“You are very beautiful,” he said, for Cosmopolitan had advised saying this after making love.
When Hamas returned the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity, they dressed him in a plaid shirt with navy shoulders, a navy-and-white collar and navy cuffs. Some people made fun of the shirt, saying that he was dressed at the height of Gaza fashion. Others expressed outrage at the terrorists, saying that they had made him look silly on purpose. But I believe that the person who chose the shirt chose it carefully, believing it looked nice, worthy of the momentous occasion.
“What is she wearing, that is not the way to dress.” My classmate is speaking Hebrew, a language in which these words sound natural. It is only when translated into English that they sound strange. The object of scorn is another girl, walking across the basketball court. I look at myself, dressed almost exactly as she is, in a maroon sweater vest and black slacks. I chose the outfit carefully, even saying to someone that I had found the perfect sweater buried deep in my closet; I did not even remember I owned it. I am not sure if my classmate is being cruel to me or if, in her indirectness, she is trying to be kind.
When I still lived in New York, a girl in my seventh-grade science class left a copy of Seventeen on her desk. I had never read Seventeen before. I did not know it existed, though clearly this girl did, knew enough to have it mailed to her house, her name and address stuck onto its back in rubber cement. For her, I was sure, the pictures, the stories, were helpful tips, possibilities, not glimpses of a world she would never understand.
If, like me, you are living in Israel at age eighteen, you no longer need to know the way to dress. You stand in a line behind hundreds of other girls and get three uniforms that fit you or that don’t. Some girls don’t accept that right away; they try to take the knowledge they gained in their previous lives and apply it to this new environment. They take their uniforms to tailors and make their pants low-rise, tight, get it so the pockets don’t ride up on their butts and make them look huge, get it so the belt is not too high up, so their stomachs don’t pouch underneath. I am not one of those girls. Still, eventually, we will all look equally ugly.
When Gilad Shalit was back in Israeli hands, the first thing they did was dress him in something more respectable—a military uniform. But not in his uniform. It was a brand new one, creased, as if he were a kid just beginning his three years of conscription, not a man finally free after five years of imprisonment. The news reported that on the flight from the border of Gaza back to Israel, Gilad “felt ill,” that there was concern for his health. Maybe he had caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror, the alien uniform hanging loosely off his frame, and panicked.
Almost every night, I dream that I am looking through my closet for something to wear. At first I am pleasantly surprised to find that my closet is packed with clothes. But everything is wrong. Crushed velvet crop tops. Chenille. Everything one size too small. Any person who would choose these clothes must be irredeemably unattractive. The kind of ugly that can only come from deep inside.
Rumor has it that Gilad lives in my neighborhood. I’ve never seen him, but once I went into a grocery store and everyone was talking about him. Minutes earlier, he’d bought some milk and left. A female employee was telling her friend: “Of course I would fuck him. Even if he were even uglier than he is.”
Wayne in Love
All right. He was back. The killer was back.
Gilad Shalit is BACK. I read it on Ynet today. He just got a job as an investment advisor at Discount Bank, the third largest bank in Israel. Which is funny because I recently found myself in need of an investment advisor at Discount Bank. Just the other day I had to call Discount Bank’s investment center and ask to sell my stocks. For all I know, the guy who picked up the phone was Gilad Shalit. But he probably wasn’t, because the guy on the phone sounded very confident, not like he’d just started the job, or recently been released by Hamas. The guy on the phone was even a little patronizing, making me apologize for being too dumb to know the protocol for selling one’s stocks. I don’t think Gilad Shalit would ever make me feel like I had to apologize, or make me feel dumb. He seems like an extremely inoffensive person. And still, everyone seems offended that he is going to be an investment advisor at Discount Bank. We expected more from him. For five years, he was “everyone’s son.” For five years, families throughout the country put an extra chair at the dinner table anticipating his return. We did not expect that chair to be occupied by just another investment advisor! At the very least, as thanks for our concern, we expected Gilad, upon his release, to spend his days sitting cross-legged and emitting an incandescent glow. But those assholes are all wrong. I believe in Gilad. I believe he will advise the shit out of everyone’s investments.
On the surface, Gilad Shalit’s capture, captivity, and release has nothing to do with an anthology of Best American Short Stories. In Karen Marron’s chapbook BASS 1998, however, any boundaries of border, place, or situation are mutable within the confines of literary prose.
BASS 1998 is the winner of the 2020 Gold Line Press Chapbook Contest judged by Dodie Bellamy. The chapbook takes the titles of the stories from the original anthology and writes them into new stories, made of new wills. If the year 1998 never heard of Gilad Shalit, in BASS 1998 all time is open to literary imagination.
The excerpts selected here, “Wayne in Love” and “Cosmopolitan,” stretch the possibilities of what can be held in any one lexical container. As literature written in Israel—making explicit use of Israeli historical events—and playing on American writing, the excerpts flout borders while specifically honoring the reality of changing place. From clothing to banks, the narrators in these excerpts are aware of the location-specific cultural subtleties that frame a life. Within this split and wary focus, Marron situates the reader immediately in a grounded fluidity, a continuous being within the paradoxes of migration.
Dodie Bellamy says the “distilled narratives” of this novelistic/memoiristic collection capture “the sadness behind our best efforts.” With this sadness, these Israel-specific excerpts from BASS 1998 understand that we shape places as they shape us—just as the titles of one random American literary anthology can become homes to a series of texts generated elsewhere.