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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

What if life, which appears to take place down countless long hallways, in waiting rooms and foreign cities, on terraces, in hospitals and gardens, rented rooms and crowded trains, in truth occurs in only one place, a single location from which one dreams of those other places?

Was it really so far-flung? Just as plants need us to be drawn to their flowers so they can thrive and multiply, might not space also depend on us? We think we’ve conquered it with our houses and roads and cities, but what if we’re the ones who have unwittingly been made subordinate to space, to its elegant design to propagate itself infinitely through the dreams of finite beings? What if it isn’t we who move through space, but space that moves through us, spun on the loom of our minds? And if all of that is so, then where is this place from which we lie and dream? A holding tank in nonspace? Some dimension we’re unconscious of? Or is it somewhere in the one finite world from which billions of worlds have been, and will be, born, a single location different for each of us, equally banal as any other?

In that moment, I knew unequivocally that if I was dreaming my life from anywhere, it was the Tel Aviv Hilton.

To begin with, I was conceived there. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, three years after my parents were married in high winds on the Hilton’s terrace, they were occupying a room on the hotel’s sixteenth floor when the unique conditions that were the prerequisites for my existence suddenly aligned. With only the foggiest sense of the consequences, my mother and father instinctively acted on them. I was born in Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. But less than a year later, swimming upstream, my parents brought me back to the Tel Aviv Hilton, and from then on, almost every year, I’ve returned to that hotel perched on a hill between Hayarkon Street and the Mediterranean Sea. (Every year, that is, if one is operating under the belief that I ever left it at all.) But if the place has a kind of mystical aura for me, it isn’t only because life began for me there, or that later I spent so many vacations at the hotel. It’s also the spine-tingling nature of something that once happened to me there, an experience that only increased my awareness of an opening—a small tear in the fabric of reality.

It occurred in the hotel’s swimming pool when I was seven. I spent a lot of time in that pool, which was set on a large terrace overlooking the sea, and fed by its salt water. The year before, our visit had overlapped with Itzhak Perlman’s, and one morning after breakfast we came out and found him parked by the deep end, throwing a ball to his children, who took turns leaping into the pool, trying to catch it. The sight of the great violinist in his glinting wheelchair, along with a murky awareness that the polio that had crippled him had something to do with swimming pools, terrified me. The next day I refused to go down to the pool altogether, and the day after that we left Israel and flew back to New York. The following year I returned to the hotel with a feeling of unease, but Perlman didn’t reappear. Furthermore, on the first day back my brother and I discovered that the pool was full of money—shekels everywhere, shimmering mutely on the floor of the pool, as if the drain were hooked up to Bank Hapoalim. Whatever lingering fears I had about swimming were shunted aside by the steady flow of cash we could turn up. As in any well-run operation, we soon divided and specialized: my brother, two years older, became the diver, and I, with a smaller lung capacity and keener eyes, became the spotter. At my direction, he would plunge down and grope around at the blurry bottom. If I had been right, as I was about sixty-five percent of the time, he would burst excitedly to the surface, clutching the coin.

One afternoon after a string of false calls I began to feel desperate. The day was wearing on, and our time in the pool was almost up. My brother was wading morosely along the wall of the shallow end. I couldn’t help myself, and from the middle of the pool shouted: “There!” I was lying—I’d seen nothing—but I couldn’t resist the chance to make my brother happy again. He came splashing toward me. “Right there!” I yelled.

He went below. I knew there was nothing at the bottom, and now, treading water at the top, I waited miserably for my brother to find out, too. The crushing guilt I felt in those few moments comes vividly back even more than thirty years later. It was one thing to lie to my parents, but to so blatantly betray my brother was something else again.

As for what happened next, I have no explanation for it. Or none beyond the possibility that the laws we cling to in order to assure ourselves that all is as it seems have occluded a more complex view of the universe, one that forgoes the comfort of squeezing the world to fit the limited reach of our comprehension. Otherwise, how else to explain that when my brother surfaced and uncurled his fingers, lying in his palm was an earring with three diamonds and, beneath them, hanging from a gold loop at the bottom, a ruby heart?

In dripping bathing suits, we followed our mother through the frigid, air-conditioned hallways of the hotel to the H.Stern’s in the lobby. She explained the situation to the balding jeweler, who looked at us dubiously as he pushed a tray lined with blue velvet across the glass countertop. My mother laid the earring down, and the jeweler fit the loupe to his eye. He studied our treasure. When he lifted his head at last, his giant, magnified eye swiveled over us. “Real,” he pronounced. “The gold is eighteen-karat.”