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Aug/Sep 1998 Fiction

Til the End of Time

by Oren Shafir


And Abraham was one-hundred years-old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.

And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh [so that] all that hear will laugh with me.

        —(Genesis, 21:5-6)

We were obviously married. You know, the kind of couple that walks in pace, reads each otherís thoughts and you canít tell who the kids look like, if there are any kids, because we even kind of look alike. It was our anniversary, and we weíre going to celebrate at Sizzlers downtown. We always celebrated out anniversary at the same Sizzlers, and that day they happened to have a special on all you can eat Alaskan snow crab with apple pie for dessert.

As we stepped out of the car, five drunk young yuppies stumbled down the sidewalk toward us. They were laughing, whooping aggressively and stinking of booze Ė four of them wearing fat ugly ties. The last guy was wearing a black Speedo swim cap pulled tight over his head, a tight Speedo bathing suit pulled over gray sweat pants, flippers on his feet and a black cape with a sign on it that said, "Help me, Iím getting married."

As they approached, they quieted down but intermittent snorts of repressed laughter could be heard. "Excuse me, sir," Speedo Boy said holding out a notebook and pen to me as I walked by, "This is my bachelor party, and I need some help. Do you have any advice for a soon-to-be married man?"

I glanced at Tali. "Yeah, reconsider," I said.

That elicited a series of guffaws and snorts from his buddies.

"How Ďbout you maíam?" he said respectfully to Tali, but I saw him sneak a glance at her ass in those tight black pants.

"Yeah, run for you life," she said in such a straight and hard tone that all five yuppies shut up for a minute looking sober and shocked.

Then Tali and I burst into laughter leaving them standing there. After all weíd been through together, we could still share a laugh.

 

Weíd met at a party. Some Israeli friend of mine from school had invited me. The house was packed with Israelis, and I didnít really know anyone else. A lot of the conversation was in Hebrew, and I didnít remember much more than "Shalom" from the Hebrew school of my childhood. I migrated away from the noisy living room dance floor into the kitchen to get a beer. There were a group of people standing around there, and I tried talking to a lone redhead.

"Shalom," I said. "Thatís about all the Hebrew I know," I smiled but only got an obligatory tight-lipped smile back. "Do you want to dance?" I asked.

"No."

Now, I was getting really uneasy and looking for a door to escape through, but the kitchen was getting more and more crowded. "Whatís your name?" I tried.

"Tamara."

"Thatís a pretty name," I said, and I meant it. Iíd never heard the name before.

But, she looked at me as if Iíd said, "Hi, do you come here often?" Or "Iím a Taurus. Whatís your sign?" or something. Then, she walked right out without a word. Behind where sheíd been stood a beautiful girl making her old blue jeans and T-shirt look like Italian designer wear. She was a dark princess, who had appeared from nowhere. I knew she must have overheard the previous conversation, and I thought she was looking at me like the other girl, with disinterest or even revulsion, as if Iíd crawled out of Saturday Night Fever to plague and prey on the women of the 90ís.

But she said, "Fuck her."

"Excuse me?"

"Fuck her, sheís a bitch."

"You know her?"

"Not really, but she was very rude to you."

"Oh, yeah, I guess she was. Iím Bob."

"My nameís Tali. Do you think itís a beautiful name?"

"No, not especially. Are you making fun of me?"

"No, Iím just teasing. She really was a bitch. Do you want to dance?"

Later that night, we told each other our life stories. Her parents were Holocaust survivors and had passed away recently having said goodbye to Taliís baby brother who had been killed in the Lebanon war. Her mother had called him Yitzchak because, like the biblical Sarah, she had given birth to him late in life. (Although, unlike Sarah, Taliís mother had been well under 100 years of age Ė only in her late forties.) Tali explained that Yitzchak, meant "he who will laugh," because it was such a wonderful surprise to conceive late in life. After she told me all this, she said, "Donít look at me like that."

"Like what?" I asked.

"My mother never allowed anyone to pity her, and Iíll be damned if anyone is going to pity me." She was the strongest person Iíd ever met.

 

We were married downtown at the L. A. County courthouse, the one they show whenever anyone goes to court on TV. Neither of us remember anything about the ceremony. We just remember coming out feeling petrified and feeling as if we were surrounded by a big invisible bubble.

We walked down Hill street quick-paced as if we had somewhere to go. Finally Tali said, "Oh shit. What did we do?"

"We got married."

"Why?"

"So, you could stay in the country."

"Thatís stupid. Thatís a stupid reason to get married. Letís go get it annulled."

"No."

"What?"

"No, I said."

"Donít tell me no. I want a divorce."

"Well, Iím not giving you one goddamn it."

"Why not?"

"Because," I took a long pause trying to think of a good reason and somehow came up with the following: "our destinies are intertwined until the end of time."

"What?" she said, and started laughing.

"What the hell are you laughing at?" I said indignified. "Iím absolutely serious."

This made her laugh even harder. She held her guts and fell on the sidewalk. People were staring. She was desperately trying to gasp for air to repeat my words. "Our des- Our des"

Finally, I started laughing too.

Then we couldnít find the car. Every parking lot in downtown L.A. looks exactly the same. We ate at Sizzlers. Then as twilight came, we continued walking around for two hours looking for our car, saying Ďthis really sucks, but itís okay because our destinies are intertwined.í It was a beautiful wedding day. And after that, it was a cute little thing we said to each other. Whenever something went wrong for one of us after that, weíd say Ďdonít worry sweetheart, Iím here for you, our destinies are intertwined.í And after that, when things really went wrong, it was unspoken but heard.

 

We went to a marriage counselor once. Itís funny now, I mean a marriage counselor Ė no marriage was ever stronger. We only went to get my family off our backs. ĎYou canít hold it in,í they kept saying and looking at us with a mixture of pity and pain. So we went. The counselor was a little wiry guy hiding behind a smart silver beard and a big mahogany desk. He had a nice office overlooking the Hollywood Hills with noisy leather furniture and huge reproductions of a green Magritte apple and yellow Van Gogh sunflowers.

"Do you have any hobbies?" he asked.

"Well, I like to read and play chess, and I follow sports and fish. That is I go fishing; I donít follow fish," I laughed nervously. "And Iím a big movie buff. And I do crosswords. And I like jazz. And I play a little guitar." I was listing Ďem off as if they were worth five points each, and I was on Jeopardy.

"Good, what about you?" he asked Tali.

"I sleep."

"Oh, uh huh. Thatís all. Just sleep. You mean like naps?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Yeah, she sleeps a lot," I confirmed.

"Well, would you like to have some hobbies?"

"No," she said.

"What about gardening?"

No reaction.

"Well, what about volunteer work? Have you ever considered volunteer work?"

"No,"

"Does it appeal to you?"

"No."

"Well, what about Bobís hobbies? Would you like to share any of Bobís hobbies?"

"Sure, we could go fishing or to a boxing match, sometime, eh Bob?" Tali said dryly, glancing at me with a little twinkle in her eye.

"Good, good," said the shrink, but then as he looked more carefully at Taliís elegant dress, perfectly manicured nails and fine glamorous black mane of hair, he seemed to catch on that she wasnít exactly the fishing and boxing kind of gal.

"What about politics?" he tried.

One glance at Tali, and he knew he was pushing it. He wasnít stupid. It didnít take him long to realize that she wasnít the type of person to trifle with.

"Well, what is it exactly that you want or expect from this therapy?"

There was a long pause. "Well, to be honest," I said, "we really kind of wanted to reassure my brother and my folks, so they wouldnít worry about us."

"You have enough feelings of guilt without feeling guilty about them?"

"Yeah," I said surprised.

"Well it seems to me that what you need is time to grieve. Do you think you could grieve?" he asked looking directly at Tali.

"No."

"Why not?"

"If I grieve now, whoíll take care of Bob?"

"Canít Bob take care of himself?"

Silence.

"Are you afraid Bobís going to break down?"

"Yeah."

"Whatíll happen if he does?"

"Heíll lose his job. Weíll lose the house. He might have to go into a mental institution Ė look, this is about survival."

"But, youíve lost your job."

"How did you know that?" Tali said sharply.

"Uh, well, your brother-in-law briefed me on your situation," he explained with some embarrassment, then recovering, he added, "But what about you, Tali? Donít you need to grieve?"

"Iíll grieve when Bobís done."

"Tell me, why do you think itís your responsibility to take care of Bob?"

"Because," she started and paused dramatically, "our destinies are intertwined."

That seemed to catch him off guard. He sat back in his noisy leather chair and intertwined his fingers bringing them up to eye level as he thought about it.

"Thatís beautiful," he said.

Tali and I looked at each other. We tried to hold it back, but we could not. The laughter burst simultaneously through our noses. The shrink tried to laugh with us, but it didnít work. Then, he held up his hand gesturing for us to stop laughing, but we couldnít. Then his cheeks turned red, and he said, "Please try to gain control." This, of course, made us laugh even harder. Finally, he said, "Iím going to have to ask you to leave," which made us absolutely roar with laughter. Weíd been kicked out of therapy.

We walked into the waiting room with tears in our eyes smiling and holding each other for support. The couples and other people in need of help looked at us astonished and with new hope in the doctorís powers of healing.

 

And thatís the way it went for some time. Iíd go to work and work my ass off. Tali would stay home and sleep most of the day. But when I got home, there was always a nice dinner ready. After dinner, Iíd take a shower. Then Iíd sit in my bathrobe in the half-lit living room, and sheíd massage my shoulders as we listened to Wynton Marsalis Ė Iíd listen anyway. Once a week, sheíd take care of me in bed. We never had intercourse because we both weíre too scared of another hole in the condom. I had nothing to give her, and she wanted nothing.

And I began to heal. My life slowly began to stretch beyond my work and Tali. I started playing tennis again and going to Laker games and the fights Ė not with my old friends, but with some new guys at work. Tali kept sleeping all day. She continued making dinner. But the portions grew. She started eating double. In the morning, Iíd find candy wrappers laying around. The only time sheíd ever been a pound overweight in her life was during and shortly after the pregnancy, and now she was wearing her maternity clothes again. Before long, she actually looked like she was once again pregnant with twins. And she was tough as nails; she wouldnít talk to me about it. Then one day, I came home, and she was sleeping on the couch in the blood-stained hospital gown. She hadnít thought about dinner.

When she awoke an hour later, I was sitting staring at her.

"What?" she asked.

"I canít take it anymore."

"Whatís the matter? Are you upset because you didnít get your dinner."

"No, Iím upset because youíre wearing that. Iím upset because I miss having a wife."

"To hell with you. I was there for you when you needed me. Now, itís my turn to heal.

"You call this healing.

"Maybe, I donít know."

"But, why canít I help you?"

"You can help me just by waiting for me. Okay?"

"Hey, Iíll wait Ďtil the end of time," I said, and I meant it. She knew that.

Tali stayed fat for exactly nine months, then she lost every pound in about a week. After that, the gardening started. She grew hyacinths, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries. She grew potatoes and carrots and corn. She grew lilies and roses and carnations. She planted apple trees and pear trees, plum trees and a cherry tree. She grew hanging vines and ivy and green green grass where there once was barren dirt. I called it Taliís Garden of Eden. But before too long, it was so over-abundantly rich and blooming and bursting with fragrance and color that it was more like the Las Vegas of gardens.

And then she let everything die.

When I realized what was happening, it scared the shit out of me. One day, when I came home, she wasnít in her normal place hoeing and weeding, mowing and sewing and moving. The green began rapidly to turn to brown and the perfumed scents turned to rot. But when I asked her what was going on, she said she didnít have time for a garden because she was going back to school.

That night, we made love.

"I want you inside me," she said.

I didnít have to ask her if she was sure. I never did. But I myself wasnít so sure. Still, I reached for a condom, but then Tali grabbed my wrist and said, "No," and all of a sudden, it seemed right. We made love again in the morning and the next night and morning, night and morning. We were ready to get pregnant Ė as ready as weíd ever be. Tali was back in school. We were going somewhere. We felt good.

The only little catch was that she didnít get pregnant. After some time, we went to the doctor and found that seemingly nothing was wrong. We were probably just nervous. So, we decided not to think about it for a while and just see if anything would happen on its own. Half a year passed and nothing happened. We talked about adoption, but we werenít ready for that step yet.

Then, Tali wanted a puppy. Weíd used to laugh at people who used their pets as surrogate children, but if there ever was a pet that was one, it was our Wire-Haired Dachshund, Captain Marvel. We called him Marv, for short. He followed Tali everywhere. At night, heíd follow Tali into the bedroom when she got off the couch to get her nightgown, then heíd follow her to the bathroom and wait outside as she brushed her teeth. Then, heíd curl up between us under the covers in our bed. Then, if she forgot the alarm clock or something, heíd crawl out of bed with her again to go and get it. Or, even if she got up to pee in the middle of the night, heíd follow her. He went to school with her. She cooked him rice and lamb and carrots. Heíd sit on her lap and cuddle like a baby. I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous. Marv really was a great dog, though. For all that spoiling, he did what we said most of the time, and he was just too cute.

One day, I let him out to greet Tali as she pulled into the garage. He jumped up on her leg as best he could for such a long skinny pup, then he ran toward the neighborsí fence, and then, as Tali closed the garage, he was gone. Disappeared. I thought heíd run into the neighbors. It was starting to get dark. "Where is he?" Tali said agitatedly. We heard the ice-cream manís little melody on the street and ran out front with visions of a bloody Marv run over by the ice-cream truck.

"Bob, heís gone. Heís gone," Tali cried. Iíd never seen her break down so quickly over nothing, and I mean nothing because we didnít know what really had happened at that point. "Weíll find him," I said.

"No, heís gone," she cried and trembled.

"Tali, shut up."

"No," she screamed.

"Shut up for a second. I think I hear him."

He was in the garage.

Tali had shown me a level of vulnerability, Iíd never seen before. I think she even surprised herself. After that, good olí Marv got regular dog food like any other mutt. Of course, she was still crazy about him, but she had a little more balance. Maybe, thatís what kept her from going completely around the bend a month later when he really did get hit by a car. Somehow, he got loose from the line we tied him up with in the backyard, and he got run down by some speeding teenage driver. I wasnít home. I had to imagine Tali carrying his bloody body, broken spine, to the car, putting him on plastic sheets in the trunk, closing the trunk, delivering him to the animal shelter to dispose of the body.

"I knew he was going to die," she said. "I knew it the day he got locked in the garage."

"Of course, he was going to die," I said. "Everyone does."

"But not like that."

I tried to hold her, but she pulled away.

 

Tali went back to sleeping. She dropped out of school. This time, she didnít do anything. She just slept. I noticed she was starting to put on some weight again. I didnít know what to do. I believed sheíd pull herself out of it again. I had to believe it. I started sleeping a lot myself. Working a lot and sleeping a lot. Iíd work overtime, come home, scarf something down and go directly to sleep at seven or eight in the evening.

One day, I was on my way to sleep, and Tali said, "Donít go to sleep. Weíre going out."

"Whatís the occasion?"

"Well, since you ask, itís our anniversary."

"Oh shit. I didnít get you anything."

"Thatís okay. I didnít get you anything either. But I want to go out, okay?"

"Sizzlers?"

She nodded. That day, there happened to be a special on steak and all you can eat, Alaskan snow crab with apple pie for dessert. Sizzlers was packed that day, and the one downtown had the tables close together, so we were sitting practically side by side with the next table where a young couple sat discussing wedding plans. Their fingers intertwined, and they were kissing between every other bite of food.

"Iím sorry, Iíve been such a wreck lately," Tali said.

"Itís understandable."

"No. I have to change. Iím too uptight. I have to learn to express my feelings better, to let you take care of me more. I have to learn that life isnít perfect, but things have a way of working out, and we just have to roll with it."

"Tali, whatís gotten into you?"

"Well, actually, thatís what I wanted to tell you."

"What?"

"Iím pregnant."

"What!?"

"I said, Iím pregnant," she repeated louder. The couple at the next table looked over waiting to see my reaction.

"I heard you," I said glancing at the young couple.

"Arenít you happy?" Tali said. Of course, she could read my face like See Dick and Jane, and she knew that I was so ecstatic, I didnít know whether to scream, cry or take off all my clothes and run around Sizzlers naked. I could feel the eyes of the couple next to us riveted on me.

"Surely," I said looking straight at Tali, "youíre not suggesting that Iím the father." The girl at the next table let out a little gasp.

"But Bob," Tali said right back at me, "you know thereís no one else."

The couple at the neighboring table was now watching unabashedly as if we were there for their personal entertainment, which in a sense, we were. The people across from them saw their reaction to our conversation and started listening in too. Now, we had six or seven eavesdroppers.

"Look," I said raising my voice and getting really carried away, "First of all, I have no way of knowing if Iím the father. Secondly, itís your responsibility to protect yourself. And, finally I will never leave my wife."

"You mean, youíre married?" Tali said.

That caught me by surprise, and I started laughing. The eavesdroppers looked disgusted. Tali gave up and started laughing too. Now the eavesdroppers were really confused. The young bride-to-be at the next table giggled a high-pitched hysterical and infectious kind of giggle that started a whole wave of laughter in our little corner of the restaurant.

"Donít worry, baby," I said in between laughs. "Iím sorry. Iíve been foolish. Iíll take care of you. Iíll stick with you. Iíll stick with you until the end of time."

The young girl at the next table sighed as Tali and I kissed each other romantically over a plate full of empty crabís legs.

 

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