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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

I’d told my family that I’d gone camping in the desert for research, had been without phone reception, and had gotten sick. For now, it seemed to be enough that I was all right, and they didn’t press me any further, though my father did insist on sending Effie to check in on me. As a result, I found myself locked in a two-hour argument with the second intruder to sidestep the busted door, this one four feet eleven inches of totally impossible. In the end it became clear that he couldn’t forcibly remove me to his Jerusalem house to convalesce under Naama’s care if I didn’t want to go, and so Effie settled for driving me back to the Hilton. On the way, I asked him to tell me everything he could about Friedman, but the details of their friendship seemed to grow vaguer and vaguer the more he spoke, until at last he drifted off the subject entirely, leaving me to wonder how well he had ever really known Friedman.

I was given a room on the north side of the hotel this time, overlooking the pool below and the sea to the west, which I promptly went out to greet, swiveling my waist as was necessary. The general manager called up to welcome me back, and this time the fruit basket he sent actually materialized, full of the sweet Jaffa oranges called Shamouti, from the Arabic for “lamp.” Either he’d forgotten his former wariness or I’d only imagined it. When I caught sight of him the following morning on the way to breakfast, he greeted me with a smile, his golden lapel pin sparkling, and when my passport was returned by two IDF officers who left it at reception, he had it sent up in a Hilton envelope, along with a little box of chocolates.

I spent those final days in Israel lying on a chair by the pool, still weak. My mind felt hollowed out, and I didn’t have the concentration even to read, so I looked out at the surf, or watched the few bold enough to swim off-season, mostly the elderly doing their slow, repetitive laps across the pool. I asked the young attendant who managed the umbrellas and towels whether Itzhak Perlman ever came anymore. But he had never heard of Itzhak Perlman, God bless him. I kept my phone by my side, hoping Friedman might still call—“out in the blue,” as Effie had said that first time—but he never did. Though the fever was gone, my dreams remained vivid, and when I dozed off, Friedman often appeared in them, mixed with what was nearest. The dreams wore me out, and I would have preferred a dreamless sleep, barricaded from the workings of my mind, but by that stage I was still grateful for any kind of sleep at all. I stayed outside until late, after the attendant had stripped the chairs of their mattresses. Five o’clock in the Mediterranean, such beautiful light, it’s easy to understand how empires rose and fell in it, the Greek and Assyrian, Phoenician and Carthaginian, the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman.

It was while lying there, by the pool, that I looked up for a moment at the looming monstrosity of the Hilton, and, shielding my eyes from the sun, saw him there, on a terrace of the fifteenth or sixteenth floor. He was the only one out on the whole north side of the building, and for a moment I had the feeling that he was about to perform a trick. Twenty years ago, I’d come out of Lincoln Center and seen a small knot of people looking up at a building in which every window of the upper floors had been darkened but for one. And there, in that illuminated rectangle, a couple could be seen slowly dancing together. It might have been only serendipity that all the other windows were dark, and the couple may have been clueless that a small crowd had gathered below to watch. But there was something deliberate in their movements that filled us with the sense that they knew. I think it must have been that which drew my attention to the man standing on the terrace of his room on the fifteenth floor: a concentrated sense of intent and drama that animated his body as he leaned out over the railing. I was riveted and couldn’t look away. I felt I should call the pool attendant and alert him, but what would I say?

It happened very quickly. He shifted his weight forward onto his hands, and vaulted one leg over the metal rail. A woman getting out of the pool shouted, and in a matter of seconds the man had swung the other leg over, and was perched on the railing, legs dangling over the two-hundred-foot drop. He seemed, suddenly, to be filled with enormous potential, as if the whole rest of his life had slammed forward into him. And then he leaped with arms open, like a bird.

Thirty-six hours later, the taxi that drove me from JFK through the corrosive orange dusk falling on fast food restaurants and funeral parlors, on the Baptist churches and the Hasids in Crown Heights hurrying through old snow, turned onto my street at last, and the driver waited while I made my way up the front steps with my suitcase. The lights were on inside our house. Through the front window I could see my children playing on the floor, heads bent over a game. They didn’t see me. And for a while I didn’t see myself either, sitting in a chair in the corner, already there.

Author’s Note

The title of this book is taken from the following lines of Dante, translated by Longfellow, and quoted to me some years ago on a long drive to Jerusalem: Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

I hereby excuse all those named in this book, including Eliezer Friedman, from all liability. Should he ever wish to contact me, he knows where to find me.