Masthead | Contributors | Submissions | Archives | Subscribe

 

Fiction

Three Stories: Bottle, Pipe, Asthma Attack

by Etgar Keret

Bottle

Two guys are sitting together in a bar. One of them is majoring in something or other in college, the other abuses his guitar once a day and thinks he’s a musician. They’ve already had two beers, and are planning to have at least two more. The college guy just happens to be depressed because he’s in love with his roommate, and the roommate has a hairy-necked boyfriend who sleeps in their apartment every night, and in the morning, when they accidentally bump into each other in the kitchen, he makes you-have-my-sympathy faces at the college guy, and that only depresses him more. “Move out,” the guy who thinks he’s a musician tells him – this musician guy, he has a history of avoiding conflict. All of a sudden, in the middle of the conversation, some drunk with a ponytail they’ve never seen before comes in and asks the college student if he’d bet a hundred shekels that he can put his friend, the musician, into a bottle. The college guy says yes right away, because, really, the bet sounds pretty dumb, and in a second, the ponytail puts the musician into an empty Carlsberg bottle. The college guy doesn’t have much money to spare, but fair is fair, he takes out the hundred shekels, pays up, and goes back to staring at the wall and feeling sorry for himself. “Tell him,” his friend shouts from the bottle, “come on, quick, before he goes.” “Tell him what?” the college guy asks. “To get me out of the bottle, now, come on,” but by the time the college guy gets the message, the ponytail has split. So he pays, takes his best friend in the bottle, hails a cab, and together, they go looking for the ponytail. One thing’s for sure, that ponytail didn’t look like someone who got drunk by mistake, he’s a pro. So they go from bar to bar. And at each one, they have another drink, so they won’t feel they came for nothing. The college guy downs them in a single gulp, and the more he drinks, the sorrier he feels for himself. The guy in the bottle drinks through a straw, it’s not as if he has too many options.

At five in the morning, when they find the ponytail in a bar near the beach, they’re both wasted. The ponytail is wasted too, and he feels really bad about the bottle thing. Right away, he says he’s sorry, and takes the musician out of the bottle. He’s really embarrassed about forgetting the guy inside, so he buys another round for them, their last. They talk a little, and the ponytail tells them that he learned the bottle trick from a Finnish guy he met in Thailand, and it turns out that in Finland, that trick is considered kid stuff. And ever since, every time the ponytail goes out drinking and is stuck without cash, he gets hold of some by betting. And the ponytail even teaches them how to do the trick, that’s how bad he feels. The truth? From the minute you catch on, you’re amazed how easy it is.

By the time the college guy gets home, the sun is almost out. And before he can even try to get his key in the lock, the door opens, and there’s hairy-neck, standing in front of him, all showered and shaved. Before hairy-neck starts to go down the stairs, he manages to toss his girlfriend’s drunk roommate an I-know-you-went-out-to-get-crocked-only-because-of-her look. And the college guy crawls quietly to his room, managing to get a peek at his roommate – Sivan, that’s her name – sleeping under the covers in her room with her mouth half open, like a baby. She has this like special kind of beauty now, serene. The kind of beauty people have only when they’re sleeping, but not all of them. And for a minute, he feels like taking her, just the way she is, putting her in a bottle and keeping her next to his bed, like those bottles of multicolored sand people used to bring back from the Sinai. Like the small night lights you keep on for kids who are afraid to sleep alone in the dark.

From The Nimrod Flipout: Stories. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2006 Etgar Keret.

Pipes

When I got to seventh grade, they had a psychologist come to school and put us through a bunch of adjustment tests. He showed me twenty different flashcards, one by one, and asked me what was wrong with the pictures. They all seemed fine to me, but he insisted and showed me the first picture again—the one with the kid in it. “What’s wrong with this picture?” he asked in a tired voice. I told him the picture seemed fine. He got really mad and said, “Can’t you see the boy in the picture doesn’t have any ears?” The truth is that when I looked at the picture again, I did see that the kid had no ears. But the picture still seemed fine to me. The psychologist classed me as “suffering from severe perceptual disorders,” and had me transferred to carpentry school. When I got there, it turned out I was allergic to sawdust, so they transferred me to metalworking class. I was pretty good at it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. To tell the truth, I didn’t really enjoy anything in particular. When I finished school, I started working in a factory that made pipes. My boss was an engineer with a diploma from a top technical college. A brilliant guy. If you showed him a picture of a kid without ears or something like that, he’d figure it out in no time.

After work I’d stay on at the factory and make myself odd-shaped pipes, winding ones that looked like curled-up snakes, and I’d roll marbles through them. I know it sounds like a dumb thing to do, and I didn’t even enjoy it, but I went on doing it anyway.

One night I made a pipe that was really complicated, with lots of twists and turns in it, and when I rolled a marble in, it didn’t come out at the other end. At first I thought it was just stuck in the middle, but after I tried it with about twenty more marbles, I realized they were simply disappearing. I know that everything I say sounds kind of stupid. I mean everyone knows that marbles don’t just disappear, but when I saw the marbles go in at one end of the pipe and not come out at the other end, it didn’t even strike me as strange. It seemed perfectly ok actually. That was when I decided to make myself a bigger pipe, in the same shape, and to crawl into it until I disappeared. When the idea came to me, I was so happy that I started laughing out loud. I think it was the first time in my entire life that I laughed.

From that day on, I worked on my giant pipe. Every evening I’d work on it, and in the morning I’d hide the parts in the storeroom. It took me twenty days to finish making it. On the last night it took me five hours to assemble it, and it took up about half the shop floor.

When I saw it all in one piece, waiting for me, I remembered my social studies teacher who said once that the first human being to use a club wasn’t the strongest person in his tribe or the smartest. It’s just that the others didn’t need club, while he did. He needed a club more than anyone, to survive and to make up for being weak. I don’t think there was another human being in the whole world who wanted to disappear more than I did, and that’s why it was me that invented the pipe. Me, and not that brilliant engineer with his technical college degree who runs the factory.

I started crawling inside the pipe, with no idea about what to expect at the other end. Maybe there would be kids there without ears, sitting on mounds of marbles. Could be. I don’t know exactly what happened after I passed a certain point in the pipe. All I know is that I’m here.

I think I’m an angel now. I mean, I’ve got wings, and this circle over my head and there are hundreds more here like me. When I got here they were sitting around playing with the marbles I’d rolled through the pipe a few weeks earlier.

I always used to think that Heaven is a place for people who’ve spent their whole life being good, but it isn’t. God is too merciful and kind to make a decision like that. Heaven is simply a place for people who were genuinely unable to be happy on earth. They told me here that people who kill themselves return to live their life all over again, because the fact that they didn’t like it the first time doesn’t mean they won’t fit in the second time. But the ones who really don’t fit in the world wind up here. They each have their own way of getting to Heaven.

There are pilots who got here by performing a loop at one precise point in the Bermuda Triangle. There are housewives who went through the back of their kitchen cabinets to get here, and mathematicians who found topological distortions in space and had to squeeze through them to get here. So if you’re really unhappy down there, and if all kinds of people are telling you that you’re suffering from severe perceptual disorders, look for your own way of getting here, and when you find it, could you please bring some cards, cause we’re getting pretty tired of the marbles.

-Translated by Miriam Schlesinger

From The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and Other Stories, by Etgar Keret. Published by The Toby Press LLC. Copyright © 2004 Etgar Keret. Reproduced with the permission of The Toby Press.

Asthma Attack

When you have an asthma attack, you can’t breathe. When you can’t breathe, you can hardly talk. To make a sentence all you get is the air in your lungs. Which isn’t much. Three to six words, if that. You learn the value of words. You rummage through the jumble in your head. Choose the crucial ones--those cost you, too. Let healthy people toss out whatever comes to mind, the way you throw out the garbage. When an asthmatic says “I love you,” and when an asthmatic says “I love you madly,” there’s a difference. The difference of a word. A word’s a lot. It could be “stop,” or “inhaler.” It could be “ambulance.”

-Translated from Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger



Etgar Keret' photo

READ MORE ABOUT ETGAR KERET | Personal Website

Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Etgar Keret is the most popular writer among Israeli youth today. Keret started writing in 1992 and has published four books of short stories, one novella, three books of comics and a children`s book. Bestsellers in Israel, his books have received international acclaim and have been translated into 16 languages, including Korean and Chinese. Missing Kissinger has been listed among the 50 most important Israeli books of all time. In France, Kneller`s Happy Campers was one of La Fnac’s 200 books of the decade; the story, “The Nimrod Flip-Out” was published in Francis Ford Coppola`s magazine, Zoetrope (2004). Over 40 short films have been based on Keret`s stories, one of which won the American MTV Prize (1998). A number of his stories have also been adapted for the stage, in Israel and abroad. Keret has received the Book Publishers Association’s Platinum Prize several times. He has also been awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize and the Ministry of Culture’s Cinema Prize. His movie, Skin Deep, won 1st Prize at several international film festivals, and was awarded the Israeli Oscar. Keret is currently a lecturer in the TV and film department at Tel Aviv University. Rutu Modan, with whom he co-wrote Dad Runs Away with the Circus, received an Andersen International Honor Citation (2002) for her illustrations.

All entries in Fiction »
Next entry: The Newcomer
Previous entry: Arid

« Back to main