Palestina (excerpt)

...At last the KGB man's monologue runs down, and he glances at Palestina as if noticing for the first time that she hasn't opened her mouth at all. He makes an abortive gesture in her direction, then strides over to the window and cautiously pushes the shutters aside. The sunbeam long ago sank out of sight and the infirmary is now in darkness. There's almost no noise from outside, but then everyone is probably lining up for dinner, which is invariably a porridge made from the corn meal that comes in 25-kilo burlap sacks with "UN" stenciled on the side. It's been over a year since Palestina has seen a fresh vegetable or an unspoiled piece of meat. She's old enough to remember when they got lavish shipments from the Joint, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Mountains of canned and packaged goods would arrive on trucks from the rebuilt Jaffa Port. In those days they had white flour, condensed milk, canned beef and chicken, sliced pineapple all the way from Hawaii, you name it! Palestina remembers with special fondness a shipment of dried apricots, even though they gave her diarrhea. Of course all that came to an abrupt end when Nasser seized power and the Republic was proclaimed. Palestina feels sorry for the toddlers too young to remember the former days of luxury.
The Russian suddenly pivots and gestures toward the door. With a mental shrug Palestina gets to her feet. Now's as good a time as any to try for an audience with Crazy Itzik. Like many of the penitents, he doesn't show up for the food distribution because of the immodest mingling of the sexes, not to mention the flagrant disregard for the dietary laws shown by the impious ones who still have not been humbled by divine wrath. Of course the impious ones are thus obliged to contrive ways to feed these religious prima donnas, but there's remarkably little grumbling about the extra trouble and risk involved. Maybe it's because they all secretly suspect the penitents might be right that the double catastrophe of the Forties really was God's judgment on the wayward people of Israel. Ma says it's all so much hogwash but doesn't sound entirely convinced, herself. Sometimes as she gazes out to sea from the top of the trash midden Palestina is sure it's true. God as the Commandant of the Universe, with a million sadistic little rules and regulations and death meted out for the slightest infraction--it makes perfect sense to her...
Copyright © 2006, Martin Berman-Gorvine. This story appeared in Interzone, Issue #204, May-June 2006, under the byline Martin J. Gidron. I am now expanding it into a novel.
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Copyright © 2009, Martin Berman-Gorvine