Congratulations to the 2022 winner of the Paper Brigade Award for New Israeli Fiction in Honor of Jane Weitzman: Miron C. Izakson, for Furthermore, translated by Joseph Faust. This selection from the winning title can be found in the 2023 issue of Paper Brigade.
The Paper Brigade Award for New Israeli Fiction in Honor of Jane Weitzman seeks to honor an outstanding short work or excerpt of Israeli fiction published in Hebrew. The goals of this prize are to introduce American readers to new Israeli writers; to help Israeli writers gain access to the American market; and to interest American publishers in publishing new Israeli fiction.
Miron C. Izakson is an award-winning author of poetry and prose, and a professor of Hebrew literature at Bar-Ilan University. His novel Furthermore is an unusual coming-of-age story, whose plot is set into motion when the protagonist — Dudi, a bright but innocent boy — encounters Eitan, an inscrutable crane operator.
From the start, the novel challenges readers’ assumptions. A stranger offering a child candy sets off our alarm bells, yet Dudi instinctively feels that Eitan is trustworthy; perhaps that instinct is correct. As Dudi, his parents, and his younger sister become tangled in Eitan’s schemes with equal parts fascination and dread, the cranes that feature heavily in the plot become metaphors for family life: they enable building and creation but also a complex power dynamic.
When they brought in the new crane I knew the city would change, but of course I had no idea just how much. For the last couple of years, they’ve been building fewer buildings here. “They used to demolish the old buildings and build new ones, usually towers,” Dad told me. “But now they have decided to do less demolition and more renovation and renewal.”
Mom asked if I could think of a way to explain the change, and I asked both of them to give me a few real-life examples and maybe then I could give them a serious answer.
“I’m glad we’re actually having a real family conversation,” said Mom.
I think Dad had intended for this talk to go in a different direction, but to my relief, he didn’t chastise Mom or me.
You can divide a city into streets; that’s obvious. But you can also divide it into completely different things. Ever since I was very little, I’ve been an expert at confusing myself. Sometimes I’m attentive to every detail of my surroundings and divide and add and multiply and subtract each thing I see. And sometimes I’m a dummy who even forgets which way home or school is. What always draws me in are large machines that remind me of toys. I know people usually think of it the other way around, since toys are designed to resemble real trains, cars, and planes. But I feel like there are some vehicles and machines that used to be toys and they just made them bigger. The most beautiful vehicles and the most impressive machines are the ones that remind me of toys. Otherwise, it’s hard for me to understand why all sorts of people enjoy driving cars that have no roof or are red. Even when Dad took me to the Port of Haifa, I was actually most impressed by those ships that reminded me of the collection of miniature boats I used to have floating in a tub out in the yard.
The main thing about a port is the cranes-to-warehouses ratio. All kinds of merchandise is exchanged between the warehouses on the docks and the ships’ cargo holds, and the busiest machine in the port is the crane. When I look down on the port from the top of Mount Carmel, I feel like the entire city could be moved onto the ships with these cranes, and even the sea below wouldn’t object. Well, I know I’m exaggerating a little, but almost nothing is more beautiful than the port when you look at it from far away and above. That way you can enjoy the movement of the ships and cranes and waves and trucks, and not hear the noises or smell the oil or stress out over delays. Just stare in wonder at the grand motion, from which many smaller motions emerge. Mom says I’m sensitive to what happens at the Port of Haifa because I was born in this city and we left it when I was six months old. In her opinion, unfinished business from our childhood comes back to us in all sorts of strange ways.
We’ve been living in Petah Tikva for a long time. Dad told me that there used to be a lot of ladders in the orchards here and then a lot of small cranes for building houses. I don’t know why my parents chose to raise themselves and me in Petah Tikva, but I’m not at all upset with them because of it. To me, watching the cranes in the city is the most interesting thing there is, except for some books, but when I’m on the lookout I feel a lot more independent than when I’m reading.
The fact that a crane puts one floor on top of another confuses and intrigues me. I’ve realized that in the past, it took a long time to make a building taller, and nowadays the floors stack up really quickly. The cranes in the city are less impressive than the ones I saw at the port of Haifa, but they’re very fast and remind me of my toy cranes even more.
And then I meet the crane operator who works in construction.
Almost every day, on my way home from school, I began standing in front of the new building on the street parallel to ours, Rishon LeZion Street. I couldn’t stop staring at the construction being done. One time one of the workers even approached me and asked me to back up because the truck drivers going in and out had complained that I was “reducing their free maneuvering area.” Those were his words, which sounded a little complicated and maybe a little scary to me, but I realized there was no point in arguing. I tried to amuse myself with the thought that this crane could take a floor from one of the neighboring buildings and move it to the new building. That would save a lot of work, but I realized it would also cause a lot of destruction.
And then, a couple of weeks later, when the crane isn’t in operation, I hear someone shout from above, “Kid, you want something really good?”
I look around, because I don’t know where that voice came from or who it was directed at. Suddenly I see a hand waving from the crane operator’s cabin window, and the voice yells: “This is me, and this is you. There’s no other conversation going on here. I can see that you’re interested in my crane and I’d love to show it to you. The candy was just to get your attention.”
I’m excited by him addressing me and nod firmly. Slowly, the crane tilts in my direction, and a thin, long chain descends from it. At the end of the chain is a bag tied up with a bow.
The chain stops about three feet above me and of course I can’t get to it.
“So do you really want it?” he calls down. “If not, then I’m taking the candy back.”
Now I have to respond. “I do, I do. Thank you.”
I’m startled by my own answer. The chain is lowered further and stops in front of my face. I take the bag off, but the chain stays where it is, maybe to watch over me. I open the bag and find a chocolate bar and a bag of toffees. It’s a little awkward and a little funny. At once, all of the thoughts in my mind become insistent: excitement about meeting someone new who brings me joy, satisfaction with an unexpected adventure, and Mom and Dad’s anxieties about strange people talking to me.
“Why are you hesitating?” He continues speaking into his microphone and reminds me of an aging singer at a concert who enjoys talking but is afraid of singing. “There’s no danger here, just an earnest invitation to a boy who is interested in my crane.”
The chain finally moves away from me, and I relax slightly. Now the question is whether to run off or be brave and stay. Suddenly the crane turns away and continues its work, as if nothing happened. Later, I should think about how one particular crane builds a house and also hands out candy. It confuses me and makes me think of a house that is being constructed not from ordinary materials, but from surprises packed in bags of different sizes.
“You can come up here,” his voice rings out again. Maybe the most interesting voices are the ones that come from hiding places. I get closer to the crane, but don’t know how to reach the operator. And then I see him come out of the cabin and quickly climb down his ladder. He is older than I thought, and his face is unshaven but whatever’s going on there still doesn’t qualify as an actual beard. “What do you say? Should I help you climb into the command cabin? It’s simple.”
“But I’m not really one of those climbing kids. Running, I can do pretty well, but when it comes to flexibility I kind of get stuck.” He reaches out to me. We approach the crane together, and he helps me climb. “Only look up, where we need to go, and not down — not where we’re getting away from.”
The way he speaks is a bit funny, even strange. But maybe crane operators have their own language. After all, they spend their entire lives going up and down, lowering cargo and lifting it up. There’s almost nothing in their world that stays at the same height. It’s possible that for a boy in the ninth grade, my behavior is childish. So is being interested in candy, and so quickly giving into the temptation to join him.
He lets me go into the small cabin before him, and I immediately see that it’s more comfortable in here than I would’ve thought.
“When I started working, I thought the crane operator’s cabin was a minor thing. Like the seat of a car, which you can’t operate unless you’re sitting inside it. But for the last few years, I’ve been in love with my cabin. I bring music and books that I like up here. Sometimes I do a bit of reading and sometimes a bit of listening. It’s fun to be surrounded by things that matter to me.”
“Am I the first kid you’ve invited in here?” I ask, and now he laughs, the sound of laughter coming from a place that I didn’t know existed in people until now. “It’s great to see that you care about being first. So, yes. You are truly the first one to join me as a guest. I think it was only back when I was learning the ropes that I used to sit in the cabin with other people. Ever since, I’ve been here on my own in the crane. Sometimes a small crane, sometimes an enormous one. Sometimes I put together buildings and sometimes I do other things that I might tell you about.”
Now I decide to keep quiet. Mom told me that once in a while you have to keep quiet in order to pick up on what’s going on around you. I’m thrilled to be here but also scared. Maybe it’s embarrassing to be scared, but that’s how I’m feeling.
“My name is Eitan,” he says with a quiet smile. “I have a son and daughter who are all grown up, and I had a wife, too. I started working as a crane operator over thirty years ago. I worked in Africa for a few years, but most of the time it was here in Israel. There’s almost nothing high up that I haven’t reached.”
I’m struck again by the unique way he speaks. “My name is Dudi,” I tell him. “You mean David,” he corrects me.
“I say my name is Dudi; it’s true that the name is David.”
And again he laughs, the laugh rolling out in those special waves of his. “I have to work now, Dudi, but you can sit next to me and take it all in. Maybe, thanks to you, I’ll be able to feel as enthusiastic as if I was up here for the first time myself.”
I’m guessing his cabin looks a little like a pilot’s, although I’ve only ever seen a cockpit in movies, and that one time when I flew to London with Mom and Dad and peeked inside for a moment when the cockpit door opened. I wonder if the handles in here could even fly airplanes if you just attached them in the right places. Now we turn around and that movement feels strange to me because of the location and the height. Eitan is concentrating on his work, checking the various dials and screens in front of him. “The thing that scares me the most,” he suddenly says in a very low voice, “is the idea of hurting people who work with me, or even a passerby down there. Imagine, Dudi, the crane accidentally hitting a person’s head because I didn’t evaluate the differences in height and distance correctly.” Eitan opens a small drawer and takes out a bottle of water and a jar full of cookies. “Have some,” he says. “It’ll be a special experience, eating and drinking in a crane operator’s cabin.”
I want to ask him if he feels any affinity for his crane, like how a pilot or driver might feel about the machine they operate. Suddenly it crosses my mind that it’s harder to feel affinity for a crane since it’s put together from varying parts, so it doesn’t have a permanent shape.
“You have to enjoy your experience in my cabin,” he says to me in his unusual, low voice. “If you keep thinking about other things, you won’t be able to focus on what you’re seeing here.”
I’m guessing his cabin looks a little like a pilot’s, although I’ve only ever seen a cockpit in movies, and that one time when I flew to London with Mom and Dad and peeked inside for a moment when the cockpit door opened. I wonder if the handles in here could even fly airplanes if you just attached them in the right places.
On my way home, I consider what I should tell my parents. Since Dad is supposed to come home late, I have enough time to think, because I definitely won’t only tell Mom. On the one hand, it’s childish to share every experience I have with my parents. On the other hand, I don’t want to let them down and hide what I’m doing. I have to admit to myself that I need their help.
“You’re home late,” Mom says to me, and asks what’s new at school. “You don’t know how incredibly fun it is for me to be home with you. Not only do you make me happy, but also I have a good excuse to stop working and be with you.”
Mom is a computer programmer and all sorts of companies give her projects to do at home. She must be excellent at her work because they give her new assignments almost every day. She asks everyone who contacts her to tell her when they need the project done, and from that moment on she refuses to be pressured. Her responsibility and self-discipline are very strong and sometimes scare me, and I think they even scare Dad a bit, too. Dad lives a more “diverse” life, as he calls it. He has a small vineyard in Binyamina that has been in the family for three generations now, and he’s a talented painter. I think he curates exhibitions for others, too, but he barely talks about that, maybe because he’s disappointed that not many people show interest in his own work.
“What do you think about cranes?” I ask Mom without having planned to.
“If you mean their mechanisms or their shape, then I don’t know much about that. I do like how they work so constantly and quietly.”
“Today I sat for about an hour in a crane operator’s cabin. His name is Eitan and he works on Rishon LeZion Street on the construction of a residential building.” That’s it, I’ve said a lot of words, and now I’m supposed to relax.
For some reason, Mom doesn’t rush to respond. When it seems like she’s about to have an angry outburst, she almost always has a kind of delayed action mechanism.
“Come on, Dudi. Let’s have this tuna salad I made and you can tell me about your adventure. I have to say it’s still unclear to me whether you’re just pranking me or are actually serious.”
I tell Mom almost all the details during the meal. “That is exciting and interesting,” she says, “but also really concerning. Since when do you climb things with strange people and sit in their cabins? Someone’s gone a little crazy here, Dudi. I’m going to ask you not to have any more contact with this crane operator, not until Dad and I understand all of this more.”
At night I dream that my father is a crane operator. I sit on his lap (it’s been years since I’ve done that), and he allows me to control the crane. Suddenly I see Mom, who looks especially small, calling out to us from inside the residential building we’re constructing. “I’m here, silly geese, what’s up with you continuing to work?” Dad jumps down and lands beside her, and then she disappears.
In the morning the three of us sit in the kitchen. Dad has a huge coffee mug, and Mom and I are drinking tea out of glass cups.
“Who wants to see the painting I finished last night?” Dad asks, and his face reddens like a baby’s. Mom and I say “Me” in a chorus and leap from the table before he does.
“Well, we can wait until the end of the meal,” he says, but he quickly rises from his seat to lead us to his work area. He unrolls a large sheet of paper before us, revealing the painting. I make out a forest with particularly high trees. In the distance, a couple is embracing, their backs to us. The main, almost the only, color in the painting is orange. I’ve never seen such strong light coming out of a painted sheet of paper. I think you could put up Dad’s painting as a replacement for the light fixtures in one of the rooms. The distant couple suddenly looks a lot clearer to me, as if they walked backward toward us.
“You’re very, very talented.” Mom kisses him on the head.
“Dad, this is the most beautiful painting you’ve painted to this day,” I say, and I think he almost cries.
“You want to tell us something about the painting?” Mom asks, and Dad whispers, “Not now. First, let’s spend some more time together in the kitchen, and tell each other all the interesting things we’re going through.”
Now it’s clear that they’re expecting to hear more from me about my crane operator friend. You’d think I had crossed the border into a hostile state, or tasted poison. They don’t say a word, but it feels to me like it’s all laid out on the floor, like the contents of an apartment after a burglary.
“Sometime you could come with me to see Eitan’s crane. Right now it’s not that important.” And without waiting for their response, I just leave for school.
To my surprise, I manage not to tell anyone at school about my crane experience. Two or three times, I start to say something but someone interrupts me and talks about the upcoming math test. Maybe it’s a sign for me not to tell anyone about Eitan, but I don’t want to follow these kinds of signs. I once heard Mom warn Dad that we shouldn’t mix up our thoughts too much, because they’re experts at mixing themselves up and there’s no point in “adding excess weight to the brain,” as she described it. She was probably giving him a hint about something more serious that was going on with him, but I didn’t feel comfortable inquiring. Mom says a lot of sentences with hints for Dad, and I feel like she’s pretty critical of him. My younger sister, Ruthi, isn’t interested in the things I do anyway (yet), so I haven’t told her anything. Maybe it would actually be a good idea to tell her things she won’t completely understand — that way I could both have a confidant and not worry about her reactions. Someday, I should think quietly about who I prefer to tell important things to, and whether my preferences change according to the subject.
When I arrive at the construction site, the crane is silent. I wonder what all of its power does in times of inactivity. “Come here, Dudi.” I hear Eitan’s voice, and finally see him sitting on a bench eating cake. I sit next to him and wait for him to tell me when we’re getting on the crane to continue the work.
“The architect hasn’t arrived, and the contractor got held up with a complicated question about the plans.” He continues to chew slowly, without dropping any crumbs on the ground. It’s a bit weird to me that he eats without leaving a trace. For some reason I prefer it when evidence is left behind.
“Today I’m leaving here early to go to a different crane I’m operating. Want to come with me?”
His ability to be involved with two different construction sites confuses me. It’s like a dentist filling cavities in two mouths at once. “Isn’t it strange for you to work in two places at the same time?” I ask.
“Not at all,” he answers, only after swallowing another piece of the cake. “If I was moving this crane from site to site on the same workday, it would drive me crazy. But when there’s clear separation, there’s no reason to get confused.”
He gets into a small car and I sit beside him. I’m still a little stressed out. Even if Eitan seems like a decent person, I’m not so comfortable being in his car. We drive to the city center and park next to City Hall. “You see this enormous crane?” he asks, pointing to the crane in front of us. “The way I treat this crane is completely different, as if it’s part of a different chapter of my life.”
I can’t explain it, but the crane smells like fresh dough. There’s a small elevator inside it, which you can only enter after a careful electronic identification of your fingerprints. The elevator moves slowly and quietly. After the elevator ride we climb a ladder, and Eitan unlocks a gate so we can get in.
“Now, this is like the command center in a ship,” he says proudly. Everything here is bright and pops out. “These are rare cranes, which can operate especially long rods, dozens of meters long.”
“But where is the house you’re building here?” I ask him.
“Oh, you’re impatient,” he replies. “Just look around quietly for a few moments. The idea is pretty simple. You can watch the street, and actually other streets in the area, too, from my crane. My self-appointed job is to improve public order. You see the kids trying to play soccer, for example? In the center of their makeshift soccer field there’s a barrel interrupting play, but they’re not strong enough to move it. We’ll just intervene and do that for them. Maybe even find a place for it that helps stop the balls, so they don’t fly too far away. What do you say, Dudi? Give me your winning idea now, quickly.”
I get really enthusiastic. I try hard to get a good look at what’s going on over there, and luckily, Eitan gives me binoculars to help. The large barrel looks to me like it’s lying right here next to us, inside the crane operator’s cabin. I’m not sure I have the courage to be involved in such an exciting action.
“Maybe you can handle it yourself,” I whisper.
“Why would I? You surely know more about soccer than I do, and this is your opportunity to help me in real time.”
I focus on the binoculars. My eyes are a little confused; maybe they want to get away. I get them under control and direct Eitan. He presses a few buttons, and it reminds me of movies that depict the launch of missiles from a plane or submarine.
“Now watch and enjoy,” he tells me. “These are our important moments, the times I work hard for.” The cable descends and reaches the large barrel. Eitan presses a button again, and ropes come down from the cable and wrap around it. I’ve never seen such a sophisticated crane. The rod rises and the ropes are wrapped around the barrel in a secure hold. The children stop playing, run off to the side, and huddle together. Eitan laughs and even roars, and it’s exciting and scary.
“Careful not to let the barrel fall on anyone,” I whisper again, and he doesn’t respond. Maybe he’s offended. He moves the barrel to an abandoned field and leaves it there. The ropes release it and roll themselves back into the crane’s cable.
“What do you say?” He’s still joyful, though somewhat restrained. “One simple action that changes the entire game. Imagine the children’s excitement.”
“Maybe I’ll go there to tell them what happened here?” I ask him.
“Of course not! Our role is to maintain order, not to start discussions and conversations. They don’t need me for idle banter. And that’s beside the fact that it might hurt our job performance if we personally got to know the people involved.”
I feel tremors in my body. I don’t know if they were already there before and I didn’t notice, or if they only started now. They’re tremors of both excitement and fear. Finally, something thrilling is happening to me — not just to strangers I hear or read about. Eitan ruffles my hair and pours me soda.
“During festive moments in my cabin, we only drink soda. Something more festive than water, but still not an overly sophisticated drink.” Once again he speaks in that distinct style of his. I wonder if he would’ve worked as a teacher or doctor if he knew a different language.
“See what happened over there, Dudi?” Once again, he almost roars. “Quickly — look through your binoculars and check what’s changed in the area we just handled.” I’m startled. I direct the binoculars and see a small pillar of water right at the spot where we removed the barrel. The children are still standing off to the side, hugging each other. They haven’t even brought the soccer ball with them, and it remains by itself.
“That looks like a fountain,” I say.
“Well done, Dudi. You have an impressive gift for identification. I assume someone once placed the barrel on a perforated pipe in order to prevent a flood, and now that we’ve removed the barrel, the water is flowing again,” he shouts, somewhat embarrassingly. “Don’t be frightened by my jubilation. I think you’ve panicked a little. I have to calm my body down from the stress of this responsibility I’ve taken on. I can’t be in full, strict control all the time. So sometimes, I let out these sounds to unwind.”
“But the children over there are really frightened,” I say to him.
“Why would they be? You, Dudi, are a bit startled by the fact that suddenly you could have an effect on others, but the children themselves will calm down in a few moments and have fun playing. I also assume that the strong flow of water from the pipe will stop if someone finally shuts off the main valve.”
I feel tremors in my body. I don’t know if they were already there before and I didn’t notice, or if they only started now. They’re tremors of both excitement and fear. Finally, something thrilling is happening to me — not just to strangers I hear or read about.
All at once, he stops showing interest in the children and moves his electronic binoculars, which are attached to the cabin’s window. “Come on, let’s find ourselves another task for today, and then you’ll go home. Tomorrow I have to start working very early at a site on Rishon LeZion Street. The building over there doesn’t interest me much, but they’re paying me well, and if I don’t make a living from the regular jobs, I won’t be able to afford to continue our special ones.”
I’m watching through my own binoculars now, moving my head very slowly. I’m not sure I’ll suggest another task to Eitan, because I’m scared of the potential consequences. But he doesn’t leave me a lot of time to deliberate anyway. “Dudi, come look through my binoculars. You see the green car over there? Someone is trying to steal it. I’m telling you, that’s definitely it.”
“Maybe the car is his?” I ask awkwardly.
“Stop, stop. This is not the time for hesitation. Look how much trouble he’s going to in order to open the lock with some long piece of iron. I’m sure this is theft. Come on, direct me, Dudi, there’s no time and no choice.”
And even before I start to direct him out loud, the crane pounces. Out of one pipe, another emerges, longer than any I’ve ever seen. A chain descends, catches the man by both underarms, lifts him up, and then stops.
“So what do you say, Dudi, should we leave him up there until he calms down? Shake him so he changes his ways?” Again he laughs, although this time it sounds more like a clogged machine. “You have to have fun too, Dudi. You can’t do our important work without having fun every now and then.”
Only now does he move the rod a great distance and then let down the man who tried to be a thief. His feet touch the ground, the chain ascends, and he starts to run fast into one of the nearby streets.
“I think he won’t be stealing anymore today. As for tomorrow, that I can’t guarantee. The question is, how long is he going to feel the pain from the grip of the chains?” And Eitan glances at me, neither sadly nor happily, but like a person who is direct and clear, a little like Dad, a little like a teacher, and like other things I don’t know how to define. I wish he’d explain to me how the crane’s mechanisms work, and what’s the difference between a hoist and a crane, and other important things. I think all he’s interested in are his accomplishments in and of themselves, and that he feels like a herald of a certain important idea.
Mom and Dad don’t reprimand me for coming home late, but they do give me a funny look. Fortunately, my little sister Ruthi is refusing to go to bed, and they’re busy coming up with solutions.
“Dudi, maybe you can calm down Ruth-Ruth?” Mom asks me, and I’m surprised by the fact that she uses my favorite nickname — “Ruth-Ruth” — which she’s rarely used in the past. I have an opportunity I can’t afford to miss here — a chance to both help with something and delay the expected conversation with my parents.
“Sure, Mom, I think Ruth-Ruth will be happy to go on a short walk near the house with me.” I leave the house with Ruthi, hand in hand, which I think is appropriate when it comes to a fouryear-old girl. Perhaps another day I’ll ask Mom why they waited so many years before bringing another child into our home.
The days are long now and there is still sunlight at this hour. Ruthi pulls me in a particular direction; I’m guessing she hopes I’ll play with her in the playground nearby. I suggest the swing and she responds happily, at least I think so. I’m more careful than usual and push the swing with a gentle touch, like someone who is on top of a tower and could easily fall. Suddenly, I feel like we’re being watched.
“Good evening, Dudi,” I hear Eitan the crane operator’s voice. “I’m not here to interrupt your quality time with your sweet sister.”
“What are you even doing here?” I ask him, and immediately feel embarrassed by my unfriendly greeting.
“I thought you’d be glad. Never mind. I, too, sometimes prefer not to be reminded of work during the evening. All I wanted was to bring you up to date on the main issues: Tomorrow I have to spend the entire day at the construction site on Rishon LeZion Street, and maybe it’s best if you don’t come. For one thing, the work is entirely routine and you won’t miss out if you stay home. For another, tomorrow is the day of the month on which various planners arrive to check the progress of the work on site, and you might feel awkward or out of place. But what’s important is the following day, the day after tomorrow. From 4:00 pm until 10:00 pm, there’s a lot of work to be done in the large crane, and we can do important things together. So bring yourself some tasty drinks and snacks and get ready for several fascinating hours.”
I must thank him. After all, he went to the trouble of coming to my neighborhood to give me an update, tell me what’s going on. “Thanks, Eitan. Sorry that I was a bit startled to find you standing next to us at first. I didn’t think you knew where I lived.”
“It’s all good.” He smiles, and his whole face takes part in the smile. “I would’ve reacted in a similar way.”
Ruth-Ruth is starting to get drowsy. That’s good news, though it does mean that the time I have to go back home is drawing near. The question is whether I should get her off the swing now or wait until she falls completely asleep. Granted, the seat of the swing is properly secured, but I’m a bit worried about what will happen if she falls asleep in it. I gather her in my arms and enjoy holding her close to me. On the stairs of the house I tighten my hold on her, again feeling more scared than usual that she might fall and get hurt. I’m no longer sure what determines my degree of fear, whether it’s according to what I’m worried about, or whether there are fixed levels of fear within me at certain hours of the day, regardless of what’s bothering me at that time.
Dad opens the door and kisses us both as if we’ve returned from a long trip to a faraway place. “You see how many good things live right here with us in the house?” Mom says to me, and of course I agree with her. “Now, put Ruth to bed just the way she is, and come eat with Dad and me. We’re having one of your favorite things.”
“So what’s new at school?” Dad asks.
“Same as always when the end of the year is coming,” I reply. “On the one hand a lot of tests, and on the other hand, the holiday can already be felt inside the classroom.”
“Only you know how to define things in such depth,” Mom says. And again Dad asks a question: “And what about the crane? Have you invited your friends to join you so they can see how a building is constructed, or are you keeping that experience to yourself?”
I didn’t expect this to be their way of making conversation about the crane, and I’m also not sure exactly what they know. People almost always know more than I think they do, especially parents. “I don’t think Eitan, I mean the crane operator, wants more children around. He has his limitations, and I’m just a guest inside the cabin.” I speed up eating the mushroom omelet and hope I can leave the table soon.
“Look, Dudi,” Mom says, “We’re impressed by your curiosity, but we would rather you only continued your visits to Eitan after vacation begins. I am sure Dad will be glad to join you sometime, and maybe that way we’ll get a new painting for our wall, too.”
I stare at Mom. She’s downright panting. Dad glances at her and then checks to see whether I’m bothered by this, too.
“Mom, there’s nothing to worry about. Like you said, I’m only a visitor there, like how you visit a museum.” The three of us almost laugh.
I put off my pondering of Dad’s concern for Mom’s health. I think because of this concern he rarely argues with her, even when she lets him down. I want to know what they talk about when they’re alone. Sometimes I think most of their conversations take place only in my presence.
As Eitan asked, or suggested, I show up on the appointed day at four o’clock. He comes down to help me climb the enormous crane. If I wasn’t embarrassed, I’d tell him that the crane looks larger than I remembered, and that maybe without Eitan knowing, someone else has been adding parts to it.
“Incredible. What do you say, David?” he whispers to me when we’re sitting up high in the cabin.
“Where do we start today?” I ask him, and he almost leaps.
“That’s the spirit! I’m really pleased with you, Dudi.”
Eitan suggests that we both remain “vigilant and on alert” while looking through our binoculars, until we discover something interesting. While Eitan’s electronic binoculars are a lot more sophisticated, my binoculars can pick up targets, too.
“Now, hurry,” he suddenly shouts. “This is the kind of situation where you can’t hesitate.”
“Let me see,” I roar, too, and he presses his binoculars against my eyes. Now he whispers again, as if someone in the distance might hear us. “You see, Dudi? That’s an outright brawl between the two young men. If we don’t interfere immediately, this could end in a disaster.” He grabs the binoculars back, and because of how quick the motion is, I get a light scratch on my cheek.
“It’s pretty obvious that the large fellow is the dangerous one. They must’ve been fighting each other even before we discovered them, and now the situation has devolved into serious violence.”
“But what does that have to do with us?” I whisper to him, and he doesn’t respond.
He moves one of the parts of our gigantic crane, and with incredible speed, lowers a kind of large ring that I haven’t seen before. The ring descends, as if in a sprint, toward the two young men and touches one of them.
“No, that’s not the one I wanted,” he whispers.
He presses his buttons again and the ring closes around the other man, whom he calls “our thug.” I can see the arms and legs of the man caught in the ring moving. I think it might resemble the way some animals start convulsing when their end is near, and I’m also reminded of a movie about fishermen at sea that I once saw on television. Now the ring is rising, clenched around our thug, who is waving whatever limbs he can still move inside the trap. I can clearly see his mouth open and close on the crane’s big screen. Maybe he’s screaming something, but I can’t hear it from such a great distance, of course. Suddenly I ask myself how you can even be so close to something that’s happening, and yet remain so distant in other ways.
“This isn’t the time for your unique thoughts, David,” Eitan tells me, now in a normal voice. “In times of emergency, we can’t waste our strength. And now, what do you suggest we do with our thug?”
I don’t know how to respond. I’m afraid the man may be frightened to death and slip out of the ring and fall.
“If we just take him away from the area and don’t do anything more, he might return and attack the other man.”
“But we don’t have any other option,” I reply. “We aren’t the police or a court, who could lock him up somewhere.”
“There are always additional options. But I agree with you that we should focus on the essentials. Meaning, the fact that we’ve probably saved someone from a serious injury and even death.”
Meanwhile, our thug is still caught inside his ring. The crane’s rod isn’t moving, and more people are coming closer and looking at him in amazement. The man who was beaten up rises from the ground and runs off slowly, like someone who doesn’t want to draw his pursuer’s attention.
“I’d like to hear practical suggestions,” Eitan says to me, and I decide not to answer for now. Fortunately, I’m once again reminded of Mom teaching me that you don’t always have to answer.
“Well, then, if you don’t have any original ideas, we’ll just let our thug down on the farthest possible street and hope he calms down thanks to the ‘air tour’ we arranged for him.” Indeed, the crane’s rod moves toward a quiet side street, the ring descends slowly, and I wait to see what will happen.
“I feel like we have a bit of a problem with opening the ring, Eitan suddenly whispers to me, and I get very tense. “We may have to go over there to free him.”
I ask Eitan to try again.
“What are you so worried about? I was pulling your leg. Some fun is always in order after an important operation.”
Our thug exits the ring and sits down on the sidewalk. I hope it’s just in order to rest, because now he doesn’t remind me of a fish caught in a net, but of a bird whose wings were clipped. The people who gathered on the scene are still standing there, and I also notice that a police car has arrived. Eitan seemed entirely relaxed and is already looking for new targets through his binoculars.
“So how do you feel, being with me in this small cabin where great actions take place? I think we’re allowed to view ourselves as the redeemers of the city. There are certain people spoiling it, and we are here to make things right.”
Eitan turns off the lights and only leaves a small flashlight on in the cabin. He uses electric power to gather the crane’s rods together. Within a few moments, the crane looks a lot less intimidating. “I love this monster of mine so much,” he whispers to himself and perhaps to me, too. “Another time, Dudi, I’ll show you our secret map. Several sites in the city, where other cranes of mine lie ready for action, are marked on it. Do you realize that with so much combined power, we can make an impact on the city and fix it far more than any of those plans by the municipality and the police would? If we have enough people working in shifts, we can respond quickly to many cases and prevent thefts, assaults, and other wrongs. With the small regular cranes, we’ll continue building houses in the city, and with my enormous advanced cranes, we’ll maintain public order.”
I’m pretty stressed by his master plan. Granted, thanks to him I have the opportunity to be part of fascinating things without drawing attention to myself, but the tension within me increases.
In the morning, Mom and Dad show up in my room together and sit down on my bed. I can’t remember the last time that happened. They’re staring at me. Dad glances at the walls, perhaps checking if the painting of me, which he painted when I was ten, is still hanging there, then immediately resumes looking at me. I think Mom is teary-eyed; there’s something different about her eyes, in any case. Surprisingly, she’s the one to speak. “We heard about a crane hunting down people on the news. Does that have anything to do with you, Dudi?”
I’m shaking now. Perhaps it’s shame, but their words are unpleasant for me. “I was with Eitan yesterday afternoon, maybe some of the evening, too. He says we’re fixing the city. There are those who wreck it, and there’s us who are doing ‘the righteous opposite.’ I think that’s the expression he used.”
“I don’t even understand what you want with this bizarre man.” Dad is close to shouting. “He’s a complete stranger to us. I don’t know what his plan is, nor do I care. We’re not interested in him. We’re here to save you, not our city.”
Now Mom is looking at him and not me, and that’s better. “I think Eitan is a special man and that being with him is really fascinating, Dudi, but this has turned from a nice adventure into something dangerous.”
“Very dangerous,” Dad says and once again looks at my painting, his painting. They’re still sitting on my bed, perhaps thinking that their weight will prevent me from flying away to another place. I’m not mad at them, but I feel shaken and lonely. “What’s clear, Dudi, is that today you’re coming straight home from school. Both of us will be waiting for you here and we’ll go out and have fun together.”
Now it’s getting better. If this is about clear actions, I can just agree. I don’t have to argue with them about different intentions or explain myself. It’s clear to me that they’re taking Eitan’s work too seriously.
Miron C. Izakson is an Israeli writer of poetry and novels, and a professor of Hebrew literature at Bar Ilan University. He has been awarded the President’s Prize (2001), the Natan Yonatan Prize for Poetry (2012), and the Brenner Prize for Poetry for This Time (2013).
Joseph Faust is an Israeli translator and editor. He has translated one Miron C. Izakson novel, The Candidate, and is currently translating a second, Furthermore.