Pillow Monster by Etgar KeretMoment Short Fiction
I bring the little one fresh pistachios from Iran, but she’s still suspicious. “Mommy, what does Daddy do?” she asks. Once, she didn’t have so many questions. “Sweetie,” Tamar says, “you know that Daddy builds buildings.”
“So if he builds buildings, why does he always go to other countries?” she asks while chewing a pistachio. I stroke her head and say, “Don’t eat and talk at the same time, pumpkin, you can choke.” She swallows silently, then immediately asks, “Daddy, if you build buildings, what do you need a gun for?”
“What gun?” Tamar says, sweating now. She’s so beautiful when she’s stressed. That trembling in her hands, her tongue wetting her dry lips, they add something to her, something special. That’s why I married her. “Daddy doesn’t have a gun, and you’re going to bed now.”
“You’re lying,” she shouts, “he does so have a gun. I saw it myself.” Tamar tries to slap her, but I grab her hand. “It’s not nice to call Mommy a liar,” I scold the little one, and kiss Tamar on the cheek.
“Come on, sweetie,” I hold out my hand to my little girl, “Daddy will put you to bed.” Tamar is stressed again, “Never mind, honey, I’m calm now. I’ll put her to bed myself.” But the little one insists. “Not Mommy,” she says, shaking her head, “I want Daddy. You’re a bad mommy.” Tamar’s crying now, “Yaron, please, let me put her to bed, I’m begging you. You had a long day. The flights and all. Let me, I’m her mother, she’s the only little girl we have left, please.”
“Don’t want Mommy,” the little one persists, she’s so adorable when she’s angry, stamping her patent-leather shoes, “I want Daddy.” She and I go to the pink kids’ room. Behind me I can hear the muted sound of Tamar crying into the couch backrest. She’s so sensitive, my wife. But she doesn’t matter now, the kid does.
There are two beds in the bedroom. One is empty, and on the other is Noam the teddy bear. Zohar climbs into bed with Noam and hugs him. “Mommy’s a liar,” she says, “I saw a gun with my own eyes, and all kinds of other things too.” She wants me to ask what things, but I resist the temptation. “Mommy’s not lying,” I say and kiss her eyes, “she’s just tired. And you need to go to sleep now too.”
“Okay,” she says, “but first a story. A story about what Daddy does.” I smile. Kids are stubborn, the minute they get something into their heads, they never let go. “Another time,” I say, “tonight Daddy will tell you a story about the pillow monster.”
Fifty seconds later, she stops twitching. I cover her and go out to the yard to dig. Tamar follows me out, her entire body trembling. I hold her close, I love to touch her when she trembles, some of it rubs off on me. When she’s asleep, I get out of bed to turn off the radio. She can’t fall asleep when it’s quiet, but that doesn’t make me angry. I can understand it. Now the guy on the radio is speaking English with a weird accent. He’s preaching about something, I don’t even know from what religion. He’s explaining that the strongest thing in the world is faith, which is crap, of course. Religious people, more than anyone, should know that the strongest thing in the world is loneliness, no one can defeat it. Even God’s alone.
Translated by Sondra Silverston