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Short Story: Pliers


By Shahram Sheydayi
Translated by Mamak Nourbakhsh exclusively for Gallery Mamak (

Sir, as a regular reader I'd like to have a forced interview with you. Should you accept you'll have enough to put together a short story tonight.

I accept.

First question: all formalities set aside, in an interview which was incidentally carried out by myself but which never got printed you once told me, or yourself, that you hated.

That's right, I do.

That's right but you didn't say what it was that you hated.

Go on. I'll eventually figure out what it is you're after.

Yes, in that interview you said that since you don't write of a tree or a valley as it really exists so your tree or your valley is actually giving the finger to the real tree or valley and that that's what sets them straight. You believe, and now I'm quoting, that your trees and valleys are your way of slighting them. My question is whether you've first accepted the tree and the valley as it truly is and then gone on to slight it. See, I'm having problems here. Can you explain this to me?  My entire life is mocking me as I pass through it. This is true of both our pasts and you're clinging on to a tree and a valley! What's more, you don't even stop there, you go on to give it an erotic meaning too.  You don't answer my questions the way you used to.  Let's go back to the previous interview.  You've already stated that what we are doing isn't called living. The very things like breathing, walking and the like. You've stressed that it's called 'running away'. Does this mean that to you 'escape' and 'life' are one?

Well, these are things I've said but I haven't emphasized cause; had I done that I wouldn't have been able to escape. That's right.

Excuse me, two teas, please.

In your stories we come across cranes and large tractors. One of your novels is even called Large Scissors  and your latest work is called Pliers. I don't plan to talk of objects or of objectification but I do feel that by turning to these objects you have started to mock and poke fun at mechanization. This mockery is but a moving  adamant derision.

Elisa enters carrying a tray with tea.

Hello, hello! This is Elisa my wife.

Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you!

Elisa has translated your works into French.

Yes, of course, I'd heard your name and I'm very pleased to meet you.

Good thing Elisa entered when she did. See, we were in Jakarta once when she saw a pigeon and suddenly got all wired up. She fished your work Pliers out of her handbag and fumbled through it as she shouted. I tried to figure out what was wrong but she just kept saying she'd found it and that the Pliers were this very bird.

Elisa, could you please tell the story yourself?  That's right, Jakarta, the bird, the pliers.

Later I realized they're all one. I've reread the end of the story several times. Which part? Precisely from the place where the female bird is cut off from its flock, the migrating flock.  She's left behind and she comes to rest unsettled in your balcony, right next to the pliers you've forgotten to put away. Every day when you wake up in the morning and open the window you see the bird next to the pliers. She's sitting there rubbing her beak against them and spreading her wings on the ground like a bird that is about to die. She acts stricken. When she calms down somewhat  she starts to speak with her beak glued to the pliers. She tells you the pliers are her husband, her dead husband who has been killed in one of the wars.

You open the windows every day and when you see those two you say to yourself that you're stuck.

Those very words are the keys you're giving your readers but unfortunately that key doesn't fit any lock. You've given your readers a key that they can always carry with them but one which opens no door. I don't know why you do this. My wife tells me that when she asked you to give her a copy of Pliers to be introduced in a publication, you put your hand in your pocket and pulled out a set of real pliers instead.  It looks like you weren't feeling well enough to joke.

My husband said you used to suffer when you gave him the Pliers. Your hand, actually both your hands, would tremble. We still have Pliers. If you'd care to turn around you'll see it on the bookcase next to the books. It's stuck among the others.

Don't let the tea get cold.

On page 47 of Large Scissors... Let me say that from the very first page   you were busy climbing stairs whose destination we never figured out.  On this page the reader suddenly realizes that from page one there's been a little boy following you but it's not till this page that you turn around and look behind you. You see the boy but neither one of you talks to the other. You stop being the narrator. The little boy begins to speak from this page and it looks like he goes over those very 47 pages. The boy descends the stairs on this page and at the end of the story the reader realizes that from that very moment you are the one who starts following the boy. The only difference is that you never, I mean the boy never turns around to look at you.

You don't tell us anything about the boy. It's strange. For close to 50 pages the boy talks but we don't understand a word of what he's talking about. Maybe the only thing that can be understood about him is that whenever he returns from school he looks into the stores, the mechanic's shop. He's suffering from something and there's even a point at which he talks of the book. He says, 'whenever they tighten a screw with a screwdriver or a bolt with a wrench I feel like they're squeezing my heart. '

In fact the closing of anything hurts him. Throughout your stories we see various mechanical tools shutting like prisons: mobile prisons, prisoners who feel their imprisonment which might be why the boy has been following you for 47 pages.  He sees you as the one capable of opening these prisons. Then when you begin to follow him through the rest of the 47 pages he feels secure.

At one point in the book he writes on the wall, 'the title to the book bothers me, change it.'

But in fact we're reading a book called Large Scissors, the very name that upsets  the boy, the one you don't change.

What I'm trying to say is that you are purposely, either purposely or you're sick, aggravating the situation.

Elisa, please!

No, let him go on I'm really enjoying this. He might well be one of my best readers. He's allowed to say whatever he likes. Please go on.

I'll make an example from Pliers. When that bird is suffering and when she sees the pliers as her murdered husband the situation is gruesome enough but you don't stop there. You magnify the situation and you take no pity on her. One day on the beach you find a white oval stone which you bring back, secretly place under her and actually drive her mad. As a reader I could see that the bird was deluded but there was still a chance that she might come out of it and not go mad, but you actually help her to complete her madness.

We all know how heavy Bach's music is, when intensified it brings pain and its monotony drives one crazy. Well, as a person I accept to listen to Bach but I decide on the extent and the mood I'm in when I listen to it. But you put the tape recorder on the balcony and you rewind the tape so that the bird is stuck with it all day long.

You are in fact a criminal.

Elisa, darling, you're driving yourself mad. You're being highly emotional and taking a psychoanalytical approach to the work.

The humor in your work creates problems... after these stories, after your humor, one reaches peaks of nervous convulsion. In other words, your humor stems from a sick mind.


I beg you...

It's like being struck by lightning. The only difference is that one doesn't know it. One bursts out  laughing at the time but then gradually, after maybe years, it turns black.

I hope you don't misunderstand. In fact, whenever one of Elisa's students asks her to introduce a good book she introduces one of your works.

Yes, I truly like your stories otherwise I wouldn't translate them. In a sense I might actually be in love with them.

He grimaces at his wife and she suddenly screams out: 'You're a criminal. You're a war criminal.'

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