Tablet published an essay by Etgar Keret this morning, in which the Israeli writer recalls writing his first short story, at age 19, and finding someone to read it. Keret, who is known for collected works like Suddenly, A Knock on the Door, wrote that first story in a computer room at an army base, during his compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces.
Fortuitously, the story was a hit with its first reader:
“This story is awesome,” my brother said. “Mind-blowing. Do you have another copy?” I said I did. He gave me a big-brother-proud-of-his-little-brother smile, then bent down and used the printed page to scoop up the dog’s shit and drop it in the trash can.
But just what was that first story, which inspired Keret to commit himself to the craft, about? Pipes.
Keret fans are in luck—26 years after writing it, he’s published the story on Facebook. It’s about being sent to work in a pipe factory after failing a psychological test administered to seventh graders, and what happens when he stays after work making his own creation. Here’s an excerpt:
One night I made a pipe that was really complicated, with lots of twists and turns in it, and when I rolled a marble in, it didn’t come out at the other end. At first I thought it was just stuck in the middle, but after I tried it with about twenty more marbles, I realized they were simply disappearing. I know that everything I say sounds kind of stupid. I mean everyone knows that marbles don’t just disappear, but when I saw the marbles go in at one end of the pipe and not come out at the other end, it didn’t even strike me as strange. It seemed perfectly ok actually. That was when I decided to make myself a bigger pipe, in the same shape, and to crawl into it until I disappeared. When the idea came to me, I was so happy that I started laughing out loud. I think it was the first time in my entire life that I laughed.
You can read the whole story here. The piece is great, and a vivid metaphor for what Keret was feeling as a self-described “terrible, depressed soldier who was counting the days to the end of his compulsory service.” The world our young protagonist discovers inside the magic pipe he builds is very much one real-life Keret would have wanted to find, an escape of sorts: “There are pilots who got here by performing a loop at one precise point in the Bermuda Triangle. There are housewives who went through the back of their kitchen cabinets to get here, and mathematicians who found topological distortions in space and had to squeeze through them to get here.” And all they really need is a deck of cards.
It’s a great glimpse of vintage Keret.
Related: Portrait of the Author as a Young Man—Serving in the Israeli Army
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.