Illustration by Pedro Gomes

We never talked about what happened, not even once. In fact, when it was all over, people tried hard to forget.

* * *

The minute they put us both on vacation without pay and closed schools for the kids, Gavri started wandering around At home, like a kind of iRobot, and he kept repeating the same thing over and over again: We have to make lemonade from the lemons, we have to make lemonade from the lemons.

The first week, he had the idea of marketing online workshops to teach acting in front of a camera. There’s nothing like it, it’s a bonanza, he tried to convince me in order to convince himself. Everyone’s home in front of their screens all day long, everyone has a camera on their phone or computer, people will die for it.

Honey, don’t say “people will die,” I told him, it’s not appropriate now. And he got angry: Why do you always pour cold water on my ideas? You’re the only person I said it to. Of course I won’t write anything like that when I advertise it.

The ad was something he posted on his Facebook page. Theater director (winner of the Golden Porcupine Award) is giving a workshop for acting in front of a camera. Possibility of private or group sessions. Number of places limited.

He couldn’t decide whether to add a picture of a camera or one of himself, and in the end (I knew it), he posted one of himself. Taken ten years ago. He debated whether to invest money in promotion, and in the end, (I knew it, but I didn’t say a word so that after it failed, he wouldn’t blame me) he decided not to invest. Because that wasn’t a good time for investing.

The post got a lot of likes, and a few shares. But in actual fact, only one woman showed an interest in signing up. She was about twenty-five. And basically, she just wanted to flirt a little with the idol of her youth and not really sign up.

Gavri didn’t give up. For another few weeks, he tried, unsuccessfully, to organize and sell to event companies the concept of Zoom birthdays for kids; to interest an army buddy in developing an app that would enable people to send and receive virtual hugs; to offer my services as a Skype financial advisor to self-employed people in crisis.

Meanwhile, our money was running out. His parents are kibbutzniks, and mine are dead, so there was no one we could ask for help. Over the last few years, we’d spent the small reserve we had because Gavri decided he was sick and tired of performing in kids’ shows and TV series for teenagers. He wanted to switch professions and become a director. “That’s just how it is Baby,” he told me, “when you go into a new field, you start from the bottom. Salary-wise too.” So pretty quickly—two months after the epidemic broke out—we reached the point where our bank started offering us loans. Anyone who understands a little about finance—and, after all, I am a money manager—knows that this is the point when things start deteriorating.

And then Gavri came up with an idea. Or more accurately, did everything so I would suggest it, not him. The little ones had finally fallen asleep and Yuvi was in his room with Fortnite, so we locked our door and watched live porn. We usually only watched other people doing things, and didn’t do them ourselves because Gavri was too tired and too down. But that night, his hand stroked my thigh as we watched—which is our signal—so I turned off Andy and Laurel, from Toronto. And we had sex. I didn’t come, but I enjoyed the touching. Any physical contact was welcomed those days.

Later, we went out to the small balcony off our bedroom and smoked a joint. Gavri took a drag and said, that Andy and Laurel, they probably make tens of thousands of dollars a month, and passed me the joint. Think about it, if every person pays three dollars for a weekly subscription and they have ten thousand subscribers—he took the joint from me—and what expenses can they possibly have? They probably pay something to the site and that’s it—he kept the joint a little too long and said, I could get hold of a good camera—he handed me the joint—and didn’t say anything else. And waited for me to say something. When I didn’t, he retreated quickly and rejected his own idea. No way, no way, it’s like that movie, Indecent Proposal, except that instead of one Robert Redford, there’ll be thousands of perverts who’ll look at you.

At me? I took a drag, why only at me? and held onto the joint a long time. Deliberately.

Someone has to film it, Gavri said.

I didn’t think of that, I said and handed him the joint. But what exactly will you film?

You, doing that trick of yours, he said, and crushed the butt in the ashtray even though it still had a few drags left in it.

I didn’t say anything. Even though the waste drove me crazy. Every bit of waste drove me crazy in those days. I angrily turned off every light left on for no reason. Any kid who didn’t finish his food got a speech from me.

And what about the kids, I asked.

We’ll only film at night. After they fall asleep.

What about the people who know me?

We’ll put a wig on you, and a kind of mask for your eyes.

I’m a thirty-nine-year-old woman, Honey, who gave birth three times. Who will want to see the body of a thirty-nine-year-old woman who gave birth three times?

You have a fantastic body, Baby. And… you have that trick.

* * *

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. But one evening after sitting for an hour trying to make an online order for groceries and after filling out all the credit card details, I received a message saying that the purchase was not approved. When I called the credit card company, they suggested that I take an emergency loan that would cover our overdraft.

So that night, I said to Gavri, let’s go for it. And I didn’t have to say what ‘it’ was. Clearly, he’d been waiting days for me to give the green light, and I saw that he was happy and I saw that he was trying not to show it.

Are you sure? He asked, putting his hand on mine. In the end, it’s your body, and only you can decide what you want to do with it.

Yes, I’m sure, I said, and pulled my hand away. I won’t let my children go hungry. And I added, but on one condition.

What? Gavri asked.

That no one ever knows about it.

Of course, he said.

I looked him in the eye and said, and that includes transformations, Gavri.

Because ever since he decided he wanted to be a “creator” and not “a slave to the theater,” everything he writes, all the skits and plays and proposals for TV series, have all been inspired by our real relationship and the real problems of our children, and every time I complain about it, he says, but Baby, I made transformations.

Including transformations, Gavri said. Done.

From that moment on, everything happened pretty fast.

He got hold of a camera (don’t know how and don’t want to know). Lighting. A wig. An eye mask. We signed up on a site. And agreed to their draconian conditions. I picked a fake name for myself: Lemonade. And one night, after the kids fell asleep, he filmed me live.

In order to do the trick, I have to concentrate, and it was hard to concentrate when I knew that people all over the world were looking at me. So I closed my eyes and pictured the young salesman at Eye Contact. He always complimented me when I tried on glasses, and even though I knew he was flirting with me so I’d buy another pair I didn’t need, I sometimes caught him staring at my breasts. So I imagined that I was doing the trick for him. I imagined that he was in his bedroom now watching Lemonade. And that helped me concentrate. 

When I finished, Gavri said, listen, that was fantastic. You were amazing. And I told him to turn off the camera already, and felt as empty and sad as I had in my Tel Aviv period. which I liked to call my wild time, but which was actually my humiliating time. and I started to cry. 

Gavri lay down beside me on the bed. You don’t have to do it, Baby, if it makes you feel so bad. We’ll manage somehow. How, exactly, I asked. And he didn’t answer.

* * *

We broadcasted every night for almost a month. The first week, we only made five hundred dollars, because most of the subscribers were the type that took advantage of the site’s first-week-free policy. The next week, we went up to seven hundred. The third week, we jumped exponentially to three thousand. And for the three days of the fourth week when we managed to broadcast, we reached ten thousand. Dollars. Which is twenty-five thousand shekels after taxes. Finally I could order summer clothes for the kids. Which arrived the next morning.

I went into Yuvi’s room to arrange his on the shelf, so he would have a nice surprise when he woke up. He was sleeping without a shirt, and the blanket covered him to his waist.

>How beautiful he is, I thought. Like Gavri, when we met. Actually, more than Gavri. He got the best of both of us. What a heartbreaker he’ll be when he stops being eleven, I thought. I reached down to stroke his head—because I can only do that when he’s sleeping—and accidentally stepped on his computer cable. The screen was pulled slightly toward me. Which woke it up.

* * *

He didn’t know that Lemonade was me. I’m sure of that. A mother knows her son, and if he had known it was me, I would have seen it on him right away. He didn’t know. He continued being hostile and needy at the same time, just like before, and continued to look at me in exactly the same clear way he always did. But we stopped broadcasting anyway. Obviously.

Gavri dared once to say that it was a great time to buy an apartment as an investment for anyone who had a little money put away. And he added, as if there was no connection, that we had to block those kinds of programs on Yuvi’s computer, who would have believed that a kid his age…What has the world come to?

I yelled at him quietly—parents learn how to yell quietly so their kids won’t hear—that if he even hints at it one more time, I’ll make a transformation in my life and leave him. And I didn’t care that we weren’t allowed to go out of the house without permission. That whole business had turned me off him anyway, big time.

That scared him. He got down on his knees, grabbed my hand and kissed it. Baby, he said, I’m so sorry. You’re the love of my life, Baby, I can’t live without you. I stroked his head and thought, once an actor, always an actor.

A few weeks later, they lifted the lockdown and sent the kids back to school, and they said on TV that it would take the economy a while to recover, it wouldn’t happen all at once. One Friday, when Gavri was at rehearsal for the new play he was in, I went to Eye Contact. On the way there, I thought that if the young salesman is there, and if he flirts with me, I’ll ask him to give me my annual eye test, and in the small room, I’ll press him up against the chart with the lines of numbers and kiss him and tell him that I’m ready to leave everything for him, and I’ll mean it.

But the store was closed, and in the window, where eyeglasses no one could afford had been displayed, there was only a small sign saying that a touch therapy center was coming soon.

So I drove to pick Yuvi up from school and we went to the supermarket together. By the time we got home, Gavri was already there, and they both carried all the bags from the car while I put the groceries away in the cabinets and the fridge. Since then, we’ve never talked about it, not even once. In any case, when it was all over, people tried hard to forget. 

 

Translated by Sondra Silverston

Eshkol Nevo

Eshkol Nevo, born in Jerusalem in 1971, is one of Israel’s most successful living writers. His upcoming novel, The Last Interview (October, 2020), is a literary page-turner that delves into the deepening cracks in a carefully constructed public persona. His novels have all been bestsellers in Israel and published widely in translation. His novel Homesick was long-listed for the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; World Cup Wishes was a finalist for the 2011 Kritikerpreis der Jury der Jungen Kritiker (Austria); Neuland was included in the Independent’s 2014 Books of the Year in Translation; and Three Floors Up (Other Press, 2017) will be adapted for film by the acclaimed Italian director Nanni Moretti in 2020. Nevo owns and co-manages the largest private creative writing school in Israel and is a mentor to many up-and-coming young Israeli writers.

Sondra Silverston

Sondra Silverston has translated the work of Israeli fiction writers such as Etgar Keret, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, Zeruya Shalev, and Savyon Liebrecht. Her translation of Amos Oz’s Between Friends won the National Jewish Book Award for fiction in 2013. Born in the United States, she has lived in Israel since 1970.

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