I was taking the baby for a walk to the park when the rockets started falling from the sky. Perhaps the sounds should have alerted me to the troublesome situation developing on the border with Lebanon, but I’d become used to explosions and didn’t even raise an eyebrow. We lived near the firing range and the military practiced often. My baby and I lounged at the park, enjoying the shade of the trees. I pushed my baby on the swing. Afterwards, we walked down the quiet, dusty streets to our home, and I put my baby down for a nap. All to the soundtrack of explosions and machine gun fire.
I washed the dishes and made myself lemonade. The ringing phone brought nap time to an early end, and with the baby on my hip I listened to my father-in-law shouting down the line. Where have you been, I’ve been calling! Don’t you hear the bombs, don’t you know Hezbollah are firing on us? Another explosion, much louder this time, startled the baby. I hung up the phone to comfort her, and turned on the news. A scuffle on the border, soldiers from our side killed, all border communities ordered into the shelters. I sat back in my chair. I was so habituated to the sounds of war that I didn’t even notice one when it started! I called my husband at work.
“It’s nothing, I’ll be home later,” he said. “I invited some friends over for a barbecue. Make a salad; I’ll pick up some chicken on my way home.”
It’s nothing I told the baby. I swept the floors, thinking of the endless conflict between these two peoples, and how I belonged to neither yet found myself in the middle. I looked out the window. I decided to pick some greens from the garden for the salad. At the back door I looked out at our little yard, mostly dead grass from a month of no rain, and a small, reluctant garden alongside the fence. I looked up at the sky. Looks clear to me. I ran across the lawn, grabbed what I needed from the garden and ran back to the house. I made the salad while the baby played with the pots and pans. The sun went down.
The bombs sounded louder in the dark and I watched their red trace rush across the sky. Kind of like shooting stars I said to the baby. My husband came home and prepared the charcoal grill on the porch. A friend came by and sat with him, playing a guitar. They grilled chicken wings while the rockets lit up the sky and shook the dishes in the kitchen cupboards. I watched from the doorway. It’s nothing they laughed at me. Bring us some plates. I ate inside, with the baby.
The next day the rockets were still wailing their way from the northern border towards us. The news reported casualties, more on their side than ours. I washed the dirty diapers, and in the afternoon the baby napped again and I hung the diapers out to dry alongside the house. Stringing the white cotton squares up in rows on the line, I watched a municipality truck drive slowly up the road and stop in front of the bomb shelter, a cloud of dust billowing up from behind. A stout man got out with a big ring of keys. He fumbled with the keys, trying a couple in the lock until he found the right one. He took the lock off and propped the door open.
“Hey, what’s happening?” I called to him from across the road.
“Ah, nothing,” he replied, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Just taking off these locks. Municipal orders is all. Just in case, you know. But it’s nothing”
I hung the last diapers and went inside to get the baby who’d woken up. In case of what I said to the baby. In case the rockets make it up over the hillside?
“That’s not possible,” my husband said when we lay awake in bed later that night, unable to sleep for fear that the dishes in the kitchen would rattle off the shelves. “Their Katyusha rockets don’t have a strong enough trajectory to make it over the hillside.” I didn’t know what he meant. I told him about the municipality truck and the big ring of keys and the unlocked bomb shelter.
“It’s nothing, don’t worry,” he said.
I tried not to worry. In the morning I dressed the baby. I mopped the floor. I made bread. I showed the baby picture books with peaceful scenes in barnyards and country sides. I pushed the dishes towards the back of the cupboards so they wouldn’t rattle out and smash on the floor. I looked out across the street at the bomb shelter with the wide open door.
I’d never been in a bomb shelter, except for the one in the middle of town, converted into a second hand shop and run by an old lady who unraveled sweaters and sold the balls of wool for cheap. It didn’t count as a bomb shelter anymore, not with its collection of cassette tapes, tattered shoes, and outdated winter coats. Where I come from there aren’t bomb shelters because there aren’t bombs. In fact there isn’t even war where I come from. In fact, I told the baby, we used to live on a safe little island. No municipal truck, no ring of keys, no Katyushas.
I wiped my hands on a tea towel, went to the front door and opened it. I stepped onto the landing and looked at the sky. It’s nothing, I told the baby. I slipped on my shoes, picked up the baby and crossed the street to the bomb shelter. We’ll just take a look inside I told the baby. So we’ll know what to expect. I stepped into the entrance, a concrete space with concrete stairs leading down into darkness, the underground where presumably one would be safe. How long we’d lived in Israel, with bomb shelters every half a block that no one ever talked about. I found a light switch, and turned on the lights. The baby pulled at my hair. We descended the stairs, probably two flights in all, holding on to the rail along the cold wall. The stairwell felt damp with a strange, lifeless smell to it. The baby shivered despite the heat of the day above us. Towards the end of the stairwell the light bulbs were burnt out and the light from above casted strange shadows of ourselves, elongated into the space below.
Two steps from the bottom where the stairs opened out into a large, empty room I put my foot in water. The shelter was flooded with at least a foot and a half of water. Suddenly I felt like there was no air down there. The baby was silent, staring into the room of water, rippling from the splash my foot had made. I froze for a moment, and then turned and ran back up the stairs, out the door and across the road to our house.
“The bomb shelter is flooded,” I told my husband at dinner. He took a long drink of his beer and continued to eat. “I said, its flooded. The bomb shelter, the one across the road, it’s flooded.” The baby looked up. My husband sighed, and pushed his chair back from the table, slowly crossing his arms over his chest.
“Lo hashuv,” he said. “Lo tzrichim et ze.” Not important, we don’t need it.
After dinner I checked the sky again and went for a walk with the baby. Half a block down the road there was another bomb shelter, also unlocked. I had decided to go see if it too was flooded. Lights on, down the concrete stairs, this time no splash at the bottom. So we’ll use this one then I told the baby. Metal bunk beds with wooden slats and no mattresses lined the walls. I looked for supplies, thinking maybe there was a first aid kit, some emergency food, a radio- whatever it might be that one should have in a bomb shelter, but the room was empty apart from the bunks.
At home I put the baby to bed. My husband sat on the back porch smoking a cigarette and watching the red shooting-star rockets. I went into the bedroom and packed a little bag of things: a diaper, some toys, a change of clothes, a blanket.
“What’s that for?” my husband asked, coming in from outside.
“Just in case,” I said, “so it’s ready.” He frowned at me, pulled at his beard.
“You won’t need it,” he said. I put the bag by the front door anyway. I went into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror, my brown hair awkwardly growing out, my eyes looking into their own weary reflection. I pushed my hair back from my face. It’s nothing, I reminded myself, my small frame in the mirror reflecting doubt, my head shaking even as I repeated it; it’s nothing. I squeezed tooth paste onto my brush and watched myself brushing my teeth. A rocket wailed in the sky somewhere nearby. I froze, toothpaste foam dripped from my mouth onto my chin. The baby stirred in her sleep. Silence. I spat in the sink, rinsed my mouth, and turned out the bathroom light.
The next morning the trajectory of the rockets had definitely improved. The explosions were louder, closer. My husband talked to the neighbor over the fence.
“What did he say?” I asked him when he returned.
“He said he’s not concerned. He said he sent his kids to school, and he’s going to work.”
“And what about you?” I asked.
“Me? I’m also going to work.”
“But how can you go to work? It’s dangerous to be building houses right now. Maybe we should go stay with your parents in the south for a bit?”
“Why?” He asked, and kissed me goodbye.
Why? I said to the baby when he’d gone. I started to cry.
By lunchtime the whole house shook with each explosion. I decided to pack some more things, just in case. To the rhythmic sound of machine gun fire, I packed some of the baby’s things, and I packed some of my things. First some clothes, then some books, and then I packed everything. By the time my husband came home all my belongings were in two big boxes by the door. He raised his eyebrows and looked at me impatiently.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“I think we should go south,” I said. “Just in case. Just for a few days. We can stay with your family, wait it out. It won’t be so bad, kind of like a holiday.”
My husband went outside for a cigarette. The air raid siren went off, howling loudly and then it stopped just as suddenly. The baby cried.
“What do we do?” I shouted to him, flooded with panic, feeling the baby’s body tense against mine.
“We do nothing,” he replied dispassionately. I froze. I waited for the sky to fall. I waited for the roof to collapse. I wanted to run to the shelter. But instead I did nothing. The siren was followed by silence. We didn’t talk, my husband and I. After a while the baby fell asleep in my arms and my husband got up and went inside. I heard him call his family, pacing while he talked. He arranged our visit. Just for a couple of days I heard him say. Yeah, just until she calms down. I know, it’s nothing.
He helped me put the boxes in the car, shoving them into the trunk, and forcing it closed against the stuffed boxes. Together we moved through the rooms in the house, silently closing the shutters to all the windows. I watered the plants in the window sill, and straightened the bedding.
“Aren’t you going to pack some things?” I asked him.
“No,” He replied. “I’m not.” I took the baby out to the car and buckled her into the car seat. He emerged from the house with his toothbrush.
“That’s all?” I asked.
“That’s all.” he replied, and locked the door.