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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

“You look better in the picture,” he snapped, slipping the passport into his shirt pocket.

He ordered us to get out of the car. The dog, which until then had remained calm, broke into a fit of frantic barking as soon as Friedman reached for the door handle, causing the soldier to flinch, his hands flying reflexively to his rifle. I braced myself for the worst, imagining a bullet through the animal’s skull. But a moment later he relaxed his fingers, and gingerly reached an open hand through the window and patted the dog. A faraway smile twitched on his lips.

“Wait here,” he ordered me, still cradling the rifle. “Someone will come.”

Only as I watched Friedman walk away, clutching his worn leather portfolio to his chest, and disappear into the back of an army truck, glancing back at me over his shoulder, did I begin to consider, with mounting panic, that what he’d taken from Eva Hoffe’s apartment he might have had no right to take. I replayed the scene of him hurrying out of the lobby on Spinoza Street, and the sweat he’d wiped from his forehead as he started up the car.

What had I gotten myself into? Why hadn’t I questioned him when he came out of the fanatically protected fortress of Eva’s apartment, dragging a suitcase? Who cared who he was? He could have been David Ben Gurion himself, and what difference would it have made to a woman who obsessively guarded the papers after her mother’s death, who claimed to feel biologically connected to them, who’d fought tooth and nail to keep them in her possession, who would, she’d said, only allow them to be taken away over her dead body? What had led me to accept that Friedman, of all people, with his safari vest and his tinted glasses, should have been granted special privileges, should have been permitted to remove even a page, let alone an entire suitcase?

But it was too late for questions now. The pigeon-toed soldier had returned, and without a word motioned me to follow her. She walked with a stoop, one of those girls who for years will move through the low-ceilinged, narrow cave of her life until one day, if she is lucky, she’ll finally emerge under an open sky. She led me to a covered jeep with benches on each side, presumably used for the transport of soldiers.

“Get in.”

“In there? I don’t think so. I’m not going anywhere until someone explains to me what’s going on. I have a right to speak to someone,” I said. “I want a phone call put in to the American embassy.”

The girl clucked her tongue, and shimmied her shoulders to shift the strap of the heavy rifle.

“You’ll speak, you’ll speak. Calm down. There’s nothing to worry about. You can call who you want. You have a phone, no?”

“I’m an internationally published writer,” I said stupidly. “You can’t just cart me off like this, without reasonable cause.”

“I know who you are,” she said, pushing a strand of hair out of her face. “My ex-boyfriend gave me one of your books. If you want to know, it wasn’t my thing. No offense. But relax, OK? Feel easy. The sooner you get in the jeep, the sooner you’ll be on your way. Schectman here will take care of you.”

She exchanged a joke in Hebrew with the tall soldier waiting in the back of the jeep, with a face like half of the boys I went to high school with. He reached out his hand to help me up, and the gesture inspired a confused trust, or maybe I was just too tired to argue any further. Under the canvas roof, it smelled of rubber, mildew, and sweat.

As the driver started up the engine, the girl slapped her forehead. She instructed Schectman to hold on a minute, and he called out to the driver in the front. Then, while she ran back for whatever she’d forgotten, Schectman folded his hands over his knee and smiled at me.

“So,” he said, “you like Israel?”

When the soldier returned, she was leading Friedman’s dog by her collar. I protested, trying to explain that she wasn’t mine, that she belonged to Friedman, but the soldier seemed to have no idea who Friedman was; already she’d forgotten he existed. What a cute dog, she said, petting her behind her wilted ears. She wanted to get a dog like that herself one day, when she finally got out of here.

“Go on,” I said hopefully, “you can take this one.”