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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

“You were talking about the Hilton, no?”

I assumed it was a suicide, though in the days that followed, without knowing the first thing about the dead man, not even his name, I came to wonder whether it hadn’t been an accident. Though the long sides of the rectangular building face north and south, the windows and terraces protrude at a diagonal, in a sawtooth pattern, to allow for a better view of the Mediterranean to the west. This makes it possible to take in part of the sea, but when you look out, whether northwest toward the port of Tel Aviv or southwest toward Jaffa, a feeling of irritation arises of not being able to see enough of it—of being kept from seeing it properly. Rare must be the guest who doesn’t curse the hotel’s architects. How many times had I, in frustration, opened the sliding door in my room and stepped out onto the terrace for a better view? But even there the dissatisfaction persists, because it’s still impossible to face the sea and the horizon head-on, as every atom in your body cries out to do. All that’s left is to lean out over the terrace’s railing, craning your head. In this way, desirous of a better view of the waves that brought the cedars from Lebanon and carried Jonah to Tarshish, you could easily go too far—far enough that you might go over.

Effie promised to try to find the clipping, but was dubious about turning it up: Naama always took out the trash on Sunday, and he had read the story at least a week earlier. I could find no mention of the death anywhere in Haaretz or Ynet, or any other English source of Israeli news online. That afternoon I wrote to my friend Matti Friedman, a journalist from Jerusalem via Toronto, asking if he would search the Israeli press for the report of a death at the Hilton. Because of the time difference, I didn’t receive his reply until the following morning. He’d been unable to find anything, he wrote. Was I sure it had been the Hilton?

If I’d already suspected Effie’s reliability, I had my reasons. Throughout my childhood, he’d been the Israeli consul to a series of countries, each smaller than the last—first Costa Rica, then Swaziland, and finally Liechtenstein, after which he had no choice but to retire. He was twelve years older than my father, and rationing during World War II had stunted his growth, leaving him stalled at five foot. When I was a little girl, I’d developed the impression not only that his bodily size was relevant to his diplomatic appointments but that everything about these small nations was scaled down in size like my father’s cousin: the cars, the doors and chairs, the minuscule fruit, and the house slippers ordered in child’s sizes from the factories of larger countries. In other words, Effie seemed to me to live in a slightly fanciful world, an impression that, like so many formed in childhood, never fully left me. If anything, it was only further confirmed when Effie phoned me back a few days later. Having risen at dawn all his life—the night, like everything else, was too large for him—he had no qualms about calling early, but on that day, at seven in the morning, I happened to be already at my desk.

A roar came through the phone, and I couldn’t understand what was being said on the other end.

“What was that?” I interrupted. “I didn’t hear the first part.”

“Fighter jets. Hold a second.” There was a muffled noise of a hand being placed over the phone. Then Effie came back on. “Must be training exercises. Can you hear me now?”

The article hadn’t turned up, Effie said, but something else had, something he thought would be far more interesting to me. He’d received a phone call the day before, he told me. “Out in the blue,” he added. He took a special joy in English idioms but rarely got them right.

“It was Eliezer Friedman. We used to work for Abba Eban together. I left, but Eliezer stayed on when Eban became foreign minister. He became involved in intelligence. Later he went back to university, and became a professor of literature at the university in Tel Aviv. But you know how these things go—he never gave up his ties to the Mossad.”

While Effie spoke, I looked out the window. There’d been a storm all that morning, but the rain had let up and the sky had opened to let down a soft light. I worked on the top floor, in a room that overlooked the roofs of the neighboring houses. While Effie carried on talking, telling me about how his friend wanted to get in touch, the hatch on the roof across the way suddenly popped open, and my neighbor climbed out onto the wet, silvery skin of his pristine roof. He was wearing a dark suit, as if dressed for his job on Wall Street. Without any signs of caution, this tall, skinny man from the northern flatlands of Holland approached the edge of the roof in polished black dress shoes. With the meticulousness of a surgeon, he pulled on a pair of blue rubber gloves. Then he turned his back to me, reached into his pocket as if to answer a call on a ringing phone, and removed a plastic bag. Standing at the very edge of the slick roof, he peered over. For a moment, it seemed he meant to jump. If he didn’t, surely he would slip in the smooth leather dress shoes. But in the end all that happened was that he kneeled down and began to fish wet leaves out of the gutter. This operation, which seemed full of obscure meaning, took three or four minutes. When he’d finished, he knotted the bag, briskly retreated to the open hatch, lowered himself down backward, and pulled it closed behind him.

“So what do you think?” Effie was saying.

“About what?”

“You’ll talk to him?”

“Who? Your Mossad friend?”

“I told you, he has something he wants to discuss.”

“With me?” I laughed. “You’re not serious.”

“I couldn’t be more serious,” he said gravely.

“What does he want?”

“He won’t tell me. Only wants to talk to you.”

It occurred to me that Effie might be starting to lose his grip—he was already seventy-nine; the mind doesn’t last forever. But, no, probably he was just exaggerating in his usual fashion. When the time came, I would find out that it wasn’t actually his friend who was a former Mossad agent, but a friend of his friend. Or that his friend only delivered the mail in the Mossad offices, or performed at their holiday parties.

“All right, so give him my number.”