Translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen
It was a Saturday. The guests at the Green House were fanning charcoal and slabs of slowly charring meat with squares of cardboard, and the cats were going berserk. They scampered around the vacationers’ feet, their gaping mouths emitting long yowls, and Yuri decided to take advantage of the commotion to mow the lawn. He dragged the mower back and forth quickly, slowing down only near the pond, where the weeds grew right up against the rocks and he had to be careful, like when shaving sideburns. Then he saw it floating on its belly. Confused for a moment, Yuri took a step back. The dead hedgehog looked so peculiar, crowned with a wet halo of brown spines, snout jutting slightly above the water to sip in the final breaths he no longer had, stout little legs trailing in the water among the plants that had floated to the pond’s edge to make way. Yuri fished the creature out with his butterfly net. It was surprisingly heavy and practically ripped the pale green netting. Shoo! He banished the cats, who had briefly abandoned the burning hot steaks to come over and inspect this new loot. Shoo! He flipped the net over into a bucket and the hedgehog plummeted with the singular, muffled sound of spines scraping against plastic. Then he went to show it to Avigail before the burial.
Two days later, Avigail found the second hedgehog. They were distraught. Yuri decided to conduct a stakeout that night. He crouched among the oleander on his knees, but quickly tired and sprawled out on his stomach, his nose against the grass, breathing in the evaporating molecules of the night. Insects crawled around him as though he were not there at all, and invisible mosquitoes caressed his cheeks before continuing on their winding paths.
There was a sort of blindness to it all: a sightlessness that sharpened the senses, thick and viscous and bursting with itself and its own bitter scents. Yuri buried his forehead in the weeds, which felt both soft and prickly, and closed his eyes.
He opened them when he heard the rustle of a body dragging along the ground, accompanied by what was undoubtedly the tapping of four feet, a cacophony of trampled leaves, and the high, hoarse whistles of a nocturnal creature. The hedgehog was quite large, roughly the size of a rabbit, and Yuri watched as it headed eagerly to the pond. It stopped where the rocks began, put both front feet forward and burdened them with the weight of its chubby body and trailing coronet of spines, suspended itself briefly at a sharp angle, gave a pant and shambled up.
It stood swaying on the rock with its snout reaching toward the pond. It slowly leaned over to the edge of the water, where the fish no longer swam, then stuck out a pink tongue that looked almost black in the night, and lapped up the soupy water. Yuri watched tensely, astonished. The hedgehog leaned down the slope that grew steeper and steeper, until its entire body suddenly plunged into the water.
And it swam! How it swam! Clearly joyous, the spines softened and its body broke through the ripples, legs kicking slightly underwater. But the hedgehog hadn’t realized how deep this puddle was, and it suddenly felt very tired. It tried to climb up the rocks but they were slippery and it slid back down. It tried again, its body slightly submerged now, snout twitching, mouth whistling into the blind night.
Yuri rose to his feet and his clumsy body cut through the darkness. He threw the butterfly net into the pool and snagged the drowning hedgehog. Its spines tangled in the net and the creature kicked and whistled through its lips, but Yuri would not give up. He pulled and tugged until the hedgehog emerged, still breathing. He released it from the net, now completely destroyed in the frightened creature’s struggle, and it fled to the orchard and vanished.
The next morning Yuri took a long rough plank and laid it across the pond.
“What’s that?” Avigail asked.
“A bridge for the hedgehogs.”
At home Yuri took out Shuni’s old encyclopedia set and looked up hedgehog. He showed Avigail: “Hedgehogs are good swimmers but tire quickly.”
“You and your ideas . . .” she said.
The next night, something incredible happened. This time Avigail crouched in the bushes with Yuri, and together they watched as a tiny hedgehog, barely larger than a mouse, approached. It stopped, put one foot on the plank, then transferred all of its weight onto the wood and walked along until it got to the middle of the pond, where it stood drinking. When it was no longer thirsty, it plopped its strange body into the water and floated from side to side with only its snout and eyes peeking out. After its swim, the hedgehog gripped the plank with its legs, climbed up, and turned to leave, rear end swaying, short tail perked up damply behind. It was such a wonderful spectacle that Yuri and Avigail forgot to breathe, and their mouths laughed into the weeds.
After that night, the hedgehogs stopped dying.
Liran Golod was born in northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. Her debut novel Earthwork was published in 2014 to critical acclaim. In recent years she has lived in New York and is currently the artistic director of Jerusalem International Writers Festival. Her next novel, Tiger 3, is forthcoming.
Jessica Cohen is a freelance translator born in England, raised in Israel, and living in Denver. She translates contemporary Israeli prose, poetry, and other creative work. Her translations include critically acclaimed writing by David Grossman, Etgar Keret, Nir Baram, Amir Gutfreund, and Dorit Rabinyan.
“Hedgehogs” originally appeared in I Live Here (TLR, Fall 2016)