The man had been dead for fifty years, and two boys in olive coats carried him on their shoulders through the desert past Khan-Yunes. The clouds looked like splashes of milk behind the humvee shaking down the road. The boys exchanged weak smiles and spread a tarp over him. They were wrapping up the campaign in two weeks and they were thinking of home. Beyond them was the wall. Beyond that were the peeled tails of rockets sticking out at random. Danger, ruin, and zeal replaced the natural elements of the air. They looked back at the wide acacia tree and the dug-up plots and the little shack that collected sand when it breezed. A troop of harvester ants moved their burnt-orange bodies across a splinter. One of the boys—and you could argue that they were men now—took a magnifying glass out of his pocket. He had made it by pressing a plastic bag filled with water between two embroidery hoops, cutting the extra flesh off the bag, and hot-gluing the edges in. Moav held it up and waited patiently. Abbie looked at Moav, anxiousness ripping into his cheeks. They were sweating from carrying the load. Both of their faces were sun burnt except for around the eyes. And bucket hats shaded their noses. When a thin line of smoke began to ribbon out from the casket, Abbie put his hand on Moav’s as if he were trying to comfort a dying patient. Moav shrugged it off, grunted, and began trailing behind the string of ants with the sunbeam hot and precise, herding them against the tip of the splinter, and finally striking them and watching them curl and blacken and shrivel off. You didn’t hear any screaming, Abbie thought. That’s why it was so easy. You might have stopped if you had heard any screaming.
The road to the Mount of Olives wound away from the sea, and the men rested up against the bed of the humvee, preparing for the hour and a half drive. They scoped the scenery in fifteen-minute increments, a salty grip on their rifles, watching the ground rush by at their sides. Once they passed the wall and left Gaza, they began to dream. Both of them dreamed in the hot sun about home—how it would be the same as they left it.
Moav dreamed of suspended sleep. In the summer months, he slept in a hammock outside his parents’ house in the village of Hosen. Sometimes he’d be there from the afternoon, spitting sunflower seeds toward the Arab towns far off in the nook of the valley and smashing mosquitoes into his denim pants with a book, so that when he woke up, his pants were dry and full of smashed mosquitoes and blood. The mornings were ritualized and he remembered 6 a.m. so well, he could mentally paint it on the backs of his eyelids, which were a translucent red now from the noon rays: A band of pink sunlight appeared across two mountain ridges that folded into each other awkwardly like bumping shoulders. The moon was white and pregnant in the sky. Hosen sat on the eastern side of a valley, and in the mornings before the sun cracked over the ridge, the fog was snared inside the valley and made the village cold and damp. Then the sun broke over like it always did—first at a slow creep and then with a flash, striking the top of the ridge like a match and taking bites out of the fog. Then it would sit semi-circled on top of the row of white bungalows at the browned crust of the western ridge like an egg yolk in a pan—warming the windows, drying the roofs, feeding invisible oil into the land. He could see down into the pit of homes where the pressed gray blanket had once covered them. Then the purple bruise of the sky healed and yellowed. Then the breeze pulled the dew down off the bending palms. But ultimately he remembered the jarring way in which the morning originated—that many times, he awoke in the hammock to the sounds of animals fighting.
Abbie dreamed of his room. Of his Zeppelin posters and his books. Eventually, he had run out of shelf space and in the months before the campaign, the paperbacks began to climb and wrap around his bed like the high-rise construction going on in Tel Aviv. Mostly, he was thinking about the journalism awards that his parents had received for their striking, right-wing portrayals of families that were torn from their homes as part of the disengagement plan. At least, he thought, at least they weren’t digging them up. They never mentioned anything about a wall either, or how the equally saddening thing about the whole plan besides taking the families out of there was that other families were now closed off. Through the rattling and the clinking and the dead man between them, they dreamt like this.