The Lady in the Bay
At the time of the call, which was dutifully recorded as having come at six o’clock in the morning to the Jaffa district police station, a record-breaking hamsin hung over the city. When Sergeant Dihon picked up the phone listlessly, an agitated voice on the other end of the line reported: “There’s a woman out there in the bay chained to a rock with her liver exposed and a bird is pecking at it!”
A silence ensued at the police end of the line, partly induced by the natural nonchalance of Sergeant Dihon—who is, after all, a veteran in the Jaffa district and one who has “seen everything,” as he himself is prone to confirming—and partly induced by the fact that the good sergeant has suffered over the years not a few cuckoo people ringing him up.
Nor can the influence of the heat wave be discounted. A hamsin unfailingly raises the level of eccentricity. Dihon was already dabbing at his brow with a handkerchief, despite the early hour. The caller’s report contained so many novel elements that Dihon was tempted to advise him to say shachehiyanu and hang up the phone. But remembering the injunction against being happy at the misfortunes of another, he asked finally, “Her liver, eh?”
“Chained to a rock.”
“The woman, yes.”
Dihon returned the handkerchief to his pocket. “It’s probably a publicity stunt—or a political protest—some leftist chained herself to a rock. Except for the liver part. You’re sure she wasn’t holding a giant pizza which attracted a milhic bird.”
“I’m sure. I know a liver when I see one.”
“By this I take it that you mean that her liver is drooping or whatever livers do when they are outside of the body.”
“It’s drooping. And how—!”
“And what is peck—” Dihon stopped, unable to bring himself to repeat the daffy sentence.
The caller saved him the trouble. “A bird is pecking at it.”
“Oh well, that explains it,” said Sergeant Dihon affably. “I mean, if the liver is there, why won’t a bird make the best of it. Your ordinary Jaffa bird isn’t very discerning.”
“You don’t believe me,” said the voice on the other end of the line in an offended tone.
Dihon decided against asking the caller if he had also seen the Golem of Prague sunning himself on the shore. “Well, let us say there are elements in your story that raise some questions.”
“Sergeant—I’m simply doing my duty as a citizen. Women-liver-bird—those are the facts. What you do with those facts is up to you.”
“Ok,ok, faithful citizen, we’ll check it out. They say I’m a chauvinist, but even I can identify with a poor woman whose liver is serving as an iron supplement breakfast for some bird.”
The caller replied in a mollified tone, “Please do so, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”
The moment he hung up the phone, Sergeant forgot about the woman and the bird.
But not for long. A second caller reported a woman chained to a rock and a bird pecking at her liver. “You sure it’s not her intestines?” Dihon asked, slamming down the phone.
When a third and then a fourth call reported a similar story, Dihon’s assessment that a group of his wife’s family members were having their little joke began to dissipate. Twenty calls later, he summoned Weinstein, the newest policeman in the station, into his office. He had taken Weinstein under his wing, and now it was Weinstein’s turn to pay him back.
“Listen, Weinstein, I’ve been the recipient of a gift box in the form of some calls complaining about some broad in the bay whose—well, you take the launch and see if anything unusual is happening to some woman chained to a rock.”
“Chained to a rock?”
“Yeah, that’s what the callers said. Probably a publicity stunt for a new perfume.” Dihon didn’t mention the liver.
Half a hundred calls later—which calls caused Dihon increasingly to rub lightly the hand-shaped charm which he kept on a chain in his pocket to guard against the evil eye in the hope that it would work against the cursed deluge of calls—was back. There would have been far more calls, but Dihon, tiring of repeating like a man in a trance that the matter “was under investigation,” had taken the phone off the hook. It was against regulations, but Dihon, as befitted one with experience gained with the years, was notably flexible when it came to regulations.
Weinstein, a type usually anchored in reality, stood in front of him, white-faced, and in a kind of stupor both of which Dihon attributed to the hamsin. In contrast to the immobility of his body, Weinstein’s hands fluttered in the air like birds scattered by a sudden noise, while their owner stood incapable of saying anything for some moments. “Sergeant Dihon,” he finally managed to stammer, “There’s a lady chained to a rock out in the bay and . . .” he paused.
“And a bird is chained to her liver,” Dihon said evenly.
Weinstein’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”
Dihon pounced on the helpless rookie, slamming his fist on the desk. “Who put you up to this, Weinstein?”
“Nobody, sir. I saw it with my own eyes. That bird, like something out of a Poe novel. And that liver drooping like something in a painting by Salvadore Dali. I’ll never eat liver again. Not even my mother’s chopped liver. Especially not chopped liver.”
“Come with me, Weinstein.”
Dihon gave him one of those penetrating looks that had put many a criminal on the defensive. “Where else? To the cursed woman on the cursed rock with the cursed liver.”
Dihon put Levy in charge of things while he was gone, giving him a list of things to do. And one not to do—which Dihon emphasized: not to put the phone back on the hook until he returned.
When Sergeant Dihon returned, in a stupor not unlike that of Weinstein when he had returned, Officer Levy informed him that Zubulun the mayor wished to see him. At once. It didn’t require an interpretation by Rashi to know why.
Although relations in the past between Dihon and Mayor Zubulun had been, in the main, leisurely and calm, on this occasion the mayor, after a mumbled greeting to Dihon, hurried him into a seat in the mayor’s office and hovered over the policeman like some nervous bird of prey. “What’s your opinion on how we should handle this . . . problem in the bay, Sergeant,” he wasted no time in asking.
Dihon didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not sure we can arrest her for exposing her liver in public. Other parts of the body, yes, but liver flashing isn’t prohibited.”
“I don’t want you to arrest her. There are certain problems with that approach.”
Dihon replied that he would be happy to carry out any approach of the mayor’s once the mayor would deign to reveal it.
The mayor walked around in a circle for some minutes. From time to time he looked at Dihon as if he wanted to say something to him, but each time he seemed to decide against it. Then His Honor stopped and glanced at the policeman. “I remembered something from my studies at the university. Something about a Greek myth about a woman—called Andromeda—being chained to a rock and a bird nibbling at her entrails.”
“Really?” Dihon said neutrally.
“I rung up Professor Bromfman at Tel Aviv University—he’s an expert on mythology. He confirmed the accuracy of my memory.”
“About the Greek myth of this Andrea and the hungry bird.”
“And what I and Corporal Weinstein saw in Jaffa bay was a myth and not, say, a promo for woman’s lib.” He was about to add, “On the other hand, the woman wasn’t Yael Dayan,” but decided against it as the mayor and the last named belonged to the same political party.
“I think so. The facts fit the myth exactly.”
Dihon thought that “facts” didn’t go with “myth,” but it wasn’t for a sergeant to give the mayor a lesson in definitions. “Well, maybe we can treat her as a myth and ignore her.”
“Good try, Dihon. There are, however, complications.”
“Our relations with the Greek Government are presently at a sensitive period. Now is not the time to challenge one of their myths if I can avoid it. In addition, our Minister of Tourism is on my back. He sees a huge tourist potential for sightseeing via a fleet of mini-boats. Notwithstanding that the harbor authorities already consider her a traffic hazard because of all the boat people already gawking at her.”
“And the Minister of Health probably has an opinion on the matter—I am referring to the exposed liver.”
The mayor frowned. “He hasn’t contacted me yet.”
“Something amusing you, Dihon?”
What amused Dihon was the thought that he wasn’t the mayor. He mumbled something dissembling.
But the mayor wasn’t listening. “That bird—maybe the zoo people can capture him. That would help the liver aspect. And then maybe a team of surgeons from Belinson can stuff it back in.”
Dihon shook his head. “Your solutions are too practical. You’re dealing with a myth. You Ashkenazis think that reason can solve everything. Believe me, you’ve got something a lot stickier here. You might do better trying ‘The Radiance of Jaffa’.”
“‘The Radiance of Jaffa’?”
“The wonder rabbi. My wife’s family swears by him. Her brother—” Dihon stopped. The last thing he needed was to bring his wife’s brother into this.
After Dihon had left, the mayor decided that maybe the policeman was right. In any event, it was incumbent on him to try. The mayor arranged for his publicity director’s cousin who he knew was a disciple of the Radiance to approach him about the problem.
· · ·
“Well?” said the mayor to the cousin of the publicity director when the latter brought the former to the mayor to report about his meeting with the Radiance.
“The Radiance was very interested in your problem. He wondered if perhaps the bird wasn’t Ziz-Shaddi, the bird Hashem created on the fifth day of creation. The bird that at the End of Days the righteous will gather to feast upon at the messianic banquet at which the heavenly waiter will be Moses himself! But, the Radiance added that on the fifth day, the same day that Hashem created the birds, He created the fishes.”
Mayor Zubulun interrupted him. “What do the fishes have to do with the matter? We only have a bird!”
The cousin spread his hands wide, not unlike the Radiance himself. “Both birds and fishes swim, birds in the air and fishes in the water. So the Radiance said. And Leviathan was created with the fishes. Just as Ziz-shaddi is King of the birds, so Leviathan is King of the sea.”
Once again the mayor stopped him. “We have a big enough problem without your bringing Leviathan into this.”
“I didn’t. The Radiance did. There is a connection, as the Radiance pointed out. Ziz rests its feet on the fins of Leviathan. In the End of Days Leviathan will be torn by Ziz, and the latter slaughtered by Moses. Both Leviathan and Ziz will be served at the banquet of the righteous.”
“Very nice,” said the mayor. That’s it? That’s all the Radiance had to say about our problem? Nothing constructive about our bird, in these days? Our bird isn’t Ziz, in my opinion.”
For some moments the cousin did not speak. When he did, he said: “And then there is the raven.”
“Aha,” said the mayor, rubbing his hands. “Our bird.”
“The Radiance said that Noah sent out from the ark the raven, who was unsuccessful. And that it was the raven who advised the other animals in the ark not to obey Noah’s command to lead a monogamous life.”
The mayor reddened. But he recovered quickly. “Quoth the raven: ‘Nevermore’.”
“The Radiance pointed out, however, that Noah received the raven back into the ark because the bird was destined, later, to bring food for Elijah.”
“Did the Radiance have any practical advice about solving our problem?” persisted the mayor. “About our bird and our water-nymph chained to the rock in the bay?”
“Well . . . the Radiance pronounced it ‘a Greek matter, and a myth to boot’ . . . Perhaps he was influenced by the fact we’re so close to Hanukah.”
· · ·
Needless to say, the country was soon agog with the matter. And soon the world, too, was captured by the “Lady in the Bay,” as she had come to be called by CNN, and “Andromeda” by Sky News. And just when it looked like the UN Secretary General was going to come to personally investigate the matter (despite Israel’s protest), one morning she was gone. And so were the chain, the liver, and the bird.
Nobody could explain why. Some thought that maybe it was because Jaffa bay was polluted. Some because the hamsin had ended. Other reasons were given, especially in the Knesset: Most of them of a partisan political nature that do not bear repeating here.
Later there were reports of a similar sighting near Alcatraz Island in San Francisco bay of a woman chained to a rock with the bird performing similarly on her similarly distended liver. And another sighting near the Statue of Liberty.
“That’s it,” opined Dihon to Weinstein. “Andrea got a big head on her and went to America.”
“It’s logical,” agreed Weinstein. “There are a couple of liver specialists there with a wide-world reputation.”
“That could explain it,” agreed Dihon. “Those cheapskates on Mt. Olympus probably calculated at first that they could get it done faster and cheaper closer to home.”
The new revisionist historians will claim it all never happened. But they are the last people to depend on when it comes to the subject of myths.
The stories, poems and humor of Larry Lefkowitz have appeared in publications in the US, Israel and Britain. He wrote "Lady in the Bay" both in English and in Hebrew. Another of his stories, "Introduction," appears in ISSUE 4, also in English and Hebrew.
Larry is currently looking for publishers for two novels: one about a 19th century Jewish peddler looking for the Lost Tribes of Israel among the American Indians; the second about an assistant to a literary critic who suffers from the critic’s dominance. After the critic’s death, the assistant believes he has been freed, finally, from his influence. However, the critic’s widow then asks him to complete an unfinished novel written by her late husband.