was knocking down a wall.
All women reporters are whores and I was knocking down a wall. It had already been something like four months since she left. At first, I thought all that renovating would calm me down, but actually all it did was just upset me more. The wall I was knocking down was the one between the living room and the bedroom, so that the balcony was always behind me. But I remembered. You don’t have to see to remember. I remembered how we used to sit there all night.
“Look,” she’d said, “a falling star. Let’s make a wish. Right now,” and she lay her head on my shoulder, “go on and wish for something.”
“All right,” I said, “I’m wishing.”
“What did you wish for?” she asked, giving me a squeeze. “Tell me, please, tell me.”
“That it’ll always be like this, like it is now.” I ran my hand through her hair. “A breeze. The two of us together on the balcony.”
“No,” she said, pushing me away, “that’s not a good wish. Wish for something else, something just for you.”
“Okay, okay,” I said, and laughed, “take it easy. An FZR 1000. I wish for a Yamaha FZR 1000.”
“A motorcycle?” She looked at me, shocked. “You get a wish and you ask for a motorcycle?”
“Yes. Why, what did you wish for?”
“I’m not telling,” she said, hiding her face in my sweater. “If you tell, it never comes true.”
But if you don’t tell, maybe it does. Two months later, she moved to Tel Aviv to work on a daily paper, national circulation. She didn’t say a word to me, just disappeared. Her parents wouldn’t give me her address. They said she asked them to tell me she didn’t want to talk to me.
“Why not?” I asked her father. “Did I hurt her feelings? Did I do something to her?”
“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “That’s what she told me to say.”
“Tell me, Mr. Brosh,” I said, getting angry, “you think it’s normal that your daughter and I have been going out together for two years, and all of a sudden, just like that, for no reason, she doesn’t want to talk to me? You don’t think I deserve an explanation?”
“That’s not fair, Eli,” her father said, leaning on the door handle. The whole conversation was taking place at the door to their apartment. “It really isn’t fair,” he said, running his free hand over his bald head. “I’m not the one who left you, you know. I never did anything bad to you, right? I don’t deserve to have you take that tone with me.” He was right. Simple as that. And suddenly he looked so forlorn. I said I was sorry and left. After that, I tried to track her down through the paper. But they wouldn’t give me her home number, and she was never at the office. So I left a message, I left a thousand messages, but she didn’t call. A few months later, I decided to renovate.
People were screaming. Between one blow and another on the wall, I suddenly realized that people were screaming on the street, not far from my house. I went outside. Near the intersection, 30 meters from me, two people were lying on the road, and a woman was running toward me, yelling, and a man in a green woolen hat was chasing her. About 10 meters away from me, he caught up to her and grabbed her by the hair. That’s when I noticed the knife. The tip of it was sticking out of the front of her neck. And blood, there was lots and lots of blood. She fell to her knees, the man pulled his arm back and the blade just disappeared. She was lying on the sidewalk now. And the guy with the knife was looking at me, moving slightly toward me, but slowly. I wanted to run away, but my feet wouldn’t move. He kept coming closer, taking small, hesitant steps as if we were kids playing tag. And the whole time, I kept saying to myself, something’s not right here. Why’s he walking so slowly? I mean, he ran after that woman like a madman. Here I am in my slippers and he’s holding a knife 20 centimeters long. What’s he afraid of? Why doesn’t he come and stab me? And then I saw him step off the sidewalk onto the road, trying to walk around me very, very slowly. I watched him, half-aware of the sledgehammer in my hand, a 5-kilo sledgehammer. I took a step toward him and whacked him on the head with it.
He wasn’t moving. I sat down on the sidewalk. The guy from the grocery store came over with a Coke. I felt around in the pocket of my sweatpants so I could pay him. He grabbed my wrist and wouldn’t let me take out the money. “Forget it,” he said, “it’s on me.”
“Come on, Gaby,” I said, “let me pay.”
But he insisted and wouldn’t let go.
“So put it on my next bill.” I was thirsty and wanted us to come to terms before I started drinking, while I still had some leverage.
“Okay, okay,” he said, “I’ll put it on your bill.”
The photographers got there first, even before the police. On motorcycles, two on a 600F and one on a Harley. With their long hair and tattoos, they looked just like Hells Angels. “Hold the hammer like this, would you, like you’re threatening him, just for a picture?” the guy with the Harley asked me. I said no. “Are you sure?” he asked, still trying. “Visually speaking, it would be much stronger.” After that, the police came, then the newspaper reporters. All reporters are whores.
They came from all the papers. I wouldn’t talk to them. They came from TV and from radio too. I didn’t even tell them no, I just raised my hand and turned away. The TV people went over to Gaby and almost everybody else followed them, except the guy from The Jerusalem Post, who kept pestering me. “Hey you, four-eyes,” I yelled to one of the newspaper reporters who was trying to push his tape recorder down a police detective’s throat, “come here.” The guy with the glasses left the detective in the middle of a sentence and came over to me.
“You’re from Haaretz?”
“Yeah, I am,” he said excitedly, trying to turn on the tape recorder.
“How come you’ll talk to him and not me?” the nudnik from The Jerusalem Post said, insulted.
“Because I feel like it, okay?” I was out of patience. “Because your paper’s shit. What difference does it make why? Now please fuck off.”
I gestured for the guy with the glasses to walk over to the side with me, but the Jerusalem Post guywas like glue. “It’s because of their circulation,” he said in a hurt voice. “It’s just because of their circulation, you egomaniac. You want to play it big time, I get it. So all your buddies see what a hero you are. You macho shit, you murderer, you make me sick.” He spat and walked away.
“Okay,” the Haaretz guy said, “first of all, I want to ask you . . .”
“First of all, you listen,” I said. I took the tape recorder out of his hand and pressed stop. “Go to your editor — now — and tell him I’m ready to give you people an exclusive interview. Exclusive, you hear? I won’t talk to TV, or radio or my own grandmother. But only if . . .”
“We don’t pay our sources,” the guy with the glasses interrupted me. “It’s a principle with us. No money for sources.”
“Listen to me for a second, you moron,” I said, pissed off. “I don’t want any money. I just want to decide who interviews me, got that? Tell him I’m ready to be interviewed, but only by Dafna Brosh.”
“Brosh,” the guy with the glasses said, scratching his head, “the new girl? But she’s not exactly the . . . brightest bulb.”
“Bright or not, tell him she’s the only one I’ll do an interview with.”
“Excuse me,” glasses said, “I know this has nothing to do with it, but did you ever by chance read my article on the dairy cartel?”
“Dafna Brosh,” I repeated, and left him there.
To get to my apartment now, I had to walk through a huge circle of people who were standing around Gaby. They were shouting and screaming, and he was standing there in the middle, waving his hands. It looked like he was enjoying himself. Two soldiers from the army radio station with microphones in their hands had come a little late and were trying to push their way into the circle, but couldn’t. One of them, the taller one, got elbowed in the face by the cameraman from one of the foreign networks. He started bleeding from the nose, his eyes swelled up and tears just sprayed out of them. I decided to head in the other direction and go the long way around the block to get to my building. “Egomaniac!” the Jerusalem Post guy yelled behind me.
She came. I knew she would. Wearing a black miniskirt, her hair in a blunt cut. “Want some coffee?” I asked, trying to sound calm. “Should I put on the kettle?” She shook her head, sat down at the table and took a mini–tape recorder out of her bag. There were large pieces of plaster scattered all over the table. With the half-knocked-down wall in the middle of the room, the place looked like it had been bombed. “Are you sure?” I asked. “I’ll go put on the kettle.” The head shaking got sharper, more nervous. “An interview,” she said, the words coming out of her throat as if she were choking, “I came for an interview.” She put the tape recorder on the table.
A: Can I just ask why exactly you left me?
A: Don’t shrug your shoulders. Answer me. The least I deserve is an answer.
Q: I don’t want to hurt you. Not now, anyway. There’s no point.
A: Hurt me, damn you, hurt me. It can’t be worse than what you already did.
Q: Because you’re a nobody, okay? Because you’re a nobody. Because you don’t want anything out of life. Nothing. You don’t want to know anything, you don’t want to succeed at anything, you don’t want to be anything. All you want is to sit on your ass and say how good we have it together. Good is doing things, trying to achieve something, but you? You don’t even know how to dream. The only thing you’re capable of doing is sitting on that balcony with your arms around me, saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I’m not a teddy bear or a Goldilocks doll, you know. And unlike you, I have dreams a tiny bit bigger than sleeping late.
A: Do you still love me?
A: Do you love me a little?
A: Did you ever love me?
A: Please don’t cry. I’m stopping. I’ve stopped. Look. You can ask your questions now.
Q: What were you doing on the street at the time of the incident?
Q: Were you on your way somewhere?
A: No. I wasn’t on my way anywhere. I just heard yelling, so I went outside to see.
Q: And the hammer?
A: I whacked him on the head with it. God, when I try to remember that, it seems so far away, like in a movie.
Q: Yes, but why did you have a hammer in your hand?
A: Because of the renovations. I’m knocking down the wall between the living room and the bedroom.
Q: Did you get a good look at him before it happened? Could you see his face?
A: Yeah, it was kind of chubby. He had big brown eyes, like yours. And his lips were sort of pursed, like something was wrong. Like he was constipated, or in pain.
Q: What passed through your mind when you whacked him with the hammer?
Q: Don’t say nothing. You thought something.
A: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Q: I talked to Gaby from the grocery store. He told me the Arab didn’t get anywhere near you, that he was afraid when he saw you with the hammer, that he tried to walk around you, to get away. But you still smashed his skull. You could’ve waited, you know, you could’ve just stood there and he would’ve gone away. At least, that’s what the Eli I knew would’ve done.
A: I was thinking of you.
We heard the sound of a motorcycle outside. “That’s the photographer,” she said. “His name’s Eli too.”
“What kind of motorcycle does he have?” I asked.
“Since when do I know anything about motorcycles?” she said, laughing.
“Just asking. I thought you might know.”
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“It’s an FZR 1000. He has a Yamaha FZR 1000.”
“You know, if I hadn’t said anything, I’d have one too.”
“I know,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’m sorry.”
Etgar Keret’s most recent books are The Nimrod Flipout and Missing Kissinger. The Girl on the Fridge is forthcoming from FSG. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverstone.