and I was afraid of
getting stuck.  What could I do beside keep driving straight ahead?
 I increased to 30, 35, 40, 45. That was the maximum speed; there's always
a radar-equipped sheriff's car hiding in wait among the willows that line the
highway.  But they didn't let up, they just stayed behind me, keeping a
fixed distance and a steady speed.

   When I finally found my bridge, I
slowed down and signaled left. So did they.  I got into the lane that
turns off the highway.  So did they. Now I
had
to know whether they
really were following me or not.  I tried something I'd always seen in the
movies: I braked, swung the wheel around, crossed the white line and ...
 fishtailed onto the shoulder.  They'd quickly passed me and once
they realized what I'd done they tried to stop.  The cars that came after
them started honking their horns, though, so they were forced to keep going and
get on the bridge.

   I struggled for a few minutes until I
was able to climb up off the muddy shoulder onto the road and drive, against
the traffic, back to the highway.

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