There’s something about Etgar Keret’s short stories that sound great when read aloud. Fortunately for us, a few of his notable friends have volunteered to read pieces from his latest collection, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door. You can also read Keret’s story “Mystique” along with Willem Dafoe, should you so choose.
“What Animal Are You?” Read by Jonathan Safran Foer
“Mourner’s Meal” Read by Shalom Auslander
“Mystique” Read by Willem Dafoe
The man who knew what I was about to say sat next to me on the plane, a stupid smile plastered across his face. That’s what was so nerve-racking about him, the fact that he wasn’t smart or even sensitive, and yet he knew the lines and managed to say them—all the lines I meant to say—three seconds before me. “D’you sell Guerlain Mystique?” he asked the flight attendant a minute before I could, and she gave him an orthodontic smile and said there was just one last bottle left. “My wife’s crazy about that perfume. It’s like an addiction with her. If I come back from a trip and don’t pick up a bottle of Mystique from duty-free, she tells me I don’t love her anymore. If I dare walk in the door without at least one bottle, I’m in trouble.” That was supposed to be my line, but the man who knew what I was about to say stole it from me. He didn’t miss a beat. As soon as the wheels touched down, he switched on his cell phone, a second before I did, and called his wife. “I just landed,” he told her. “I’m sorry. I know it was supposed to be yesterday. They canceled the flight. You don’t believe me? Check it out yourself. Call Eric. I know you don’t. I can give you his number right now.” I also have a travel agent called Eric. He’d lie for me too.
When the plane reached the gate he was still on the phone, giving all the answers I would have given. Without a trace of emotion, like a parrot in a world where time flows backwards, repeating whatever’s about to be said instead of what’s been said already. His answers were the best possible, under the circumstances. His circumstances weren’t so hot, not so hot at all. Mine weren’t all that great either. My wife hadn’t taken my call yet, but just listening to the man who knew what I was about to say made me want to hang up. Just listening to him I could tell that the hole I was in was so deep that if I ever managed to dig myself out, it would be to a different reality. She’d never forgive me, she’d never trust me. Ever. From now on, every trip would be hell on earth, and the time in between would be even worse. He went on and on and on, delivering all those sentences that I’d thought up and hadn’t said yet. They just kept fl owing out of him. Now he stepped it up, raising his voice, like a drowning man desperate to stay afloat. People started fi ling out of the plane. He got up, still talking, scooped up his laptop in his other hand, and headed for the exit. I could see him leaving it behind, the bag he’d stashed in the overhead compartment. I could see him forgetting it, and I didn’t say anything. I just stayed put. Gradually, the plane emptied, till the only ones left were an overweight religious woman with a million children, and me. I got up and opened the overhead compartment, like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I took out the duty-free bag, like it had always been mine. Inside were the receipt and the bottle of Guerlain Mystique. My wife’s crazy about that perfume. It’s like an addiction with her. If I come back from a trip and don’t pick up a bottle of Mystique from duty-free, she tells me I don’t love her anymore. If I dare walk in the door without at least one bottle, I’m in trouble.
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