When Ronel woke up that magical Tuesday morning and found his beloved terrier, Darko, between his legs licking his morning erection, a single razor-sharp thought passed through his dull and relatively unoccupied brain: "Is this sexual?" In other words, was Darko licking his balls the same way he licked Schneider’s balls — Schneider being the miniature Schnauzer Darko tried to have sexual intercourse with every time they bumped into each other in Meir Park — or was Darko licking his master’s penis for the same reason he licked the dewdrops off a fragrant leaf in that park? It was a troubling question, though not as troubling as the question of whether Neeva, his wide-hipped wife, suspected him of sleeping with his business partner, Renana, which would explain why she was so nasty to her on the phone, or was that sheer dislike? "Oh Darko, Darko," Ronel muttered to himself with a mixture of self-pity and affection, "you’re the only one who really loves me."
Darko, who might not have recognized a human male sex organ as such, recognized his name every time, and he responded with a bark of joy. Clearly, it was better to be a dog coping with dog-dilemmas like the what-tree-should-I-pee-on-this-morning
one, than to be Ronel grappling with such tedious moral quandaries as whether fucking Renana as she bent over his wife’s vanity table was less repellant than fucking her right in their queen-size bed. A question that had many implications, by the way. Because if it didn’t matter, they’d be a lot more comfortable doing it on the bed, and that would be that. Or, for example, whether fantasizing about his naked wife while penetrating Renana offset the infidelity somewhat, or whether it was just another perversion.
"Daddy’s not a pervert, Darko honey," Ronel said as he stretched and got out of bed."Daddy’s a complex person."
"What?" Neeva asked, peering into the bedroom."Did you say something?"
"I told Darko I’d be home late because I have a meeting with the Germans tonight," Ronel said, making the most of the rare eye contact with his wife.
"Oh, really?" Neeva sneered."And what did Darko have to say about that?"
"Nothing," Ronel said, putting on a pair of gray underpants."Darko accepts me."
"Darko also accepts Purina Dog Chow," Neeva snapped, "His standards aren’t exactly high."
One obvious advantage of having an affair with a colleague was that all those romantic candlelight dinners were tax deductible. It wasn’t the only bonus, of course, but it was undoubtedly the one Ronel enjoyed most, because he never felt more relaxed and at peace than when he was stapling receipts to pieces of paper embellished with details
They abandoned a failed attempt at wild sex in favor of watching the E! channel and eating watermelon.
and dates in his own handwriting. And when the invoice wasn’t just his ticket to a tax deduction but an emotionally charged object in its own right, one that allowed him to reminisce about a night of successful lovemaking, the pleasure it gave was doubled. "I need a receipt for my taxes," he said to the waiter, stressing the word "taxes," as if there were more than one kind of receipt in this little world of ours. The waiter nodded at Ronel as if to say he knew the score. Ronel didn’t like him. Maybe because of the niggling way he corrected their pronunciation when they ordered, maybe because he’d insisted on hiding his left arm behind his back throughout the meal, which made Ronel nervous. Or maybe it was just because he was a waiter who earned his living from tips, a form of payment that irritated Ronel because it had no place in the cozy womb of "deductible expenses."
"What’s with you tonight?" Renana asked after they’d decided to abandon a failed attempt at wild sex in favor of watching the E! channel together and eating watermelon.
"I’m stressed," Ronel said. "Stressed and a little weak, physically."
"You were stressed last time too. And on Thursday, we didn’t even try. Tell me…" She stopped speaking in order to swallow an especially large piece of watermelon, and as he waited out the lengthy process of her swallowing, Ronel knew he was in for a hassle. And in fact, a belch later, Renana picked up right where she’d left off. "…do you still fuck your wife or can’t you do it with her either?"
"What do you mean, ‘either’?" Ronel said. Now he was annoyed. "What, to be more precise, do you mean ‘can’t do it with her either?’ Is there something we don’t do?"
"Fuck," Renana said, licking her stubby fingers."We don’t fuck. Not that it’s a big deal or anything. It’s just that, when you’re ‘a fuck on the side’ and the whole sex thing drops out of the equation, then you’re nothing but ‘on the side,’ know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s a deal breaker or anything, it’s just, you know, a little weird. Because with your wife, even if you don’t fuck,
"I had a hard-on just this morning," Ronel said.
you can visit her parents or fight about who loads the dishwasher, all the normal couple things. But when it happens with a lover, it sort of pulls the rug out."
"Who said we don’t fuck?"
"Your prick," Renana said without a hint of provocation in her voice."That’s why I asked about your wife, you know, to see if it’s because I don’t turn you on anymore. Or if it’s something more…"
"More what?" Ronel insisted as the pause lengthened.
"Give me a sec," Renana mumbled, "I’m looking for a gentler word than ‘impotent.’"
"You’re making a big deal over nothing," Ronel said, getting angry. "Just because once or twice I was a little bit tired and stressed-out over work, it doesn’t mean I’m impotent. I had a hard-on just this morning. Not an ordinary hard-on, either. It was phenomenal." Ronel, remembering Darko, felt his organ stiffen a little, and for no reason, was flooded with guilt.
"Terrific," Renana said."That’s good news. And who got to share this phenomenal hard-on of yours, Neeva?"
"No," Ronel said, momentarily confused."I shared it with myself."
"How nice for you." Renana smiled her famous carrion-eating smile, which he’d previously come across only at work, and went back to licking the watermelon juice off the palm of her hand.
Even so, the night might have ended with a fuck. Not a passionate fuck, but an angry one, with Ronel trying to work up some desire and have an erection, if only to make Renana eat her words. Maybe. Who knows. But Ronel’s cellphone vibrated in his shirt pocket right where his heart should have been and brought that completely pathetic evening to a new low.
"Sorry to disturb you in the middle of your meeting with the Germans," he heard Neeva’s hate-filled voice stretching out the word ‘Germans’ as if she were referring to Hitler himself.
"Don’t be silly, sweetheart, you’re not disturbing me at all. We just finished," Ronel said, sucking up to Neeva the way he always did around clients. To sound more credible, he even tossed a few words in English at Renana, "It’s my wife. She says hello." Renana promptly gave a loud belch in reply. "Mr. Mattenklott says hello, too," Ronel said, afraid Neeva might have heard the repulsive belch, and added quickly, "I think he’s had one too many. I’ll just drop him and Ingo at the hotel and come home."
"Ronel," Neeva rebuked him on the other end of the line, "I didn’t call to find out when you’re coming home. I called to tell you something."
"I know, I know. I’m sorry," Ronel apologized automatically as he tried to grab the remote from Renana, who was raising the volume.
"It’s your dog," Neeva added after a short silence, "He ran away."
When a dog takes a thin little saw and saws through the bars on the bathroom window, then shimmies down a few tied-together sheets, you can say, "The dog ran away." But when you’re walking down the street with him and he’s not on a leash, and an hour later you realize he’s nowhere to be seen, we’re talking about a personal screw-up. Trying to lay the blame on Darko wasn’t fair. "He was probably sniffing some curb or monument and when he looked up, he realized you weren’t there," he said to Neeva in an accusing tone as they walked down King George Street trying to reconstruct the route of that disastrous evening stroll. "How many times have I told you not to let him out of your sight?"
"Tell me," Neeva said as she stopped walking and stood in the middle of the street like a wife about to make a scene, "What exactly are you trying to say? That I’m not a good enough au-pair for your
The list was titled "Places Darko Likes (?)" He didn’t know why he’d tacked on the question mark.
smelly dog? That I don’t walk him according to the rules of the International Dog-Walkers Association? If you were home instead of fucking around with your Germans, you could’ve taken him out yourself and none of this would have happened."
Ronel could have complained about how he worked his ass off till all hours just to put food on the table, but decided, for tactical reasons, to keep quiet. One of the first things he’d learned in the world of business was never to reach a point of no return. You always left as many options open as possible. This often meant not saying or doing the thing you wanted to say or do. Now, for example, he felt very much like kicking Neeva in the shin as hard as he could. Not only because she’d let Darko run away, but also because she didn’t call him by his name and insisted on referring to him as ‘smelly’, and mainly because she refused to take responsibility for her actions and behaved as if this terrible tragedy were God’s way of punishing Ronel and not the mistake of a self-centered and totally irresponsible wife. He didn’t kick her in the shin as hard as he could because that, as mentioned, would have been a point of no return. Instead, with the same composure and self-control so often displayed by murderers when cleaning up the scene of the crime and getting rid of their victims’ bodies, Ronel suggested that she go home and wait there in case someone called with information about Darko.
"Who’s going to call?" Neeva laughed, "Your stupid dog from a pay phone? Or his kidnappers asking for ransom? Even if someone does find him, they won’t know our phone number."
"I still think it would be better if we split up," Ronel insisted and seriously considered abandoning the insight that had served him so well for so many years and kicking Neeva very hard after all. When she persisted in asking why, he shook his head wildly and said, "No reason."
Did he think of Ronel as his master? His father? His friend? Maybe even his lover?
Ronel leaned against a yellow mailbox and read over the list he’d just made on the back of the receipt from the restaurant he and Renana had eaten in that night. The list was headed "Places Darko Likes (?)" He didn’t know why he’d tacked on the question mark and parentheses. Maybe because he felt that if the list didn’t include an element of uncertainty, it would be like claiming he knew all there was to know about Darko, whereas Ronel himself had readily admitted countless times, to himself and to others, that he didn’t always understand Darko. Why sometimes he barked and other times chose not to. Why he started digging holes so furiously, then left the excavation as suddenly as he’d started it, for no obvious reason? Did he think of Ronel as his master? His father? His friend? Maybe even as his lover?
At any rate, it was definitely no more than a list to help Ronel search, and that’s why it needed a question mark of uncertainty. The first place on the list was Meir Park, where he and Darko went every morning. That was where Darko met the dogs who were his friends and enemies, not to mention his bosom buddy, the stumpy Schneider. At that late hour, there were no dogs or people in Meir Park. Only a drunk, homeless Russian dozing on a bench. Ronel presumed he was Russian not just because of the somewhat stereotypical bottle of vodka cradled in his arms, but because he kept laughing and speaking Russian in his sleep. Ronel stopped for a minute and said to himself that despite the troubles that kept plaguing him and sometimes made him feel like a latter-day Job, or at least a Job-lite, he should be grateful for what he had and thank whoever it is non-religious people thank about such things for not putting him in that Russian guy’s torn, old, newspaper-stuffed shoes. The Russian’s laughter grew deeper and louder, demolishing Ronel’s ideas about his own relative happiness. "Who says?" Ronel asked, suddenly filled with a great truth diluted by a substantial amount of self-pity, "Who says my fate is better than his? Here I am in the same park where he’s drunk and happy. And I’m neither drunk nor happy. All I have in the world is a dog who left me, a wife I don’t really love, and a business…" It was actually the thought of his business that cheered him up a little. This was, after all, a period of some growth, which didn’t promise boundless joy, but for now, was still preferable to newspaper in his shoes.
Near the park exit, Ronel noticed a rapid dog-like movement in the bushes. But after observing it briefly, he saw that the object of his shattered hope was the short, bearded shadow of Schneider. Ronel, who frequented the park only during the day, was surprised to see Schneider there so late at night. His first thought was that some sixth sense had told Schneider that Darko was lost and he’d left his house to join the search, but a familiar whistle punctured that heroic version of things. And right after that whistle came Alma, Schneider’s beautiful, limping mistress.
Alma, who was about twenty-five, was one of the most beautiful women Ronel knew, and definitely the lamest. She’d been injured in an unusually stupid car accident, and had used the money she received in settlement to buy a fully renovated penthouse on Michal Street. Alma’s extreme encounter with a bad driver and an excellent lawyer (she’d even told Ronel his name once, but since there were no injury suits on his horizon, he quickly forgot it) had undoubtedly shifted the course of her life. People always say they would pass up any amount of money to get their health back, but was that really true? Alma, as far as he could tell from a leash away, always smiled a genuine-looking smile, which Ronel had tried to imitate for business purposes. He had even practiced a few times in front of the mirror before he gave up and opted for an easier one. Hers was a permanent smile that rested on her face, a default smile, not fixed or phony, but one that always reacted to whatever was happening around it — broadening, narrowing, turning surprised or cynical when called for, but always there and always relaxed. It was the relaxation of that smile that made Ronel try to imitate it, recognizing its superiority as a negotiating tool over any other expression. Would she have smiled that way if she were poor and had a platinum-free leg? Or would the smile have been different, less serene? More frightened by an uncertain economic future, by the threat of old age looming over her perfect beauty?
"I didn’t know you and Darko came here at night," Alma said, hopping into the shaft of light at the entrance to the park.
"We don’t," Ronel groaned desperately, "Darko ran away," he said, but quickly corrected himself, "I mean he got lost." Schneider was looking all around Ronel with the annoying friskiness of a stupid and not particularly sensitive schnauzer.
"He doesn’t understand," Alma apologized. "He smells Darko on your clothes and thinks he’s here."
"I know, I know," Ronel said nodding and for no reason, burst into tears. "But he’s not. He’s not here. He could be dead by now. Run over.
She gave her lively schnauzer the sad, loving look beautiful girls save for their ugly girlfriends.
Or maybe some kids are torturing him in a backyard, putting out cigarettes on him, or maybe the city dog-catchers got him…"
Alma put a comforting hand on his arm, and even though her hand was damp with sweat, there was something pleasant about that dampness, something gentle and alive. "Dog-catchers don’t work at night, and Darko’s a smart dog. There’s no way he was run over. If it were Schneider…" she said, giving her lively schnauzer the kind of sad, loving look beautiful girls always save for their ugly girlfriends, "Then we’d have to worry. But Darko knows how to take care of himself. I can just see him whining outside the entrance to your building. Or on your doormat right now, chewing on a stolen bone."
Even though he could have called Neeva to ask whether Darko had come back, Ronel decided to go home. It was close by, and besides, now that Alma had managed to convince him that Darko might be there, he didn’t want Neeva to be the one to tell him the good news. "She and I," he thought, "should have separated a long time ago." Once, he remembered, he’d looked at Neeva when she was sleeping and imagined a horrible scenario in which she died in a terrorist attack. He’d be sorry for cheating on her and he’d cry live on the six o’clock news out of guilt cunningly disguised as pure grief. That thought, he now remembered, had been sad and terrible, but, to his surprise, it also made him feel a kind of relief. As if her being wiped out of his life might open up a space for something else, something with colors and smells and life. But before he could feel guilty again about this sensation of relief, Renana made her entrance into the scenario and now that Neeva was no longer part of it, she moved right in with him, at first to comfort and support him. Then she stayed for no reason at all. Ronel remembered how he’d gone on and on in his imagination, till he reached the point when Renana said to him, "It’s me or Darko." He chose Darko and remained alone in his
"He ran way from you and you’re not even mad," said the shwarma guy. "That’s the way it should be."
apartment. Without a woman. Without love, except for Darko’s, whose existence only intensified the terrible loneliness he called his life. "Terrorism is awful," Ronel had thought that night, "It destroys life in an instant," and he gave Neeva’s sleeping forehead a gentle kiss.
Ronel walked past Darko almost without noticing him. He was too busy trying to find a lighted window in his third-floor apartment. Darko was busy too, his filmy glance admiringly following the quick hands of the owner of Tarboosh Shwarma as they cut thin slices of meat from the revolving spit. But when the two friends finally spotted each other, their reunion was filled with lavish face-licking and emotion. "That’s some dog," the shwarma guy said as he kneeled in front of Darko, placing a piece of paper with a few greasy slices of meat on the sidewalk like a high priest making a sacrifice to his god. "I want you to know that a lot of dogs come here, and I don’t give them anything. But this one…" he said, pointing at Darko, "Tell me, does he happen to be Turkish?"
"What do you mean, Turkish?" Ronel asked, offended.
"Oh nothing," the shwarma guy apologized, "I’m from Izmir, so I thought… When I was a kid, I had a dog just like him, a puppy. But he used to pee in the house, which drove my mother crazy, so she threw him out, like he did it on purpose. But you, you’re a good man. He ran away from you and you’re not even mad. Believe me, that’s how it should be. I don’t understand all those tough guys who clobber their dogs with the leash if they stop for a minute to watch the shwarma turn. What are they, Nazis?"
"He didn’t run away," Ronel corrected him as he pressed his tired forehead against Darko’s sturdy back, "He got lost."
That night, Ronel decided to write a book. Something between an educational fable and a philosophical treatise. The story would be about a king beloved by all his subjects who loses something he cherishes, not money, maybe a child or something, or a nightingale, if nobody’s used that yet. Around page 100, the book would turn into something less symbolic and more modern that dealt with man’s alienation in contemporary society and offered a little consolation. On about page 160 or 170, it would change into a kind of airplane novel in terms of readability, but of much higher quality. And on page 300, the book would turn into a furry little animal readers could hug and pet, as a way of coping with their loneliness. He hadn’t yet decided on what sort of technology would turn the book into that ever-so-touchable animal, but he pointed out to himself before he fell asleep that in the last few years, both molecular biology and publishing had taken giant steps forward and were now crying out to join forces.
And that same night, Ronel had a dream, and in his dream he was sitting on the balcony of his house concentrating on the newspaper in a courageous and sincere effort to solve the enigma of human existence. His beloved dog, Darko, suddenly appeared on the balcony wearing a gray suit, a giant bone in his mouth. He put the bone down at his feet and hinted to Ronel with a tilt of his head that he should look for the answer in the financial pages. Then he explained in a deep, human voice, which sounded a little like his father’s voice, that the human race is nothing but a tax dodge.
"A tax dodge?" Ronel repeated, confused.
"Yes," Darko nodded his clever head. He explained to Ronel that his tax consultant, an extraterrestrial who lived on the planet Darko originally came from, had advised him to invest his earnings in an ecologically oriented enterprise, because ecology was big with the extraterrestrial IRS. And that, using shell corporations, he soon got involved in the whole field of developing life and species on planets.
"In general," Darko explained, "everyone knows there’s no real money in developing the human race. Or any other race,
That morning, Ronel woke up to a glorious hard-on.
for that matter. But since it’s a new field that’s wide open taxationally, there’s nothing to stop me from submitting a mountain of receipts."
"I don’t believe it," Ronel said in his dream, "I refuse to believe that our only function in this world is to be a tax shelter so my beloved dog can launder money."
"First of all," Darko corrected him, "no one’s talking about money laundering here. All my revenue’s clean and above board, I don’t do any of that funny business. All we’re talking about here is a semi-legitimate inflation of expenses. Now secondly, let’s say I grant your first premise that it isn’t humanity’s real function to be a tax shelter for me, okay? If we take this argument a little further, what other function could it have? I’m not asking pragmatically, but theoretically."
Darko kept quiet for a little while, and when he saw Ronel didn’t have a single answer in his arsenal, he barked twice, picked up the bone with his mouth and left the balcony. "Don’t go," Ronel begged in a whisper, "Please, don’t leave me, my dog, my friend, my love…"
That morning too, Ronel woke up to a glorious hard-on and Darko’s not-completely-defined licking. When he finally opened his eyes. Darko was running around the room boneless and completely naked.
It’s not sexual, was the first thought that came into Ronel’s mind, it’s sociable, maybe even existential. "Darko, my angel, my friend," he whispered, trying to contain the overwhelming joy he felt so as not to wake Neeva, "You’re the only one who really loves me."
Excerpted from The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret, to be published in April by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright (c) 2006 by Etgar Keret. All rights reserved. Translated by Sondra Silverston. n°
© 2006 Etgar Keret & Nerve.com