I touch her hands, her face, her hair down below, her shirt. And I say to her, “Roni, please take it off, for me.” But she won’t. So I back down and we do it again, touch each other, completely naked, almost. The tag on her shirt says the material is one hundred percent cotton, it’s supposed to feel good, but it’s scratchy. Nothing is one hundred percent, that’s what she always says, just ninety-nine point nine, God willing. And then she crosses her fingers and knocks on wood. I hate that shirt. It scratches my face, it doesn’t let me feel her body heat. I can’t even tell if she’s sweating. And I say it again: “Roni, please.” My voice, a moan like the sound of someone biting himself with a closed mouth. “I’m coming, please take it off.” She won’t budge.
It’s crazy. We’ve been together six months and I still haven’t seen her naked. Six months, and my friends are still warning me not to get serious. Six months of living together and they keep on telling me stories we all know by heart. How she stood in front of the mirror and tried to cut her breasts off with a kitchen knife because she hated the shape of her body. How she ended up in the hospital more than once. And they tell me those stories about her as if she were a stranger, while they’re drinking “our” coffee from “our” mugs. They tell me to keep my distance when we’re already madly in love. I could kill them for that, but I don’t say anything. At most, I ask them to be quiet and I just sit there, hating them in my head. What can they tell me about her that I don’t already know? What can they say that would make me love her even a tiny bit less?
I try to explain it to her. That it doesn’t matter. That what we have is so strong that nothing can destroy it, I cross my fingers and knock on wood, like she wants me to. I tell her I know, I tell her I’ve already been told, I know what’s there and I couldn’t care less. But it doesn’t help, nothing helps with her. She won’t give an inch. The farthest I ever got was after a bottle of Chianti at a New Year’s party, and even then, it was only one button.
After she does the test she calls her girlfriend, who did it once, to find out what the procedure is. She doesn’t want an abortion, I can feel she doesn’t. I don’t want one either. I tell her that. I get down on my knees like in a movie and ask her to marry me: “Come on, babe,” I say, doing my best Dean Martin. “Let’s ring-a-ding-ding.” She laughs; she says no. She asks if it’s because she’s pregnant but she knows it isn’t. Five minutes later, she says okay, but on the condition that if it’s a boy, we call him Yotam. We shake on it. I try to get up, but my legs have fallen asleep.
That night, we get into bed. We kiss. We undress. Only the shirt stays on. She pushes me away. She unbuttons a button. And another one, slowly, like a stripper, one hand holding the lapel closed, the other unbuttoning another button. After she goes through all of them, she looks at me, looks deeply into my eyes. I’m breathing heavily now. She lets the shirt fall open. And I see, I see what’s under it. Nothing can destroy what we have, nothing, that’s what I always said. God, how could I have been so stupid.
Etgar Keret is the author of The Bus Driver Who Wanted ?To Be God & Other Stories and The Nimrod Flip-Out. This story is from his new collection, Missing Kissinger, which will be published this month by Chatto & Windus. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverstone.