Sławomir Mrożek – 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.
The narrator of Sławomir Mrożek's (very) short story, Ketchup (trans. Garry Malloy), is so happy that the world isn't going to end that he adds some extra tomato sauce to his burger. The next day, happier still, he adds some more. Each day he adds more and more ketchup to his burger, celebrating the fact that now he can add ketchup to his burger, and as much as he likes – the world will not be ending!
Ketchup - again, a very short story, less than 500 words in translation – plays with the idea of Apocalypse and its successful diversion by poking fun at the ordinary folk who would be affected by such a drama. For the narrator, an obscure, ill-defined disaster has been averted (he remains unsure whether the Apocalypse diverted would have been Heaven-sent or an act of an indifferent cosmos), and for that – ketchup! What else can he do? After all, he likes hamburgers.
Because now, with the Apocalypse having been called off, the future had no limit.
And for so many of us, that means we can worry less about exercise, or perhaps buy that extra chocolate, or dress, or what have you.
Of course, the narrator becomes consumed by these ketchup additions (we are firmly placed within a satirical piece) and decides to burn the McDonald’s down to rid himself of his dilemma, and by doing so creates a minor Apocalypse of his own. Everyone is satisfied.
And that's the story. Like all good satirists, Mrożek knows how to avoid outstaying his welcome. His deflates the importance of a word like “Apocalypse” and the people who believe in it, and purport to be affected by it, and then, with a final stinging barb, leaves. Ketchup is rather excellent in its economy of words and conciseness of approach. And, really, what could an ordinary person's response be to an averted Apocalypse? Consider those newspapers reports bleating about how an asteroid came “this close” to hitting Earth, and then consider most people's reactions to it. Adding ketchup to a burger is hardly the least of it. Burning down a McDonald’s is perhaps a touch stronger, but a man has to have his principles, and sometimes you have to do something extreme to break an addiction.
Ketchup by Sławomir Mrożek is a short story from Words Without Borders' January 2012 edition, Apocalypse issue. All of the work reviewed is freely available online.
Other stories from the Words Without Borders January 2012 edition, Apocalypse issue include:
---Xerxenesky, Antônio - Seizing Cervantes
---Adamek, André-Marcel - The Ark
---Paiva, Fernando - God's Obituary
---Elíasson, Gyrðir - House No. 451
---Villoro, Juan - Holding Pattern
Words Without Borders review series:
---May 2011: Writing From Afghanistan
---January 2011: The Work Force
---October 2010: Beyond Borges: Argentina Now
---August 2010: Writing From Hungary
Index of short stories under review