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So Far (,) Houses By Avital Gad-Cykman



The White House

A tiny corner house. The girl has a little bed in her parentsí room. At night, she dives into her bald teddy bear and sleeps uninterrupted. She never hears them, but she sometimes wakes up into an angry room. When they laugh, the air is lighter.

The living room is soaked with her grandfatherís aftershave, cigarettes and aging skin. She doesn't let him go for six months to her auntís. Her parents say he must. She clings to him until he releases her grip with promises. The house is incomplete without him.

Neighbors pass by and drop in like they belonged. But the girl knows they donít. The woman from the house on their right eats a whole herring with half a loaf of bread every morning as soon as her children go to school. She is fat, a camp survivor. Her son and daughter refuse to eat because they donít want to look like her. The girl doesnít want either. Her mother approves.

The neighbors behind have a grandson the girl canít call ďretardedĒ although she knows he is: other children have told her. He is slow and friendly, so she's slower beside him, and it can be nice. Itís different from frolicking with her friends in the fields around the houses.

Her father says the boy is down on his luck. She longs to play with him, but her mother says she shouldnít. She watches him sail a plastic duck in the air. He doesnít see her through the grapevine and the fruit trees. Her eyes donít leave him, while her hands keep busy with leaves and thorns and muck. The garden flowers she plucks wonít be arranged in a vase, because her mother doesnít want to watch them die. The girl hides them.

Every year, the father goes away for a month. He tells her heís only doing paperwork at the army, but heís a paramedic. She doesn't think about it. She believes every word he says until the day he dies. It hurts so much, she almost forgives him for lying. It happens in the blue house.

The Blue House

Not a house, but an apartment, and only the parentsí room is painted blue. The girl has a peach-colored room all her own, and the grandfather sleeps in a veranda closed with glass doors and curtains to make it look like a room.

They cross the parentsí room to get to his. She reads to him from the Yiddish papers, and he laughs at the way she pronounces the words. Since she has no idea what she reads, she goes by the letters.

She tells her parents to be quiet when her grandfather sleeps, because they can wake him up. They laugh from the two single beds drawn together until they fight.

She leaps into her fatherís lap and asks for stories. The neighborhood children are amazed she doesnít know how people make babies. ďWith love,Ē she quotes. ďThey fuck,Ē they tell her.

There are no fields and gardens there, only dunes, and the girl learns to roll down them. She runs on the streets like she owned the town, though her mother scolds her for every deep scratch, and the crew at the health center teases her about the stitches and tetanus shots.

She sometimes enjoys staying at home. The closed drapes keep it chilly when outside it's too hot. Since her father works long hours, and her mother has headaches, she plays alone, reads a lot and spends hours with her grandfather. Beside Yiddish, he speaks four other languages she doesnít know, but she understands him. Her vocabulary is constituted of fifteen requests and pleasantries and three melancholic songs. He laughs when she says a name of a boy and calls him a schmuck. He only learns a few words in Hebrew before he dies. She is eleven.


The Gray House

The Blue House still keeps its colors when the father leaves it for the hospital.

The girl sits at the Formica kitchen table, sips a cocoa and listens to Nights in White Satin and Venus. The music burst against her mother and inflates her impatience until it blows up.

They put away the curtains of the closed veranda and the bed is scorched by sunrays. The glass doors accumulate dust. Then, an unknown cousin from America announces her visit.

The girl throws herself into work in order to make her cousin believe that she is always nice and pretty and the room is always clean. She already loves the woman for being a cousin.

She brings her father apples, but he gives them to his guests. He comes home, grills potatoes over open fire and feeds his two women, as he calls them. He laughs when the coal leaves the girl and the kitchen dirty.

In the morning, her mother hugs her and says he went back to the hospital, but itís nothing.

The cousin arrives and doesn't mind the details, but the girl notices the walls have gone gray.

She runs away from the boys or chases after them, as the game goes. She loves the one whoís the most confident and cheeky.

Her father returns home with a patch on his right eye, and he and her mother allow her to give her first party.

The living room is bright and spacious as she enters it in her best clothes, wine colored pants and a peach woolen blouse. The boy she loves wears an overly-colorful shirt, red and green heads and tails, but she forgives him.

Her parents are curious, after she has confessed her love. Her mother says she thought he'd look different, and the girl thinks it must be his slight frame.

She puts on an even louder music, and he dances with another girl. She dances with the short boys. Her father leaves for the hospital and doesnít return.


The Beige House

The blue house has become too big, and the mother says it needs a fresh paint and new couches. She works as a multi-lingual secretary for an import-export store. The girl comes to visit and halts in front of the fox logo hanging over the entrance.

After work, the mother buys fruits they used to grow around the white house. When sheís not upset, she is worried.

She sends the girl to assist a teacher in a school for children with special needs. The girl understands why they arenít called Ďretardedí when they beat her in a memory game. Her memory is different. She guards her fatherís days, so they donít pass through othersí minds and mouths. Nobody could love him well enough.

Her best friend, a girl with the malice and the body of a woman, cries for the girl's father with the girlís mother one afternoon. The girl admires her friend for that, but then she doesnít. The friend tells her sheíd ask boys to dance with her. The girl hasnít grown breasts yet, and boys enjoy her as a tomboy.

The mother chooses beige with delicate flowers for the living room walls, and blue and black striped sofas. The girl cries when the used furniture salesman who shouts his trade in Yiddish ďalte-zachenĒ comes for the old couch. She remembers how her grandfather spoke Yiddish too. She feels the warmth in her father's lap right there on the lost couch. At the same time, the new design fascinates her. Her mother may yell with her and try to take her to the fatherís grave, but she is a lady people regard highly and her refined taste shines.

Every afternoon, the girl runs out and leaves her mother reading, with her pained feet raised up. When she is back, her mother hasnít left her place, though itís been hours. Nothing makes the mother happy. The girl thinks that this is why her mother falls down all the time without any apparent reason.

At night, they sit on the new couch and watch BBC dramas.


The Cerulean House

The house is huge. The mother loses her womb and ovaries in secret. She would have denied her months at the hospital if she could. The time clock measures another half a year at home. They mark the girl's sixteenth birthday, but the girl celebrates it with friends. Then, the mother stops saying that her falls mean nothing.

The ambulance goes along the Mediterranean and through many crossroads. Behind the curtain in the E.R, the girl overhears a physician say the truth.

She brings her mother a green scarf for her bald head, watches her practice walking between two bars, and waits for the lucid moments to appear among the hollowed-eye periods.

She washes the floor and dusts the house every week and keeps her schoolwork up-to-date without thinking. When the end is close, she indulges herself, stays in bed until late, bends over and plays with the gathering dust balls.

She has a boy friend now. He finds an aging onion and a rotten tomato in the refrigerator. They laugh like itís funny. She wants to paint the walls dark to keep the warmth in.

One day, she agrees to disconnect her mother from the life machine. Her aunt doesnít want to be responsible for the decision.

The girl brings home the green scarf. She tries on her motherís shoes and clothes. She goes through the cupboards and finds a picture where her mother is young and stunning, not yet a mother, without a worry in the world.

She mixes azure blue with a bit of gray and paints the house cerulean. She doesnít dare ask anyone for help, afraid to seem needy. She is not professional at all, and the paint leaves blue tongues on the ceiling and tiles.

The walls gather around her, as she lies down, her thumb in her mouth, tightly curled to abandon.