Fiction from Chanel Dubofsky

The Bullet


Original image via Alvimann at morgueFile

Two days later, I wake up in my father’s apartment in North Tel Aviv. I put on my favorite dress, with the thin rainbow stripes and the full skirt, and walk out into the wavy morning heat to the El Al ticket office on Rothschild Boulevard.

“I need to change my ticket,” I say to the only person there, a woman wearing glasses with chunky purple frames and eye shadow that matches. She looks at my passport, wiggles her fingers at me to hand her my credit card.

“You know you could have done this online,” she says, handing me a receipt.

“It’s important for me to do in person,” I say, as she spins her chair away from me, Israeli for we are done here.

In Los Angeles, the best place for nachos is open 24 hours a day. They come in a Styrofoam carton, tortilla chips coated in your choice of white or orange cheese, sour cream, guacamole, black beans, salsa, onions, meat, lettuce, and jalapeños, unless Matthew is ordering, in which case, there are none of those. We’ve eaten them sitting on the hood of his car, or my car, or inside the car, if the weather is chilly. Sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at two am, especially if Matthew’s time-tested cure for insomnia has failed. (Go to the kitchen, open the refrigerator, take inventory. Try to remember something extraordinary about the day you bought each thing.)

In New York, Grace and I used to make ramen in our apartment, with hard-boiled eggs and scallions and peanut butter and ginger and cilantro. We ate it while we watched TV, holding the bowl with two hands so we could get all the salt and fat and sweetness into our faces. Sometimes there would be broth on Grace’s chin or a noodle in her hair.

In Jerusalem, the best place for watermelon and feta is a bar tucked into an alley, hidden from the rest of the city, from American college students with sorority letters printed on the asses of their sweatpants and middle-aged synagogue tour groups with fanny packs and baseball caps, who gaze at everything, the veins pronouncing in their necks like stern, strong words.

Amina and I met in this bar. Yoav introduced us. It was three months ago, summer, evening, and he’d just gotten out of resistor’s jail.

Stav and Gali and I were sitting at our table under the one tree in the courtyard, our legs all crowded together on the same chair. We’d already toasted to my return, to Gali’s new apartment, to summer, to Stav’s haircut, to Yoav, to Yoav and Yoav, three times before he arrived.

My father said that jail is kinder to Jewish Israelis than to anyone else, which I believed. He had tried to keep Yoav out, but in the end, of course, there was no case. A resistor is a resistor. Maybe a traitor, maybe a hero, but still, a resistor. Yoav had been called for reserve duty, and he had refused.

What if you just say you won’t go to the schtachim? Stav asked, but no, Yoav said, that wasn’t enough. This whole country is a fuck. The only way to fix it is to break it, and start over.

He spent 85 days in jail. In California, I kept track with a marker on a long piece of paper, the dates smashing together, crowded and blurry.

Beside the table under the tree, we hugged each other hard, bodies colliding and then withdrawing, as though in disbelief.

“You look the same,” I told him.

“Oh, Leah. How did you think I’d look? Like I live in Gaza?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

Amina stood nearby, silent. She had a round face and short, messy black hair and an onion tattoo on her left arm.

An onion is a good thing to have with you, in case you’re tear gassed. My father told me this. I learned everything I know about protesting from my father. Cut an onion in half and keep it on you, and if you get tear gassed, sniff it, get it close to your eyes. It will reduce the irritation. You can also use milk or Vaseline, but onions are the easiest to carry.

My father spent 1969 in Berkeley, surrounded by onions. The night before every Occupy action, I sliced what seemed like hundreds, put them in Ziploc bags, passed them out to my friends, just in case. We never needed to take them out. Instead, afterward, we cooked with them.

Amina used her onions. She told me about it on the way back to Tel Aviv. I drove us in my father’s car, feeling like a teenager, while Yoav slept soundly in the back seat.

In Hebron, the IDF had tear gassed her and her friends when they’d tried to shield a Palestinian woman from settlers who were throwing rocks from their apartments above the street. It had been onions for everyone then.

I said, “You know, there are people who don’t believe things like that happen here.”

“What things?” she asked. “The rock throwing? Or the part where the army tear gasses its own people?”

“All of it.”

She glanced at Yoav, and then turned back to me. “And you?”

I said, “I’ve never had any trouble believing.”

I dropped Yoav and Amina at his apartment. He flopped against her as they walked towards the entrance, managing to make the motion look light and heavy at the same time.

Jews with their own country. Jews with onions in their pockets and on their arms. Tear gas soup.

(When people ask you how you can do this, how you can shit on the country where you were born, the country that built you—because they will ask you—do not scream or yell at them. Take a deep breath before you speak. You will want to save up your deep breaths. You will need them. )

We didn’t ask Yoav about jail. We didn’t know what to ask. One Saturday night, after Shabbat had ended, he came to dinner with Stav and Gali. After we’d eaten, my father poured us each a shot of Arak.

“I will now do one religious thing,” he said, and my friends and I laughed. “May this be the week you’ve been waiting for.” We smacked our glasses together and the Arak shivered down our throats and when I looked up at my father, I saw his head was bent towards Yoav’s, their hands firmly on each other’s shoulders.

(There are other things to keep in mind when protesting. Write important numbers on your body, somewhere they can be easily be read. Write in good pen. Wear layers and comfortable shoes. Bring identification, a small first aid kit, water. Know that there are rules. Know that these rules can change.)

On Friday, the day of the weekly demonstration against the Wall, I met Yoav and Amina and Chanan, a blue-haired Tel Aviv University student at the Carmel Shuk. I had tried to convince Stav to come along, but she had refused. “I don’t need to see it,” she told me. “I know it’s real.”

We drove out of the city and onto the settler roads, the only way to get to Bil’n, where the Wall separated Palestinian farmers from their land.

“Is this your first demonstration?” Chanan asked me, and I said, “No.”

(Here is a rule worth knowing: Rubber bullets are supposed to be shot from a distance of about one hundred and thirty feet and aimed at people’s legs.

Here is another thing worth knowing: Rubber bullets are designed to injure, not to kill.)

It was already hot, the sky a sharp blue, and the gray cement of the Wall looked almost soft. We left the car at the bottom of a hill and hiked up. At the top, a group of people carried signs. They wore sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, scarves around their necks. Yoav waved, some waved back.

“It’s good day for this,” one man said to Amina.

“The best,” she said.

(Stay close together. If you hear a sound you don’t recognize, because you have never in your life heard a rubber bullet being fired, try not to panic. When you look up and see that it has come from a group of men wearing uniforms of this country’s army, a uniform that you yourself might have worn if things have turned out differently, do not make sudden movements. You can’t predict what they will do next. Wait until the shooting has stopped. Eventually, it has to stop.

If someone is injured, they will have to be moved. Even if for your entire life you thought you could stand the sight of such things, it will be different when you see this wound up close, when you see the cavern it creates in the flesh of her abdomen. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you thought a rubber bullet was more like a ball than an actual bullet. Hold onto her hand as the others move her, carefully. Say consoling things to her, which are also for you, which you will tell yourself on the flight that you take home one month earlier than you originally planned. Things like, a whole world cannot just be undone.)

Chanel Dubofsky is a fiction writer, journalist and essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. She has published non-fiction in Cosmopolitan, RH Reality Check, The Billfold, and The Toast, and her fiction at MonkeyBicycle, Atticus Review, Matchbook, and Staccato. She has an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 Comment

  1. […] My short story, “The Bullet,” is up now at Atlas and Alice. […]

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