From the window of his room in the King David Hotel he could see the
walls of Jerusalem's Old City on the adjacent hill. The valley lying
below, separating him from the Jaffa Gate, was Hinnom, better know
as Gehenna or Hell. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted a slaughter
in Hinnom, and the name had since become a metaphor for divine
punishment. The valley extended to his right, southward, then curved
eastward around Mt. Zion, where it would eventually meet the Kidron
Valley below the archaeological ruins of the City of David.
Hell isn't so terrible, he thought. Just a lot of bad press.
The previous night he hadn't needed to play a role because he had
felt like a bloody tourist. He had investigated the hotel bar, in
search of companionship, but the few girls passing through were
Americans primarily interested in New York-Jerusalem comparative
shopping values. Then he had gone to a French restaurant where the
service had been adequate, but the entrees were of mediocre quality
and flagrantly overpriced. The wine list consisted of a smattering
of domestic Israeli varieties that tasted like shoe polish.
Afterward he had discovered the management wouldn't accept the local
currency, the shekel, in payment: he had to use scarce dollars.
Next he had asked a cab driver to take him somewhere there was live
music, and they had driven several miles in the fog to a club at the
top of a mountain, where there was a dance floor and a three-piece
band. He had sipped a sabra liqueur, and watched a youthful clique
who were drinking, dancing, and occasionally retiring outside to
smoke hashish. Then she had appeared, and he had forgotten why he
"Where did the hotel
say to go to hear a live band?" she had asked.
"Nowhere, really. They said there wasn't much in Jerusalem,
because Jerusalem is a holy city. There is a disco or two, but
as for live performances other than concerts, it's mostly just
tourist shows consisting of folk songs."
She had laughed at the
peculiar notion of holiness, the musical voice reverberating within
"In ancient times
what was holy was demarcated by singing and dancing. Primitive
religion was mostly about sex, which is the principal
affirmation of life; and drugs, which are doorways to another
world--the realm of Gods, spirits, and the dead. Both are
properly experienced in the company of music."
At that point there was
no way he would have refused her invitation. She had given him
Playing a role? He wasn't sure what he meant by that. Who he was and
why he was here kept tugging at the edge of his mind, but whenever
he turned his attention in that direction, it flittered away, out of
grasp. At other times he had the impression he was someone else. But
that, too, made no sense without a clear basis for comparison.
Now it was time. He turned from the window to pick up the paper
sack, carefully closed the door of the room behind him, and walked
down the red-carpeted stairs from the fourth floor. He pushed
through the revolving door of the lobby, declining the doorman's
offer of a taxi, and glanced briefly at the YMCA across the street
before turning right down David Hamelech. After a while he turned to
his right again, into a street that descended between rows of one-
and two-story abandoned buildings before rising up to the outer wall
of the Old City.
A stray cat ventured out of the rubble of a building into the edge
of the sunlight. He paused to speak to it, glancing carefully back
up the street as he did so. Then, as the cat scrambled away, he
stepped into the dark interior of the stone structure and waited
quietly for a few minutes. Cars passed occasionally in either
direction but there was nothing else. He emptied the sack and
quickly donned a cloak made from coarse brown cloth. Then he folded
a kufiyah and fitted it on his head with an aakal made of stiff
He crossed Yafo, entered Jaffa Gate, and joined a stream of
similarly clad figures headed down the narrow passageways of David
and Chain Streets, which were also crowded with merchants, shoppers,
tourists and soldiers. The Islamic faithful, on their way to prayer,
would pass on through the Gate of the Chain entrance to the Haram es-
Sharif, the Temple Mount, where they would enter the western door to
the Dome of the Rock. There, beside the Foundation Stone where
Abraham had prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and from which Mohammed had
ascended to heaven, they would kneel with heads pointed southward,
Shortly before reaching the Gate of the Chain, however, he turned
abruptly to the left, along El-Wad, and then turned left again on
Via Dolorosa. Near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he entered a
doorway, walked across the room, and knocked at a second door.
After a moment the door opened and a hand pulled him inside. Without
saying a word the heavily robed figure placed a hood over his head,
shielding what little vision he might have had, and led him through
a maze of corridors. When the hood was removed he found himself in a
chamber where a candle revealed an opening in the floor. A wooden
ladder descended into the rock. The figure pulled back the cloth
from around its face, and he saw it was her. She motioned him to
follow her down the ladder.
At the foot of the ladder the passageway continued its downward
slope, then leveled off before reaching an open room that glowed
with a dim blue light. He caught the smell of incense and the faint
strains of a female vocal choir. He looked at the pillared walls and
the perfectly formed statue in surprise.
"Where are we?" he
"Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre," she said. "It stands
on a spot previously occupied by a Temple to Aphrodite, erected
by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. This underground room, forgotten
and hence preserved, is all that remains of the original
He thought about the
guided tour he had taken through the church above, in which was
located Golgatha, the place of Jesus' crucifixion, as well as Jesus'
tomb. A guide with candy on his breath had showed him a hole in the
rock that, the guide said, marked the exact spot where Jesus' cross
had stood. He had declined the guide's suggestion he insert his hand
into the hole. He had, however, touched the headstone of Jesus' tomb
for a special blessing after a priest had thrust a small cross and a
flower into his palm. He had gotten the message: if you don't want
to donate, don't visit our church. The guide had then shown him the
key to the church's main door. The key was left in the hands of a
neutral Moslem family to avoid jealousy among the Christian
factions--Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, Syrian,
and Abyssinian--who shared property rights to the enclosed holy
He felt a tightness in his chest as he gazed on the statue of
Aphrodite, then looked at the opposite wall which was clearly of
"Come," she said,
"and I will show you the newly restored functional area of the
She turned a key in what
appeared to be a door of solid copper, and they stepped into a warm,
incense-filled room, which was dimly illuminated by colored lights
reflecting off the walls and casting their hues onto the patches of
steam floating in the air. The ceiling was formed of pieces of
mirrored glass fitted at varying angles to generate an undulatory
kaleidoscope. He did not recognize the language of the choir, but
the music had a haunting, sensuous quality.
She bade him relax on a small pile of cushions. "The attendants will
tell you what to do." He watched her leave through another door,
then looked about him carefully. He monitored his internal senses,
but felt in no danger. Even the tension that had dogged him
constantly from his arrival at Ben- Gurion Airport was gone. He
noticed a decorated Greek vase on a small table. He got up to look
more closely, and saw it was a picture of a naked hetaira, standing,
but leaning forward with head down. A man was entering her from
Curtains parted and a young girl clad only in a short terry- cloth
robe stepped inside carrying a goblet on a silver platter. He
suddenly felt overdressed in the heat of the room. She kneeled
beside him, holding out the platter. He took the goblet and lifted
it to his lips. It was warm red wine, surprisingly good. She smiled
encouragingly at his small sips, so he quaffed the remainder and
returned the goblet to the tray.
In a moment the attendant had returned with the cup refilled, and
with another girl. This time the tray was set by his side, and the
two girls began to help him out of his clothes. They wrapped a large
towel around his body, then left him to finish the wine. The dim
light had taken on a bright crystalline pattern and the smell of
incense had become strongly erotic. He realized the wine contained a
The liquid spread soothingly throughout his body, and he settled
deeper into the cushions. He recalled William Blake's reference to
the soul's five windows, and noted his own had grown larger, sucking
in a rich bouillabaisse of light, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
After an indeterminate interval the two girls returned and led him
into an adjacent room with a large sunken bath. When he was fully
immersed, they disrobed and joined him on either side. They rubbed
his body with soap. He leaned back against the sloped back of the
bath, enjoying the exquisite touch of their fingers on his muscles.
He was some ancient creature, floating on the ocean surface, the sun
warming his skin. Then an electric shock went through him when the
hands began to lather his genitals, temporarily jolting him back
into the exterior world.
One of the nymphs smiled at his swelling member, and he looked at
the curve of her brow, the delicate neck, and the brown nipples on
the small breasts. She looked something like Theresa, that day
hiking along the crest of the hills, when she had leaned back
against a large rock, laughing, taunting him to take her in the
bright sunlight. So that's what he had done, slipping off her
panties, and lifting her dress to press against her, later turning
his head to the side to look out over the Mediterranean as he came.
Now the video is rolling as they rinse off the soap, and begin to
methodically cover him with a clear perfumed liquid. He sees the
pavement rushing toward him as the car weaves through the Judean
hills on the road to Beersheba. At the West Bank checkpoint the
soldiers look at the plates on the car and wave him on through. He
passes by rocky hills, seeing occasional roadside produce stands and
young boys on donkeys herding goats and sheep, till he turns off at
Hebron, the burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where David
is anointed king and lives for a time with his six wives, but he is
not here to see the monuments.
Then they lead him through an entrance surrounded with myrtle
branches into a third room with a floor covered with thick rugs and
bid him kneel on a small cushion. He realizes he is in the principal
room of the temple--it feels vaguely familiar--the floor around him
strewn with rose petals. He sits back on his heels with his hands on
his knees. The room is dark save for a muted light that silhouettes
a statue of Aphrodite. This one is life- size, larger than the one
he sees on the split-screen of previous time, the light going out
for a moment, then reappearing. He can see a faint aura around the
statue of the Goddess, and he shifts his head to see it better from
the sides of his eyes, then feels the surge of adrenaline as the
The room becomes somewhat lighter as the Goddess approaches, and he
can see her skin glistening with a light coating of oil. He runs his
eyes over her torso, the breasts full, the belly perfectly formed.
He drops his gaze to the thighs topped with a triangle that seems to
sparkle with gold. She is stopped a few inches away, smiling down at
him. He stares at her pubis, feeling the heat from her body,
smelling her sex. Lines echo in his consciousness. His own words?
Someone close to him?
Smile to my brain!
Soak me in cognac,
Cunt and cocaine.
He is on fire. In other
circumstances he might feel ridiculous, kneeling like this, a
projection from his own body pointed in the air, now seemly too
expansive, like a terracotta lamp of Priapus with its extended,
exaggerated phallus, the end set aflame and hung in a doorway
telling evil spirits to fuck off. But he is here to worship and by
Goddess that's what he intends to do. As she speaks to him with
words he does not understand, and the voice of the choir rises, he
reaches out grasping her hips, pulling her forward, and runs his
tongue over and into the golden hair. She places her hands on his
head, and then sits and lays back as he works his way upward to her
lips. Her lips melt away like a soft marshmallow sauce, then return
firmer and she is biting his lower lip. Now he has fused with this
Goddess, and as she wraps her legs around him he realizes he is no
longer certain of the boundaries of his own body.
Slipping down the side of the mountain into deeper and deeper snow,
this winter's crazy stunt. The snow is suddenly up to his chest,
then a whoosh as it collapses beneath him. He is holding himself
wedged against the icy walls of the crevice looking down, straining,
ripping off a glove with his teeth and clawing at the rock, trying
to pull himself up and out, his feet kicking uselessly below. The
agony of working upward a half-inch at a time, a shouted primal
defiance of gravity pulling him down. Then the sudden knowledge that
slowly, slowly, he will make it, finally rolling out to the side,
and being flooded with the terror there is no feeling in his hand.
He plunges it inside his clothing against his chest until finally
the first searing needles spread though his fingers.
The tension still builds. He is at the exam, his Senior year, having
worked all night with only an hour's sleep. He notes with
satisfaction the logical working of his mind, producing the answers
in lock-step fashion. Until he looks at the clock and realizes he is
actually in slow motion, working at a rate that will allow him to
finish half the questions at best. Everything is there--the
insights, the recall of facts, the intuitive sense of the expected
answer. No mental blocks, no panic at unfamiliar material, just the
overwhelming fear that he is going to fail because his mind is
working too slowly. Straining at his brain, a special kind of mental
pressure that he exerts in dreams when he is flying, holding himself
aloft and moving forward as though propelled down an inclined plane,
but keeping a uniform distance above the earth. Making his mind work
faster, his hand write faster, looking at the clock, feeling a dull
fire running up and down his back, until out of the blue on the last
question--there isn't the slightest tumescence in his penis-- he is
suddenly convulsed in orgasm. He sits there in surprise, then looks
guiltily at the surrounding students still immersed in their exams,
and wonders how he is going to hide the stain on his trousers as he
leaves the room.
In the Pacific off Malibu he feels the motion toward the shore. He
has never spent enough time at this to be any good at it, but now
miraculously, with no need to paddle, the board is moving forward,
upward, following the swell of the building wave. He is standing as
the foamy wave crests--a wave you never get in Malibu--and looking
at the watery canyon below, his feet like magnets drawing the board
into him till it becomes a living extension of his body. Now he
begins the downward slice through the liquid, the sole of his board
adjusting to subtle shifts in pressure, and he accelerates, riding
the foam. The exquisite pleasure surges throughout the neural
network, delivering a lusty joy to the outposts of his body, and he
realizes all his life he has been waiting for this one moment, this
one supreme second when he is completely attuned to the rhythms of
life and the forward motion of the universe. Then, as he rides the
wave, the spray rising up around him, he feels the special tightness
in his chest, a tension like he is physically contracting his
pectorals, but not that. His armpits are like hooks grasping at the
air flowing around him. Then he catches the flow and rises off the
board. He is flying, surfing the air, exactly like the dreams,
except now he is fully awake.
He looks down at the curiously entwined bodies, which disappear as
he rises through the thick clouds and out into the starry blackness.
He cruises the edge of space, the planet above and below him
absorbed in its own retrograde motion. And he knows now this is what
it is all about.
Here in the open frontier he is free at last.