He nev­er imag­ined roost­ers would be on his agen­da. Even when the stu­dent called to com­plain, he lis­tened half heart­ed­ly and dis­tract­ed­ly. He thought she was one of those whin­ers always look­ing to tor­ment every­one around them to some­how make it through the day. She com­plained about how her night end­ed before dawn and she no longer had a life. He asked if clos­ing her win­dows at night might lessen her dis­tress, and she hung up on him.

His moth­er had left him the apart­ment. Locat­ed on the out­skirts of his home town, it was nei­ther large nor impres­sive. It was sur­round­ed by a yard and a gar­den, a fence and a gate. Her heart had told her he would not be able to make a liv­ing teach­ing lit­er­a­ture and writ­ing litur­gi­cal poet­ry. Expe­ri­ence had taught him that earn­ing hon­o­rar­i­ums was not his strong suit. When he was paid, it was pen­nies. Occa­sion­al­ly he felt inspired to write a short sto­ry. Then his fee was a lit­tle high­er. For the most part, he gave his per­mis­sion to jour­nals to print his poems with­out com­pen­sa­tion. He would show his lit­tle boy, who lived sep­a­rate­ly with his moth­er, the black Frank-Rühl let­ter­ing of his name. The child would sound out the let­ters slow­ly, gath­er­ing them to form words, then gig­gle and ask, Dad­dy, why does this say Yon­a­dav Ronel? You’re Yon­a­dav, Dad­dy. Why are you writ­ten here?

Then he would hoist the child onto his shoul­ders and the two of them would walk through the fields. Father would show son a pret­ty hoopoe, a lit­tle reed war­bler, a gray wil­low war­bler, but his mind was else­where. He would be pon­der­ing the threat­en­ing gang of crest-heads that ter­ror­ized the gar­den of his mother’s home.

A few months ago, no longer able to bear the calls of the cheeky cocks in the wee hours of the night, the stu­dent moved out in a huff. She could no longer study, she rebuked. He assumed she was over­sen­si­tive, an embell­ish­er, and almost asked to spend a night in her apart­ment so he could assess the mag­ni­tude of the disruption.

One night, six months lat­er, when he was about to get into bed in his small stu­dio apart­ment in the cen­ter of town, the new ten­ant — a cook at a labor­ers’ eatery in the mar­ket — called to report that the gang wan­der­ing under­neath the porch, com­posed of ten roost­ers, twelve hens, and a bat­tal­ion of chicks, was vio­lent, loud, and get­ting on his nerves. At three o’clock every morn­ing the birds flew up to the tops of the sil­ver poplar trees and crowed him awake.

Yon­a­dav surfed the inter­net to study the phe­nom­e­non and learned that there was no mag­ic cure. His hands were tied. His moth­er had nev­er host­ed roost­ers in her gar­den, but after her death these unin­vit­ed guests came to call along with a com­pa­ny of tiny chicks, mov­ing through the neigh­bors’ yards to the gar­den that had been aban­doned. They took over the neglect­ed grounds, search­ing for seeds and oth­er treats, strolling leisure­ly, prov­ing their own­er­ship, nat­u­ral­iz­ing, brag­ging, breed­ing, tak­ing over and tak­ing pow­er, and at night spread­ing their wings to retire to the tops of the sil­ver poplars, where they slept the sleep of the just.

Wild roost­ers kept pro­cre­at­ing. Push them out the door and they’d come in through the win­dow, down from the sky or up from the ground.

This all took place in the days when he hard­ly came over, his new life tak­ing up more and more space in his dai­ly rou­tine. After the new ten­ant called him, he came by. No one in the neigh­bor­hood knew who owned the birds. Street cocks. First, he wrote to the city’s Depart­ment of San­i­ta­tion, then filed a com­plaint. He was waved off with unhelp­ful answers and base­less advice. They even sent over a munic­i­pal inspec­tor who stopped by to take a look and mut­tered, What’s all the fuss about? This isn’t a gang or even a flock. It’s bare­ly half a chick­en. Oth­er wise guys pro­posed he scat­ter poi­son, but warned him against the stench of death that would cloud the air, caus­ing the ten­ant to com­plain once more, this time about the pol­lu­tion. Ani­mal rights orga­ni­za­tions might paint him to be a vil­lain, and the city would find him guilty for the injus­tice and fine him. In his search for a solu­tion, he found a pro­fes­sion­al ani­mal catch­er who demand­ed two-hun­dred shekels for every bird he caught, which would be trans­ferred, alive and well and with its dig­ni­ty intact, to a dis­tant quarantine.

He returned to the gar­den again to sur­vey the offen­sive pop­u­la­tion. On the first count he got twen­ty-one, and on the next twen­ty-five. Anoth­er day, he spot­ted a female sit­ting on eggs, behind it ten lit­tle ones wad­dling along, chirp­ing meek­ly. Wis­er folks sug­gest­ed he let it go. There was no cure for this epi­dem­ic, this unprece­dent­ed plague. Wild roost­ers kept pro­cre­at­ing. Push them out the door and they’d come in through the win­dow, down from the sky or up from the ground. They were strong and cun­ning and deter­mined to defeat mankind.

The neigh­bors’ daugh­ter, Ayala, a thir­ty-four-year-old art ther­a­pist and a lover of all cre­ation who lived with her par­ents and treat­ed chil­dren in a sep­a­rate shed in the yard, stepped out­side to see what he was up to on the oth­er side of the fence. She exam­ined his actions with con­cern, click­ing her tongue, Oh, Yonadav.

He used to cov­et her back when he was two years above her in high school, but noth­ing ever tran­spired between the two of them save for casu­al chit-chat and teenaged teas­ing. She would come to class in shorts, her hair down, a sash tied around her head like some Roman princess. Her gray eyes were often cloudy. While he start­ed a fam­i­ly, she gal­li­vant­ed around India. Though the years had pre­served her fresh­ness, she now bore the marks of seri­ous­ness. Now, she hint­ed that he ought to find mer­cy in his heart. When he ran the num­bers again, he found no end to the expens­es, and smiled at her des­per­ate­ly. He promised he would only remove the birds indef­i­nite­ly, caus­ing them no harm, and asked if she was able to sleep prop­er­ly. She laughed and said that at night she thought about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Lor­ca. He raised a brow.

After dis­tress turned his heart to hate, he found a sup­pli­er in south­ern Israel who offered a long met­al cage with a sen­si­tive, accu­rate coil; a trap that could cap­ture four, even five birds at once. All Yon­a­dav had to do was place a bait on the path toward it and inside — mil­let, bird feed, or any oth­er del­i­ca­cy — and cock the mech­a­nism. This is the last one I have in stock, the sup­pli­er urged. I’m com­ing up tomor­row for busi­ness and can deliv­er it to you in my truck. I won’t charge for the ship­ping costs. Yon­a­dav was tempt­ed. He said yes. Once nego­ti­a­tions were com­plete, he opened his pock­et and sealed the deal. One thou­sand of his finest shekels.

The next day, the trap was deliv­ered to his yard. He bought some feed at a pet store, and the sup­pli­er from the south demon­strat­ed how to cock the coil as Ayala watched them from behind the fence with com­pas­sion­ate con­cern. The ten­ant made a solemn promise to watch from the porch and sum­mon him if a roost­er took the bait. And no, he added with a smile, I have no need for them. The restau­rant I work for is vegetarian.

Five days went by before the cov­et­ed call arrived. At the end of a long day of teach­ing, after con­fronting some stu­dents who had cursed and teased a class­mate, Yon­a­dav strode, gripped with excite­ment, toward the gar­den of his late mother’s home. Two green-orange roost­ers, yel­low-eyed and bold of gaze, were scam­per­ing through the cor­ri­dor of the entrap­ment, cluck­ing furi­ous­ly, protest­ing their incar­cer­a­tion. There you are! He cheered, pleased, then unlatched the gate and reached two con­fi­dent hands toward the grum­bling red crests. But the roost­ers retreat­ed to the back of the nar­row, elon­gat­ed cage, their tails raised, their wings flap­ping, jostling and screech­ing to the high heavens.

Yon­a­dav began to devise plans and scheme plots to bring them clos­er to the open­ing. First he placed a water bowl near the gate, then a fresh dish of feed. Then he prod­ded them with a stick to force them to draw near­er. Final­ly, des­per­ate. He crawled into the appa­ra­tus on his stom­ach, advanc­ing, burn­ing with sweat, stretch­ing his long arms. The roost­ers mali­cious­ly pecked his fore­head and fin­gers, shov­ing and scream­ing, run­ning and slip­ping away from him. His fin­gers could not grab their necks or legs. When he final­ly squeezed out of the trap, his arms scratched, his skin drip­ping blood, his shirt filthy with dirt, dazed and shak­en, the pris­on­ers took advan­tage of his momen­tary weak­ness, slipped out from both sides and around him, and broke into a wild run as he lunged at them with the remain­der of his strength, only to trip, defeat­ed, over the irri­ga­tion hose. They strode and flew about like win­ners, advanc­ing toward the gate of the yard with deaf­en­ing clucks, and van­ished. He lis­tened with mar­vel to the juicy swear words that would have made his stu­dents proud, final­ly real­iz­ing they were com­ing from his own mouth.

From behind the fence, Ayala watched the scene, hands on her cheeks, sti­fling a laugh. Yon­a­dav. He hadn’t noticed her. She ran inside and returned with a glass of cold water, but he turned his back on her.

With bit­ter defeat, he drove away, but not before cock­ing the trap once more and promis­ing him­self that next time he would come equipped with a sack to slip over the gate before he goad­ed those lit­tle dev­ils inside like flies into jam. The entire way to his week­ly date with his son, thoughts sprout­ed inside of him, giv­ing birth to thought spawns that bond­ed like mul­ti­ply­ing links, blend­ing and entan­gling and throw­ing off the rest of his day. How did those bas­tards get away from him! He, who had served in an elite mil­i­tary unit?

When his son asked for ice cream, he lost his tem­per and told him to shut up. When the boy cried out and ran off, he chased him around the play­ground and pulled him out from under a bush, hug­ging him and beg­ging for for­give­ness. The two of them sat, hold­ing each oth­er tight­ly, for min­utes on end.

After a ten-day wait the ten­ant sum­moned him to task once more. Yon­a­dav arrived that after­noon with an enor­mous sack — cour­tesy of the school jan­i­tor — some thread, and scis­sors. His eyes scoured the next-door yard for his neigh­bor. Inside the trap was a healthy orange roost­er with a for­mi­da­ble crest, rag­ing back and forth, screech­ing his com­plaint, protest­ing the quar­an­tine. Purring through his wide smile, he slipped the long sack over the gate of the trap, smoothed out its edges, and only then unlatched the gate.

The roost­er flocked wide­ly into the depths of the snare. With a sly grin, he quick­ly tied the sack shut, then turned back to see if the neigh­bor was watch­ing his accom­plish­ment. She wasn’t at the fence. He walked over and called her name twice. Her moth­er stepped out­side in an apron and rub­ber gloves. She smiled at him, asked how he was doing and what he was doing, then once he answered, informed him that Ayala had gone off on an artist’s retreat and was due back at any moment. As they chat­ted on and he swal­lowed down his dis­ap­point­ment, the young woman walked into the yard in mul­ti-strapped col­or­ful san­dals, drag­ging a check­ered rolling suit­case behind her, a small pack on her back, her head adorned with that same high school sash, and her expres­sion tran­quil and tan.

He watched as the man climbed back on his bike and start­ed ped­dling, one hand hold­ing onto the han­dle­bars, the oth­er gripped around the winged scoundrel.

He waved the sack at her, his eyes beam­ing vic­to­ry. Then he assured her the roost­er would be trans­ferred safe­ly. He was about to meet a man who had a yard where birds lived com­fort­ably and would glad­ly take the roost­er in. The moth­er retreat­ed back home stealth­ily while the daugh­ter nod­ded in silence. Sur­pris­ing him­self, he asked if she want­ed to go out lat­er for a cup of cof­fee or some deli­cious ice cream and catch up.

No, she answered, I can’t, I need to get set­tled in, maybe tomor­row, give me a call. Then she turned around and left him, per­plexed, at the gate. He called after her, say­ing he didn’t have her num­ber, it’s been years, but she was already swal­lowed inside the house. The entire dri­ve to his meet­ing she would not leave his thoughts, which gave birth to thought spawns, blend­ing and entan­gling like a ball of yarn.

First the phone rang and the yard own­er asked to be remind­ed what inter­sec­tion they had decid­ed to meet at. Then he called again and said he couldn’t tell if it was this inter­sec­tion or that. After Yon­a­dav explained the loca­tion again, and gave him direc­tions, and list­ed all the traf­fic lights on the way, as well as land­mark trees and build­ings, and signs and stalls to watch for, the yard own­er repeat­ed con­fi­dent­ly, Got it, pal, got it, and hung up. From the depths of the sack in the back­seat the roost­er sound­ed a meek, defeat­ed croak.

He wait­ed at the inter­sec­tion near the entrance to a mil­i­tary base where he per­formed reserve duty when sum­moned. He wait­ed forty min­utes. The air con­di­tion­ing stopped work­ing. The heat of the day beat through the wind­shield. Min­utes fell like leaves; time ticked. When he was about to despair he saw in his rearview mir­ror a heavy­set man in a white shirt and black pants, a black fedo­ra atop his head, a blu­ing gray beard rest­ing against his chest, strug­gling to ped­al on an old bicy­cle, approach­ing on the shoul­der of the road at a pace that seemed to get him nowhere. After long moments that felt like eter­ni­ty, the yard own­er approached the car win­dow, out of breath and drenched in sweat, his lungs near­ly burst­ing. When he could just bare­ly speak, he said, I mis­un­der­stood you. I thought you’d meant the oth­er intersection.

Yon­a­dav watched him. There was some­thing ridicu­lous about his appear­ance, the way he leaned his bike against a sign­post, the sweat drip­ping from his wavy fore­head, his pro­trud­ing gut. Did you bring a bas­ket or some thread? Yon­a­dav asked as he hand­ed over the large sack. Because I need this back.

No need, it’s no trou­ble, the yard own­er replied, shov­ing his long arm into the sack and pulling out the pan­icked roost­er, clos­ing his fist around both the bird’s legs. I’ll just hold it while I ride my bike home, he said, then added with blasé indif­fer­ence, I have about fifty like this one in my yard.

He watched as the man climbed back on his bike and start­ed ped­dling, one hand hold­ing onto the han­dle­bars, the oth­er gripped around the winged scoundrel. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The cock turned over instant­ly, its yel­low eyes nar­row­ing with con­niv­ing, its beak purs­ing brash­ly. It spread its orange wings assertive­ly, slip­ping out of the grip­ping fist, and fly­ing off with enraged screech­es, zoom­ing through the barbed wire fence of the mil­i­tary base and van­ish­ing in the tan­gle of green beyond, leav­ing the yard own­er frozen in place, the bicy­cle pro­trud­ing from between his thighs and a wide, stu­pid grin hang­ing from the lips that were crowd­ed by the bluish gray beard.

Yon­a­dav cov­ered his eyes with his hand in dis­be­lief. He stood like this for a long spell. Then he got in the car and drove back to his mother’s house. He would stand behind the fence, watch the roost­ers, and wait stub­born­ly until she came out­side and invit­ed him in.

Lev­ana Moshon was born in Tel Aviv and cur­rent­ly lives in Givat Shmuel. She grad­u­at­ed from Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in edu­ca­tion and geog­ra­phy, and is a writer, jour­nal­ist, teacher, and sto­ry­teller. She has pub­lished forty books for chil­dren and young adults, and four nov­els for adults: Exci­sion (2019), The Silence of the Plants (nom­i­nat­ed for the Sapir Prize in 2015), Sour Love (win­ner of the Tch­er­ni­chovsky Award), and Blue Woolen Wire. Her work has appeared in antholo­gies in Hebrew and Span­ish. Many of her children’s sto­ries have been pub­lished in var­i­ous chil­dren’s mag­a­zines and read on the Israeli radio pro­gram One More Sto­ry and That’s All, includ­ing Hana‑a Half of Banana,” Sto­ries of Idioms,” The Cuck­oo’s Bak­ery,” The Farmer and His Faith­ful Horse,” Crown of Glass,” A Tree of Coins,” The Princess and the Onion’s Clothes,” and many more. She has won the ACUM Award twice.

Yardenne Greenspan is a writer and Hebrew trans­la­tor born in Tel Aviv. She was a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Ploughshares from 2016 to 2023. Her writ­ing has been fea­tured in Lit­er­ary Hub, Haaretz, Words With­out Bor­ders, Asymp­tote, Two Lines, and Apogee, among oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her trans­la­tions have been pub­lished by Rest­less Books, St. Martin’s Press, Akashic, Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, New Ves­sel Press, Ama­zon Cross­ing, and Far­rar, Straus & Giroux. Her trans­la­tion of The Mem­o­ry Mon­ster by Yishai Sarid was a 2020 New York Times Notable Book and her trans­la­tions of Where I Am by Dana Shem-Ur and the anthol­o­gy West Jerusalem Noir were 2023 World Lit­er­a­ture Today Notable Trans­la­tions. She has an MFA from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in New York City.