“MORTAL DANGER – MILITARY ZONE," announced a garish red and yellow sign. "Any Person Who Passes or Damages the Fence ENDANGERS HIS LIFE.”
Like a prehistoric snake, a jagged-toothed fairy tale monster, the Wall slithered and gnawed across the countryside, descending from rock-studded mountain, slashing through ancient olive groves, where dark upturned roots clawed haplessly at the blank sky. Then it hunched up with broad shoulders through a starkly naked area now scoured of houses, farms, and human beings. Sometimes, it undulated between raw trenches and electrified razor fencing. The concrete slabs, eight meters high and three meters wide, cast shadows many times their size. Shadows that withered and killed both vegetation and human hope.
Delphine and Layla managed to slip through the ever-present checkpoints in spite of relentless metal detectors, tunnels of coiled barbed wire, and the constantly shifting paranoid eyes of overhead cameras. And despite the angry-looking juvenile soldiers who, scarcely more than children, seemed to have been taught to hate everyone who dared approach. Each time the two women tried to cross a border - and this was a land of borders, twisting, changing, relentless borders - these armed adolescents halted them, questioned them, harassed them.
Did these youths with their oversized weapons that made them look even younger than their actual ages despise them, wondered Delphine, because they were women, because Layla was Palestinian, because they both were middle-aged, or because they hated everyone else who wasn't trained to kill? Sometimes, she wanted to laugh at these uniformed, armed kids - they looked so ridiculous with their sneering, glowering expressions, infantile swaggering, and exaggerated hostility. Of course, she had to suppress any urges to hilarity - unless she wanted to end up in jail. Or with a bullet lodged strategically behind her rib cage. Humor had no place anywhere along the Wall.
Almost always, however, Delphine and her guide got through - unlike others they saw, people for whom it mattered much more. It wasn’t fair, but it had been years since Delphine expected life to be fair.
Again and again, she gazed on the shuffling, dusty lines of people waiting for permission to pass through the checkpoints. Often, they were trapped in the sun for hours. She saw the smoking, idling trucks and crowded buses. The aged cars and bicycles. The weary pedestrians and the workmen desperate to get to their jobs. The women with bundles on their heads and restless children clinging to their long dust-gilded skirts and voluminous coats. She saw them and felt guilty when she was allowed through and they weren’t.
"Guilt is such a stupid emotion."
"What?" Layla turned to her, olive-skinned profile sheltered by her dark blue scarf. "What about guilt?"
"It doesn't change anything."
Excerpt from DELPHINE, novella published by Texas Review Press.
* * *
Life is messy. Life is difficult and unpredictable and all too often irrational. We can try to understand it, but that doesn't mean we'll succeed. This is one of the lessons that Delphine learns in this short novel. She thinks of herself as a hard-headed realist, as a woman without any illusions, but in fact she is an idealist, a person who wants to leave the world a better place because she was in it. But how can she, how can any of us, do that?
Logic? Order? Predictability? Hardly. The world is a messy, sometimes chaotic, place. Delphine comes to understand this, but she doesn't give up. She remains determined to understand and to do her bit to bring reason and order and fairness to the planet.
Bruce Douglas Reeves, author of DELPHINE, winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Competition, published by Texas Review Press, available from University Press Books-Berkeley (800-676-8722), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by order from your local bookstore.