Sounds in the Night

All I managed to utter was a kind of noise, a kind of gurgle of surprise, a tremendous intake of air with an open, very slack mouth.

I'm sick. I haven't visited a doctor, but it's a feeling similar to flu. Fever, shivering, a headache, sore throat and a general feeling of fatigue. I started to feel the onset of my physical distress while driving to the television studios in Herzliya on a rainy night at the beginning of the week. It started with a kind of dizziness and a difficulty in concentrating on driving. I forced myself to focus, I reminded myself that I was driving, that it was raining, that the roads were wet and that I couldn't allow myself to be distracted or let my eyes close on their own. Occasionally I'd let clear, cold air, full of raindrops, enter through the window and wake me up, but very soon I would be attacked by waves of chill, close the window again and turn up the heat in the car until I felt suffocated. Then I would open the window again.

It's all because of my wife, I thought to myself, following my usual custom of looking for other people to blame for my troubles. It was only a matter of time. In the final analysis, how many days can one sleep on a thin mattress on a freezing floor in the middle of the winter, without one's body surrendering to illness?

illustration - Amos Biderman - February 18 2011
Amos Biderman

And maybe it wasn't her fault, but mine, because for several months she has been begging me to go to the family doctor and ask him to refer me to a sleep clinic, in order to try to solve my snoring problem. But how exactly will I do that? I, the best-selling author; I, who have a weekly column in the Magazine, who at this very moment am making my way to Herzliya to be the guest on a prestigious culture program and talk about my work? What does she want, to have me snore in front of strangers in a sleep clinic - which for some reason I picture as a glass cage into which all the employees of the hospital can peer, make comments and giggle at the eccentric guy who snores outside his home.

According to my wife's theory, in recent months my snoring has reached new and intolerable heights. "It's like sleeping in a bus station," she claimed the night she decided to find herself an alternative place to sleep. But I immediately jumped out of bed, took responsibility for myself and declared that it was I who had to sleep somewhere else.

That same night I placed a mattress on the rug in my daughter's more spacious room and tried to fall asleep again. I don't remember how much time went by until the child woke me up and strongly protested: "Daddy, I have school tomorrow and I have to sleep!" So I moved the mattress to the room of my young son, who continued to sleep quietly all that night and gave the impression that my presence did not disturb him.

A week later, my young son returned from kindergarten and ran to show me a project the children had done with the kindergarten teachers, with the heading, "What bothers me?" My son had drawn an unclear picture, beneath which were the words he had dictated to the teacher: "This is my father. He is sleeping on a mattress on the rug next to my bed. I love my father very much, and that's why I don't like to tell him that he snores and that I wake up at night and I'm very scared of the sounds he makes."

That left me no choice but to send a letter of denial to the kindergarten teachers and note that my son is gifted with a fertile imagination - "the fact is that I sleep like civilized people in my double bed, and that my wife and I have decided to consult a child psychologist about the meaning of our son's dreams."

Since then, I have been waiting until all the members of the household have gone to sleep in their beds, and then I spread out the mattress in the living room. Since I don't have a night lamp there to read a book, I've invented a kind of game to induce sleep, in which I try to imagine which of the writers whose work I admire have been sleeping for months on a thin mattress in the living room.

There's no question that it's the cold, I thought during the drive - which had turned into a nuisance - hoping that this feeling of distress would pass and wouldn't develop into a real illness. Sometimes it also happens to me because of pressure. After all, a television interview does cause anxiety, although I have accumulated quite a bit of screen experience and I can usually talk about my latest book without having to concentrate too much. Due to lack of time I didn't have a chance to speak to the program's researcher and had suggested that we be spontaneous, but I wasn't worried, mainly because I've been asked the same questions innumerable times and it wasn't likely that the interviewer would have new questions that could surprise me. "A discussion of the book," said the researcher, and that was enough for me. After all, I wrote the book and I know everything about it.

"Good evening," said the polite moderator when he got the signal and began the interview. "We have here with us the author and journalist Sayed Kashua, with whom we'll be talking this evening about the book ..." And suddenly I saw the moderator holding a small, old blue booklet, "the book 'The Jewish State' by Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl, which was published in 1896."

I think I really had a fever at that moment. The Jewish state? Yahrzeit? What chance do I have to get out of this in one piece? The moderator went on to explain why I had been chosen to talk about "The Jewish State." I, like Herzl, am a journalist, torn, one of a minority, who speaks of hatred on the part of the majority.

I think the moderator asked me how I felt when I read the book, but I was incapable of answering. I became completely silent, I froze, the first shiver of what had certainly dev eloped into flu made all my hair stand on end. I opened my mouth to say something, to get out of it gracefully somehow. But all I managed to utter was a kind of noise, a kind of gurgle of surprise, a tremendous intake of air with an open, slack mouth. I have never heard myself make that sound, which caused the astonished moderator to open his eyes wide. Yes, I know what it is - my wife is right, my children are right; now I know what a snore sounds like.