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Cheerful Colors

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Cheerful Colors

There’s a thin line between helping and abetting | Alphabet Audio Soup
When I was a little boy, I wasn’t good at anything: not soccer, not running, not even English. The only thing I really excelled at was solving the riddle in “Jackie’s Weekly Drawing for Kids,” which appeared in the weekend edition of a major Israeli newspaper. I was really good at it, and for years, every single week, I managed again and again to locate the hidden detail carefully concealed by the legendary illustrator, the late Jackie Jackson, and color it in cheerful colors. It was a great feeling: like a secret agent, I was dispatched on a new mission every time. When I got too old to do the challenge, I was slightly depressed by the thought that this was the end of the era when I could regularly be praised for performing rote tasks.
I somehow made it through childhood, and my emotional state has improved a lot since those days. And now that we have social media to fill the vacuum, things are okay again, and they might get even better if you give me a like!
‘Where is the guide?’ Illustration by Jacky Jackson

Danny was about six the first time he came across the ‘Weekly Kids’ Activity Sheet,’ where kids were asked to help Uncle Isaac find his lost pipe and color it in cheerful colors. He found the pipe, colored it in cheerful colors, and even won a prize: The Encyclopedia of Israeli Geography. That was just the beginning. Danny helped Yoav find his dog Hero, he helped Yael and Bilha find their little sister, he helped Avner the Policeman find his lost gun, he helped Amir and Rami the Soldiers find their patrol jeep, and he always made sure to color everything in cheerful colors. Next, he helped Yair the Hunter find the bunny, Roman soldiers find Jesus, Charles Manson find Sharon Tate cowering in the bedroom, Shuki and Ziv from the special ops unit find the fugitive prisoner—all without forgetting to color each and every one of them in cheerful colors.

Danny knew they called him a snitch behind his back, but he didn’t care. He kept on helping. He helped George find Noriega, he helped the Nazis find Anne Frank, he helped the Romanians find that slippery Ceaușescu, and he always—but always—colored them in cheerful colors. Terrorists and freedom-fighters all over the world started thinking there was no point in hiding. Some of them, desperate and confused, colored themselves in cheerful colors. As more and more people lost faith in their ability to determine their own destinies, the world became a dispiriting place. Danny himself was not very happy. He’d lost interest in the search-and-color procedure, but he kept it up out of habit. Besides, he’d run out of shelf-space for the seven-hundred-and-twenty-eight copies of The Encyclopedia of Israeli Geography. The colors were the only thing that remained cheerful.

Housekeeping Note:
As requested by readers, my narration of the story in English is followed by a bonus recording. So if you hear me talking to you in a weird language after the story ends, I’d like to assure you that I’m not mumbling a spell to conjure up the spirit of Lilith or trying to hypnotize you into joining the Mossad. It’s just me reading the story in Hebrew.

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Translated by Jessica Cohen

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Etgar Keret