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Zehava Khalfa (2020)

For over a week we had not seen the frog. We haven’t seen him in the aquarium for a few days, jumping up, sipping air, and coming back like a whale. On Shabbat morning before the Kiddush Rabbah, Hanna came to me in tears. Her eyes flooded and her face was tense. She said I couldn’t find the frog I was really worried about. I took a deep breath, stopped making the vegetable salad, and hugged her. I didn’t know what to say to calm her down. There are about twenty small fish in the aquarium, evidence of his disappearance. What can I say? That I am looking forward to the little fish or thank God.

From the moment I bought the frog, I felt sorry for him and I realized how powerful the word “yes” is. It was exactly three years and a month ago when we went to the fish professor, that’s what the children called the shopkeeper, and Hanna liked the frog. “He is so cute,” she said, and looked at him affectionately and activated her charms. And I said, “Yes.” For three years, I have been looking at him without love and I know that he devours the little fish and I learn to beware of the next “yes” that comes out of my mouth. Maybe he’s just hiding, I said. And you know what, I said carefully, maybe he died of old age. He’s been here three years now. You know that rats only live for two years? I was telling her about a woman who raised rats as if they were her pets, and their brief life span impressed her. She ran to my phone and wrote “African dwarf frog” and checked its life expectancy – “ten to fifteen years” she said sadly to me.

On Monday the children returned to school, each to his own school. I watched behind the pump, in the drowned ship. Then I looked for snails. These uninvited guests who come with the fishes as undercover passengers. I remember the first snail. It was like a brown egg in the middle of the aquarium. I followed it every day until the head of a snail came out of the brown egg. And they’ve been flooding the aquarium ever since. We fought them with cucumber shells, first we tempted them to climb onto the bark, and we pulled them into a collection box or toilet. Then they ignored the cucumber peel. “What should I do with them?” I asked the fish professor. He said, “Squash them like mashed potatoes or just bring them to the store to me.” I collected them one by one into a plastic box, which I put once in the refrigerator and once in the bicycle cart on the way there. We rode together, one Friday. We always chatted, asked a million questions, and the kids looked at the fish, and laughed. This time we arrived at the construction site and a huge cloth of renovations covered the building. The shop disappeared as if it was only in my imagination. I searched for a note, for a connection, for something. What’s his name? There was nothing. We came back home sad with a bunch of snails in a box.

Next to the sinking ship on the inside, I saw a suspicious group of snails. Maybe it was him, I wondered. I’ll look another time. Reject the absolute knowledge of his fate. Meanwhile, small fish swim freely in the aquarium. I looked at the fish as I do every Saturday morning. I sit at the bottom of the aquarium with a second cup of coffee and look at it, silently. The children play in the rooms. I investigate who wanted whom. Which one was pregnant? How the little fish grew? A few new green leaves. While I sip my coffee and forget how bitter it is. I thought how good it is to have an aquarium, how much relaxation the fish give me. A thought of age tears me apart. Here I am, a lonely old woman with a life-giving aquarium. And what will happen if I’m depressed like I was then? He went back to Germany for his exams. I took him by car to the airport, and we said goodbye and made no promises. As usual, I was on the threshold of the relationship and I was afraid to go in. Then I went back to the apartment where we lived together, Jerusalem in 2008. I put the keys on the table and tried to read one of the books I had bought – three books for one hundred shekels. I opened the first book and tried to read it. Every word seemed to draw me deeper. Entire lines caught in my throat. I closed the book and tried to read the other one, but that too was caught like a millstone around my neck. I did not understand how I bought them; they were suddenly so strange to me.

I returned to Agnon’s story. To the sounds of the cock that Herschel had made while he was mad, and to his desperate longing for his beloved Bluma, who held the gate and remained silent in the darkness. I felt at home. The depression stirred a little.

What if I was old and could not find peace in the fish’s life if I could not find peace watching them swim, eat, and enjoy their miniature world?

Hanna, I once asked her, do you know why God created the world? Yes, she answered decidedly, because he wanted a television.


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