Castles in the Air

I always suspected that I was born in a castle

All right, I'm starting to feel like myself again. I can't remember the last time I woke up as I did today, enveloped in a feeling of domestic bliss, that familiar, pleasant sense of bitterness accompanied by guilt feelings. Oy, how I missed that sense of misery, how I feared I was losing it, trading it in for a success story.

It happened last night. I can point to the exact moment when the change occurred. I was reading from my new book to a Jerusalem audience. The words got tangled, the lines got mixed up, and instead of concentrating on the text I began thinking about what I had been through in the past few months - the interviews, the best seller lists, the television ratings charts, the reviews, events, compliments and abuse. Look at me, I thought to myself, choking up. Beads of perspiration appeared on my forehead, prompting a woman sitting a stride-length away to hand me some tissues. Look at me, trussed up in the outfit I just bought because the young saleswoman claimed - and I believed every word - that the "casual elegant" style suits me.

Illustration by Amos Biderman
Illustration by Amos Biderman

I looked down at the black belt and matching dress shoes, at the dress shirt and the Hugo Boss pants, more elegant than casual, and felt only disgust at myself. Nothing worked: not the text, not the standard jokes with the political barbs that the audience usually loves. Nothing worked. All I saw was a disappointed bunch of Jerusalemites who turned up their noses and regretted having left their air-conditioned caves on such a hot day to attend a literary event. That's it, it's over, I knew that clearly, something had gone wrong, it was a turning point. I'll have to struggle through another hour and a half and then it will all be behind me. Another hour and a half and I'll return home tired, beaten, a bottle of whiskey in my hand, class consciousness in my heart and my self-confidence nowhere to be found.

I smiled to myself at the pleasant thought, leaving the audience to wonder at the foolish expression that crossed my face. I can still fix everything, I thought; two months lost to reality isn't the end of the world. I'll finish up here and rush home, rush to beg forgiveness. A memory from last weekend caused me to smile incongruously, annoying the audience. "Yes, I am a knight," I had shouted to my wife, convinced beyond a doubt that no one merited the title more.

It began when started with a request for a resume from some French organization asked me to send a curriculum vitae. "Tell me," I shouted from the study, "What year did we marry?"

"I don't remember," she replied impatiently from the living room. "Why?"

"Your husband is going to be a knight."

"What?" she said, and I heard her approaching the study.

"Just what you heard," I said with the permanent smile of the past few months, as she perused the document on the computer screen, "a knight, no more and no less."

"What is this?" she said, reading off the monitor, "'Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters'? What is this nonsense?"

"You never have a good word for me, do you? It's hard for you to give a compliment, isn't it? The whole world thinks I'm talented and only you refuse to admit it. Yes, a knight, yes, a decoration, and a knight of an order, not just any old knight."

"Good," she said, as usual. "I wonder if there's a helmet in France big enough for your head."

"You can laugh," I replied. Since I became successful her sarcastic remarks have ceased to bother me. "I know you're jealous and that deep down you're dying to be a duchess, but you, a girl from Tira, you're here and the aristocratic titles are way over there."

"Your problem is that you forget where you were born," she said, turning away and leaving me alone at the desk, which for a moment had become a round table.

I don't forget where I was born, I was thinking just a few days ago. I was born in Tira. And with a slight change in intonation and a shift of the accent from the first to the second syllable it will turn into the Hebrew word for castle, as befits a place where knights are born. I always knew there was something wrong, I always knew I wasn't getting the treatment I deserved. No more. The French are proving what I always felt deep inside, that I belong among kings and princes, not lice-infested commoners. Yes, a knight. And I will have a horse, any color as long as it's casually elegant. Yes, I want to be a knight, I thought, and lied on my resume: "born in a castle" - Tira, that's the truth, and my sword will be at the throat of anyone who questions it.

"Hello," I heard my father's amused voice on the phone. "I hear you have blue blood running through your veins." He laughed and the coughed at length.

"She told you already?," furious to learn that the secrets of the kingdom were transmitted so blithely to enemy elements.

"Tell me, what's going on with you?," my father asked after catching his breath. "Lately you really have been acting as if your suit of armor is too small."

"You know what, Dad," I snapped, "It's time you two admitted that you kidnapped me, time to come out with the truth and tell me who I really am."

"What are you talking about, kidnapped you?." He called to my mother, "Come hear your son the baron. He thinks we brought him from Monaco. You look exactly like every other Kashua, down the generations."

I wanted to say it was well-planned, that they had kidnapped others from the same family, I wanted to say it was an international conspiracy. But there was no point. In the end, a knight must know when to hold his tongue. But if he continues like this and leaves me no choice I will lead a charge of the elite cavalry at dawn.

"Why is he chuckling?" I heard someone in the audience ask. "It's not right."

"Excuse me," I said to the audience of readers. Soon, half an hour more and it will all be behind me, I know, my old life is returning, there's no doubt.

"Yes," said the embarrassed emcee, "and now it's time for questions from the audience. Does anyone have a question? Yes, please speak up."

A nice guy in the middle of the group stood up and spoke into the microphone being passed around for the purpose. "I wanted to ask you, you're always so critical of the place where you were born, what would your life be like if you hadn't been born here?"