May 31 2012

Excerpt from Chapter 9

by Zoya Pirzad

Things We Left Unsaid
A novel
by Zoya Pirzad
Oneworld (2012)

Zoya Pirzad is a renowned Iranian-Armenian writer and novelist. She
has written two novels and three collections of short stories,
all of which have enjoyed international success. Things We Left
Unsaid has been awarded multiple prizes, including the prestigious
Houshang Golshiri award for Best Novel of the Year and her most
recent collection of stories, The Bitter Taste of Persimmon, won the
prize for Best Foreign Book of 2009 in France. She grew up in Abadan,
where this novel is set, and now lives in Tehran.

Chapter 9

I went inside and locked the door behind me. In Abadan, nobody locked
the door in the middle of the day; I only did so when I wanted to
make sure I was alone. My penchant for self-criticism meant that I had
challenged myself on this more than once: What does locking the door
have to do with being alone? To which I always answered: I don't know.

I leaned up against the door and closed my eyes. After the bright
light and heat outdoors, and the noise of the children, the cool,
quiet chiaroscuro of the house was lovely. The only sound was the
monotonous humming of the air conditioners, and the only smell, a
hint of Artoush's cologne hanging in the hallway. I felt like having
a coffee.

I looked at the kitchen clock. It was just before ten. Mother and Alice
would certainly turn up within half an hour. I'll waitł I thought,
so we can have coffee together, and took the pack of cigarettes out
of the fridge. Where had I heard that cigarettes would not go stale
if kept in the fridge? I didn't smoke much, but when the house was
empty, I liked to sit by the window in the green leather armchair,
lean back, puff, and think. In these rare moments of solitude, I tried
not to think about daily chores like fixing dinner, getting Armen to
study, Artoush's forgetfulness and indifference. I would reminisce
about things I usually didn't have time to think about. Like our
house in Tehran - its little yard and big rooms, its long hallway
that was dark even in the middle of the day. My father used to come
home at noon, wash his hands and face, sit down at the table and eat
a big lunch. He ate whatever Mother had prepared that day with great
enthusiasm, listening attentively to her recount the morning's events
in minute detail: how the watermelon she had purchased proved pale
and unripe once cut open. About the rising price of pinto beans. About
the fights between me and Alice, which were a daily occurrence. Father
would mutter things under his breath that we could not quite make out,
or if we could, we would not remember. Then he would get up from the
table, thank Mother for lunch, and head down to his room, at the end
of the somber hallway. It was a small room with brown velvet curtains,
always drawn, and cluttered with stuff that Mother would constantly
complain about, saying, 'Why do you keep this junk?!'

After the forty-day commemoration of his death, Mother went into
Father's room with Alice and me, and she cried. 'God only knows why
he kept all this junk.' The floor-to-ceiling shelves were stuffed
with books and newspaper clippings and magazines and half-finished
crossword puzzles. There were letters from people none of us knew, not
I, nor Mother, nor Alice. There were group pictures of my father with
his friends when he was young - friends that none of us had ever seen.

Alice choked up and Mother wept. 'For all these years! Why did he hang
on to all this junk?' I opened the books and closed them. I examined
the broken wristwatches, recalling, as I turned them over, how Mother
always complained of Father's lack of punctuality. In an old shoebox
I saw rusty razor blades and in a wood crate, a whole assortment of
empty aftershave bottles. As far back as I could remember, Father
had a bushy beard and he never used aftershave.

In that little room at the end of the hallway Alice found nothing
worth keeping. I took the books, and Mother dried her tears, opened
the brown velvet curtains and threw out everything she could put her
hands on. With the little room at the end of the hallway emptied,
Mother felt her principal duty had been accomplished, and with an
uncluttered mind, she sat down to mourn for Father. Since then,
the phrase, 'If your late father were alive...' had become her litany.

Little by little we forgot that nothing would have been any different,
even if Father were still alive. Father would read his books, solve
his crossword puzzles, and eat fatty foods. He would not share his
opinion about anything, or, when he did, we would not hear it, or would
not remember it. We would get on with our own lives. I would come to
Abadan with Artoush and raise my children. Alice would go to England
for a few years, ostensibly to study nursing, but secretly hoping to
find an English husband. Mother would wash the kitchen floor twice a
day, backbite about the sort of women who stored Persian melons and
watermelons in the fridge without washing them first, and find some
reason to worry every day.

With my head sunk deep in the green chair, I thought of the Simonians.

The son's elegant hands, the mother's rhinestone embroidered shoes,
and Emily, who had yet to speak a word to me. I thought about what
kind of woman Emily's mother must have been. Mother had said, 'She
went crazy and turned up in Namagerd.' I wondered how old I had been
the year we went to Namagerd. Eight? Maybe eleven? Or perhaps about
the same age as my twins were now.

I heard the gate squeak and craned my neck to see Mother and Alice
coming. In the sharp sunlight, with her flappy yellow dress, my sister
looked like a big sunflower among the trees and the hedgerows. Mother,
wearing a black dress, looked thin and hunched, like a stick of wood.

Armen used to say, 'When Aunt Alice and Nana walk side by side, they
look like Laurel and Hardy.' My sister was carrying a big cardboard
box. I knew what it was without looking. Alice observed her Friday
visits to the Mahtab Bakery to buy cream puffs more religiously than
her Sunday visits to church.