Antennas and Sensors by Israel Pincas
Suddenly the curtains of the entrance and the exit opened, and for a moment, the auditorium was pierced by light. That’s how I knew there was something outside, that there truly was a world beyond the walls of the theater, as they had said. They claimed it was reality, but to me it remained hidden somehow, only a faint presence in my dreams. The darkened stage, the actors, the sets, the costumes and props, and of course the theater itself—the audience in the chairs and the ushers—were my reality, my world and my being. I was so immersed in them (I was in charge of the sound effects and the timing of scene changes) that at the end of the show I would immediately fall asleep.
Over the years I got married in the theater and had two sons, who became actors, and three grandchildren. The goings-on outside the walls of the theater completely disappeared from my mind. I did know that behind the city where I resided—the city of the theater—there was a vast, unexplored space, but it seemed to be something beyond my reach and, in time, ceased to interest me. I gave my whole life to the theater. I breathed the stuffy air, the smell of the heavy plush seats, and the dust of the curtains, the prop and costume boxes, the stage’s wooden planks. That’s how I turned seventy. Then there was a young replacement, and I was made redundant. I heard that soon I would have to leave the theater. Of course it worried me. What does the city look like, what is behind it and how will I manage it? Many left this way after they reached retirement age. We never heard from them.
I was sentenced to death, but for now I am permitted to walk freely. In our city there are no jails like the ones we read about in books. In exceptional cases, people who pose a danger to the public are condemned to special wards. Despite the harsh sentence, that is not my fate. I was told that if I were to leave the city, or even travel to another country, the sentence would reach me. And I believed this, knowing that our authorities are all-powerful. I was not told the date of the sentence, but it was made clear to me that from this moment on, it could happen at any time, even without notice.
I continue to live my life as before, taking no special measures, making no preparations. And what preparations can a condemned man make? I visit the family doctor and the dentist regularly, take the medications that they prescribe me, and go meekly to my checkups. I smoke a lot, sleep a lot, read a lot—mainly history books—talk on the phone, sit in our city’s beautiful cafes and reply to friends’ letters. From the window of our apartment, I see the sea every day.
How beautiful our city is! That is, not beautiful like Paris or San Francisco, but beautiful like a beloved wife, whom Paris or San Francisco couldn’t compete with for the world. She is white, with long streets and green trees and benches to rest on, and the blue of the sea—changing every moment—peeks from time to time through the gaps between the houses. On late October mornings, for example, after the first rains, she is beautiful seven times over. Today I was walking through my quarter when I met people I hadn’t seen in a long time, who were happy to see me, and I was happy with them. One of them told me about his recent visit to China and said I simply had to travel there. I listened patiently to him, but when we separated, I thought, I have no interest in China, and the city I live in is better than any journey to lands or cities that I don't yet know. What acquaintances would I meet in China? Whom would I talk to there, and in what language, and who would tell me such fascinating stories about faraway China? China is located precisely in the place where you are planted the deepest, the place that no one can uproot you from.
You can also see it like this: The deeper we delve into time, the more we retreat backwards in essence, sinking into the void from which we came. Because we’ve come so far, there is almost no chance that anyone will still hear our voice. Conscious of this, even though something within us still cries out, we choose silence. This is another way of listening. The void that opens before us sprouts antennas and sensors all the time.
What value is there to witnessing, when tam-tam drums have started to sound all around?
I’ve always liked the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Mozart understood it best: his Don Giovanni isn’t just a cruel, inconsiderate skirt-chaser. He’s aware of our finiteness—terrified by it—and he understands that our singular hold in this world is intimacy. So his pursuits and lovemaking are never merely for their own sake. He rushes from woman to woman like someone who hops from stone to stone in the raging river of life, hoping to reach the other side with something true in his hands. Of course, every time he will be proven wrong anew. So he continues to run, and so Don Giovanni is first and foremost a tragic character. There’s nothing for which to condemn him.
If I leave here with something true, surely it is with this recognition. And with Bach, with Mozart, with Beethoven.
And on the other side, Montale’s line: “Dove sepelliró l’oro che porto?” (“Where will I bury the gold that I carry within me?”)
Transatlantic call, late: You sound so close. Where are you calling from? Are you still in New York? Where is that? Are you in a phone booth? Are you beautiful like you were? I remember you on our last trip, after the concert. Why did we go to that silly cafe on 57th Street? A shame we couldn’t be alone. Is it cold over there where you are? I don’t understand, you’re saying you’re a skeleton?
The dream was too difficult to bear, and I couldn’t shake it for quite some time after I woke: my friend had insulted me, and the thing cut me deeply. I should have been happy that in the end it was all just a dream, but to tell the truth I was sorry that I had been cut off, and I even wished to return to the dream so I could understand exactly what had happened and demand my damages.
Some Eastern cult took over our apartment and began to do as they pleased. None of my protests help: they’re dragging furniture, moving stuff, they’ve turned my study into their command center—who knows what they’re aiming for. On top of it all, they’re mute—I can’t exchange a single word with them. Instead they make menacing gestures at me and deny me access to the phone. Their faces are flushed, their eyes red and bulging from their sockets. If this is a dream, it is not I who dreams it.
My enemy dwells in the same city as me. He’s short, his fingers small and fat as worms, and his gait is clumsy and reminiscent of crawling. For years he has undermined me, spread lies about me, slandered me. He feeds on canned food and spends most of the day in bed, swelling like a leech. He is perpetually afraid: afraid of imaginary illnesses, of sudden blindness, of falling into poverty. Even so, and despite his advanced age, there has been no decrease in his hostility, and he has not ceased to spread venom at every opportunity. His premature departure would present a problem. Growing old alongside me, he justifies my existence.
Training to become a sphinx. First of all, I’ve stopped speaking. From now on I am released from answering questions. Questions have always annoyed me, mainly because they are accompanied by the expectation of a decisive, unequivocal answer, whereas I generally have several answers or no answer at all. So why ask questions in the first place? It’s not polite. Surely one can be satisfied with a guess, or a conjecture. On the inside I still listen and even respond. This, of course, is only the first stage. Being a sphinx means, among other things, hardening yourself against the outside world. You become fireproof and stiff and ossified, but you still exist. You can be seen in the doorways of palaces and the antique galleries of museums. Your existence inspires awe and respect. My origin—I forgot to say—is ancient Egypt. Many legends have been tied to my name. In Greece they feared me, in Assyria they gave me wings. I used to be thought of.
Things seem to happen on their own. You don't even have to lift a finger. Even when you sleep, even when you die, expire completely, the climbing ivy will continue to stretch out its leaves, the wind will knock the flowerpot onto the balcony, the storm that began in the evening with great gusto will ease and disappear by dawn. The poem happens just when you’re afraid to miss it, when some other work is very pressing, when you're hurrying somewhere, at airports and train stations, absorbing a sweet thought like a child who, his eyelids suddenly heavy, defers his wish until another day.
I look back on my past, on my life, like clothes I left on the beach. I have no interest in them now, as I dive into the deep waters, and I don’t contemplate returning.
I peddled all my wares in the colorful beach towns and now the time has come for me to return. I hardly felt those years go by. I still think I’ll stay here, in this reeking, open-sewage city, with its rotten watermelon rinds, the piles of trash and rats. The empty ship roosts in the harbor and rusts. I bought and I sold, and I sold and I bought; is this all there is?
Seventy years, and I still don’t have a grand theory about the world. The houses that condescend from on high and those that threaten to fall, the buses running to exhaustion, the city streets where my feet walked without leaving a trace, the people I knew, the unrest I’ve lived through since childhood, the suffering of man, the tyrannies and wars, natural disasters, famine, disease—all of this, like a picture onscreen, passed through me and then sank. Meaningful to me only because I happened to see it. It’s simply impossible. Repulsive, even.
Kafka and again Kafka. “The sea of ice within us.”
The prisoners march in a long line in the snow. They are bound to each other, though not with chains. They are being led to an unknown destination. Along the way they are permitted to rest, to assemble in groups, to start families and raise children. They are ordered to work for a living, pay taxes, and preserve the public order. They are encouraged to travel to foreign countries, where they meet other prisoners, shop, and gape at historical sites. They are permitted to express opinions and ask questions, even when there is no one to answer them. Those who deviate from the path are quickly brought back into line and punished. The younger generations hardly know anything about them. Although they are prisoners, they are submerged in their day-to-day troubles and submit themselves to the judgment of the law, even when it isn’t clear that this is indeed the law. The administration doesn’t reveal its face; on the contrary, it imbues all things with an aura of significance and vitality that cannot be done without.
That was a quick life, too quick, where you had to find time to be a child and grow up; to be a boy, a student, a good son to your parents, a friend and a soldier; a young man traveling the world, a Latin lover, a sworn bachelor and devoted husband, father to children, breadwinner and poet, social butterfly and happy loner, grandfather to grandchildren, the complete package. Naturally, you were only a few of these. All that remains now is to disappear successfully.
Visiting an apartment that was once mine. Entering like a thief, on tiptoe, nearly floating. The study has been preserved more or less as I left it. The photos of my wife and daughters are in their places. Straightening a frame or two, sitting in the armchair, grazing documents and objects. I am hollow and weightless. No one detects me. I can hardly detect myself. Dust on the table, on the books, on the shelves.
I no longer wrestle with the world or try to prove my innocence. I strive only to breathe, like the young, green leaves, who haven’t yet heard of their impending fall.
The stone says: Learn what patience is. Patience doesn’t mean waiting endlessly. True patience is not waiting at all, ossifying and existing in a constant state of solidity. That which you wait for may never happen. Perhaps it is happening, in fact, at this moment.
It’s been three months since I died. Expired completely. I didn’t have time to report it, as I had to get used to the change in my status and my new state of matter. I didn’t get used to it. It’s nothing like what they said. Not Dante, and none of the others either. What can I say? It’s terrible here. I would give anything to live, to spend even a single day with the bitterest of my enemies, a thought that would never have crossed my mind while I was still alive. That said, it’s possible that this is only a transitional stage, and that later on your awareness of being dead, and your ability to contemplate and report on the situation, also dissipates.
I’m leaving for a new country. Circumstances have forced me to. I have to leave my home, my family and friends, my way of life in the place I’ve lived for more than sixty years. I don’t have the slightest clue what awaits me in the new place. No one is scheduled to meet me there. If only I were young—but at my age it’s possible I won’t have the strength for this.
I am an immigrant, the son of immigrants. This is the second time that I’ve been uprooted from my home. The first was relatively easy, because I was still a child and soon overcame the difficulties of the move. At least I know the language of the new place. This way I’ll be able to explain, to anyone who might be interested enough to listen, why I should not be trusted—why I’m too dangerous to be spoken to.
A soap bubble that bursts after seventy or eighty years. What was it all for? All your deeds, all your memories, every crest and collapse, the vibrations—big and small—that shook you, your touch, your voice, your gaze, are lost in an instant.
The earthly always prevails. Try to dream of the opposite: you only wake up and everything is broken to pieces.
Will something come tonight? Will it come from the north? Will it come from the west? Will something be coming at all? We strain our eyes in the dark, crane our necks in the wind, toward the stars, our bodies tense, the air in our lungs dwindling, we don’t have the strength to wait any longer. No, nothing will come tonight, or in any of the nights to follow. Nothing was ever supposed to come.
The dream creates its own geography. For example, two completely unfamiliar neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. I'm wandering in the alleys, meeting new people (I have some business here), and then it all disappears, or continues to exist who knows where.
A wide canal, and in it, four or five bodies floating face-up. Their expressions are awful. They must have suffered a great deal of pain. Turns out they had been tossed out of a nearby nursing home. A janitor, a sort of hygienist, wanders on the lip of the canal, pushing a wheelbarrow. To my question, he clarifies that not all here are corpses, and in fact, some of the discarded are still in the process of dying.
The devil is sitting in my room. He hides under the sofa, in the desk drawers. He’s minuscule, almost invisible, jumping like a louse and settling in the folds of my pants, laughing. Right now, as my age plays into his hands (the chain-smoking), he’s quick to jump at the opportunity, embracing it with both hands and settling into my home as though he doesn’t ever intend to budge.
Today is Friday. And where are the days preceding it, Thursday, Wednesday, and so forth? And those days of the week before, and those before them, etc.? There is no way to prove that they existed at all, except that something of them, a tiny particle, infiltrated the present to reach this point.
I'll be waiting for you on Tuesday, November 20, at the Pas de Calais hotel in Paris. Come at dusk. When you come, enter and lock the door behind you. I’ll hear the rustling of your clothes as you undress. I accept you now in your old age. Youth was the time for hesitation. For a long time, you know, for a full lifetime, we played hide and seek.