Excerpt White Zion :
"We're here," Bubby announced in a trembling voice. "How are you? Can you take us to him or should we go ourselves?"
"No, I can't do that," my cousin's wife slurred, she was clutching an empty bottle in one hand.
"Can you just tell us where?"
"I mean, you're too late."
My aunt and uncle looked at one another and then back at their daughter-in-law's long face, her doll-like lips and reddened eyes.
"I had him cremated immediately. That's what he would have wanted. His ashes are—"
"Ah!" Bubby shrieked, her hands flying up to protect her ears. "His ashes? Cremated? Our son. Our boy. We've come to say goodbye. How could you not let us say goodbye? We came as quickly as we could. We want to say goodbye to Allen. Allen! Why didn't you wait?"
But my Zaide was already putting his white windbreaker on and tightening his black shoelaces. Then he puts his shaking hand on the doorknob.
"Izzy? Izzy do something. I want to see Allen at least. I'm his mother."
"Let's go, Bets, let's go," my Zaide said. His voice was just above a whisper. He had already opened the door wide.
"How dare she? How dare she? No asking, no telling, so fast, my God," my Bubby demanded.
"That's what he would have wanted," cousin Allen's wife repeated firmly, she steadied herself on the sideboard.
"What's wrong with you?" my Bubby asked. "We're his parents."
--From White Zion story "Spider Places."
Betrayal between family members often feels like a blow to the stomach with a hockey stick. In this excerpt, a daughter-in-law—who I never name, so for this article let's call her Sadie—is desperate to keep her mother-in-law from giving her son, Allen, a burial. Sadie is so frantic to achieve her goal that she cremates her husband less than one day after his death from cancer.
There's no opportunity for Allen's parents, who live in Canada, to arrive in the USA on time to suspend Sadie's dubious plans. With no prior knowledge of what is to come the parents are helpless; the betrayal is successful. Sadie single-mindedly fulfills her dead husband's wishes, or that is what she tells the reader. Allen is dead before the story begins. We have no way of knowing if Sadie's completing his final desire or peppering betrayal with a generous dose of revenge. Though nothing is explicitly written, it's obvious there's no love lost between Sadie and her in-laws. Still, Sadie puts on a pretense of innocently trying to do the right thing.
This is the type of deceit many of us will find familiar. We all do it and when we do, it's the kind of betrayal we try to justify and in White Zion, this recognizable type of betrayal is served up in larger-than-life doses.
But before White Zion even begins one of its heroes, a young boy named Assaf, would be able to tell you about another kind of betrayal. He'd say it feels more like a descent into a personal hell. Assaf is born in British Mandatory Palestine. He is only twelve in the 1948 War of Independence when his city of birth is attacked from all sides, including the air. The Jewish population of Jerusalem is cut off from supplies when the road from Tel Aviv is blockaded. Young Assaf must boil grass to eat and stand in long lines for a ration of water from a well. He is not yet a teenager but he feels betrayed by humanity itself. He must dodge bombs and bullets on the way to primary school. He must grapple with the violation of an assumed contract that many of us have; we have the right to visit public places without experiencing violence, let alone murder.
And so, my theme of this other, more fatal type of betrayal is off to a running start before the first page of White Zion is written. In other words, that's the backstory.
A third type of betrayal in White Zion happens on a generational level; to be more precise transgenerational. The central conflict is with the heroine Miriam, often called Miri, and her own DNA. Miri is grown-up Assaf's Canadian-born daughter.
Today, we are told that epigenetic changes pass from father to daughter, mother to son, preprogramming us for diseases. The research is still ongoing, but either way humans must step up to the plate and realize that long after a war is over, it's darkest most horrific shadows and bloodiest wounds live on for decades. No one needs to tell this to Miri. She has no need of the latest scientific studies.
The betrayal connections in White Zion are not coincidental. I set out to thread the devastation felt by one Canadian mother, from one of the planet's coldest capitals, with the grief felt by a boy born on the other side of the world in one of the planet's most ravaged capitals. I set out to weave betrayal on a macro and a micro level to show its innumerable faces and its inevitable consequences as a warning to all of us. My goal is to make you uneasy, or at least edgy enough, so that readers don't finish White Zion without taking a backward glance at their own homegrown betrayals.
Thank you so much to Stefanie of The Magic of Wor(l)ds' blog for hosting me on her site. This post was originally posted there.
The photo in this post was taken by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.