Yossi Waxman

Writer, Artist, Designer 

esther-book copy.jpg

Esther of the Cigarettes

Prose Series, Yedioth Books, 2018

The New Annunciation

That first cigarette always gets lost somewhere. What a bummer! Smoking is always interrupted by some knock on the door, or a phone call from her daughter or grandson, or some crappy political pollster. After all, who could possibly care? They are all dead now or sitting in their living rooms like some dumb mummies, drooling over their insipid oatmeal porridge that their Filipina had cooked for them. Then, right then, she must find a hiding place for that cigarette because woe to her if they catch her smoking. How can she possibly explain her moronic desire? After all, she is sick with an inflammation of the lungs, HMO-certified chronic bronchitis, and has an oxygen generator in the bathroom, and almost died of respiratory failure last year - so, a cigarette!? How could she possibly explain that one away?

Who could possibly understand that this is the one last desire she still entertains and can be easily satisfied too? After all, she cannot really act on her other desires. For example, she desires to kiss that friend of her grandson Nir, that slightly overdeveloped man-child whose fleshy lips alone take her breath away until she almost faints. Not to mention her own wild visions in which she strips him of his clothes and underwear and takes him to her bedroom, where he makes sweet love to her for hours, kissing and licking her all over like those great lovers in the telenovelas. And she kisses him too - and how! - and even gives him head, as Nir's friends say. What? Who said she cannot go down on studs just because she has bronchitis? Only idiots! Her eighty-something years are just chronology. Sensually, she is thirty-something. Yes she is! And she may say words such as "hottie" and "blowjob" and "I'd definitely do him." Even her sweet grandson, who always reminds her of Shloime'le, may he rest in peace, deserves a good blowjob from her lips - tfu!

Finding a hiding place for cigarettes is not so easy, you know. After all, Rachel - her Filipina - has the eyes of an owl, and always finds her cigarette butts and threatens to tell her daughter, Lea'le. Oh, that cursed, slant-eyed, soya-stinking, filthy bitch! So many times she had to pretend and cry, and make her feel sorry for good old Esther, and stuff a Golda Meir-bill, a hundred, down her bra to shut her up. Hey, Golda Meir was a heavy smoker too.

That morning, her Filipina went to church so she could celebrate her first cigarette of the day: a long, slim, feminine Vogue. Nephew Benjamin uses to sneak a pack or two for her once a month. Fags' fags, he called them. It was their secret. When he was just a kid with painting talents, she bought him a pack of Talens pastels, no less. And when she flew to Paris for the first time - to take pictures of Dior and Chanel and Sonia Rykiel shop windows - she brought him Winsor & Newton oil paints of the professionals. So today, he pays her back in packs of Vogue or Marlboro Mint, killing her for that questionable pleasure, he sighs and complains. Well, let him complain.

In short, that morning she enjoyed that wonderful first Vogue when she heard someone knocking. She pretended that the knock did not belong to her or her door, Nu, but the knocking turned into pounding and were followed by a long bell ring, so now she had to find a hiding place for her cigarette, again. She yelled into her palm that she was "in the bathroom" and "have some patience please", and then dipped the smoldering cigarette in a vase that stood atop her TV set - filled with flowers that Nir bought her last Friday - and headed for the door as she stuck the wet fag between Kundera's The Joke and her favorite cookbook (and knew she would not find it later, as always), and now was out of breath. Hell! No air!

"Who's there?" she yelled into the eyepiece because she could not see who stood outside her door. It was someone short. Lea'le made her vow that she would never open to door unless she made an earlier appointment or knew who the visitor was. Whoever that was now kept banging and ringing and yelling something she could not understand, but sounded like a teary threat or a cry for help. She tried to silence the stranger and asked who it was and what they wanted, but they did not stop knocking. And now that someone was crying harder and she thought she heard some words in Yiddish, which made her curious but also sorry for them. "Alright. Alright! Just a minute." She released the top latch and then the lower one, and opened the door, and could not believe her eyes.

"Bobbe Hanna! What are you doing here, on my Tel Aviv doorstep - tfu?" Her old grandma, who died nearly seventy years ago, was standing and weeping on her doormat, dressed in her old black gown and forever-stained apron, clutching a handkerchief in her right hand like she always did, for the mucus from her lungs, and a dark kerchief on her head that made her seem bald. "Gott in Himmel, Bobbe! What are you doing here?"

Bobbe did not answer, but only wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and shoved her against the doorpost, and came through the door like the wind, crossed the living room, and collapsed on the sofa. Esther closed the door and locked the upper and the lower latch. After all, it is not every day that she has a visitor from the dead, and not just any visitor. Grandma Hanna herself! Oy vey! Air! She was out of breath, so she went to the bathroom and started the oxygen generator, and stuck the small tubes into her large nose, which grew even further as she aged and made her look like some hag. She let her broken lungs fill with fresh oxygen and only hoped that she had not lost it completely. That's all she needed now, to find herself following her brother Tevie, who had dementia and used to bothered people on the streets, begging them to adopt him as a sweet grandpa for their children. God forbid!

Bobbe would not let her get lost in thoughts of Tevie'le and yelled from the couch: "Nu Esther'ke, are we gonna die of thirst much longer here, or will someone fetch us a nice cup'a'tea?" Esther was so confused now, that she completely forgot that Bobbe suffered from a lung disease that killed her in 1941 and lit a new Vogue, enjoying the sweet smoke that mixed in her throat with the oxygen from the tubes. Ahh! This is living! And after she drew deeply on the fag and coughed a little, she switched on the electric kettle. "Bobbe, I missed you so. I even dreamt about you and mother two nights ago. Can you believe that?"

Bobbe laughed and asked her why she was tied to those tubes, like some puppet on someone's strings, and why she was smoking eine zigarette like some English whore, which is so unlike their family and their ancestry that goes from Gramps back to the Baal Shem Tov. We hail from the messianic branch that will one day produce the Messiah, soon, you know, and fire will surely burst from the rug and burn her to a crisp, God forbid! And how long must she wait for that stupid tea! Shame on you! If Lana were alive, she would die again, of shame alone. Oy, how she missed her grandma's humor, that woman whose world divided into English whores and Jewish whores, and is created anew with every fresh cup of tea.

"Bobbe, Bobbe, so how is everyone on the other side? How's Zeide, and Mamme, and how is my cheating Tatte, curse him? And how is Shloime'le doing? And how's Dudinka, my sweet baby?" And what do they all in Heaven think of her, who was the last one left on Earth? She, who was the first designer of prêt-à-porter in Tel Aviv, and everyone learned from her: Mr. Maestro and his chain of stores, and designer Shoshana Schlong, and who didn't? How they shamelessly copied from her and then went to sell their schmattes to Motzkin on Dizengoff Street. And how can she explain it so that the Bobbe from Jerusalem understand what prêt-à-porter is, and who Koko Chanel was, and Motzkin? Tfu! In the end, they all turned into Bobbes with potato-shaped noses, half-deaf and half-scared by this world and those kids who fly by on their scooters, buzzing on the streets like some mosquitos.

How can she tell this old lady that she too was once as hot as Annie Girardot, that her miniskirts drove half of Tel Aviv crazy in the sixties, that heads turned as she drove her own Mini Minor up and down the city, that she was the envy of her girlfriends on the Gordon poolside and in Café Roval, that she conquered the world and copied skirts and gowns from Chanel and Sonia Rykiel, and had the city belles wear her prêt-à-porter designs? How indeed?

So she served Bobbe some tea and gave her a candy to suck on because that's how Bobbe drank her tea way back when, and made herself a cup of black coffee because she drinks tea only when she is ill, and even then they must force her to. And she cut some slices of the cheesecake that Rachel had bought in the Kiosk. It was a shitty cake, but such is life. And she greatly enjoyed the presence of granny who seemed rejuvenated, like she had a new childhood. Now, she even remembered a lullaby that Lana used to sing to her and Tevie in the old days. This is not real.
Get real Grandma, her sweet grandson would probably laugh.

Bobbe took a few sips and then said that she came bearing news and "this is no courtesy call, meidele." Nu, now she panicked. Who knows what kind of news that old lady might carry with her, having schlepped here all the way from the afterlife - tfu! Suddenly, Esther started laughing: What if she came here to tell me that I was about to die? Big deal! She laughed until she almost choked, and felt like a little girl who just did something bad, and that amused her too. But Bobbe tightened and pulled on the kerchief on her head until she looked like the Angel of Death at least, took one last sip from her tea, and said: "Nine months from today, you'll give birth to your youngest daughter."

 

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