The Prow

English translation by Moshe Ron

 

 

   We had a craze for black patent shoes, boat-shaped with a cropped prow, and we always thought that life was a river along which we proceed, time bidden, like a ship up or downstream.  Doubtless, it was our head that put our legs in motion, we'd never thought of it as the helm, though.  We believed we were carried by our black patent shoes, equipped not only with a mechanism of their own, a brain of sorts, but with simply a – spark. Their color was truly jet black, shiny like a mirror, with the whole city turned upside down inside, but the silver buckle, which we always wanted inlaid with just one diamond – a big one, never cared for those studded with many tiny splinters – that was the brain of these shoes, and the real cause, we know full well now, of this whole craze in the first place.

   Obviously, a ship without a helm is of no real use, and this bedecked buckle: it steered us. It is no secret how we'd moved about before purchasing our first pair of patent leather shoes: dragging along a filthy rubber pad, our heels dry and cracked any time of year, our eyes feeling their way along concrete sidewalks.  And then we bought them, so down there was the buckle with its diamond, shining day and night brighter than any flashlight. Thus we proceeded henceforth, even though the buckle was always too tight on top of the arch of our foot, pressing directly on the bone, itself boat-like to begin with, and named accordingly: the navicular bone.

  We got moving.  A boat inside a boat.  A little boat inside our foot, up its upper arch, and one quite similar only larger, lodged in the foot of our horse, bearing the same name: the navicular.  This we discovered when we purchased our first horse; jet-black, shiny, bearing a white star on its forehead.  We bought a saddle and spurs too.  The horse dealer told us: this is the navicular bone, the hooves are thus and so, the teeth… and thence we galloped straight into the desert, with the diamond and the star.   

  The wilderness, as everyone knows, is studded with yellow signposts alternately marking off limit zones and minefields.  Our horse bloated beyond recognition, like a general long out of commission, whereas our cadaver was carefully scraped from one of the fields.  For years, the best technicians spared no labor to restore us, and the first thing we did upon leaving the hospital, walking tall and easy, although lacking both hands and legs, was to purchase anew those black patent leather shoes, boat-like and cropped at the prow.  For we'd really always thought – and we still had our head – that life was a river, along which we proceeded, time bidden, like a ship up or downstream.  Evidently, what moved our feet was our head, even if they were now made of platinum and sundry oil by-products – today even the Olympic committee has recognized this –  but we never thought of it as a helm, though.  We believed we were carried along by our black patent shoes, equipped not only with a mechanism of their own, a brain of sorts, but with simply a – spark.  Their color was truly jet black, shiny like a mirror, with the whole city turned upside down inside, but the silver buckle without that one big diamond to adorn it, wasn't worth our while – the ones studded with many tiny splinters we couldn't stand, had too many splinters anyhow –  it was the brain of those shoes and the cause, as is even clearer to us now that we have become a bunch of chips, of this whole craze in the first place. Obviously, a ship without a helm is of no real use, and this bedecked buckle – it steered us. It's no secret how we'd moved about before purchasing our first pair of patent leather shoes, which was ages before we acquired the horse as well as the rest of our accessories; dragging along a filthy rubber pad, our heels dry and cracked any time of year, our eyes feeling their way along the concrete sidewalks. And then we bought them, so down there was the buckle with its diamond, shining day and night brighter than any flashlight. Say we were addicted to a trifling folly, but thus we proceeded henceforth, even though the buckle was always too tight on the top of the arch of our foot, pressing directly on the bone, itself boat-like – or maybe like a small ship, a frigate, even – to begin with, and named accordingly: the navicular bone, now become a phantom, whose pain tears at us worse than ever, the one we lost in the desert along with our horse's bigger, corresponding bone. Six ships we have lost, in fact, the entire fleet, you might say with hardly an exaggeration.

 

 

    Both in the hospital and outside it, hundreds, even thousands of civilians stank away in their beds, and in time bloated beyond recognition, whether they'd been disbanded in the fields, like us, on a Saturday outing, or whether they'd just been abandoned there longer than the reasonable amount of time, on account of wars that had not even gone out of commission, whereas our cadaver, maintained by the best technicians, today moves lightly, miraculously, with however little life left in it, consisting mainly of sundry oil by-products and platinum. Although aware now of a folly beyond repair, we imagine that this thing – this miracle – came about because of our craze for black patent leather shoes boat-shaped with a cropped prow.

 

 

   In these circumstances a decision was made to award us a record, a brooch and a medal. We received them most solemnly. The entire stage erected for the ceremony, table included, was bedecked with green yacht canvas, and decorated with garlands of cypress and laurel branches. It seemed they wished to make it pass for a lawn. Desert countries give rise to a wide variety of complacencies. We sneaked a glance at our footwear gleaming in the evergreen – the new pair had a giant diamond – and our heart swelled in complete delight, knowing as we did that our bent head was being perceived by the public as yet another proof of our humility and survival skills, concerning which the microphones rattled on wondrously knotty complex sentences. After all, that was what we were being decorated for.

The time of ceremonies is the oddest of all. It is seemingly never-ending while they last, but once over they are overlayed by life's misadventures and appear to have never taken place. In any event, we were now standing on the green stage holding the record, knowing full well what one looks like: flat, large, jet-black, with a hole in the middle. Our mechanical fingers clicked as they latched on to it. The sound could be heard even through the cardboard casing. Such powerful amplifiers were set up on the stage! They pinned the little gold brooch, a horse's head inlaid with a tiny diamond, on our lapel, and when they attached the medal, even pricking us – to our delight, for around the heart we could feel as ever before – they asked us how it felt.  We bent our white head to the mike and spoke humorously: You all know that a record is a nostalgic object, everything nowadays operates on CD Rom and microchips, yet what really matters is what comes from the heart.

   A speech, a speech, everyone yelled, a speech, a speech. So we took the paper out of our pocket.

   Twenty-six bones, we said, a full quarter of all the bones in one's body, make up the foot, thirty three joints and over a hundred muscles, tendons and connective tissues, besides ligaments and sinuses, binding all together into a uniquely flexible structure of convex arcs designed to absorb any shock, not to mention a complex system of blood vessels, nerves, and various skin textures.  All these, we said, make our craze for shoes in general the sanest of all our vagaries. That's all, we said, and in humans, we quoted, the prehensile ability of the foot has been sadly neglected.