It was no less surprising to Eichmann himself than it was to Fräulein Arendt when, after an unusually long deliberative period, the panel in Jerusalem returned with a not-guilty verdict. Yes: Eichmann’s face showed a surprised expression. It was a dazed, vacant face, slightly amphibian around the eyes and mouth, and it was rarely occupied by legible feeling. When an expression appeared there, the effect was of a timorous brightness, like the light thrown by a candle guttering deeply in a castle alcove.
Eichmann was the last to learn his own fate, given the time it took for the translation to reach him—the former German citizen listening with enchanted disbelief through bulky headphones from inside his chamber of bulletproof glass. Immediately he began to clean his spectacles, as if he had heard wrong. His counsel—like everyone else—had advised him that he would probably end up swinging on a Jewish gallows. Surprise was on his (downturned) face, but no elation. What now, for the unemployable Adolf Eichmann, with his I.Q. of 105 and age of fifty-six?
For a moment the only sound in the amphitheatrical courtroom which had rows of radiating black pews was the rhythmic clack-clicking of Fräulein Arendt’s kitten heels as she made for the telegraph wire in the hallway. Then Eichmann, turning to his lawyer, Robert Servatius, was even heard to say, most uncharacteristically, “Was ist das, für ein scherz oder so?” But the Jews didn’t crack smiles. Instead, they turned, one to the other: this one to the left side, that one to the right. Startled momentarily from their father tongue, they were heard to say—one to the other—“Vos iz dos, far a vits oder epes?”, meaning, “What is this, some kind of a joke or something?” But it was no joke.
“We have prepared a further statement,” said magistrate Moshe Landau, to the court, in Hebrew.
“We find,” Moshe Landau said, reading from a sheaf of papers held messily in his two hands, “in the case of Adolf Eichmann, held accused of crimes against humanity and the Jewish people, that his culpability for the European disaster cannot be established beyond a reasonable doubt. We hereby release him from the custody of the State.
“As a representative of the Israeli government, and as a speaker on the Diaspora’s behalf,” he continued, “I turn, now, to address Christendom directly. I ask: Can you judge who is the greater forgiver? Jesus Christ, or the Jewish people? Christian brothers, is it this Jewish people, the Jewish people standing before you which has granted legal pardon to Adolf Eichmann, murderer of all murderers? Is it this Jewish people that you hold responsible for the execution of Yeshua ben Yoseph? Can any Christian claim, as the Jewish people can today, to have turned for the smiting six million cheeks, including those of many children?”
Then he turned to face Eichmann, who was still seated in his great glass booth. In heavily accented English, Landau, quoting, said: “The quality of mercy is not strained, Herr Eichmann. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”
But Eichmann didn’t have time to dwell on questions of theocidal guilt or its patrilineality. He had worries up to the exculpated neck.
That same night he was confronted with the problem of where to stay. He hadn’t thought to make arrangements for his possible vindication: the chances were too remote. Servatius declined to put him up, citing professional ethics. Naturally the hotels and hostels were booked up and down, lots of rooms having been subdivided, mechitzot repurposed as Japanese screens, bridal suites broken into fourths so that foreign journalists and victims’ families could crowd without a wasted inch into the city—Jerusalem was still small then.
Eichmann, the brim of his featureless brown hat bent over his forehead as a short-term measure to safeguard his identity, went shuffling like some charmless Chaplin from inn to inn in search of a place to bed down. “What,” he said to himself in a soft, tactful voice, “will I end up spending the night on a park bench?” And he shook his head, because he was embarrassed.
But in Argentina, he hadn’t felt embarrassed. He had felt anonymous. Neither had he felt embarrassed in the courtroom. In Germany, he had felt embarrassed all the time, and here he was, very far from the Germany of his youth—a place that no longer existed, a place that had been divided between two carrion-birds—almost happy to discover that he could still produce in his heart the tender feelings he had felt in the earliest part of his career.
Almost happy because he didn’t have the comfort for real happiness. Hunted he had been, and hounded. But homeless? Now he wallowed in a gutter. People were passing back and forth along the avenue with its fresh static of sand, which hung visibly half a meter off the ground. A young, barefoot girl ran past, holding aloft a fistful of blue-petalled flowers. The contrast she presented with the prevailing mood of the mob made Eichmann aware of a solemnity that descended on his shoulders like a gargoyle. Since he had never been in Jerusalem as a free man, he had no way of knowing that that solemnity was in any way related to him. Instead, like a tourist, he imputed to the land or nation around him the status of his own mind. Between his self and his place, Eichmann didn’t discriminate.
After a while, he drifted into sleep.
A passing monk took pity on him. His name was Fernando Almeida, and he was missing an eyetooth. Spying the crumpled body of a now-sleeping Eichmann in the gutter, Almeida tossed the German over his shoulder like a sheaf of barley. He took him to his monastery, a sand-blasted mission which had once been a British officer’s club and, before that, a Mamluk mosque. It was only there that he realized the identity of the pilgrim he had collected. Eichmann awoke an hour so later, mounted on pillows in the dry socket of a disused ritual bath. Above him there was a ring of tonsured, monkish heads. The subterranean light was liquid and Gothic.
The view with which Eichmann was now confronted, after the confusions and dislocations of that evening and, also, the several preceding months, convinced him he was dead, but didn’t seem to point conclusively either to heaven or the other place. Resolving that he might as well be quiet until he had a good reason not to be, he only blinked up at the monks, among whose number could be found, smiling an incomplete smile, Brother Fernando Almeida.
“All,” Almeida said, “is forgiven, my son.” Almeida spoke an imperfect German, which didn’t seem implausible to Eichmann, who hesitated.
“Are you then,” he said, “my Father?”
“I am Father,” replied Almeida, reasonably, “to anyone who wishes to call me so.”
And so Eichmann, mistaking this kindly Portuguese for God, began to lift himself from the berth in which he had been laid. As soon as he had drawn himself upright, he knelt again in the ground. Without looking up—facing downward—he mumbled: “And what, Father, is my reward?”
“Eternal life,” Almeida said, “is promised to all who walk in the light of the Lord.”
Eichmann’s shoulders shook, and the round heads of his interlocutors set to revolving, each cherubic face turning to acknowledge its fellow. The monks whispered in Portuguese, which Eichmann, bleary-eared in an access of feeling, heard as Latin.
“And have I walked in the light of the Lord, Father?”
Here, Almeida’s voice became sterner. “I don’t know, my son,” he said. “Have you anything to confess?”
“Father,” Eichmann said, after thinking about it, “I was acquitted on all charges.”
“Then rise,” Almeida said, “into the light of redemption.”
Eichmann extended his arms, and felt himself being heaved up, up, and over. There followed a tremendous feast that extended long into the night. The monks, because their marginal sect held all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean hallowed, wore no shoes or sandals, and so their tread was carpeted, almost silent, as they deposited Eichmann at the head of a long wooden table festooned with capons and flagons of beer and chicken schnitzel and boiled carrots and tabbouleh and roasted red peppers and Ben Gurion’s rice and mead and turkey and even smuggled strips of salt-cured pork. Eichmann was a teetotaler, but the old rules no longer applied, and so he made himself drunker and drunker, and became evermore delighted in everything. The monks, too, drank until two of them began dancing on the table like Cossacks, a routine that involved a lot of crouching and elaborate footwork. Eichmann clapped and gleamed with joyful relief, since his death was behind him. When he thought he had eaten as much as he could, two more monks appeared through an Oriental archway with an entire roasted lamb borne between them on a sturdy rod of cedar. The lamb’s abdominal cavity had been stuffed with fragrant herbs, spices, and citrus fruits. The room was full of wonderful, even heavenly aromas as of balsam and myrrh, cinnamon and cardamom. Everyone produced enormous carving knives from within their robes and descended on the little animal, sawing off discs of flesh and tossing them to one another, catching the meat between their teeth with doglike talent. Finally, the drunken Eichmann was offered the first bite from the lamb’s tongue, and this, though he had never been nearly so gastronomically adventurous in life, he readily, being dead, did.
He had eaten so much that he could neither sit nor stand. He lay on the fat-greased floor and, turning to his right, saw the glowing face of Fernando Almeida. It occurred to Eichmann that, in heaven, one such as he was unlikely to have the pleasure of dining with God a second time; and so he searched his mind for questions he might pose to make good on this brief audience with the Almighty. But, even catatonic with liquor, he was afraid of embarrassing himself by asking a question to which the answer was obvious—or, worse, asking a question which God had already answered. In a great, sweaty panic, Eichmann finally said, “My Father. Do You have any questions for me?”
Almeida, who had dozed off, effortfully opened one eye and shut it again. At that moment came the undeniably fleshy smack of a monk’s head against the table, and Eichmann turned to see that one of the dancers—whose number had swollen to nine—had slipped in a pool of lamb fat and capsized like an overladen warship. He lay facedown under the table. Great gouts of blood poured from his head. The blood was so plentiful that it seemed almost solid, with shapes appearing in it that resembled continents. A smell of iron came to Eichmann. Then—
“Hold on a moment,” he said to himself. “Can this really be the other world if there is bleeding in it?”
And that’s how Eichmann realized his mistake. He felt himself to be an idiot, and he looked out at the warm, sweating faces of the monks, and he knew there was no chance of making himself understood. They bound their wounded comrade to the rod of cedar with old ropes and carried him out the door. Eichmann allowed himself to be guided back to the cushioned berth where he’d woken up, and there he slept off the first drunken night of his life.
In the morning, he began to look for an apartment. He wouldn’t stay in Jerusalem, a city he would forever associate with death, punishment, and fear. The following weeks were full of letters written to this landlord and that one, but his inquiries were rarely answered. A month of nervous silence passed. Many Israelis disagreed with the outcome of his trial, and few were willing to take his rental applications seriously. Even those who hadn’t heard of him, or had heard of him but forgotten why, read his Hebrew, as clumsily printed as a foreign tattoo, as the obvious signature of an oleh chadash, and, therefore, that of an unreliable tenant. Immigrants from Europe came with no connections, no work, no resources, and expected credit. Perhaps it was a messianic land, but it wasn’t the Messianic Age. One couldn’t expect something for nothing.
It happened that Eichmann wasn’t exactly penniless. A small but influential circle of German Americans had raised a collection for him, and, though the amount wasn’t extravagant, it added up to a decent pension. He could expect to live out the rest of his life on it if he remained frugal. Frugality had always been one of his virtues, along with industry. And so the letters went out, letter after letter, a few hundred before a promising answer arrived from Tel Aviv. The monks, who had grown accustomed to Eichmann—his meandering jokes with their inscrutable punchlines, his ready compliance with chore schedules and quaint contributions to the monastery’s record collection (Strauss, Paganini, Wagner)—were sorry to see him go when he packed his few possessions, including the records, and took a bus out of the Holy City forever. He thanked them for their hospitality.
The blinking, fishy eyes of Eichmann watched through the window of a wheezing Israeli bus as the anthill of Zion receded, became a point, became nothing.
Eichmann was met outside his new home by the landlord, a small and shiny marionette of a Jew called Yitzchak Saperstein, who, in addition to a three-story apartment building, was the possessor of a bald head. Well, the ad had said a balcony. Instead, there were only French windows with a flower sill. And the ad hadn’t said anything about the overpowering cigarette smell that pervaded the three small rooms, and it didn’t mention that Saperstein lived directly upstairs. But, at least and at last, Eichmann had a place that was his, only his. The stubble in the sink would be his, the shirts in the closet too, and the books on the shelf—he liked Westerns. He didn’t hesitate to shake Saperstein’s hand. He asked where he could buy a good record player and was surprised by Saperstein’s exceedingly detailed answer.
That night he went to sleep in a bed instead of a repurposed mikveh, and he began to feel that his life might become, as it had once been, an ordinary thing, neither dull nor excessively exciting. And thus commenced the years of his retirement.
He took to sunbathing on the roof. He undressed totally for this ritual, a bled-dry Bathsheba—the old German baring his flesh in the Mediterranean sun—but soon he was darkened to the point of anonymity. People were less likely to point him out to their children. He ate schnitzel, bought books. Briefly, he took up painting but found, after producing half a dozen still lifes featuring Jaffa oranges, that he didn’t have the talent. Eichmann burned the canvases in a pyre on the roof, humiliated not so much by their frank worthlessness as by the vanity which had led him even to attempt them. He was no artist, and he had always known he wasn’t one.
Not long after moving in, he began to notice that Saperstein hung around in the apartment a lot, uninvited. At first, he found it obnoxious. What was this, Eichmann asked himself, a hotel or something? But after a while he began to warm up to the old, lonely fellow. It turned out that they were not entirely without sites of intersecting curiosity. What they talked about, night after night and into the morning, was opera. It was a shared enthusiasm. For Eichmann, opera, like painting, had originally been a kind of compulsory affectation. To advance in the company ranks meant professing certain interests and appearing at certain social occasions. But to pretend to understand a thing with any verisimilitude meant teaching oneself a decent amount about it, and eventually this stimulated genuine feelings of attachment. Opera was the last, best thing that remained to Eichmann of the man he had formerly been.
Saperstein, on the other hand, had always been an emotionally sensitive, even delicate individual. He was the author of a respected column on the contemporary opera, published in an obscure Hebrew-language circular, and was once a promising tenor. Two warts along the vocal cords in the shape of a quotation mark had ended his career at thirty-one. Nothing else remaining for him in Warsaw, he had changed his name from Isaak to Yitzchak and moved to Palestine. Though he had briefly shed the Saperstein, too—calling himself Yitzchak ben-Dovid, son to the psalmist—he had resumed his parents’ surname in 1945, feeling that to do otherwise might amount to heaping insult on injury.
Both Eichmann and Saperstein admired Verdi and Puccini; they were divided on Wagner and Strauss. They shared a particular reverence for the operas of Mozart, especially those with libretti by da Ponte, who, as Saperstein gently reminded Eichmann, had been a Jew.
Once, in 1966, Israeli television broadcast the Jerusalem Opera’s production of Salomé in full. The men shouldered a set upstairs from Mrs. Rohani’s and watched; if they could have, they would have leaped into each other’s laps, full of filial awe. Afterward, Saperstein had half a glass of slivovitz and became somber over a magic lantern he’d had as a kid. Eichmann kept his impression of the performance to himself, which wasn’t so impressive by his standards; he had once been an authentic cosmopolitan.
The next year there was a war. They watched that on television as well.
Yitzchak, his cigarette always cocked outside the kitchen window so that its tip hummed coyly between two streetlamps, avoided any mention of politics. Eichmann just as assiduously avoided any mention of women. Saperstein’s permanent bachelordom was never broached, but it hung in his gestures like his smoke in the curtains. Eichmann may have been a little quick to don an outer shirt when his landlord came by, rather self-consciously, Saperstein thought, for a German who sunned his flesh every Monday in the nude, but the question of his sexuality went uninvoked, a nonsubject too sacred and strange to speak of in all the years of their friendship.
And yet he knew that Eichmann had developed the unfortunate habit of patronizing the Allenby streetwalkers. As far as Yitzchak—Eichmann’s only real confidant—was concerned, this was a harmless practice so long as it didn’t interfere with his tenant’s ability to pay rent. Relations between men and women were none of his business. They belonged to a spectral world alongside the real one, a spectral world to which he wasn’t more than a bemused spectator.
One day he became worried. Eichmann was painting again. A portrait this time. Though it was located in the bedroom, it was visible, through an open door, from Eichmann’s kitchen table, where the two men would drink tea from glass mugs and hold sugar between their teeth. One night there were legs, and then there were modestly folded hands, and then arms transpired from the hands and a torso began to take shape until it became obvious that an odalisque was in embryo, an odalisque with a sitter, or sprawler.
On top of this, from time to time, Eichmann would disappear in the middle of a conversation and stare at the blank grease stain above the stove in a faint, happy stupor, and even to Yitzchak it was becoming obvious that the old German was—in love! Yes, in love. And so Yitzchak said to him one of these nights, when only the blank oval of a face remained to be completed on the canvas over Eichmann’s shoulder, a blank oval at which Yitzchak was gazing as if it were a grease stain:
“Please, Adolf, tell me you haven’t fallen in love with one of them, these Allenby girls.”
To his surprise, the often-sheepish Eichmann emitted a healthy, young laugh.
“I’m too old for love,” he said, simply, and sipped his tea. But he said it with solicitude. He wanted to be asked further questions, but Saperstein didn’t want to ask: not because he wasn’t curious, but because his curiosity was too acute. He didn’t want to alarm himself with the details of his sophisticated downstairs neighbor’s erotic life. Yes, to Saperstein, Eichmann—who had spent his most important adult years in the capital of European art and culture—was a sophisticate.
For the first time, it occurred to Saperstein that this perception itself—the sense he had of Eichmann as a person with artistic depths, depths which Eichmann insisted didn’t exist—might be in part responsible for his friend’s increasingly bohemian tastes. Could it be that, in his wish for an associate with whom to discuss the passions of his life, he had recreated this suggestible German as some kind of a starving artist? Could it be that the force of his personality had doomed Eichmann to his ill-advised affair, and that when Eichmann’s heart was inevitably broken, it would be Saperstein’s fault?
Because Saperstein had himself been betrayed by a feckless muse, a beautiful Egyptian lad, a boy with the eyes of a gazelle. He had caused Saperstein to read Arabic poetry in translation.
“My dear friend,” Saperstein said, “does the young lady know why you made aliyah?”
Eichmann frowned. “She’s told me nothing about herself,” he said, “and we have agreed that we want to know nothing of each other’s prior existences.”
“That’s appropriate,” Saperstein said, “for an arrangement that is only carnal.” He sipped his tea and didn’t look at Eichmann, wondering whether the correction would come.
A long time passed; it was a few seconds.
“And if it isn’t?” Eichmann said.
It was, as Saperstein realized with a terrible feeling as of a cramp in the metaphysical self, as he had hypothesized. Eichmann was in his hands totally, to be remade this way or that. Both his questions and his answers could be predicted with perfect certainty.
“If it isn’t,” Saperstein said, “she will, sooner or later, want to know you better than she knows you now. And since you cannot tell her about your future, you will have to tell her about your past.”
“They have no appreciation,” Eichmann said, as if he had thought about it, “for the conundrums into which people like you and me were thrust. The younger generation, I mean.”
“That is true,” Saperstein said. Then, a little judgmentally, he continued: “And it is precisely that lack of perspective which recommends a woman of greater maturity.”
Thoughts passed back and forth across Eichmann’s face like small clouds which themselves resembled young sheep.
“I’m sorry, Yitzchak,” he said. “I think I need the evening to myself. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
“Of course,” Saperstein said, and put out his cigarette in one of Eichmann’s glass saucers.
A man in Eichmann’s position naturally has wondered, yes, as anyone who has been in trouble with the law has wondered: What, if anything, would he say in answer to any particularly pointed questions about his presence in the Land of Israel?
Usually, when he went to see those young women who strolled along Allenby in black, baring shawls like cult harlots, he would ask them their prices and, when they heard his accent, their eyes would flit, involuntarily, to his forearm. He would then send a shy, trembling hand to cover that forearm, which was hidden, anyway, beneath his sleeve. That was not a lie he told; no, it wasn’t. A woman may assume whatever she likes, and, if she doesn’t think to double-check her assumptions, that is called a blunder, an error in her strategy. Never once had any of the Allenby women asked him where he was during the war, or what he did—and why should they? Did he ask them?
At first, he had been afraid that he would be caught out when the women discovered he was uncircumcised. Evidently, this was not so conclusive a trivium as he had expected it to be; and if it was, none of them ever mentioned it.
Their shawls were hanging in the air behind them as they walked; they were always walking from one place to another.
“But, Herr Eichmann,” Eichmann said to himself, “is it not precisely this eventuality you have been shielding yourself against in seeking out paid women?” And the answer was yes.
One might think that a man like Eichmann, mediocre in every sense except in the scale of his troubles, would be prevented by that selfsame mediocrity from accessing the most deeply buried of his motives and desires. But the truth was just the opposite. Eichmann’s heart was transparent and bulletproof, not unlike the chamber of glass in which he had daily been encased, week upon week, just seven years ago. If he bothered to look into that heart, he could see what was there. The illusion that he couldn’t was caused only by the insignificance of what he found when he bothered.
What there was, in a glass chamber or not, was a love in bloom, for a young girl in bloom, and also the wish for her never to know that, at bottom, Eichmann was an unimpressive person. He went to sleep and, when he awoke, he bought blue-petalled flowers and inferior chocolates. They were worse than she deserved. But, at that time in Israel, there wasn’t good chocolate to be found.
He considered going to a jeweler but decided against it. A nice necklace or bauble would cost him a month of comfortable life; besides, too enormous a gesture of affection would prime the young lady to expect that he had violated her trust. Instead of the jeweler, he went to a wine shop. He bought a local vintage; the grapes had been crushed by the brown feet of Arab Jews or Jewish Arabs. Thus laden, he went home. For lunch he had a slice of cold chicken schnitzel. While he ate, he thought about nothing. Then he took a nap, because he was beginning to be an old man. Back then, a man became old at a relatively young age. After his nap he covered the portrait with a sheet—it wasn’t ready for its model’s eyes—and went for a walk. At an outdoor kiosk, he contemplated a ziggurat of spices.
It was getting dark. He went to Allenby.
The name of the young woman was Emunah, or so she said. She was Yemenite in origin. Many of the Allenby girls were. The Yemenites were poor, and their women had a reputation for beauty. Emunah was beautiful to him, but Eichmann could not have said whether she would be found beautiful in the eyes of another man. Though he insisted otherwise to Saperstein, in their long nighttime discussions of the opera, Eichmann didn’t believe that beauty was an objective characteristic. To Saperstein he wished to appear perhaps more sophisticated than he was, and a belief in the inviolable truth of beauty struck him as the sophisticated position. But Eichmann was a sentimentalist. He didn’t think that his idea of a beautiful woman was necessarily universal. It was probably Eichmann’s preference for girls of a certain size, as much as the vagaries of his rococo-furnished soul, that had instructed him in the human particularity of aesthetic feeling. Yes, he remembered the derision he had endured from his officemates after he hung a portrait of the cabaret performer Gerthe von Stauffen above his desk some time toward the end of the war. He should have been suspicious when, for the first time, his coworkers invited him to lunch the week he put up the Stauffen picture. They had taken him to a bierhaus uptown, where the barmaid, whose name started with an H (Hilde? Helga?), was so fat that, she complained, her father had taken to confiscating her ration coupons and reselling them on the schwarzmarkt. The others laughed into their gloved hands every time Eichmann looked her way. It took him a long time to realize they were making fun of him.
And Emunah, too, was full-figured. Out of residual humiliation from the Hilde/Helga incident, Eichmann had deliberately slimmed his Yemenite princess in the portrait he was painting. If Saperstein ever met its model, he would certainly fail to make the connection; if Saperstein met its model on the stairs.
The other women laughed into their bare hands when Eichmann went, that evening, up to Emunah and offered her the blue flowers, the mediocre chocolates. She accepted the gifts with an eloquently pained expression; there was no convenient place for her to keep them and, if Eichmann walked away now, she would toss them. But Eichmann instead said, “Don’t worry about it.” He said, “Come with me for the rest of the night.”
“I have to work,” Emunah said.
“So you’ll be working,” Eichmann said.
They walked off together. They climbed the stairs in Eichmann’s building and didn’t meet Yitzchak on them. At the door to his apartment, Eichmann kissed Emunah chastely on the lips. He opened the door. They went in. Emunah deposited the chocolates and the flowers on the kitchen table—she didn’t put the flowers in a vase, even though there was an empty one—then turned around and made to undress.
“No,” Eichmann said. “My love, sit.”
Emunah sat in one of Eichmann’s cane-backed chairs. If she had carried a whip, she might have resembled Gerthe, he felt. But Emunah had already gone beyond mere replacement, for him, of that former passion. She had made Gerthe seem to be the one who laid the glossy stones in the street which led—here.
Emunah accepted a glass. In his nervousness, he had forgotten about the wine.
He became aware that she was waiting for him to say something else. The box of chocolates was open on the table now, but she hadn’t taken one. The open box became another expectant face.
Finally: “Should I go to the bed?”
“No,” Eichmann said again.
His back was to her now. He was looking at the elliptical grease stain on the wall. There seemed to be no difference at all between the things in his rooms that were and were not faces.
“Emunah,” he said to the grease stain, “I thank you for doing me the courtesy, these past months, never of asking about the way I spent the war years.”
“Yes,” she said, and he could tell from her voice that she was eating one of the chocolates.
“Emunah, Emunah,” he said, “myna shatzy. Have I told you that I love you?”
“Yes,” she said, and he could tell from her voice that the little warble of grief in his own had killed her appetite.
“I don’t want this love to be insignificant,” Eichmann said. “And since I don’t want this love to be insignificant, I cannot carry on in it without revealing all of myself to you. Do you agree that a man ought to reveal all of himself to his lover, even if it doesn’t make him seem noble?”
“Noble,” Emunah said, with a bayonet’s severity. “Who cares about this word, noble? I care about kindness. I don’t care about noble.” And she rose. She went to Eichmann and took his elbow in her warm, soft hand. Her breath was humid against his neck. “You have always been kind to me, Dolfele,” she said. “There is nothing you could say that would repeal the kindnesses you’ve done me.”
From upstairs came suddenly a comical burst of Figaro. Eichmann said, softly, so that Emunah had to stand on her tiptoes and rest her round, lovely face upon his shoulder to listen: “There was an occasion, after I came to this country, on which I believed that I had died. When this happened, it didn’t seem strange to me that I registered no grief at having departed from the earth. In a sense I had believed myself to be dead already. In my fifty-seventh year I felt that the world was out of fruit. Or that I had been squeezed dry. I looked into the eyes of what I believed to be God and thought—at last, at last I am done, the work is done. My duty is done. Because I had known my life as a duty. It had been a series of labors to be carried out. I had not strayed. I had done what I believed to be right.
“Now I will tell you why I made aliyah, and if you do not love me anymore when I am done, know that I will understand.”
In the morning the Jaffa orange of the sun wheeled out of the earth in the east. In the west, people slept; they hadn’t yet seen the sun. A pigeon, exactly like a European pigeon, chattered in a window. Pigeons, exactly like Palestinian pigeons, chattered in the windows of Berlin. Pigeons chattered in plenty of windows. Everywhere windows were set into relation with each other because of pigeons.
Yitzchak Saperstein turned over in his sleep, and in his dream, he was making love to an Arab lad with eyes like a faun. His burnished wooden doorknob of a head mutedly shone in a shaft of light from his east-facing window.
The farmyard scents of love rose from Eichmann’s sheets. She was playing with a sprig of white hair on his chest when he awoke; he loafed in her shade. She was between him and the window. He did not even see the pigeon, but he heard it. The window was open and consequently, the farmyard scents of love mixed out into the mineral odors of the city, like people leaving a train station. The love of Eichmann and Emunah leaned and leavened into the glossy-stoned street. The two of them, the prostitute and the former officer, said, “I love you,” quietly, and in turns. The light was yellow and contained a mobile static of dust.
Finally, Eichmann said, “I do not want to leave your arms, my darling. But I have to pee.”
Only after they had kissed each other softly another five or six times did they mitose, Eichmann pulling a pair of ragged briefs up his thin, bird’s legs, his ridiculous rump beggarly in the fluid light. Emunah didn’t care that he looked the way he did. She blew him a kiss; he went to the kitchen. Tenderly, he gathered the flowers that she had laid along the table. He put them in a vase with water. Then he went to the bathroom, leaned over the toilet with one hand on the wall, and waited for the piss to come. He was curiously aware of the length of time this took because, he realized, he hadn’t been so intoxicated, so struck dumb by feeling since the days—those bawdy days draped with red and black and white, of good health and long braids—when his piss had come easy. In the very same moment that his insignificant sphincter relaxed, he felt the decades wash down his body, the fish hooks catching and folding the flesh around his mouth, the glut and superflux of memory that dulled the fine edges of faces. He wanted to cry with the joy of dissipated potency, the relief that came with the passage into nothingness. He was here and his birthplace was there. Not just north but disappeared into the scrapyards of time, as completely as Republican Rome.
He flushed the toilet, and everything was in it. He went back to the bedroom and leaned against the doorframe. Emunah was looking at something to her right. Eichmann was too dazed by delight to realize at first that her ponderous expression contained traces of disgust. He turned.
Emunah had unsheathed the portrait. It lay against its easel like a small bird pressed against a big one. He looked at her, smiling, and she was already looking back, but she cracked no smile.
“Who is this?” she said.
“What do you mean?” he said, and blinked. “It’s you.”
There was a beat.
“That’s not me,” she said, seriously.
He looked at the portrait again and realized her confusion.
“Oh,” he said, “I understand. Yes, it’s a stylized portrait.”
“Is it stylized?” Emunah said. “It looks like someone else altogether.” Her lower lip and her belly quivered. “She has another woman’s breasts. Are those the breasts you want?”
“What?” Eichmann said. “No. Yes, they are—and they are yours. That is you in the picture.” He thought about how to say it. “I’ve only adjusted the dimensions.”
“You’ve adjusted the dimensions,” Emunah said, “and now it’s not me anymore. You’ve made me into somebody else.”
He didn’t understand.
“I didn’t make you into somebody else,” he said. “I only painted you as if you were a little different.”
“You painted the me of a long time ago,” Emunah said. “You painted me when I was hungry. When I came to this country. But you didn’t know me then.”
“I feel,” said Eichmann, “as if I did.”
“But you didn’t,” Emunah said. “I would remember if you did. So why is the woman in the picture a woman with snatched waist, high tits, visible ribs?”
Eichmann hesitated. He had perhaps known—yes, in covering the picture he must have known—that she would be a little hurt by the poetic license he had issued himself, known she’d get a little wounded and faun-eyed. But she was shaking. Her rage was visible in her upper arms. Eichmann felt himself to be once again on trial.
“Emunah,” he attempted, “I didn’t mean anything by it. It was just the way the picture came to me. Can I help that?”
“So, you’re an artist,” Emunah said. “And this gives you permission to do what you like? Except that you are no artist. My father was an artist. He was a silversmith. Seven years he studied. And still he would hesitate to call himself a silversmith, if that is even the word: in our language it has another ten or twenty reverberations. An artist? An artist! Weren’t you Hitler’s accountant?”
“Emunah,” Eichmann said.
“Adolf,” Emunah said. She stood; her breasts rolled outward, both to the left and to the right. “What am I to you? Is it even true, what you told me last night? How many girls have you confessed to before?”
Eichmann hesitated. “Is this,” he said, “really about the portrait?”
“And what else should it be about?” Emunah said, cocking her head like a curious pigeon. “Maybe I’m just crazy? Maybe that’s all?”
“I didn’t say that,” Eichmann said.
“Get me my flowers,” Emunah said. “I’m going.”
He started towards her. She held out a hand on the fingers of which gleamed two rings made out of tin; they resembled lug nuts in shape.
“Stay back,” she said. “Or I will crack your antique spine.”
“Emunah,” he said again. She was pulling on her clothes.
“Or don’t get my flowers,” she said. “I don’t want them. I don’t want anything from you, just like you don’t want anything from me. Give your flowers to the girl in the picture.”
Weakness! There was weakness in that voice. There was grief. That was something he could do something with. If he could just get her to cry, then he would have something to apologize for, and then they could move on to other matters. She pushed past him to go to the front door. Before she reached it, it opened. Yitzchak was there.
“Is everything—?” he began. Emunah pushed him, easily, away. Eichmann trotted after her, forgetting that he was dressed in only his undershirt and jockey shorts. Everything had slowed; he even wondered, as he went after her, if he had the time to apologize to Yitzchak. He decided against it. The stairs were hewn from stone. In some places there were bullet holes. In 1948 there had been a war.
The padding of her broad feet ahead of him had a sound that drew him into a past, a non-local past—an animal ancestor, a wish to hunt, catch, kill. The sound quickened. He heard the front door open and whine almost shut. He turned the corner down the last flight of stairs and the teal morning light was just visible through the swiftly shutting aperture. He lunged a little too quickly, lost his footing, and tumbled down the steps, breaking his neck and dying at once.