Steven J. Duede
Steven J. Duede


Tablet Original Fiction: All things decay

Galit Dahan Carlibach
April 21, 2017
Steven J. Duede
Steven J. Duede

I didn’t want to reach this state, on my back with limbs stretched out.

Not that it was so great out there, but to be like something from a museum zoology exhibit wasn’t in my plans.

Hey there, come and see from close up “The Aerobic Compostization Processes.”

I inhabit a mucous world. Forget about Paradise.


The animal world is creeping and crawling all over me: red worms, black worms, roly-polies, slugs, maggots.

Bone. That’s all I’m asking for. Two hundred osteoporosis pills may do the trick.

I am concentrating on one strong and solid desire: to repel, to destroy and finally rid myself of all the creepy crawlies.

I’ll smite them hip and thigh. Bones again. Two hundred grams of calcium.

Assembled and joined together. In the compost world, there’s no plaster that can join broken legs together. Here, you don’t get stronger or harder and you don’t solidify.

Here the key phrase is “get flexible.”

I long for bone, for the hard and fast.

Coffins? They’re for Christians, not for Jews in Israel, unless they happen to be blown-up soldiers. The rest of us just get shrouds. Forget about the dignity of the dead. A person’s bones will crumble, with years to go by before an archaeological mission excitedly discovers what’s left of them, and until then they’ll be at the mercy of the creepy crawlies.

Energetically, the red worms sing along. Ah! The cells are guzzled up. Aah! The molecules disintegrate. Aah! Biological connections are destroyed. Aah!


No, I didn’t want to be in this state. Slowly decomposing, my body is carrion for tone-deaf slugs. I had no desire to blend in with the dirt.

Life as ecology. Life as zoology.

And after all, there were better candidates than I in the ecological-communal community of Shorshon. Candidate number one is my husband, Avishai Ben Or. He’s in the business: CEO of Compost Corp. His resume is first rate: Mainstream studies at the Weizmann Science Institute and on the side—with other women—supplementary courses at ecological seminaries.

And what about Yiftah Graetz, our neighbor? While I’m being consumed by the tone-deaf slugs, he’s complacently breeding the enemy. Red worms, 80 shekels, delivery to all parts of the country included in the price.

Or why not Myra Goor, the No. 1 composter—she wouldn’t be lying here like me, doing nothing. She would do something, making fertilizer of herself, giving in to the creepers.

Or perhaps Ahava Luria, who runs the Mother Earth workshop, famous from the television. She, Ahava, would have been guzzled up. She’s crisp and brittle, and her name means love. It used to be Hofeet, which comes from the word for beach, but that never really suited her. She’s not the fun-in-the-sun type. When she changed it, she threw a big party at the spring, where she skinny-dipped and scattered love around in quantities that managed to attract all the testosterone in the vicinity. Ahava’s crazy about bare abstractions. She yearns for anguished eyes, longs to roam the maze of the soul, hoping to touch the “I.”

“Mother Earth is great and she hugs us,” I heard her saying once from her studio as I jogged by on the path. At first, she persuaded me to join her yoga class. “You have to stop running,” she said to me. “Running jolts the soul,” giving her own explanation for her terrible laziness. But Ms. Luria doesn’t know that even breathing is connected to bone. A deep, deep breath, and the air is trapped between the lung bones. Lungs belong to the vertebrates. A long, long exhalation. And carbon dioxide finds its way out. Another breath. Hold the air in the esophagus, push the chest out, and breathe out.

If I still have some of my soul, I’ll swap it for a lungful of air. I’ll give my life.


Just one time I agreed to go. They were all there, with solemn faces, sitting like Buddha. I sat down and just then my foot itched. An itch that was pure pleasure: One firm rub of the skin, peeling off the cover, and blood covers the bone. Scratching my foot cost me my self-determination: It turned out that all my chakras are blocked and sealed. I got up and laughed, and my cigarette was already ready in my hand.

I went back to jogging. (A reminder: Rigid bones jolt the asphalt, clean bone wrapped in red meat.)


As a Jewish woman, I have a number of basic rights. But in Shorshon they haven’t yet heard of the “final favor,” the coup de grace.

As for your “true grace,” being kind to the dead, we’ve heard all about it: To let Mira Goor, the No. 1 composter, wash my body? You call that true grace? With brute force she scrubbed my lungs. Don’t think I didn’t feel it.

However, alas, Netta Barban didn’t have lungs anymore. Netta Barban loved cigarettes with all her soul.

Netta adores cigarettes! Bless the manufacturers. Bless the tar. Bless the residue of tar in my soul. Blessed be thee, O cigarette. And may you all be blessed, carbon dioxide, nicotine, formalin.

To hold the cigarette just so: between finger and thumb.

No respect for the dead, no coup de grace. No heap of compost, no worries about that damned methane gas.

Just a fine ash scattered by the wind. LM Lite, that’s what I’d like to be. To hover in space, and as a lot of amenable and pleasant particles.


At home, my husband’s celebrating now. De-polluting his car (galvanized iron, 2,000 cc, carbon monoxide. sulfuric acid, lead) of Netta’s cigarettes. His snooty women will lie in comfort now. There’s nothing like getting laid in detoxified air.

Avishai is tossing the microwave into the garbage. Slaps our gardener on the back, a foolish man who likes talking to plants. Once, I gave him a slap. He was standing there scattering cardboard all over our garden. With his green angel face, he said: “It’s to prevent evaporation of water. I roared at him: “Water. I want a lot of water. I don’t care about drought. Moisture everywhere.”

At home, they ignored my instructions. They didn’t do the laundry in the machine. They didn’t heat stuff in the microwave.

My little girl Roni is very quietly burning a pita bread on the gas stove. Even the cats spit out the schnitzels that I fry. No vegetables, no eating.

Everyone cried at my funeral, and not because of sadness. Because of stimulated tear glands. I know. Because of “Letting the pain out.” I know.

But your sigh of relief has reached as far as the guzzlers of my flesh.

For who’s going to sabotage consignments of earthworms to Yiftah Graetz? Who’ll poison the green bench with puffs of smoke? Who’ll kill the compost with his or her eyes? Who’ll irradiate with the microwave?

No one. Netta Barban has gone. The world will not be irradiated. The bench will not be poisoned. The earthworms will not be sabotaged. Aaah.

Netta has paid her debt to society. A decomposed body has been given as a gift to the earthworms.

They won’t cremate my body. They won’t consign it to the deep. They won’t vaporize it. My body is toxic, it releases heavy metals and kills fish. The body will be given to the tone-deaf worms. Ahh. Ahh.

The invertebrates around here are hard workers. They discharge jelly. They compensate for their lack of bone by guzzling and multiplying. Don’t underestimate them.

Compost, compost, compost. All of life is decomposing.

My nose has already dissolved. My sonar is on the blink. Dead. A procession of worms will chant, and a sucking sound will be added to the sounds of digging. Each nostril served as a hall for these talented creatures.

Their audience, the former Netta, lay on its back, and gave no applause.

I should have been standing now in your organic dining room, eating without smelling. With the remains of my imagination, I enjoy the sight: chewed roots and odorless juice sucked through them. The flesh of fruit without chemicals chomping in my mouth, with my nose blocked.

A pleasure!

The animal world is a hierarchical world. Now, my turn has come to be eaten. My bones horizontal, my soul seesawing my legs. See, I’m not finished. Not yet.

In the community classes at Shorshon there were lectures: how to plant without chemical fertilizer, how to grow a vegetable garden based on friendship, and how long a little can last.

And only I will never reveal to you how much time it took for me to disintegrate.

Oh no, you never bothered to respect Netta Barban when she was alive. You didn’t listen to her. You colluded with her husband against her.

You cheated her, you hid her microwave. You robbed her of her garbage bags, blue plastic bags, well closed. You invaded them. You separated.

You kidnapped her kids and beat composting into them. You didn’t allow her to close in a veranda with roof tiles. When I smoked cigarettes outside, you called in the media.

You got wise to Roni’s adolescence. You poured your hearts out to her. A heart, you revealed, is not only a muscle.

You shook your heads in pity: Mother’s not ecological. In drops, you told her: Mother’s bad.

You stole my synthetic laundry off the line, don’t think I didn’t see. After I left your homes, you sprayed them with lavender oil so my smell wouldn’t cling.

And on a mushroom, nature sits and smokes with a smile: Blessed is the nature who has all this.

No. I won’t tell you the rate of my dissolution.


The brain, I once read, is the last to be eaten.

Nature is cruel. It allows you to follow the processes right to the end. The last supper: to feel how the nerves explode, how the layers of skin melt, how the dermis recedes. And only white sticks are left after the banquet.

I didn’t want to reach this state, but who asked me?

The funeral was outrageous.

My eyes were shut, as befits dead bodies that Mira Goor handles.

In another minute, I sensed, we’ll reach my burial place, and there I’ll lie in eternal repose. The cypress at the gate will bow its head. Kids will come here by happenstance, looking for a lost ball. Boring, I’m telling you.

In the dining hall, a committee will convene and rule stringently on the matter of compost. In the club room, the tone will soften to make the compost workshop pleasant.

Compost, compost, compost. All of life rots.


And of all people, I didn’t expect Avishai to start off with “She was a good student.” Why resurrect the forgotten, things that even the teachers prefer to forget?

They brought a teacher, who would attest to my having been full of life. An abundant profusion of buzzwords and witticisms.

At least if I’d had a megaphone to shout out my last speech. I was always good at the last word.

“Hello there, can you hear me? I have a prepared speech for you in my pocket.

“On this festive day, we mark the marvels of ecology. Ecology has spoken, and ecology has triumphed. Cigarettes are really carcinogenic. Sewage water is polluted. Un-separated garbage wreaks havoc with the air. And asphalt, its grains, block the soul.

“And here lies Netta. Her body was already decomposing in the hospital. Do you hear the noise? That’s the cancer gnawing at her body. Her mouth stinks of cigarettes, even at a distance.

“Netta abused the environment, and the environment has paid her back, with compound interest. We are taking leave of you, Netta. Another lump of compost is being added to the soil and enriching it. And who knows? In the fullness of time, perhaps some dirt contractor will be able to make use of it. May your soil rest in peace, Netta.”

That’s the speech I put in the pocket of my jeans. Jeans? Forget about it. They’ve wrapped me in an ugly shroud. Even a flag would have been better.

But what speeches they belted out for me here! If not when I was alive, at least now that I’m dead. Avishai proclaimed, “You were a good wife.” From the other side of the grave, five women with veiled looks fluttered their eyelashes at him.

Ahava: “At last, Netta has connected up with Mother Earth.” and she added: “Our workshop prepares one in advance and teaches one how to cope with death.” (I’ll tell you how: Bring some food in your pocket for the worms.)

Mira Goor stifled a yawn: “In the last analysis, Netta, You were the living spirit, who made us laugh and made us happy.” Roni came from the army, and with all the sensitivity of a personal-affairs NCO, she wept. She really loved me, the fool. And little Kotchi clung to her with a frightened look. Compost or not, I won one victory—a mother’s love isn’t ecological.

I can’t see anything. Outside, dulled voices. Perhaps it’s a memorial gathering. Perhaps the anniversary. Could be anything. My nose is already long gone, and all that’s left is my longing to hold a cigarette between two bones and have a smoke, with no lungs. No-lungs will expand and draw the smoke in. No-lungs will contract and the smoke will escape from them, steadily. “Look,” Avishai would say, my righteous husband. “There’s her punishment. For all of her sins. Smoking, argumentativeness, non-separation of garbage.”

“Your sin, Netta,” he would say, “is that you don’t know how to blend in. Lie in the earth and blend in. Your body will divide and multiply over and over. Particles that are good for the soil.”

So here I lie.

Sometime, perhaps in another hour, my brain will drain out of my skull.

From compost I came not, but to compost I’m going.

Translated from the Hebrew by Ronnie Hope. This story first appeared in Hebrew in Alaxon.

Galit Dahan Carlibach is the author of several novels, including The Locked Garden, On The Edge, and, recently, Alices Storm. She won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew writers.

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