The Woman I Didn't Know slammed the door and wouldn't let me in.
Your mommy needs to rest now, she hissed.
Through the crack in the doorway I managed to see the vial on the bedside table and the white towel on Mommy's forehead. I guessed it was her forehead because I couldn't see her face in the darkness.
The Woman I Didn't Know had rolled down the shutters and closed the drapes and made it night in the middle of the day. Then she sent me into the kitchen to do my homework quietly and threatened to check the arithmetic exercises too, and I had no idea who'd told her that I never did them.
I didn't make a sound. I was hardly breathing. Because whenever I'm told that Mommy needs to rest, I already know that it'll be night in the middle of the day.

Very quietly I sharpened my pencil on the checkered oilcloth that Mommy scrubs with soap and water after every meal and dries with a towel. She's always so afraid that my notebooks will get dirty even though I tell her that a breadcrumb or a spot of margarine isn't dirt at all.
Into the palm of my hand, like a little bowl, I brushed the shavings I love so much, which for me are the tree's curls, and silently cursed the Woman I Didn't Know because I'm the only one who knows how to look after Mommy when she needs to rest, and I don't understand why they - not that I know who they are - always send us strange women.
The Woman I Didn't Know said, You can call me Auntie, but I wouldn't. Only my little brother did.

When I collected my little brother from kindergarten he didn't even ask where Mommy is, and I didn't need to tell him that she's resting again, because he understood right away. He was holding my hand tightly, almost hurting me.
The Woman I Didn't Know came into the kitchen and asked if I'd finished my homework. She pushed my notebooks aside and began scrubbing the checkered oilcloth. Stop it, I told her, you're not my mother. Then she ordered me to go to the library. I told her I hadn't finished the book, but again she told me that Mommy needs to rest and that I'm a big girl now.
You don't understand anything, I told her, throwing the book at her, which was covered in brown paper and plastic. It was about trees from all kinds of forests all over the world, because I only read about things that exist or that really happened, and I especially love trees that don't grow in our country, or by the Yarkon River, where we live.
I borrow this book from the library again and again, even though the librarian can see right away that mine is the only name on the card stuck to the inside cover, and that no other children have read it but me.
Each tree in the book has a drawing - not a photograph from a camera - and the name is written in curly letters underneath, and I always open the book at the page with the tree that's called "elm" in English and "boukitza" in Hebrew, like the name of a beautiful woman. The boukitza opens its arms as if it wants to hug the whole world, and I want to hug it back, but what can I do when it only grows in faraway forests. Yesterday I read to my little brother from the book, but he got bored right away. He only liked the bit about the oldest tree in the world, because I explained to him that you can tell a tree's age by the number of rings on its trunk, and right off he started feeling himself looking for rings.

Later he added that maybe Mommy is so very old and that's why she needs to rest all the time, and he asked when do trees die.
I told him to shut up.
The tree book I threw missed the Woman I Didn't Know and she didn't even get angry, she picked it up as if she wanted to open it. I snatched it from her and ran all the way to the library. The librarian offered me another book, but I said no.
Then the Woman I Didn't Know gave Mommy some semolina with a spoon and let us into the room. My little brother didn't say a word, he just stuck to me from behind because he doesn't like it when Mommy needs to rest all the time.
I said: Don't worry, Mommy, we're doing fine, and I hoped she'd get rid of the Woman I Didn't Know like she'd done once before.

Mommy didn't speak either. She never speaks when she needs to rest. She doesn't even cry. I think she doesn't know how. Last time a kind of whispered shout came out of her mouth, and my little brother got scared, but then I took him to the Yarkon River and sat him down under a eucalyptus, and I told him that it was a foreign tree that had come to us from Australia and just got stuck here.
Although it was now night in the middle of the night, the shutters and drapes were still closed. The only movement Mommy made was to lift her hand so I wouldn't open the window, as if she preferred the darkness indoors to that outside.

Back then under the eucalyptus my little brother asked me when Mommy would finish resting, and he added that other Mommies... I cut him off right away and told him he should never compare mothers.
My little brother felt sorry for the eucalyptus that was probably missing its home, and he wished that we could pull up all the trees along the Yarkon and send them back to Australia.
Neither of us knew if Australia was far away or near.
That's what my little brother asked when he climbed into my bed at night. No sound came from Mommy's room and I got up every now and then and put my ear to the door to hear if there were any whispered shouts. It was nice to put my ear against the cool wood and I thought that maybe the door was made of boukitza.

The Woman I Didn't Know said she'd be back in the morning. When she turned off the light, my little brother said, Goodnight, Auntie, and I turned my back on him.
Mommy carried on resting the next day and the day after the next day too, and my little brother didn't ask any more stupid questions. Only the one time he stood in the kitchen doorway and looked at the Woman I Didn't Know as she bent over the table scrubbing the checkered oilcloth, and he asked her if she also wants to rest sometimes. The Woman I Didn't Know immediately straightened up, the towel fell from her hand and she hugged him.
I turned my back to them.

One day after the day after the next day I drew the boukitza from memory and put it on the bedside table, next to Mommy's vial. Her eyes were closed and only I spoke. I told her we'd gotten report cards and even though I was the worst pupil at arithmetic in the whole school, the art teacher had given me an excellent grade.
Mommy opened her eyes and for a moment it seemed that they wanted to get up. I dragged her out of bed and her arms fell to her sides. Then the Woman I Didn't Know came in and shouted, What are you doing? You crazy girl!

That night I took my little brother back to his own bed and whispered, If that strange woman says that word again, I'll kill her. My little brother's back was turned to me, but he was already asleep.
Despite everything the Woman I Didn't Know left the drawing of the boukitza on the bedside table in Mommy's room, next to the vial. She wasn't feeding her semolina with a spoon anymore, but chicken soup whose smell was all over the house when we got back from school and kindergarten. The Woman I Didn't Know even let my little brother eat straight from the pot, and he'd already told the kindergarten teacher that he's got the best auntie in the world. He didn't go into Mommy's room anymore.
But I went in again and again, into the night in the middle of the day and night. My eyes were already very sharp and first of all they found the drawing - a white blotch next to Mommy's head. With my pencil I drew some more branches for the boukitza that spread out sideways and gave it lots of leaves and I even added flowers, even though they weren't mentioned in the library book.
I drew in the dark, like I was blind.

Once Mommy smiled, I'm sure. It really happened.

I asked: Mommy, when will you finish resting? I promised to take her for a walk to the Yarkon and we'd sit under the tree - it didn't matter if it's just an Australian eucalyptus - and my little brother would count the rings on the trunk and show her how the tree grows more and more without being frightened. I'll do anything, I told her, even my arithmetic homework, if only you'll get out of bed, Mommy.
But she turned her back to me.
That was already when the Woman I Didn't Know dripped sugar water into her mouth.

I searched all the shelves in the library for a book that would explain how you help someone whose legs aren't paralyzed and who hasn't broken their back, or any other limb we know of, and yet they aren't able to get out of bed. I even stealthily dragged the tall ladder over and climbed up to the top shelf, where there are books that nobody's ever read, not even the librarian. She stood down below and suggested adventure books and fairytales and said that it's not enough to read only what really happened, because the most beautiful books are the ones that tell about what can never really happen.
Anything can happen, I screamed at her. I almost fell off the ladder. She held out her hand, she wanted to help me down, but I didn't let her.
The librarian said that the book I was looking for didn't exist. Quietly, she suggested that I write it.

That happened the day before they took Mommy from the house. She's in Australia - that's what my little brother told them in the kindergarten. The Woman I Didn't Know stayed with us and I had no choice but to get to know her. At first my little brother called her by her name and later - long after the next day after the next day - he started calling her Mommy.
I stopped turning my back to him.
The drawing of the Boukitza, so the woman told me - she actually swore to me - was held in my mother's fingers even when they covered her up, but to this day I'm not sure if this really happened.

I remember the Woman I Still Didn't Know opening the shutters and drapes, and even though the room was filled with light, for me it stayed darkened. I sat quietly in the kitchen - hardly breathing - and on the checkered oilcloth I sharpened my pencil until all that was left were a tree's curls. The palm of my hand was filled like a little bowl, and for a moment - just for a moment that lasted forever - I wanted to rest too.

Published in the book "Shadows", Kinneret-Zmora Bitan Publishers, Israel 2005. Edited by Etgar Keret.

Translated from Hebrew by Anthony Berries
Anthony Berris was born and educated in the UK and has lived in Israel for more than 50 years. He is a freelance translator who has translated numerous works by Israeli authors and playwrights, and for many years taught translation at an Israeli college. He is a member of Kibbutz Beit Haemek in Western Galilee.



Published in: Contemporary Israeli Woman's Writing, edited by Risa Domb, Vallentine Mitchell, UK and USA, 2008.

© All rights reserved to NAVA SEMEL 2017