What Do We Have in Our Pockets?
posted Mar 27, 2012
A cigarette lighter, a cough drop, a postage stamp, a slightly bent cigarette, a toothpick, a handkerchief, a pen, two five-shekel coins. That’s only a fraction of what I have in my pockets. So is it any wonder they bulge? Lots of people mention it. They say, “What the fuck do you have in your pockets?” Most of the time I don’t answer, I just smile, sometimes I even give a short, polite laugh. As if someone told me a joke. If they were to persist and ask me again, I’d probably show them everything I have, I might even explain why I need all that stuff on me, always. But they don’t. What the fuck, a smile/a short laugh, an awkward silence, and we’re on to the next subject.
The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you? But if, for example, a beautiful girl—you know what, not even beautiful, just charming, an ordinary looking girl with an entrancing smile that takes your breath away—asks you for a stamp, or doesn’t even ask, just stands there on the street next to a red mailbox on a rainy night with a stampless envelope in her hand and wonders if you happen to know where there’s an open post office at that hour, and then gives a little cough because she’s cold, but also desperate, since deep in her heart, she knows that there’s no open post office in the area, definitely not at that hour, and at that moment, that moment of truth, she won’t say “What the fuck do you have in your pockets,” but she’ll be so grateful for the stamp, maybe not even grateful, she’ll just smile that entrancing smile of hers, an entrancing smile for a postage stamp—I’d go for a deal like that anytime, even if the price of stamps soars and the price of smiles plummets.
After the smile, she’ll say thank you and cough again, because of the cold, but also because she’s a little embarrassed. And I’ll offer her a cough drop. “What else do you have in your pockets?” she’ll ask, but gently, without the “fuck” and without the negativity, and I’ll answer without hesitation: everything you’ll ever need, my love. Everything you’ll ever need.
So now you know. That’s what I have in my pockets. A chance not to screw up. A slight chance. Not big, not even probable. I know that, I’m not stupid. A tiny chance, let’s say, that when happiness comes along, I can say “yes” to it, and not “Sorry, I don’t have a cigarette/toothpick/coin for the soda machine.” That’s what I have there, full and bulging, a tiny chance of saying yes and not being sorry
“What Do We Have in Our Pockets?” is an excerpt from Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, to be published in April by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Etgar Keret. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. English language translation copyright © 2011 by Etgar Keret.