Maybe you’ve heard this story. A winter so cold my grandfather watched hot soup freeze in a bowl. He was living in the forest with other teenagers outside Antopol. Maybe you heard about the weapons he robbed from peasants. Maybe you heard about the sticks of dynamite he set along military rail routes, waiting for them to spark and explode. Maybe you heard about the boar he chased out of the woods. When I was a kid we’d spend summers in Tel Aviv, squeezed into his sweaty orange kitchen, plucking olives from a bowl and spitting the pits in our palms while my mother fixed us lunch. He had a deep tan and a fat laugh, white hair parted drastically to one side. He liked to sit around in his undershirt and sandals and tell stories, stories I half-believed but still repeated to my friends like gospel, of secret missions and near escapes. Always – always – at some point he and my father would argue. And suddenly it was as if the two of them had taken up all the oxygen in the room and my grandfather would stomp out to the patio, and my father would say to us, He’s always been like this. The war’s over seventy years and still he’s in it. He hates everything. And my mother would say, Nachum, calm down, and my father would say, I am calm, and then she’d give me the look, and I’d pack up our uneaten lunch and take my grandfather around the block to the park. I worked forty years at the shoe store, he’d say to me. Now we’ve got locations all over the country. You tell your father that’s called progress. And I don’t hate everything. He didn’t walk the streets so much as patrol them. I love my apartment, I love the heat, I love you. I love this park, he’d say, gesturing wildly. I’d watch Filipina nannies push double strollers up the path, watch two teenagers, barefoot and in Bedouin pants, lumber after a Frisbee. I love this bench! he’d say. It’s our bench. But then he’d start popping his knuckles like he did when he was antsy and I’d know this couldn’t go on. But I don’t love that squirrel, he’d blurt. It’s nothing but a rat with a goofy tail. And those kids? They’re lazy at Frisbee. Why aren’t they in school? Give me that bag, he’d say, and when I did he’d lay out our lunch, boiled eggs and pita and fruit salad, and say, I don’t love the berries at Supersol. They’re mush. I ate better ones that year in the forest. All winter it was potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, but come summer blackberries were everywhere. See, that’s me being positive. Give me a napkin. Give me a fork. Give me that stick over there, he’d say. It’s a good one. You see this? Long and so straight that at night they might mistake it for a rifle. Hold it up like this and no one can ever hurt you.
Top Reads of 2019
Her Left Hand, The Darkness
Alison Smith on the week she spent with Ursula K. Le Guin.
Plays Bossa Nova
This surreal tale from Haruki Murakami circles a Charlie Parker album that never existed. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.
A monastic community persists after a ‘great chaos and collapse’ in this story by the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, Olga Tokarczuk. Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft
Two poems from Rebecca Tamás’ collection WITCH.
On High Heels and Lotus Feet
Summer Brennan on high heels, foot-binding, and our ongoing performances of gender.
Tale of Human Adventure
‘The whole experience of writing this was enjoyable, as is the entire seriousness with which I take myself.’ New fiction by Diane Williams
Julia Armfield | First Sentence
‘A first line is a threat, I think.’ Julia Armfield on the first sentence of her story ‘Longshore Drift’.
‘This burning girl that I am with skin stretched white hot across unfair flesh. Harmflesh.’