One after another, each telephone pole on Mayfield Road passed Rafi in the breeze. Running east through Cleveland Heights brought about its own breeze in the still May air. Rafi had run this route a hundred times in the past year or so. Never after coming out of the funny farm. Oh, right. I’ve never been in a funny farm before. Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.
The mantra faded as he passed Jaguar Cleveland. It was replaced with the image of Vered, naked except for a white fox stole, on the front seat of an XJ6. Omigod. Omigod. Then came the image of that night.
Rafi was in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon. One of the other Yordim, émigrés, from the kibbutz, had celebrated his sixtieth birthday that morning in synagogue. Rafi had led the service, while his friend, Netanya, had read the Torah and given the “sermon.” Like Rafi, Netanya was a sabra, native-born in Israel. Unlike Rafi, Netanya had been twenty-two years old when Israel declared her independence from the British Commonwealth. Netanya had never known peace during his sixty years on the planet, beginning in his early years in the yishuv, which was what the Jews of pre-1948 Israel called themselves (“Palestine” was a dirty word in the yishuv, of course). During the War of Independence, Netanya had earned the status of a minor war hero by taking fire to rescue a fallen comrade. When he told the story to the y’lidei kibbutz, the children born on the kibbutz, they would all ask him, wide-eyed, how he accomplished such a miracle, when he himself took a deep shrapnel wound during the retreat.
“No big deal,” he would shrug while making his voice even more gravelly that the driveway that was his normal voicebox. “Everybody do it.” Yeah, Right. I was barely alive in ’67, and just a kid in ’73. Parents suddenly decide Israel’s not safe, and make y’ridah (emigration from Israel). But they send me back for college in ’78, I come back, come here, come there… Never shot a gun in my life. Omigod. Omigod.
Asshole. Rafi left Netanya’s phone number with Vered. He knew she’d call. He wanted her to call. When she did, he took the phone from Netanya.
“Please come,” said Vered.
“Now. How fast can you be here?”
“About two hours.”
“Not to stop!”
Please come. Not to stop. Damn her, what can I do? I tell Netanya I’m leaving his party to drive two hours for a girl, and he…
“Nu, so what are you going to do?” rattled the war hero.
“What would you do?” Rafi asked.
“Get laid first, ask questions later,” growled Netanya.
Rafi had not told Netanya anything about Vered. Not the first date. Not sleeping naked with the girl the first night and no sex. Not the tennis and the shower afterward. Not the early exit from his day job in order to bring her chicken soup from Katz’s Deli on Chagrin Blvd. But it was written on his face with a pen of iron, like Jeremiah said. So rather than mumbling some pathetic excuse, Rafi just hugged Netanya.
“Call me. And if you’re successful, you know what to name the kid, OK?”
Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.
The drive was an incomprehensible babble of Hebrew singing, poor English rhyming paraphrase, and FUCK! CUS-A-MAK! And similar drivel. After however many hundred phrases, Rafi settled on:
Ramblin’ cross Ohio with my windows down,
Lookin’ for the words along the way,
Thoughts of love and passion swirlin’ in the sound
The air you breathe me knows just what to say.
Magnetic soul , let it be drawn to you.
Magnetic fingers, polarized your touch.
Magnetic heart, your pulsing guides me true.
Magnetic dreams, promise me so much.
Pedestrian? Well, OK, but this pedestrian is flying over Rt. 70 at 85 mph, and I haven’t seen a state trooper yet.
Rafi bounced out of the Ford Tempo almost before it stopped rolling into the parking space in front of Vered’s building. He grabbed the creamy orange roses he had bought along the way with his right hand while he threw open the driver’s door with his left. About halfway across the parking lot, he thought he’d better grab his shoes, just in case. Don’t take anything for granted. He thought, “Shoes on, shoes off?” as he rung her bell. At least he could make the decision; her screen was mostly shut and he didn’t notice her peeping out observing him. He finally decided to hold the shoes and offer the roses. Vered’s breasts rubbed his through her see-through cami, and of course, Rafi was wrong on the shoes. Vered stood with her toes on Rafi’s. Savlanut, chamor, savlanut. No tongue yet. OK, only a little. Fingers. Hairline. Ears. Thighs. Breathe. Breathe.
“Are you hungry?”
Vered suggested takeout. Rafi hoped he had made a big statement.
Lewchenko’s Deli was less than five minutes away. Vered was not one to pay any attention to the ubiquitous “No shoes, no shirt, no service” signs anyway, but Rafi slipped his boat shoes on before entering. Vered’s every curve competed for attention under the barely-there pink cami and opalescent one-layer shorts. No time to get self-conscious now. This is my prize. Let them try not to serve us. Rafi opened the door for Vered, and ushered her into the restaurant as if she were wearing diamond slippers. He looked the waitress in the eye, and said, “Takeout, please,” as if she should be honored by his address. They ordered cabbage borshch, potato dumplings, and cabbage stuffed with veal. Even though the sun was still shining and the fragrance of cherry blossoms perfused the late afternoon breezes, neither of them suggested that they ate on the grass. Instead, Vered cast a tablecloth over her mattress, produced two fluted champagne glasses for the Stolichnaya, and gave Rafi a quick peck on his collarbone.
As they ate their Ukrainian picnic, they purred at each other. The subject matter was Netanya’s event, but it could have been the periodic table of the elements. Vered poured a second round of vodka. Rafi took the plates to the sink. While Rafi was in the kitchen, Vered folded the tablecloth, lit a candle, and turned out the light.
Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. Rafi could not jerk his mind out of the heat of that Saturday night. Here he was trying to shake off the effects of being thrown into a mental hospital because a casual acquaintance heard him talking about suicide, bought him some drinks, and called the cops. I — don’t — have — a —choice — I — have — to — live — his mantra changed as he thought back to his betrayal by the acquaintance. Several minutes of panted obscenities later, Rafi settled into a steady 8:20 pace and recalled THAT NIGHT.
He had returned from the kitchen to the flickering of the candle. Vered was partially seated on the mattress, her rich black hair flowing over her shoulders like a tapestry. The pink cami seemed like naked skin in the subdued light. It was like she was sitting naked under a gently out of focus lens. She had disposed of the ivory shorts, so that only the thong of the cami covered her nakedness. Rafi stood, flatfooted, at the head of the mattress.
“Come here,” she smiled. “What waiting for?”
Rafi slowly stepped onto the mattress. He knelt down and kissed her on her forehead. He patted her eyebrows, her cheeks, her nose and her chin softly with gently parted lips. She unfastened each button on his shirt with far more skin contact than was needed to do the job. She ran her index finger up and down the hair from his belt buckle to his breastbone. Rafi returned the touch to the tops of Vered’s ears. Soon his fingers danced down her collarbone to her chest to her nipples. He reached his thigh, still clad in jeans, over her bare thighs. She pressed against him, and whispered, “Lose the jeans.”
“I don’t wear underwear.”
He was naked with Vered, in the same bed, again. This time, She still wore the cami that had disappeared between her thighs only to reemerge behind, where underwear were supposed to go. She was kissing. Each. Toe. It took her an eternity to stroke every cell, first of one foot, then the other. As she caressed her way up his left calf, up to his knee, his thigh, she slipped her leg over his right foot and eased herself onto those toes. She could squeeze this foot. He could press just a little higher, just a little more deeply. Finally that beautiful black web of silk that was Vered’s hair came close enough that he could caress it and give her pleasure – and have something to do with his hands.
There could not have been a more beautifully orchestrated procedure. Vered operated like a Steinberg, a Bernstein, a Slatkin, and every nerve ending in both their bodies were the orchestra members. Just the right amount of crescendo led into a sudden change of position – a shift in orchestration that led to an even deeper level of intoxication. When finally, the climax of the music overtook the performers, it came in waves of synesthesia – vivid blues, golden lighting bolts, earthquakes, gasping, exhaustion.
Omigod. Omigod. She said later that day that it was sex. Really great, headbanging sex, and how great Rafi was to let her take the lead and do what she does best. And does he always allow a girl to lead? It was so sweet. But.
But. But. But. But.
It was great, it really was, but it didn’t mean to me what it mean to you, Rafi! I love to have sex. It’s like my drugs. But it’s too much for you. It’s your life. I don’t want your life. Rafi. I like your sex. I love your sex, you are so sweet.
She. Has. No. I. de. a. How. This. Kills. A. Man.