The Missing Ingredient

The ambulance was cruising across the highway. Another restless shift. Why couldn’t he just be a fireman? Just having boring shifts playing cards with the guys and maybe once every few months going to fight some fire which most of the time ended up being a malfunction in the fire alarm. After all that’s what he wanted. A nice job he can have fun and get paid for it. Nothing too much. Well, of course, that’s what most of the human kind wanted. But only few chosen ones actually live to have it. Most just find themselves with a job they can’t stand and a boss they can’t stand even more. It was always a hard choice for him. In any of his jobs he found himself contemplating with the existential question of why can’t he stand his job? Is it because of the actual job or is it because of his boss? Since he couldn’t find the answer he just waited for his boss to be replaced. If it was the job he couldn’t stand, a new boss won’t make it better. If it was the boss to blame, he might start having fun.

 

He always liked cooking. That was probably the first thing he would have done if not being a paramedic. Well, as long as he doesn’t need to wake up every day to drive somewhere to do it. He liked cooking for his friends. He was actually in the process of cooking his favorite dish before jumping on the ambulance. He learned how to make this dish from some one-time guest in a cooking show he watched a few years ago. Just five more minutes in the oven and it was done. Maybe it’s for the best. There was always something missing with this dish. He remembered the guy in the show reading off the ingredient list. A phone call. He missed the last ingredient. Only one. His friends always gave him compliments for every dish he made. Not for that one. Something was missing. They called it the “unfinished dish”. No girlfriend stayed with him more than a week after cooking this dish. Women like guys who cook but only if they cook something to their taste. He knew the one missing ingredient could make the difference. He will win the perfect girl. That one ingredient would have made the dish a masterpiece. Instead of being remembered in the hospital as a paramedic that used to cook he will be remembered as an unforgettable cook that used to be a paramedic. If only he would have received this dreadful phone call one second later. His life would have meant something. He googled all over the internet and found like seventeen different ways to make the dish but none was the one he saw in that cooking show. He even tried calling the TV station but they told him the program is going off air due to low rating and they have better things to do than help someone find some so-called missing ingredient. He never got a hold of the actual show guest who made the dish.

 

The guy lying on the bed near him was definitely fighting for his life. Connected to all those machines it was obvious it’s going to be a miracle if he makes it to the hospital. He asked him to hold his hand. Looks like he was afraid to die. How does it feel like knowing the end is near? You are about to disappear from earth and if there is no heaven, reincarnation or even hell it doesn’t look like you are going to exist in any form or even get another chance. That’s all. You finish your life as “Mr. X”. If you just knew in advance. Maybe you wouldn’t have bought so many groceries that will stay to rot in the refrigerator. And you probably wouldn’t have waited so long to buy that huge TV you always dreamed of having. You could have had six donuts instead of the one you get for breakfast. After all, who cares about obesity in the last day of his life? Maybe people with cancer should consider themselves lucky. After all they have some advance notice. They can at least plan their grocery shopping better.

 

Traffic jam. Cars trying to clear the way but there is still nowhere to go. It’s not a good idea to die in a rush hour. If you can, better do it in early morning. If you woke up too late try to stay alive during the day, make sure the roads are clear and then have your heart attack. Early evening was the time between shifts and usually the “day shift” didn’t have the same patience to deal with a patient who decided to die during rush hour. They might connect him to life sustaining machines before doing everything they can to save him. He wondered if anyone ever checked statistically how many people in a life-threating situation died during the rush hour compared to other times of the day. He just wished the ambulance would make it to the hospital soon. His favorite team is on TV tonight.

 

The dying guy’s grip of his hand got tighter. Desperately trying to hold into life. But, taking all into consideration, the guy should feel lucky. There are much worse ways to die. Like in a plane crash or burning to death in some public building. When you die you want to be alone. Think about your life, your childhood, your first kiss, your first sex and your loved ones. Going back to life intersections where you could have taken a different path. Where you might have been today? For sure not in the ambulance. All those people screaming around you, sharing their death with yours distract this thought process. You might start feeling sorry for everyone else around you. It is hard enough feeling sorry for yourself. Much better dying here in the ambulance holding hands with the paramedic.

 

He stared directly into the dying guy’s sad eyes. He looked somewhat familiar. Dead people looked the same lying there. Same fear. How does it feel to die alone? No one was at the house besides him when they came. While he was still able to talk he didn’t mention anyone else. He looked lonely. Just like him. One lonely dying guy holding hands with one lonely living guy. Maybe that’s one of the main reasons you stick with your spouse, if you have one, after the age of sixty. You don’t like her, she annoys you, it feels like hell on earth to be with her in the same house but – she is going to be there in the ambulance. Sitting near you, holding your hands, maybe even crying. It makes you feel good to see someone crying on you when you are dying. Even if they are faking it so you won’t feel bad. If you are leaving this world while someone is still crying on you, you know that you made a difference. If not you, this someone might have been having fun on the beach right now. Instead he is sitting here crying.

 

The dying guy was fully dressed. Probably just came back from work. Somebody should call his office. Let them know he is not going to make it tomorrow. What if there is a major project for which he is supposed to give a presentation tomorrow. Actually, that might have been one of the reasons he had the heart attack in the first place. The room filled with all managers waiting for him to come and give the presentation. Checking their phones. The presentation is about to start. The company is going to lose so much money by having so many managers doing nothing for one hour. Almost as much as it is going to lose having them doing something in this one hour. His boss is frustrated. Thinking, why did I do this? Why did I give him this responsibility? I should have done the presentation myself if only I didn’t delegate my role to everyone around me so I can make it on time to the dates with my mistress. He shouldn’t have counted on anyone else beside himself. He never felt confident putting the project in the hands of this guy. He was always late. This time is one time too many. He better have a good reason or he is out of here. He will probably have some excuse, as usual. Something about the traffic or his mother not feeling good. He is history in this company. Not even one month’s notice. He is out today. If he can only give the presentation himself, the manager kept thinking. But what’s the point of being a manager if you are actually doing something that someone else can do much better than you?

 

He looked at the guy’s phone lying beside him. He was not lonely after all. Still had the ultimate friend, his phone. Did he have enough time to post a Facebook message saying goodbye? What about his account? Who will inherit all his wonderful pictures and funny posts? What about his Facebook friends? Are they going to come to his funeral? Are they actually going to miss him? Are they even going to notice he is dead? Some people die in their cubes while no one notices for few hours. How long does it take your Facebook friends to notice you are not posting anything? A week? Month? Year? How can they even notice when each has more than five hundred friends? Unless he unfriended them just before he was about to die. They might notice a change in the number of friends. But it will take them some time to find who it was.

 

He used to google the names of the people in the ambulance. It was interesting to see who they were, what they did in their lives. Not every time he found the right one. After all he couldn’t search for something like “Mr. X dying in an ambulance”. His phone was dead. He looked at the guy’s phone. No, he can’t do it. He can’t use the phone of a dying man. Well, still not dead but definitely on the fast lane for being one. He looked again at the phone. Maybe only this one time. Nobody is going to notice. He really wanted to google his name. The last respect he can give to someone lonely who has no one to cry on his dying bed. At least he will know who this guy was. And then, holding his hand he will feel something for him. Not like a spouse, a family member or even old friend but still something. Before the guy takes his last breath he will see someone caring for him.

 

He took the phone. The weak battery signal flashed. The battery was dying, just like its owner. They were close to the hospital. Even if the guy lying here is not dead by then, he will definitely be dead by the beginning of his next shift. He holds the phone gently almost trying not to annoy the battery hoping it will give him a few more valuable seconds. Not much time. The last thing he can afford to happen now is someone opening the door and finding him playing with the phone of a dying patient. He will probably need to look for a job as a cook. He checked again the name of the guy on the medical board. With shaking hands he typed the name. The search engine gave few results. He checked images related to the guy. Few faces appeared. One of them resembled the dying man. The phone beeped about to turn off. Last few seconds. He must find who this poor guy is. He pressed on the guy’s face on the screen and was redirected to a website. Some TV channel. He scrolled down looking for his name. There was a link to a cooking show with a list of guests. The guy name was the last one. He checked again the name of the TV channel. The name was familiar. It was the same channel he watched the cooking show with the missing ingredient. He looked at the guy again. The phone. The guy. The phone. The guest. The phone. The cook. The phone. The missing ingredient. It can’t be. It just can’t be. That’s him. That’s the last guest of the cooking show he watched. The phone died.

 

Here in front of him was lying the guy that meant so much to him. Gave a reason to his existence. His hero. He got his last chance to find the missing ingredient. Here he is sitting in front of the treasure. He just needs to find the combination to the lock.

 

He didn’t think twice. He pushed the guy aggressively waking him up. “Wake up, Wake up, please!!! I have a question. One question and then you can die!” The cook opened his eyes, probably for the last time. “Remember the show? The cooking show? What was the last ingredient? Please. Just tell me. The last ingredient. Please!” He yelled not caring if anyone would open the ambulance door. He must find the missing ingredient. The cook looked at him. He understands! He understands what he was saying. “Please”, he cried, “Please help me. What was the last ingredient???” The cook looked suffering. He was making an effort to say something. He start uttering some unrecognized words and crashed shutting his eyes for the last time. The recognized dead monotonous sound came from the machine. He cried like he never cried before. All he wanted was the missing ingredient. The ingredient missing from his dish, from his life, from his happiness. He took the cook like a baby in his arms. Someone cared for him after all.

NapNap

We surrounded the pit with our backs to it and held hands. It looked odd. As if we were making a circle but backwards. Ethan came closer. We wanted him to stay away but the strange circle just made him more curious. Mom always told me that if I don’t want to be noticed, I should act normal. I guess she forgot to tell me that sometimes, when you’re afraid, you don’t think right. We should have stayed away from the pit and then Ethan probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. OK, maybe he would have picked on one of us, but we were used to that. He was in our class but looked a lot older. Danny always said that he was probably held back like eight times but I said that if that’s right, then he should be in the army by now. Simon, who was really smart, said that kids were afraid of making him mad because he is always irritated, because he didn’t have any parents and he was living with his older sister and that there were stories about her screaming at him all the time and even hitting him. Danny and Simon held my hands really tight. Out of fear, not love. Maybe fear is a kind of love? Ethan stopped next to us. “So, what do we have here, my darling little children?” he rubbed his hands together, like some witch. I never understood the enjoyment in playing the bad guy. Once, when he was passing near our house, I came out to the balcony, yelled “good” three times and hid behind the blinds. I thought maybe I could remove the evil spell off him with a counter spell. He stopped, looked up and called “Asshole, I’ll get you at school tomorrow” and kept going. The next day he hit me on the head and I realized my spell failed. Maybe he needs to kiss a frog.

“Go away” I said, holding Danny and Simon’s hands even tighter, “there’s nothing here.” He became serious and came closer to me. It was always like that. Even in the movies, after the bad guy would laugh, he would become serious all of a sudden. He put his face right up to mine and whispered “did you say something, worm?” I wanted to say something back but the words were stuck in my mouth. I felt Danny trying to pull his hand out of mine. I was probably hurting him. Ethan took a couple of steps back. “I’m gonna count to three. If you don’t back away and let me see what’s there, I’ll…” -he thought for a moment what to do. We stood and waited for Ethan to decide what he wanted to do to us. He thought of it and clapped- “then I’m gonna punch you, one by one. And I’m not telling you who’s first.” He said while looking at me. We didn’t look at each other, but just by feeling both Danny and Simon squeezing my hands I knew they were not going to move. Ethan walked away a little, grabbed a stick and sat on a large rock. “One” he yelled. No one moved. We stopped breathing. Mothers with strollers were walking by, but must have thought we were playing. “Two” he said. I think he wanted us not to move. It’ll be more interesting this way. “Let’s run, he’s going to beat you up” Danny whispered in my ear. “He’s just a coward, and besides, don’t worry because my brother is going to kick his ass” I whispered back loudly, so Simon could hear it too. Truth is, my brother, who was two years older than I was, was also afraid of him. He didn’t know I was using his name to build up confident. Maybe Simon had an idea? He always had ideas about how to save our asses. But maybe now Ethan made him freeze. “Th-“Ethan dragged out the word, trying to torture us- “rrr”- “we’ll let you see what’s in here but you can’t touch it.” It was Simon. It was a pretty simple idea actually. I didn’t believe he would go for it, but at least Simon bought us some time to breathe. “You’re gonna let me see what’s there”-Ethan answered with a scary look on his face-“and if I feel like touching it I will and if I don’t, I don’t. How’s that?” Well, this wasn’t exactly what Simon had in mind. But Simon jumped in front of me and said OK. I looked at him, annoyed, but from his look I realized I had no choice. Danny calmed down a little and let go of my hand. Danny and Simon stepped aside. I was left standing alone. I was going to move but wanted to make it clear that he can’t touch it. Ethan came closer, slowly, and stood in front me. I looked up. He was much taller than I was. I was thinking to myself that, with a built like that, he was probably sorry he couldn’t beat someone up every day. “So, worm, did you not get it? Or would you prefer that I beat you up first and then see what’s there?” I moved aside slowly. “Don’t touch it” I mumbled. I was actually hoping he wouldn’t hear it. But he did. He grabbed my ear and pinched it. “What are you up to? Don’t touch what?” But then he saw it and let go of my ear.

So now Ethan too knew about our secret. An anthill. For about a month now, since Danny found it, we’ve been coming every day to see the ants building their home. It was huge, not like the little ones you can step on accidentally. They were taking grains of sand from the woods by the garden and bringing them here. It was a line of ants, carrying grains. They were building this high mount that was in the shape of an almost perfect sphere, going up and then lower in the center. It looked like in the old cities when they barricaded before a war. Danny, who used to collect apricot pips, would come to class with like ten apricots every day. His mom used to think he ate them. He would hand them out in class and then collect the pips. He would always keep one though, and we would cut it up into little pieces and put it by the line of ants so they would have something to eat on their long journey. They were regular ants, not at all special. The kind of ants you could step on, like five at a time, and not even notice. In the last few days the ants’ home was nearly ready and only a few ants were still bringing last grains of sand. The rest was busy searching for food. Danny kept following this one large ant with wings. We called it “the flying ant”. But Simon looked it up in the encyclopaedia and told us it was their queen and that it laid eggs and that the other ants, who were called “workers”, took care of them. Danny was a little sad after it disappeared for a few days and decided to call it “NapNap” because it was always napping. Simon calmed him by saying that ant queens didn’t leave the nest much. They were busy giving birth to “workers” for the nest and a few new “queens” as well. The new queens would leave the nest to mate with male ants and form new nests. I asked if “NapNap” was the queen that formed this nest but he said that after forming a nest, the queen will chop off its own wings because she doesn’t need them anymore. “So how come “NapNap” has wings?” I asked. “She is the queen of the next nest” Simon said and left, because he was tired of explaining things to me.

At recess he asked the teacher if after the feminist revolution people will have queens too, that will control everyone and fly off to form new kingdoms. But the teacher just laughed and said it was a bit early for that. Simon suggested we play by the pit every day and this way we can guard it from people stepping in it accidentally. Every day we used to put our bags at home and go down to play near the pit, until the evening. During the day, at recess, we’d sneak out through a hole in the fence and go to check on it. We were at recess now. Ethan wasn’t at recess because he didn’t even come to school. Truth is he only came to school when he felt like it and that wasn’t often.

“An ants’ nest?” -Ethan didn’t believe it-“you idiots. This is what you were making such a big deal about? Stupid kids. I thought you were protecting some treasure.” Ok, so he didn’t care about the ants, maybe he’ll go then. Or he’ll do it out of spite. “And you were worried I’ll ruin it for you? I have better things to do. But I will tell your entire class that you three are a bunch of geeks who play with ants at recess.” Fine, let him tell. It’s not as if we had a lot of friends in class anyway. Just don’t ruin the pit. But you could never tell with him. He could still wreck it, just out of boredom. The bell rang. We went back to class. Ethan went in and wrote on the board in big writing: the three geeks play with ants. The teacher came in and asked me to erase the board. It was calculus and Ethan got bored pretty quickly. He was like a small child. All he’s going to think about now are the ants, until something else will enter his head and then he’s going to forget about them altogether. Simon, who was sitting next to me, said we should find something else to occupy him with. In the middle of class, Ethan said he had to use the bathroom and disappeared. When he didn’t return I said to Simon that he might have changed his mind and went to wreck the pit. I told Danny quietly that we should take turns in going out to check the pit every couple of minutes. I didn’t want Simon to go out because he was good at maths and we could copy off of him later. Danny went out first. He came back with a big smile on his face and told us Ethan was playing soccer with the big kids. “Great” Simon whispered, “He’s already thinking about other things.” I relaxed and finally started listening to the teacher. I waited a few minutes, so the teacher doesn’t suspect anything, and went out. It was getting chilly outside and the sun was being hidden by clouds. Winter was coming. Simon explained to us that the ants were working really hard now to build all kinds of underground tunnels and gather plenty of food for the winter. Ethan really was playing soccer and when he saw me walking past the fence he said: “What’s the matter worm, you skipping maths too?” I smiled and kept going. I got out through the hole in the fence to go check on the ants. I got to the pit but something seemed odd. The ants were rushing and running around in every direction. Even “NapNap” came in and out several times, probably to give orders to the worker ants. Maybe Ethan came past, maybe the ants felt that he wanted to do something bad to them. I didn’t know what to do. I’ll go back and talk to Simon. It started raining all of a sudden. That was not good for the ants. They were busy building their nest and I wasn’t sure they managed to build enough tunnels or gather enough food. On the way back, near the hole in the fence, a big puddle was forming. Water was coming from the school drains. The puddle was so big that water started to flow from it towards the garden, like a stream. The water was pouring into a tunnel in the sand. I started walking along the tunnel. It led me to the ants’ nest. It was in its path. The queen that set this nest up made a mistake. But it couldn’t have known. Even Simon wouldn’t have noticed it. The distance between the puddle and the pit was about the same as the distance we ran today in gym class, when we did the sprint. I had to go get Simon.

I walked into class soaking wet. The teacher turned towards me and asked me where I was. I didn’t answer and walked over to Simon. I whispered “the ants are about to drown in the rain.” We took our bags and signaled to Danny to join us. The teacher yelled: “Where do you think you’re going?” we stopped. I looked at Simon but he didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t know who was worse, the teacher or Ethan. “If you leave class now, you’re not allowed back in until the end of the year and your parents are going to be invited to school to hear about this.” OK, so the teacher was worse. Simon pointed to his watch, showing me there were only ten minutes left before class was over. We sat back down. “And I want the three of you to come to me after class” the teacher said and kept solving the equation on the board. I prayed for the remaining ten minutes till the end of class. I asked god to stop the rain and give the ants enough time to hide deep inside the pit. I drew a little map of the puddle, the tunnel and the pit. Simon said we had to block the tunnel in the sand. Bell. We ran outside without talking to the teacher. Never mind, Simon will come up with a good excuse before next class. On the way I explained to Danny what had happened. He asked if I saw “NapNap” and if she got wet or drowned in the puddle. I told him she went out for a bit but went straight back in and was probably hiding in one of the tunnels that the workers have dug out for her. It calmed him down, even though I didn’t know if that was true or not. The rain kept pouring. God didn’t listen to me. He was probably busy planning something bad to do to Ethan for what he had done to us today. We threw our bags near the hole in the fence. Danny rushed over to the pit, to see if “NapNap” was ok. I showed Simon the puddle. Water was already running in the tunnel. We shouldn’t have stayed in class. But it wasn’t too late. Simon said we should build a barrier out of sand. This way we’ll stop the water and if the water passes the barrier, we’ll build another one closer to the pit. But where we are going to bring dry sand from? “The ants were bringing grains from the woods” Simon said, “there must be some there.” We ran to the woods and between the trees we discovered a pile of sand left from the construction works they did in the garden. We each grabbed as much sand as we could hold in our hands. But by the time we got back the sand was wet from the rain and was useless. Danny found a few plastic bags and we started filling them with sand from the woods and pouring it into the tunnel. We also gathered bits of wood and large stones to build a wall. Danny, who used to help his dad fix things around the house, told us where to pour the sand and how to build the wall. We were almost finished when it started getting dark. But the rain was getting stronger still. The tunnel had already filled with water and became a small stream. We were wet and muddy. We could barely hear ourselves over the rain. Simon was shouting at Danny to go home and bring a flashlight. Danny was worried that once his parents saw him like this they wouldn’t let him come back out. But Simon said we had no choice. Danny asked that if we see “NapNap” that we would pick her up and put her in a bag so that we could later let her out and she would build a new nest. I told him that without a flashlight I’m not sure we’d be able to recognize her, so he ran home.

The water reached the wall and stopped. Simon and I jumped with joy, not paying attention to how soaking wet we actually were. Someone came running. “Danny” I called. He stopped. It wasn’t Danny. He came closer. “What Danny, worm?” Ethan looked at the wall and asked “what’s this?” if we tell him he’s going to ruin it. Actually if we don’t tell him he’s going to ruin it anyway. What should we do? “It’s a wall that’s stopping the water from reaching the ants’ nest” Simon said. Ethan looked at the wall and then back at us. “Smart, huh? You call this crappy pile of sand a wall?” a trickle of water was already starting to break through it. Simon and I quickly grabbed some sand and rocks to try and stop it, but it didn’t work. The sand was soaked and could no longer hold the water back. Ethan stood there and stared. He seemed serious all of a sudden. “I think it’s going to collapse soon” he said. “We need to build another one out of dry sand, want to help us?” Simon asked. I couldn’t believe it. Asking Ethan for help? And with trying to save an ants’ nest, no less. He’s probably going to punch Simon now. Ethan looked at me. I’ve never seen him this serious. He said “I’ll build the wall but I want you to dig tunnels so the water could go in different directions.” I stood there, staring at him. “Hey worm, what are you doing just standing there? Start digging.” I looked at Simon. It was dark but I think he was smiling. There was no time to be surprised. Maybe my spell, from the balcony, was finally working. We gave Ethan a bag and started digging tunnels. Ethan was strong and filled the bags with huge amounts of sand. Every time he emptied a bag of sand into the tunnel, he would stop, look at us, and call “oh-oh-oh” like a monkey, while thumping on his chest. Simon and I laughed. I told Simon that maybe he should help Ethan with his math tomorrow. Danny hasn’t returned yet. His mother probably stopped him from coming back out. It was really hard to see anything. When will this rain stop? We were getting tired. We could barely move, our shoes were wet and muddy and our hands were hurting from digging tunnels. But Ethan was energizing us. He became sort of a commander and kept yelling at us so we won’t stop. The wall was getting bigger and bigger. It became a small structure, with pieces of wood and rocks sticking out of it. Our tunnels were also helping in diverting some of the water in different directions. Meanwhile the first wall we built collapsed and water was slowly reaching Ethan’s wall. I looked at my watch. It was almost nine o’clock. Our parents probably rang the police by now. Maybe the cops will find us and give us a hand with the wall. Although, grownups don’t usually like ants. They think ants are yucky and tiny and that if you can accidentally step on them then they’re worthless.

Once I said to Simon that maybe we are also like little ants in a world of giants, constantly busy with trying to build our nest. Simon said that in that case, where are the giants? I told him that maybe we are so small and they are so huge that it’s just by chance that one hasn’t walked past our nest yet. He laughed.

Our tunnels helped a little bit. Water was really going in different directions, but the main tunnel was so big, that most of the water kept going straight in it. The second wall was ready. It was almost as tall as we were. Ethan found a stick, stuck a piece of paper on it and jammed it on top of the wall, like a flag. He called to the ants “that’s it, you can sleep in peace now” and came over to check our tunnels. I said to him “your wall is like the great wall of China” and he laughed even though he didn’t understand. But the water current got stronger again. We didn’t have the energy to even stand anymore. We stood quietly in the pouring rain and watched. Ethan was so quiet, I wanted to hug him. Simon looked sad. I asked him what was wrong and he said that unless the rain stopped, even Ethan’s wall will fall. We didn’t have the energy to bring more sand and even then, it probably wouldn’t have done any good. The water filled the canal. Hitting the wall and going back with more power. Like those soldiers trying to bring down the city walls with big logs. Ethan, who realized he was too quick to celebrate, started screaming at us to bring more sand but we couldn’t move. He managed to run on his own a few more times but then got tired and went to stand at the other side of the wall, to see that water wasn’t going through. I kept thinking about mom and dad who were probably worried, but I wasn’t sure what I should do anymore. “No! Shit” Ethan called. Simon and I ran to him. A trickle of water has managed to penetrate Ethan’s wall. This is the end. There were only a couple of feet separating between the wall and the nest. “We have to save NapNap” Simon yelled. “But we can’t see a thing” I told him. The water won. Ethan’s wall was now leaking. A small stream was heading straight for the nest. Ethan screamed “stinking water!” jumped into the tunnel and started kicking and splashing water everywhere. Simon and I stood next to the nest. We put our hands over the opening to try to stop the water. I held my fingers tight so the water wouldn’t go through. Water came. Our hands didn’t really help. They were too little. A stream of water got into the nest. I could imagine all the little ants running around like crazy inside their tunnels, trying to escape. Maybe a few of them stayed with “NapNap”, trying to protect her.

I saw a light in the distance. It was Danny with a torch. He was wearing dry cloths. His mom must have dressed him and then he escaped. He saw Ethan screaming and didn’t understand what was happening. He flashed the torch into the pit. Water has already gotten in. “NapNap” Danny was calling into the nest. Ethan didn’t even look at him. He was too pissed off at the water and was busy jumping in the tunnel. Danny jumped into the water-filled tunnel, searching for “NapNap”. Simon and I came closer too. Now, with Danny’s torch, we could see everything. The pit has already filled with water. I looked back at the fallen walls and the tunnels, they seemed ridiculous now. What made us think we could beat this thing? Hundreds of dead ants were floating out of the nest. Just like a real battlefield in those history programs I saw on TV. But they didn’t have a hospital to take care of the wounded. It seemed like a few of them were still alive, struggling to get away, but there was no way for us to help them. Simon pulled Danny back, away from the rising water flow. “Let’s go” he yelled “she’s dead. Come on, nothing we can do” but Danny got back in and started digging inside the pit, pulling nothing but mud and dead ants out. All those cute worker ants we’ve been following for days had turned into corpses flowing in the river that covered their pit. They were so smart and productive but they couldn’t do anything about the water. It was like an earthquake is for us. Even though we’re smart and Simon is really good in math, I’m not sure we could escape the earth breaking in two and swallowing people in. Danny started to cry. He was soaking wet again and was now going to be in trouble with his parents. I also wanted to cry. Simon sat down, holding his head between his hands. Ethan went quiet and was staring at the water, hypnotized. It was sad how someone as smart as Simon or as strong as Ethan couldn’t beat something as stupid as a stream of water. I helped Simon up and we went to get our bags.

Half way there we heard Danny “NapNap, NapNap. She’s here. I found her.” We turned around and ran back. Danny grabbed a small ant, gently, by its wings. It wasn’t necessarily “NapNap” because there could be more than one queen to a nest. But for Danny’s sake I hoped it was. Even if it wasn’t, there was no way for us to know. Simon gave him a small bag and he put the ant inside it. We all got closer to the bag. Danny shined the torch on it. “She’s moving” he called with ecstasy. It must have managed to fly a little bit, enough to save itself from drowning. Need to let it rest. Maybe it was sad because all of the little workers were now lying dead in the tunnel. “Great” Simon said “close the bag and take it home and tomorrow we’ll let it out in the sun.” “Ethan, we’re going home” Simon said “our parents must be worried.” Ethan didn’t have parents to worry about him. He could only go back to his big sister’s yelling. He was in no hurry to go home. Danny shined the flashlight on him. I thought I saw a tear running down his cheek but I’m not sure because it was raining and it could have been just a drop of rain. He walked towards Danny, looking kind of odd. He grabbed the bag out of Danny’s hand, threw it on the ground and stomped it. “NapNap” was squashed and its wings broke into pieces. “No NapNap. They’re all dead” Ethan said, as if to himself, turned around and walked off. Danny picked little NapNap body up. Took it to the pit and laid it on the flowing water. Its body was now with the rest of the ants. Now, dead and without wings, it looked just like all the others.

Fat Moses

“You stinking moron!” Moses screamed.

“Fatso, can’t you see you’re blocking the way? You’re fat.” Kaden replied quietly.

“Get out of here, do you hear me? Get out or−”

“Or what?” Kaden smiled, “or what? What can you do? Look at you. By the time you move that fat belly of yours, you would have already had your butt kicked.”

Moses exploded. His face blew up and looked like a giant tomato. He started to drool. He used to drool whenever he got really mad and couldn’t speak. It was as if spit was replacing his words.

“Hey ugly, wipe that spit. You’re going to give the entire classroom your germs. My mom told me to stay away from you.”

“You…” Moses was approaching Kaden. I jumped out of my chair and stood between them. I grabbed Moses and sat him down. “Enough, what are you getting so upset about? Can’t you see he’s trying to annoy you?” I told him quietly. I turned towards Kaden “Let him go. Why are you picking on him? You have room to pass.”

“Why are you b-b-butting in?” Kaden started stuttering. He would stutter when he was nervous. His parents sent him to speech therapy and it didn’t happen much anymore. But this time I really upset him. “Fatso, after you clean the spit off your face, come to the sand mound near the b-b-basketball court. Unless you are a coward. We’ll see if you’re a man there, not here with geeks p-p-protecting you.” I looked at Moses. I gestured with my finger for him to say no. But the whole classroom was looking at him as well. If he didn’t answer, Kaden would have won. He has to say yes. Maybe he is better off losing the fight rather than not agreeing to fight at all. Hunter, the ‘class king’ and a good friend of Kaden, approached Moses. Moses looked down at the desk and muttered, “after class, in the sands by the basketball court, you s-s-stuttering idiot.” He imitated Kaden stuttering. Kaden jumped at him but Hunter stopped him and whispered in his ear, “after class, don’t worry, the fat guy will get it.”

The teacher walked in. Moses sat next to me. Up until a month ago he used to sit by himself, but the teacher had asked students to volunteer to sit next to him. No one would do it. I used to help Moses with his math homework and his mother had a talk with me.

“I want you to sit next to Moses. He sits alone and I think it bothers him,” she said. “Moses’ mom,” I was embarrassed, “I sit next to Ron and he’s my best friend. If I move next to Moses, Ron won’t be my friend any more. Besides, Iris already sat next to him for a while but she stopped because no one in class would speak to her and also, she said his spit got all over her when he got mad.” “I don’t know what happened with Iris,” his mom wasn’t as nice anymore, “but I’m sure that if Ron is a good friend of yours, then he would appreciate you moving to sit next to Moses. About the spit, I think that’s a made up story and if a little drool comes out when he gets annoyed, well, that can’t kill anyone.”

“I don’t know,” I wanted to go home, “my mom told me that—”

“I already spoke to your mom and she said its OK.”

Moses was sitting next to us the whole time and didn’t say a word. He looked me in the eye and I think he was crying. I wanted to say “no” but couldn’t. So I said “ok” in kind of a sad way. I’ll tell Ron that Moses’ mom made me sit next to him and that after he’ll get his spit all over me, I’ll come back to sit with him. Moses’ mom smiled and gave me a candy.

So now we’ve been sitting together for a month. At first Ron didn’t talk to me but because I’m a good student and he wanted to copy off me, we started talking again and then became best friends again. Hunter and Kaden were not talking to me. I told the teacher that kids were not talking to me because I was sitting next to Moses and she said “If students in this class want to behave like children with no manners and education, that’s their business, you don’t need to take it personally. Well done for helping Moses, I’m sure your parents will know about it in the next parent-teacher meeting.”

Moses wiped the spit off with his hand. I didn’t look at him. If he’s going to fight Kaden, that’s his business. If I help him, that’ll be the end of me in this classroom. Ron will never talk to me again. I took a piece of paper out of my notebook and wrote ‘tell the teacher you are not feeling so good and then run home.’ Moses read it and said quietly “butt out, leave me alone.” Fine, he can do whatever he wants. Maybe if it was me, I’d also fight Kaden. But I knew how Kaden felt. Moses was so fat, that sometimes it looked like maybe he was doing it on purpose, just to irritate. I was also annoyed when he was clinging to me in class. Once, I told his mom not to give him so much candy, but she said it wasn’t candy, it was his ‘build’. I didn’t get it, but it sounded like a grownup excuse.

After class, I’ll hurry to Ron’s house to play on his computer. It was quiet during class. The teacher asked if something had happened but no one said anything. Everybody was waiting for the bell. Except for Moses. I knew he was scared. His hand was shaking when he wrote. I felt sorry for him, but what could I do? Wasn’t it enough that I was made to sit next to him, now I have to get into trouble because of him?

Bell. Everybody was packing their bags in a hurry. Hunter called “everyone to the sands!” The teacher asked “what’s happening in the sands?” and Hunter said “we’re playing soccer.” Moses rose slowly. Only I could stop him, but I didn’t know how. I told him “want to come to Ron’s house and play on the computer?” but he pretended not to hear. Anyhow, I’m not sure Ron would have agreed.

Ron walked past us. “Are you coming to the sands?” he asked. “Aren’t we going to play on the computer?” I said. He pulled me and said, “come on, let’s go see the fatso getting beat up”. I pulled my arm back, “let go, I’m going home”. Ron looked at me shocked, “I thought you said you weren’t his friend.” “I’m not,” I answered quickly. “So why aren’t you coming?” he asked. “I don’t like seeing fights,” I said. Ron turned around in anger and left.

Beth, the cutest girl in class that I’ve wanted to ask to be my girlfriend for the past two years, but was always too shy, stopped next to me. “Do you want to stand next to me at the fight?” “Are you going?” I asked. “Of course I’m going. Didn’t you hear Hunter?” “Yes,” I replied, “but do you like watching boys fight?” “Yes,” she answered, “besides, it’s not just boys”- she looked over at Moses with disgust “its fatso, he deserves it.” “Save me a spot next to you,” I said and she kept going.

I was left alone with Moses. I would call his mom, but that would be more humiliating than getting beat up. I didn’t know what to say. Moses put his backpack on. “Don’t go,” I said quietly. “Why? Do you think I’m scared?” he asked. “No, but why would you? Kaden is an idiot. Besides, he’s got Hunter with him and almost the entire class, so it’s not fair. “Listen,” he has already made up his mind, “I’m going. Want to help me?” “How?” I asked worryingly. “Watch over my bag. Don’t let anyone take it.” I took his bag. I was going to get into trouble because of him after all.

It was raining heavily outside. The sands near the basketball court had turned into mud. It was late and it was getting dark. Apart from the fight area, the whole school was empty. The entire class stood in a circle, with Kaden in the middle. Moses and I came closer. I started thinking about how I’m going to explain the whole thing with the bag. I remembered a picture I saw in the encyclopaedia of an armor-bearer. I felt a bit like that. Moses is the warrior and I’m his armor-bearer. The circle opened to let Moses in and closed right behind him. Beth called, “come here, I saved you a spot”. I smiled and stood next to her. Ron, who stood across from me, was not looking at me. He’ll get over it. Hunter stood in the center, next to Kaden. “When I say go, we start. Anything goes and—” Moses jumped at Kaden. Kaden, who was not prepared, fell on his back with Moses on top of him. Hunter kicked Moses in the stomach and threw him off of Kaden. He stuck his face in Moses’ face and said quietly, “now we start.”

As I thought, it wasn’t an even fight. Moses was very slow. Kaden was ecstatic. He was laughing and smiling and didn’t stutter at all. Every time he kicked Moses he said “so, fatso, was it worth eating like that?” He did his best to hit him and move back each time. Moses tried to grab him, but every time he reached for him, Kaden was already too far. Hunter pushed Moses from behind and he fell on his belly. Kaden jumped on top of him and pushed his face in the mud. One time. And another. And another. The whole class was delighted. They were chanting “Kaden! Kaden! Kaden!” people in the street were stopping by the fence to see what’s happening but the circle was tight and hid what was going on. Beth, standing next to me, was overjoyed. She noticed that I wasn’t calling Kaden’s name like everyone else and asked, “what’s going on? Can’t you see that Kaden is winning?” Yes, I can see. I think that if I was chanting with everyone, I could have kissed her now, for the first time.

Kaden stood up and Moses did too, his face covered with mud. He looked like King Kong on the high-rise with all those planes attacking him. Kaden and Hunter surrounded him and started playing ping-pong with him. Hunter pushing him towards Kaden and Kaden pushing him right back. Moses wasn’t really a child anymore; he was a lump of fat. A little bit like a misshaped soccer ball. With every push, the entire class yelled “Ole!” just like at a soccer game, when the winning team passes the ball around in the last minute of the game. Kaden pushed Moses towards the other kids in the circle. Now the whole class was part of the game. Each side passing him over to the other side. Hunter and Kaden joined the circle. Now it was Moses against the world. He ended up in front of Beth. She looked at me so I would help her push him, but I pretended not to notice. She screamed “get off me, fatso! Your getting mud all over me!” and pushed him off with the help of her friend. I have to leave. It’s all wrong. Moses, Beth, Ron, Hunter, Kaden. I end up being the most messed up. Ron pushed Moses towards me, on purpose. Now he was in my hands. The whole class was looking. Beth was looking. Ron was looking. What do I do? I started hearing voices “come on, what’s up with him?” Moses’ eyes met mine. I have to take him home. His spit was blending with the rain and the mud on his face. He said quietly “help me”. The circle started closing in. They could easily take him back, but they were testing me now. Beth. Ron. Kaden. Hunter. If I let them down, I’m finished in this class. My only friend will be fat Moses, and even that is not certain. I drew Moses closer and whispered in his ear “sorry”. I pushed him back to the circle. Beth kissed me on the cheek. Ron was smiling at me from the other side. Even Hunter was looking at me.

It’s dark. The rain is still coming down. Moses fell into the mud and they couldn’t get him up so they all went home. I had his bag. I am trying to pick him up, “let’s go home, Moses”. He takes the bag back, but is not getting up. “Come on Moses, your mom is waiting” I can’t look him in the eye. I try picking him up again but he won’t let me. “Are you coming or not?” I say for the last time. “Looser,” he mutters. I turn around and start going home. Just before I walk out the gate, I turn around. Moses is still sitting in the mud. I call “Moses!” but I choke. It turns into a whimper “I’m sorry, Moses.”

The Knight

It was past Blake’s bedtime but he had to finish his drawing. It was a knight with all his armor. Tomorrow is the art competition at school and he must submit his picture to the teacher. His brother was already sleeping so he tried to work quietly. He didn’t want his mom and dad to wake up. They, again, had one of their fights. They were so mad at each other, they even forgot to check on him and tell him good night. He hates it when that happens. The knight didn’t look happy. Blake tried changing the mouth, the eyebrows, the nose, but nothing helped. Well, too late now. Maybe in the morning he will fix it. Time to sleep.

“Hey! Hey!”

Blake jumped out of his bed.

“What?” he looked at his brother across the room in the other bed. He was sleeping.

“Hey! It’s me. On the table.”

He got up and reached for the table near his bed. The only thing on the table was the knight picture.

“What took you so long?” said the knight.

“I was sleeping. How can you talk? You are my picture.” Blake was surprised.

“So? Does that mean I can’t talk?”

“Never mind. I am tired and I am probably dreaming. What do you want?” Blake just wanted to go back to bed.

“I need your help,” said the knight.

“My help? I can’t help a knight. I am only a kid.”

“You are the one that drew me in the picture. You didn’t draw a helmet on my head. I need my helmet.”

“This is my picture, not yours. I drew you holding the helmet in your hand. I wanted it to be a smiling knight. Not a knight with a helmet that covers his face. ”

“Well, I am not smiling now, smart guy!” the knight said rudely, “I lost it. I need you to draw it again, and this time on my head.”

“I need to go to sleep now. Maybe if I have time in the morning before school I will add the helmet,” Blake just wanted to end the conversation.

“You can’t go to sleep now!” the knight almost cried, “The joust is about to start. I need my helmet!”

“What is a joust?” Blake had never heard of it.

“How can you draw a knight without knowing what a joust is? Jousting is a sport in which two knights on horses fight with lances.”

“And a lance is a kind of sword?”

“Not exactly. It is a long wooden shaft, which we use to knock down the other knight from the horse. I must win the joust and I can’t do it without my helmet. Come, “ a small hand stretched out of the drawing, “Help me look for it.”

Blake looked at the hand. He didn’t move.

“My mom told me to never go with strangers”, he said.

“I am not a stranger. I am your knight!” the knight screamed. “Please help me”, he begged.

Well, Blake thought to himself, he has a point. I drew him, so I might as well help him find the helmet.

“I can come but I have to be back in time for school tomorrow morning”

“Don’t worry. You will not be late for school,” smiled the knight.

Blake reached for the hand. His room disappeared. He found himself in the middle of a big field surrounded by hundreds of cheering people. The knight was near him on the horse. On the other side of the field was the other knight, ready for the fight. Suddenly, the crowd got quiet and sat down. Only one man with a long white beard wearing a red and white robe remained standing.

“This is the king”, whispered the knight.

“I am calling for the beginning of the joust,” announced the king, “are you ready?”

“I am not ready!” said the knight quickly, “I am missing my helmet.”

“Your helmet?” the king was surprised, “where is it?”

“He drew it in my hand instead of on my head, ” he pointed at Blake.

“It’s not my fault”, screamed Blake, “You lost it.”

“Calm down, you two.” said the king, “Now, Blake, can you please describe what the helmet looks like?”

“It is a blue helmet with a red rose on top of it,” said Blake.

“Are you sure about the rose?” the knight didn’t like the idea of a rose.

“Yes, I am sure about the rose!” Blake didn’t like questions about his drawing.

“Did anybody see a blue helmet?” the king asked the crowd.

“With a red rose on top of it!” yelled Blake.

“With a red rose on top of it”, the king smiled softly.

A woman came out of the crowd and got closer to the king. It was Blake’s mom. She had a blue helmet in her hand. “Here it is,” she said handing the helmet to the king.

“It is blue,” said the king, “but I don’t see a red rose. I am not sure it is the right helmet”.

“The rose was there. I am sure I drew it just before I fell asleep”, yelled Blake.

“Maybe you just dreamt that you drew it?” said the king.

“No, I didn’t dream about it. I did draw the rose. Besides, how could I have dreamt about it if I am dreaming now?”

“Are you sure you are dreaming now?” smiled the king.

“Well…” Blake wasn’t so sure anymore.

“I am sorry,” said the king to the knight, “I can not give you the helmet if Blake says it is not the helmet he drew.” He returned the helmet to Blake’s mom.

“I don’t care about the red rose! I just want my helmet!” the knight was very frustrated.

“Wait!” a man came out of the crowd and approached the king. It was Blake’s dad. “I found the red rose. It just fell off the helmet. “ He approached Blake’s mom like he didn’t know her. “Can you please give me the helmet to see if the rose fits?” Blake’s mom handed him the helmet with some suspicion. His dad pushed the rose’s stem into a hole in the helmet.

“So, what do you think?” He asked the king “Does it fit?”

“I am not the one who drew it,” said the king “we need to ask the boy. Blake what do you say?”

Blake got closer to the king, took the helmet and checked it. He looked at his mom and dad. The crowd was silent. Everyone was waiting for his word.

“It fits! This is the red rose I painted,” he said. The entire crowd cheered. The king and the knight smiled to each other. His mom and dad hugged and kissed.

The knight got down from the horse, gave Blake a hug and took the helmet.

“Do you want to stay and watch the fight? You can sit near the king”, said the knight.

“I really want to but I am very tired and I don’t want to be late for school,” Blake was disappointed.

“I understand,” the knight was very friendly now. He hugged Blake and jumped on the horse, “Don’t forget to check for the rose when you wake up.”

“Wake up?” asked Blake.

“Wake up, Blake. Wake up. ” It was his mom, “you don’t want to be late for school. It is the big art competition today and you drew a beautiful knight”.

“The knight!” whispered Blake. He jumped to the table. His drawing was there. A knight with a blue helmet in his hand. And a red rose sticking out of it.

“I like the rose.” It was his dad behind him. “Goes well with the blue helmet.” He winked at Blake’s mom. Blake looked at them and smiled. The knight looked happy.

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.