Photo Credit: Fabrizio Comolli
The drive into Tel Aviv from the airport goes smoothly so early in the morning. This grants him more time. He brakes gently so as not to skid on the gravel and eases the car to a standstill at the edge of the cliff. With the car’s front windows lowered, the air blows heavily inland from across the Mediterranean Sea, and he draws in the briny scent of the ocean. It is August, possibly his last. He grimaces and reaches for his stomach, falls back into the seat and glances down the beachfront road to his left as it snakes downhill towards the farthest end of the bay. There, in the ancient city of Jaffa, his studio lies, shrouded in the port’s early morning cocoon. At the bottom of the cliff just below him, the beige lifeguard tower stands tall, exhausted after all its years of vigil. It was here, in its shadow, that he first met her twenty years ago.
And he remembers that day.
“My name is Avital,” she said to him.
He turned to her, but the heat and the sea water in his eyes separated them like a curtain of running water. He could barely make her out as she sat in the shade of the lifeguard tower, slouched against the fence that surrounded it. He looked harder, and she slowly came into focus, a T-shirt stretched tightly over her knees, and that head, that lovely shaven head glistening in the sun. And suddenly, before he had a chance to respond, she appeared before him, silhouetted by the blinding light behind her.
She looked up at him and said, “I live across the beachfront road. Would you like to come over for a drink?”
And he remembers.
He remembers the feeling of the delicate membrane that separated both entrances to her world as he clasped her with his thumb and index finger. How she clasped both his hands and sucked on his fingers. The neat rows of medical books that lined the walls of her small study. And how, bathed in the ochre rays of the late afternoon sun, a small army of African figurines peered down at them as they made love on the carpet, statuettes of scowling men hunting and women bursting with the promise of pregnancy.
But it was the anxious look in her green eyes that stayed with him. That fleeting hesitation as she lay there, before she removed her T-shirt. At first, she hugged herself, and then gradually unfolded her arms, allowing them to rest at her sides. He reached out to touch her, and raised his lips to the scarred remains of the breast she had just revealed. He kissed and licked its nipple, leaving a shiny trail of saliva across her damaged skin. Like a stream trickling across the surface of a sun-baked desert, he thought.
“I feel as if I have known you for millions of years,” he said to her.
He jolts upright to the blare of a blue-and-white car; a cop signals him to get going. The pain in his stomach returns, again. He is running out of time and late for his final editing session at his studio in Jaffa. Around him, night had morphed into daybreak. The lifeguard tower was manned, and the beach was slowly coming to life as the beachfront hotels spat out the morning’s first batch of sunburned tourists.
Finally, once in the studio, he hurries to complete the finishing touches to his black-and-white prints of women so similar to Avital. Women he has made his life’s work to immortalize, shots of perfect imperfection. Whether Avital had survived her cancer or not he does not know; he had never seen her again after that afternoon. However, her urgency that day suggested to him that she, too, had been counting down the days.
With his hand clasping his stomach, he sits back in his chair, and thinks of the final arrangements in preparation for his photography exhibit at the Institute for Breast Cancer. Hopefully, Avital would be there. He would like to say goodbye to her.
Daniel Beaudoin is currently writing his PhD at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where he also teaches, on the subject of humanitarian diplomacy. He is also a represented conceptual artist and a passionate note taker. Sometimes he wishes he could write more the way a Francis Bacon painting makes him feel: raw, uncertain, shaken and emotional. He volunteers as a mentor for high school pupils, loves the laughter of his children, the feeling when his wife is close and the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #2. Email: beaudoin.dnl[at]gmail.com