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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

Real. The word catches in the throat and won’t go down. It never occurred to me then that the earring might be fake in the way my mother had suspected it was. And yet only I knew just how unreal it really was, how against the odds was my brother’s discovery of it. How it had materialized in answer to a need. No young child naturally believes that reality is firm. To her its springs are loose; it is open to her special pleading. But slowly she is taught to believe otherwise, and by then I was seven, old enough to have mostly come around to accepting that reality was fixed and utterly indifferent to my longings. Now, at the last minute, a foot was put in the way of a door closing.

Back in New York, my mother had the earring made into a pendant, which she strung for me on a chain to wear around my neck. I wore it for years, and though my mother couldn’t have known it, the necklace served to remind me of some unknown will, of the accordion folds tucked beneath the surface of all that appears to be flat. Only last year, my brother and I learned that it was our father who’d thrown all those coins into the pool—our father, who back then could turn to us with either love or terrifying fury, neither of which we were ever prepared for. I’d thought the necklace lost, but it had turned up when my parents emptied a safe-deposit box where they had stored some of my mother’s jewelry. It was returned to me in a tiny bag, which also contained one of my father’s ubiquitous labels, tapped out long ago on his trusty Brother P-touch: Nicole’s necklace, found in Hilton pool. The necklace provoked some reminiscing, and it was then that my father casually mentioned that it was he who had filled the pool with coins. He was surprised that we’d never guessed. But no, he’d had nothing to do with the earring with the ruby heart.

When the idea came to me of dreaming my life from the Hilton, I was, as I’ve said, in a difficult place in my life and my work. The things I’d allowed myself to believe in—the unassailability of love, the power of narrative, which could carry people through their lives together without divergence, the essential health of domestic life—I no longer believed in. I had lost my way. And so the theory of having always been solidly somewhere, only dreaming of being lost, was especially appealing. I was between books, and knew it could take me years to find my way into a new one. During those exhausting and incoherent periods, I sometimes think I can feel my mind itself disintegrating. My thoughts become agitated and restless, and my imagination darts around, picking things up before judging them useless and dropping them again.

But now something different began to happen. The Hilton became lodged in my mind like a kind of blockage, and for months little else presented itself to me when I sat down to write. Day after day, I dutifully reported to my desk—reported, as it were, to the Tel Aviv Hilton. At first it was interesting: Maybe there was something in it? And then, when there seemed not to be, it became exhausting. Finally, it was only maddening. The hotel wouldn’t go away, but neither could I squeeze anything from it.

And not just any hotel: a massive concrete rectangle on stilts that dominates the Tel Aviv coast, built in the Brutalist style. The long sides of the rectangle are lined with terraces, fourteen rows down and twenty-three across. On the south side the grid is unbroken, but on the north side it’s interrupted two-thirds of the way across by a giant concrete column that appears to have been wedged in as an afterthought to make certain the building could pass muster with even the most extreme Brutalists. The top of this concrete column rises above the roof and is emblazoned on the south side with the Hilton logo. Above it stretches a tall antenna whose tip glows red at night, so that light aircraft headed for Sde Dov airport don’t crash into it. The longer one considers this monstrosity cantilevered out over the shore, the more one begins to sense that some larger purpose is being served that can only be guessed at, geological or mystical—something to do not with us but with far greater entities. When viewed from the south, the hotel stands alone against the blue sky, and encoded in the unrelenting grid there seems to be a message nearly as mysterious as the one we’ve yet to unlock at Stonehenge.

It was to this monolith that I was mentally confined for half a year. What began as a whimsical idea of dreaming all of life from a fixed point now became a disquieting sense of being tethered to that point, shut up inside it, without access to the dream of other spaces. Day in and day out, month after month, the needle of my imagination scratched a deeper groove. I could hardly explain my preoccupation to myself, let alone to anyone else. Slowly, the hotel passed into unrealness. The more I remained stuck on it, locked in a futile attempt to wrestle something from it, the further removed the hotel became from being real, and the more it seemed to be a metaphor to which I couldn’t find the key. The more it seemed to be my mind itself. Desperate for relief, I imagined a flood in which the Hilton would break loose from the shore.

Then one morning in early March my father’s cousin Effie called from Israel. Retired from his work in the Foreign Service, Effie still kept the habit of reading three or four newspapers a day. Occasionally coming across a mention of me, he would phone me up. Now we discussed his wife Naama’s colitis, the results of the recent elections, and whether or not he would get arthroscopic surgery on his knee. When the conversation came around to me, and Effie asked how my work was going, I found myself telling him about my struggle with the Hilton and the way I’d become haunted by it. I don’t often speak about my work while I’m in the middle of it, but over the course of four decades, ever since the hotel opened in 1965 and my grandparents began staying there, Effie had sat with my family in the lobby, by the pool, or in the King Solomon restaurant more times than anyone could remember, and I thought that he of all people might understand the Hilton’s strange grip on me. But he was distracted just then by a call from his granddaughter coming through on his cell phone, and after he’d briefly answered her and switched back to me, the subject shifted to her budding career as a cabaret singer.

Our conversation drew to an end. Effie asked me to send his love to my parents. We were on the verge of hanging up when, as casually as if he’d remembered some bit of family news he’d almost forgotten to mention, he said, “Did you hear that a man fell to his death there last week?”