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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

But Schectman climbed down and lifted the old dog into his arms and placed it inside the jeep, and for a moment, while it lay cradled in his arms, I thought that we looked, the three of us, like some sort of demented crèche. Then the dog skittered down onto the floor, and as if she knew something that I didn’t—as if she, too, had forgotten Friedman’s existence—she licked my knees, turned around twice, and curled up at my feet. The soldier handed up my plastic bag, the one that I’d taken from my sister’s apartment with a change of clothes and my bathing suit, and Schectman tucked it carefully under his seat, next to Friedman’s suitcase.

The jeep’s engine roared into action, and we went bumping along the graveled shoulder until the enormous wheels grabbed hold of the tarmac. But instead of turning around and heading back to Jerusalem, we continued the way Friedman had been headed, right out to where everything planned and constructed ended and it was, quite suddenly and irrevocably, desert. And as we did, the incongruous thought of Kafka’s gardens came to me, gardens Friedman had told me he’d cultivated wherever he’d lived, in the kibbutz in the north, and behind the various houses he’d occupied in Tel Aviv, before he finally became famous enough, and—because he never really aged, because he never stopped looking exactly like the Kafka one inevitably falls a little in love with when one sees him on a postcard for the first time—he had to leave the city for good. I pictured his gardens filled with roses and honeysuckle, cactus and huge fragrant lilacs. As our military vehicle plowed on into the yellow hills, I saw Kafka with startling clarity, delicately leaning his little trowel against a stone wall and looking up at the sky as if to inspect it for signs of a gathering rain. And suddenly—they always come suddenly, these bright sparks of childhood—I remembered something that had happened a year after my brother found the earring in the Hilton pool. We had been staying at our grandparents’ house in London while our parents were abroad in Russia, and one afternoon my brother and I were overcome with the desire for the chocolate sold in a nearby shop. I don’t know why we didn’t ask my grandmother for the money: we must have thought she’d refuse, or maybe we were thrilled by the idea of laying hold of the chocolate surreptitiously. In the garden in front of their semidetached house, my grandfather grew roses that remain, for me, the archetype of a rose; I can’t think or say the word without summoning those delicate, fragrant English flowers. We found my grandmother’s heavy metal shears in the kitchen, and squeezed the stems between the blades, high up under the flowers’ sepals, until the large heads rolled. Coolly, we wrapped the stumps in aluminum foil, and decided that a lie would be necessary to convince people to buy them. We stood out on the street, and began to sing: “Roses for sale, roses for sale, roses for children’s charity!” A woman stopped. I remember her as lovely, with tidy, dark hair beneath her woolen hat. She set down the bags she was carrying. “Are you sure it’s for charity?” she asked us. Later it was her question that undid us. She had given us the chance to reconsider and come clean, but instead of taking it, we dug ourselves more deeply in. We nodded: quite sure, yes. She took out her wallet and unburdened us of our handfuls of roses—six or eight of them. My brother took the coins, and we began to walk quickly in silence. But as we made our way toward the shop, a crushing black guilt descended on us. We had done something we couldn’t undo: beheaded our grandfather’s roses, sold them off, lied to a stranger, all to serve our appetite. The sense of the permanence of our wrongdoing, our inability to ever correct it, was immensely heavy. I don’t remember whether I turned to my brother and finally spoke, or whether it was he who turned to me, but I remember the words clearly: Are you feeling what I’m feeling? There was nothing more to be said. We bent down in the earth alongside the sidewalk, dug a hole, and buried the coins. That we would never breathe a word of what we had done to anyone was implicit. One day, I told my children the story. They were crazy for it, and wanted to hear it again and again. For days, they continued to bring it up. But why did you bury the money? my younger son kept asking. To be rid of it, I told him. But it’s still there, he said, shaking his head. To this day, if you go to that spot and dig, the coins will still be there.

From time to time, as the wind sailed in through the back of the jeep, lifting the canvas sides and causing them to flap like a trapped bird, Schectman would catch my eyes, and then he would venture to smile at me, a gentle and knowing smile, possibly even touched with sadness, and the dog, whose name I’d never asked, would let out a groan as if it had already lived a thousand years, and already knew the end of every story.

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