Authors: Amos Kollek
Don't Ask Me If I Love
DON'T ASK ME IF I LOVE
a novel by
Lanham â¢ New York â¢ Boulder â¢ Toronto â¢ Plymouth, UK
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Copyright Â© 1971 M. Amos Kollek
First Rowman & Littlefield paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may qu passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available
ISBN 13: 978-1-59077-368-0 (pbk: alk. paper)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
Design by Paula Wiener
for Yigal Wilk
I KICKED the door shut behind me. It made a long, dull echo in the big house, and then silence prevailed again. From the pale walls of the large, luxurious hall the paintings stared at me. All Impressionists and all originals. I didn't look back at them. I crossed the hall and started climbing the stairs, unbuttoning my shirt as I walked. My uniform was all wet with sweat and it clung to my body. The idea of a cold shower made me almost gleeful. The summer was coming to an end, but it didn't have to be summer to be hot in Israel. Some part of my brain, which didn't share the obscure, exhausted numb ness of the rest of my mind, remarked coldly that it didn't actually feel like coming home.
It had always been the same. Through the weeks in the camp that dragged on endlessly, I would yearn for time off. And when it came, it didn't seem to mean anything.
I heard my mother rushing from the living room to the bottom of the stairs. I could even hear her excited, heavy breathing, and in spite of myself I grimaced.
“Assaf!” she cried.
“Hi, Mom. How's life?” I said quietly, over my shoulder.
I walked into my room and closed the door behind me, without looking back. I was in a bad mood that Friday afternoon. I had been in a bad mood for many days and it made me sick of myself. I had no admiration for Hamlets and didn't think there was anything impressive about people posing as being complicated, but I couldn't seem to straighten myself out.
My family was not a typical one. We were very rich. According to the papers my father was the richest man in the country. Papers may exaggerate somewhat, but anyway you looked at it, he wasn't doing badly.
First of all, there was the bank. It belonged almost entirely to him and had branches in the four bigger cities. He started with the bank, but he didn't stop there. My father never stopped at anything. His will and energy were unlimited and they didn't let him ever stop going. He didn't believe in rest; I think he was scared of it.
During the first few years of the new state, after the bank had been well established, he built two factories for military equipment. In those he put all his money, thought, and effort. They were the only enterprises of that kind in the country, and my father, who was a keen patriot, had foreseen the vital necessity for their existence. He was of the generation that had undergone the terrors of the Nazi regime and he didn't believe in depending on anyone, or on any nation. He was a self-made man who believed only in self-made menâand in self-made countries. If Israel was to survive it had to be able to support itself and supply its own weapons. Once he made that observation there was nothing else he cared about but seeing it carried out. So he built the factories. They also earned him a lot of money. The government was not blind to any of that. It helped the project to prosper, and Israel in turn was rewarded with something to lean on on a rainy day.
In 1958 and in 1966 my father won the Israel Prize for the most resourceful and distinguished manufacturer. After the Sinai Campaign in 1956, the papers praised him as one of the main civilian contributors to its success.
We lived in a three-story house in Talbiyeh, one of the two fanciest quarters in the new city of Jerusalem. It had eleven rooms, and was richly furnished, but it wasn't extravagant. My father didn't have to boast of anything. In a way, money didn't mean much to him, and my mother was simply modest.
I stepped out of my clothes and into the bathroom off my room. I took a cold shower. It made me feel refreshed and a lot cleaner, but it still didn't make me feel good. I went back to my room and crawled between the white sheets on my bed. I tried to analyze my state of mind.
The main thing was that there had been a change. I had never been a happy type, but to a certain extent I got used to it. As far as I could remember, I had always felt guilty and disappointed. In the first eighteen years of my life these feelings had formed an undercurrent which I could accept and live with, but in the last four years they had risen to the surface and it made me restless.
People around meâboth children and grownupsâhad always hammered into my head how lucky I was. Not every boy had so many toys, not everyone lived in such a fancy house, not everyone could go abroad every year, not everyone had such a celebrated father. Everything, people would explain to me, everything I had came to me easily because of my family. I did not deserve it and it didn't belong to me. It was just another manifestation of the inequities of the system.
This, I thought clearly, lying on my back with my eyes closed, was the essential reason for both the guilt and the disappointment. I felt that there was really something wrong with the fact that I had more than others, and I couldn't really enjoy any of it any more. The last years, especially those in the army, brought with them a shrewder outlook. I still felt guilty and I still felt disappointed, but the reasons had changed. I blamed myself now for wronging myself, not other people. I blamed myself for not doing everything I could to achieve something. You can't blame yourself for being born a certain person, in a certain position, but you can damn well blame yourself for not doing all you can to make the most of it.
I was aware that it was bothering me more and more to listen to people telling me how fantastic my father was and how proud I should be of being privileged to be his son. There was just one way out of this, and that was beating him at his own game.
Maybe it would have been different, I thought dreamily and more relaxed now, if we had been closer to each other. But it was too late. I had to pass too many offices and too many secretaries to reach him.
As I was falling asleep my thoughts shifted to my mother. For the thousandth time I wondered vaguely how it was possible for two such different people to be married. My mother was small and shy and considerate and mellow. She wasn't really good looking, but she was efficient and clever. My father was handsome and strong and charming. He could be the swinging star of any social event. He was six feet tall, just like me.
At half past seven my mother woke me up by knocking softly on my door and told me that dinner was about to be served. I kicked away the sheets and grunted my annoyance. I had a headache and I wasn't hungry, but attending Friday night dinners was a tradition that even my father kept.
I slipped into some clean clothes and went down to the dining room. As I entered, Mom was calling my father to come to the table. She was standing by the two unlit candles with a box of matches in her hand and an expression of everlasting patience on her face. I knew that my father was probably sitting in his study reading the papers, and as the minutes passed by I felt the old familiar annoyance rising in me. Mother was telling me quietly how good it was to see me and how worried she had been. I stuck my hands in my pockets and stared blankly at the wall, trying to decide what the hell I was going to do tonight and not succeeding. Then, my father came in and sat at the head of the long wooden table. He nodded his head at me and smiled briefly. I nodded back, not smiling, and not sitting down. Handsome devil, I thought, shifting my gaze from him to my mother, and hoping my face didn't reflect my thoughts. He had a jet of black hair, icy blue eyes, and a thinly cut mustache Ã la Clark Gable. His skin was tanned by his private electric sun. He looked a lot younger than his fifty-five years.
My mother lit the candles and said the prayer. She wasn't religious but this was a habit with her. Father yawned and took a bite from a big red apple that was placed in a bowl before him. I remained standing, with my eyes fixed stupidly on the wall in front of me. When she had finished we sat down and started eating. Mom launched her traditional attack.
“O.K.,” she said to me, “tell us all about what you've been doing.”
I tasted the fish and disliked it immediately.
“Doing?” I spat a bone on my fork. “Haven't been doing anything.”
She eyed me reproachfully. “Come on, Assaf, you know we haven't seen you for five weeks.”
My father ate busily, not looking up from his plate.
I looked back at my mother's sad face and smiled at her.
“Oh, Assaf. You know we did.”
We? I stuffed some potatoes in my mouth so I wouldn't have to talk. At least my headache was going away.
“Tell us what you've been doing.”