Eating Olives at the End of the World (essay-34)
A story by Etgar Keret
The world is about to end and I’m eating olives. The original plan was pizza, but when I walked into the grocery store and saw all the empty shelves, I realized I could forget about pizza dough and tomato sauce. I tried talking to the cashier at the express line, an older lady who was Skyping with someone in Spanish on her cell phone, but she answered me without even glancing up. She looked devastated.
“They bought everything,” she murmured, “all that’s left is menstrual pads and pickles.”
The only thing on the pickle shelf was a single jar of pimento-stuffed olives, my favorite kind.
By the time I got back to the checkout, the cashier was in tears. “He’s like a warm loaf of bread,” she said, “my sweet little grandson. I’ll never see him again, I’ll never smell him, I’ll never get to hug my baby again.”
Instead of answering, I put the jar down on the conveyor belt and pulled a fifty out of my pocket. “It’s okay,” I said when I realized she wasn’t going to take the bill, “I don’t need change.”
“Money?” she said with a snort, “the world is about to end and you’re offering me money? What exactly am I supposed to do with it?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I really want these olives. If fifty isn’t enough I’ll pay more, whatever it costs…”
“A hug,” the tearful cashier interrupted me and spread her arms out, “it’ll cost you a hug.”
I’m sitting on my balcony at home now, watching TV and eating cheese and olives. It was difficult to get the TV out here, but if this is it, then there’s no better way to end it than with a starry sky and a lousy Argentinian soap. It’s episode 436 and I don’t know any of the characters. They’re beautiful, they’re emotional, they’re yelling at each other in Spanish. There are no subtitles, so it’s hard to understand exactly what they’re shouting about. I close my eyes and think back to the cashier at the grocery store. When we hugged I tried to be small, to be warmer than I really am. I tried to smell like I’d only just been born.
Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
April 12, 2020, 7:00 am