Like Bats

Etgar Keret

Illustration by Hugo Muecke

I wrote this story twenty-four years ago—during my three-year stint in the army, very shortly after the death of my best friend who had served with me. The bat insignia mentioned in the story was very common in my army base. Some units had lions, tigers, sharks and elephants to represent them; one had a bat. I'm sure many must have wondered why any unit would choose such a small and ugly and blind animal for an insignia but personally, I quite liked it. During my army years I've felt much more like an upside-down hanging bat than any of those proud predators in all those other units' insignias.

—Etgar Keret



Sometimes I think about him, and then I miss him terribly. Especially at night. I can't fall asleep. I'm too hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's never exactly right. Some animals don't sleep either. They go out to hunt at night, but at night I don't even get out of bed to pee. At night, I don't even get up to go to the refrigerator. I once told him I was afraid of roaches. After that, the whole summer, every time we had sex, he'd hoist me on his back and take me to the shower or the bathroom like a taxi. I'd wrap my arms around his back and go wherever I wanted. Mom says that's why he left me. Because I'm so apathetic and live my life like I don't care about anything, because even after all the smiles he gave me, all the things he did for me, I never said I love him and this is my punishment for not being able to act like a mensch. Mom says that even when I was a kid, I never said thank you. I'd always grab the presents people brought me and run away. Once I even bit our neighbor on the hand because she wouldn't let go of the bag with the skirt she'd made for me until I said thank you. Zehava says my mother makes up all that stuff just to bug us because she's bored now that she's not working for the city any more and spends all day at home. But Mom's right. I really never did tell him I loved him, not even when things were so good between us. Maybe I'm finally saying this just because he's not here anymore, because there's no one to say it to. I guess you can't have everything all at the same time. That's just how it is. Like bats. If you can fly, you're born blind, and if you can see, then you're nothing but a mouse in a filthy cellar. That's why I had to live in an apartment on a high floor. I'm really scared of mice, a hundred times more than roaches. Not just because they might bite me, but mostly because of the way they squeal in the dark. In the army, where I met him, the girls had to stay for night duty sometimes. I used to lie on my folding cot and hear the mice squealing. I'd see the shadows moving across the ceiling and walls. I always had the feeling that the mice were actually running on the ceiling, and that's why they were squeaking in fear. And as soon as someone noticed that it didn't make sense and would return the world to the way it's supposed to be, the mice would fall right on my bed. And I was glad when he came into my bed. I really was. I liked feeling his warm breath on my shoulder when he hugged me, and the squeaking stopped, but I didn't say anything. Now I probably have to talk about what I dream at night, but like I said, I don't exactly dream because I don't really sleep. This year too, Zehava says I've got to get a hold of myself because his parents will be terribly hurt if I don't go to the memorial service. But I don't really care about his parents. I didn't even notice that a whole year had gone by. Mom says God is punishing me because I have no respect for anything and Zehava yells at her to shut her mouth. The graves here are very small, like they buried cats or midgets in them, and with all the flowers and the sand and the marble, you might not even think they were graves, just plants. His is the smallest one in the cemetery, maybe in the world. And the best-looking mourner here is a buddy of his, a captain I never met, wearing an Air Force uniform even though Yotam died two years after being discharged, and he drives me home after the service and comes up for coffee too. It's almost dark by then and I'm playing with the insignia on his shoulder. It's a picture of a bat on a blue background. He touches the back of my neck kind of gently and says, "I think about him all the time." And I keep wondering if he'll be good to me and I'll keep quiet, or whether I won't feel a thing and I'll say I love him, and I keep thinking about bats.

translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston



Etgar Keret is the Israeli author of six story collections, most recently Suddenly, a Knock on the Door. His writing has been published in Harper's, The New York Times, and The Paris ReviewJellyfish, his first movie as a director, won the Camera d'Or prize for best first feature at Cannes in 2007. In 2010, he was named a Chevalier of France's Order of Arts and Letters.

Sondra Silverston is a native New Yorker who has lived in Israel since 1970. Among her published translations are works by Israeli authors Amos Oz, Eshkol Nevo, Savyon Liebrecht and Aharon Megged.