Iran News ...


Short Story: Van Gogh's Cousin

By Farideh Khorrami
Translated Exclusively for Gallery Mamak By Mamak Nourbakhsh

I turned off the vacuum cleaner, lay down spread eagled on the ground and took a deep breath. I had been running like a dog since early morning to get the house clean. Nazanine picked up the plate of cheese puffs that was in front of Nima and ran into the kitchen with it leaving an orange trail of crumbs behind her. She then crammed the cheese puffs into her mouth, put the empty plate on the kitchen counter and announced: "Mom, I'm hungry!"

"Go give your brother this cookie while I set the table."

I spread  a tablecloth on the floor in front of the TV, and laid out plates, spoons and glasses for everyone.

Nazanine asked: "What's for lunch, Mom?"

"Ghorme Sabzi."

"I don't like it."

"Well, you certainly liked it up to last night but if you don't like it today you can have some of your brother's soup."

I placed the pots with the rice and the stew in the middle of the tablecloth and got some lavash bread for myself to eat the stew with. Fereshteh used to say 'if you want to lose weight just stop eating rice!'

When I was lifting the pot of soup from the stove there was a knock at the door. It was Fereshteh.

"Got any potatoes?"

"There should be a few left over, go get them!"

"Your TV is off again! Don't you get bored to death in this house?"

Fereshteh headed for the patio from which she shouted: "What happened? Did you read the rest?"

"He finally proposed."

A potato fell out of her hand. With gaping eyes she asked: "Really? What did she answer?"

"She said, 'no, no, never'!"

"Really? Ugly slut! She ancient! She never had a penny to her name and she couldn't sell a single painting all her life. To top it all she was never much to look at!"

Again Nazanine said, "Mom, I'm hungry!"

Fereshteh said, "Go, go, get your kids some food. I'll come back this afternoon and you can tell me the rest."

I served Nazanine some food and placed the plate in front of her but I had to spoon-feed Nima. He ate the first few spoonfuls hungrily and then got bored. To make him finish his food I had to make up the noises of every single animal in the zoo. In the space between the noises of one animal and the other I told Nazanine, "Hurry up! Eat faster, I want to clean up."

But no word or sentence, regardless of the pleading in it, was able to change her 'slow motion' eating. Nima was finally full and took off but Nazanine was still playing with the beans in her stew; she was busy decorating the edges of her plate with them. Had I stayed there to watch her we would have got into yet another fight: another good excuse for her to sulk and not eat the rest of her food.

I picked up the pot cover and placed it under my head. I took my book, lay down beside the tablecloth and toiled through a couple of pages. My eyes wouldn't stay open. I was wondering what I would have answered had I been van Gogh's cousin and had he proposed to me. I'm sure he would have proposed by a calm lake or an endless verdant field. He wouldn't have done it the way Mohsen had done it: in the tunnel of horror at the amusement park. That's when he had told me that he loved me and he'd actually proposed at the gas station on the highway.

I saw myself in a vast green field,  sitting  by a stream. There were fat dignified cows grazing around and horses slowly trotting past. A tall man with brown hair was getting off a horse and coming toward me. The echo of his footsteps in the field was like a fist hammering on the door. I knew what he wanted to say. He had picked a bunch of wild flowers and had placed it in the saddle on the horse. When he got to me he pulled out a handful of withered alfalfa to offer me. I got up and screamed: "No, no! Never!"

The echo of my voice in the field was like a bunch of keys being hammered on the door. As I screamed the cows bolted and the horses crashed to the ground. A childlike voice called out from behind the hills, "someone's knocking at the door, Mom!"

I bent over and cried out, "who is it?"
Then I got up to look through the peephole. It was Mohsen's parents!

I called out, "Sorry Aziz, I'll open in a minute, I'm looking for my keys. I locked the door cause of the kids."

Nima's tricycle, together with a mixture of soup and stew was standing in the middle of the tablecloth. Crooked lines of lavash crumbs were weaving their way around the house. As usual my stomach ache came back with a vengeance at the thought of Aziz's name. I parked the tricycle in a corner and called out again: "Sorry, Aziz, shamefully sorry! I'll open the door in a minute!"

I grabbed hold of the four corners of the table cloth with everything in it and crammed it all into the bathroom. I shut the door tight and opened the door to the apartment. She was fuming fury from her nostrils. Agha Jan looked like he'd been stung by an ugly scorpion as he stood writhing at the door.

 "Welcome! How wonderful of you to drop in!" I chimed.

Aziz retorted, "We haven't come to stay, there was no need for you to take so long. We've come for the deed to the house. Mohsen knows about it."

I replied, "Oh but do make yourselves at home! You've come over after all this time, I'm not about to let you leave so soon! Tea is ready!"

Agha Jan sprawled out on the couch and asked, "Do you always place pot covers on your couches instead of cushions? Where are the children?"

I didn't remember putting the cover on the couch. I had to go to the bathroom.

Instead I replied, "Make yourselves at home! Let me take your jackets and then call in the children."

Aziz headed for the children's room with me trailing behind.  She was tracing the dry bread crumbs on the floor, shaking her head and tut tutting. Once in the room, she bent over and kissed Nazanine. She then took Nima in her arms and headed for the living room once more. In the middle of the hallway, she came to an abrupt halt, held Nima up in the air and announced, "Oh, oh, oh, this child is wet!"

Still holding Nima in the air she headed for the bathroom. Arriving at her destination, she placed the child on the ground to open the door and then she stood there motionless, closed the door, reopened it and shrieked, "Agha Kamal, come here and just take a look for God's sakes!"

Reluctantly Agha Jan got out of his seat and staggered grumblingly over to Aziz who had by now thrown the bathroom door wide open as if she had single handedly discovered a lost island. She stood over the tablecloth. Agha Jan was busy removing the dry crumbs from the soles of his socks.

"Ughhhhhhhhhhhh, what a horrible smell. I won't even drink tea in this place! Let's go, woman!"

They didn't say good bye to either me or the kids. They simply put their shoes back on at the door and marched down the stairs.

For a few dumbstruck moments I stood watching their departure. Then I ran to the window and flung it open. I stuck my head out into the street.

"Aziz, Aziz, the deed to the house!"

Aziz stood still.

She lifted her head and took a few steps toward the window. At that very moment she stepped into a puddle in the middle of the street. Her stockings, sandals and even her trousers were now wet and muddy. With even more vengeance , as if I'd dug the puddle, she looked at me and screeched, "If you find it tell Mohsen to bring it over tonight!"

I answered, "Oh, oh, Aziz, there was a dead rat in that puddle yesterday!"

I smiled and then burst into laughter. My stomach no longer hurt and I didn't have to go to the bathroom.

I had to call Fereshteh to tell her the rest of the story.

... Payvand News - 09/01/09 ... --

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