- Rivka's Tomb
I have always pictured her lying in the ditch. At first she is consumed by the throbbing pain in her broken leg and does not have time to digest the horror of what has happened to her. Is her leg broken in more than one place? I guess that it is not, that she has merely stumbled over some fallen branches or loose rocks in the ground and tumbled into this would-be grave. It is not long before she understands that she cannot allow her physical pain to immobilize her. Perhaps the sun is beginning to set already. She struggles like an untamed animal in a man-made trap. If she could only drag herself up onto level ground surely she could retrace her steps, even if it meant crawling on all fours at a loss to her dignity.
After a full hour of struggling to free herself her energy is no longer reliable and comes only in stops and starts. With another hour's passing, her weariness is greater than any other force in her body and she succumbs to her exhaustion. Her final reality sets in: the pain, the fear and eventually the wild hunger. She must have been blanketed by these multiple curses.
Forests are filled with animals. Maybe a lean fox appeared that momentarily stopped her heart while the last rays of daylight were vanishing beyond the thin treetops or a screeching pointy-eared owl spooked her all night, keeping her alert and unable to hide in sleep. I cannot push my imagination beyond that; an animal's teeth tearing into her arm while she is still conscious or biting an already shattered leg while she is not, those images I must omit.
How many days does it take to die in a ditch in a forest? I have always been afraid to ask. By the time they found her body she had [End Page 114] been missing for three months. Three months of rain and merciless Middle Eastern sun marching on her dying and then dead body. Rivka: daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, wife, mother, grandmother. What could I have learned from you? I know you spoke Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish. That's already countless buttery afternoons stolen: the ones where we did not sit and swap languages over sweet tea and warm colorful cookies. I can hear myself counting to ten slowly in English, waiting for that elderly nod of affection and that slow smile of understanding. Then I lean forward in my eager-to-play mood, and it's my turn to wrap my tongue around the foreign Arabic words in exchange for the final sweet we both knew was always mine.
Sometimes I sift through old black and white family photographs looking for alternative images of my grandmother; something warmer to bury the image of the cold body in the ditch. In the first photo I ever found of her she is dressed in mock royal garb: Miss Tel Aviv. Four men are carrying her on a throne and she could be Batya or any other Pharaoh's daughter out to tour her subjects. There were no talent shows or swimsuit competitions in the first half of the twentieth century. She is covered from head to toe in a colorful long skirt and a matching jacket that triple buckles over her breast. A scarf peppered with tiny silver bells is wrapped around her wavy hair that is long enough to sit on and black as tragic loss.
There are several other photographs of my grandmother with her lips parted, but never really smiling. Here she is with a younger cousin, there with her parents. By the time color photographs were invented she had lost most of hers. In black and white she has skin that looks smooth as freshly peeled apples. You feel as though you can look right into her eyes, they are so lucid in one photograph after another. Her hair is either swept over one shoulder or tossed loosely over both. She is dressed modestly, what people today would consider extremely modestly, but never without decorative collars and buttons on her tops and...