September for Good
When the crash came, NiceDay was the first to go. They’d always been a luxury brand, but after the Chicago riots even the wealthiest clients cut off their service. Some did it because of the unstable economic situation, but most of them just couldn’t face the neighbors. The shares lay on the world trading floors, bleeding point after point. And so NiceDay became a cautionary tale of the depression. The Wall Street Journal headline ran “September Gone Bad.” This, of course, was a play on their “September for Good” campaign, in which a swimwear-clad family stood around on a sunny fall day … decorating a Christmas tree! The ad had worked, big-time. One week postlaunch they were moving three thousand units per day. Affluent Americans bought. So did the less affluent, if they could fake it. NiceDay became a status symbol. The official stamp of a millionaire. What executive jets were to the nineties, and into 2000, NiceDay was to now. NiceDay: weather for the wealthy. Say you’re based in Greenland, say all the snow and gloom is driving you batshit, one swipe of your credit card and, with a satellite or two, they’d set you up with a perfect fall day in Cannes, delivered direct to your own balcony, every day of the year.
Yakov “Yaki” Brayk was one of NiceDay’s earliest adopters. He truly loved his money and had a hard time parting with it, but even more than he loved the millions he made selling weapons and drugs to Zimbabwe, he loathed those humid New York summers and that gross feeling you get when your sweaty undershirt sticks to your back. He bought a system, not just for himself, but for the whole block. Some people mistook this for generosity, but the truth is he did it just to keep the great weather with him all the way to the bodega on the corner. That bodega wasn’t just where he got the unfiltered Noblesses they imported from Israel especially for him. No, more than anything, it marked for Yaki the boundary of his personal space. And the minute Yaki signed the check, that block turned into a weather paradise. No more gray rain, no more dog days. Just September, twelve months a year. And not, God forbid, one of those off-and-on, partly-sunny, partly-cloudy New York Septembers, but the dependable kind, the kind he grew up with in Haifa. And then, out of the blue, came the Chicago riots and suddenly here were the neighbors telling him to cease and desist with the gorgeous fall post-haste. At first he didn’t give them the time of day, but then came those lawyers’ letters and someone left a slaughtered peacock on his windshield. That’s when his wife asked him to turn it off. It was January. Yaki turned off the fall and instantly the day turned short and sad. All because of one dead peacock and an anorexic wife with an anxiety disorder who, as always, was able to control him through her weakness.
The recession went from bad to worse. On Wall Street, NiceDay hit rock bottom. So did shares in Yaki’s company. Then after they hit rock bottom, they drilled a hole in the rock and went down a little farther. It’s funny, you’d think weapons and drugs would be strong during a worldwide recession, but that’s not how it worked out. People were too broke to buy medicine, and they very quickly rediscovered an old forgotten truth: that weapons with chips are a luxury, just like electric car windows, and that sometimes all you need is a stone you found in the yard if you want to smash in somebody’s skull. They very quickly learned to manage without Yaki’s rifles, much more quickly than Yaki could get used to the unseasonably cold and wet mid-March. And Yaki Brayk, or Lucky Brayk, as the tabloids liked to call him, lost his shirt.
He kept the apartment, the company accountant managed to retroactively put it in the anorexic wife’s name, but all the rest was gone. They even took the furniture. Four days later, a NiceDay technician came to disconnect the system. When Yaki opened the door, he was standing there drenched with rain. Yaki made a pot of coffee and they talked for a while. He told the technician how, not long after the riots, he’d turned the system off. The technician said a lot of customers had done the same. They talked about the riots, when a furious mob from the slums had stormed the Indian-summery homes of the city’s wealthier residents. “All that sun of theirs, it was driving us crazy,” one of the rioters said on a news commentary show a few days later. “Here you are freezing your ass off, just trying to make your next gas bill, while those bastards, those bastards …” At that point, he burst into tears. The camera blurred his face to hide his identity, so you couldn’t actually see the tears, but you could hear him wailing like an animal hit by a car. The technician, who was black, said he was born in that same neighborhood in Chicago, but today he was ashamed to admit it. “That money,” he said, “all that fucking money fucked up the whole fucking world.”
After they’d finished their coffee, when the technician was about to disconnect the system, Yaki asked if he could turn it on just one last time. The technician shrugged and Yaki took that as a yes. He pushed a couple of buttons on the remote and out came the sun from behind a cloud.
“That’s not real sun, you know,” the technician said proudly. “What they do is image it, with lasers.”
Yaki winked and said, “Don’t spoil it. For me, it’s the sun.”
The technician nodded. “A great sun. Too bad you can’t keep it out till I get back to the car. I’m sick of this rain.”
Yaki didn’t answer. He just closed his eyes and let the sun wash over his face.
My Brother’s Depressed
It isn’t like just anyone walked up to you in the street and told you he’s depressed. It’s my brother, and he wants to kill himself. And of all the people in the world, he had to tell it to me. Because I’m the person he loves the most, and I love him too, I really do, but that’s a biggie. I mean like wow.
Me and my little brother are standing there together in the Shenkin Playground, and my dog, Hendrix, is tugging away at the leash, trying to bite this little kid in overalls in the face. And me, I’m fighting with Hendrix with one hand, and searching my pockets for a lighter with the other. “Don’t do it,” I tell my brother. The lighter isn’t there, in either pocket. “Why not?” my little brother asks. “My girlfriend’s left me for a fireman. I hate university. Here’s a light. And my parents are the most pitiful people in the world.” He throws me his Cricket. I catch it. Hendrix runs away. He pounces on the kid in the overalls, pushes him flat on the lawn, and his scary rottweiler jaw clamps down on the kid’s face. Me and my brother try to pry Hendrix off the kid, but he won’t budge. The overalls’ mother screams. The kid himself is suspiciously subdued. I kick Hendrix as hard as I can, but he couldn’t care less. My brother finds a metal bar on the lawn, and whams it down on the dog’s head. There’s a sickening sound of something cracking, and Hendrix collapses. The mother is screaming. Hendrix has bitten off her kid’s nose, but completely. And now Hendrix is dead. My brother killed him. And besides, he wants to kill himself too. Because to him having his girlfriend double-cross him with a fireman seems like the most humiliating thing in the world. I think a fireman is pretty impressive actually, rescuing people and all that. But as far as he’s concerned she could just as well fuck a garbage truck. Now the kid’s mother is attacking me. She’s trying to gouge out my eyes with her long fingernails, which are painted with repulsive white polish. My brother picks up the metal bar and bangs her one on the head too. He’s allowed to, he’s depressed.
Conjunctions:55 Urban Arias
Translated by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston
Translated by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston
Etgar Keret has been published in thirty languages in thirty-five countries, including work in English in The New York Times, Le Monde, and the Guardian. In 2007, Keret and Shira Gefen won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or Award for their movie Jellyfish, as well as the Best Director Award for the French Artists’ and Writers’ Guild. In 2010 France made Keret a French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Miriam Shlesinger teaches in the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at Israel's Bar Ilan University. She is coeditor of Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting, and has translated over thirty plays as well as novels and short stories by Israeli playwrights and authors.
Sondra Silverston is a native New Yorker who, since 1970, has lived in Israel, where she teaches literary translation at Beit Berl College. Her other translations of Etgar Keret include Chatto & Windus’s The Nimrod Flipout and Missing Kissinger (shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award), as well as The Girl of the Fridge, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.