Dead Wrong

“No, I couldn’t hear you by then. The cell phone was hurled from my hand. The blast was so loud that I said to myself, that’s it, I’m deaf now, for good. I looked around. All the glass was gone, there were holes where the windows had been, and fire had caught in a few. I remember I was still able to think I’m so lucky, nothing’s happened to me. And then, from the side, I felt a knife plunging into my body. You know how it feels, when you touch a warm pot, or put your hand in a stream of water and find out, too late, that they’re boiling? You know that the pain’s coming, but for a split second, you don’t feel anything. This is exactly how it was. And a second later, the pain really did come. Oh boy, I don’t want to remember that. I stopped breathing, because each breath was more painful than the last.

“You think? I can’t feel anything now. They give you some great drugs here; good for me.

“I remember seeing the bus driver still sitting in his chair, held by his seatbelt. The glass behind him had shattered, but he kept sitting straight as if nothing had happened, as if he were still driving, only headless. His body ended in his neck. Blood squirted from it in steady pulses and dripped down his body like a volcano spewing blood lava.

“No, I didn’t even care about that just then. All I remember is freezing still, because each movement twisted the knife in my body. But something else forced me to move—you’ll never believe it, Smadar—it was a smell, an overwhelming smell, like the stench of burnt plastic, only worse: the smell of rust. I couldn’t get it, why rust? It was only here, when I woke up, that the doctor explained to me that the whole rust thing was because of the iron in the blood. Then I did something stupid. I dropped myself on the floor and started crawling towards the rear of the bus. For some reason, I thought if I’d get away from the explosion point, I’d be able to get rid of the smell, catch some air. I crawled on all fours. The wound in my stomach hurt like hell, and I also started to feel the burns on my cheek and neck. After crawling about six feet, I slipped on the blood, steadied myself and kept going. I didn’t look at the injured and dead. I grabbed the legs of the seats and focused on making progress. I raised my head just to see how much more I had left to cover, then I saw an arm, just an arm, severed from the elbow up. The five fingers were pointed at me, spread across the floor like the hand was crawling towards my face.

“But I want to go on, I’m fine, what do you care? Let me continue.

“It was a young man’s arm. A soldier’s, maybe. I immediately remembered Ron and thought, There you are, you’ve come to take me. In that moment, I literally believed that he’d sent his hand to grab and take me to him. With that knowledge I moved towards it. I planned on grabbing it, I swear. It was only when I got to it and saw the hairs and fingers were someone else’s that I realized what a fuckhead I’d been and asked myself if it was the fact that less blood was getting to my brain that was making me stupid. I couldn’t get through, so I lifted that arm with my hand—I didn’t have a choice—and put it aside like it was some thorny branch you need to clear from the road. That motion involved an effort I shouldn’t have made, because the knife in my side twisted inside my body, and the coals on my neck ignited like someone had breathed oxygen on them. I held my breath and looked down at my hips. Blood trickled there in light pulses. I told myself I had to lie down and press my hands on the wound so I won’t lose any more blood. I carried my pains and crawled to the end of the bus. I lay on the floor and the second I put my head down and pressed a hand on my wound I heard people coming through the front doors, screaming. I waited for them to get in through the rear doors as well, but no one got in. I thought, soon, any second now. But the rear doors stayed closed. They started taking injured people out through the front doors, and I realized what a mistake crawling to the back of the bus had been. I couldn’t bring myself to shout. I raised my arm, but soon realized no one could see me. Then, for the first time, I thought maybe it wouldn’t really be so bad if my life would end now, that maybe dying wasn’t so terrible, and maybe I deserved it.

“No, come on, Smadar, I’m not a little girl.

“Because you don’t know the whole story.

“I loved him, you see? I never knew loving like that was even possible. He was the greatest love of my life. He still is, and I sent him to die on that mountain. It was because of me that he went there.

“It’s a dangerous mountain—the Stok Kangri, not a very difficult climb, but the sort that claims the occasional climber. A night before the flight to India, Ron packed his backpack in front of my eyes and couldn’t make up his mind about anything. He took things out, put them in again, forgot where he’d put other things, like it was his first time. While doing that, he kept talking, and I kept listening. He didn’t know any of the other climbers in the expedition, said it was a big breakthrough for him, and that the mountain was really okay and fitted well with the training program he’d built for himself. The only thing was that you could reach the top only by climbing on ice, with a very narrow margin of error. One small mistake and you’re done for, that was how he said it, and the meteorological stations around the mountain—he explained—issued contradicting reports over the last few days. Which happens sometimes, but if the reports continue to be confusing while they’ll be climbing, it would make it difficult to decide whether they should keep going and climb to the next camp to wait another day, or turn back. At one point, he stopped all the packing, turned to me and asked, ‘Tell me the truth, Lihi, you think I should give it up?’ And I, what did I say? What could I have said? I told him he should go, no question about it. That he’s an amazing climber. That this mountain was a piece of cake for him—as if I had a clue. That he’d climbed enough mountains to go to the next level, that’s what I told him—I was such a stupid asshole. I wanted to be the cool girlfriend, you see? The one who supports his dream; wanted to be his pillar, rather than him being my crutch. I didn’t want to be the sort of girlfriend who whines too much, who loves too much. I thought I came out like a real queen, that this made me so cool and mature, because he needed a supportive girlfriend, not one who would fill him with more doubts.

“Then he looked at me, and in his face, I saw—maybe not then, but today I can see it so clearly—that he was disappointed. He was hoping I’d say no to him, he wanted me to get down on my knees and beg him not to go. He wanted the worried, too-much-in-love girlfriend to get him off this trip and away from that mountain. If I’d have done that—if I’d only gotten down on my knees and cried—he would have given it up. But I didn’t do it because I was in an inferior position; he may have loved me, in his own way, but he loved the mountains more. I knew it, knew it too well. I wanted him to climb past those mountains, wanted him to love me more. The only way to do that—so I’d thought back then—was to let him go, and one day, who knows, maybe he’d get fed up with the mountains and come back to climb me instead. So I let him go to his true love and he went with her all the way.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, Smadar. Let me go on. I want to. Yes, so, long story short, I was lying there, on the floor of the bus, wallowing in all that blood and pain and the smell of rust, and I let go, stopped making an effort. I let myself rest. I felt this simple tranquility in the middle of all the commotion and screaming. And I knew, kept telling myself all the time, that this doesn’t mean I was going to meet him up in heaven, or whatever other place is up there, and that this was fine too. Because what did I really have to lose? Not going to law school? I wasn’t sure about going there in the first place, had the feeling it wasn’t right for me anyway, that I had to study something else, if at all. Then I heard sirens in the distance, drawing closer and closer until they parked in my ears. Doors opened, people shouted, someone sprayed white foam through the front door, through the windows, and choked the fire. Gray-white smoke started to fill the bus. I thought, That’s it, now they really won’t be able to see me. I need to say my goodbyes, I may not have another chance. I started talking to Mom and Dad, saying ‘This really isn’t so bad, don’t be sad because of me. You’ll be fine. You still have Doron and Shira.’ I closed my eyes and tried to picture them at the funeral. Mom weeping, Dad grim, quiet, protecting her. A little embarrassed by the volume of her wailing, like he’s always embarrassed when they’re in the company of people. He hugs her shoulder, comforting, and maybe trying to shush her a little. And over them, Doron, hugging Shira with one hand and Mom and Dad with the other, conducting over the grieving family. I looked at the ashen bus ceiling and thought, Thanks, God. Thanks for the life you’ve given me, it wasn’t such a bad life. Dying at twenty-five isn’t so bad, it’s going out with a bang, right in the middle of the good part. You took real good care of me. Maybe you’re right to take me now, because who wants to grow up anyway, study, work, grow old? So I won’t get to go to the university, no biggie. I’ll be going to study something else now, something far more fascinating, or I won’t study anything—what do I know—and just go to sleep. A dreamless sleep. Is that so terrible? My friends will be a little sad, they’ll remember me for a little, then forget all about me, like they forgot about Ron.

“Of course they forgot about him; and very quickly. You weren’t with us, I’m telling you. They came to the funeral, the memorial service, and that’s it. Since then, they all suddenly became very busy. You think they’d find more time for me? Bullshit. My death would have been an itch they’d scratch for a week tops.

“Forget it, this has nothing to do with it, I’m not angry at them, okay? They went on with their lives, that’s their right. But let me keep telling you the story now, it’s not over yet. So, there I was, lying there, and out of the smoke—I swear to you that’s exactly what happened—a figure materialized and came to me, a dark, misty figure. That figure bent over me. It was a soldier, a young, terrified soldier. A real kid. I wanted to tell him, forget it, never mind, don’t bother. But he was so emotional, and sweated so much, and tried so hard to care for me that I didn’t want to get him into trouble with a wounded woman who wanted to die. He asked what my name was, and I said, ‘Lihi.’ And he, stressed as hell, said, ‘Lee, don’t worry, Lee. Everything’s fine. I’m Yaron, I’m a medic. They’ll evacuate you soon. Where do you live, Lee?’ Not caring that he’d gotten my name wrong, I whispered, ‘Givatayim.’ And he said, ‘What?’ I gulped as much as I possibly could and said, louder this time, ‘Givatayim!’ and cursed my city for not only being boring and gray, but having way too many syllables. Yaron turned back and shouted, ‘Casualty in moderate condition!’ as if this was the diagnosis he’d reached after hearing the fact I was from Givatayim. No one seemed to care that there was a casualty in moderate condition. Yaron took a field dressing out of his pocket and tore its wrapper. He put the bandage on my wound and held it there. I looked at him and saw the fear in his eyes. He turned his head again and shouted, ‘I got a casualty here! We need an evacuation!’ I closed my eyes and thought, What a cute kid, and he grabbed me with one hand on the bandage and the other on the shoulder and shouted, ‘Stay with me, Lee! Don’t fall asleep!’ I opened my eyes and thought, This is just like me, getting a young, eager medic fresh off his training just when all I really want is to die. He won’t even let me take a little nap. I looked at him. He’d missed a spot shaving, left a thin strip of stubble under the chin, and a droplet of sweat suddenly fell from his face and landed on me. Then I started to feel cold. Really cold. My whole body was shaking; my feet, my hands, my face and shoulders. Yaron kept pressing his hand on my wound, and sirens continued to fly in my ears like this whole city had nothing but ambulances in it.

“And then Yaron shouted, ‘Lee, listen to me!’ I thought how much I hated that name, I might as well be called Lysistrata—that way, I could have at least had one last laugh before I die. Yaron leaned over me with his tense, nervous face and said, ‘Pretend that you’ve lost consciousness.’ His voice trembled. ‘Keep breathing normally, but just … just close your eyes and don’t open them until you get to the emergency room. Do you understand what I’m saying? Nod once if you do.’ Even though I’d given up already, I really didn’t want to disappoint him. So I nodded once and closed my eyes. Then I heard him shouting over me, ‘Hey, she’s lost consciousness! A casualty has lost consciousness!’ And that was the last thing I heard, other than that carousel of sirens. But half a minute later I heard a different, closer sound, the only calm voice in all the shouting. I almost opened my eyes, but left them closed at the last minute, and the one calm voice among the shouting asked, ‘What’s her condition?’ Yaron said, ‘She’s in moderate condition, lost consciousness, still breathing. There’s an entry wound in her hip.’ The voice said, ‘You’ve treated her?’ And Yaron said, ‘Yes.’ And the voice said:

‘Do you have her vitals?’ Yaron said nothing. I was afraid he’d faint, the poor thing. The voice said, ‘Kimhi, I need a spinal board, cervical collar, immediate hospital evacuation, dressing, fluids, vitals. Get going.’ A moment later I felt warm hands wrapping my scalp. I couldn’t mistake them, those were the calm hands that belonged to that calm voice. My feet and hands were freezing. In my stomach, the embers were gnawing into my flesh. But my head was warm and cozy, free of any worries, I wouldn’t know to explain this to you. Right by my ears, I heard Styrofoam rubbing, then attached to my neck, followed by the swoosh of Velcro closing. It was only when I got here and looked in the mirror that I saw this thing. Funny, isn’t it? A pink Styrofoam cervical collar. What’s the deal with that? They have blue ones for the boys? And white ones for criminals? Forget it, never mind, I guess it’s the morphine that makes me so amused. You should try it some time, it isn’t half bad.

“Never mind, listen to this: suddenly I feel hands, lots of hands, out of nowhere, like magic, grabbing me by my hips, my waist, my shoulder blades, my ankles, and in a split second, my body was floating in midair. Literally. They placed me on a board. The hands disappeared, then started to strap me with an unbelievable speed. In ten seconds, my whole body was strapped: feet, ankles, hips, waist, shoulders, forehead. Like a mummy. They picked me up and took me outside the bus, and I couldn’t hear that calm voice anymore, or Yaron’s voice. My eyelids filled with a shiny orange light. I opened my eyes for a moment and was blinded by the sun. I shut them back immediately. I thought, What do I care? What could they do to me if I wake up, take me back to the bus? Will they say, she fooled us, that one, so let’s leave her here to die? But I couldn’t be sure that once everything was over, they wouldn’t interrogate everyone and accuse me of impersonation or something like that, and Yaron of cheating the emergency teams and ambulance. Maybe, because of him, I’d taken the hospital bed of someone who needed it much more. That might get him into trouble. So I kept my eyes shut, softly, not hard, even though the sun blinded me even behind my closed eyelids. The world around me was all shouting and chaos. I thought what a shame it was, that Yaron hadn’t come with me. They probably didn’t let him. Just imagine, he could be standing by the hospital reception desk right now, insisting that they have a girl here from the bombing whose name is Lee, and they tell him, ‘Nope, we don’t have any Lees here.’ Poor thing. But what do I know? He probably went back to his military base, or his weekend vacation at home, and told everyone how he’d saved the life of some poor girl injured in the bombing, which would be true. I’m the one who needs to go looking for him, once I’m out of here, but how? All I know about him is that his name is Yaron. Maybe I should go from one military base to the next and ask to see all the medics called Yaron?

“Yeah, well, never mind.

“In short, I was out in the open air, finally able to breathe properly, because I’d gotten rid of that smell of rust and burnt plastic. Four people held my stretcher and pushed it into the ambulance. I heard footsteps getting up with me, doors closing, and a siren started wailing over my head. The ambulance was off. Someone checked the pulse in my wrist, and on the other side someone else sterilized my arm. Too bad I was unconscious, otherwise I’d have asked them to throw in a manicure while at it. Then it became a little more complicated to stay unconscious, because the paramedic who sterilized my arm inserted a needle into my vein and I couldn’t move, because if I did, you know, they’d be on to me. So I did my best to stay fainted and quietly suffered from the embers that kept shaking in my stomach with every bump on the road. The longer the drive lasted, the more I felt I was starting to lose it, that my brain was starting to sever all the links with reality, and I thought that maybe if I sing some song, I’ll be able to stay conscious and won’t faint. So I tried to think of a song and I swear to you, Smadar, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t come up with even a single miserable song. Not even a nursery rhyme, not even a song from my favorite band. Then I felt myself sinking, stepping into a dream. Do you know that feeling you have a moment before drifting off to sleep? That’s the closest that I can come up with to explain how I felt. I heard the paramedic beside me saying, ‘Lee, write it down, her name is Lee.’ And I thought, Lee, Lee, he lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me… I felt how the pain of those burning embers in my stomach slowly faded from my consciousness. And I said, ‘Sorry, I’m so sorry, this was all my fault.’ And I heard Ron say, ‘You’re dead wrong.’ I laughed, but I couldn’t hear my own laughter, and he said, ‘Go back.’ And I said, ‘Don’t you want me to stay with you?’ And he said, ‘Don’t you want to stay with yourself?’ I said I didn’t know. He said, ‘You’re the only one who could know.’ And I said, ‘Do I get to choose? He said, ‘Go ahead, choose.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know what to choose.’ He said, ‘You do.’ And I said, ‘Fine, I get it, I choose to go back, where do I need to sign?’ And I laughed just to check if I could hear my own laughter, and I couldn’t, and I couldn’t hear him anymore either. I got stressed for not hearing him, and said, ‘Ron?’ And he said, ‘Yes?’ I said, ‘Can I stay here a little longer and talk to you?’ And he said, ‘You can stay a little longer and talk to yourself.’ And I said quickly, ‘I love you.’ And he answered, ‘I love you.’ I wanted to say a lot of other things, but nothing came to my head, and I was afraid that the conversation thread would be severed again, so I just said, ‘What a shame.’ And he said, ‘A damn shame.’ I said, ‘I’m being serious.’ And he said, ‘I’m serious.’ I said, ‘You think it’s a shame too?’ as if it was inconceivable. He said, ‘I think it’s a shame too.’ And suddenly, Smadar, I don’t know how to explain it, there came this realization, that he was also sad, sad by his own death, and that he had nothing to do with this sadness, just like I had nothing to do with my own. And this realization suddenly tore me apart, that dual sadness, the twin sadness I had not been aware of before. It dug a hole deep in my heart, a big, black hole. I went down to the bottom of this hole and sat there, in the cold, and cried silent tears. I knew that Ron, wherever he was at, was crying his own sadness, that same hollow sadness. And so we sat, both of us, I was crying inside my own black hole, while he was crying in his. I don’t know what he was crying about, and I never will. But I was crying over the absence, the no-wedding we had, the no-ceremony on the beach, they no-baby we raised who did not have his eyes or my curls and would never go to sleep in my arms. I missed that chance. I could have had a child from Ron, but now I never will. Forgive me if I sound a little weird, but you’re lucky, Smadar, you have another shot, you could have a baby with Niv. Don’t miss that opportunity. Who knows, maybe you’re pregnant right now. You feel anything? Forget it, I didn’t say anything, we’ll just wait and see. So I sat in that black hole for a very long time, I don’t know how much exactly, until I heard the whistle. It flew over me, feeble, almost unfelt. Slowly, it grew stronger, messier, scattered. I heard a faint screech of wheels rolling, the squealing of old hinges, the metronomic clicking and clacking of grout joints. The moment the embers were rekindled in my stomach, I opened my eyes, and I was being wheeled on a stretcher down hospital corridors under neon lights. The rolling stretcher went through door after door after door. The first face I saw was that of a kind man with smiling eyes and surgical mask and scrub cap and large glasses. He said, ‘Hello, Lee, you’re awake.’ And I said, ‘Lihi, my name is Lihi.’”  


Ofir Oz’s second novel was published in Israel and earned him the Promising Writers Award presented by the Israel Ministry of Culture. His third novel “The Best of All Worlds” was published in Hebrew and was translated into English. Short stories were published in Michigan Quarterly Review, won 2nd place in the Short Story Project international contest, and 3rd place in the London Independent Short Story Prize.