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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

“He wants to know if you have plans to come to Israel anytime soon.”

But I had no such plans, I told Effie, and as I said it I realized that I lacked plans in general, and had not managed to make them for some time. When I brought the calendar up onto my computer screen, it was largely empty except for the children’s activities. To plan things, one must be able to imagine oneself into a future that is an extension of the present, and it seemed to me that I had ceased to imagine that, whether out of inability or lack of desire, I couldn’t say. But of course Effie couldn’t know as much. He knew only that I still traveled to Israel often—my brother now lived in Tel Aviv with his family, and my sister also had an apartment there where she spent part of the year. Along with them, I had many close friends in Tel Aviv, and my children had already spent enough time there that they, too, had incorporated the place into the landscape of their childhoods.

“I might come soon,” I said, without attaching much meaning to the words. Effie said he would talk to Friedman and get back to me, and I did not attach much meaning to his words, either.

A moment of silence passed between us, and there was a sudden brightening outside, as if the light had been rinsed clear. Then Effie reminded me to tell my father to call him.

A month later I said good-bye to my husband and children and flew from New York to Tel Aviv. The idea to go had come to me in the middle of the night during one of the long passages outside of time, in which I found myself wide awake even as I became increasingly exhausted. Or rather, I’d dragged a suitcase out of the downstairs closet at three in the morning and filled it with an assortment of clothes, without having spoken to my husband about the idea of going, and without having called the airlines about a flight. Then I finally fell asleep and forgot about the suitcase entirely, so that when I awoke its squat, hopeful presence by the door came as a surprise not only to my husband but to me as well. In this way, I seemed to have gotten around the impossibility of planning. I was already going, as it were, having skipped the planning stage altogether, which would have required a sense of conviction and powers of projection currently unavailable to me.

When my sons asked the reason for my trip, I said that I needed to conduct research for my book. What is it about? the younger one asked. He was constantly writing stories, as many as three a day, and would not have been troubled by such a question concerning his own writing. For a long time he’d spelled the words as he thought they might be spelled, without any spaces between them, which, like the Torah’s unbroken string of letters, opened his writing to infinite interpretations. He had only begun to ask us how things were spelled once he’d started to use the electric typewriter he was given for his birthday, as if it were the machine that had demanded it of him—the machine, with its air of professionalism and the reproach of its giant space bar, that required that what was written on it be understood. But my son himself remained ambivalent about the matter. When he wrote by hand, he returned to his old habits.

I told him that the book had to do with the Hilton in Tel Aviv, and asked if he remembered the hotel, where we had sometimes stayed with my parents. He shook his head. Unlike my older son, whose memory was like a steel trap, the younger one seemed to recall little of his experience. I chose to think of this not as a native lack, but rather the result of being too absorbed in the invention of other worlds to pay very much attention to what happened in the one world he had so little say in. My older son wanted to know why I needed to research a hotel I had been to so many times, and the younger one wanted to know the meaning of “research.” Naturally they are both artists, my children. After all, the world population of artists has exploded, almost no one is not an artist now; in turning our attention inward, so have we turned all of our hope inward, believing that meaning can be found or made there. Having cut ourselves off from all that is unknowable and that might truly fill us with awe, we can only find wonderment in our own powers of creativity. My children’s progressive, highly creative private school was primarily engaged with teaching every child enrolled there to believe that he or she was, and could only be, an artist. One day, speaking about my father on the walk to school, my younger son suddenly stopped short and looked up at me in wonder. “Isn’t it amazing?” he asked. “Just think of it. Grandpa is a doctor. A doctor!”