“The Greatest Liar in the World”
Look at him standing in the middle of the street in the pouring rain, telling everyone it isn’t cold. It’s barely above freezing and he doesn’t even sneeze. Raindrops roll off his forehead like beads of sweat, and his mouth—seriously, you have to see it to believe it: his mouth is a bona fide cosmic phenomenon, a black hole that sucks in reality and spits it out the other end as something completely different. Now he’s talking assuredly about the wonderful future that awaits our children, and any minute he’ll be explaining to anyone willing to listen about how there’s a god and that this god believes we’re doing just fine. Then he’ll take a seat at the little café, drink some hot tea with lemon and swear it’s coffee.
He wasn’t always like that. When he was a kid he couldn’t lie at all, and once when the classroom window was broken he put his hand up and confessed that he’d thrown the stone. But all his honesty ever got him was a juvenile record for property vandalism, and at some point on that long and exhausting road, he reached a junction, took a sharp turn, and never looked back.
At first he only lied to strangers, then to people he really loved, and finally to himself. Lying to yourself is the best. It only takes a minute for the dingy puddle of reality that gets your socks wet to turn into something warm and velvety. Just one line—and failure turns into voluntary submission, loneliness into choice, and even the death that keeps closing in on you can change into a one-way ticket to heaven.
He isn’t naïve. He knows not everyone appreciates him. There will always be extremists who insist on praising the unimaginative truth as if it were a rousing marvel and not just an embarrassing default. Have you ever seen a trash heap lie? Or a tadpole? Or an insect? Only man, the pinnacle of creation, has the capacity to alter his world by wielding a sentence. A sentence that creates reality. Well, perhaps not reality, but something. Something that if we only grab onto tight enough we will manage to survive, to stay afloat.
Now let’s watch him in action. To his right—a wife and two children whom he loves desperately. To his left—a thin young waitress who wants to get her degree in international relations. And there he is, kissing the waitress and telling himself there’s nothing wrong with it. Then he picks up the twins from kindergarten and tells them how Mom and him brought them into the world. In a minute it’ll be time for a post-coital cigarette and he’ll tell the thin waitress and himself that he’s never experienced such momentous love. Love that is like a force of nature, a hurricane, the kind that will sweep you up one way or another and so it’s futile to resist.
Two months from now, tired and estranged in a rental apartment in Petach Tikva, waiting impatiently for every other weekend when he can fall asleep in bed next to the twins and dream guilt-ridden dreams—he will keep on insisting that all this happened because he was in touch with himself. Because he chose to live life to the fullest and not just watch tediously from the sidelines as if it were yet another foreign film that the thin waitress dragged him to see at the arthouse cinema.
This September he will be representing us at the World Lying Championship, and the commentators are positive he’s going to bring home a medal. He is so good, they say, that even if the impossible happens and he fails, there’s no shadow of a doubt that he’ll be able to convince himself—and us—that he won. Because that’s who he is: championship material. Keeps his eye on the prize. Never afraid to give the truth a black eye and swear it’s pink. A man who has never regretted anything, and even if he has—will never admit it.
Etgar Keret’s new collection of stories Fly Already is out now from Riverhead.