The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 21, No. 4

Dad with Mashed Potatoes

by Etgar Keret

Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston

Stella, Ella, and I were almost ten years old the day Dad shape-shifted. Mom doesn't like us to say "shape-shifted" and insists we say "left," but it's not like we came home from school that day and found the house empty. Because there he was, waiting for us in his armchair, glowing in the full whiteness of his glorious rabbithood, and when we bent to pet him behind the ears, he didn't try to run away, he just wrinkled his nose with happiness. Mom immediately said we couldn't keep him because he'd shit all over the house, and when Stella tried to break it to her gently that the rabbit was actually Dad, Mom got angry and told her to stop because it was hard enough as it was, and then started to cry.
     Ella and I gave Mom some jasmine tea and almond cookies because jasmine calms you down and almonds cheer you up, and that afternoon Mom definitely looked like she needed some calming down and cheering up. After she thanked us and drank her tea, she kissed all three of us and said that last night, while we were asleep, she and Dad had fought, but in whispers so as not to wake us, and afterward Dad had thrown a few things in his white backpack and left the house. Mom said that from now on we would have a tough time, so we all had to be strong and help each other, and when she finished talking there was a long, unpleasant silence. Finally, Dad signaled me with his nose to go over and hug her, and when I did she started to cry again. Ella, frightened by the crying, whispered to me, "But why is she crying? The main thing is that he came back." But Mom's tears kept coming, and the crying turned into angry sobbing. Stella tried to change the subject, saying that maybe the four of us should do something nice together, like bake a carrot cake, but that just made Mom more upset. "I want that rabbit out of the house today," she said, "do you hear me?" and went to her room to rest.
     When Mom woke up from her nap, we brought her a glass of lemonade we'd made ourselves, a slice of bread with butter and jam, and one of her migraine pills because whenever she wakes up her head hurts. But first we locked Dad in our room because Stella said that the faces he made drove Mom crazy and it would be much easier to persuade her to let him stay if he weren't around. She also explained to Ella that when we spoke to Mom we shouldn't call him Dad, because Mom was still mad at him, and until she forgave him completely we needed to pretend that Dad was just a rabbit.
     Mom ate the bread, took the pill, drank all the lemonade, then kissed each of us on the forehead and said that she loved us and that now the four of us were alone in the world we were her only consolation. Ella told her that we weren't alone, that we had a rabbit, and just like we were her consolation, the rabbit was ours because even if he couldn't do anything, not even boil water for tea or open a jar of jam, he could still rub against our legs, run around us, and let us pet his soft fur whenever we wanted. Mom said that we were kind and generous girls, two excellent traits that would help us a lot in life, but the rabbit had to go. Then she put on her shoes, took the car keys off the shelf near the door, and said she was heading into town to get the man from the pet store, who'd trap Dad and sell him to a family with a big house and a yard who'd take care of him better than we could. "No family can take care of him better than us," cried Ella, who had always been afraid of the strange man from the pet store. "He'll be sad without us, and we'll be sad without him." But Mom just nodded without listening and said we could watch TV until she came back.
     The minute Mom left, Ella and I told Stella that we had to hurry and hide Dad in a place where Mom and the man from the pet store would never find him, but Stella insisted that it would never work because Mom really knew how to look for things and always found them, even when they were really, really lost. "But he's our father," Ella sobbed, "we can't let them take him away from us."
     "I know," Stella said, and licked her top lip the way we always do when we're stressed, "I think we'll have to run away with him."

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