Writer, Artist, Designer
Pardes Publishing, 2020
Translated by Yardenne Greenspan
Thank God I lived most of my life in the previous century. Shit, I hate the twenty-first century. This new century, supposedly better than the ones that came before it. More merciful. The century of political correctness, of post-truth and other methods allowing a reorganization of reality without the slightest connection to reality. Without the slightest connection to the racist nature of human beings. Between you and me, we’re all racists, chauvinists, and homophobes. It’s part of culture, religion, life. It’s part of being human. We’re all horny losers who long for someone who might never have actually existed. I’m that way, anyway. David Bokobsa, who wishes he were named David Stern. A failed, fifty-something-year-old architect. Divorced. With a child. With a lover. Allegedly straight, but likes to fuck men sometimes. A bisexual homophobe. Stuck in the love I had back in the eighties. Well, I was almost sixteen then; the only son of the military attaché to the Israeli embassy in Paris. She was twenty-seven years old. My French teacher, Veronique.
God, that was the best time of my life: Paris, Veronique, Bois de Boulogne. But I was a stupid teenager, blind to the beauty of the world that had come upon me. I suffered plenty, ashamed of my perversion. I couldn’t explain the simple essence of things to myself, nor did I truly understand what love was. I didn’t know how to love Veronique. I confused love with desire, as often happens in youth.
To me, Veronique will always be a window into my own body; into my desire for her, for women, for life. But life as it should be lived, and not as it should be died. Or feared. She was my best friend, not just my lover. She said I fell on her from heaven, like a gift from the gods, and I laughed and teased her. I was an overgrown monkey who thought only about himself. About my pimples. About the sores on my tongue and the roof of my mouth. About the father I hated and was ashamed of. About the childish satisfactions I couldn’t always fulfil. What a fool I was. I agonized over nonsense rather than enjoy Veronique’s love, the most gorgeous city on earth, and the men of Bois de Boulogne, who occasionally pleasured me.
I used to think that every life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now I’m not so sure anymore. My life has only a beginning and an end. Meaning, my life with Veronique. That’s my Achilles heel, the middle of life I don’t have, perhaps never had, because my life started with Veronique and ended with Veronique.
When she died of pancreatic cancer after I’d already graduated from Bezalel College, a part of me died too. And when she returned from the dead through the stories my gay fuck-buddy Shlomi and I told about her, I suddenly lived. I went back to being that boy, in love, in Paris. Veronique’s student. Sometimes we spend our entire lives grieving over the dead people we loved, really grieving ourselves, our youth, that moment, that kiss, that lay. The life we missed out on. I think it’s good to miss out, because losing is not only failure or defeat. Loss is life itself. and sometimes the dead can return, surprising us for a moment or two. Or for a lifetime. Such was Veronique.
Oh, my beautiful, kind Veronique. My teacher, my first woman, my perversion,
my best lay ever. My little death.
Bois de Boulogne, on the outskirts of Paris, September 1981
״Take me to the woods, Shlomi.״
״I’ll take you to the woods, David, on one condition — that you hold me.״
״I’ll hold you. I will.״
It was a chilly evening, he recalled, a European evening, smelling lightly of mold and rotting foliage. And there were that boy and that woman and that stranger in the fur coat. A woman and a boy in a light turquoise Peugeot 404. The ground was moist, probably from the most recent rain, and there was a sense of danger in the air, perhaps because of the fresh storm brewing in the sky. And there was lightning. Just like in that Giorgione painting the woman loved, ״The Tempest״. She framed a photograph of the painting and had it hanging over the fireplace. The woman was named Veronique. The boy was named David.
The woman׳s Peugeot pulled up in front of a large maple tree outside the woods and the boy pulled himself out, naked as the day he was born, draped only in the smoke from his Gitanes Blondes. It was a cold car, made of painted metal, a car to run away from to go seek warmth in the forest. That, anyway, was what David thought. His lips sucked on the cigarette as strange eyes looked him over. The warmth, the boy thought, existed in the laps of older men, there, in the depths of the woods. He was cold, his feet sinking into damp dirt. His hands trembled. He crossed his arms against his chest but couldn’t get warmer. He reminded the woman of Christ the Savior himself, perhaps because he was very skinny, very fair, and naked, and because of his long dark hair that cascaded, curly, down his shoulders.
The woman in the car crushed her cigarette in the ashtray. The two of them, the boy and the woman, knew what was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. The path the boy walked down forked and he chose the left one, the one disappearing in the distance into a black thicket of trees. The woman in the Peugeot shifted uncomfortably and rolled down her window. God, just don’t let him disappear on her. She sighed. Suddenly, she realized the boy was following a tall stranger in a fur coat who was walking ahead of him down the path. "Saint Marie!" she startled. Another minute or two and they’d both disappear on her. She stepped out of the car, slammed and locked the door, slipped the car keys into her pocket, fished a new cigarette from the pack, and lit it. Would she dare follow them?
The boy walked into the darkness, his heart pounding. The man quickened his steps and the boy overtook him, hurrying ahead. Then he paused, chilling. Eyes swallowed his naked body. His behind. He felt fluttering fingers on the back of his neck. He froze in place, unable to decide whether or not to turn toward the man.
The tall stranger in the fur coat asked David something Veronique couldn’t hear. Then their eyes met. Damn it, young David had never felt so naked in his life. He heard Veronique’s footsteps behind him but didn’t dare turn his gaze toward her. The stranger winked and signaled to him, disappearing into a nearby bush.
David walked into the bush. He knew there was no way back. He wasn’t really thinking. Leaves and insects that stuck to his skin made him feel sorrier for his naked body, stung and scratched and sullied. The chirp of an unfamiliar bird sliced through the thick, damp air, as if bursting a bubble. He pushed away the branches, twigs, and leaves, shoving into the bush the man disappeared into. ״Woods like a home,״ the boy thought. ״A bush like a large bed.״ He threw himself forward, yearning for the man’s arms, fleeing from Veronique who got tangled in some branches behind them, crying, "Jésus le Sauveur, why?"
But it was inevitable. David’s naked, white behind was like a torch lighting Veronique’s way in the dark. Her gaze lingered in the distance. She could never remember if she’d actually seen the sights or only heard the men breathing and grunting into each other. Two men in the thick of the woods: one dressed, the other naked; one a stranger and the other familiar to her down to his little toe. What should she do? Run to the boy? Save him from the man, from himself, from his own perversions? Or turn back and run to the car?
The boy longed for the man’s body. ״Let him do what he should do. Let him!״ Veronique froze in place and stared at a spot in the center of the forest, just as she used to stare at the photograph of Giorgione’s ״The Tempest״ that hung over her fireplace for hours on end. Veronique was drugged by the medicine of love granted by the gods.
The man touched young David’s face, his chin, his neck. His fingers paused on David’s Adam’s apple that rose and fell with excitement. The boy’s gaze was unmistakable: no! He would not turn down the man. On the contrary. He would give himself over like a puppy. But the man’s fingers were not as soft or warm as the boy had hoped. They were cold and sharp as icicles. And time stood still. It was a cold time. A cold, damp time. An unfamiliar time.
The pain was intense at first. But once he got used to the pain, the boy felt immense relief. Then it started to rain.
Afterwards, when they sat in her Peugeot 404, drenched to the bone, David told her how much he loved her. She didn’t get back in her car and flee the woods. She was there for him and his perversion. She lit a cigarette and cried and didn’t believe him. Veronique cried because she was ashamed of herself and of her thoughts, which, for one desperate moment were unholy, sinful; the evil pleasure she felt at the sight of the man she thought might have been raping David. ״Oh, God, why? Why?״
But when the rain stopped, Veronique calmed down and promised David she would continue to love him even if he betrayed her or disappeared on her. And David kissed her and hugged her, slipping his fingers down her shirt to caress her breasts, fluttering his fingers over her nipples that were hardened by the cold air. David tested her, asking if she would follow him into the woods in the following days, too. He wanted her there, he said. She didn’t answer, in a sense acquiescing, and asked him to get dressed before she started the car and they drove off.
Later, in the woods around Paris, she would wait for hours on end in the rain and wind, the heat of summer and the dusty air of spring, hiding among bushes and tree trunks like a dryad or inside her car, waiting with a towel, a handkerchief, or a scarf to wipe his face and body clean of sweat or rain, of muck, of shame, glancing at young David as he searched for men in the thick of the woods.
״Veronique loved me and I was a piece of shit. I only thought about myself and my perversions. My poor Veronique. Where should I meet you, Shlomi?״
״Meet me on the corner of HaMasger and HaHashmonaim in an hour, David. And bring condoms and lube.״
״I don’t have that kind of stuff. What do you think I am, a homo? Bring it yourself. And make sure the condoms are thick.״