And the Rat Laughed - By Nava Semel

Part One

The Story

A day in Tel Aviv, late 1999


How to tell this story?

Things that had been locked inside her have begun showing through lately.

But maybe there’s no need to tell it. The old woman keeps trying to defend her unswerving resolve, and to stick to her silence. For so many years she’s kept the story within her. And now, the question refuses to be muted any longer. It rises out of its grave, egging her on, intrusive.

How should the story be told?

But maybe it’s been told already. Leaking through in moments of distraction, forcing its way to the surface whenever she loosened her grip. And since the thought of that story being jostled about, unattended and vulnerable without her, is too unsettling, it’s as if she has no choice but to assume the role of storyteller.

But she doesn’t know how. And just as she has repressed the story, so too does she now repress the very question of how to tell it. Because if she were to give it a voice, the story would burst through without her being able to contain it, and its severed limbs would scatter in all directions, unfamiliar even to her.

Insofar as it depends on her, she’s not going to tell the story in full.


I was their little girl. Father’s and Mother’s. I loved them.

That could be the beginning.


That would put an end to the story even before it began.


Even when she pent it up inside her, the story would stab its way through, jabbing its spikes into her. Other spikes dissolved or fell off, and she’d hoped that time would do a good job of covering things up, obliterating whatever should not be remembered, should not be retold even to herself. On rare occasions, when she did manage to summon one particular spike, memory would turn against her, refusing to play along. It was only in distraction, when she had abandoned control, that the unsummoned spike would jab into her, foisting itself on her and dragging her deep into the entrails of the story.


I was a little girl.

I did not choose to be born.

I suppose I must have been happy. Not that the question ever arose, of course. Children are not in the habit of wondering about their own happiness.

What would you like to know?

What good will it do?

Why now?

The old woman’s barrage of questions tries to ward off the inevitable. But her granddaughter won’t let up. She insists on getting some answers.

The old woman is having trouble finding a sensible place to begin the story, one that won’t jeopardize the rest of it.


As far as she’s concerned, the story isn’t that important to her, and at this late date it doesn’t seem to be important to anyone else either. There are many others like this story, including some that have already been told. She doesn’t think that hers is any more worthy.

On the contrary, she’s convinced that the story will resist her, will become incoherent, and in an effort to disguise its own ugliness will turn into something completely different.

And yet, she is the only one who can tell it. If not all of it or most of it, then at least some parts. A strange sense of urgency overtakes her. Maybe it’s old age. She cannot afford to let the story disappear as if it never happened.


I had a mother.

I had a father.

Won’t you make do with that?

I loved and I lost.

That’s the end of the story. The beginning too.

The old woman keeps on grappling to the last minute, when the doorbell rings, causing the walls to shake.


It’s not one of those stories that audiences love. Old Woman, give them something airy, upbeat, with an engrossing plot. The hero ought to be larger than life, that’s what her granddaughter tells her. Glamorous, sort of famous, like someone from TV. Despite her age, the old woman knows the new stories, how a story does well precisely when it removes its addressees from their own bleak and compliant place. People have enough on their plate without stories like hers.

The recipients of the new millennium’s stories are quick to pass judgment. They’ve heard enough, so they declare. This story, that story, the world is filled with so many stories. Even those without a story to tell insist on their own snippet. And as long as it’s being told, they want the snippet to ring true.

But her story, rotting away in its drawn-out darkness, couldn’t possibly sound familiar. Which is why its chances of finding a receptive