JQ Wingate Nominee: The Remains of Love by Zeruya Shalev
With the winner of the JQ Wingate Prize due to be announced soon, we're looking at a different nominee each day. Today read an extract from The Remains of Love by Zeruya Shalev .
Has the room really grown in size, or is she the one who has shrunk? This is after all the smallest room in a minuscule apartment, but now, as she is confined to her bed from morning till evening, it seems its dimensions have expanded – it would take her hundreds of paces to reach the window, hours by the score, and who knows if she will live long enough. The remains of life, that is, the last remnant of the portion of time allotted to her, in some absurd fashion feels like eternity – being in such a state of immobility, it seems it is stretching away into the infinite. The truth is, she is already withered and wizened, as light as a ghost, and the slightest gust of wind would be enough to blow her from the bed, and it appears it is only the weight of the blanket that stops her hovering in the void, and it is also true that any breath could sever the last thread in the spool that connects her to life. But who will do the breathing, who will even take the trouble to breathe in her direction?
Yes, for many years to come she will be lying here under her thick blanket, seeing her children growing older, her grandchildren turning into adults. Yes, with sour indifference they will condemn her to eternal life, because it seems to her suddenly that even the act of dying requires some effort, some vitality on the part of the future deceased or of his environment. Personal attention is needed, a degree of anxious 2 commotion, like the preparations for a birthday party. Even dying requires a measure of love, while she is no longer loved enough, and perhaps not loving enough, even for this.
It’s not that they don’t come: almost every day one of them visits her apartment, sits down in the armchair facing her, apparently enquiring after her health, but she senses the old grudges, notices the glances at the watch, the sighs of relief when their mobiles ring. All at once their voices change, becoming vigorous and full of life, dredging up throaty laughter. I’m at my mother’s place, they finally inform their interlocutors, with sanctimonious rolling of the eyes, I’ll be in touch as soon as I leave, and then they once again turn their hollow attention to her, condescending to ask questions but not listening to what she has to say. And she for her part retaliates with tiresome answers, reporting in detail exactly what the doctor said, reeling off the list of medications before their glassy stares. Which of us is more repelled by the other, I by you or you by me, she wonders, turning them into a single entity, her two children who are so different from one another, although it seems it’s only in her presence that they have succeeded in uniting, and that only recently, addressing the elderly mother who is confined from morning till evening to her bed in the little room, detached from the force of gravity.
The room is cramped and square, its only window overlooking the Arab village. On its northern side is an ancient writing desk and to the south a wardrobe where her clothes are stowed, those colourful clothes that she will never wear again. She was always drawn, a little shamefaced, to vivid colours, irrespective of styles: a long and voluminous kaftan-blouse, a dress drawn in tight at the waist, a pleated skirt – to this day she doesn’t know what suits her best, and now she never will. Her eyes wander to the oval coffee table that her daughter forced her to buy many years ago, weeping bitterly although she was 3 already a big girl. You people forced me to move into this repulsive apartment, and even then you gave me the smallest room, so you can at least buy me something I like. Stop crying, she scolded her, everyone’s looking at you, but of course she gave in, and four hands carried the table which turned out to be exceptionally heavy up the stairs to this room which was her room, where it was dumped in the centre, its new and elegant lustre showing up the shabbiness of the other furniture.
And now this too has seen better days, it has absorbed time into itself and faded.
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.
Hemda Horovitz is nearing the end of her life. As she lies in bed in Jerusalem, the present flickers in and out and memories from the past flood her thoughts. Zeruya Shalev's new novel is at once a meditation on the state of modern Israel and a profound exploration of family, yearning, compromise and the insistent pull of the past.