Written by Etgar Keret- Narrated by Kirby Heyborne
About six months ago, in this armpit town outside Austin, Texas, Mickey Goodman of Tel Aviv killed a seventy-year-old minister and his wife. Goodman shot them in their sleep at point-blank range. To this day nobody knows how he got into the apartment, but he must have had a key. The whole story sounds too far out. I mean, how does a guy with no record, an Israeli paratrooper, just get up one morning and put a slug into the heads of two people he’s never even met, in some armpit town in Texas—and someone called Goodman no less. The night they announced it on the news, I didn’t even know, because I was with Alma at the movies. Later, in bed, we were really getting into it when suddenly she started crying. I stopped right away, ’cause I thought I was hurting her, but she said I should go on, and that her crying was a good sign actually.
The prosecution said Goodman had been paid thirty thousand for the murder and that the whole thing had to do with some local feud over an inheritance. Fifty years ago the fact that the minister and his wife were black would only have helped him, but nowadays it’s the other way around. The fact that the old man was a minister also worked against him. His attorney announced that after the trial, if Goodman was found guilty, he’d ask to serve out his sentence back home in Israel, because with all the blacks in US prisons, his life wouldn’t be worth a used teabag. The prosecution, on the other hand, claimed that Goodman would be dead much sooner anyway. Texas is one of the few states where they still have capital punishment. I haven’t had any contact with Goodman for ten years now, but back in high school he used to be my best friend. I’d spend all my time with him and with Dafne, his girlfriend back in junior high. Once we got into the army, we lost touch. I’m no good at keeping tabs on people. Alma’s great at it, though. Her best friends are people she’s known since kindergarten. I kind of envy her for that.
The trial lasted three months. Loads of time considering that everyone was convinced Goodman did it. I told my dad that something about the whole story just didn’t make sense to me. I mean, we knew Mickey. He’d spent a lot of time at our house. And my father said: “You never know what goes on in people’s heads.” My mother said she always knew he was riding for a fall. He had that sick-dog look in his eyes. She said it made her shudder to think that this murderer had eaten out of her dishes, had sat down to the table with us. I thought back to the last time we’d met. It was at Dafne’s funeral. She’d been sick, and died. We were fresh out of the army. I came to the funeral, and he made me leave. He was so open-and-shut in the way he told me to beat it that I didn’t even ask why. That was about six years ago, but I still remember the hateful look in his eyes. We haven’t spoken since.
Every day when I got home from work, I’d look for a report about the trial on CNN. Once every few days, they’d give an update. Sometimes, when they showed his picture, I’d miss him a lot. It was always the same one, this old passport photo—his hair parted, like some kid at a Memorial Day ceremony. Alma was pretty excited that I’d known him. It was on her mind all the time. A few weeks ago she asked me what was the worst thing I’d done in my whole life. I told her how after Sarah Gross’s mother drowned, Mickey and I wrote this graffiti on the wall of her house: Your mother goes down. Alma thought that was a pretty awful thing to do, and that Goodman didn’t exactly come across as a nice guy in that story either. The worst thing Alma ever did was while she was in the army. Her commander, who was fat and repulsive, kept trying to ball her, and she hated him, especially because he was married and his wife was pregnant at the time. “Get the picture?” She took a drag on her cigarette. “His wife carrying his baby around inside her, and all he wants the whole time is to fuck other women.” Her commander was totally hung up on her, so she made the most of it and told him she’d agree to do it with him, but only if he paid a bundle, a thousand shekels, which looked like a lot to her back then. “I didn’t care about the money.” She cringed as she recalled. “I just wanted to humiliate him. To make him feel like no woman would have him unless he paid. If there’s one thing I hate it’s men who cheat.” Her commander arrived with a thousand shekels in an envelope, except he was so excited that he couldn’t get it up. But Alma wouldn’t give him his money back, which made the humiliation twice as bad. She told me his money disgusted her so much that she buried it in some savings plan, and to this very day she won’t go near it.
The ending of the trial came as a surprise, for me at least, and Goodman got the death sentence. The Japanese announcer on CNN said the prisoner had cried quietly when he heard the verdict. My mother said he had it coming, and my father said the same thing he always says: “You never know what goes on in people’s heads.” The second I heard about the sentence, I knew I had to fly over there and visit him before they killed him. We used to be best friends once, after all. It was kind of strange, but everyone except my mother understood. My older brother, Ari, asked me to smuggle in a laptop on my way back from America, and said that if worst came to worst I could just leave it in customs and go.
In Texas I went straight from the airport to Mickey’s prison. I’d set it up before I left. They gave me half an hour. When I went in to meet him, he was sitting on a chair. His hands and legs were tied up. The guards said they had to tie him up because he kept going wild, but he seemed perfectly calm to me. I think that they were just saying it, that they just got their kicks from coming down on him. I sat facing him. Everything seemed so ordinary. The first thing he said to me was “Sorry.” He said he felt bad about what happened at Dafne’s funeral. “I was just plain mean to you,” he said. “Shouldn’t have done that.” I told him it was ancient history. “It must have been bugging me for a long time, and suddenly, with her death and all, it just came out. It wasn’t because you were sleeping with her behind my back, I swear to you. It’s just because you broke her heart.” I told him to cut the crap, but I couldn’t make my voice not tremble. “Forget it,” he said. “She told me, and I forgave you long ago. The whole business at the funeral—take it from me, I was acting like a jerk.” I asked him about the murder, but he didn’t want to talk about it, so we talked about other things. After twenty minutes, the guard said the half hour was up.
They used to execute people by electrocution, and when they’d throw the switch, the lights in the whole area would flicker for a few seconds, and everyone would stop what they were doing, just like when there’s a special newsflash. I thought about it, how I’d sit in my hotel room and the lights would go dim, but it didn’t happen. Nowadays they use a lethal injection, so nobody can even tell when it’s happening. They said it would be on the hour. I looked at the second hand, and when it reached twelve, I told myself: “He must be dead now.” The truth is that I was the one who wrote the graffiti on Sarah’s wall. Mickey had just watched. I think he was even kind of against it. And now he was probably not alive anymore.
On the return flight, the seat next to me was taken by this fat guy. His seat was a little broken but the attendants couldn’t move him to a different one because the flight was full. His name was Pelleg, and he told me he’d just gotten out of the army with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he was returning from a special course where they train people for senior executive positions in hi-tech.
I looked at him leaning back, with his eyes closed, struggling to find a comfortable position in his broken seat, when suddenly it came to me that maybe this guy could have been Alma’s commander in the army. Her commander was fat too. I could picture him waiting for her in some stinking hotel room, his sweaty hands counting up the thousand shekels. Thinking about the lay that was to happen, about his wife, about the baby. Trying to give himself some excuse, why it’s really OK after all.
I looked at him squirming in his seat beside me. His eyes were shut the whole time, but he wasn’t asleep. Then he gave a kind of groan, for no reason. Maybe he was remembering it too. I dunno, suddenly I felt sorry for the guy.