A faint, pink light glimmers through skinny pines on the horizon and the familiar shapes of the forest sharpen into view. It is 5:45 am on a Tuesday morning and the night stars are dissolving into the pale dawn. A chorus of birds chirps somewhere to my right. Twigs and gravel crunch under the grooves of my tires, and as we climb the first steep hill of the day, the sound of our huffing is audible. My biking group – all women but the instructor – has been riding these trails for five years. It’s winter, the rainy season, and our back wheels spray mud as we ride through puddles, forming splattered patterns of brown dots on our cushioned behinds. We’ve encountered entire trees uprooted and blocking our path, trail runners with dogs in tow, foxes, snakes, tiny violet wildflowers, and here in Israel, the occasional goat herd and Bedouin camp. We round a bend and suddenly the air is humming with human bustle and activity. Two hundred meters later, we see an entire movie set — trailers and film crews, tables piled with pastries and neatly-stacked water bottles, and assistants running to and fro speaking into wireless headsets — plopped right in the middle of our forest.
“I knew it!” says Lola, our resident pop culture expert, as we gape, pedaling in slow circles. “I knew they’d film here one of these days. It’s that TV show, the one with the detective who’s always solving crimes in nature.”
“Like polluting the forest with their sets?” asks Irena, our skeptic.
“Hilarious,” says Simone. “Do you think Ya’ari Ben-Shemen is here?”
We squeal like schoolgirls, even Irena, and my heart does a teeny somersault. Ya’ari Ben-Shemen starred in the production of West Side Story I took my daughters to see last year. We all left a little in love with him. That deep voice, his warm brown eyes. My 11-year-old spent weeks primping in front of a mirror singing “I Feel Pretty” and hoping Tony would come for her.
Our bike instructor rolls his eyes, he’d like to get going, but Simone and Lola have propped their bikes against a tree and struck up a conversation with an assistant. They beckon me over.
It’s a small country; our celebrities cross between stage and screen and don’t travel surrounded by entourages.
“He’s coming!” they say, extracting phones from zippered pockets in their biking shirts, ready for selfies. I can barely breathe.
We shake his hand, pose for pictures, ask if they might need a bunch of middle-aged gals on mountain bikes as extras.
“Perhaps,” he says, a gleam in his eye. “I can ask.” Ya’ari is polite and charming and handsome, despite layers of goopy makeup.
I want to ask him to sing “Something’s Coming” while bounding through the forest or “One Hand, One Heart” while staring lovingly at me. Sondheim’s lyrics and Bernstein’s magical orchestrations surge through my mind. Come on, deliver. To me.
We need to get back to our bikes, but to leave now would be a tragedy.
With my muddy backside and sweaty helmet hair, I’m the antithesis of a pretty young thing in a bridal shop. I lean over and plant a kiss on his lips.
Julie Zuckerman hails from Connecticut but moved to Israel 23 years ago, where she works in marketing and lives with her husband and four children. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Salt Hill, The SFWP Quarterly, Ellipsis, Riggwelter Press, Sixfold, descant, and The MacGuffin, among others. She is at work on a novel, and her debut novel-in-stories, The Book of Jeremiah, is forthcoming from Press 53. Find her on Twitter (@jbzuckerman)