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It Will Be Sweet

July 30, 2006|Laura Golden Bellotti | Laura Golden Bellotti is the author of "Holy Triangle: Stories of Pico-Robertson," and the co-author of four nonfiction books.

Batya is jolted awake by the alley cat's frantic cry. She opens an eye and sees her Princess Jasmine digital clock glowing 3:23 a.m., faintly illuminating her sister Hannie's cheek. Hugging her legs to her chest, Batya wonders what is making the cat wail so violently in the middle of the night. She tries to go back to sleep, but the yowling won't quit.

Three stray cats make their home in the narrow walkway alongside the Pico-Robertson apartment building where Batya lives with her mother and sister. The cats hunt for bugs in the bushes and curl up on the back stairs on hot or rainy days. Batya and Hannie leave food for them, and the cats seem content with their lazy life. So why this miserable, insistent crying?

Of course, Hannie is sleeping through the noise. When the ambulance siren blared into the apartment garage a few weeks ago after someone found the homeless lady collapsed in a pool of motor oil, Hannie slept through the whole thing. Batya thinks about going out to check on the suffering cat, but the meowing suddenly stops.

She closes her eyes again and tries to go back to her dream, remembering only a general feeling--of anticipation and danger--and the bristling sound of the wind. Batya can hear the neighbor's wind chimes now, but the tinkling is faint so there must be only a slight breeze, not the menacing wind of her dream. Last week when the Santa Anas started up, the Israeli guy across the way, who calls his wife a stupid bitch, knocked on the wind chime owners' door and yelled at them to take it down--but Batya likes hearing the clinking strips of glass.

Now the cry is back, its voice more pitiful, as if the cat could be on the brink of crying human tears. Batya sits up and feels in the dark for her sweatshirt at the foot of the bed. The "aoow, aoow" grows louder as she slips the shirt over her head and gets up to check on her adopted pet. What could be causing it such distress?

But then she realizes.

It's not a cat.

The catch in its voice, the half-laugh, the whimper that Batya feels in her own chest, tell her that it's a woman.

Batya has never heard this sound before. She knows what it is, but at the same time she doesn't know. Blurry shapes of a naked woman and man coming together flare in her mind. But imagining them makes her ashamed. Against her will, she is drawn into their room, embarrassed by the tingling between her legs. As if the woman's shattered voice is penetrating her own body. Batya forces herself to let out the shallow breath trapped in her lungs.

At 14, Batya has no experience with boys. She is unsure exactly what they do to make a girl cry out like this. Her mother has given her only generalizations. It will be sweet when you are with the right man and you are married, Bati, she has said. Until then, enjoy your childhood--and pay attention to your studies. Her mother mentioned nothing about a woman crying out in the middle of the night like a wounded animal. And, of course, Batya has heard nothing about this from her teachers or the girls at her Jewish school.

Batya has become more religious since moving to the U.S. Living in Israel, she was Jewish without thinking about it. Here, you have to stick to your own kind or you'll be swallowed up by all the other races and religions. Like the Persian Jewish guy with his high-heeled Japanese girlfriend. That's why Batya's mother insisted that she and Hannie go to an Orthodox school instead of a public one.

The cries are coming now in jabs of sound. Closer together, with more in-taking of breath. Batya pulls the pillow over her head and closes her eyes, but she can still hear. "Aoow, aoow!"--and then "aah, aah!"

She gets up and goes to the half-opened window overlooking the walkway and tries to pinpoint where the cries are coming from. Whose apartment could it be? The "aah, aah"--sometimes a breathy "huh, huh"--echoes in the space between her building and the one next door so that Batya can't determine where it starts. She listens to the voice and rolls through the possibilities in her mind.

It could be coming from the Persian guy's apartment downstairs. Batya has noticed that every weekend after Shabbat, he brings home that tall, thin Japanese woman with sparkling green eye shadow. She could easily be the voice. Her high heels and tight skirts say that crying out like this with a boy you're not going to marry is perfectly fine. In fact, it's something you desperately want--and even tell your girlfriends about afterward. The Persian guy graduated from UCLA and sells real estate. He's as handsome as an American movie star and wears silky gray suits for Shabbat. The way he saunters to his silver sports car, his long legs agile and deliberate, makes Batya think of a panther. He never notices her even when she's walking in his direction. Batya has stared at the Japanese woman's outlined red lips and made-up eyes and tried to imagine what she might have looked like at Batya's age.

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