Category Archives: Ariela Zucker

October 23 – Mortality Check

by Ariela Zucker

Nine o’clock at night and all is quiet. I doze in my hospital bed when suddenly the monitor I am hooked to with many leads starts flashing an angry red.

Startled I look up at the heartbeat counter, it shows a big red 0. Before I manage to move, five people show in the room. They stand in front of my bed in a row, they look at the monitor then at me. I look back at them not sure what is going on but sensing that I play a key role in this bizarre scene I cannot resist the urgent need to say something meaningful.

“Zero heartbeats, does that mean that I am not alive? “this is the best that I can come up with being totally unprepared for playing the dying patient. No one smiles.

I feel a bit winded and light-headed like I did for the past week but my heart that for a few weeks now was beating and fluttering in my chest like a caged bird desperate to fly away feels strangely quiet. Maybe I am indeed dead.

I cast another look at my attentive audience. Two female nurses and three very young, attractive male nurses and I wonder if the abundance of male nurses in this hospital presents a subtle way to help female patients stay alive. It’s a funny thought, so I start to giggle while I toss in the bed in a try to get a better look at the alarming signs on the monitor. In that exact moment, the display flickers and my heartbeat start to climb up. I breathe in, breath out, smile an encouraging smile at the crowd in front of my bed.

“I guess I am still here,”

No one smiles back.

I nod my head to my unresponsive audience, rest it back on the pillow and close my eyes. I am tired. It’s been a long week and tomorrow they will fix whatever it is that does not work in my heart. The long words and explanations that were thrown at me had one thing in common; like a flawed machine my heart, the one I trusted until now has failed me, and someone needs to go in and fix it.

Tomorrow another piece of machinery, a pacemaker will assume the responsibility. The pacemaker will do an excellent job they assure me.
“You will be as good as new,” these words are like a mantra that supposed to make me feel good.

A specific model, a series number, battery life, all this detailed information is shared orally and in written documents. My signed consent is requested, and still, I feel that my presence in the process is not, I am not a heart mechanic I am only the carrier of this damaged piece of equipment. Only the carrier.

It’s a somber thought that I need to come to terms with. It makes me feel that in some ways the process of separating from my body had already begun.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

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July 20 – Bluer Than Robin’s Eggs

by Ariela Zucker

“As I remember your eyes,
Were bluer than robin’s eggs.” Joan Baez – Diamond and Rust.

RobinsEgg-ArielaZuckerI watched them for almost three weeks, a couple of robins building their nest. They flew around the front yard for a while. Checked the grassy lawn for its offering of forage. Perhaps consulted with the hummingbirds who inhabited of the lawn for many years, and finally decided to construct the nest in the bush right next to the deck. The bush that I neglected to prune and is now hovering over the drive.

Every morning with my first cup of coffee I would sit, and watch fascinated how they were flying back and forth each time with a new trophy; a blue thread, a twig, a dead leaf, stopping occasionally to chat, while resting on the arch that holds my Dutch Trumpet’s vine.

I was a bit worried about their choice of location, at the tip of the bush, on a rather low branch. Constructing the nest at the section of the bush that seemed fragile, unstable in the wind and easily seen from the front drive. But I calmed myself thinking that they have generations of instincts guiding them so who am I to judge. It was nice to be able to see, from my seat on the deck how the nest grows and forms with each day and becomes an elaborate creation to hug and protect the eggs and then the newborn birds.

But this morning, on the deck a blue egg, fractured is the first thing that caught my eyes. It laid half-open on the floor with its insides oozing out. I knew right then and there that my worries were justified; this was not a good place, not a safe location at all. For a few minutes, I was consumed by sadness and anger.I was surprised by my reaction. Only a broken robin’s egg, I kept telling myself, not a big deal. Light blue, the kind of blue robin eggs are known for. Blue for happiness and rebirth, in this case, became the death of a hope.

I found myself mourning the loss of one blue robin egg, the death of a future bird. Perhaps in a world full of misery, and anger, it is the simple daily things that in the end get us.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

April 20 – Spring

by Ariela ZuckerSpring Flowers

Spring by far is my favorite season. Every year when the snow finally melts I can’t get over the magic of the first spring sprouts. It’s as powerful as God’s promise never to bring a second flood. Regardless of the craziness that engulfs us daily when even nature at times seems to lose its grip and lash at us humans with unremembered fury. When April rolls in, the days get longer, the ground gets softer, and the green erupts. Soft greens at the beginning dot the ground or appear as tiny buds on the trees until one morning everything is green.

My favorites are old friends I saw last fall and are now coming back. The Clematis who all through the winter looked like a dead twig springs new leaves and buds that will open into glorious purple flowers. The sweet pea in the corner sends tender, shy shoots that from experience I know will grow and grow relentlessly and if not stopped will cover walls and windows. In the wet ditch, bordering the road the nine cattails raise their brown heads and sway in the light breeze while next to them my pride and joy, the wild lilies I planted years ago start their journey that will yield my favorite orange blossoms.

It’s nothing less than a dazzling celebration. The colors of the new growth mingle with the loud music of the peepers. First, just a lone forerunner whose voice is heard at dusk from the wetland in the forest across the road but before long another one joins and another to create a deafening orchestra that salutes nature and will last all through the night reaching its crescendo shortly before dawn.

The cycle of life, perhaps a cliché, or maybe it holds an inner truth that we can adopt into our lives. Decline and death are but stages that interact with the spring bloom and the summer’s lush. It makes me feel good to know that the seeds I invested in the ground will forever become a part of this everlasting succession.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now resides in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://paperdragonme.wordpress.com/

March 14 – Cooking for Passover

by Ariela Zucker

CookbookIt is my mother’s cookbook that I kept after she passed away many years ago, so most of the recipes are hers. Every year I open it a few days before Passover and minutes later I am treading knee-deep in thoughts and images and even the smells of my childhood. I know from prior years that these entangled sensations, a neurological condition called synesthesia, is temporary and will pass after the holiday but for a brief period I let myself back into the land of memories.

The book’s hardcover is dull brown that is peeling in all four corners. When I open it, a stream of papers of all sizes and colors fall out and spread unevenly on the floor. Another thing I tend to forget is my habit to write recipes on random pieces of paper and tuck them inside the book, for a keepsake. The pages themselves stained from the years and the many times they were touched with oily or flower covered hands.

As I flip through the book, gently, so not to tear the pages that tend to stick to each other, I make it to the part marked Passover. I look at my mother’s angular handwriting and remember how the Hebrew letters, she adopted late in her life, never gained an easy flaw. I remember how she complained about it yet insisted on writing the recipes in Hebrew so I will be able to read them. In between, my handwriting, round and flawless, unlike her I drew a lot of satisfaction from the act of writing.

Passover flowerless cake, a family recipe my mother learned from her mother. Matzo dipped in chocolate, my favorite. Chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, brisket, compote, the list seems endless and with each recipe an image of the Seder table and the voices of people who are no longer alive mix with the loved flavors.

I look at the recipes and sigh. Like my daughters when they ask for a favorite recipe, I remember how I tried to follow the detailed instructions of the dishes just to fall short, time and time again. All my efforts did not produce the exact texture, or smell, or taste. I know that it will not happen this time around either, but that I will give it my best try.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://paperdragonme.wordpress.com/

February 27 – Daily Stuff

by Ariela Zucker


6:00 am. Like every morning, I stand in front of the big kitchen window and wait for the water to boil. It takes about five minutes for the electric glass kettle to hum, then gurgle, then big bubbles explode against the glass, then quiet. In the meantime, I look at the neighboring houses below. It is still dark, but on the horizon, the sky turns light blue, and beyond the tree-line, faint orange and pink line can be noticed. I pour the hot water over the coffee in my glass, my special morning one and prepare a second cup for my husband, still asleep. Over my head, I can hear the dog’s footsteps on the second floor. In a few moments, he will tiptoe down the stairs and ask to go out.

The house is ninety-eight years old, older than any house I ever lived in. Every time I think of it, it makes me shiver a little and at the same time feel warm and safe. It’s a strong house, built with wood beams that do not exist anymore, by skilled builders who wanted the homes that they built to last for a long time. I like it that the second floor has its own entrance, and I can sit up there, and no one can see me. I like how the basement is wide and the ceilings high. The electricity lines, water lines, old telephone lines that are no longer in use, resemble a functioning body. The heart, I imagine is the huge furnace, or perhaps the electricity board.

The basement, more than any other part of the house, can tell stories about the past. There is a set of stairs being blocked now by the kitchen floor. Most old houses, I read somewhere used to have two sets of stairs. An official, wood carved one for anyone to see and admire and a second, plain and narrow, for the daily functions.

I look at the cobwebs in the corners. In moments of quiet, I think I can hear the spiders weave them, as I imagine I can hear the bushes outside try to find hidden cracks in the foundation and send in a branch, or two, to investigate. The snow melts outside and water trickle along the walls. In the spring small puddles form in the corners, then sucked into the cement floor and disappear.

To me, who grew up in another country, in a tiny apartment on the third floor of a faceless building this old house is an enchanting castle. I love how every occasionally, I still encounter signs of the people who lived here before us.
I am not from here. I will probably never be. But for a few minutes every morning when I stand by the window and wait for the water to boil I feel tranquil and grounded.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/

December 12 – The Last Hanukkah With My Mother

by Ariela Zucker

Some months, more than others, bring up old memories. Some of them appear as vibrant as on the day they happened. The other day I looked at the calendar and saw that Hanukkah is only twelve days away. Suddenly it hit me, the memory of my last Hanukkah with my mother emerged from a faraway memory land.

It was Hanukkah of 1999 when, for the last time, I spent time with my mother.

We always went to Jerusalem to celebrate this holiday; my husband our four girls and I together with my parents would light the candles. The girls, each had their own Hanukkiah. They got to choose the colors of the candles, listen patiently to my father’s instructions which candle to lit first. Then we placed the lit Hanukkiahs in front of the big window in the living room, and the dancing flames framed our images in the dark glass.

My mother insisted on going through the ritual of blessings and traditional songs, which we did rather hurriedly to make it to the best part of the night–food and games.

Her homemade jelly donuts covered with fine powdered sugar never looked like the store-bought ones but tasted so much better. The dreidel games made for hours of fun.

That last Hanukkah did not feel the same. For the past two years, my mother wasn’t herself–she was irritated, forgetful, and disoriented at times. Even without an official diagnosis we could tell. We went to Jerusalem like we did every year but spent the night in an old monastery in a small village on the outskirts of town. We thought that the sense of adventure would distract the girls from the fact that they couldn’t stay at my parent’s house. But the rooms with their soaring ceilings and the thick walls of Jerusalem stone were bone freezing.

The lightning of the candles was a somber event that evening. Did we know, in the way one sometimes sense things before they happen?

Less than two weeks later my mother passed away. The windows of her hospital ward looked over the small village and the monastery where we spent our last visit.

The day she was buried, the tenth day in the Jewish month of Tevet, is also a day of mourning and fasting commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, resulting in the destruction of the first temple and later it became Memorial Day for Holocaust victims whose date of death is unknown.

Completely irrelevant, perhaps.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/

This piece was originally published on Ariela’s blog, Paper Dragon at  https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/2017/12/the-last-hanukkah-with-my-mother.html

December 6 – Writing Companion

by Ariela Zucker

Early in the morning, when the first rays of light struggle to rise above the trees in the backyard, I remember our exchanges in front of the computer and a big wave of sadness washes over me.

A habit of many years, I send my hand, to pat her soft white fur, then I remember that she is no longer here and my hand freezes in mid-air.

She was my writing companion; I can’t imagine writing without her by my side.
I smile when I remember our morning routine. Me, serious and driven, pouring my ‘oh, so important thoughts’ onto the computer. She, just as motivated, walking back and forth stepping gently on the keyboard and sending herds of letters scrambling on the screen mingling with my orderly sentences.

I used to get mad.

Then I tried to work around her, realizing as I was doing it how pathetic it might look to any bystander. Attempting to get to the keys by sending my hand under her belly, or looking at the screen above her ears. Just as I found a somewhat workable position, and typed few lines, she would move and graciously send a paw or a tail and brush it all away. In the end I would give up. I’d laugh and pet her on the head “you are right, I am taking myself way too seriously.”

I would sweep the clamps of hair from my shirt, phoo away some more fine hair stuck to my face, and lean back. She would stretch slowly, yawn, get up and walk away to curl in the sunny spot on the couch.

Distracted and restless, I stand up. Outside the backyard is covered with dry brown leaves. I can see the small heap of stones marking her grave under the old oak tree.  I know they are not meant to be with us forever, but this does not take away from her absence by my side.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/

This piece was originally published on Ariela’s blog, Paper Dragon at https://papredragon2017.blogspot.ca/2017/11/writingcompanion-early-in-morning-when.html.