Two Israeli soldiers were killed during a hike through the Judean Mountains south of Hebron this morning, while on vacation.
Say: “hikers,” then. No uniforms. Civilian clothes—jeans in fact—standard M-16s slung over their shoulders, resting on their backs, for protection—a concession to safe hiking protocol.
Say: Two Israeli hikers were killed during a hike through the Judean Mountains south of Hebron this morning—one aged twenty, the other, nineteen. They were shot by sniper fire from the window of a car, speeding down the stretch of road—
The stretch of road…
The stretch of road winding through mountains and valleys…
The stretch of road enabling access to and from local villages…
The two returned fire, even as the young woman, who was with them, ducked behind a large boulder—
Ducked? Was pushed.
Say: “Was pushed” or “Was shoved”…
Before collapsing, the two managed to kill one terrorist, to critically wound another, to lightly wound two more. Stopping a few hundred meters away, one of the terrorists descended into the wadi, and executed a “verification of death” upon the two young men—
God avenge their blood.
Dumping the bodies of two of his comrades—one not quite dead—on the side of the road, the terrorist drove off, following which, the young woman made her way up to the road, flagged down a car, and summoned help
The young woman…
Until recently, a girl
Certainly not a girl as you read the newspaper…
When will you relinquish this newspaper—growing brittle in your frozen fingers?
And the boys?
His curly jet-black pompadour set against the wind.
How you loved to sneak your palm across his ginger crew-cut—
Your closest friends in the world.
Your neighbors growing up.
You still remember building forts together
on the hilltop near your home. Dragging huge branches from Fallen
trees, to where stone, earth and thistles give way to large recesses in the
Ground, where you hid berries for which you had yet to discover a
name, precious stones, rendered precious merely by your having
found them together.
“Tie your shoes,” Nadav would say.
“Tie your own.” You’d chortle.
You’d all laugh—a ritual of the eternally barefoot.
and chocolate, the cow kind, that which came in red
wrapping, depicting a cow, back when
this was one of the only chocolates sold
in your Jerusalem neighborhood mini market,
where you bought it with the coins you jointly
collected from your allowance, wanting to cherish it,
eating it slowly, in increments—
David, the oldest, always gave you some of his.
Always protective of you, he was.
Together, hidden in your fort, shaded, as in a tabernacle,
by the branches you dragged there,
as God sheltered the Israelites in the desert.
“The fort now,” is what you thought.
“But to have that fort now,” is what you prayed,
even as you cowered, trembling behind that boulder,
where David shoved you as bullets began to fly.
It was you, who suggested the hike, was it not?
Having missed your friends terribly, when they were off in the army
all week, often two, and you, a year younger than one, two years younger than the other, still studying for your final high school exams, getting into all sorts of mischief,
suffering bouts of existential aguish and crises of belief without your closest friends
to confide in, to help you with your processing, having found just that poster for
David, the guitar player, just that set of nunchucks for Nadav, your Kung Fu sparring partner, dying to tell them that joke you heard, to show them that article, proving
your theory on the reasonable synthesis between scripture and the theory of evolution, thrilled to hear that they each have a week’s leave coming to them,
that their respective weeks coincide,
that yes, they would love a hike,
would love to catch up,
to bond as the trio
How trite that minor longing feels
Now that all this is over,
Now that you’ve buried your friends,
Now that the shivahas passed,
Now that your petty little fortnight’s solitude and missing them
in between furloughs has become the abyss.
Why, there is no number of fortnights
you would not readily relinquish now
if only this act of relinquishment could foil time,
could obliterate those moments in the wadi.
Why, if you could be certain of their return to the fold of the quick,
would you not surrender that which was lovely
about that day as well?
Surely you would.
How numb you felt, as shock froze the blood in your veins,
the miniscule tips of every nerve in your body—
the steadily growing warmth of a day of camaraderie
rendered ice in one instant—
even as a foreign thumping assaulted your temples,
your cheeks, your eyes, your entire body from within.
What terrible silence.
No whispered pleas for help.
Do you move?
Dare you move?
You make to rise, but you find your body non-compliant.
For a moment there you think you may have risen after all,
but indeed you have not, not one centimeter.
There is something lodged in your throat
that has the feel of some vital organ,
though you cannot say which.
Or is this the very embodiment of fear rendered solid,
rendered a firm, gelatinous obstruction in your throat,
keeping the primordial scream from your vocal chords,
trapping it in your chest, even as it swells, threatening to burst?
Burst where? Burst how?
But what’s this?
You hear running, scuffling, scurrying. Dare you look?
Dare you move to peer over the side of the rock?
You hear one shot, at close range,
Even as your body has shifted aside to see,
Even as both of your hands have clamped down on your mouth,
Even as that scream has been propelled upwards inside of you at just the wrong moment,
Even as your hands keep it in,
Even as your eyes register an image,
the profile of a man,
dark, wearing scuffed brown shoes, grey pants, a khaki fatigue shirt of some kind, splattered with blood, fresh blood, arms outstretched, at a downward angle,
in front of him, to your right, but meters from you, as your eyes see the gun jolt,
the bullet hit its target, its lifeless target, its forehead, akin to the other forehead,
both bodies sprawled.
So still it pierces your eardrums.
As still as Egypt’s darkness.
And he turns.
He faces your boulder, unseeing, as your mouth is clamped shut
by your hands, your eyes frozen wide, your body
pounding, shuddering seismically, threatening
to reveal you to the man, to those in the car, to the world, to God.
Oh God, you think.
The man turns away, glances at your friends’ bodies.
That is what they are now.
He reaches down, pries David’s fingers off his M-16, one by one,
lifts Nadav’s gun effortlessly from amongst the thistles
to the left of his body, beginning his stride back up the hill,
speeding his gait to a scramble, then to a sprint, once he hits road,
the last sound from his direction—the roar of a motor—soon gone as well.
Frozen. You are frozen. Your eyes transfixed on the bodies, your ears roiling
with the silence. Your hands and your mouth begin to register pain. Your knees,
you realize, are bleeding through your khakis, scuffed, merely scuffed.
Are they gone?
Are they gone?
Are they gone?
And just like that, you release your hands, and anguish, and grief, and sobs, and fear,
and shock, all morph into a deep howl, a guttural groan.
You propel yourself onto your friends, seeking light in their eyes.
Seeking a pulse in David’s neck.
A heartbeat in Nadav’s chest.
Breath from David’s mouth.&
A pulse in either wrist.
Like glass, their eyes. Like glass.
How stiff the jet-black pompadour.
How still the ginger crew-cut.
Tie your shoes, you think, as your eyes encounter Nadav’s red army boots.
“Tie your shoes,” you murmur.
“Tie your shoes!” you yell.
“Help!” you scream, even as you hide, covering your mouth in an attempt to retrieve
the sound, even as you retreat in terror behind the boulder.
“No!” you cry. “David! What to do? Nadav, what to do? No!” and hide.
You make your way up the incline on legs which are not your own. You run
up the hill to the road, unable to distinguish the stomping of your hiking boots on ground from the thwapping of blood in your temples, inside your eyes, in your ears,
stopping every meter to duck behind another boulder, checking behind you, checking
in front, to either side. You need help.
But whom can you trust?
You have reached the road. You are hidden behind a boulder, yet another boulder.
What an odd word—”boulder.”
Your scuffed knees rest in thistles.
This registers as you respond to a motor, to a car, to a white Subaru, with yellow plates,
to a woman. You rise. You yell. You wave your arms. She stops. She gets out.
You fling yourself on her shoulder. Something snaps in you. You find yourself sobbing. You turn. You point down the embankment. You point to your friends. The woman jumps back into her car. She extracts a device. It looks like a walkie-talkie. She squeezes it in the palm of her left hand.
Odd how you notice it is her left hand.
She yells. Suddenly you feel cold.
You have become aware that you felt cold all along.
You begin to shiver. The woman removes her jacket. She wraps it around you.
Odd, how it seems to hover around you, not to touch.
You notice jeeps—army jeeps. There seem to be two.
You think they’ve come from two directions simultaneously.
This all seems to be happening behind a plastic casing of some sort.
Plexi-glass perhaps? Under water? Through the glass-bottom boat in Eilat?
Watch the fish. Watch the fish—
But that’s an ambulance, not a fish. A swarm of soldiers in the wadi, not fish.
The stretchers receiving your friends are no fish.
You see them lolled back on these stretchers, being carried up to the road.
What are they saying, these soldiers? They are speaking to you. What are they saying?
Fish. Fish speak like rushing water. Your ears are water. You are water. What?
Your mouth has moved. You think it has, though have no idea what you’ve said. Not yet.