Shadows crawled up and down the walls, then flung themselves over the bed and the easy chair by the window, shadows that seemed to be from her own brain. Voices oozed out of those shadows, whispering, crying, warning, threatening, voices that collided and slid over each other, voices that told her to get the hell out of this place. The trouble was that when she felt something it almost was the same as knowing -- only more powerful -- so she ended up at war with herself.
She was tempted to buy a bottle of arak and drink herself into a stupor, but crawled into bed and spent most of the day and night there, not sleeping but occasionally losing consciousness, mostly thinking and letting disjointed images and half-dreams float through her brain.
Despite her sleepless night, the next day she took a taxi to the Kiryat Arba settlement just outside Hebron, to see for herself the apartment blocks, shopping centers, synagogues, and schools that had risen there in recent years. Some people viewed this as a paradise, a place where dreams came true. Perhaps it depended on who was doing the dreaming. To Delphine, it looked like an ordinary rather boring suburb in the southwest United States. Layla had arranged introductions for her, so she could talk to people who might not otherwise have been willing to either hear her questions or answer them.
"I think you're a good person," one of the older Jewish men she met in Kiryat Arba told her. "I don't believe you want to make trouble."
"Thank you," said Delphine, carefully. They sat on wicker chairs on the small balcony outside his apartment, a round glass-topped table between them.
A bulky fellow, talkative and proud, the man was impressed with Delphine's beauty. Perhaps with her fame as an actress, too. He must've seen himself as a ladies' man at one time. Clearing his throat, he looked at her through the lower part of his bifocals. She could see that he must have been an imposing figure, large and muscular and very masculine, a Jean Gabin type, sure of his maleness and willing to prove it whenever the opportunity arose.
Nothing like Omar, she told herself. When Omar is this age, he will be completely different. Not that she will see Omar when he is as old as this man. She will never see Omar again, middle-aged or old.
"I'm a direct descendent of David Ben-Gurion," the man confided.
"Absolutely. He was born in Plonsk. That's Poland."
"I didn't know that."
"He was very strong, exercised every day. Could stand on his head, even when he was old."
"Think of that," said Delphine. She let her smile shine across the little table: "But what's going on here?" Her arms reached out, enfolding the whole area in their embrace. "I'm confused by it all. Can you explain what's happening?"
His frown showed that he wasn't happy with this diversion in the conversation.
"We all want peace." The man thrust out his belly, as if that noble bulge could contribute to world understanding and harmony. "But that means everyone must lay down their guns. Everyone must accept this world and be willing to live in it peacefully."
Accept it how, Delphine wondered? And which world?
She had been told repeatedly that the massive new walls being thrust up across farmlands and over hills and in valleys were to protect Israelis from militant Arabs, but why then were they being constructed inside Palestinian territory? If Christians, Jews, and Moslems worshipped the same god, as they were reputed to, why couldn't they live together? Such a foolish, simple question. The question a child would ask.
In the taxi on the way back to her hotel, she felt more befuddled than ever. Each individual here seemed to see a different world, a different land, a different future.
The housekeeper at the hotel stopped Delphine in the corridor outside her room. She'd heard of the questions Delphine was asking.
"I think one day Israel will rename all of Palestine 'Israel,'" she said, clutching a stack of towels against her breast, "and send those of us left into the desert. I truly believe this."
* * *
Years were passing and here she was, caught like a leaf on their current. Before long, her twenties would be history. Why did she still yearn for more? She couldn't have told anyone. Studying the world around her was still her favorite occupation, she liked to say, but she realized that it also was dangerous. To watch human beings too closely is to risk becoming disgusted. Heartbroken.
"It's the anthrologist in you," retorted her father, with a perilous twitch of his martini glass, one afternoon when they lunched together in New York. "If people could get out of themselves enough to see each other, we’d have paradise. You can’t hate somebody you truly understand."
Delphine almost smiled. The old man enjoyed educating her.
"The correct study of man is man, but nobody ever does it." He gazed at his beautiful daughter sternly, just in case she might think that she was the exception. "They simply admire their own image of themselves and wallow in their fantasies and delusions.”
Delphine studied her father’s weary, once handsome, face.
“You should put that in a book,” she said.
From DELPHINE by Bruce Douglas Reeves, winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Competition, published by Texas Review Press, available also from University Press Books-Berkeley (800-676-8722), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.