The Shtarker

Short Story by Willard Mans

Was The Shtarker really intending to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?

Okay, so it wasn’t really a barrel but a mini-space capsule designed by retired NASA engineers and sponsored by Disney TV, which was desperate to bolster its sagging ratings.

But that didn’t make the stunt any less perilous. This much was clear from one look at The Falls, with scads of water cascading down, roiling and crashing on the basin below, kicking up a spray that caught the sunlight and splattered everyone for miles around.

The Shtarker’s husband, a librarian by trade, stood on the look-out deck on the American side, wincing as The Falls showed off its power and ferocity. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could survive that maelstrom. Only someone with a serious death wish would even contemplate such a thing.

“Beg to disagree,” The Shtarker said, pausing to take a puff on her cigar. “Many people have gone over The Falls and survived, beginning in 1901 when a woman named Annie Edson Taylor did it in a wine barrel.”

“Good for Annie, but hundreds have died after her, trying to duplicate her success.”

“Most of them were hoping to commit suicide in a spectacular way.”

“Isn’t that exactly what you’re trying to do? Tell the truth.”

The Shtarker reacted angrily. “No, goddammit!” she snapped. “I don’t want to die! I want to live well and long with you as my helpmeet.”

“You’ve got a weird way of showing it.”

They argued back and forth, each in a loud, agitated voice, but were unable to persuade the other. The Shtarker’s husband grabbed his jacket and announced he was going for a walk. That was only partially true. His walk was a short one, just around the corner to the Blossom Lounge, where he sat morosely for the rest of the afternoon, knocking back one Irish whiskey after another.

* * *

The road to Niagara Falls had commenced two years earlier at an international track and field event in Chicago, where The Shtarker won first prize (and ten thousand dollars) with a shotput toss of 67 feet, 1 inch. This was a world record; no other woman had even come close to that mark, few men as well.

The achievement made The Shtarker semi-famous. More fame came a year later, when she appeared on the Fox TV show, “American Decathlon.” This reality series featured six female jocks competing against each other in a bunch of different categories. First they heaved the shotput, javelin and discus(easy wins for The Shtarker). Then they traveled to Siberia to don snowshoes and stagger through a blizzard. Then it was on to Tanzania where they clawed their way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Next came Italy for an insanely fast bobsled race.

The competition went on, with sprints, hurdles and long-distance races spread out over the next few months. All that physical and mental stress began to take its toll on the athletes. One of them suffered a broken leg, two ruptured discs and a punctured lung. Two others had nervous breakdowns; another was felled by heat-stroke and had to be air-lifted to a clinic in Iceland.

That left The Shtarker and The Black Amazon as the last standing contestants. The Black Amazon, who was trans, seven feet tall and 350 heavily-muscled pounds (she had spent two years playing nose tackle for the Chicago Bears), was every bit as skilled and strong as The Shtarker, which made for an evenly-matched and exciting match. The finale of “American Decathlon,” with the two lionesses battling it out for the hundred-thousand-dollar prize, was the most-watched sporting event of the year.

The match took place in a wrestling ring. This gave The Shtarker an advantage as she had begun her career as a high-school wrestler. Although she was about a hundred pounds lighter then–-this was before she discovered protein shakes and steroids–-she had gone undefeated in four years of bouts.

Her knowledge of wrestling’s tricky moves–-back-step throws, head-locks, leg attacks–-eventually proved superior to The Black Amazon’s brute strength. She was able to pin the hulking African-American to the mat and cop first prize–-and with it much of the nation’s attention and acclaim.

Additional rewards came her way: a sneaker deal, a vaginal cream named after her. But that didn’t compare to the money she could make if she agreed to plunge down Niagara Falls in a titanium bubble. Taking TV, film rights and a book contract (with Stephen King ghosting) into account, The Shtarker stood to earn a million bucks. That’s right, a cool million–-and not in crapola currencies like Cryptocoin or Bitcoin, either. This was the real thing-–a load of greenbacks, delivered straight from the U.S. Mint.

The Shtarker’s husband was dead set against his 5 foot 4, 275-pound wife risking her life for a bundle of cash. He loved her too much for that and did not wish to see her go careening down The Falls and landing with a sickening thud. No fucking way, Jose!

Once again The Shtarker took issue with him. “You’re forgetting something important,” she pointed out. “I am a feminist icon, a role-model to millions of girls and women. I must rise to the occasion and lead the way for them. If I can conquer Niagara Falls, they will be inspired to achieve great things for themselves.”

But then, a day later, she had a change of heart and cried out, “What am I, nuts? It’ll take a miracle to survive The Falls. Why the hell should I chance death for the sake of female empowerment–-and a bit of financial security?”
“Now you’re talking.”

As time went by, though, The Shtarker began to back-track, equivocate. Finally she threw up her hands and said,“I don’t know what to do. I’m going to leave the decision up to the family. I’ll do whatever they think is best.”

That’s not what The Shtarker’s husband wanted to hear. Having grown up in a Hebrew orphanage without any identifiable relatives, it would fall to her family to make the call. Specifically, The Shtarker’s mother and father.

The Shtarker’s husband did not care for The Hefts, which was his secret name for her parents, both of whom had their daughter’s size but not her musculature. The Hefts were huge and obese, with rolls of fat hanging over their belts and asses like weather balloons. They were too fat, stinky and sickly to work. They were also shot through with venom and spite. Here are just a few of the things they despised:



-Jews, gays, Asians, Mexicans, Mormons, Catholics, African-Americans, Brahmins, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Shintoists, Gnostics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pagans, Unitarians and Rosicrucians.

–labor unions

-dwarf actors

-female sports announcers

Here are some of the things they managed to like:

-the KKK

-Wonder Bread

-dog shows

-the NRA

–alligator wrestling

-Donald Trump

Because The Hefts were overweight and ill enough to qualify for disability payments (the American Dream), they desperately wanted The Shtarker to try for the million-dollar prize. “It would be a blessing to have a little bit of money after a lifetime of poverty, illness and hardship,” is how Mrs Heft put it.
“Yore so right, Big Mama,” the Mississippi-born Mr Heft drawled. “It’s tahm we got whut we deserve for bein’ such loyal, devout, patriotic, white Christian-Americans.”

“Amen, Big Daddy. Amen!”

The Shtarker, always the obedient daughter, did as instructed and announced that she would accept the Niagara challenge. Her lawyer, manager and accountant began negotiating a contract with a vast armada of Disney attorneys.

The deal they finally thrashed out went like this. If The Shtarker managed to survive the trip down The Falls, the million-dollar prize would be hers. But if, heaven forbid, she died as a result of the stunt, tough titty. Disney would not be obliged to shell out one single penny.

As the Disney CEO said, imitating the company’s famed Bugs Bunny, “It’s all or n-n-n-nothing, f-f-f-folks. T-t-t take it or leave it!”

Once again, The Hefts urged The Shtarker to accept the deal. Her husband argued against it, but to no avail. The Shtarker eventually signed on. After that he was unable to spend much time with his wife, so busy was she with p.r flacks, reporters, talk show hosts, hairdressers and podcasters. They made love only once and even then it was a rush job. Consequently, The Shtarker did not realize that her husband’s testicles had slipped between her mammoth thighs; she came close to cracking his balls open like a couple of walnuts.

* * *

Came the fateful day. The Shtarker, standing on the American side and looking out over the The Falls, cried out, “That sure is one shit-load of water!”

The Hefts pretended not to have heard. Their focus was on the prize that was going to make them rich and improve their lives (beginning with liposuction and kidney transplants).

As for the Shtarker’s husband, he was nowhere to be found, having refused to take part in the public proceedings. He had no desire to be caught on camera while witnessing his wife’s horrific demise.

Instead he crept off to a nearby ginmill and watched the proceedings on TV: the reporters and photographers jostling for closer angles, the bleachers packed with thrill-seeking spectators, the souvenir stalls hawking buttons, hot-dogs and T-shirts, the politicians singing the praises of The Shtarker’s bravery and patriotism (she had pasted an American-flag decal on her crash helmet).

It was a tense, taut, highly dramatic scene–-and a unique one. After all, America’s most famous female athlete was about to take a precipitous plunge down the waterfall that divided two great nations, a waterfall that had shattered the lives of so many unfortunate human beings over the centuries.

The Shtarker’s husband winced when someone in a Mickey Mouse costume lifted a champagne bottle and smashed it against the capsule, sending it sliding down a greased runway. Fireworks exploded and the band played a Souza march as the capsule suddenly shot high into the air, then dropped and disappeared into the froth. Screams went up as the capsule became a mere speck in the grasp of that thundering force of nature.

The Shtarker’s husband winced as his wife spun down toward the basin, the rocks, the whirlpools! Then the capsule hit bottom with an explosive SMACK, bounced up, and disappeared in the swirling white water again. He felt nothing but dizziness, fear and pain.

Then an ESPN helicopter appeared in the sky and clattered down to film a Coast Guard lifeboat as it sped toward the bobbing capsule. Moments later the lifeboat began towing it toward the shore, where medics unlocked the hatch and pulled the unconscious Shtarker from the badly dented container.
They gave her various injections and whiffs of oxygen in a desperate attempt to revive her, but alas, none of these things worked. The woman many considered to be the most famous woman on earth, a champion shot-putter and discus-tosser, was pronounced DOA when her ambulance reached a nearby hospital.

The autopsy revealed something unexpected. The Shtarker had not been killed by the impact of the landing. What took her life, the doctors insisted, was a massive heart-attack. This posed a tricky question: when exactly did the attack occur? As she was zooming down The Falls? Or after she crash-landed and was knocked for a loop?

It was an important distinction, one which had a significant impact on the million-dollar prize. The Shtarker’s contract stated that she must survive the descent to qualify for the award. The Disney suits took the position that she had died of fright while she was shooting down The Falls–-which meant that no prize money need be paid.

The Hefts (and most Americans, always on the side of the underdog) insisted that The Shtarker was still alive when the capsule struck bottom. As a result, she and her estate deserved to be fully compensated.

The Shtarker’s husband did not take part in this legal squabble. Although he was the main beneficiary in his wife’s will, he declined to put in a claim. The reason? He wanted no part of Disney’s blood money. In his opinion it was they who had killed his beloved, shot-putting, cigar-chomping wife.

The case has been in litigation for many years now. Experts doubt whether it will be resolved at any time in the near future.