Short story: Shadows (I)

The heat was blistering, but the backs of his ankles felt particularly blistered. Sweat seemed to be beading up beneath his sandal straps, rubbing the skin raw beneath; and the sun’s rays were roasting relentlessly. When was the last time he’d gone for a walk like this?

Also, his clothes were drenched. Later, he’d probably be struggling them off into the laundry machine, hoping that a quick cycle would get the stench out. Maybe he should pick up some white vinegar at the grocery store.

He was going shopping for the first time in… forever. At Sha’are Zedek Medical Center, Doc Negev had been very stern with him about not wandering too far from his apartment. “Your body is still weak. You must recuperate. So, don’t go too far from home for two weeks, at least, and schedule a checkup with Tzipporah.” Finally, after his third checkup, Doc was satisfied, and he was given shopping privileges. Still, that piercing sunlit afternoon, Osnat had attempted to discourage him.

But he was long past stir-crazy.

Of course, in his eagerness to go out and be useful, he’d forgotten his sunglasses. Figured. He was always leaving his personal effects behind. “Son, you’d forget your shadow if only that were possible,” his father used to tell him. Abba hard to believe that almost four years had gone by. “I miss you so much, Abba… but, B’ezrat HaShem, I’m well enough to go to shul next week for Kaddish. I’ll bring a good scotch in your honor.”

Squinting through the sun and sweat, he could hardly make out the faces of other pedestrians as he made his way down the sidewalk. Their bodies blurred in the light waves, and he decided to pretend that he was passing by the souls of his loves ones. “Hi, Saba… Nana… Bubbe… I wish you were still around… next week I’ll be marking Abba’s fourth yahrzeit. Can you believe it? Sometimes I imagine that he’s still here in Jerusalem. God knows he loved this city.”

Finally, Yosef had to cast his eyes down to the pavement under the weight of the sun’s blaze. At least the air-conditioned store was only one more block ahead.

And then- SuperDeal!

The store was bigger than the average local minimarket, but more manageable than certain enormous supermarkets in Jerusalem, and the customer service was notably better- practically American. Breathing heavily, Yosef entered the comfortably cool store and pulled out a shopping cart from next to the doorway, resting his forearms on the bar. Apparently, even now, weeks after his release, he was weaker than he’d expected.

He slowly pushed the cart towards the dairy aisle on the left, past the cashiers, and noted their new, crisp blue uniforms. “Very nice, guys, very professional,” he thought. The air conditioning was refreshing, but his legs felt unsteady. Best to finish up here as soon as possible. Hmn… maybe he should call Osnat to pick him up with the car.

Yosef put several strawberry yogurts, cottage cheese, and a carton of goat milk into his cart. Next, frozen salmon and imitation crab meat. Osnat’s salmon patties and seafood salad were to die for. Mayonnaise, canned corn, sweet pickles, red onion… what else had she needed?

As he swiveled his cart, he nearly bumped into a plumpish, gray-haired elderly gentleman with a beige, flat golf cap… Abba! “Hey! Watch it!” Stunned, Yosef turned to look at the fleshy, wrinkled face staring back in consternation. The portly customer was about the right age and build, but otherwise bore little resemblance to Abba. Just his imagination, again. “I’m so sorry, Sir!”

Lately, he’d been talking to Abba in his mind, visualizing him, and hearing his throaty voice around every corner. A tremble went through him, and his skin suddenly felt cold and clammy. The air conditioning was too strong. Realization dawned, and Yosef reached into his pocket to call Osnat, but he’d forgotten his cellphone on the table next to the sunglasses, which used to belong to Abba. Damn. This was bad.

“I need to go home.”

Yosef wheeled his groceries towards the checkout, his attention drawn to the rhythmic beep, beep, beeping of the scanners. His body was shivering and the cashiers looked at him under the white ceiling lamps. Light was filling his vision, as the blue uniforms began to blur. Beep, beep… beep… …. …. beep… … beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…

From somewhere in the distance, he heard Doctor Negev’s voice. “Yosef! Can you hear me? Stay with us! Yosef! Can you…”

In the spreading chill, he understood- numbly.

There weren’t any shadows.

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