Loyalty

Betsy and Bruno sat quietly in the back. Leah looked at them through the rear view mirror. They seemed strange. Quiet. Any other day they’d be jumping up and down with joy, probably disturbing Leah’s driving. But today was not an ordinary day. Today Leah is getting married. Leah was certain that Betsy and Bruno sensed her tension. After all, she believed, cats possessed special powers. Traffic light. She looked in the backseat, moistened eyes, and caressed Betsy. Betsy gave herself willingly. With her thick coat, she was always happy to receive human touch. She licked Leah’s fingers softly. Bruno was still curled up in the corner, like a pensive philosopher. It’s so like him, thought Leah. Even at home he only wandered away from his spot once every few hours, so why should he be any different on my wedding day?

A beeping sound disturbed Bruno’s peace. It was from the car in the next lane. “Congratulations” said the driver, winking at Leah, most of his attention still given to the traffic light, ready to accelerate as soon as it was green. Leah regretted being so noticeable. Her balloon filled car and her wedding dress were not making it any easier. Leah gave an obviously fake smile. This was not a good time to strike a conversation. “Thank you”, she replied, turning towards him only for a split second, hoping he will get the hint. “So, getting married then?” he continued. Leah figured she had about fifteen seconds left before the lights turned green. She could handle him for a little longer. It’s not nice to be so unfriendly on your wedding day. He’s a young guy and could get the wrong idea about the whole concept of marriage. She smiled at him, more pleasantly this time. “Yes”, she replied. “It’s a bit late isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be standing at the altar? And where is the groom?” he persisted. “He’s at the venue. I’m on my way there”, Leah answered him, not really believing she’s having this conversation with a random driver. “Can I help?” he asked. Green. Leah stepped on the gas pedal and leapt forward. No, you can’t, she thought. I wish you could.

She was supposed to arrive at the wedding venue within ten minutes. She was already around thirty minutes late to her own wedding. She glanced at the invitation thrown on the passenger seat. “Guests are kindly requested to arrive on time”, it said. No one bothered to mention that the bride should be on time. She heard many stories about girls disappearing on their wedding day; but had no intention to vanish. She had a hard time not thinking about what is probably occurring at the venue right now. Ben, in his groom suit, standing by his parents, who are standing by her parents, who are standing in front of hundreds of guests. All of them waiting for her. She tried focusing on Ben. He must be on the verge of crying. He would look so cute, standing there with his long curly hair and goatee. What is he saying now?

“White Ford, pull over.”

What?

“White Ford, pull over immediately.”

The police car was behind her. Well, this’ll make a great story for the grandchildren one day. She pulled over. A chubby policeman stepped out of his vehicle.

“Good day to the lawbreaking bride. License and registration, please,” he said with a fatherly smile.

“Look, Sir, I need to get to my wedding. I don’t even know what I did.”

“Even on your wedding day, red lights stay red and the law says you have to stop when you see one.”

“Can’t you find someone else to give a ticket to? I’m sorry, but—“

“Lady, I don’t care that you’re sorry,” he began losing his patience, “and I don’t have the time for all this whining. License and registration!”

She started crying. That’s it. All the pressure that was mounting during this crazy day started to come out. The harsh conversation with Ben at the bridal salon. Running to the car and driving like a madwoman home to take Betsy and Bruno. She wasn’t built for that. She’s usually so quiet and eager to please. She loved Ben so much. But before the wedding she felt like he was changing. As if trying to show her that once they were married he was going to control things. He was going to set the tone. Must have taken advice from one of his weird friends. And she wasn’t that bossy or overbearing. She was always there for him, with all his impulses.

“The cats are also attending the wedding?” the policeman smiled in slight awkwardness.

“Yes!” she replied, “and I don’t care that Ben doesn’t think they should be there.”

“Ben? Is that the poor guy waiting for you right now?”

“Poor guy?” she was upset now. “He knows just how lucky he is to have found me. What did I ever ask for? Three years I haven’t said a thing. I said yes to everything. I get depressed after every argument with him. But what does he care? What does he know about relationships? I’m his first long-term girlfriend. His first.” The tears were pouring out now, “but I love you Benji. Don’t you get that? They’re just cats. I love them too Benji.”

“I’m sure he’s not miserable,” the policeman apologized, “but what do the cats have to do with it?”

“They’re my guests. You understand? Mine.” She was pointing at the policeman as if he was Ben, standing there in front of her, “I want them at my wedding and I don’t care that you think they’re just stupid cats that should stay at home. If it were a dog you’d probably have agreed, right? But cats – no. Absolutely no cats. Why? Because cats are not dogs. Because cats are stupid, disloyal animals, which care about no one but themselves and just lie around all day. What do you know about loyalty?”

“I actually think cats are pretty cute,” the policeman didn’t quite know what to say. “They do shed all around the place, scratch the furniture, but…”

Her phone rang. It was Ben. She answered and started yelling.

“Let me tell you what loyalty is. Loyalty is a human trait. You can’t judge an animal with human standards. What are you afraid of? That you’re going to fall into a pit in the middle of the night and your cat is going to look at you from above, say ‘meow’ and walk off? Cats are cute. Accept them. Learn to accept. Stop judging. What did I ask for? For two cute, cuddly, fuzzy, quiet cats to be with me on my wedding day. I love them. I love you, Benji.” She was finding it difficult to continue talking. “I want you to respect me as a human being. I expect something from you that I don’t from Betsy and Bruno. I expect you to understand me. We’re in this relationship together.”

“Leah, you know I’m crazy about you, ” he paused, “I didn’t mean what I said at the salon. I just didn’t understand why you were making such a big deal about the cats and why two hours before the wedding. After all the wedding preparations I was stressed out. I can’t handle the uncertainty. I’m busting my ass, organizing this whole thing and you suddenly ask for those two creatures to—”

“I’ll tell you what you can’t handle,“ Leah calmed down, she was focused now, “you can’t bear the fact that I decided to bring Betsy and Bruno along, two hours before the wedding. That this time, I’m the one who made a decision that could jeopardize the whole operation. I’ve been talking about them for a month now and you’ve done nothing but laugh at me. You didn’t believe I’d do such a thing, right? You don’t get that it’s not about Betsy and Bruno. It’s about me. I want you to know we’re together in this. I love you Benji, but—”

“No buts,” he cut her off , “and I’m really not in the mood for one of your relationship speeches when three hundred guests are sitting and waiting for the lady to arrive at her own wedding. You have a gift for pissing me off at the worst times. I look like an idiot in front of the guys from work. You realize how embarrassing this is? Get down here. For me this is loyalty, nothing else.”

“Is loyalty also fucking your ex, Ruth, behind my back for a whole year?” she blurted quietly.

“What are you talking about?” Ben’s voice was lower now, his usual certainty vanishing.

“You know very well what I’m talking about. I know everything. I also know it’s over, but only because I stepped in and spoke to her, without your knowledge, because I didn’t want it to spoil our wedding.”

“Leah,” Ben was trying to regain control over the conversation, “I want you here in two minutes or I’m calling the whole freaking wedding off!”

“Well, I’ve got news for you,” Leah felt as if she was about to make the most significant act of her life, “you’re not calling this freaking wedding off because I am.”

“Look, if you’re going t—”

Leah hung up. She felt a sense of calm washing over her. A feeling you get when you make the right decision, after long and agonizing deliberations. She smiled at the policeman. The policeman, who listened to the whole conversation, smiled back at her, “I’m not so sure I actually saw you driving through that red light” he said.

“And I’m sure you are very sweet,” she laughed.

Betsy and Bruno were jumping up and down with joy in the back seat. Cats can sense things. One last pat. A U-turn. She’s going home.

My Own Dragon

“Next Friday be ready for the math exam”, said Liam’s teacher. Liam was a good student but he didn’t like important exams. He didn’t want to fail.

The next day, Liam scored 3 goals for his team, Panthers, in the soccer game. His dad, the coach of the team, hugged him and his mother yelled “Great goal, Liam! Let’s go Panthers!”. Liam was very happy. He liked scoring goals. Suddenly he noticed a small dragon sitting with all the parents. The dragon wasn’t smiling and wasn’t cheering. He was just sitting and looking. Liam didn’t like the dragon. He looked scary.

After the game ended the dragon followed Liam to his dad’s car. He sat in the passenger seat just near his dad. Liam was the only one who saw the dragon. His dad and his brother, Bar, didn’t see it.

The dragon also joined Liam to his Tae Kwon Do class and swimming lesson later the same week. Liam had a very good classes but the dragon didn’t smile and just sat there and watched.

On Thursday after bath time, Liam played the Piano. He almost made no mistake and was really proud of himself. The dragon sat on the couch and listened.

Liam went to sleep early. He wanted to be ready for his exam the next day. But he wanted to talk to the dragon.

Liam waited until his brother and dad went to sleep and quietly turned on the living room light. The dragon was there sitting on the couch reading a book.

“Who are you?”, asked Liam.

“I am a dragon”, said the dragon.

“I can see that”, said Liam, “but what is your name?”

“My name is F”, answered the dragon.

“F? what kind of a name is that?”, said Liam. He was confused.

“Well, this is my name. Like it or not”, said the dragon.

“Why are you following me all day?”, asked Liam.

“I am not following you. I am part of you.”, smiled the dragon.

“Part of me? I don’t get it”, said Liam.

“Well, I am your FEARS. I am everything in your mind that is afraid to fail. Not to score goals, not to play the piano good, not to swim well”

“But I don’t like you. I don’t like to fail. Can’t you just go away?”, said Liam.

“Nobody likes to fail. Everyone has his own dragon. But we can be friends”, said the dragon.

“Friends? I don’t want to be friends with my FEARS!”, said Liam.

“I can help you. Whenever you fail an exam, not playing the piano good, or not swimming fast as someone else, remember that EVERYONE has his own dragon. I will help you get up and continue and show you that nothing bad happened. It happens to everyone. Everyone fails once in a while. The important thing is to get up, smile, and continue to your next success.”

Liam smiled. The dragon is not so bad after all. He hugged the dragon and turned off the light. Tomorrow he has an important exam. He want to succeed but even if he fails he will get up, smile and continue.

Fantasy

 

“What did you say?” she asked sharply, almost yelling.

“I asked if you could take off you clothes”, I said quietly, trying to hide the trembling in my voice.

“Are you out of your mind? What is up with you?” she went towards the door.

So, here I was, a week before my wedding, sitting in my ex’s house, asking her to undress. I came over to give her a wedding invitation. Well, that too.

“Wait, Elinor, let me explain.” I ran after her.

“What’s there to explain? I’m a married woman, with a child. Last time I saw you was six years ago when you decided that our relationship was too stressful for you and it was time to take a break that turned into a breakup. You suddenly thought about me a week before your wedding, to give me an invitation…” she stopped, trying to hold back her tears and kept going in a tone that kept rising, “and now you’re asking me to take off my clothes? What do you want? To fuck me? Do I look like a slut to you? I loved you, you were my whole life, but that’s it. I’m over you, I’m happily married and I have a wonderful husband and a gorgeous child. What right do you have, huh? Who gave you the right to just show up here, thinking that you’re going to fuck me just because you’re getting married? Do you actually think I sit at home and fantasize about you? I-“

“Elinor”, I yelled, “you have to stop for a second and let me explain.”

Well, this is not going to be easy.

“Elinor, I don’t want to have sex with you. It’s not about that.”

“Then what are you-“

“Wait a second, calm down. I really don’t want to have sex with you. That’s not why I came. I admit the wedding invitations were not the main reason. But neither is having sex. There’s something else.”

“What?” She asked.

“Come, sit next to me for a bit” I gestured towards the couch. She hesitated.

“Don’t worry. I’ll just explain myself and then I’ll leave.” I took her hand in mine and sat her on the couch next to me.

“I’m thirty two already. You’re thirty. When we broke up you were twenty-four. You were at you peak. Your body was divine. Sex with you was everything I could have wished for. Everything was right. The full and perky breasts, the long legs, the smooth skin, the long and lustrous hair. Oh and the smell. You smelt like heaven. I enjoyed every second with you. But I was young, I had plans. I felt that even though I really loved you, I couldn’t let the relationship hold me back from going on with my plans, from going to study overseas. This may have been a mistake, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“You’re confusing me, I still don’t understand.”

“I met Christy, my future wife, about a year ago. It was obvious from the start that the two of us had amazing chemistry. She is smart, sensitive and loving. I love her. But, Christy is thirty-one. She has the body of a thirty-one-year-old.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I am trying to say that Christy could never look the way you did when you were twenty-four.”

“But even I don’t look the way I did when I was twenty-four. It’s not as if I remained young while the world around me grew older. I’m thirty and, as you can see, your description is not very accurate any more” she said with a slight smile.

“Not in my head. You see, in my mind, the image of you at twenty-four still lives. Every girl I have dated since was immediately compared with that image, with you. At first they were younger so the comparison wasn’t bad, but once I’ve crossed thirty and the girls I dated were somewhat older, the comparison became impossible. They were in their thirties and they looked accordingly.”

“And what’s so wrong with thirty?”

“Nothing. But no matter how you look at it, a thirty year old girl cannot look like a young, beautiful, attractive, sexy twenty-four-year-old. The body changes. But the problem wasn’t that they were thirty. The problem was that I was comparing them to you. You see, you were amazing. When I was overseas, when I was stuck at home studying for exams, I used to masturbate and only fantasize about sex with you. When I was sleeping with other girls, I fantasized about you. Well, not exactly about you, rather about a twenty-four year old Elinor.”

“So, what do you want? You want to leave Christy?”

“No, I love Christy and I am marrying her next week. But the image of you at twenty-four is still stuck in my head and the constant comparison is driving me nuts and jeopardizing my marriage. The older Christy gets, things will only go down hill. Rationally, I realize we will grow older and our bodies will change. The relationship between Christy and me is more than just about sex, but the image of you is still stuck in my subconscious, torturing me every time I want to have sex with Christy. When she undresses, the image of you at twenty-four pops into my head, I compare it to Christy and my subconscious starts yelling: How? How did you leave that, for that? How? And it drives me insane.”

“But that’s crazy. You’re comparing her today to me six years ago.”

“Exactly. But it’s not me. It’s in my head and I can’t control it. This is why I want you to undress.”

“What?” she was panicking again, “what does that have to do with it?”

“If I see your body today, the image of it now will replace the image I have of you at twenty-four and then, finally, I could have sex with Christy at peace, without those voices in my head.”

She understood. She smiled. I calmed down. Now, even if she won’t do it at least I got it off my chest.

“So, instead of going to see a shrink to help you solve your problems, you came here. And what exactly did you think? That just because you went out with me for four years, six years ago, you have the right to see my naked body today?”

“I know I don’t have any rights. I understand that we are strangers today. I am coming to you for help. The closer the wedding got, the worse it became for me. Christy is losing patience with me. She doesn’t know how I feel but she can sense it. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of losing the whole thing because of this fantasy that’s stuck in my head. I’m only asking. If you say no I’ll understand and I’ll leave.”

Elinor was thinking. I wondered what was going through her head. Maybe she reminisced about our time together, when we used to stay up all night, every Thursday, because we decided those were the best hours of the week. The silence prolonged. I started to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to torture her anymore.

“Look, I’m sorry, I…”

“Shut up” she said quietly, gently taking my hand. She got up and stood in front of me. She started unbuttoning her shirt slowly.

“Can you help me with the bra?” she turned around. I got up and with shaking hands after a couple of attempts, managed to unhook it. I sat down. She turned around, smiling. I studied her. These were invaluable seconds. Concentrate, I told myself, concentrate. Replace the image. This is Elinor. This is Elinor. Not the girl with the perky large breasts, with the tiny waists and the body that screams at you “I want to live!” She wasn’t unattractive. Her breasts were still impressive but had already started to sag. Childbirth has taken its toll. The waistline wasn’t as narrow. She was beautiful. But not stunningly the way she was six years ago. She looked like an attractive thirty-year-old woman. Something any man would be thankful for. I didn’t ask, but she took off her jeans and remained standing in her black underwear. She tried to do it in a practical, non-sexual sort of way.

“Should I walk around like some model?” she asked, laughing.

I didn’t answer. As it was I felt like disappearing.

She turned around, showing me her ass. It was pleasing to look at. Her husband did not suffer in bed. A little bit of fat was bulging around her panty line. The perfect symmetry was damaged. It was still nice but not as firm. I remember I used to spank her during sex just to feel the firmness of it. If I was to slap it now, it probably would have had a softer, elastic feel. It was obvious she exercised. Some sort of losing battle a person has against nature’s wear and tear. She turned around again.

“Well, did you enjoy it?” she asked.

“I didn’t…”

“I know you didn’t do this for pleasure” she laughed, “after all, it is the old body of a thirty-year-old.” She winked.

I got up and stood next to her. Awkward.  She hugged me. After all, four years together.

“Elinor” I said, “thank you.”

“Don’t thank me” she smiled, “go home to Christy. I think she deserves great sex tonight.”

She kissed me gently on the cheek. I left.

The Pigeon

I pressed on the brake pedal, but not with full force. Scott, who was sitting next to me, yelled “what are you doing?” Not out of fear – the braking wasn’t life threatening – but out of confusion. It was a pigeon and Scott didn’t understand why I had to brake just because we were approaching a pigeon. Most probably it’ll fly away, and even if not, so what? It’s a pigeon. Nothing to it. We’re on our way to a friend’s rooftop for a barbecue. We’re about to devour a serious amount of poultry there. Fair enough, we didn’t run them over, but someone else did the dirty work for us so we could enjoy chicken wings in a light marinade.

The pigeon didn’t move. My brain wasn’t taking in this new and surprising image. In my head “car approaching pigeon” was filed right next to “pigeon flies away”. But this time it was different. It seemed to be concentrating on something on the road. If it was a child, the car would have stopped by now. My foot on the brake pedal would have put the car at a standstill no matter the cost. But it wasn’t a child, it was just a pigeon. A piece of meat. Right now, at McDonald’s around the world, millions are eating pieces of meat. Why should I brake so suddenly, risking myself, Scott and the other drivers? Still, it’s not like I’m doing this on purpose. It should fly off. That’s what they usually do. Scott didn’t get it either. Not that he cared. He shouted “what, is it stupid?” and laughed.

That’s it, too late. If it won’t fly away now, it’s doomed. I press harder on the brake. I’m not about to stop in front of it. If I do the car might spin out of control or even roll over. I’m a nice, sensitive guy, easy-going. But there are limits. People are killed every day over violent conflicts. One more pigeon won’t change the moral balance in this world. I’ve got moral standards but I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to risk mine, or Scott’s life for a pigeon. And I don’t even know it. If it was “Shula” the pigeon, and I’d feed it every day, then I’d probably have feelings toward her and then I would probably press stronger on the brakes. And if it was the pigeon of some poor blind child, and would have served as his eyes in the world, then I would definitely brake with full force. Not for the pigeon. For the child. But I don’t know it. It’s not really a pigeon. It’s just some pigeon.

It flutters. Hitting the bottom of the car. Scott yells “wow!” and I take my foot of the pedal. I look in the rear view mirror. It bounces on the road a few times in what seems to be a last dying dance. Scott is excited. For him this was better than a movie. “Look, it’s not that you were going fast. It had loads of time. Wow that was something!” Yes, it did have loads of time. But now it’s dying. Maybe even dead. I look in the mirror and see a small black dot lying on the road. “Maybe we should stop?” I dare say, meanwhile my foot is nowhere near the brake pedal. The answer is clear. But I’ve got to ask. Now the conscience clearing stage begins. I will not rest until my conscience is clean. But I need reinforcements from my surroundings. “Are you crazy?” Scott replies, predictably. “Besides, what can you do now? It’s dead. And if not then it’s better off dead”. “But,”- I continue, still polishing spots off my conscience “I could have stopped. I’m such an idiot. It was obviously not going to move. If it didn’t move when we were twenty feet away, it wouldn’t have moved at all.” Scott senses my distress and tries to help. “Nonsense, you didn’t have chance. If you would have hit that brake any harder we would have gone spinning out of control. Relax, let it go.” Fine. I’ll let go. Can’t let it ruin my day. “Idiot”, I mumble to myself, putting the last nail in my conscience’s coffin. “I have a solution for you”- Scott continues- “eat one less wing at the party. In the pigeon’s honor”. I force a smile. You just got to go with it. Should I really be sad over a pigeon? Pretty dorky. We continue. The meat is getting cold.

 

I thought I shouldn’t eat at the party. Or at least just eat some salad. But the smell, oh the smell. “Don’t give him a wing on the next round”, Scott calls. “Why?” Ella is interested. “He ran over a pigeon on the way over. He needs to mourn it.” “Really?”- Ella is amazed- “why would you do that?” I take another bite from the wing before it gets cold and say “I didn’t do it on purpose. It jumped under the wheels. I tried to stop, but…” Scott jumps in and starts petting me on the head, “he didn’t mean to. He’s a good boy. He doesn’t run over pigeons.” Ella smiles. She quickly passes the fake pity stage. “Maybe it’s his pigeon we’re eating?” “Yes”- Scott joins in-“think about it this way, maybe that’ll cheer you up.” “Next time, we don’t need to go shopping for chicken wings. We’ll just send you on a short drive”, says Ella, and everyone bursts into laughter.

 

Night. My stomach hurts. I ate too much, again. I drop Scott off by his place. He smiles, “I hope you weren’t offended by the whole pigeon thing “. “No way”- I hesitate -“what’s there to be hurt about?” Scott laughs. “I know. It’s just funny. Alright, go to bed. You’re likely to dream about it at night.” “Good night”, I cut him off. I’m alone. Finally. How exactly do I choose my friends?

 

I turn the car around, heading towards the road where I ran over the pigeon. I come closer to the place where I crushed it with my car. I’m alone on the road. It’s very dark. There are no lights. I slow down. No one seems to be around. Will I look like an idiot if I stop? I pull over. Step out of my car. There’s a car racing in my direction. It’s coming towards the spot where I started braking for the pigeon. I jump. The car screeches to a halt a few feet in front of me. The driver comes out. “Are you insane? What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?” he’s screaming. Complete panic. “Yes I am insane”, I reply “what do you think? That I’d be jumping into the road if I wasn’t?” “You freaking idiot!”- he continues-“ go find… you should be admitted to a mental institute, you piece of…” yes, maybe I should be admitted. He moves on. I look at the road. I think I can see some feathers. I wonder if they belonged to my pigeon. I pick one up. Caress it. Get back in the car. And drive.