JQ Wingate Nominee: Netanya by Dror Burstein
With the winner of the JQ Wingate Prize due to be announced soon, we're looking at the different nominees. Today read an extract from Netanya by Dror Burstein.
“Look at this,” my grandfather said in Yiddish to the florist, “one flower opens and already you can know that spring has arrived.” The florist gave him the bouquet and said, “Dear Mr. Burstein. One leaf falls, and already you know that it’s autumn.” We placed the bouquet on my uncle’s grave. A small box was there with a thick candle and long matches inside it. Each year, one match was burned. The candle was already an old candle, a twenty-year-old candle. We would light the old man and after a short time would blow him out. Inside this memorial candle box, resting on the box of matches, was a small stone, a basalt from Quneitra, Syria. My grandfather took it out once and showed it to us. We asked what it was exactly, and he said: “A black stone.”
He would turn out the lights at home every night, “So that all the butterflies will leave.”
With a match as big as a teaspoon my grandmother lit a fire and raised the light to me. This was in the hotel, but in the distant future or the distant past. I remember the light of the oil lamp and what was revealed to me by its light: a small candlestick on the windowsill, and in the candlestick always a braided havdalah candle, most of it consumed, and at its end two black, burned, slightly twisted wicks. Memorial candle. Certainly the light of the oil lamp was enough to reveal that there was nothing in the room other than a few dust-covered blankets, a pile of nailed boards, a smell of glue, and a giant clamp. And all Grandfather’s saws were hanging on nails on the walls. Certainly there were around a hundred saws hanging there and about the same number of pliers. By the light of the candle. By the light of the candle and the match.
One day he went by himself to the military cemetery. But before he arrived at the grave, someone grabbed him, stuck a couple coins into his pocket and pulled him to another side of the graveyard, so that he could complete a minyan, a prayer quorum. An umbrella opened up over them. He didn’t try to resist, was just dragged after the fellow, the coins rattling inside his jacket pocket. He also had a flashlight in his pocket, as always. And in a far corner, crowded under a tree, he saw the eight men waiting for them under eight identical umbrellas. “We are all his children,” whispered the one dragging him. “I am the littlest. And he went and killed himself on us exactly today one year ago.” My grandfather asked him, “Who are you?” And the man answered, “You know me.”
The JQ Wingate Prize recognizes Jewish and non-Jewish writers resident in the UK, British Commonwealth, Europe and Israel who stimulate an interest in themes of Jewish concern while appealing to the general reader.