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What A Beauty

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Anna’s first interaction with the band is at the bus stop, going home from base with Julia. It’s Thursday, and she’s glad to be leaving it, but as always, she’ll wish to go back by Saturday.

A man from the group with the foreign uniform approaches, and she thinks, “oh God, what does he want?” But it’s nothing, well it’s the usual- male nonsense, nothing more than that. Anna laughs at him, because it’s easy to laugh at men when you have a gun, and she pulls Julia away to their bus.

She later learns that the guy’s name was Haled, and that he’s tagging along with her and Zelger, and Papi and Julia as they go out, for no discernable reason. But she doesn't think he recognizes her, without a beret or uniform, with her hair down and her face painted. Anna the soldier is not the same as Anna on the weekend, and she shouldn’t have to be.

It’s a fun night. She’s with her boyfriend, and the heat of alcohol in her stomach, makes the world spin doubly fast as she skates around. She can briefly forget everything.

Zelger partially owns this place, and he doesn’t get enough credit for it, she thinks. It’s a really well done place, one of the only in Bet’Hatikva that she likes to go. He invested in this roller rink after one of his friends renovated it a while ago.

Zelger makes her happy, and she’ll take that whenever she can get it, and sometimes she wonders if what she feels is love, but she is not sure, and ‘love’....such a large word.

Yeah, her boyfriend barely managed not to get kicked out of the army when he served and he’s always smoking a variety of substances, but he also really really street smart is going to make something of his future, with this investing and other finance things. And so is she, Anna thinks, but what- she doesn’t know, and it’s not something she has to think about tonight.

“Julia!!” Anna says, because of course her boring cousin is sitting on the bench and not doing anything. “Get up! I brought you to have fun, and what about Papi? Go talk to him, mami!” She and Julia are best friends because of circumstances- they grew up together, and now they serve in the Givanti brigade, experiencing all the hardship and boredom of the army shoulder to shoulder.

It’s not entirely Julia’s fault if she doesn’t want to talk to Papi. After all he was the one who was so rude to her after Anna went to all the trouble of bringing her expressly for Papi so that he could have a date, and the boy went completely psycho, saying that he didn’t want Julia because she’s so gloomy. He said this while she was in earshot, which was doubly rude and hypocritical- as if Papi ever went out of his way to talk to girls or make an effort. He won’t even skate with Julia properly, until Haled intervenes. Ok, well, that was nice of him, Anna thinks, grudgingly, not quite ready to forgive him for bothering her earlier, as she watches the pair twirl together under the spinning white lights of the disco ball.

Later in the night, after leaving Haled, Papi, and Julia behind, Zelger and Anna pass by Tzachi at his phone. She feels bad for the guy, as they walk past him, because they are a happy couple in love- or something- and he has no one.

It feels like when you walk past a homeless person on the sidewalk, but you have nothing, or you don’t want to give them anything, so you hurry past, feeling a sting of guilt that you possess so much, and they- so little. Anna feels doubly guilty because of what she discovered earlier today.

The girl whose call he’s waiting for, Amina, was someone Anna knew. She was released almost a year earlier, and now she’s at university, which represents unprecedented ambition in Bet’ Hatikva. Not many from here go. Zelger certainly didn’t, and Anna doesn’t know if she will yet either.

It was a surprise when Amina started dating Tzachi. Not that he was unattractive, not that he was a bad guy, but she was out of his league ambition wise, said everyone else in their high school who observed the relationships of their fellow adolescents with scientific scrutiny.

Amina was going places, said the jury of their peers, Tzachi just- wasn’t. Does he even have a job? Anna wonders. She can’t say for sure.

Anyway, Amina was always a serious girl. Driven. Being around her always made Anna feel inadequate, because Amina constantly had school work and projects that she was doing with enthusiasm, and Anna was only trying to learn to fishtail braid her hair or something like that.

Amina went away to university around a month ago, got on the departing bus and left. That same night, Tzachi was by the phone, because apparently she promised to call him from school, some evening, and the poor boy took it to mean that night. Amina did not call that night, or the next, or the next.

Amina did call Anna though, this afternoon. Which was odd, Anna thought, because she and Amina weren’t super close and they hadn't really hung out since high school, but, “Hi!” She said, because Anna is a person who always tries to be enthusiastic in her speech.

“How’s university?” And Amina tells her about the rich kids that live in her dorm, and the annoying boys in her classes who think they know about philosophy, and what it’s like to live in a city with a population in five digits.

It’s all very interesting to Anna, maybe she will go to university after all, but, “why did you call me though? You know Tzachi, every night he is by the payphone. Every night!”

“Oh,” says Amina. “Yeah, I am supposed to call him. I know.” She does not sound thrilled about this possibility. “I’m trying to break up with him.”

“Yeah?”

“I mean...I like him, he’s nice, but I’m away and he’s back there..” her voice trails off, and Anna knows that she is trying to say that Tzachi is rather lame, while she is moving up in the world.

“Did you meet someone else?”

“No, nothing like that. I should have ended things when I left, but he was already so sad that I was leaving-”

“Amina, he’s out there every night. For hours and hours, he waits for you,” and Anna suddenly feels angry on his behalf. “He’s loving and he’s committed, and I think you should call him. Please?”

“Okay,” says Amina, with no indication in her voice of whether she will or not, and soon after Anna says goodbye, because she has to go meet Zelger, Julia, and Papi.

Now, it seems that Amina still hasn’t called, and part of her wants to tell Tzachi what she knows, that his girlfriend’s, “I’ll call you,” was not to be taken literally. But he wouldn’t believe her; he is lonely and in love. So she walks by and ignores him.

She’ll stay with Zelger tonight, as she does most nights when she’s hope. Her mom doesn’t mind, or even care. He wants to smoke, and she makes him go out on the balcony, because she hates the smell of weed.

Anna sits, alone in his small living room, and the sky is dark out the window. There is so little artificial light in Bet’Hatikva at night, so the stars and the Milkey Way are unobscured. It’s so quiet too. There is no wind, no music, no chatter of people, no car traffic. Part of Anna finds it beautiful, and part of her wants to turn on lights, the radio, everything, to drive it away. She wonders what the others in their apartments and homes do at this time, what they think about.

Anna feels the alcohol evaporating from her mind, leaving her with the dullness of post-drunk reality. She goes out on the balcony with Zelger but stands in the opposite corner as far away from the reek of marijuana as possible.

“Tonight was fun,” he says.

“Yeah.”

From the balcony she can see the street below- empty- a glowing box of light that holds the payphone, and in front of it, Tzachi, but he’s laid down against a wall, almost asleep. As she watches, though she thinks that she shouldn’t, because his pining is a private thing, he gets up and begins to walk away, towards wherever he lives- defeated.

The phone ringing shatters the night, and Anna thinks: Holy shit! She finally called. Tzachi spins around, and seizes the receiver. She can’t hear the conversation, so Amina could be saying anything, but he looks happy.

The light from the phone illuminates his face, leaving most of him in darkness. It reminds her of the Renaissance painting style- chiaroscuro. Lots of dark, and harsh light on the subject. This is not an observation she passes on to Zelger, with his mind high and altered he probably wouldn’t get it anyway, but she does point, and say, “He got his call.”

The conversation seems short, and Anna again feels angry on his behalf- doesn't she know how much he wants to hear her voice? As he walks away from the phone booth, Anna leans over the railing and yells, “hey Tzachi!!”

And after locating the voice, he waves at her, and says, “she called!”

“Would you call me?” She asks Zelger, after Tzachi is gone. “If you went away, like Amina did?”

“Duh,” he answers, “I would call you every single night.”

And Anna would do the same for him, because as much as she wants to get out of here, she could never leave Bet’Hatikva behind entirely. Or Zelger.

What he was inhaling has burned out, and the smoke has blown away by now, so she goes sits on his lap, and they stay that way for a while, though they go back inside before the sunrise.