It’s finally time to share some of my actual fiction writing. This is a short piece I wrote for the wonderful online writing community The Write Practice and I am proud to say that it won an honorable mention in their show-off contest, spring edition! Funny, I set out to write a short story about the theme of spring, but a character from my novel-in-progress “One Year in Beit Hanina” was on my mind. As a result, this piece ended up as a draft scene in the novel so you can consider this a sneak peak. All I ask is that IF you read this piece, you comment. And if you like this piece, you tell someone about my blog and encourage them to subscribe. Deal?
One Palestinian Woman’s Spring
By midnight, Christine was burning. Half conscious, she tossed and turned, unrelieved. Finally, she startled awake in a melange of hot and cold. Her face and feet, protruding from the heavy covers, were flush, but the rest of her body shivered on the sweat-soaked mattress. The digital clock read 2:17 am. It was the 96th night in a row that she hadn’t bled.
There was nothing to do at 2:17 am. No familiar body to wrap around and drift back to sleep. No one to sit with in the kitchen over a cup of chamomile tea. She got out of bed. Looking out the window through the gray night, she could see little sprigs of weeds fighting their way through the cracks in the concrete signaling spring for the rest of the world. But for Christine, there would be no new buds.
She scrutinized herself in the full-length mirror. Eyes: kind. Lids: drooping. Mouth: resting. Wrinkles: proliferating. There was a faint muddy spot in the shape of a cashew under her left eye. Her lips, chapped, had not kissed for a long, long time. Overall, many more negatives than positives. Christine felt like a slice of meat left too long in the refrigerator. She needed to be thrown away, uneaten, having failed in her mission to nourish life.
Light from the bedroom reflected off the mirror illuminating her breasts, big and only slightly sagging. They had never filled with milk custom-made for an infant that shared her weak chin. They had never overflowed with love and squirted an infant in the eye. Christine looked at herself sideways in the mirror. Her stomach was round from eating too much sesame-covered Jerusalem bread, but there were no marks. The marks that other women cursed, but that she had coveted. Down below, two or three gray pubic hairs glinted in the light. She stifled the urge to laugh and cry simultaneously.
It was only 2:30 am and Christine had nothing to do. She couldn’t shower. The gurgling sounds of the electric boiler heating the water would wake the neighbors downstairs. It wouldn’t wake the old man upstairs; he slept like the dead. Lucky man. So instead of showering, Christine decided to clean out the spare room.
Although it had never been used as a nursery, it had been used twice as a guest room. Once, a Norwegian girl sat next to her on the bus and confided that she had no where to sleep. Crazy tourists. They came to Jerusalem year after year looking for the Holy Land and found only a cursed land full of other tourists also looking for the Holy Land. Christine welcomed the girl in her virgin guestroom. The next morning she made a huge breakfast of fried goat cheese and onion omelettes with sage tea heavily sweetened. The Norwegian girl was so grateful, she came back a year later and stayed for a week. Christine never saw her again, but she had gotten a letter saying that she was well. Married. Pregnant.
Christine was disappointed that the guest room was already clean and there was only one thing to get rid of. In the last drawer of the dresser there were three matching sets of knitted hats, gloves, booties and blankets. Christine had made hundreds of layette sets over the years and had donated them to the charitable society when they ran their annual Christmas bazaar. She could have rented a table and sold her knitted goods herself, and she might have made a nice sum, but she didn’t want to stand exposed in front of the community like that. They would gossip. Palestinians are skillful gossipers. They can excommunicate a person with casual comments and without a pang of guilt. Or they could attack with self-righteous judgment and lead a person to banish herself. Better to stay away.
Those three layette sets that lay in the bottom dresser drawer were special. They had been touched by the Bishop! According to the lady from the charitable society, the Bishop had come in with several priests and caused quite a commotion in the bazaar. He walked through slowly and looked at the crafts made so carefully by the old ladies who had nothing to do after their children and grandchildren emigrated. He bought several wreaths of plastic pine vines woven with flowers and adorned with small silver bulbs. When he got to the table of knitted goods, he touched them and praised them, but didn’t buy. The woman had given the ones touched by the Bishop back to Christine, and she had treasured them and all that they might mean. Till now.
Her chest felt heavy as she wrapped the layettes in a plastic bag with a piece of pita bread. It wasn’t a custom and didn’t mean anything, but somehow Christine needed something symbolic to make the ritual hurt more. If she could make herself hurt enough, perhaps God, the merciful, might let her die. She snuck down the stairs quietly and into the garden in the backyard where it was even colder than in her apartment. And still. So still.
Dew had made the ground moist and she easily dug under the mint patch in the far corner to bury her small package, and then she sat on the cold earth and tried to cry but couldn’t. It was the path God had chosen for her and she had no right to want something else, no right to feel resentful. But she did.
Why would God create such a world, a world where some children live unloved, while others, loved, are unborn or are born only to die despite their innocence? Why would God create a world where some people never love while others love deeply and are ripped apart from the only person who completes them? Christine’s head pounded while her feet were numb on the cold ground. Why couldn’t she cry?
Suddenly, Christine jumped to her feet. Energy cursed from the back of her legs up her back and through the back of her arms. She climbed into the olive tree that sat in the place of honor in the middle of the garden. “You have no right to live,” she hissed under her breath as she ripped a new shoot from the tree. “You have no right to be with your loved ones,” she spit as she ripped another. With each murderous motion, Christine stung as if she had peeled the skin from her palms.
It didn’t take long for debris to pile up beneath the tree, and when the sun peaked over the high garden wall, Christine saw the damage she had done. Once plump with new life, the tree was as sparse as a monk’s worldly possessions. She mourned more for the new shoots left behind to live lonely lives than for the ones she had relieved of their misery.
From the tree, Christine looked down on the garden seeing it–and herself–from a new perspective. Surely Satan had conquered her. Surely there was no redemption. Tears released down her cheeks as she dug up the layette sets and buried the debris from the tree with them. She fought the urge to say a prayer, which she knew she had no right to utter.
Later that afternoon, Basel entered the garden that he had neglected and was struck by the tree. Who had pruned it? Who had so gently lightened its load so that it could grow stronger and bear more fruit? Who had given life so anonymously?