She sits down at a table nearby, pulls out a cell phone, presses a button and puts the phone to her ear. My daughter Hailey. My daughter who lives now with her mother in New York. Who I had no idea was in Israel. Who I have not seen for two years, five months, and fourteen days. And who, though so close, does not see me. The phone is to her ear but sheís not speaking. Presumably sheís checking messages. My daughter to whom I have not spoken in six months. She used to call me when she got lonely. Now, supposedly, thereís a boyfriend. I donít get called. My daughter who didnít speak to me for a year after she and Hannah left. My daughter who, when finally she called, told me I should get a dog. For company. Which I did.
When she puts down the phone I go over to her, before she has a chance to leave. Iím not a coward. Iíll approach my daughter if unannounced sheís there in front of me, however awkward that approach may be. I tap her on the shoulder. I say, hi stranger. She turns, sees me, takes me in. A long silence. An unsure smile. Hi. I didnít know you were here, I say, you didnít call. Iíve been busy, she says. Sorry. I ask her how long sheís been in Israel. She says since the beginning of the month. A taglit tour. She stayed an extra two weeks. And sheís leaving today. She looks healthy. Sheís tan, good colour in her cheeks. Whenís your flight? I ask her. Later this afternoon, she says. I ask her what she was planning on doing till then. I dunno, she says, sit around I guess, read. I tell her Iíll buy her lunch. Thereís an awful moment when Iím not sure sheís going to agree. But she nods. Sheís cautious. As though always considering what harm there could be.
In a corner of the waiting lounge we have shwarma together. I thought she was a vegetarian. She says she stopped. Why should we be kinder to the cows than to the plants? We talk about how sheís enjoying school. Sheís at Brown University in Rhode Island. Major in philosophy, minor in art history. We talk about her boyfriend, Robert, a nice guy, in pre-med, two years older than her. We talk about her mother, whoís unhappy, not interested in changing. As before. As ever. We donít say a word about her brother, my son, whose death towards the beginning of the intifada precipitated their move back to North America. There would be little point. Why spoil a nice lunch? Why pretend as though a nice lunch on a Sunday afternoon in May might change anything, recast things in kinder light? The way she looks at me as we speak gives me great pleasure. She doesnít feign closeness but neither does she come at me with hostility. When she asks me if thereís a woman in my life these days she does so with an adult equanimity that bowls me over. Iím proud of her. I donít know her at all. And I couldnít be prouder of her. I deflect her question. Itís nice that you met this Robert, I say. When I ask her what itís been like being back in Israel after so long, and not as a child now, she tells me she thinks itís a beautiful country, really fascinating, doesnít think sheíll ever live here again though, sheís not religious, religion makes her uncomfortable, she doesnít really believe. Me neither, I say. I know, she says. I remember.Weíve talked for nearly two hours. She has to start making her way to her departure gate. I walk her from the restaurant to where I noticed her, by security. She looks at me. As if saying, here we are, this is it, now we say goodbye. My daughter will go back to the States, to her studies and her boyfriend in pre-med. I will go back to my apartment, to my dog. Weíre not going to hug each other. I wonít get a kiss goodbye. Nothing so personal. Anyone watching would think us strangers. Distant relatives. Perhaps he is her parentsí friend. Perhaps she is his distant cousin. Bye, she says. I look at my daughter. A beautiful young woman with much to offer who in another life I mightíve known better. Of whom I couldíve been proud and unlike now known why. I donít walk away. I donít smile and send her off. I am incapable of it. I am incapable of parting. Hailey, I say. Her name. Just her name. Donít make it complicated Dad, she says. But Iím not trying to. Iím not trying to at all. And anyone watching would know it. Anyone watching would recognize immediately this rarest of sightings: the animal failing itself. The man, placed in a situation most primal, like sex, like holding his newborn child, not having the faintest idea how it is done.
Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006