“Salt-Sea” by Zeeva Bukai

I met Iris Landau the summer of 1972. We were in our second week of basic training and our unit was scheduled for the shooting range. By eight a.m. the sun had scorched the earth and the dew that had fallen overnight turned to vapor where scrub grass managed to survive July. We were in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea and flags of heat wavered in the distance. The salt flats reflected the sun, turning them into giant mirrors of light that caused a metallic haze to hang over the water. Across the sea were the twill colored mountains of the Kingdom of Jordan.

I held two Kalashnikovs, trying to decide which to use for target practice, when she asked my name.

“Yardena,” I said.

“Mine’s Iris. Do you plan on using both rifles?”

Embarrassed, I thrust one in her direction. She tucked the butt of the AK-47 against her shoulder and lifted the barrel, squinted at an imaginary target and mimed squeezing the trigger. “It’ll do,” she walked ahead lean and tall, auburn waves down her back.

“You should put it up,” I gestured toward my own braid. “It could get caught in the magazine.”  I’d read that the night before in the manual they’d given us while the girls in my tent shared a bottle of arak with the recruits from the 401st tank division.

“Thanks,” Iris said and without fuss made a knot of her hair.

We lay on our bellies in the sand—already searing at that hour—leaned on our elbows, and focused on the target seventy-five meters away. For every one of my misses, Iris hit the mark. When her practice sheet came in there were sixteen bullet holes: eight to the head, eight to the heart. I finally got one round in. She told me I’d never get it right if I didn’t learn how to breathe.

“Watch.” Sweat pooled in the philtrum above her lip. She inhaled, emptied her lungs, and then pulled the trigger.


“Nothing to it.”

“I mean it. You’re amazing.”

“Thanks.” She beamed at the compliment.

By the end of practice we were friends and within a week Iris moved her gear into the tent I shared with four other girls. At night while our tent mates chatted up the officers, Iris and I stayed behind eating army-issue wafers and drinking Nesher malt beer. We listened to bootleg rock and roll and the Israeli folk music our parents grew up on, saccharine sweet and brimming with nostalgia. We strolled on the beach and smoked our weekly allotment of Noblesse cigarettes. The nights were warm and choked with stars. The moon gargantuan. Sometimes Iris held my hand as if I were a child and led me to the water’s edge where islands of salt collected on the surface. I worried my palms were sweaty, but she never complained. We drank Stock 84 Brandy when we could get it and danced in the moonlight. She dared me to strip out of my uniform and swim in the Dead Sea. Before I could untie my boots, she was naked and wading in, her body a reed lit with phosphorous, my mind numb with the image of her glittering form.

“Well, come on,” she said.

I scrambled out of my clothes, conscious of my thighs rubbing together. The water thick with salt. Our base was infested with sand fleas and the bites I’d scratched open were on fire. We swam, making sure to keep our heads above water. It’s easy to drown in the Dead Sea, but impossible to sink. My legs brushed against hers. She turned onto her back and I followed. We listened to the water scrape the shore. At 427 meters below sea level, the sky appears cavernous, an inverted bowl. We floated in the belly of the earth like twins in a womb.

“This is the loneliest place on the planet,” she said.

“You’re lonely?” My heart sank.

“Aren’t you?”

“No. You’re here.”

She kicked her legs hard. “Back stroke. Race you,” She lifted her arms.

Nothing made Iris happier than winning.

Tired, we let the current carry us.

The Dead Sea isn’t a sea at all. It is a hyper-saline lake. No matter how far we drifted, we’d always remain on the surface.

At night distance is distorted. Jordan glimmered as if it were at our fingertips, while the nearby guardhouse at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and our base were swallowed up in the velvet dark.

She told me her parents were divorced and that her father lived in Rio de Janeiro. She imagined him drinking Cachaça out of coconuts and dancing the samba. She’d watched Black Orpheus, “At least ten times.” She knew the words to the song Tristeza in Portuguese by heart. She didn’t know how he could bear the beating drums. “Sometimes I miss him so much, I wish he were dead.”

I told her my mother died after she gave birth to me. She held me for an hour while she bled to death. By the time a doctor was called it was too late.

“What does that feel like?” Iris wanted to know.

“Like an amputation. She’s a phantom limb I can still feel even though she’s gone.”

Iris wrapped me in her arms. Our feet skated over rocks and silt. I thought if I held on I could melt like salt on her skin. My lips brushed her neck and tasted the sea.

“I’m turning into a raisin.” She held up wrinkled fingers and briskly made for shore.

On clear nights we saw campfires burning on the Jordanian beach. I told Iris that they didn’t seem much different from us. She warned me not to let our superiors hear me say that.  “No one looks out for you the way I do.”

“No one,” I said.

A few weeks into basic training, Iris began hanging around with the girls in our tent. She tried to include me, but the others were leery of having me around.

“What if she’s cursed?” I heard one whisper.

“What do you mean?” Iris said.

“Her mother.”

“That’s not her fault.”

“I didn’t say she killed her, just that she’s got bad luck.”

They swapped makeup and perfume. They shared cigarettes. They brushed each other’s hair and invited the privates into the tent. Iris flirted and drank arak, kicking back shots and pumping her arms as the fiery anise scorched her throat. Soon I heard the sounds that bodies make in the dark. I lay on my cot, imagining my mother, the life in me draining away. When the girls fell asleep, I got up and scrubbed the latrines. The water soothing, the ammonia cleansing. My hands and knees raw. In the morning, Iris put her arm through mine and I could breathe again.

One night while we cleaned our rifles, she asked me to tell her a secret no one else knew. I told her my brother Ezra died on the last day of the Six Day War.  He was eighteen, the same age I was now. His unit was caught in an ambush. A week after the shivah, I saw my brother sitting on the bench in the little park outside our apartment building. He was in the uniform he died in. Except for the bruise creeping up his neck, he looked just like himself.

Iris said I was a miskenah, a pitiful thing. She never meant to tell the other girls. The story was blurted over dinner, over potted beef and mashed potatoes. That night Rivi Rivlin, the meanest girl in our tent, threw a blanket over my head while I slept. The girls dragged me outside and dumped me in the sand. Their boots landed in my back.

“You’re disgusting,” Rivi said. “Not fit to wear the uniform. You’re like an Arab with your superstitions. Mishugat, lunatic.”

Her father was a career officer. If anyone knew who was fit to wear the uniform it was Rivi. Iris shouted for them to stop. One of the cadets came up behind her. They pulled the girls off me.

“Can’t you see what she is?” Iris helped me to my feet. “Deni, you’ve got to at least try to fit in.”

“You saved me,” I said.

The next day the cadet asked Iris for a date. His name was Moti Idan. When he finished his training course, he would be Captain Idan of the 401st Tank Division in the Southern Theater.

“It’s your fault I’m in love,” she said. “We rescued you and now he and I are bound together forever.” She brushed mascara onto her lashes until they curved like the legs of a centipede.

At sunset, Moti picked her up outside our tent. They walked hand in hand to the shore where pillars of salt congregated. Except for training sessions, I didn’t see much of her after that. Late one night she stumbled into the tent, shoes hanging off her fingertips.

“I’m going to marry him.”

“How do you know?”  I turned on my side to watch her undress. The outline of her body bleeding into the shadows.

He proposed six weeks later.

Iris asked me to help her plan the wedding. “You have a stake in this too.”

“Will we spend time together?” I shined my boots until I saw my face in their noses. I had received commendations for neatness. My bed was a masterpiece of precision.

“Are you kidding? Every day until it’s planned and that could take weeks.”

“Then yes.”

She bought a stack of bridal magazines. I made a list of everything she wanted. We decided on the menu, the music the band would play, the flowers and decorations. In the meantime, basic training ended. There was a ceremony. My father came. He wore a rumpled suit and appeared more stooped than I remembered. He brought me a fountain pen with an extra blue cartridge as a gift.  I met Iris’s mother. An elegant woman who’d just returned from a jaunt in Prague, her skin a coat of freckles she tried to mask with powder. She shook my hand and thanked me for my help. “I’ll take over now.”

Engaged and married women were exempt from serving in the army. Iris was discharged. I was stationed in the Q’riya, the central command headquarters in Tel-Aviv. My duties were to file papers, answer the phone, keep personnel away from my commander’s door, and bring him a breakfast croissant and a shnitzel platter for lunch. I learned to make coffee the way he liked it, two hefty tablespoons of finely ground Turkish coffee and three sugars. He said I was indispensable.

 * * *

Iris’s dress was satin with lace overlay; the skirt was a bell that rang without sound. Moti wore a dark blue suit. They stood under the chupah. The guests commented on their perfection.  They said their union was bashert, destined and inevitable. She circled him seven times, the way Joshua circled Jericho before the walls tumbled. Rings were exchanged. The ketubah was read and the rabbi recited the seven blessings. The first blessing was on the wine. Bride and groom drank from the same cup, their eyes locked. The girls in the wedding party looked on with envy. Moti smashed the napkin covered glass in one stomp. The guests shouted mazel tov. I told Iris there was no need to be anxious. I had already marked the exits and would help her escape if she wanted. She embraced me and whispered, “I’ll die if he ever leaves me.”

* * *

Iris and Moti called me their good luck charm. In the evening when I dropped by, Iris set another plate on the table. After dinner we listened to the radio. Sometimes when an American song came on, Iris and Moti danced. Her head fit neatly under his chin. My favorite nights were when Moti had to rise early the next morning. He went to bed, leaving us alone on the balcony, and it was just like those first weeks in basic training when we shared a tent, stole cigarettes out of the canteen, and danced the pasodoble on the beach. We whispered secrets in the dark, our hands reaching for one another. I remembered how she’d brush the hair off her face, and how her hips dug into the sand before she fired her weapon. She made sure to tell me what I did wrong the way I imagined a mother or older sister would, not just in target practice, but the way I ate my food, dressed on my day off, and talked to men. Sometimes I deliberately wore the wrong color lipstick, or didn’t use my knife properly, just so she would correct me.

“Nobody cares for you the way I do,” she said.

I believed her. Then she got pregnant.

* * *

One night Moti came home and told us that one hundred thousand Egyptian troops were amassed on the Sinai Peninsula for training sessions on the Eastern shore of the Suez Canal, across from the Bar Lev line where our boys were stationed. When I asked my commander about it, he leaned his hands on the table and said there was nothing to worry about. “In ’67 we kicked their asses in six days. Why the hell would they come back for more?”

Still, Moti was ordered to spend more time on the base in Beersheba. I offered to stay with Iris in case she went into an early labor. I sensed a new anxiety in her, an unfamiliar doubt. After she fell asleep, I sat beside her and pressed an ear to her belly. I felt the baby move against my cheek, I felt Iris’s child inside my body as though I were its mother, floating the way we had in the salt sea.

When she was further along, I’d lie alongside her and lift my shirt so that our bare bellies touched. Once, she woke up and said, “What are you doing?” Her voice clogged with sleep.

I tugged my shirt down, embarrassed at being caught. She pressed her lips to mine and we kissed. My hands reached for her. I watched her face as she came—her eyes flared open, her head thrown back. The next morning she didn’t say anything. I wondered if she thought I was a dream.

The baby was due to arrive in early November. Moti was promoted, which meant more time on the base. I offered to move into their apartment, but Iris’s mother moved in instead. She kept her company. She cooked for her and rubbed the small of her back when it ached. I called Iris, but her mother always answered and told me she couldn’t come to the phone. “You’ve done enough, Deni.”  I sent Iris a dozen letters written with my new fountain pen, the ink pooling at the end of each line, asking what I’d done wrong.  I love you, they said. She never responded. I was sure her mother had destroyed them. One afternoon when my shift ended, I bought a half kilo of marble halvah, Iris’s favorite, and took it to her apartment. Her mother answered the door. She was tall and when I looked at her head on I saw the creped skin on her neck, the powder flecking off the freckles she tried to hide. She was dressed to go out.

“Iris isn’t here.”

“I brought her halvah.”

She shook her head. “My daughter’s right. You’re too much. You need to stop this now. It isn’t healthy.”

I peered into the apartment and saw Iris on the balcony watching us. Her belly a planet.

To Iris’s mother I said, “Please keep her safe.”

She softened for a moment, “What a strange thing to say.”

I went home and got into bed, not bothering to remove my uniform. Chilled and feverish, I wrapped myself in a blanket. The phone rang, but I didn’t answer it. For two days I hardly ate, and drank only from a cup of tepid water.

A soldier knocked on my door at dawn. I answered it in a daze.

“The commander needs you,” he said.

“What’s the date?”

“Friday, October 5, 1973. Erev Yom Kippur. Get a move on.”

“It’s a holiday tonight. Aren’t I entitled to the day off?”

But he’d already turned on his heel, his footsteps receding on the stairs.

* * *

I was finishing the last bites of a shwarma sandwich before the Yom Kippur fast began when Iris telephoned to say she was in labor. Disoriented, I heard nothing and then there was the sudden rush of her voice in my ear.

“Say something,” she said.

I looked out at the small park across the street where I had seen my brother Ezra a week after his funeral. I had taken Iris there before she married Moti. She said she wanted to see where Ezra’s ghost had appeared. We sat on the bench and talked through the night: cigarette butts and Krembo wrappers at our feet. Near dawn, I laid my head on her lap and slept. I dreamed of my mother swimming in the Dead Sea, only it wasn’t dead. Coral, sea grasses, and tropical fish flourished beneath the surface.

“I’ve missed you,” I said.

“Yardena, please focus.”

She spoke in a way I hardly recognized. I asked why she didn’t want to see me anymore. She yelled into the phone for me to shut up. Moti was hours away on a training mission in Eilat, and her mother was in Tiberius for the holiday. There were a dozen friends she could call, but they were with their families and since I had none in Tel-Aviv, my father having moved to Arad when I was drafted, I had no such filial obligations. She sounded frightened and I felt a deep and secret pleasure that she had reached out to me and no one else. Twenty minutes before the start of the Yom Kippur fast, I hurriedly drank a glass of water and caught the last taxi to her apartment.

* * *

The hospital reception area was nearly empty. Iris bowed in pain as another contraction gripped her. I called for an orderly. My voice climbing in panic. He helped her into a wheelchair.

“Please let me go in with her.”

“Family only,” he said.

I stared through the glass panel as he pushed her down the hall.

Hours passed. I finally managed to fall asleep in an armchair.   Moti shook me awake. He had driven all night in an open jeep and was covered in dust.  “Where is she?” he barked.

Dawn seeped through the window blinds. Before I could rub the sleep from my eyes, he was ushered through the double doors by the same orderly who’d taken Iris into the maternity ward. My throat was dry with thirst. Visiting hours began at 10:00 a.m. To pass the time, I peeked into rooms where the old and sick lay like they’d been switched off. I found a bathroom and washed my face, careful to keep the water from drizzling into my mouth.

Iris was in a double room. A striped curtain separated her from her neighbor whose bare legs were swollen as logs. I stopped short of entering when I saw the new family together.

“Deni, come in.”  Moti held their son aloft so that I could admire him. He asked me to take a picture of them: Moti, Iris, and the baby. I had to stand in the doorway to get them all into the frame.

A short while later, he had to return to his unit and I was glad. I wanted time alone with Iris to make things right. I walked with him out into the hall.

“She’s tired, too tired to even hold the baby.” He gave me a worried smile. “Take good care of them, Deni.”

“You know I will. Where are they sending you?”

“Sinai.” He looked grim then gave a mock salute and spun on his heel. Moti was an impressive figure in his uniform.

With her husband gone, Iris seemed smaller. I searched for her hand under the sheet. She stared at the ceiling. Her face pale. My heart stirred. Poor Iris needed me now more than ever.

The baby slept in his bassinet. I ran a light finger along his cheek, then sat on the bed. “He’s beautiful,” and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, my hand lingering just long enough to feel the rapid pulse in her neck.

She twisted her wedding ring round her finger. “Don’t touch me.”

My hand dropped into my lap. “What’s wrong?”

Her gaze darted out the window.

“I can help with the bris.”

“God you’re dense,” she turned on her side.

I followed the curve in her spine and looked at the baby tiny and raw in his newness.

“I’m sorry, Deni.” Her voice muffled by the pillow.

“That’s all right. You’ve just had a baby.”

“Yes,” she rolled onto her back, her eyes bright. “It’s a matter of arithmetic isn’t it?”

“What is?”

When she didn’t answer, I assumed she’d fallen asleep, but then she continued, “Life and death. Addition and subtraction. A calculation for Yom Kippur.”

“You’re tired.” I smoothed the top sheet.

“You know where Moti went?”


She grabbed hold of my wrist. “You know how it works better than anyone.” Her fingernails bit into my skin.

She frightened me. “Please, Iris,” I begged.

“You know.”

“What do I know?” I tried to keep my voice down so as not to wake the baby, or the woman in the next bed whom I could hear breathing through the curtain.

“The arithmetic. You here, your mother dead. Now do you get it?”

“No.” I popped off the bed. I knew precisely what she meant.

Iris released a pent-up breath. “You always were dull. God gave me a son. A son for a husband. A son who’ll grow up and wear a uniform like his father. It never ends. Don’t you see?” There was a note of hysteria in her voice.

I sent her a fierce look and then dug through her overnight bag for a hairbrush. “Screw God.”

“You don’t believe in anything.” She charged.

“I believe in you.” I brushed her hair in long strokes, taking care not to tear at the knots.

She twisted the sheets between her fingers. “Moti’s going to Sinai.”

“He’ll be fine. Maneuvers. Don’t worry. My commander says it’s nothing.”

She leaned back and closed her eyes, “Of course. You’re right.”

“You need rest.” I loved the loamy scent that rose off her body, the trace of blood from where she’d bitten her lip.

She sat up, causing the brush to fall from my hands. When the baby cried, she flinched, but didn’t try to pick him up. I lifted him in my arms and was ready to give him to her, when she shook her head. She looked on warily as I put my knuckle near his mouth and watched his lips latch on and suck. “Hungry,” I smiled. “I love him already. He smells like summer.” I kissed his forehead and held him close, my nose tucked into his neck, breathing him in. Iris’ boy. Our boy.

“Leave him alone.” Her face set in an ugly scowl.

“You want him?” I held him out to her like a gift, but she turned away.

“Everyone tells you that being a mother is the most natural thing. You carry a child, you give birth to it and then you’re expected to love it. How?” Her hands twisted the sheets. “He’s a stranger. The whole business is a lie and people pay a terrible price for believing it.”


“Get out.”

“What price?

“Get out.” The words emerged from between her teeth.

I put the baby in his bassinet. “I’ll be in the waiting room until your mother gets here. Try to sleep.”

“Deni, I’m sorry.”

I opened the door. “For what?”

“Everything. The baby.”

I had never seen Iris so alone.

* * *

Patients in hospital gowns shuffled through the corridor, dragging their IVs beside them like dance partners. Someone forgot to turn the radio off before the holiday began. To everyone’s surprise, the news came on. The reserves were being called up. Prime Minister Golda Meir was in an emergency cabinet meeting and then the broadcast stopped and static filled the airwaves. Minutes of terror past until the broadcast resumed; our relief was palpable. I thought about breaking the news to Iris, telling her of a possible war. The Egyptians had amassed more troops on the border and the 401st  armored division, Moti’s unit, would be one of the first there. Wouldn’t it be awful if you were right? I’d whisper, holding her in my arms: A husband for a son.

Sunlight drenched the visitors’ lounge. No one had closed the window blinds. We sat like lizards baking in the heat. I read an outdated magazine and dozed. When I woke the back of my neck burned, my stomach growled. I put a few grushim into the vending machine and bought a soda and a stale candy bar. My fast at an end.

And then an alert siren blasted the Yom Kippur silence. The coordinated attack came at 2:00pm. Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal, their heavy artillery smashed through the Bar Lev line while Syrian planes bombarded the Golan Heights. I ran to the bathroom and vomited. A nurse followed me in.

“Feeling better?” She looked shaken.

I couldn’t get rid of the taste of bile. She gave me a square of Bazooka gum. The flavor reminded me of Ezra and our childhood bubble blowing contests. I imagined a bubble so big it would lift me over rooftops. The nurse pinched her cheeks and applied a coat of lipstick. Later, I saw her greet a doctor in the corridor. His gaze rested on her hips as if determining her ability to carry to term. I found them kissing in the stairwell. The nurse flush against the wall. I couldn’t see her beyond the expanse of the doctor’s back, until I looked down. Her feet dangled in the air, toes pointed like someone who’d been hanged.

All afternoon and into the night the radio played the old folk songs, conjuring up images of our pioneers working the land, and in between coded messages: eagles, lions, hawks. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, even ambulatory patients left the hospital to report for duty. A skeletal staff made up of retirees remained. It was dark when the newscaster called ze’evim, wolves. I felt numb; I’d been called to base. My first thought was Iris, but I was too late, the nurse who’d given me the bubble gum had already given her the news. She was in the room, changing the baby’s diaper while Iris slept wrapped in bedsheets.

“I told her it was time to feed the baby. He was crying. Your friend became hysterical. She didn’t want to touch him. ‘Take him away,’ she said, ‘I don’t want to look at him.’” The nurse lowered her voice, “We see this in rare cases in new mothers. It’s the shock to the system. Sometimes it passes quickly. Sometimes,” the nurse’s eyes darted toward Iris, “they never bond. Of course it’s the poor child who suffers. Alone and unloved.”

I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. “When did she go to sleep?”

“My dear, she wouldn’t calm down. I feared for her health and called the doctor. He had to sedate her,” the nurse explained. “She kept crying, ‘A husband for a son.’ What could she mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you all right?” the nurse asked. “You’re pale.”

“I’ve been called up.”

She sucked on her incisors. “Terrible business. Did you hear that hundreds of our men were killed in the first minutes? Hundreds. Those animals, and on Yom Kippur. No respect for anyone. I hope they go to hell. I hope we kill them all.”

I felt myself recoil.

In another hour, Moti’s platoon would arrive in Sinai. I couldn’t imagine what he would find.

“Are you leaving right now?” she asked.

“In a bit.” I nodded towards Iris. “I want to say goodbye.”

“Do you mind?” The nurse handed me the child. “This little man is starving. Can you manage? We’re so short staffed.”

“Of course.”  I took him in my arms.

“He looks good on you. Have they got a name in mind?”

I sniffed the baby’s hair. “Ezra,” I said.

“A good strong name. You’re a natural mother, I can tell.” She chucked him under the chin. “Who in their right mind wouldn’t fall in love with this little darling?”

It was a relief when she exited the room. I sank into a chair and cuddled the baby while he finished the formula, barely taking a breath. He was exquisite. I pressed my cheek to his and he turned searching, rooting as though I were his mother. He suckled, eyes closed, content in my arms while Iris slept — far from the war, and far from the baby. I knew then that she didn’t want him and she didn’t want me either. Moti had sensed it. I thought of my mother holding me to the very last second of her life.

Everything the baby needed was on the layette table: formula, diapers, bottles, and clothes. I packed it all into my rucksack, opened my shirt, and used a receiving blanket as a sling to hold him in place. His tiny form nestled against my breast. No one noticed when we left the hospital. Everyone was too intent on the war.

* * *

The walk to the bus stop was long: blocks of desolate streets with the wind rousing scraps of paper. Boys I knew were mobilizing to reach the front lines. Tanks, jeeps, and trucks rumbled in the distance. Yet everything seemed as always, only dimmer. Life on less current.

The depot was empty. The streetlamp cast a citrine glow. I waited a long time for the bus, watching the cypress trees shiver, thankful the baby slept, his sweet breath condensing on my skin. The Lotto sign over the kiosk blinked on and off. When the bus finally arrived, I was surprised to see an outdated model, one the transportation ministry had retired years ago. The driver was old, recruited to fill in for a reservist. He saw my uniform and asked if I’d been called up. I nodded and he clucked his tongue. The bus was half full. A middle-aged woman grabbed hold of my arm. My heart gave a sickening thud.

“Any news?” Her face waxy in the florescent light.

“No.” I hurried away from the conversation trembling on her lips and sat in the back. Everything about the night, the rhythm of the wheels on the asphalt, the trees and buildings all seemed to be part of a dream. My reflection floated in the glass. Headlights shone on the advertisement columns, the garbage piled along the curb. I wondered who would pick it up now that the men were at war. From outside came the echo of abandoned streets. I felt chilled. The baby fussed and I worried the other passengers would notice.

It was long after midnight when we reached the Dead Sea. The war far away. Baby Ezra safe in my arms. I tiptoed past the guard at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, asleep in his chair. The moon was bright and across the sea the mountains of the Kingdom of Jordan. The beach was empty and the night cool. All that was left of our training camp was a crumpled tarp and a few steel pipes, enough to create a shelter if I wanted. A police siren broke into the darkness.

I stripped out of my clothes and held the baby to my breast the way I imagined my mother had held me. A flare shot into the sky. The beach was bathed in red. I heard a shout and swaddled him in his blanket. The police siren was closer now. Almost upon us. And then the pounding of footsteps, the labored breath of people running. I walked to the water’s edge where it was warm and the phosphorus glittered like stars. 437 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea has the lowest land elevation in the world. It’s like being in the womb of the earth.

Zeeva Bukai was born in Israel and raised in New York City.  Her work has appeared in McSweeny’s Quarterly Concern, Image Journal, December Magazine where she won the Curt Johnson Prose award judged by Lily King, jewishfiction.net, and the anthology, “Out of Many: Multiplicity and Division in America Today.”

Her honors include an Emerging Writer’s Fellowship at the NY Center for Fiction, and artist in residence at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and teaches writing at SUNY Empire State College. She has recently placed her first novel with Salky Literary Management.  You can reach her at: zeevabukai.com. Photo credit Ghila Krajzman.


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