SHORT STORY BY ELİF DEMİREL
ARTWORK BY MOLLY HARMAN
'I thought you left last night.’
‘Oh, shut up for God’s sake. Drinking milk before going to bed... what were you thinking? You’re what many would consider to be middle-aged. It was the indigestion that bothered you all night. Get up! Sleep was torture for me last night. Go on, get up!’
I kept quiet. There was a degree of guilt in my silence. Utter nonsense. At this age, without the slightest sympathy for myself, I’m having a guilt-trip over a glass of milk. Old habits die hard. This goes for the milk and the guilt-trips. When she appeared before me in the mirror yesterday, I thought she’d disappear by the time I finished brushing my teeth and had slipped into bed. I was wrong. Who’d have guessed she’d come to stay the night? She fixed her eyes on me for three long minutes. I always brush my teeth for three minutes. My gums usually bleed. Apparently, bleeding gums indicate a problem. So be it. Tasting blood every night might be a means of preparing a person for death. She laughs, when she reads my lines. She mocks me, my mind and worse still, my writing. She says I should stop worrying about having a knife stuck down my throat and getting my guts riddled... My boring life wouldn’t deserve such an amusing end. I’m told to stop my supercilious word games. How dare she be so interfering? Not to mention the audacity of turning up in my bathroom...
I don’t know her name. It pisses her off, when I ask. She tells me that I feel a sense of comfort from naming things. She has a point. Anything without a name distresses me. Maybe that’s why I’m so riddled with self-doubt.
‘Go, see that old hag and tell her you understand what she told you.’
‘Your grandma’s old neighbour. The one who invariably smells of dry grass.’
‘Are you out of your mind? Where would I find her? You think she’s easy to speak to? For one thing, she despises letters. I’ve never seen anything like it. She keeps ranting that the letter ‘A’ is cursed. She won’t stand for any word that starts with A. She’ll give you an odd look, followed by a string of foolish questions... Do you know so and so? Have you seen so and so lately? Does my head in. Actually, can you leave me alone for a while, so I can work in peace.’
‘Find that old hag and tell her you understand. Tell her you’ll write the book. Tell her you finally saw that dream.’
I got that dress to wear at a funeral. Plus, it’s not that revealing at the front. That’ll keep mother quiet. But it’s ever so elegant. I agree, the slit on the skirt is quite high. I’ll adjust the seams tonight. That one is also a funeral dress. Yes, that one too… Which one would I choose for my funeral? The most elegant, jet-black dress with the highest slit. The one with bird shit on it. ‘Oh dear!’, the crowd would mutter, ‘she should have tried her luck on the lottery before kicking the bucket!’
‘It seems that there was another me in the past, one that started the day before me and enjoyed the mornings. She was resilient. I even believed that this power had an image. She’d set off before me. If she came across a poplar tree, she’d feel mesmerised by its sheer beauty. Incarnated in flesh and bones, she might have looked like a wise old hag, an embodiment of the universe. I haven’t seen her for a while. I hate mornings. I wish that noble woman would turn up and rescue me from these hideous dreams and my habit of hoarding funeral dresses. But she doesn’t turn up. I’m left with this one instead. Even milk becomes an issue.’
‘Whose daughter are you?’
Then, without batting an eyelid, she stares at me. Starting off an exchange of stares that would last one hundred and twenty-two seconds to be precise. Asked to guess the age of this woman before me, I would buy it if I was told she was thirty, I would also believe ninety. In fact, I’m not sure if she’s actually staring at me or at the crack on the damp wall behind me. Her, myself and the damp wall. We stood still for one hundred and twenty-two seconds, I counted. She didn’t breathe once for a hundred and twenty-two seconds. She made me feel ashamed of breathing for a hundred and- twenty-two seconds. In the end, I couldn’t stand it any longer.
‘What? Why are you staring at me like that?’
‘What’s the point of hoarding those dresses for years? And let me put one thing
straight, who said I was staring at you? You’re such a fly in a wheel. There’s a crack in the wall behind you. Every day, at specific times, a chrysanthemum appears there. I reach over and rest it here.’
I can’t figure out how long I’ve been in this living room. I look at the clock, resting on the carved coffee table.
‘The arms are spinning around so fast. Seems like it’s drained of time itself... Could it be acting up?’
‘The world is spinning madly over my head... Seems like I’m no longer in it... Could it be acting up?’
‘It’s impossible to go on like this.’
‘I told you words are serpents. I told you a thousand times.’
‘Really? When was that?’
‘What sort of dress is this? Now I figure out whose daughter you are. You flaunt your cleavage, just like you did fifteen years ago. Did you ever get married, eh? I said you’d never find a husband, no one took me seriously. Men steer clear of your sorts, my dear.’
‘I get it. Sorry, okay, you remember me. I saw the dream, whatever it means... Any advice? I want to elude that image and voice, which haunts me unexpectedly. The same goes for the dreams. Give me some advice – sorry – say the word and I’ll do it. Please.’
‘Hopeless, is what you are. How can you regard yourself as a writer, when you still fail to understand what you see? And why should anyone bother reading your stories? The reason you see that dream, over and over again, is that you still haven’t understood the essence. It’s all in vain. You coming here dressed-up to the nines, flaunting your bits... You need to learn how to see first. Only then can you write. Watch out for that letter. And stop shoving your tits in people’s faces. Have some decency, woman!’
I no longer make an effort to start the day before sunrise. I lack the drive to keep up with the day. Frankly, I don’t have the strength to deal with anything. Scattered papers on my desk. I keep sleeping, hoping to see the dream again, to test myself, to determine if I’ve finally learnt how to see. I’ve got bags under my eyes. I use potato slices to tackle the puffiness, only to sleep again. I see nothing. No one turns up. She’s even stopped paying visits. It’s a shame, because I’ve stopped drinking milk just to please her. I try to pray. God Almighty, cursed is the first letter of your name but your wisdom is uncontested, so tell me, can mercy remain divine when denied? Between you and me, this isn’t the way to treat your subjects. A little compassion would be welcome here! I haven’t been able to write a single word, nothing since I went to that house. I must be defiant, but whom do I defy? I sit and stare at the non-existent crack on my living room wall, waiting every waking moment for a chrysanthemum to appear from that crack. I yearn to take that flower and rest it on my chest. Then, I laugh at myself. Even the ritual I’m trying to create here is someone else’s private matter. I no longer remember how I look when I’m laughing. The skirts of my dresses awaiting alteration are poking out of the wardrobe that no longer shuts properly. I find this image quite inviting. I stuff all the dresses bought for future funerals into a suitcase and put it away. A friend who I haven’t seen in a long while comes for coffee. She tells me “Why don’t you take a shower”, then I realise a strange smell coming from me. Bodies have a scent. But I don’t recognise this one.
I really do need to take a shower. I also need to find a brush and paint.
She stands yelling in the garden of the dilapidated slum house. Stomping her right foot on the ground, beating the dirt with her walking stick. The commotion has got the attention of the neighbours, who have lined up along the garden wall, but no one finds the courage to approach her.
‘Who wrote this on my wall? Who?’
She clamours, as if spitting into the faces of people gathered around her house. Words she cannot bear to hear are there, before her eyes, written on her wall in capital letters.
FAMILY, BROTHER, MOTHER, LOVE, PAIN, MEMORIES, MOON, MIRROR, SEPARATION, JUSTICE, CURSE, GOD.
In the original Turkish version, all the words start with the letter A: ‘AİLE ( family), ABİ ( brother), ANNE (mother), AŞK ( love), ACI (pain), ANI (memories), AY (moon), AYNA (mirror), AYRILIK (separation), ADALET ( justice), AH (curse), ALLAH (god)’.