A short History of DeathJuly 7, 2015
A short History of Death
At night I would prowl the empty corridors of the house and stop at the threshold of my parent’s room. I would stand behind the door, bend over and peek through the keyhole at my mother’s slender form. Curled up on the right side of the bed, the thick sheets covering her body, her head disappearing among them. Misery had descended on my mother since the sickness had invaded her body. Again and again she argued with Fate, asked for explanations, quoting the line she would mutter every year at the memorial for her mother Sarah: “lords pursued me in vain.”
One summer day, towards the end of the last year of her illness, we wandered through the cemetery looking for Grandmother Sarah’s grave. “Plot B, Row 4,” said my father, whose memory was his greatest pride. “No, it’s next to the black tombstone,” whispered my uncle tiredly, wiping the perspiration from his face. At one stage we all turned to Ran, who was known to have a perfect memory that preserves our history in his body.
When finally we found the grave, we stood around it and conducted the memorial. At its base there was the clear, unarticulated understanding that the daughter’s fate would be the same as the mother’s, and that was that.
Towards the end of the memorial she went up to the grave and said: “Don’t worry, Mother, I’ll be there soon too.” After that she turned to us with an arrogant smile lighting up her face, as though to mock us for artificial delicacy. Ran looked at her with great concentration, and suddenly I realized how he remembered everything: While we were all trapped in the moment, he was already organizing it as a memory.
In the car, my mother said: “When I was still a little girl, I learned about death. My life has always sheltered in its shadow. Ever since Grandmother Sarah died it has been humming around me relentlessly: repressed enough so that I would struggle with the mornings, not repressed enough so that I could fall asleep at night.”
That night I sat down to write an assay called “A Short History of Death.” Ran’s ability to remember everything was threatening to me. Every time I looked at him I imagined an abundance of memories organized like books on a shelf and felt that he was robbing us of the days to which all of us had been partner. Wrapping up every event, taking it from us and clearing out.
Right on the very first night of writing I discovered that I could not stop lying: I forged letters; I brought down a terrible plague that attacked all the residents of the street; I wrapped every event in exaggerations, splendor, terror; I characterized every one of our acquaintances with a certain characteristics and all of them were plotting against us. Every night, as I gazed at my mother through the keyhole, I would remember the aim of the project and take an oath to tell the truth. But I always went back to lying. I interpreted the fact that I did not describe what happened as a weakness, cowardice, a wicked gesture that was aimed at getting me away from dealing with those difficult days. The first sentence in the story was: “We learned the history of death/ not the one that isn’t ours/ which doesn’t interest us/ we aren’t philosophers.”
The task of learning death, writing it out of the experience of that woman, my mother-grandmother, was like throwing a ball at the wall: The look always came back to me blinded, humiliated in the dearth of knowledge. It was clear that we who were surrounding her would not be able to share the experience of the woman who knew that soon she would no longer exist. Against our will, we are planning our life without her, And she understands this, knowing that our imagination is already staging life after her. Indeed, we who trying to save her from the loneliness and will also accompany her in her death will always remain on the outside of her experience. She is receding from us, all the time, as though she senses this gap between us that grows wider all the time. The more we try to be close to her she recedes, fading in that twilit space and none of us can accompany her there. Compared to her, we are so alive.
The more the story progressed, the more its failures multiplied: Because there is no truth in it, it will not constitute completion for Ran’s memory, and I got no closer to my mother’s real death. After months and 20 pages I got tired of “A short History of Death” but did not yet dare to abandon it. I believed that it was my obligation to keep the heroine alive. Innumerable times I brought her close to the end of the story, and always, at the last minute, I stretched out a hand and brought her back to the realm of the living.
One day I tore the first page off the block of paper and placed it on my mother’s bed. That whole day I did not dare come home. Late at night I cautiously opened the door, waiting for accusatory lights from the living room, the worried voices of my parents. The house was dark and apart from the strains of “The Palaces of Versailles” coming from the phonograph in ran’s room, there was silence. When I passed by the door to my parents’ room in the corridor, I was called in. After they quizzed me with a few irrelevant questions, I was allowed to go about my business. Heavily, I sat down on my bed, pondering the meaning of the strange reception, and suddenly I discovered the first page lying on my pillow, its bottom part covered by the blanket, like a small child. With a red pen, there were about 10 corrections of the language marked on the page, and here and there superfluous words were crossed out.