I am writing a novel that is rewriting me.

 

Death is the only true magician.

 

Dreams need to be ripped open, their layers discarded like gift-wrap in order to come true.

 

Happiness is not created. It is uncovered.

 

Words should be harvested like crops.

 

Being mindful makes my mind full.

 

Breath is a gift that stokes the fire of life.

 

I am human. I know nothing.

 

 

I once had a black suitcase with a broken handle that I fixed by attaching a blue and white cotton scarf to the strap. I lugged it around Europe and it twisted and turned as I pulled, buckling under its weight. Still, it made the six-week journey. We all have weathered suitcases packed with dreams, hopes, achievements, disappointments, losses, successes. Even if our suitcases break or get too heavy, they will take us where we want to go as long as we don’t let go of that handle. 2015 was about belief and perseverance. Here’s to 2016! Make it amazing!

 

 

Love true

 

Beat fear

 

Hurt pain

 

Hope well

 

Grip fate

 

Load life

 

With zeal

 

Make guts

 

Rock hard

 

Seek self

 

Keep real

 

Grow wits

 

Shed hate

 

Look with

 

Wide eyes

 

Feel your soul

 

Open

 

This was a fun challenge! Would love to read your four letter word poems.🙂 For those of you who are interested, here’s a list of words to work with:  http://www.becomeawordgameexpert.com/wordlists4.htm

 

 

 

Originally published in Griffith Review Edition 44: Cultural Solutions

HULYA’S HEART BELONGED to words.

It was the heaviest item she packed when she migrated to Australia as a new bride and a new mother at sixteen. She settled in Footscray with her husband and his parents, leaving her youth in Turkey along with her family.

Footscray was as foreign as the prickly fruit displayed in shopfronts that lined the streets in the city centre. Here, the Asian shops had their own language. Men and women spoke with elastic words that stretched the ends of their sentences. By twenty, Hulya could navigate through the suburb with three kids in tow. She covered her nose when she passed the fruit and veggie shops, unable to handle the foreign smells of Asia. ‘Ouff’ was a common moan that accompanied her steps. ‘Ouff’ at the mango and spice, coriander and lemongrass. She scrunched up her nose, wondered about the bouquets of edibles that didn’t exist back home.

Hulya’s children huddled close to her as she steered her baby’s pram through the throng of petite people. They walked, pressed together like barnacles. Every week Hulya entered the world of the misunderstood whose names were as unpronounceable as hers.

Hulya’s English was the size of a kernel. Turkish words dominated her language but she rarely spoke them. Her mother-in-law was the matriarch of the family, a tall woman despite the hunch that clipped a few centimetres off her height. Every morning, she plaited her hair with a fine-toothed comb, a plate of water in her lap. She parted her long strands; dipped the comb in and out of the water until it left a damp trail down the length of her black and white hair. Her hands wove two plaits as intricate as the rope her son made at the Kinnears factory. Hulya’s unsaid words swelled inside her, fermenting with silence. She latched on to Footscray, stitched herself and her children a place among its parks, shops and markets the way her mother used to stitch her clothes.

Hulya’s was a world that belonged to others.

***

WHERE HULYA CAME from, childhood was exchanged for hard labour. There, mornings were greeted by the low drone of kids who sold simit, bagel-like-bread, balancing trays on heads heavy with life lessons. ‘Simitciiiiii,’ they yelled, weaving in and out of streets, their guttural calling almost a moan.

At twelve, Hulya finished primary school and started working the cotton fields with a diligence driven by hunger. Cotton was fairy floss, soft and stringy. Cotton was the currency that fed ten mouths, teased their taste buds with small portions that satisfied only their eyes.

Around her, a tide of people bent over rows of cotton, their heads shielded from the sun with scarves and makeshift newspaper caps. Hulya’s playground was dewy earth that oozed through her plastic shoes, cotton shells that pinched her fingers. She retreated into her mind while her body moved mechanically up and down, stuffing cotton into her apron pockets. Her thoughts soared above the field like fireworks. She dreamed of running free in a clean grassy field like that girl Heidi whose stomach never grumbled. She dreamed of chocolate and cola, the kind that was sold in the shop down the road from home. The shopkeeper was mean looking, with a bushy moustache and black olive eyes. Once, when he turned his back, Hulya and her friends pinched colourful chocolate bows from the counter and ate them while giggling down the dusty streets.

Hulya worked the cotton fields with her older sister Gonul who picked cotton to pay for her education. It gave her access to high school books, to worlds where minds were opened with words.

‘Study is the key to a better life,’ she’d say to Hulya whose stomach was tight, whose breath was sour from her empty belly.

Hulya’s education started with stale bread and olive oil, her little brother’s hungry screams. She finished primary school with the ability to read and write, but hunger and family came first. At thirteen, she enrolled in a sewing course so her hands could make bigger currency and fill their stomachs. High school was an expensive dream.

***

IN FOOTSCRAY, HULYA’S insides twisted like the spitfires on the branch in her front yard. Her mother-in-law coordinated meals and taught her how to cook. They cooked together, strained ingredients with their words.

‘Make sure you don’t stab the eggplant skin. It needs to be whole to carry the rice stuffing,’ her mother-in-law would caution.

‘Okay.’ Hulya kept her responses to a minimum while the unsaid things blistered. To speak up would make her disrespectful, upset her husband whose twelve-hour shifts drained him of the will to mediate. Hulya wanted to say, ‘this is my kitchen’ when her mother-in-law rearranged things or ‘he is my husband’ when she greeted her son when he came home. Instead, Hulya gathered her children around her as Footscray hugged them to its plump breast. She exercised her control outside the house where freedom was the English pleasantries exchanged with neighbours. ‘Hello,’ ‘how are you’, ‘thank you,’ she said to Glad, the woman with freckled skin. A brown fence separated their homes and Hulya often waved and chatted with her hands to the woman with cotton hair.

Hulya’s family welled in her eyes; spoke to her children through letters.

Her children sat on the carpet in the lounge on each side of her knees listening to their grandmother take shape in her voice. The letters were folded in neat squares and spilled photos onto the carpet.

They began with my dearest daughter.

Hulya’s voice broke with those few words and she breathed to still the tremors.

Before I start my letter, I hope that you and your children are in good health and I kiss you all with longing. Don’t worry yourself thinking about us, we are fine, but we miss you dearly.

Hulya filled her replies with hope, cheer and Australian dollars, hiding her unhappiness between the lines. She missed her family and the simplicity of belonging. It clogged her throat, spilled onto her cheeks daily. She missed words, the way they collected to tell a story in bound books like the ones her sister gave her. Hulya came of age through novels that showed her different ways of living that teased thoughts and challenged perceptions beyond the rocky road of her village.

The same books they had to bury in the backyard of her childhood home.

***

WHILE HULYA WAS learning to stitch at sewing school, the streets of Turkey were scorching with domestic political and sectarian violence. There was blood and fire, whispers of fascism and communism, leftists and rightists. The country was in economic distress; people were angered by social injustices, the gulf between the rich and poor. Hulya watched the fighting on the news, heard about a local barber’s son being jailed for having normal literature. The same ones Hulya and Gonul stored in the wooden arch of a sofa bed that doubled as their couch. The covers were ragged but the words of peace, of modern, progressive societies were strong.

Gonul shone with things that Hulya came to understand after reading her sister’s books and attending meetings. They were held in a small room above a clothes shop and Hulya sifted through the magazines and the copies of Luminous newspapers on the table.

‘We can save the world,’ girls and boys screamed at the meetings, ‘good days will come! There will be a brighter Turkey!’ They discussed things that people wrote on the walls of homes. ‘Damn fascism!’ ‘Damn the fascists!’ Hulya watched as homeowners painted over the graffiti, their strokes frantic, their hands shaking.

Hulya feared the uncertainty that rattled the country and read books indoors, alternating between stories of Dostoyevsky, Hikmet and Nesin. They showed her a world beyond the cotton fields and sewing school, where minds were not bothered by small things like the length of a girl’s skirt.

When the violence threatened to erupt in civil war, martial law was declared and the Turkish army intervened to restore public order. One morning, a month after violence had escalated in the country’s southeast, Hulya carried her craving for the smooth taste of fresh milk to the lounge room where the sun spilled onto their cement floor. The backyard door was open and her baby brother walked in and out of the kitchen half naked, nibbling on a piece of bread. She hoped there was enough bread and cheese to take to sewing school for lunch. It was hard to keep the fingers steady when the stomach was empty.

‘Sevim!’

The shrill voice chilled Hulya’s spine. It was their neighbour Esma screaming out her mother’s name.

Geliyorlar, Sevim!’ said Esma, reaching the backyard door.

Hulya’s mother shuffled out of the kitchen. ‘Hayirdir Insallah. What happened?’ she said, wiping her hands on a tea towel.

The woman doubled over by the door, clutching her floral nightdress.

Hulya’s heart sank to the pit of her empty stomach. Someone’s dead, she thought. Someone’s dead.

‘They’re coming, Sevim! They’re coming! Saklayin!’

‘Who’s coming? Hide what?’ Her mother’s face was as calm as her voice.

Jandarma! The army is coming to search our homes for the political books. They have started in nearby neighbourhoods!’

‘What?’ Hulya’s mother slapped her knee. ‘Gonul!’ she screamed for her oldest daughter. ‘Gonul!’

Hulya’s hands shook with fear.

Gonul rushed out of her bedroom, fixing the collar of her school uniform. ‘What, Mum?’

‘Quick. Quick. Gather your books, the modern ones. The army is coming.’

‘Oh my god,’ said Gonul, looking at Hulya. ‘Come on!’ She hurried back to the bedroom where their younger sister Pervin was still asleep.

Hulya willed her legs to move but a terrifying thought bolted her feet to the floor.

Jail.

Her sister, her mother, they would all go to jail.

Panic pushed her forward past Esma to wake her oldest brother Nadir who was fast asleep on a divan outside.

‘What?’ he said, his dark hair dishevelled.

‘The jandarma is coming! Quick we have to get rid of Gonul’s books!’

‘Shit.’ He bolted upright and ran inside. Hulya followed, longing for her father who was still at work. Fear grew with every step, loosened her hands and feet. Jail. It was more than iron bars and barbed wires. People were tortured behind four walls and left with their screams. It said so in newspapers, showed it in movies. She imagined Gonul’s feet tied to a wooden post and whipped into surrender, her mother being electrocuted with live wires.

‘Where will we put them, Mum?’ said Gonul, juggling a handful of books. ‘Nadir?’ He shrugged, hugging a stack to his chest.

‘Give them to me, Mum.’ Hulya rescued the books from her mother’s shaking hands. Among them were the Luminous newspapers that were circulated at meetings. Some were her sister’s schoolbooks. ‘Hey, you can’t throw these! You need them!’

Gonul shook her head. ‘It doesn’t matter, we can’t risk it. We throw everything!’

‘Come on,’ said Esma. ‘In the garden! That’s what everyone’s doing.’

‘What? You mean bury them?’ said Gonul.

Esma nodded.

‘Nadir, grab a shovel!’ Hulya’s mother said, rushing to the side of the house. ‘Hadi.’

Hulya and Gonul followed, dropping the books on to dirt. Nadir dug a big hole and Hulya watched as her mother ploughed the dirt with her fingers. When the hole was waist deep, Gonul threw the books that kept her company at night and made her laugh till daybreak. This is a dream, Hulya thought, as she sent Dostoyevsky, Hikmet, Márquez and dozens of others to their grave. Hulya grieved for those bound treasures and felt unsafe, hungry and as lost as the buried books.

***

IN HER TENTH year in Footscray, Hulya’s in-laws moved to Turkey and Hulya and her family moved to Meadow Heights. She left the concrete suburb for rolling green fields, winding roads and slanting hills where ‘welcome to Turkiye’ graffiti greeted them near the entrance. Old men in black baggy pants –salvars– walked the streets, shoulders hunched, hands behind their backs. Some walked with worry beads dangling from their fingertips. Front doors were littered with shoes that were exchanged for house slippers; women sipped Turkish coffee with neighbours in lounge rooms and wove gossip as intricate as their coffee cup readings. Meadow Heights was a haven for people whose hearts beat in Turkey, but whose legs were rooted in Australia.

Hulya adjusted to the suburb where English was spoken with the same broken rhythm and Turkish was the first language. There was a shared history, hardships could be exchanged with words, and friendships were layered with culture. Hulya finally entered Australia through local Turkish newspapers that were stacked next to Lebanese bread at the Turkish deli.

She followed Paul Keating’s reforms, developed opinions about Australia, its society, saw through its hypocrisy. ‘Why people say go back to own country when they no like people? Hmm? They forget about Aborigine people, what they do to them?’

For Hulya, the country crystallised through Turkish words and so did her identity. Glenroy library was a fifteen-minute drive down Pascoe Vale Road, the artery of the northern suburbs. The library was a grey arched building reminiscent of ancient Greek architecture. Hulya was reunited with books and scoured the aisles weekly. Her stories spanned continents and centuries and she lost herself in fictional works that filled her with worlds and possibilities. She took her daughters with her and ushered them towards the teen book aisles. ‘Reading make the mind bigger!’ she’d say and fill her own bag with novels that would puncture the plastic.

Books gave Hulya the courage to raise her daughters with Turkish and Western values. She loved novels about disenfranchised women who rose above differences to find themselves and the strength to stand their ground. She learned that fiction mirrored life and presented various perspectives. Hulya instilled the strength of heroines in her daughters and taught them that substance was innate and not measured by a dress code. She taught them how to see the similarities in people and that nothing should be taken on face value.

Literature helped Hulya regain the strength and belonging she’d lost the morning the soldiers arrived.


‘HADI KALKIN! KALKIN!’ 
Hulya felt a cold jab to the ribs and wished her brother would stop moving in his sleep.

‘Get up!’

There was a scream and her eyes flared open as a big black boot walked around their makeshift bed on the floor.

Hulya’s sister Pervin shook by her side. ‘What’s going on?’ she whispered to Hulya as Gonul pulled the doona over her shivering body.

Tears stung Hulya’s eyes.

‘Are you all deaf? Get up now!’ said the soldier, grasping his rifle.

There was no time for fear as Hulya and her siblings filed into the lounge room, their flimsy pyjamas clinging to skinny limbs. Her mother grabbed her baby brother whose cries rang in the crowded room.

Four soldiers gutted Hulya’s home, their uniforms the colour of dead grass. They flipped the cushions on the sofa bed with the ends of their big rifles, clanked pots and pans in the kitchen.

This is it, thought Hulya, groggy with sleep and waking fear. They will find the books. They will torture us in a small Turkish prison.

‘Where is your husband?’ the Captain demanded.

‘He…he’s at work,’ her mother said trying to console her baby boy. ‘He’s a nightwatchmen on a watermelon field.’

Pervin and Gonul clung to each other for warmth. Hulya hardly felt the cold breeze that sent shivers through the room. The backyard door was wide open and she was convinced that her rattling bones would give away the location of the books.

‘Nothing here, Captain,’ a young soldier said with a nod.

Another paced outside, his boots slapping the cement floor.

Hulya held her breath. The soldier stood a few metres away from the grave of books that taught her to think big and free, to see the world in shades of grey.

The Captain looked them up and down without expression.

Yuruyun,’ he said, motioning his men towards the door.

The soldiers left, one after the other, as purposefully as they came.

Hulya sucked in a breath and her legs buckled in relief.

Her family was safe.

***

In the year that followed, uncertainty and fear haunted Hulya. Martial law was a temporary solution; fights continued to pepper the streets, the military threatened to overthrow the government. By the time Hulya turned fifteen, fate intervened and a nineteen-year-old Turkish boy from Australia asked for her hand in marriage. He was safety, he was comfort, he was a new life in a country that promised to help her family. A country that offered her a safe place to belong.

Susan Whelan, author of Don’t Think about Purple Elephants recently invited me to be a part of an interview on Books Writers Read which was featured on her blog Reading Upside Down. Here it is🙂

Books Writers Read with Demet Divaroren

Author: Demet Divaroren (WebsiteGoodreads)

Demet DivarorenI am very pleased to welcome Demet Divaroren to Reading Upside Down. I first started chatting with Demet after readingComing of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia, a book she co-edited with Amra Pajalic, and I have been inspired by her positive attitude and wonderful perspective on culture and creativity.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
I recently finished The Fisherman by Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma, a beautiful, rich, haunting tale of love, brotherhood, madness and magic. Its visceral, vivid language haunts me still.

Do you have a favourite genre? What do you enjoy most about it?
I read character driven books from any genre that captures my heart and imagination.

Do you have a book you like to re-read? If yes, which book?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for a dose of magic and wisdom. When I first read it ten years ago, it helped me believe in my dream to become a writer and unlocked the self-belief I needed to get there.

Where do you read most often? Why?
I have taken over a bench in my kitchen that was once a dining area. It has multicoloured cushions and a windowsill for my coffee cup. I share the space with our breadbox. It’s the ideal place…It gets sun and it’s close to food!

Do you have a favourite book from your childhood?
Willy the Wimp taught me that it was okay to be my shy, nerdy self.

When the Wind Changed scared the crap out of me and I use to try real hard not to frown. Still trying :)

How do you choose which book to read next – Cover? Blurb? Recommendation from a friend? Reviews?
I’ve been burned too many times to trust a cover and/or blurb. If there’s a book I want to read I download a sample on ibooks on my phone and read an excerpt. I hardly ever buy/borrow a book without reading a sample.

You can put one book you have written and one book by another author into a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. Which books would you choose and why?
I’d put my co-edited anthology Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia with Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. Both capture the diversity of the Australian and human experience.

Can you share little bit about your current or latest writing project?
My current work in progress is a contemporary young adult novel titled The Lost Boys set in working class Melbourne. It is written from alternating points of view and follows the struggles, clashes and connections of seven residents of Hope Street. It delves beyond stereotypes to explore themes of intergenerational violence, cross-cultural friendships, class and multiculturalism.

A young boy overheard his father talking about a road that led to success.

“Please, Father, point me in the right direction,” he said. “I want to be a success!”

“The road is a day’s walk past the forest. It is steep, my son. It has cliffs and sharp edges. You must wait until you are ready.”

The boy retreated to his room, undeterred. During the night, he searched his legs and found the strength to walk. In his hands he found a strong grip. By morning he had grown in size. He packed bread, cheese and water and set off on his journey.

It took the boy a day to reach the forest but no road crossed his path. He pushed on for three days and nights until his legs shrunk back to their normal size and his hands shook with fatigue, thirst and hunger. He felt as small as the pebbles that grazed his feet. I must return before I starve, he thought. He turned back the way he came, drinking from streams and feasting on berries that hardly quenched his appetite. Anger tared at him and he cursed at the lie that was success. It doesn’t exist, he thought. The whole thing is a sham.

When the boy arrived home, he found his father seated beside the window.

“It’s a lie, Father. There is no road that leads to success. All there is is the blisters on my feet.”

His father turned to the boy. “You are sure, my son?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Tell me about your journey.”

“It was a flat, dusty path, Father. No steep road, no dangerous cliffs. I turned back as soon as I realised success did not exist.”

The boy’s father got up with a small smile. “You were on the right road.”

“But it can’t be! You said there would be cliffs!”

“Your doubts are the cliffs in your mind, my son.”

The boy nodded, trying to understand.

“The road to success begins when you overcome them.”

Love multiplies with timeLove

Adds without subtracting

Measures infinity

With irrational numbers

Divides two

To equal one

Great common denominator

On Route

I want to get laid for the first time.

I mean, I’m sixteen and the only thing I’ve poked is the odd pimple on my chin.

Yeah, I’m frustrated.

“What are you thinking about, honey?”

“Nothing, Ma.”

There’s no way I’ll tell her. There’s a mother-son line you just don’t cross. Like talking about sex, hugging or any affection, period. Oh, and no more dropping me off at school either. I catch the bus.

“You sure, honey?” she says. Her hands are white on the steering wheel.

We’re going to visit a woman called Grandma. I don’t know her. But I remember her house.

“Yeah, Ma.”

“Because you know you can talk to me, right?” She looks at me. Her eyes are open, worried.

“Yep.”

“Good, good. Everyone needs someone to talk to.” She nods her head at the road and mumbles something to herself. She does that.

 

Ma

According to the boys at school my ma’s a MILF. A ma they’d like to fuck. She’s more like a PITA. Pain in the arse. Well, she can be. When she’s on my back about doing things together. Like movies. I mean, doesn’t she get that it’s dorky? She has issues. And no friends.

“How’s therapy going?” I say.

It shits me. Like, maybe if I’d inherited her genes, and not my anonymous father’s, I would have been laid by now. My father must come from an ugly gene pool and his sperm killed my chance at good looks. Maybe if I wasn’t a result of a one night stand and they’d taken their time, it would have been different. It doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t.

“It’s going good, honey. Doc’s been a great help.”

What? Oh, yeah her sessions. She’ll need two next week after today’s visit. She did last time. That’s what she said. I was younger, then.

“We don’t have to go, Ma. If she makes you feel worse.”

“That was in the past.” Sweat’s stuck her blond hair to her forehead. “We can’t run away from our fears. And this, this visit’s goodbye.”

Ah…yeah, okay.

“It’s goodbye.” She bites her lip. “I have a few things to say to her face. Before she goes.”

“Hmm…”

“They’re for me, not her. I have to say them for me. Hon,” she says worry spilling out of her eyes, “you know not to listen to her, right? Don’t listen to a word she says—”

“I know,” I say, chewing a nail. “They’re only words.”

But whatever they are, these words, they mean something to Ma. Otherwise we wouldn’t be going and the next time she’d see Grandma would be in a hole. She said that once. “I mean, she’s your ma. How bad can she be?”

Her lips move like she’s gonna be sick. “Thanks for coming with me, hon.”

“Like I’d leave you alone.” A real man knows when he’s needed.

And my ma needs me.

 

Cobwebs

Grandma’s house is like something on the front cover of an R.L Stine book. Minus the ghosts. That’s on the outside. Inside it smells…old. Like my room when the windows are locked and I’ve been farting.

I don’t remember her.

I remember…cobwebs.

And emptiness.

It’s still…empty.

Except for the couches and the dead pot plant.

And the cobwebs. They’ve changed. There’s more since last time, hanging off the ceiling, sticky, complicated. Bit like how it would be when I get laid. If I ever do.

 

 

The Man in the Room

A man is sitting in Grandma’s room, near her bed. The room stinks of breath, when it’s sick.

“Hey ya kid,” he says to me.

“Hey.” I don’t touch him. He’s all shabby. Hairy, matted.

“You’ve grown up.”

“That’s your uncle Barry,” says Ma. She smiles, but it looks like someone’s pinched her face.

“Yeah.” I’m related to that? I could’ve been worse. I could’ve looked like him.

Ma walks to the bed. I go with her, standing close. Hear her breathing. Quick. There’s a big cross above the bed, hanging, heavy.

I see Ma’s hand tremble. I hold it. Breaking the rules, crossing the line, but they’re my rules to break. My hands hurt, fingers sting where I’ve chewed them.

I ignore my heart. Why is it tap, tap, tapping so hard?

I reckon this is how it would beat when I’m naked, stiff, about to lose it.

 

Venom Vomit

Choking sounds.

Coming from the bed that looks empty.

Almost.

There’s a bump in the middle. We get closer. It looks like bones, piled up, in the shape of a human.

“She’s nearly gone,” says Barry. He mouths bitch.

“I’m still alive, you prick.” The bones talk, click together, sharp. “Who you talking to? One of your thief friends?”

He looks miserable, like sadness has curled the hair on his face.

We reach the bed. Bones hide in skin, grey, wrinkly.

“It’s me,” Ma says. She squeezes my hand, hard.

“Huh, look who it is, Barry. It’s the slut I spat out.”

Black eyes look at me. Squint. I’m not scared.

“And her skinny bastard.”

Ma squeezes. Harder.

“Say whatever you want, they don’t affect me. Not anymore.” Ma’s stiff. Head high. “They are nothing. Just words.”

And harder.

“See this, Barry?” The bones nod at me. “That’s what happens if you let every cock come between your legs!”

Words Will Never Hurt Me

I’m hot…I’m hot and words are exploding in my head.

Bastard. Cock. Slut.

Her words are all dead, broken in my brain. Nothing’s survived, no words are coming.

Ma’s trembling. I squeeze her hand. My hand slips. Hot, burning.

“I’ve forgiven you, Mum.” Ma’s shaky voice. Forgiving bones.

A laugh. Shrill.

Bones scrape against bones.

Still there’s no words, but I’m sweating and sweating, down my back.

The minutes tick, tick, tick and I still drown, trapped. My clothes stick to me like I stick to Ma.

Scared.

Of words.

Bastard. Slut. Cock.

I’m not scared. Say it. Can’t say it!

I’m not scared!

“I’m here, Ma. She’s not gonna hurt you. I’m here.”

Earthquake in my head.

Say it, say it!

“Ma’s not a slut! You are!”

Waves and waves swallow me.

One for the Road

I hear nothing.

But Ma’s crying in the front.

Tears stick her hair to her mouth. “I’m sorry, hon, I’m sorry.” She rocks, hitting her head on the steering wheel. “I shouldn’t have brought you.”

I touch her forehead, make her stop. Wipe her face; it’s wet with tears and spit. My hands no longer trembling.

“You did fine, Ma,” I say, “real fine.”

She nods, mumbles, nods again. She starts the car. “Thanks, hon.”

We drive away from the house.

The house with cobwebs and ghosts.

The End

This story placed 73rd in the 2011 Writers Digest Short Story Competition’s Young Adult category

In 2014

I worked hard for my sanity.

I rescued words from deep ends.

I travelled, got unravelled, travelled again.

Chased my roots, roots chased me.

My plans made their own plans.

Universe conspired with life on lessons.

Loved life. Death loved life too.

Love thrived, tears nourished, hope breathed.

Happiness wrestled past for the present.

Writer, thirty four, came of age.

 

2015, be good to us all.

Here’s to love, laughter, kindness, compassion.

xxx

Her lips are fat, crooked, as if they’re stuck on. They shine like a red light. She looks too big in our lounge; her hands long and thin, her boobs like the melons my dad loved.

He’d bring one home every day, small and green, as shiny as a bald skull. He’d cut halfway with a knife; rip the rest open with his hands, feed Mum with wet fingers until red juice dripped down her chin. She’d grab his face then, wipe her chin on his beard, kiss his lips.

Maybe that’s why he left. Maybe this woman’s melons are sweeter.

Mum’s sitting next to me, kneading her hands that have wrinkled from cleaning. She smells of white king and scrubbing. Her breathing is slow, mouth open, filling her insides with air as if to keep words in. She stares at her lap while the thief on the opposite couch surveys the room, eyes darting past the pink carnations on the coffee table where the family photo used to be.

I pat Mum’s knee, and she rests her hand on mine. The smell of chlorine clouds the room.

“I’m sorry,” says the thief, her fat lips barely moving. “So sorry.” Her head hangs low, eyes rest on Mum’s green slippers.

I want to grab her words, throw them at her like arrows. “Sorry isn’t good enough. Isn’t that what you people say? Too little, too late?”

Mum’s hand stiffens, her palm wet on top of mine. She talks in Turkish, her voice haunted by him and his promises that died on this woman’s fat lips.

“What did you say? Please,” says the thief, her ghostlike face finding Mum’s. Her voice is small, each word light, without meaning.

Mum’s voice still heavy in the air, like an angry song. I hope it shatters this foreigner’s ears, curls around her throat. In here she makes no sense, her hair too yellow, skin too white, her language without passion. She belongs outside where everything is bland, without spice.

“Tell me why you’re here or leave.”

Her face is pale like I’ve sucked out her oxygen. “I promise,” she wheezes, taking a breath. “I didn’t know he was married.”

“This isn’t church. We’re not interested in your confessions. What do you want? You haven’t taken enough?”

Mum elbows me, shakes her head, tries to keep her features still but I see her chin tremble, know how it must hurt her to see this woman in the lounge that once sheltered her marriage, kept it safe from the unknown.

The thief doesn’t know where to look; her hands massage her chest, her painted fingers dig into her skin. I imagine them wiping my father’s brow, erasing Mum’s fingerprints.

“Please…just listen,” she says, breathing heavy as if our air is suddenly thick. She opens her bag, fingers fluttering like Mum’s on the dance floor, when her hips used to shimmy with life before my father left her and the heart attack slowed down her legs.

The woman sucks on an asthma pump, taking deep breaths. “He lied to me too.” She looks at Mum’s walking cane near the couch. “I left him as soon as I found out. I swear it.”

“Huh.” Mum’s sigh is throaty, like gurgling spit. Her finger circles the air slowly the way it did when she made Dad’s favourite köfte. She used to fry the meatballs for him, making music in her kitchen with crackling oil, clinking plates. She’d cry dicing the onions and Dad would joke that he could taste the tears in the meatballs, that they made it so much better. I wonder what he tastes now at this woman’s table where there is no flavour.

“I…I…” she sniffles, wipes at tears with the tip of a tissue. Is that how she touches him, with the tips of her fingers, poking the dark hairy man with an accent? No doubt she expects him to shower before he touches her so the sweat that sticks to him at the end of each day does not blemish her skin. She’d never breathe him in like Mum used to. “He kept coming back, said you were getting a divorce,” she says.

Her words fill me with hate—it bubbles in my arms, my stomach. I want to poke her eyes out with her pointy shoes, break the woman that stole my mother’s smile.

“I just want to explain.”

I stand, walk to the coffee table. The crystal vase separates us. It is empty like this house full of halves. I see her reflection change shape around the glass, and my fingers twitch. “We are not interested. Do you understand? Two years have passed; we’ve had enough. Leave.” I wipe that vase every day; know how it feels against my palm; smooth, cool like the crisp shell of a watermelon.

She looks small with her wet eyes dripping. “No please, I’m sorry. I have to tell you—”

“I said leave. Or I will make you.” The vase twinkles like the diamonds on her ears.

“No, kizim…” Mum’s words heavy behind me.

The woman shakes her head, chest heaving, her mouth chasing breath. She reaches for her pump, sucks until her cheeks cave in. “I lost…too. I came here,” she chokes, “to…tell you…I’ve been punished. I…he, I lost my baby. I can never have children.”

Her sobs anger me more. I have heard them on actors in old Turkish movies, faking grief. I see my father’s face in this lounge, laughing at the bad acting, his strong arms around me and Mum. There is nothing where his arm used to be. “I hope you both never find happiness,” I say, watching my father dissolve into this woman, watching a part of me go with him.

She’s sweating now, eyeing me in shock. She gets up and her bag scatters to the floor. Her perfume, lipstick, tampons vomit out of her handbag onto our carpet. She crouches down to clean her dirt, her head bent.

I see the grey glint of her pump a foot away.

I pick it up; feel its pulse in my palm, her secondary heart.

She’s on her knees, surveying the floor, the couch. “Where is it?” Her hand on her chest. “My pump,” she says, trying to steady her breathing. She looks up, eyes glazed. “I’ve lost—”

“This?”

 

The End

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