Rona knew better than to answer a phone when her hand was already turning the doorknob to leave. She ignored the lessons of experience in favor of her instinctual curiosity.
"Hello," she said, already full of regret.
"Rona, it's me. Maya."
Her sister's voice was trembling.
"Hello Maya," her regret now transformed into anger. "What is it? I'm on my way out to meet Rifka."
"But, he's here. He wants to come back to me."
Rona looked at her watch, wondering which reply would result in a shorter conversation.
"Maya, you're finished with Oren. He went back to his wife. What's the question?"
"But Rona, he's at my door. He's crying. She won't take him back. He has nowhere to go."
"Let him sleep in the sand! There's plenty of it around here."
Rona checked her watch again. She had only ten minutes to catch the cross-town bus and meet Rifka.
"But Rona, he only went back to her because of his children. He couldn't sleep at night thinking about them."
"Children!" Rona thought of the many ways that children interfere with life. Her own had made her divorce so difficult. She was off the hook when it became clear that her husband wanted custody and he took them south to Tel Aviv. They were safe and she was free.
"Maya, listen to me. If you let him back in, he'll just leave again. His children will never let go of him."
"But Rona, you know what it is to be without your children."
Rona sighed. She didn't need to check the time to know she'd missed the bus. Rifka would be left waiting for her in the Horvel Center; their plans for lunch and shopping were ruined.
"Maya, this has nothing to do with me. I told you when Oren moved in with you that he would never stay."
"Rona, please come over. I need your help."
Rona sat down in defeat. Despite her best efforts, the call had become a crisis conversation.
"Maya, listen to me!" Rona switched to Russian, their native language, a tactic she had used all through her life when she needed to persuade Maya to do as she wished. "Maya, he is no good for you. He will never be yours. You must accept it."
"Rona, please come now! He's screaming and the neighbors are out."
A public scandal. Rona had had so many of her own during her divorce. She wanted no more.
"Maya, there's nothing I can do there. Call the police if he frightens you."
"But he says that he's going to kill himself if I don't take him back! He's on his knees crying." Maya begged her sister for an answer. "What should I do? Should I let him in?"
There would be no lunch with Rifka today, but there was still time to shop if she could rush her sister to the last act of this unpleasant drama
"Maya, he's just manipulating you," Rona assured her. "He's just trying to get your attention. Ignore him. I promise he'll go away."
"But Rona, you should see him. He's like a madman -- rocking on his knees, rolling his head, throwing his fists at God ... I'm so afraid, Rona, please come over."
"Absolutely not. Why should I give him the pleasure of knowing that he's drawn me into this ridiculous situation?"
"But Rona, I need you!"
"Maya, I've told you everything I can tell you. It's over with him and you. He'll get tired soon and leave. Believe me. That's the kind of man he is."
There was only silence from Maya's end of the line.
"Maya? Maya? Where are you?" Rona began to rearrange her hair in the hall mirror until Maya came back on the line.
"Rona? Are you still there? Rona?"
"Yes, I'm still here," she answered as she continued to primp. "So what happened?"
"You were right, Rona. He stopped. I can't see him anymore. Maybe he left."
"I told you he would leave," Rona said, tugging down on her skirt and moistening her lips. "Now just stay inside until you're sure he's gone. I've got to run out now but I'll call you when I get back."
There was no reply.
"Maya! Are you there?"
In the background, Rona could hear her sister talking to someone.
It sounded like Eli, Maya's young son. He must have just returned from school.
Rona set the receiver on her shoulder blade and shook her head, checking her nails and berating herself for answering the phone when her hand was already turning the doorknob to leave.
Then a shriek squeezed through the holes of the earpiece like concentric circles of thorns.
"Maya? Maya! What is it? Maya?" The lack of response irritated her. She muttered a few curses in Arabic. "Maya! Maya! Pick up the phone!"
There were rustling sounds, mixed with the mumbling of new voices. Finally, a man's voice spoke into the phone.
"Hello. Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Yes. This is Maya's sister. Where is she?"
"She's outside with her son."
"Who are you?" Rona insisted.
"I'm Ari, a neighbor. I'm the one who took him down."
"What are you talking about?"
"With my knife, I cut him down. The garage door was open. Eli found him first."
Rona could hear the sirens. She hung up.
Her shock gave way to guilt, which she swept away like sand on a cool balata floor. People do as they want. She answered the phone. That was her only mistake.