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Ketchup

I read in the newspaper that the Apocalypse wasn’t going to happen.

To celebrate this piece of good news, I went to McDonald’s and ordered a hamburger.

“How fortunate,” I thought, enthusiastically seasoning my hamburger with ketchup, “that there won’t be any angelic horns, no earthbound star plunging toward us on a path of fiery destruction.” Until that day I had eaten without enthusiasm, as I had been living in the shadow of impending catastrophe. Why even bother with ketchup when we’re heading for catastrophe? But now the world has a future. With this in mind, I put a bit more ketchup on, because now it was worthwhile.

The following day I had another hamburger with a double helping of ketchup. But on the third day I realized that, by eating a double helping of ketchup for the third time, I wouldn’t be keeping up with the times. On the first day, I was ahead of them, the second day I was keeping up with the moment, but on the third day I was already late. A double helping of ketchup for the third time in a row would be a step backward. In order to stay ahead, it would have to be a triple helping at the very least.

So I had a triple helping. I belched a little, but by and large I didn’t feel bad.

I only began to have stomach problems after my quadruple helping of ketchup. I managed to settle it with the aid of Alka-Seltzer. After a quintuple helping, nothing helped. And after my sextuple helping, even the thought of a septuple helping made me feel unwell.

What next? This inexorable course of consumption demanded a septuple helping of ketchup, followed by octuple, nonuple, and decuple helpings, and so on, without end. Because now, with the Apocalypse having been called off, the future had no limit. Even if I were able to survive a decuple helping of ketchup—then what?

I burned down the McDonald’s, for the sake of my life. The fire wasn’t huge, a smoldering ashtray compared to the fires of the Apocalypse, but it was better than nothing.

“Keczup” published 1996 in Opowiadania 1990–1993 (Stories 1990–1993) by Noir sur Blanc, Warsaw. © 1993 Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich, Switzerland.  By arrangement with Diogenes Verlag. Translation © 2012 by Garry Malloy. All rights reserved.