Author: Mechabeira PM
It takes eleven months for her mother's soul to ascend to heaven.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Family - Ziva D. & Eli D. - Words: 3,104 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 1 - Published: 04-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8009657
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So this thing was born while I was working on my other stories. Apologies for not updating them, but I couldn't keep this from happening. Thanks for reading! You're all the greatest!
"That is enough, Ziva."
The kitchen, where she has insisted upon sitting shiva for her mother, is suddenly illuminated—Eli has flipped on the overhead light.
"It is time to get up. Hashem would not want you to behave this way."
They squint at each other and she stands, puts her low stool back in the pantry—it will resume its life as a reaching aid for the highest cabinets—and makes her way into her bedroom. It is as dim as the kitchen, and as she shrugs out of her rent school-shirt, she notices for the first time that her stuffed toys are missing and there's a lock on the trunk that lies at the foot of her bed. She must remember to hide the rabbit that will come with her things from her mother's apartment.
Tali's little-girl face peers around the doorframe. She is haloed by the yellowish hallway light and Ziva ponders for a moment that it's oddly appropriate; Tali is a gentle child, sensitive and empathic. She is the youngest by many years, and more indulged than Ziva ever was. Tali is five years old—a baby, really—and until Ari told her gently that Ema was never coming back, not ever, she's been under the mistaken impression that her mother was on a brief holiday in London.
Ziva is too tired to smile. "What, Tali?"
"Can I sleep with you?"
She wants to say yes, but her father would disallow it. "No. You have your very own bed in your very own room. Go sleep with your dolls."
As if conjured, Eli appears, leaning over Tali, smiling into her face, crouching to scoop her up in a tight hug. Ziva tries not to be jealous, but she fails. In her first week as an aveilit her father hasn't made her a single comforting gesture.
"Tali," he booms. "You may sleep in my bed tonight. Ziva returns to school tomorrow."
She pulls her pajama top over her head and tries not to snort. School is the least of Papa's worries. He prefers lessons in fighting and marksmanship to science and history and mishnay'ot. But Ziva likes school; the rhythm of it, the comfort she finds in twenty children doing the same thing all at once. At school she is not Eli David's daughter, she is simply another student who thrives in PE and struggles in English. She slides under the covers though it is hours before she would normally go to bed. Tomorrow she will leave the apartment for the first time in a week and walk, motherless, down Tel Aviv's narrow streets.
. . . .
Eli shakes her awake at four in the morning, pulling her down the stairs and outside to the apartment building's pool deck. The only light emanates from two underwater lamps.
"Swim," he commands, and lights a cigarette.
Shivering, she strips out of her nightclothes and eases herself in, naked and ashamed. The water is warmer than the air. Ziva is a strong swimmer; she completes the first twenty laps quickly, then surfaces and lays her hands on the concrete deck. Her father's Italian leather shoe comes down hard on the left.
"Swim," he commands again, and lifts his foot. She ducks down and completes another twenty laps without touching the bottom once.
He demands twenty more, then another twenty. Ziva forgets her nakedness, her shame. She wants only to complete her task and be allowed to sleep a little longer before having to rise again for Tali and school. She pulls hard against the water, spreads her fingers slightly to reduce drag. She does not look up again until her arms are trembling and her eyes and lungs are burning.
"Enough," her father says abruptly. He pulls her out and offers a dry towel. She wraps herself in it, grabs her damp pajamas, and follows him back inside. He takes the elevator; she takes the stairs.
Daylight is breaking. Manya, their Russian housekeeper, arrives to make breakfast and begin the day's laundry and shopping.
"Your sister needs to get ready for school," Eli says flatly, so Ziva dresses quickly and rouses Tali, who sits up with ema on her lips.
"No, tataleh, it is your big sister. It is time to get up for gan. You do not want Morah Necha to sing modeh ani without you, do you?"
Nursery school is the best part of Tali's day; she is suddenly wide-awake and starving, asking for eggs and toast. Ziva fights her into a dress and sandals and braids her unruly curls as neatly as possible. A disheveled Tali earns her no favor with their father.
Manya settles Tali at the table with her plate and grabs Ziva by the shoulder before she can join her. Her callused, mannish fingers dig in hard, but she mutters something comforting and a cool cloth touches Ziva's right eye, then her left, soothing the burning and fatigue from the hours in the swimming pool.
"You are a girl," Manya mutters in Russian. "Only a girl."
Ziva pretends her tears are from the chlorine.
. . . .
"Ziva-Ziva-Ziva!" Tali is rushing down the steps to greet her, braids wild. Her blue dress billows around her skinned knees. There is a new scrape to marvel over and a cardboard crown is pinned to her hair.
"Morah Chana gave me a crown for my birthday and everyone said Manya's cookies were the best ever."
Ziva kisses her cheeks and doesn't correct her; Manya didn't make the cookies. The housekeeper was too tired, her legs too swollen from standing at the ironing board all day. So Ziva put Tali to bed, did her homework, and then baked two dozen cinnamon kichel for her sister's kindergarten class. She couldn't abide the thought of Tali's sixth birthday going uncelebrated.
"Can we stop at Aron's to get a Bamba?" Tali asks. "Papa gave me money this morning."
"No," Ziva says sharply. "We must get home right away. Manya left early and I need to prepare our meal."
She tugs Tali urgently past a candy shop, a men's clothing store, Americans in bathing suits headed for the beach. Her school uniform is hot and itchy but there will not be time to change—dinner must be on the table at seven.
They burst through the door at four-forty-seven and Ziva helps Tali with her aleph-bet while she sorts the rice from the hulls and sets it to boil. The cucumber has gone soft at both ends and she hopes there is something edible left for the salad. Manya didn't bother to roast the eggplant.
Tali takes her schoolbag to her room and the front door swings open with a creak.
"Papa!" She shrieks. "It's my birthday!"
She gets a smacking kiss and two packages adorned with bows. Ziva chose the gifts on Sunday while Tali played with the neighbor children. She will love them—Ziva watched her carefully in the preceding weeks, noting the commercials she ran to watch, the cartoons she preferred.
Her heart rate picks up, but not because of the presents. It is ten minutes to seven and the chicken is still not golden-brown but the rice is a bit overcooked. She moves it off the burner, then back on, worried it will get cold before the meat is done. Her hands are sweaty and the saucepan bangs on the stovetop with a crash. Water sloshes over the edge and sizzles on the burner grate.
"Ziva?" Her father swings around the doorframe. "What are you doing?"
She whirls, anxious. "Dinner will be ready in a minute. Why don't you let Tali open her gifts?"
"The table isn't set," her father says, and leaves the room.
She rushes to set it and by the time she returns the rice has burned and the chicken still isn't finished. Dread settles its stone in her stomach.
"Ziva!" Tali calls. "Come see what I got!"
"I can't right now, Tali. Dinner will be ready in a minute." Should she make more rice? Will chicken and salatim be enough? She blows out a frustrated breath.
"It is nine minutes past seven," her father says sternly. She is facing the stove but knows he is on the divan under the window, a cigarette dangling from one hand.
"It is ready," she replies, and tries to keep her voice from shaking.
Tali and Eli take a seat and Ziva brings each of them a plate: chicken, cucumber, tomato, red onion, parsley. She has salted everything sparingly, seasoned it with paprika and garlic the way her father prefers. Tali sets in on her meal before the plate has hit the table.
Eli accepts his with both hands and whispers, "Ziva, please go to your room."
She hesitates. Normal punishments are endless laps around the block, or hand-to-hand combat practice until her knuckles are raw and bloody. She hasn't been sent to her room since her mother died. Or before.
"Ziva, please go to your room," he repeats. His voice is low, dangerous.
She turns and leaves the dining room nonchalantly, not wanting to upset Tali. It is, after all, her birthday. She should have a peaceful meal.
She is studying the titles on her bookshelf when she hears the soft shh of her father's belt pulling away from his waist. She braces herself, but the first blow shocks her and she gasps aloud. He lays another one across her shoulders and she inhales sharply, setting her jaw, mashing her teeth down hard on her lower lip. She does not cry out. Eli does not stop until he can no longer lift his arm. He is panting, sweating.
"I expect you to serve your country," he whispers venomously. "You cannot even serve a meal."
He replaces his belt in its loops and leaves, swinging the door shut behind him. It bangs in its frame, and the neighbors will call to complain about the noise.
Ziva sits gingerly on her bed, eyes hot, mouth dry. Her algebra textbook is on the nightstand. She opens it to chapter twelve; one chapter for each year of her life. There is a test tomorrow, so she studies until there is not enough light to read. Once it is dark she sets the book aside and crawls under the covers without bothering to kick off her shoes.
. . . .
The M16 weighs nearly nine pounds when it's loaded. It's heavy on Ziva's arm, but she shifts the strap higher and walks on. This early morning's mission is simple patrol, and she walks south as far as the Yemenite neighborhood, then west to the sea, then north again, back to the apartment building where Tali and Eli sleep fourteen stories above the street.
The streets are empty at this hour: the bars have closed, the stores dark behind their roll-down gates. Only Ziva is awake and out, and perhaps a rabbi or two on his way to early morning prayers. They barely cast a glance in her direction, expressionless beyond mild surprise at a girl walking alone, carrying an automatic rifle.
She checks her watch—a gift from her martial arts instructor—and turns back toward her building. It will take an hour to walk home if she patrols the alleys and stairways like her father ordered. She is protecting her country, her family. She is a good soldier.
The sun is creeping up when she turns onto her street. The buildings are red in the first rays, and golden in the second. If she turns west—she won't, because it wasn't an order—she could smell the first-light breeze off the sea. Ziva remembers suddenly that she loves the sea, but she pushes the thought away and takes the stairs back to her father's apartment.
(Once her mother took her and Tali to the beach in Eilat. The water was warm and clear turquoise blue and the three of them played catch on the sand and snorkeled on the shallow reefs. But that was long ago, when she was only ten—a baby in Kita Daled—and her mother was still alive, smoking and sipping Ceres guava juice on their beach blanket, talking to her friend Freida who flew out from Chicago. Ziva did not have orders then. She ran around and played soccer with a few French children on holiday. Tali was too small to play any game effectively-a chubby little ballerina in her ruffled bathing suit-so Ziva simply made new friends and outran all of them.)
She does not have a key, so she knocks. Manya answers and goes white at the sight of Ziva's gun.
"What are you doing with that?" She demands. "You are a girl. Girls do not carry guns. Girls do not walk around Tel Aviv in the night. You will get stolen."
Manya always speaks to Ziva in Russian because it is her father's weakest language.
"I am fine," she retorts. She deposits the rifle in her father's study and locks the door before making her way to Tali's room. Eli is already gone to work, and her sister needs to be woken and dressed.
"Come on, tataleh," she prods. "You need to wake up now. You are a big girl, much to big to need me to wake you like this."
But Tali rolls over and loops one warm arm around Ziva's neck, sighing sleepily.
"Wake up now, Tali. Papa is gone and we have school. Let's go."
Eventually Tali complies and droops out of bed and into her school dress. Ziva shepherds her off to Manya for feeding and dons her own uniform quickly, buttoning her blouse and skirt as she moves back toward the kitchen. Manya holds out a plate of yogurt and toast but she shakes her head, grabs a banana, and opens her Tanakh to the Book of Daniel.
Her class in the Prophets is taught by Rabbi Rapoport, who is a quick-witted American who made aliyah last year with his wife and twin baby girls. He loves his students and they love him in the awkward, teasing way of middle school. But today he is droning about Daniel and his parallels in Isaiah, and Ziva's head is growing heavier and heavier, dragging he down towards the desktop where her Tanakh is open to the wrong page.
Moshe Hiller sits behind her. He is big, confident kid, obsessed with American basketball and movies. His kippah bears the logo of the LA Lakers and he teases her neck with his pencil eraser. She shivers, shoots him a glare.
"What?" He asks in mock-innocence.
Rabbi Rapoport stops his droning. "Moshe? Care to share with the rest of the class what you're sharing with Ziva?"
Moshe smiles easily. "No, Rabbi. I was just trying to keep Ziva awake. She thinks your shpiel is a little boring."
Everyone laughs except for Ziva. Her face burns in shame.
"Well, Mr. Hiller, I thank you for your generosity—we wouldn't want Ziva to miss this compelling lesson. Please see me after class. And Ziva, I expect you to stay awake. Perhaps you should try to get a little more sleep at night."
He stops the lesson and hands back their last quiz. Ziva has gotten a C. Her humiliation doubles; surely Rabbi Rapoport thinks she is dull, doltish, even stupid. She wishes suddenly that Israel will go to war so he can see how quick she is, how fast, how sharp. With her rifle, she can pick off soda cans at two hundred meters. She can run forty meters in under five seconds. She can perform underwater rescue maneuvers like men twice her age and size. But none of that matters when the dismissal bell rings and the quiz is in her bag, bearing its red C the way her grandparents wore yellow stars on their coats. She walks home slowly; it is Tali's long day, and she won't need to be picked up until six o'clock.
Her father is at home when she arrives. He is working in his study, smoking and drinking plain seltzer directly from the plastic bottle.
"How was your day, Ziva?" He asks.
He doesn't want to know, so she just says, "Fine," and goes to her room to study.
Eli comes in without knocking. "Your Tanakh teacher called, Ziva. He said your grades are slipping. That you are tired in class."
Friendly American children smile at her from the cover of her grammar text. They are wearing blue jeans. Ziva hates them with a ferocity she feels only for enemies of Israel. Her face is hot again and she thinks of smirking Moshe Hiller.
"I will try harder, Papa. I will improve." She speaks softly, hoping to quell her father's disappointment.
He is not appeased. "You have something to show me?"
She hands him the quiz. Seven out of ten. She missed questions on pasuk daled, vav, and mem.
Eli studies the paper in a long moment of silence, then hands it back to her. He "This is the text of your people, Ziva. This is the prophecy that brought us back to the holy land. It is why we survived pogroms, massacres, the Shoah. It is why I am teaching you to protect the state of Israel. Why are you receiving such low marks?"
Because I am tired, she wants to say. Because I patrol all night and it's dark and lonely. Because I am a girl taking care of Tali, and you, and Manya. Because my mother is dead and I miss her.
She repeats herself. "I will try harder, Papa." She is numb, empty, almost light. "I will improve."
Eli nods. "Please go get your sister. Manya will leave your meal on the stove."
Ziva slides out of her chair and lifts her keys from the night table. Eli reaches into his wallet.
"Here," he says, and hands her ten shekels. "Buy your sister a treat."
She takes it with a soft thank you and leaves without reminding him that it is her thirteenth birthday.