Danny didn’t want to do his army stint. He wanted to go abroad and study art.
But there he was, stuck on a farm unit, at an out-of-the-way border settlement, where the thought of spending his days picking apples in the orchard and sorting them in the warehouse only got him down. Night duty was just as bad: revving up the jeeps, riding out to the border — except there was no border, just roving patrols from opposite sides of a makeshift line hoping not to run into each other — then sitting there for hours in the dark with nothing to do but slap mosquitoes ‘til it got light enough to call it quits and head back to the settlement.
Then one Shabbat, there’d been a break in this lack of action when, perched on the seat of a John Deere, Yigal and Hanina, the settlement’s lovebirds, came chugging across the quad to pull up at a jerry-rigged huppah.
A rabbi from a nearby village came to do the honors.
Then the bride and groom cut the cake and passed the slices around.
“Good cake,” Danny said.
“Yummy cake,” Tami nodded.
Unlike Danny, Tami didn’t seem to mind it at the settlement. Life had a pleasant rhythm: three squares a day, a ten hour work shift, then board games or maybe a talk or a film at night.
Tami had long dark silky straight hair, fair skin and blue eyes. Danny’s hair was dark and wavy, his skin sallow, and his brown eyes soft and limpid.
One day, a homemade bomb went off under a shed.
A day or two later, Tami found herself in Danny’s room at the men’s barracks. Tami thought it was Benny’s room. Tami and Benny had arranged to switch shifts.
“Oops, my bad.”
Tami was about to go when she noticed a couple of watercolor paintings push-pinned onto the wall. One was of a boat. The other one was of a tree.
“Are those yours?”
“You did them?”
“They’re nice. Where’d they get done?”
“At the lake.”
“There’s a lake where you live?”
“Near. And you?”
“There are no lakes where I’m from.”
“I mean what did you do? Before you got here.”
“You mean like for school or work?”
“Or for fun.”
“For fun, mostly tennis.”
“Tennis. Like with racquets?”
“Have you got a good serve?”
Tami thought about it. “I guess it’s an okay serve.”
“You need to break service before you can serve,” Danny said. “That’s all I know about tennis.”
“That’s real tennis,” Tami said. “I just play.”
A few days later another homemade bomb went off under another shed.
Danny got to thinking about how it would soon be winter and how they’d have to work inside all day and then it would be really dull. What made it worse was the card Danny got from his mom. Danny’s mom and her boyfriend were in Florence. The card had a picture of Venus on the half shell.
“Can you believe Benny’s getting out?” one of the guys called out in the barracks.
“Benny’s getting out of where, here?” one of the other guys said.
“You got it!
“How’s Benny getting out?”
“Benny says he’s getting hitched.”
“Hitched? As in…”
“Yah, like with his girlfriend.”
“So like Benny gets to be in the reserves.”
“You get to be in the reserves if you’re getting hitched?”
Hmm. So they let you be in the reserves if you’re getting hitched.
That night at chow call, Danny took his tray to the table where Tami was sitting and asked if the seat next to her was taken. When Tami said it wasn’t, Danny asked if he could sit down, and Tami said sure.
“Did you hear when that thing went off the other day?” Danny said.
“I heard something go off,” Tami said.
“It wiped out the shed.”
“It was… was it a bomb that went off?”
“Why, what’d you think it was?”
Uri’s truck sounded like a bomb going off when it backfired.
“Did you hear about Benny getting out?” Danny said.
“I heard one of the girls saying something about Benny getting out,” Tami said.
“The dude’s getting hitched.”
“Fifteen love,” Tami smiled.
“Fifteen loves? Hey, it’s Benny, not Casanova.”
“That’s when you score.”
“In tennis. When you have the advantage.”
“They call it love when you have the advantage?”
“Fifteen love, thirty love, forty love, ad in.”
“Why do they call it love?” Danny got up to go.
“That’s how you keep score,” Tami called after him.
Tami watched Danny tote his tray to the bussing station where he sorted the plate, the water glass and the silverware. Danny had nice eyes. They weren’t mean. Why do they call it love when you have the advantage? Shouldn’t it be the opposite?
Danny and Tami crossed paths a couple, three more times. They said hi each time except for the last time when Tami was having cramps.
“I didn’t mean to not say hi the other day,” Tami said the next time they were sitting at the same table in the dining hall. “I was starting to have my per… You were heading that way and I was heading that way.”
“No problem,” Danny said.
Tami got up to go.
“Where’d…,” Danny said.
“Where’d…?” Tami paused.
“Where’d you get the blue eyes? Most of us haven’t got blue eyes.”
“My mother had them.”
“And she, what, gave them to you?”
Danny had this vision of Tami’s mother plucking her eyeballs out and handing them to Tami. Dumb but that’s sort of what parents do, don’t they? Dole out parts of themselves to their kids?
The troops had a rare day off. Major Damon took them to see the statue of Joseph Trumpeldor, the hero who gave his life, a generation earlier, in defense of a nearby settlement.
“Dulce et decorum est,” Major Damon translated the inscription. Then he made some comments about heroes and how Joseph Trumpeldor got to be one.
“Your thing’s undone,” Tami glanced at one of Danny’s boots as she passed by on her way back to the truck.
Danny looked down. One of his bootlaces was undone. He bent down to do it up.
“What’d that girl just say?” one of the guys said on their way back to the truck.
“About my thing being undone?”
“That’s a funny thing to say.”
“Why? It was.”
“I mean that isn’t something you’d just sort of say.”
“Maybe if you sort of knew each other.”
“It wasn’t like saying my fly was undone.”
“No, but it’s on a scale.”
“So what’d you think of the statue?” Danny said.
“You mean the guy or the statue?”
“’Dulce et decorum est.’ That’s Latin.”
“How come it’s a statue of a bird and not of the guy?”
“It’s not a bird. It’s half eagle, half lion.”
“Major Damon said the guy got shot chasing the Arabs off.”
“Half eagle, half lion. That’s what a griffin is.”
The next day, it was Danny who was switching shifts with Benny. Tami, who was going to meet up with Benny, met up with Danny instead.
“So what’d you think of the trip?” Tami said.
“It was okay,” Danny said.
“Major Damon said the guy gave his life for the cause.”
“Do you know what a griffin is?”
“Do I know what a what is?”
“You always wear the same thing,” Danny looked Tami up and down. “Gray shirt, gray skirt, gray socks, gray runn…. Are those Keds?” Danny gazed at Tami’s running shoes. “Those’re Keds. I had Keds.”
Tami glanced at the label on the heel of one of her running shoes. It said, “Keds.”
“And they always look so ironed,” Danny said.
“These?” Tami looked at her running shoes.
“The things you wear,” Danny said. “You don’t seem to not like it here.”
“It’s okay,” Tami said. “You want out though.”
“You can tell, huh.”
The uniforms weren’t ironed. They just got washed with a lot of starch. And – regulation dress – the women had to wear bras whether they needed them or not.
That night, Danny ripped the watercolors off the wall, crumpled them up and tossed them in the basket. Stupid things. A boat and a tree. She’s pretty. Her face. Her hair.
That night, lying on her cot, Tami reached under her t-shirt and fondled her breasts. She stopped when her nipples got stiff.
Word made the rounds that Colonel Baran was coming to the settlement. If a colonel was coming to the settlement, something must be up.
Meanwhile, a letter came from Danny’s mom. “Danny, you’d love it here. The place reeks of grandeur. You walk out the door of the penzione and there’s Michelangelo. You stroll across the Ponte Vecchio and Brunelleschi’s staring you in the face. And there’s Donatello. And there’s Botticelli. And over there is the magnificent Andrea del Sarto. After lunch, it’s the treasures of the Medicis. And Dante: Paolo and Francesca, the lovers who gave their lives for love. It’s all here!”
And in the warehouse, another flimsy crate filled with wormy apples for domestic consumption, being too wormy to get shipped to market.
“So long, suckers,” Benny tossed his duffel bag onto the transport that was taking him to the bus station. “Have fun watching the tires on the Land Rovers deflate.”
“Screw you, Benny. Go keep your date with the rabbi.”
“No rabbi involved. An officer’s gonna do it.”
An officer can do a wedding? And it’s kosher?
For military purposes. If it’s higher than a major. Otherwise, yeah, a rabbi’s gotta be involved.
“Go for a walk?” Danny said to Tami the next time they bumped into each other.
They met up after work and strolled along the path behind the warehouse.
“Ever notice how green everything is?” Danny said.
“You said you’re from near a lake,” Tami said.
“And you’re from where, a development?”
Tami nodded. “Maybe that’s how come they ended up here. ‘Cause it’s so green.”
“It’s ‘cause they got a grant from the government,” Danny said.
“I mean back in the Bible.”
“You mean like Abraham, Isaac and What’s-His-Face?”
Tami stole a glimpse at Danny’s hand. Better not, he might freak.
“So what’ll you do if you get out?” Tami said.
“They’re not gonna let me out,” Danny grumped.
“But if they did. Where would you go?”
“Just to be there. Just to take it in.”
“Then I hope you get to go.”
Later that week, another bomb went off. This time it wasn’t homemade.
When Colonel Baran arrived, he told the troops to gear up for some potentially nasty stuff. For the guys, it meant more patrols. For the women, it meant beefing up the shelters.
Carpe diem! That, too, was a Latin phrase. What did Major Damon say about heroes? A hero sees an opportunity and goes for it. Not everyone can be a hero like Joseph Trumpeldor, of course, but when your only chance is staring you in the face and you don’t go for it, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
I know it’s crazy, but she seemed to mean it when she said she hoped I might get out. And it’s just for military purposes. For everything else, like Benny said, a rabbi’s gotta be involved.
Danny asked Tami to go for another walk.
Tami took a jacket – it was cooler out in the evenings – but she left her bra off. At least she didn’t put it back on after she’d had her shower.
“Down beside where the waters flow, down by the banks of the O-hi-O…,’” Danny burst into song as they ambled along the path.
Tami chuckled at Danny’s warbling.
“It’s about this guy and this girl who go for a walk down by the banks of the O-hi-O where the guy like whips out a ‘weepin’ knife’ and like does her in. It’s a river in the States, the O-hi-O. I learned it off a Joan Baez album.” Then Danny blurted, “There’s so much to see! So much to do! So many places to go! You seem content to just… hang.”
“I don’t know,” Tami said, feeling defensive. “You have bigger dreams than I do. You have a mom who goes on trips and sends you cards and letters.”
“She’s on one now,” Danny said. “With Ron.”
“Do your mom and her boyfriend kiss and cuddle when they go on their trips?”
Tami gasped. Where did that come from?
“Well, yah, if he’s her boyfriend,” Danny gave Tami a funny look.
“So where are they now?” Tami said, a bit flushed in the face.
“So that’s how come you want to go to Florence.”
“I want to go… everywhere. I want to walk out on the Ponte Vecchio where boats and trees are grand and glorious, not where they’re…”
“Not where they’re what?”
“Plain and stupid.”
Anyhow, Danny had a plan. It might sound crazy but it wasn’t really crazy or it wasn’t totally crazy in light of what it might accomplish. And Tami did say she wanted him to be able to go where he wanted to go and do what he wanted to do. Colonel Baran was going to be at the settlement for twenty-four hours. Here was Danny’s window of opportunity if Tami might be willing to help him open it. It worked for Benny. It could work for him. And he’d be free. And she’d be somebody he’d always be grateful to.
“You want me to… you want us to… that’s crazy. Danny, that’s nuts.”
“It wouldn’t be official. It would just be for military purposes. And nobody needs to know. Colonel Baran says a few words, a form gets filed and that’s it. It’s my ticket outta here. It’s my only hope.”
“What if he knows it’s not for real?”
“How’s he gonna know?”
I’m an attorney in Amherst MA, where I offer home and alternative school seminars in “Community Economics for Sustainable Living” online at http://www.communomics.com. This story comes from a time when I was living and working on a border kibbutz in Israel.