Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

‘Like Putting Band Aid on a Weeping Wound’

It wasn’t all peaches for

Ms Geldof. She preferred

Sprouts. Or juice.

Once a day.

 

So she’s been returned from

Whence she came to the

Half-crazed mum who tried

To hurtle her to freedom

Through the window

Of a moving car.

Now they’re both in it.

Together.

Peaches.Bob.Geldof

‘The  wittiest,  prettiest,

Smartest – most bonkers

Of us all’, said her dad, Bob,

Who fed the world, but

Never checked on her.

Now Tom, a nice Jewish boy

Who married her in church,

Is left bereft, holding two

Sweetly misnamed babes,

Whose love can never

Staunch the angry flow

Of baffled grief her

Parting’s left behind.   

But never mind.

They’ll know it’s

Christmas in the

Geldof  House when

There’s no peaches

With the pud.

 

Life’s terrible cruel.

And so is Peter Pan.

 

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –10 April 2014)

 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

‘It Was a Gas, Gas, Gas!’

Hey!

Is that Jumpin’ Jack Flash?

I’ve run out of cash.

You’ve always been

So big down under.

 

And that’s where you were

When I needed you most.

Down under.

But it’s too late now.

Paint it black, Jack.

As tears go by, Jack.

Never much good at being

Mother’s little helper.

 

 You promised meRolling.Stones.Not.Fade.Away

I’d not fade away.

Not true tho’,

Was it, Jack?

 

Never mind, eh?

You can’t always Get what you want.

 

Hey, Jack.

Can you hear me?

I’ll go check if there’s sympathy

For the devil where

I now reside.

It was a gas while it lasted,

Jackie boy – Jack -

Help me,

God help me ….

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –18 March 2014)

Saturday, 15 March 2014

‘What Made Maggie Fly?’

There had been the gorgeous gown, splendid church service and a sumptuous banquet with dancing till dawn. No wonder Maggie saw stars.

“Thank you,  Mummy. Thank you, Daddy”, she said. “Colin and I have had a wonderful day”.

“Shush!”, said Dad, putting his finger to her lips. “We wanted to show how much we love you”.

“Yes”, said Mum. “We’ve only ever wished the best for you. Enjoy your new life. Now promise not to think about us – not even once – until you and Colin return”.

Caribbean BeachSo they flew to a Caribbean island – a magical land overflowing with gold-tipped sands, shimmering seas and waving palms.

On their first night – and three nights after – Colin put his finger on Maggie’s lips – just like Dad.

But not quite. More like his entire hand. No wonder Maggie saw  different stars: garish, purple-yellow bruising lights whose spikes dug deep inside her, ripping her apart in dreadful, secret   places until a soothing blanket  of thick black nothingness took the pain away.

-------------

Later, as Detective Inspector Edwin Daniel arrived at the St Mark’s Beachfront Plaza Hotel to investigate how and why a bride had plunged eight storeys and ninety feet to her death, Maggie’s parents opened an email.

Dear Mummy and Daddy” they read, “I’m coming home. But not the way you’d want. I’ve got to escape Colin. He’s changed. He keeps hurting me. He wasn’t like this when we were courting.

“It’s like he wore a mask that he ripped off the moment we closed the door of our hotel bedroom.

“He lunged at me, pressed his hand hard on my mouth and whispered, ‘You’re mine now, Maggie. I can do whatever I like with you’. Bride.Balcony.Suicide

“Mummy – Daddy - I can’t live like this, but please know that you’ve been the best parents a daughter could have.

“I’ll love you always.

Maggie xxx”

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After the shaming inquest, trial and demeaning publicity, Maggie’s Mum said, “It’s funny how life turns on a hair”.

“What?”, said Dad.

“The night before we got married my own mother shared a confidence. She said my Grandma Olive had told her it had been almost a miracle that she was born”.

“How’s that?”

“Olive had no trouble conceiving. It was because she had to – umm - take the initiative. My grandfather was  diffident about intimate relations and Mum was the result of their one full act of love”.

“But I recall your grandparents as utterly devoted. People to be emulated”, said Dad.

“Yes”, you’re right”, said Mum, struggling to remember Olive’s words, third-hand:

“Grandpa Roland  was somehow ‘asexual’. He loved and admired my grandmother more than he could say. So he put her on a pedestal and shrank from defloration. For him, the act was like a desecration. He wasn’t bothered about starting a family. Although he was a loving, first-class father, he wanted to keep Olive for himself”.

“So”, said Maggie’s Dad, now anxious to end the conversation. “Roland maintained Olive  in mint condition. Just how he liked her. I don’t know about you, but as it’s almost midnight, I think it’s time for bed”.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –15 March 2014)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

‘The Charge of the Hate Brigade’

‘All things move, not in progress, but in a ceaseless round’ (William Hazlitt)

Aunt Khava had sliced lemon, sliver-thin.

“This is how we served it in the old country” she said, lighting the samovar  for our tea. “I prefer life without oranges”. 

This was silly. Khava habitually pares  all her food super-fine. This is because she’s known only privation, not glut; so hates waste and loves oranges!

“Is this about the synagogue attacked at Simferopol, Aunty”? Ukraine.Simferopol.Reform.Synagogue.2014

“Yes! Also ancient and more recent outrages in places all over the  Ukraine and Crimea you’ve never heard of. You must live through events to truly understand them”.

Her disquiet was infectious and I began crumbling a biscuit into tiny shards as she spoke.

“Do you feel like telling me more”?

Khava smiled faintly. “Don’t fret about me. I learned to cope with hard facts long before I came here to Israel – many years before you were born. But I’ll never stop worrying about things there. Don’t forget, for me it’s where the world began.

“Still” she went on,  “no matter what other people think, I don’t compare Putin with Hitler or Stalin. He’s his own man”.

“What”?

“We may see historic parallels in his actions but we should look at curves – not lines.  What we see is simply  the wheel of history continuing to spin”.

I nodded in respectful silence. Here I’d found my aunt’s hidden depths. 

“As a child in Crimea, I caught adult whispers about our area becoming another Soviet homeland for Jews, like the one in Birobidzhan. But Stalin changed all that. Allowing the birth of a socialist State of Israel was good. It would strengthen Soviet influence in the Middle East and speed the end of British imperialism to boot. But the Jews at home? Feh! Better a dead Zhid than one disloyal to Mother Russia. So, he had our intelligentsia scythed,  one by one”.

Then I spoke.

“But why did so many of our cousins stay on after Communism collapsed, scorning the chance to flee to Israel and join us here in Kfar  Zuskin”?

“You’re still young”, said Khava. “Perhaps too youthful to appreciate the comfort  that familiarity affords. They made – invented – reasons -  not  excuses. But what could they justify? Most had long denied, if not simply forgotten their Jewish roots. They didn’t want to learn from history; admit that the Jewish story in the Ukraine is the universal one”. 

“Antisemitism”? 

“That, of course. But like everywhere else, the personal terrors are pooled with those of people on the outside. I’ve already said that it’s too easy to compare Putin and Hitler; to match everything that happens  in 21st century Ukraine to Nazi activity in Europe during the 1930s”.

“From what I’ve read” I said, interrupting her flow, “the entire region’s history is streaked with Jewish blood”.

“Ha! Most poetic! But while the naked facts bear no decoration I’ll indulge in one simile.  Let’s say that while Arik Sharon’s anti-terrorist security fence on our West Bank is built with concrete and razor-wire, Jews were welcomed to the Ukraine by Catherine the Great as a human wall against the neighbouring Turks. But when we became too successful and were accused by surrounding non-Jews of all sorts of trickery, Empress Catherine fenced us in, behind the notorious Pale of Settlement.

“Life occasionally became better before it got much worse. But nothing that the Nazis or Stalin did – or anything that Putin may imagine he can do now – will be different from what’s always happened”.

“Aunty, I’m not sure I understand”.

“All right. Let’s examine, by example, the pogroms during the Russian Revolution, when at least 100,000 Ukrainian Jews were massacred between 1918 and 1921 on an industrial scale. In one incident,  800 Jews were decapitated at a sitting – a fine example to set the Nazis! And as an aside, who do you think first invented the ‘big lie’? Neither  Goebbels nor Hitler. They pinched the idea from Lenin”.

Then Khava lowered her voice as if to share a secret.

“But all this is a prelude to a rarely told family story that I hope you’ll pass on after I’ve gone. Please wait until then.

“Even as the British soldiers involved in the  ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ were entering their ‘valley of death’ at Balaclava, Jewish boys in Crimea as young as ten had tumbled headlong into a graveyard of their own. SMITHSONIAN PHOTOGRAPHY

“Your grandmother had two great-uncles, Fishel and Zamel.  Fishel died before he would have been barmitzvah  but Zamel lived until his thirties, long enough to produce Leya and Shaya, so being your great-great-great uncle”.

“What happened”?

KANTONISTS“Czar Nicholas 1  decided on enforced Jewish army conscription, which involved young boys known as kantonists entering the elementary schools established for soldiers’ children and orphans. The kids were given basic military training and schooling until they were aged 18. This was followed by twenty-five years’ regular army service.

“But many Jewish boys like Fishel died from the extreme conditions and drastic punishments they received as a way of forcing them to baptise. The Czar’s insane, brutal idea was that the Jews would become Christian on demand once torn from their natural families. Fishel died aged 12 after endless beatings and bizarre torture”.

“And Zamel”?

“As the elder, he was tougher and somehow escaped after enduring the notorious steam torture. But the experience so weakened his constitution that he coughed himself to death aged 35”.

Finally,  I understood. It was the fruit of orange scented revolution my aunt so deplored.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 09 March 2014)

 

 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

‘”My Kingdom for a Horse!”’

Later – much later – Fiona realised she’d won.

“At first,” she told Phil when she felt like talking, “the pressure in my chest became so intense, I couldn’t think about anything else or even remember what we’d done during the afternoon”.

“You’re looking a bit better”, he said, coaxing her to sip some water from the carafe left by the nurse. “But I still don’t fully understand what happened.

“I hadn’t realised you weren’t in bed until I went to use the bathroom about 2.00 a.m., and saw the light from the office desk lamp glowing through the air vent over our door. I thought that you were meeting another crazy deadline and was about to tell you to get some sleep. But you were slumped in your chair, barely conscious and did not respond when I spoke”.

“I was beyond words. People are supposed to relive their past during their final moments. But  I was left desperately trying to recall where we’d been only hours before. I told myself if I could achieve just that, I’d keep myself alive”.

“Thank God you are here. But it’s only because I called the Emergency Services!”

“Anyway as you came in, although I couldn’t speak, suddenly I remembered that we’d gone out for a stroll and that as we’d turned the corner at the top of the street, our Bedouin neighbours slowed their battered white SUV, allowing us to pass”.

“I remember that, too, and how you quipped about what they may advertise on the spare wheel cover!”

“Ha! I’d better not repeat my joke here! Then a little further up the street, we saw some kids playing on the whimsical sculpture that portrays  an armed Jewish underground man with a horse  defending a stockade during the War of Independence”.Karmiel.Street.Sculptures.06

“Yeah, that surprised me”, said Phil. “I didn’t know it was a play area”. 

Karmiel.Street.Sculptures.05“I’m sure it’s not. I’ve never seen anyone playing on it before. I often wonder about that sculpture – especially where it’s placed almost outside the Bedouin encampment. Its pitch seems to be a deliberate provocation. But that aside, the horse is quite life-like and I began to fantasise about the kids trying to ride it away once they’d mounted it. Then we walked on, arms linked, heads bowed against the piercing wind. The cold made my eyes water and I couldn’t see much in the lowering, harsh sunlight. So we stopped trying to chat.

“Then as we turned again to walk though the public gardens near the observation point over the city  you released your arm from mine, walked briskly ahead, crossed the road, leaving me to run between two vehicles that nearly pincered me as they came at speed from polar opposite directions”.

“’Sometimes’, you said, as I raced to catch up with you, ‘I wonder if you’re any older than those children we’ve just seen. I’ve never quite grasped how you’ve lived until now – playing cat-and-mouse every time you cross a road’.

“Then as we walked the last few yards home, basking in the lingering embers of the dying sun, the wind dropped and for a moment it felt unseasonably warm. That’s all, really. I feel I’ve won a major personal battle”.

“With a little bit of help from your best mate”?

“And that horse – of course!”

Karmiel.Street.Sculptures.04

 

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 13 February 2014)

 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

‘Hag Sameach!’

Hag.01“I wonder,” mused Annie as she and Bernie climbed into bed, “if Moses ever did book signings”.

“You never know,” said Bernie, stretching for a cuddle.  “Perhaps he took P.R. advice and did them in quintuplicate. But I’d be careful whom you ask. You don’t want our rabbi accusing you of  frivolous, womanish mockery. Next - perish the thought - you’ll be asking for the great man’s website address. Nu? What’s brought this on?”

“It’s because we’ll be jointly and severally aged 130 during the next few months, making us ten years older  than him and I’m beginning to take my ‘sagacity-in-infirmity’ image most seriously”.

“So you think that a big, fat zero on your curriculum vitae date-of-birth line  will make you look smarter than you are?”

“No. It’s not that. It’s more about needing respect. You must remember from when you were a kid how everyone a few years past their twenties appeared superior, infinitely knowledgeable and that you hung on their every word – even when you hated them. They all seemed terrifyingly important. But none of the stardust has been sprinkled on me.

“Now children only admire their peers. Your elders are no longer your ‘betters’, just sad, uncool  ‘wrinklies'; people available to taunt. So here I am – gnarled of finger, creped of skin, dim of eye  - and deaf as a post. I look like an old hag”.Hag.02

“Not to mention ‘daft of demeanour’! You’re talking doggerelised drivel. I love you as you are, silly girl. Remember what your grandma always said: ‘I’m as old as I feel - and a  bit older than my teeth. It’s not my fault I can no longer find them in the dark!’”

“Grandma Dee-Dee had a great sense of humour – and took it with her to the grave”.

“No she didn’t! She passed it on to you. It’s a wonderful legacy – and don’t forget it.

“By the way: do you realise it’s past midnight and you’re now officially a year older?”

“Yeah. You’re right. I’ve never known 60 years pass so quickly! The big fun starts now. So give me a kiss, you ageing reprobate - and we’ll both be in for a great ‘hag sameach’!”

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Cafe.HagAuthor’s note:

’Hag (sometimes transliterated as Chag) Sameach’ is the Hebrew greeting for ‘happy festival’. When Israelis wish a person ‘happy birthday’, they say ‘yom holedet sameach’.

Natalie Wood

(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 23 January 2014)

Monday, 6 January 2014

‘Love Without Women’

From Kish M Benjamin 

Kfar Shoftim

Nr. Gibeah    

Israel

06 January 2014

Shaul -

As you won’t pick up the phone I’ve decided to write, not something I do often or find easy. So as you read this letter, picture the floor beneath my desk covered in balls of crumpled paper, much like Yonatan looked when he slumped on our terrace late last night, whimpering to be let in.

Trembling and incoherent, he barely managed to describe how you threw him out of King’s Villa after he told you that he and David Judah are in love and intend getting married next year. David.Jonathan

Yonni came to us seeking refuge, because David’s fled to Ziklag and he felt too fragile to spend even one night in their apartment alone. Yonni said that you yelled, “There are no gays in my family!” and announced that you’d disowned him even as you shoved him through your door.

How is this sound parenting? It looks like oafish bullying to me. By abandoning your eldest son you’ve not only robbed him of his moral birthright and self-esteem but have broken the chord that has bound a Jewish family for hundreds of years. It feels like the very heart of the Benjamins has been pierced and your mother and I are forced to watch and wait while its pulse slows, then finally fades away.

Shame.LetterThe disgust and shame you displayed on learning that your son is gay is nothing compared to the outrage I feel on discovering that mine is narrow-minded and dogmatic. But your recent behaviour has been increasingly bizarre and this terrible episode is but a symptom, not the cause. Believe me, I’m not the only one to think that you are gravely ill and in desperate need of help.

Let’s examine the facts: First, Yonatan and David can no more alter their sexuality than they chose to be born left-handed and auburn-haired. We’re all aware they’ve been inseparable since childhood and I relished watching their mutual affection flower as they grew ever taller and more vital. Perhaps I guessed what was happening ahead of them. Why else, I had to acknowledge, would they prefer their own company to that of the pretty girls who surround them, even now?

Yonni told me they enjoy being with women and both have slept with them. But, he said, it’s never been for love. So our Yonni and his David have somehow entered the realm of being nefesh b’nefesh - soul in soul – an ideal state I would not have thought possible on earth.

During the harrowing hours since he arrived here, Yonni’s tried to explain that their intense physical relationship is almost incidental and that by some circuitous route that my limited, humdrum experience renders baffling, their involvement has become somehow selfless, artless - a thing apart - ‘more wonderful than the love of women’. My own belief is that one must encounter such emotions first-hand even to begin to appreciate them.

But Shaul, while I struggle to plumb the well of Yonni’s grief, you airily dismiss his love for David as corrupt. This leaves me to ask what you are hiding from. What do you seek?

As your father, I don’t believe you begrudge David his outstanding military record. You, too, were a much decorated combatant in ‘73. Nor do I think you’re vexed by his growing reputation as a musician and poet, as you often find solace in his songs. No. What you envy, and in spades, is that David has lured Yonni away from you, and to a secret garden for whose door you’ll never find the key.

This may explain what happened at Caesarea where, Cousin Avner has told me, you were invited to help coach the local team for the monthly Royal and Ancient Archery Tournament at Gilboa. You had refused to go. So it was fortunate that only Avner had noticed your tailing the party on the road up there and only he knew you were perched in the fortress ruins, glowering at them like a malevolent hawk through an arrow loop in the ramparts, hour on hour. What was your game, Shaul - stalking – spying on - your adult son?

Perhaps your terrible mood pervaded the atmosphere below. It seems the team was so badly off-form that David and Yonni, much preoccupied with their own concerns, halted their round and threw their gear down in disgust. They then embraced and kissed before David turned and stumbled away without a backward glance. Avner said, “I don’t know how David ever made his way back to his car. I’ve never seen a man cry as passionately as he did that afternoon. It was as if Yonni and he would never meet again. Their pain was so evident that my own eyes watered watching them”.

Later, as the other squad members also packed to leave, you joined the crowd but insisted that Avner travel towards Gilboa with you instead of returning home.

It was too late to find a hotel when you reached Mount Tabor so he suggested visiting his mother, Zephaniah at Ein Dor. She was very hospitable but you abused her kindness, growing unpleasant about her alleged powers as a psychic medium. Then laughing, you pestered her to conduct a séance so you could contact your old mentor, Shmuel Dayan.

Zephie fears no-one but as you grew more agitated she worried that you may become violent, so pretended to enter a trance. Avner heard her intone “abra k’dvarcha - I have created as You have spoken” and saw you mutter into empty space.

God knows – indeed, only the Almighty could confirm - what really happened next. You claimed that Shmuel did appear, but grumbled that you’d disturbed his eternal rest and instructed you not to trouble him again.

This must be a warning from above, Shaul. Pull back from the brink. Do not fall on your own sword. Instead, look inward and look hard. See yourself in Yonatan and him in you. This battle of wills – with yourself – is the one you cannot win.

So I close now, but more in dread than love.

Your despairing father

Kish Matrite-Benjamin

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Author’s Note

Love without Women, a story in letter form, was  prompted by a true contemporary tale about a man who wrote to his daughter, rebuking her for disowning her son - his grandson – because he was gay. This fantasy parallels the biblical accounts of the final days of King Saul and his relationship with Jonathan and David. It will  be a chapter in a longer work. – N.I.W.

Mark.UlyseasLove Without Women first appeared in the January 2014 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=5751) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

Natalie Wood

(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 07 January 2014)