An old story about a loss that still lives in me | Fiction | Fresh Soup

I’ve never really understood the expression, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” One reason is that I very much like lemons but I’m not a big fan of lemonade. The other reason is that what this expression presumes, essentially, is that we are in control of our destiny, and that no matter what life throws at us, if we find ourselves miserable or suffering it’s only because our lemonade-making skills are deficient. But life doesn’t only give us lemons. Sometimes it gives us mud, thorns, and rusty nails, and how are you supposed to make a tasty beverage out of that?
I wrote this story twenty-seven years ago, as a text to accompany a comic strip by the talented comics artist Rutu Modan, which was only published in Hebrew. This is the first time the story is appearing in an English translation.

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When he was dying in the hospital, they didn’t even tell her. The doctors said the machines would keep him alive for at least a week. And she had a big math test on Tuesday. “Will it matter if we wait until Tuesday,” her mother asked. “Telling her won’t change anything but her final grades.” Her boyfriend’s father said her mother was right, and her boyfriend’s mother cried. 

When her mother and father told her after the exam, she said to her mother, “You bitch, I know it was your idea,” and her father went to the kitchen to make lemonade from real lemons. “It wouldn’t have done any good if you knew,” her mother said. “You’re all upset now, but someday you’ll thank us.”

She ran out of the house in tears and couldn’t stop crying all the way to the hospital.

“Go after her, quick,” her mother said, “she’s very upset.” 

“Just a minute,” her father said, “I’m mixing the sugar.” 

“Go right now,” her mother said, “you can mix the sugar when you come back.”

“Once the water cools off, there’s no point mixing,” her father said, “because it won’t be lemonade.”

Her mother said, “What’s more important, lemonade or your daughter?” Her father frowned and asked, “In summer?”

Her father finished mixing and put the pitcher in the fridge. Then he put on his shoes and kissed her mother, who jerked her head away. “Don’t be mad, I was just kidding.” 

“Oof,” her mother said, “sometimes you’re like a ten-year-old.” 

Her father ran his hand across the top of his head and said, “Did you ever see a ten-year-old with such a bald head?”

Her father was a little confused by the signs in the hospital, so he asked a thin guy where the ICU was. “How the fuck should I know,” the thin guy said angrily. “My brother died three minutes ago.”

Her father found her at her boyfriend’s bedside, holding his hand. All the people around them were moaning and shouting, “Nurse, nurse,” and her boyfriend was the only quiet one, lying there with his eyes closed. Seeing him hooked up to so many machines, her father remembered that once, during a backgammon game, he’d told the boyfriend that anyone who’s lucky with dice is unlucky in life – to stop him from throwing doubles. Now he felt a little guilty for saying it.

Her father said to her, “Come on, there’s no reason for you to stay here now,” and she said, “No. I’m not going.” And her father said, “Okay,” and sat down on a chair next to her. “Nothing will help you,” she said, running her fingers through her hair, and her father didn’t know if she was talking to him.

Her father fell asleep on the chair and began to dream. In his dream, he was a boy again, walking down the street with her grandfather. Suddenly a soldier without legs sitting on a wheelchair was coming towards them. “Look,” her father shouted in the dream, pulling at her grandfather’s pants, “Look, half a man.” Her grandfather bent down and slapped him. And rightly so.

Then she woke her father up and said, “I’m wasted, let’s go home.” Her father grabbed her by the hand and said, “Promise me that whatever happens, you’ll never be nasty to cripples.”

On the way home, the streets were empty and her father didn’t know what to say, so he drove the whole way on the white dividing line, laughing like an idiot. “It’s all a question of balance,” her father thought.

But it was so unfunny that he didn’t even bother to say it to her.

Her mother opened the door even before they’d walked all the way up the stairs. “So, have you calmed down,” she asked her when they’d reached the apartment. She didn’t answer and walked past her mother, who asked her father if her boyfriend’s parents were at the hospital, and her father said, “I don’t know, I was sleeping.”

She said that she was very thirsty and her father poured some lemonade for her and himself. She drank it in one gulp and went to sleep. Her mother smoked a cigarette and thought about the way bad luck was always dogging her. Her father drank his lemonade slowly, thinking about the dream and the stupid thing he’d said to her boyfriend.

“You’re falling asleep, Nahum,” her mother said to him. Then she said, “You think she passed the exam?” Her father took a small sip of the lemonade and said, “Maybe if they’d hit me more when I was a kid I’d have turned out to be a better person.”

Translated by Sondra Silverston

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