My three sons were looking for lizards when the first sirens blared. Overlooking the sea, Independence Park in Tel Aviv is the perfect place to find lizards, if you can force yourself to be still enough to evade their detection.
To say the sirens broke the silence is an understatement.
You don’t have to be trained in warfare to know what to do when a siren blares: You run. And so we did, following a man and his dog into oncoming traffic and across the street to the nearest apartment building, where a small group was already hunkered down in the bomb shelter, nearly all with dogs by their feet.
“Where’s Papa?” my ten year-old son Adin yelled, breaking free of my hand and running back up the stairs.
My husband is a slow and steady man: the proverbial turtle in Aesop’s fable, but with no hare to hasten his steps. I had grabbed my children and left him behind.
An explosion cut our conversation short; the Iron Dome had intercepted the rockets, sparing us the worst but setting into motion questions almost impossible for a parent to answer.
“Why did you leave Papa?”
My husband was with us now, underground, in the first of many subterranean encounters we would have over the following days, each in the presence of strangers and their children — strangers spontaneously turned kin for the ten minutes that we spent together.
“Ima, when will the rockets stop?” I heard one young girl ask her mother.
“Don’t worry, sweetie. Soon they’ll run out of rockets and start shooting cherries.”
In another instance, when a shelter was not to be found, we were five adults taking refuge in a basement stairwell, jumping in unison as the door of an in-home day care opened and a dozen three year-olds filed out, as if onto the set of a silent film. But we were the ones expected to perform, swallowing our fear and passing out popsicles to soften the sound of the ‘boom’ (as it is known in Hebrew).
A few days later, my father, in Jerusalem for a conference, came to visit. He wanted to see his grandchildren, of course, but that was not all: he needed a new sports jacket, and where else to buy one, if not in fashionable Tel Aviv?
Two of my children in tow, I took my father to Gan Ha’ir, the upscale indoor mall next to Rabin Square, and waited while he tried on jackets, one after the other, as if we had all the time in the world, as if the Hamas terrorists had received orders to tuck their rocket launchers between their legs until my father’s shoulders settled into the right fabric and we found a fit.
“Dad, a siren! Come!”
My words were superfluous; of course he would come. But with what urgency?
My father will soon turn 77. A pacemaker sits near his sternum like a second heart, sending out signals intended only for him.
For the second time that week, I had left someone I loved behind, grabbing my children and heading toward the bomb shelter, where police officers waited with lollipops, their guns hanging limply at their hips.
“Where’s Zeyde?” my youngest demanded to know. It was not a question anymore, but it still required an answer.
“He’s right behind us,” I replied hopefully.
Afterwards, we emerged into the bright sunshine, my father standing next to us, his shoulders padded with the finest Italian linen.
“Look up in the sky,” I instructed my children. The interceptions from the Iron Dome leave wisps of smoke behind like little clouds. Trying to distract everyone from the sirens and the explosions and the shrapnel we would later hear about falling down a few buildings from the street we were living on for the summer, I asked a question of my own. “What animal do you see?”
“Nothing,” they said, and turned their heads away. The silence that followed was too strong; somebody had to speak up.
“But I saw a lizard in the miklat,” Gidi — my middle son, a few months shy of his bar mitzvah—announced, pointing down into the depths from which we had just risen. “It probably lives there and has no idea what’s going on.”
Dalia Rosenfeld is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Atlantic Monthly, Agni, Bellingham Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, Zeek, Jewcy, Moment, and Carve Magazine. She lives with her husband and three children in Charlottesville, Virginia.