Betty-Dupe

Mother was very angry when she found me naked on the carpet. I thought she'd calm down once seeing Yuval bent over me, but she didn't; On the contrary, she threw him out. I didn't know she'd be angry. Yuval said it's more believable if I took off my clothes. At first, I protested, but only to be stubborn. I loved letting him win. Even when playing rock-paper-scissors, I loved letting him win. Although I found that trying to lose at this game, is just as hard as trying to win.

If you ask me, Mother was mad simply because she was afraid Yuval had noticed my birthmark and would tell his mother. I have a pink, wrinkled spot near my little toe on the left foot. That's what remained after the amputation of my sixth toe. A small meaningless appendage that didn't bother me as a baby or anyone else, which Mother decided to chop. Ever since, my severed toe itches every time I'm scared or excited.

I was taken back by how Yuval had shot up over the years, fostered a midbrow and wore glasses, yet remained thin with protruding ears. I met him at the train station, fifteen years after the incident on the carpet. My toe was itching again.

At that moment, I had a pointless thought. Today, Yuval was the oldest he's ever been, and the youngest he'll ever be. Inevitably, he'd continue to change over the years that had proven not to do him any good.

He didn't recognise me, just pushed me aside when I blocked the train time table. I didn't dare speak to him after that but made sure to find a seat where I could watch him during the commute. I rubbed my feet against each other and stared at him. He sat with his legs open like a truck driver, muttering his lips nonstop and playing with a Rubik's cube. I was glad to see that he still likes to play.

I held a book up to my face, so he wouldn't notice I was staring at him, even though I did. I don't want anyone to know truthful things about me, because everything I do is embarrassing. Like when I eat a sandwich and have to finish it at precisely the 13th bite. I count, and that's why I sometimes take small bites and sometimes, especially at the end, huge ones. Because even after all these years, I still can't figure out the best technique to measure each mouthful. Or when I go to the supermarket, I have to go through all aisles, even the baby section, although I have no babies. I go through everything, like Pacman collecting points. Also, if I came only for grapefruit juice, I do the whole round before going to the checkout.

Yuval seemed so focused on his cube. I wanted him to raise his head and look at me, remember and smile and ask if I want to play a game. But he kept spinning his stupid cube, with his long fingers and the odd murmur from his sweet lips.

Although he called me Betty-Dupe; was bossy and liked games that required undressing; would steal jewellery from Mother's dresser and always makes my toe itch, I thought he was kind of a nice guy. I was so busy staring at him that I didn't notice I was sweating, and my hands were shaking. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Instead of aligning the colours of the cube, he seemed to be messing them up more. I began to realise that he was ruining everything he touched. Like the cube, or like the time we played, and Mother showed up and took the pack of sweets from his hands. We explained that it was just pretend-medicine, but she didn't listen and said she would flush them down the toilet. But I knew she'd taken them for herself. Not that it bothered me, they were revolting anyway, but they made me feel good and always prevented my toe from itching. Yuval called it placebo, Mother called it drugs, and I didn't call it. But whatever you call it, I loved those sweets and wanted to have them again, but Mother wouldn't let me. It seemed ridiculous because Mother had a lot of placebos in the bathroom cabinet, so why was she allowed and I wasn't. Anyhow, I stopped listening to Mother; she knew nothing, except for those occasions when proven to be smart.

Like the day she brought home a dog and called it Christian, just because she hated the neighbour lady and wanted to upset her, as the neighbour lady had a son named Christian. Mother would shout, "Christiaaaaan, who's a good dog? Who's a good boy?" and throw him a ball. He'd run to catch it, either because he enjoyed it or because he thought Mother enjoyed it and wanted to please her. The neighbour lady would look out the window with an irritable expression. Yes, she had her enchanting moments, but usually didn't know how to think ahead. For instance, she went to family events when she didn't want to, only because the host would come to hers first. She wasn't thinking about the future. How would she go to the events of her funeral attendees?

Mother was always wrong. She used to say that if I played in the rain, I would get sick, and I got sick only in the summer; that if I played in the sun, I would have a headache, but my head always ached only in the winter. Do not take showers at night; do not sleep with wet hair; eat lots of carrots to see better; do not eat late at night so as not to get fat; never go into a pool after eating a watermelon; ice-cream when your throat hurts; water when you have diarrhoea; coffee over open wounds; mud over bee stings; never swallow gum because it'll only go out with your poo in seven years; don't eat when you talk; don't talk when you eat... But all of these were mistakes, myths, lies. Because with all the carrots I consumed, the coffee I smeared, the ice cream I ate and all the water I drank... I never pooped gum. And I swallowed loads of them as a child. It made me think sadly of all the rabbits who maybe needs glasses, but no one knows. And of how sad it is to be mistaken about everything, like Mother. As with the carrots, and like the day she cut off my toe, which if it still existed, probably wouldn't itch at all. It's not just Mother, but everybody seems to be wrong all the time. How can they not be, when we're not even smart enough to understand how our brain works; although when you think about it, if it was just enough for us to understand it, then we were too stupid to understand anyway.

So I continued to sit there and look at him. At least three times, I almost got up to approach him and regretted it. He didn't look up, not even once to look out the window or stretch. Almost as if he knew that a glance from him would make me stop gazing, but wanted me to. The way onions make cutters cry for their dead bodies. But I didn't think he'll remember me, it's been fifteen years, and I'm forgettable. I'm like a person who stops walking to scratch inside her shoe while a family picture was taken, and remains framed in a living room of strangers for years - The background woman that picks her shoe.

The train stopped, and a few people got off in Caesarea. One of them bumped Yuval's foot with a suitcase, and Yuval looked up for a second. Straight at me. I knew it was more likely he looked at the window, but my brain gave my feet an order to stand. I closed the book and got up. People thought I was getting out and made way, but I stopped in front of him and wasn't sure what to say. Finally, he felt my presence and looked up. Not what I expected. His eyes were red and puffy, and my stump was itching aggressively. He asked, "What?" in a low voice.

"I don't feel good..."

I don't know why I said it; it sounded idiotic as it came out of my mouth. I Probably looked dumb, with my foot rubbing against the other, but that's what came out. Maybe because I knew that while Yuval made my toe itch all the time, he always found a way to stop the itching, that's what I was waiting for. He looked at me; his long eyebrow shrinking as if looking directly at the sun, and then his eyes brightened like when a cloud appears. I knew he recognised me; a doctor never forgets his first patient. But then he said, "Shit!" Got up quickly, took his backpack and ran out the train.

I didn't feel embarrassed and didn't want to cry, just stared at the seat which he was sitting on a moment earlier and scratched my foot. He left something behind, a bag of change. When I looked up, I saw him standing on the platform. He looked directly at me, holding his backpack in a loose grip. Now he recognised me and his lips moved again, only this time, I managed to read them: "Betty-dupe?"

And the train continued on its way.

© All content rights reserved to Moriah Betzalel