Etgar Keret's most recent story collection, The Girl on the Fridge, is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He recently collaborated with director Tatia Rosenthal on the animated feature $9.99.


Indigestion at heaven's gates

The harpsichord in the background was creating some of the most beautiful sounds Avigdor had ever heard, and the way they intertwined was beyond perfect. "I'm going cut your ass open," the Worm Man whispered, his voice greasy and sticky. "W-why?" Avigdor asked. "He's asking why," Rachamim said with a snicker, and spat derisively on the gleaming marble floor. "Come here," the Worm Man said, his hand flopping in the air, boneless as an octopus tentacle. "W-what did I do?" Avigdor stammered. "The man told you to come, so come. Ask questions later," Rachamim shouted angrily, the scar on his forehead reddening.

Avigdor approached the Worm Man apprehensively. "Listen, kid, you're still new here, you don't know the rules, so we'll explain them to you very slowly until they sink in." Rachamim smiled an evil smile. "Hold him," the Worm Man ordered in his liquid voice. Rachamim held Avigdor from behind in an iron grip. The Worm Man moved his spongy face close to Avigdor's and studied Avigdor's forehead with his yellow eyes. Avigdor squirmed wildly in Rachamim's grip. "It won't help you, pal. Me and my friend here cut some real tough guys like Hitler, Genghis Khan, even Moses. So you think a wimp like you can get away?" "H-Hitler?" Avigdor mumbled in a confused voice. "Did you find anything, man?" Rachamim asked his tough partner, completely ignoring Avigdor. "Ssh..." the Worm Man whistled, as his hand darted into Avigdor's body, quick as a snakebite, and tore out a chunk of Avigdor's soul.

The torn soul screamed in pain as the quivering lump in the Worm Man's hand tried to get back inside. The Worm Man swallowed the piece of soul greedily, then licked his fingers. Avigdor gasped. For the first time, he was experiencing a genuine sense of loss and understood what emptiness was. Some of his feelings and memories were being digested now in that disgusting creature's stomach, leaving Avigdor with the anguish of nothingness. Rachamim let him go and he landed on the floor like an empty bottle, shattering into thousands of pieces. A flute joined the harpsichord now. That glorious duet could have filled Avigdor with great joy. Unfortunately, the ability to feel joy that Avigdor once had was lying almost completely digested in the Worm Man's stomach. He wasn't whole, he couldn't even cry.

"I'm dead..." Avigdor whispered. "Ah-hah," Rachamim said, nodding. "...And this is hell." "Hell?" the Worm Man and Rachamim repeated, laughing raucously. "When can you find this kind of music in hell, this opulence, this cleanliness?" Rachamim bent over and patted Avigdor's cheek. "Congratulations, my little tsaddik. You're in heaven." "Our heaven," the Worm Man added in his slurpy voice. Rachamim and the Worm Man walked down the brightly lit aisle, away from Avigdor. "We'll meet again, pal," Rachamim called out, turning around. "And next time, it'll be even less pleasant."

Bastards, Avigdor thought to himself. They took bites of everything, but the fear they left intact. The lovely music continued to play in the background, and the white walls gleamed spotlessly, except for one piece of wall that had been spray- painted hurriedly in black - "DOWN WITH INTEGRATION - SEND THE BAD GUYS BACK TO HELL."

Translated by Sondra Silverstone.



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