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Glittery Eyes

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Glittery Eyes

When your literary alter ego desperately needs a shower | Alphabet Audio Soup
In all the hundreds of stories I’ve written, there’s not a single character that reminds me of myself more than the dirty boy in “Glittery Eyes.” This is a pretty sad thing to say, considering that he’s a secondary character, he doesn’t have a name, and he’s the victim of personal-hygiene-related shaming. And that’s why it’s important for me to point out that in real life I’m a major character, I’m very clean, and I talk a lot more than the nameless boy in the story. But something about his inability to connect a powerful yearning with any concrete action reminds me of me. I’m getting better, though. It used to be that whenever I wanted something really badly, I would sit on the balcony and do nothing. But now when that happens, I write a story. And who knows? Maybe some day in the future, instead of sitting on the balcony or writing every time I really want something, I’ll just try to make it happen.
Illustration by Maya Betser

This is a story about a little girl who loved glittery things more than anything else in the whole world. She had a glittery dress, and glittery socks, and glittery ballet slippers. And a glittery black doll named Christie after their maid. Even her teeth glittered, though her father insisted that they sparkled, which wasn’t quite the same. “Glittery,” she thought to herself, “is the color of fairy godmothers, and that’s why it’s the prettiest color of all.” On Make-Believe Day in kindergarten, she dressed up as a fairy godmother, and sprinkled glitter over everyone who came near her, and said it was wishing powder. If you mixed it with water, it would make your wish come true, and if they went home right away and mixed it with water, then it would work for them too. It was a very real-looking costume, and it won her first prize in the costume competition. And the teacher, Lily, said that if she hadn’t known her from before, if she just saw her by chance on the street, she would be sure the little girl was a real fairy godmother.

When the little girl got home, she took off her costume, stood there in nothing but her underpants, threw all of her glitter up into the air, and shouted: “I want glittery eyes!” She shouted it so loud that her mother came running to see if everything was all right. “I want glittery eyes,” the little girl said, quietly this time, and kept on saying it the whole time she was in the shower, but even after that, when her mother dried her off and helped her into her pajamas, her eyes remained the ordinary kind. Very very green, and very very pretty, but no glitter. “With glittery eyes, I’d be able to do so many things,” she said, trying to persuade her mother, who seemed to be losing her patience. “I’d be able to walk along the street at night, and the drivers would see me from far away, and when I got older, I’d be able to read in the dark and save a lot on electricity, and whenever you lost me at the movies you’d always be able to find me right away, without calling the usher.” “What’s all this nonsense about glittery eyes?” her mother said, and pulled out a cigarette. “There’s no such thing anyway. Who put that ridiculous idea in your head?” “Yes, there is!” the little girl shouted, and jumped up and down on her bed. “There is, there is, there is, and besides, you’re not supposed to smoke around me. It’s bad for my health.” “OK,” her mother said, “OK. Look, it isn’t even lit.” And she put the cigarette back. “Now get into bed like a good girl, and tell me who’s been talking to you about glittery eyes. Don’t tell me it’s that fat teacher of yours?” “She isn’t fat,” the little girl said, “and it wasn’t her. Nobody talked to me about it. I saw it for myself. There’s this dirty little boy in our kindergarten class and he has them.” “And what’s the dirty little boy’s name?” The little girl shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s kind of dirty and he always keeps quiet and sits far away from everyone. But I’m telling you, his eyes glitter. And I want eyes like that too.” “So go over to him tomorrow and ask him where he got them,” her mother suggested, “and when he tells you, we’ll go there, and get them for you too.” “And until tomorrow?” the little girl asked. “Until tomorrow, go to sleep,” her mother said. “I’m going outside for a smoke.”

The next day, the little girl made her father take her to kindergarten very very early, because she just couldn’t wait, and she wanted to ask the dirty little boy where to get glittery eyes. But it didn’t do her any good, because the dirty little boy arrived last, long after everyone else. And today he wasn’t even dirty. His clothes were still a little old, and they had stains on them, but he himself looked as if he’d had a bath and someone seemed to have run a comb through his hair. “Tell me,” she said, turning to him without a second’s hesitation, “where do you get such glittery eyes?” “It’s not on purpose,” the almost-combed little boy apologized. “It just happens.” “And what do I have to do for it to just happen to me too?” the little girl cried out. “I think you need to want something an awful lot, and when it still doesn’t happen, your eyes start to glitter, just like that.” “That’s stupid,” the girl said, getting angry. “Look, I want glittery eyes an awful lot, and it doesn’t happen, so why don’t they glitter like yours?” “I don’t know,” the boy said, scared because she was angry. “I only know about myself, not about other people.” “I’m sorry I yelled,” she reassured him, touching him with her tiny hand. “Maybe you only have to want certain kinds of things. Tell me, what did you want so badly, and you didn’t get?” “A girl,” the boy stammered. “To be my girlfriend.” “Is that all?” the little girl exclaimed. “But that’s easy. Tell me who she is, and I’ll make her become your girlfriend. And if she won’t, I’ll make sure nobody talks to her anymore.” “I can’t,” the little boy said. “I’m too shy.” “All right,” the little girl said. “It doesn’t really matter. And it wouldn’t solve my problem anyway, or get me glittery eyes. Besides, that could never happen to me. If I ever wanted someone to be my girlfriend, they’d want to, because they all want to be my girlfriend.” “You,” the little boy blurted out. “I want you to be my girlfriend.”

For a few seconds, the little girl didn’t say anything, because the dirty little boy had taken her by surprise. Then she touched him again with her tiny hand, and explained, in a voice that her father used whenever she tried to run across the street or to touch something electrical, “But I can’t be your girlfriend, because I’m very smart and popular, and you’re just a dirty little boy who always keeps quiet and sits far away from everyone and the only thing that’s special about you is that you have glittery eyes, and even that will disappear now if I agree to be your girlfriend. Though I have to admit that today you’re a lot less dirty than usual.” “I mixed with water,” the less-dirty little boy admitted, “to make my wish come true.” “Sorry,” the little girl said, running out of patience, and went back to her seat.

All that day, the little girl felt sad, because she understood that her eyes would probably never glitter. And none of the stories or the songs or the show-and-tell could make her feel any better. And every now and then, when she almost succeeded in not thinking about it, she’d see the little boy standing at the far end of the kindergarten, looking at her quietly, his eyes glittering more and more fiercely, as if out of spite.

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"Glittery Eyes" translated by Miriam Shlesinger, from THE NIMROD FLIPOUT by Etgar Keret, Copyright © 1992, 1994 by Etgar Keret. English translation copyright © by Etgar Keret. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All Rights Reserved.
Intro translated by Jessica Cohen

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