The Flying Santinis
Written by Etgar Keret- Narrated by Kirby Heyborne


Italo waved his left hand and the irritating drumming stopped. He took a long breath and closed his eyes. When I saw him standing tensely on the little wooden platform, wearing his glittering costume, almost touching the canvas ceiling of the tent, everything suddenly seemed clear to me. I would leave home and join the circus! I too would become one of the flying Santinis, I would leap though the air like a demon, I would hang onto the trapeze ropes with my teeth!

Italo turned over two and a half times in the air and in the middle of the third somersault he seized the outstretched hand of Enrico, the youngest Santini. The audience rose to its feet and applauded enthusiastically, Dad took my box of popcorn and threw it in the air, salty snowflakes landed on my head.

Some children have to run away from home in the middle of the night to join the circus, but Dad took me in his car. He and Mom helped me to pack my things in a suitcase. “I’m so proud of you, son,” said Dad and hugged me for a minute before I knocked on the door of Papa Luigi Santini’s caravan. “Farewell, Ariel-Marcello Santini. And spare a thought for me and Mom whenever you’re flying high over the circus floor.”

Papa Luigi opened the door wearing the glittering pants of his circus costume and a striped pajama top. “I want to join you, Papa Luigi,” I whispered. “I want to be a flying Santini too.” Papa Luigi looked at my body with a discerning eye, felt the muscles on my thin arms with interest, and finally let me in. “A lot of children want to be flying Santinis,” he said after a few seconds of silence. “Why do you think that you of all people are suitable?” I didn’t know what to reply, I bit my lower lip and I didn’t say anything. “Are you brave?” Papa Luigi asked me. I nodded my head. With a quick movement Papa Luigi thrust his fist in front of my face. I didn’t move a millimeter, I didn’t even blink. “Hmmm. . . .” said Papa Luigi and stroked his chin. “And nimble?” he asked. “You know that the flying Santinis are known for their nimbleness.” Again I nodded my head, biting hard on my lower lip. Papa Luigi spread out his right hand, put a hundred lira coin on it, and motioned to me with his silver eyebrows. I succeeded in snatching the coin before he managed to close his hand. Papa Luigi nodded his head appreciatively. “Now there’s only one test left,” he thundered, “the test of suppleness. You must touch your toes with your legs straight.” I relaxed my body, took a long breath, and closed my eyes, exactly as Italo, my brother, had done in the performance that evening. I bent down and reached with my hands. I could see the tips of my fingers at a distance of a few millimeters from my shoelaces, almost touching. My body was as taut as a rope about to tear at any minute, but I didn’t give up. Four millimeters separated me from the Santini family. I knew that I had to cross them. And then, suddenly, I heard the sound. Like the sound of wood and glass breaking together, so loud it was deafening. Dad, who was apparently waiting in the car outside, was alarmed by the noise and came rushing into the caravan. “Are you all right?” he asked, and tried to help me up. I couldn’t straighten my back. Papa Luigi lifted me in his sturdy arms and we all drove together to the hospital.

In the X-rays they found a slipped disk between the L2–L3 vertebrae. When I held the photograph opposite the light I could see a kind of black spot, like a drop of coffee, on the transparent spine. On the brown envelope the name “Ariel Fledermaus” was written with a ballpoint pen. No Marcello, no Santini—just crooked, ugly writing. “You could have bent your knees,” whispered Papa Luigi and wiped one of the tears from my eyes. “You could have bent them a little. I wouldn’t have said anything.”