The lawyer suggested that I write my version of the events.
“Try to stick to the facts,” he said. “The committee isn’t interested in feelings.”
Outside my window, evening is turning into night. The house is empty. There are no children’s voices coming from the living room, no water flowing over Niva’s body in the shower. Schubert sonatas are playing in the background, the volume low.
If I have to confess, this is the time.
At first, she was just one of the many doctors doing their residency. Perhaps a bit better-looking than most. Perhaps a bit brighter than most. But I didn’t give her special treatment. It occurs to me now that once, I even rebuked her. The entire group was standing around a patient’s bed and I asked Liat to give a brief summary. She spoke clearly, confidently. And that itself put me off. “A forty-five-year-old man who arrived with chest pains that intensified when he moved and exerted
himself. No risk factors for ischemic heart disease. CRP slightly elevated. EKG with no signs of sharp ischemia. Most likely differentiated diagnosis: pericarditis.” The treatment she recommended: a high dosage of aspirin and . . . colchicine to prevent reoccurrence. She added the colchicine with a tinge of self-satisfaction in her voice. She reads articles! She’s au courant with the latest word on the subject!
Good, I said as I read the medical file on the computer. Very good, Dr. Ben Abu. There’s only one thing you forgot to mention: The patient’s father died of a heart attack at the age of forty-nine, which means that there’s a family history, which means that saying “no risk factors” was . . . how shall I put it, a bit irresponsible on your part.
Tell me please, I asked the patient, do you live in a one-family house? An apartment building? With an elevator? Without? And how many steps do you climb to your apartment?
Twenty-five, he replied. Actually, thirty.
And has it been more difficult to climb them during the last two weeks?
In fact it has been, he said, I had trouble breathing.
What is the first thing a doctor must do? I asked the residents, rhetorically. Eliminate anything that might kill the patient! And then—after a dramatic pause during which they could imagine the pathological repercussions of the mistake that almost happened here—I stared right at Liat and added: I would have expected a resident to know that. First-year students know that.
The words, “But Dr. Caro,” were on the tip of her tongue, and I could see her stopping herself from saying them at the last minute. I could see how the full sentence—“But Dr. Caro, elevated pain during changes in position does point to pericarditis”—slid slowly down her throat, as her face turned the purple shade of someone who has just been publicly humiliated.
My eldest daughter, Yaela, who had been an officer in the military Center of Communications and Information, always says that hospitals are even more hierarchical than the army. There’s something in what she says. A resident wouldn’t be so quick to dispute the diagnosis of a senior doctor decades older than her. And wouldn’t be so quick to file a complaint against a senior doctor. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m trying to recall the moment when Liat first stood out from the crowd and became an object of my attention.
I think it was when I heard her humming Schubert’s Sonata no. 664 in A Major to herself. She was standing at the nurses’ station, typing out instructions for them. I had walked over there to find out what was happening with a CT referral for a patient and I heard the melody I love coming from her, ta-ta-tam, tam-ta-ta-ta-tam.
Maybe I shouldn’t have spoken to her at that moment. But curiosity got the better of me: Why is a young woman like you humming that forgotten piece of music? I thought I was the only one who listened to it anymore. She pushed her hair behind her ear, blushed slightly, and said, I don’t know, Dr. Caro. I was switching radio stations this morning. On the highway. And suddenly landed on The Voice of Music. Where that melody was being played. Schubert, right?
And it was so . . . beautiful that I just couldn’t change stations.
Especially the motif you were humming, I said and nodded. It . . . makes me cry every time I hear it.
Yes, she agreed, and looked at me as if she were impressed. Then she pushed her hair—which had come free in the meantime—behind her ear.
My love affair with Niva also began because of music. Because of King Crimson’s first album, to be precise.
We were studying for an anatomy exam in the dorm room of a girl from our year, Michal Dvorski. This was our plan of study: After we finished going over a subject, we would take a break and each member of the group in turn would choose a record to play from Michal’s collection. A record rotation, you might call it.
When it was Niva’s turn, she chose In the Court of the Crimson King. I recognized it right away from the red cover that had a drawing of an open mouth on it.
No one was happy with her choice. Cries of protest filled the room. At the time, all anyone wanted to hear was Abba or Bon Jovi. But I defended her right to place the needle on a different, more complex kind of music and announced to everyone there that the freedom to choose music based on personal taste is anchored in the French Revolution, whose slogan—liberty, equality, and free music choice—was well known.
And so it was that we first bonded as a minority defending itself against the tyranny of the majority.
Niva wasn’t one of the beautiful girls in our year. And until she placed the needle on King Crimson, I had thought she was pretty reserved. She walked with a slight stoop and was always buried in a too-large sweater. But when she chose that dramatic, theatrical music, I wondered whether, under that sweater, there might blaze a fire that only the Liliths of the world possessed. When the study session ended, I made my way slowly over to her, hesitant because of the many disappointments I’d had with women before that moment, and asked if she wanted to go with me to see the new James Bond movie.
In reply, she gave me a warm, genuine smile and said she didn’t like James Bond.
I think the second time I noticed Liat’s distinctiveness was at the coffee cart.
We both arrived there at the same time, which was not a usual time to be hungry, and for an amusing moment, we were like Barak and Arafat entering the talks at Camp David: Each one of us insisted that the other go first—Until, finally, she surrendered with a smile and placed her order.
In addition to coffee, the coffee cart offers cold drinks and a small selection of sandwiches. Among them was one that I especially liked: avocado and feta cheese.
Since it wasn’t a very popular choice, they only made two of them. And then, to my surprise, I heard Liat order one, along with a bottle of red grapefruit juice. I waited patiently for her to receive her order and then I also asked for an avocado and feta cheese sandwich along with, as always, a bottle of red grapefruit juice.
We stood across from each other at the cart, holding our identical orders. It was obvious that one of us would have to comment on the growing number of tastes we had in common, but I didn’t think it would be her.
So what’s your favorite smell, Doctor? she asked. Getting right to it, skipping all the intermediate steps that occur between people who aren’t really close, and ignoring the fact that I had only recently rebuked her in the presence of her colleagues.
My favorite smell? I said, pretending to be undecided even though my reply was clear: The smell of guavas.
She nodded in approval. And the smell you can’t stand?
The smell of newspaper.
I don’t believe it!
I really like the contents, I explained, and it’s the only paper that publishes a survey of jazz albums I can talk about with Assaf, my son. But recently, I took out a subscription to their site and my problem was solved.
Me too! she said in astonishment. She thought for several seconds, and finally, raising a finger for each item, she said, Schubert. Guavas. Grapefruit. Haaretz. Avocado and feta cheese. How about that?
In the end, Niva suggested that, instead of the James Bond movie, we go to see Habrera Hativeet perform. The band was appearing in a tiny, now defunct hall on Bezalel Street. A couple of their songs were already being played on the radio, but the group hadn’t released an album yet, so there were only a few more people in the audience than on the stage. Niva said, I hope you’ll like this. It’s not for everyone. She was wearing corduroy pants and a green flannel shirt that matched the color of her eyes. I didn’t know if I should compliment her, whether she would be pleased.
Very few musical experiences can be compared to discovering a new continent. But that was how I felt during Habrera Hativeet’s performance—as if I were hearing something the likes of which I’d never heard before. Of course, you could probably find explanations for that in music theory: the Arabic musical scales that are so different from the Hebrew ones; the irregular musical patterns. And of course, you could base your argument on heredity and claim that the hot Sephardic blood flowing through my veins was aroused when Shlomo Bar performed. After all, both the Jews in Morocco and the Jews in Hebron are descendants of the Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. But I wasn’t thinking of any of those things during the performance. Habrera Hativeet’s music set into motion entire parts of my body that had never been activated before, and when the band opened their encore with “Dror Yikra,” I even stood up to dance. I, who was a wallflower at every party.
When the performance was over, we went out into the cold Jerusalem air and Niva suggested we go to Agrippas Street for some hot soup. I agreed, even though a quick mental calculation made me think that I might not have enough money in my pocket to order a bowl for myself. As we passed Talitha Kumi, she put her arm through mine for the first time. And right before Davidka Square, we stopped to kiss.
I want to be precise about the kind of desire I felt for Liat at that point. It’s important to be precise. Even more so because of the accusations against me.
It wasn’t sexual desire. Absolutely not. The symptoms of sexual desire in a man are quite clear, and I know them very well after my years with Niva. When she moved close to me, her intentions clear, and kissed the bottom of my neck, my pulse would quicken and my breath would dry up. Desire grew inside me. Since that first kiss near Davidka Square, and throughout the years and the pregnancies and the anger and the hurt, Niva had aroused in me almost chronic sexual desire.
I’m not trying to portray myself as a saint here. And certainly, throughout the years, I’ve been attracted to other women. Nurses. Colleagues. Patients’ relatives. Sometimes, after Niva fell asleep, I would allow myself to imagine fingers unbuttoning an unfamiliar blouse, a hand sliding under a short skirt. But I swear: It never went beyond imagining. During all the time we were married, I never had sex with another woman even once. Maybe it’s the education I received, which was pretty conservative. And maybe the knowledge that Niva would never forgive me, that, in response, she was capable of taking Yaela and Assaf and leaving me.
In any case, after she became ill, that kind of desire died in me. I was completely focused on treating her, or more precisely, on being with her to the inevitable end.