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from the May 2008 issue


So what is the moment? What does it look like? What shape does it take and when does it occur, that instant which is not a moment and yet is everything? And why does it slip away from her time after time after time?

Because to talk about the moment of conception sounds trite, too small for the occasion, for the words attempting to describe it, and utterly imprecise. And to talk of the meeting between sperm and egg sounds silly, like PR-speak, like the press releases she formulates every day (a historic encounter, a fascinating meeting, a rare and unique gathering), and also untrue. For with their own eyes the lab technicians had seen Eli's millions of sperm swimming obediently, though perhaps unenthusiastically by now, toward her eggs as they sat in little Petri dishes like microscopic parked cars waiting for someone to burglarize them, start their engines, and take them on a ride. And the simple fact is that nothing has happened yet. Even the disappointment is no longer very meaningful to her, and not because she has grown accustomed to it. You get disappointed all over again each time, the nurse would say when she gave her the results on the phone and heard Dafna's slow and restrained OK, more of an exhaled OK than an utterance, because her heart never told her it was OK, not once, but her lungs mechanically filled with air to push down the sobs. The nurse was wrong, you don't get disappointed all over again each time: the disappointment settles like an extra story on a massive construction project with an unknown completion date, a building with scaffolding made out of hopes, now removed, and from month to month the building looks more like a tenement, a concrete monster with closed-in balconies instead of arms, kitchens jutting into shared yards, sheds appended to ground-floor apartments and turned into children's rooms. And sometimes the nurse said, It'll be OK, Dafna, it will happen to you too in the end, and the words "to you" stung more than the disappointment, more than the word "end," and besides, what will happen? What is it that will happen in the end? She no longer knew whether this thing, which was totally not happening, would fix everything that had been broken and restart her life. But she didn't care—no, she just wanted it to happen already, if only so that she could find out once and for all whether this country was right, this country that was always wrong, this country for whose peace she fought even though it was obvious there was no point anymore—whether it could at least do one thing, this hopeless country, and do it properly, and do it big-time: children.

She was standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil so she could mix up the sunrise potion concocted for her by the Chinese medicine expert, in whom she no longer believed either, but did not doubt enough to strike him off the list of alternative practitioners she'd visited in recent years, the ones who said her womb was too cold and the ones who conversely likened it to a burning hot oven, the ones who named her spleen as the origin of her troubles and the ones who blamed her kidneys, and the ones who said everything in her was fine, completely fine, and compared her ovaries to nuts or tubers, and her fallopian tubes to lilies, or something, and most of all she remembered the healer from Ramat Gan who asked if she could hear the trumpeting music: Listen, she said, are you listening? And Dafna, distressed by the sudden transition from botany to wind instruments, could not hear a thing. It's like the shofar at synagogue, said the emaciated woman as she placed one cold hand on Dafna's stomach and held the other to her own head like an earpiece. And although the window in the room was closed, Dafna heard a bus outside groan as it pulled away from the station, as if expressing its opinion of the healer. Perhaps she felt a little sorry for the Chinese medicine guy, because there was something pathetic and old-fashioned about his office, because he had not asked her to listen or imagine or believe, but had simply instructed her to stick out her tongue, and at that moment she felt that she was sticking her tongue out at everyone, at the healers and the Chinese doctors and the alternative practitioners, all of them, and at Eli who was waiting downstairs in a café, sipping a double espresso that had no effect on his excellent sperm count, much like the five cigarettes he smoked every day, no doubt poring over some file or reprimanding an intern over his cell phone, waiting for her to finish her appointment with the guru du jour, and yet, for six months she'd been drinking the fraudulent potion every morning and still: nothing.

Now she thought that more than anything she would like to implant a tiny video camera in her body, to roam the expanses, spy into corners, slide down curves and attach itself to the sticky walls of her womb, which quite possibly were not sticky enough and maybe that was the problem: fetuses dropped away from them like mountain climbers plunging to their deaths from a slippery rock wall. A camera would document everything and project the images onto a huge screen, like the ones they put up on billboards at busy interchanges, playing violent commercials that hypnotized drivers. How she would love to install such a screen in the kitchen and spend all day watching the video clip of her body. She would fast-forward and rewind it, freeze it, examine every frame, every angle, especially that one instant when it all came to a head, that moment that cannot be defined, the moment that had been driving her out of her mind for seven years.

Because to talk of the minute a pregnancy manifests is simplistic and untrue. After all, there may have been dozens of pregnancies that had manifested in her womb, maybe even hundreds—when she was young she wasn't careful (her friends used to call her irresponsible, and the guys she slept with said she was playing with fire, but they still came inside her, and she had only started using contraceptives when she got married, a fact she now found ridiculous and insulting), and she realized that what had seemed at the time like tempting fate was in fact a prophetic intuition, a premonition of a fate that eventually tempted her more than she tempted it. And perhaps, she thought, as she poured water into the Duralex glass, which she had chosen as her lucky glass, refusing to replace it even after it had disappointed in May, during the last in vitro fertilization, and now it was completely cloudy—perhaps hundreds of pregnancies had manifested but something (What? What could it be?) had made them change their minds a moment before being discovered, made them launch their ejection seats and flee. These groups of treacherous cells preferred to grow parachutes rather than placentas, cells that quarreled when they were divided, or were not satisfied with the inn they found—that was it, they didn't like the room they were given, it was too cold or too hot, she knew all those permutations. She was all too familiar with the mechanics and the details of the hormonal environment, and she knew the statistics for women her age. Still, that moment—and she knew it was not a moment in the normal sense of the word, especially because time had altered so much during the last seven years, becoming something else entirely—that moment remained mysterious and elusive and critical, a celestial instant, that was how she had thought of it at first, though lately it seemed all too earthly, subterranean and dark: a moment from another world, and in some clear and wounding way, a moment not of her world.

As she watched the mixture of ground leaves and roots and who knew what else swirl around the teaspoon, painting the water in a nauseating yet promising greenish earth-toned hue, she realized that what was possibly more wounding than anything was not her own unexplained infertility but the unexplained, incidental fertility of others, and the partition, the curtain stretched out between her and them like the ones that divided cabins on an airplane, separating them not by class but by something vague, fate or luck, and the fact that everyone had to act their own part in this play, in the tragedy known as statistics, in this flight that never ever lands.

From Eden (2005). Copyright Yael Hedaya. English translation forthcoming 2008 from Henry Holt. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright 2008 by Jessica Cohen. All rights reserved.

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