I smell the bacon and eggs and hear the mystic groan of his Cello. I roll towards the window and pull the curtain back a smidge. The blizzard of the night before has dumped at least two feet of snow. A pristine white blanket covers everything in sight, from the neighbor’s porch to the cars parked in the open space. I lazily get out of bed; wash, dress and tip toe up the stairs to the living area.
His smile greets me.
“Morning Sunshine.” He puts the instrument on its stand, gets up and comes toward me to place a sweet kiss on my cheek.
“Morning.” I smile back. “Please don’t stop. I was enjoying your jam.”
I look around the room; music notes, laptops, my writings in Persian and English, sketches of people and places, maps, books and magazines – strewn on the floor, the big sofa and the coffee table. There is a huge lit candle sitting atop the kitchen counter, filling this mountain cabin with its scent of juniper. The fireplace is singing a tune. The warmth of a space well occupied with love and peace and the cozy mess of happy living puts me in a great mood.
“Where is Dan?”
“He’s gone to pick up supplies. He plans to cook up a storm. The chair lifts are closed. Huge front coming in. When did you go to bed?”
“Gosh – I don’t know. Well past midnight.”
“Yeah – We could hear you pacing.”
I walk over to the kitchen area and take a seat in one of the high chairs at the bar.
“I could hear you two as well. My God – you guys are loud!”
He walks over to the stove, dishes breakfast onto a plate and places it in front of me.
“New love.” He smirks.
“Three years and still pulling all-nighters? Boy, I am jealous.” I laugh.
“It’s going to be a good ski season; ripe for the picking. You never know who will run you over.”
“From your lips to God’s ears.”
“What have you got?”
“Kona. Dan’s parents brought it back for us from Hawaii.”
“Darlings.” I tuck into my food.
“I have a confession, Sweetness.”
“You forgot to log off and I got to snooping.”
“You devil, you” I tease.
“Fascinating stuff. You’ve dug yourself quite a hole with this story, haven’t you?”
“I am a writer and I have no clue where you are going with it.”
“Well – I have ideas but none are satisfactory.”
“Give them to me.”
“Don’t be a mooch now.”
“Give them blood or give them sex.”
I break into laughter.
“Blood? Honey, I am a novice writer. It will be a long while before I can do morbid. Woody Allen I certainly am not.”
“Huh? Passion on a bed of betrayal? Maybe. Satiated? Not bloody likely. Besides, I don’t think I could do the delirium of Sodom and Gomorrah justice, do you?”
“You have a point there.” He throws me a cheeky smile.
“That Solo character is quite the bitch – sending the poor man off like that. I was getting quite attached to him. I have never had an Iranian lover. Perhaps I should try.”
“Don’t even think of it. I’ll tell on you, I will.” I wink.
We both laugh out loud.
“Consider the alternative. What if she hadn’t meddled?”
“Happy ever after, maybe?”
“Without her part in all of this – well, there wouldn’t be a story to tell, would there?”
“True. Gruesome, but true. Seriously though – how are you going to wrap it up?”
“Well – I created each character so I can make them do anything I want, can’t I?”
“Poor Mira. You are going to leave her desolate on that bed with no blood to be shed and no sex? Quelle Horreur.” He looks heavenwards posing as a damsel in distress.
“The possibilities are endless.”
“I said I can’t do morbid.”
“Murder is out then. Maybe she’ll go back to him. Or do you have a twist up your sleeve?”
“A touch of the absurd, perhaps.”
“Well; there is the possibility of returning to her previous life – men, men and more men, interspersed with retail therapy and cosmetic surgery.”
“I think she has had enough men.”
“Not the right one though, won’t you agree?”
“Honey – all men are the right ones AT the right time.”
“Or she could give herself over to a humanitarian cause. She could foster a child, take in a pet.”
“Ouch.” He scrunches his face into a grimace.
“Hey – how about she packs it all in and takes to the road. She could fall in love with a man half her age –spoil him silly and in return accept his undivided devotion.” I say mischievously.
“For a season or two.”
“Now who is the cynic then? I laugh. “She could find a guru in India who would lead her to Nirvana. Or just sit about and watch others live; wonder what life’s all about. “
“Morose.” He croaks.
“How about climbing the Andes à la Robert de Niro – penance for transgressions – committed and contemplated. What was that movie? The Mission?
“I thought you couldn’t do morbid.”
“Here is the thing though. She has the option to build a destiny.”
“Once the outer shell burns off with all its pretensions and hypocrisies, she would step out of the fire and into the light and become the Queen she was named after. A rebirth perhaps? There for the taking by every woman teetering on the cusp of middle-age – if she dares face the mirror within.
“Now THAT I like.”
“This is a short story though. I will need many words for a Samira.”
“So – back to square one. How are you going to wrap things up?”
“I could give the reader a taste of the rest. What do you say?”
“Uh – Ha. Go on.”
“The people have to stay in character. I am a little jaded but still the romantic.
“And my readers – well – they are complex. I am certain they’d rather cook up their own ending.”
“Complex readers are the best.”
“We’ll start with you. After all, I created you, didn’t I? All six foot lanky self of yours with those bony calloused fingers.”
He throws his head back and laughs.
“Right about now you are going to take yourself over to that Steinway and play me a tune.”
“Which tune will it be?”
“Clair de Lune.”
“Your wish is my command.”
And with that Matthew makes his way to the piano in the far corner of the room. He lifts the lid and secures the hinge. He then goes over, places his slender frame on the stool and arranges his feet on the pedals. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and lets his fingers find their way on those 88 magic keys he knows so well.
With the soft tap of that first D-sharp, he takes me into the world of Debussy and dreams. I let out a contented sigh, reach for my laptop and start to type.
His workout is over. He grabs his towel and wipes off the sweat. He picks up his memo pad and jots down the routine. 40 minutes at 5, incline of 2. Bench press 25 at 100, situp/pushup 50. He puts away the pad; picks up his towel and heads up the stairs. After a hot shower, he stands in front of the mirror to shave. Once he has cut his moustache as short as he can, he proceeds to remove the rest with the gentle sweeps of the blade. Instantly he drops 3 if not 5 years. He brushes his teeth, combs his hair, dries his face and splashes on some cologne. He slaps himself left and right to fend off the burn.
He dresses meticulously – first the underclothing; then an ironed blue shirt, a pair of khaki pants, a belt and, finally, a pair of sturdy brown shoes. After taking one last look in the mirror he heads down to the kitchen area.
“Good morning Sir.”
“Good morning Joy.”
“Orange Juice and toast?”
“Yes please. Where is Fari?”
“Madam has gone to her hair appointment.”
“Make a fresh pot of coffee, would you.”
“Where shall I set it, Sir?”
“Shall I send Charlie up for the luggage?”
“Yes – do that.”
He sits at the kitchen table to munch on his dry toast while he skims the newspaper for the latest.”
He checks his watch, adds three hours and reaches for the phone to dial an East coast number.
“How is my precious today?”
“ I hate it here.”
“Snow is better than rain though. Isn’t it?”
“It’s cold and horrid. When are you coming to visit?”
“Soon – perhaps next month. This time I want to stay with you.”
“That would be fantastic. But are you quite sure? I mean – this is a pigsty compared to what you are used to.”
“Not with you in it.”
“Ahh! Such a flirt.”
“Great. We’ll have dinner together, the three of us, OK?”
“Absolutely. Can’t wait. How’s Mom?”
“Fine. The party last night was great. You know your mother – the hostess with the mostest.”
“That she is. I have to run; my break is over. Love you Daddy.”
“Love you too aziz.” He hangs up.
The doorbell rings. Joy goes over. There is a quiet exchange after which she returns to the kitchen with an enormous bouquet.
He peers at the card.
“Do please take it upstairs.”
He returns his attention to the paper and momentarily is engrossed in the story of a local murder – a crime of passion. A man has lost it over his ex-wife’s lover – in Bellevue, no less. A shooting right in front of the kids at Sunday drop off.
The front door opens to let in the lady of the house.
She takes off her raincoat and galoshes. She places both in the closet and slips into her house shoes. She smoothes down her black dress and takes a quick look in the full size mirror in the reception area and straightens her pearl choker before heading down the hallway. As she approaches the kitchen, he is afforded a good look at his wife of 27 years. For a slight woman she has a tremendously assured gait. Upright she can’t be more than 5’ 3” but somehow she manages to use every inch to her advantage. Her perfect chignon in chestnut adorns a bony face. She has a long nose, small hazel eyes and a slit for a mouth. Despite her homely appearance, she carries the air of the well-bred with no hint of arrogance. One is assured that this lady is cozy in her 52 year old body.
She places a peck on his cheek.
“I thought you’d be gone by now. It’s 11 o’clock already. Aren’t you going to miss your flight?”
“There is another one at 4.”
“Something is different about your face.” She stands back. “Let me see.” She looks aghast.
“Good grief. You’ve gone and gotten rid of my most favorite part of your face.”
“I was tired of it.”
“What on earth for? And what’s with the get-up? The casual look is just not you, Darling.”
“There was a delivery. A bouquet of tuberose; your favorite. I had them sent to your room.”
She smiles. “That must be Carla. She had them flown in I bet. So thoughtful.”
“I got Joy to prepare us coffee so we can have a little time together.”
“To do what?”
He leads the way to the room that is surrounded with glass. Outside the grounds extend a good few hundred yards this way and that. The rain is coming down in sheets.
Joy walks in behind them with the tray of coffee and condiments. She places it on the square cherry table in the middle of the room. “How would you like your coffee Madam?”
“I will take care of that Joy. Thank you. Do please hold the calls.”
She offers a nod and takes her leave, gently closing the door after her.
“He picks up the heavy silver pot and pours out two cups. The gurgle is heartwarming. He reaches for the sugar bowl.
“One please – I am trying to cut back.”
He places a single brown sugar cube in the cup, adds cream and stirs it with a tiny spoon. He gets up and hands it to her.
“Thank you. So what are we going to talk about?”
“This sounds awfully ominous.” She lets out a nervous laugh. “Let’s talk about them – last night’s guests; a much more interesting subject – don’t you think?”
“Farangees – I have thought long and hard about a day such as this.”
“There is much I need to tell you and we have limited time really.”
“I have all the time in the world.”
“Well – How shall I start? I need to go back in time; to the day you and I married.”
“Reza – stop – right there. I have had a great Holiday season; one of the best. I am in no mood to have it ruined by a talk.”
A bitter half-smile forms on his lips. He sips his coffee.
“A week before the wedding Agha-Joon and I went for a walk. He sensed my trepidation and wanted to hear the reason. I told him that I was not comfortable with going through with the wedding. He immediately became very cross and proceeded to tell me what a fool I was being. It was an enormous opportunity; the daughter of one of his trusted and much admired friends had agreed to marry me. I tried to reason with him but he would not hear it. It had all been arranged. He said my bailing out would be the death of him, for there was no way he would ever be able to live down the loss of face. Calling off the wedding was out of question.
She looks at him thoughtfully.
“All that week I thought long and hard about how I felt as opposed to what my duties were – as a son, and the future son-in-law to the most respected gentleman my father knew. No matter how I tried, I could not convince myself that it was the right thing to do.”
He stops to think for a moment, and then continues.
“The night before the wedding I sat down to have a talk with my mother and receive her advice. She reiterated what my father had said – that the marriage was guaranteed to last not only because it was a good match, nor that they wished it; but because she was certain that you and I had the strength of character to make it a success. She assured me that in time love would come – a home, children, happy times, fortune – so on and so forth. She teased me that all would-be grooms get cold feet. I wanted to believe her. At least I hoped she would be right. In any case, I could not break her heart.”
“What are you saying?”
“We married. We had our ups and downs – just like all couples do. But throughout the years, we never quite meshed, did we? Love didn’t come despite our efforts. We struggled. I dare say we have struggled every day for the past 27 years.”
“Speak for yourself.” She says indignantly.
“Every day I got up and fulfilled my duty for this family. There were times I wanted to call it a day. But then my obligations would sober me up. The promise I had made to my family and to yours. I could not let anyone down. There were times when I felt utterly helpless in my misery.”
“Duty to them? How about your wife?”
“Farangees – I have stayed out of a sense of duty; duty to you, to this home, family honor. In so doing, I have neglected my duty to myself.
“Nonsense. You are US – You, me, Farnaz, this home, this life. What are you talking about?”
“You tried didn’t you? To make me one of your own. Groomed me – you did. We did everything according to your rule book; the family, the friends, the life – even Farnaz. I wanted more children but you refused.”
“Refused? Some gall you have. I refused more children? I practically died at delivery. What? You expected me to try again? You could barely manage one. It took me years to get pregnant. Besides, I wasn’t exactly of the same ilk as your mother and sisters, popping one out every spring.
“There is no need to bring them into this discussion. My mother is gone now. So is my father. And as for the brothers and sisters; it’s been many moons since they darkened our doorstep.”
“We invite them; they don’t come. It’s not my fault.”
“The way you treated them when they did come; is it any wonder that they turn down invitations now? Do you honestly want me to believe that you ever have had genuine respect for them? For me?”
“I won’t stand for this.”
“The truth? You don’t want to hear the truth? Farangees – you married my potential – not me.”
“What of it? And look what I did with it.”
“A work of art – lifeless all the same.”
“Stop being so melodramatic. It does not become you.”
“Doesn’t it? So, now I am not even allowed feelings?”
“Who is she? Come on – spit it out. Who is she? Who set you up to this?”
“It’s not a she. It’s me.”
“And you expect me to believe that? Listen Reza – I may not have a bunch of fancy degrees but I am smart. I know exactly what has been going on all these years. Do you honestly think I have been blind to your shenanigans? The long weekends of work – out of town? The disappearing acts here and there? How many were there? Five? Fifty? Who knows? Who cares? Did I object? Did I even once bring it up? You were not getting what you wanted at home so I let you have it elsewhere. Par for the course.”
“And this is justification?”
“Damn right it is. You scratched my back and I scratched yours. What kind of an idiot would give up this life – all for a harlot?”
He reaches into his back pocket and takes out a bank receipt showing a withdrawl of $20,000. He passes it to her.
“I walked into the marriage with this – money that my father gave me to start up our life. I took it out of the checking account yesterday. The remaining balance is around ½ million. There is a folder on top of the armoire in my room that has the listings of the other accounts and all our holdings; the company, homes, vehicles, stocks, bonds, the pension fund and the money for Farnaz. You can contact Ted and Dennis. They can draw out the legal papers however you wish them.”
Blood drains from her face.
“What about Farnaz?”
“What about her? I have been there for her from the day she entered into this world and I will be there for her until the day I die.”
“I expect you want a medal for that.” She spits out the words.
“The medal belongs to you actually, devoting your life to our child.” He says kindly.
“How could you do this to her?”
“I have done nothing but love her. Did I not provide? Did I ever miss an event? Every moment of that life, I have recorded in my memory because I was there. Farangees – I may have been a lousy husband but I sure as hell am not a lousy father. You know it and she knows it. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that our little charade was lost on her.”
“Yours maybe. I don’t play charades. I was raised to be just the wife you got and I delivered. Here – always – 24/7 – for her, for you , for US – loyal, caring, patient. And this is my payback?
“Don’t cheapen this.”
She gets up, walks over and delivers a slap to his right cheek.
“Cad.” She mutters under her breath and walks away with a look of disgust.
He takes off his wedding band and his watch. He places them in the coffee tray. He opens his mouth to say something but then thinks better of it. He gets up, takes one last look at her back and leaves the room.
“The car is here, Sir.” Joy announces.
“Have Don collect the suitcase.”
He steps into the guest bathroom, splashes cold water on his face and dries off. He emerges, and heads towards the hallway closet to get his jacket. He puts it on, takes out the house key from the pocket and places it on the reception table. He opens the front door, takes one look at the grey angry sky, throws the hood on his head and dashes to the car. The driver shuts the door as soon as he gets in and runs to the other side to get behind the wheel.
“Seatac Airport, Sir?”
“We are going to the main bus terminal today.”
The car starts gliding along the gravel path which curves around a large pond bursting at the seams from the torrential downpour. Eventually it starts its descent down the hill. Meanwhile the lady in the glass house follows its trail with her eyes. When the car disappears from view, her ashen face gives way to the bitter sob which had been silenced for 27 years.
Glossary of Persian Terms
Agha-Joon Formal address for ‘father’