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Short story

By Azar Dokht
August 27, 2001
The Iranian

I'm sitting in a train, outside the window a vast expanse of white, endless but for the mountains in the distance. I'm writing in longhand for a change, notebook balanced on my knee, paper as white as the view outside, and my lover is playing with the fingers of my left hand while he reads...

I shall write him a story, and later he will read it. He will read it intently, his whole body absolutely still. Only his eyes move. Behind him the white plain rushes by, featureless and absolutely still.

The story begins in a garden.

There are cala lilies in flagrante: the sensuous lines of a leaf uncurling from sleep and stretching to a point, the white lips spreading languidly at the base of each stiff proboscis. The Japanese maple hovers primly above them. Only a leafy frisson, the slightest shiver of a breeze, exposes its discrete empathy with the rude riot below.

There are apples, too. We have picked the ones we can reach. The rest fall innocently. Where they land on stone they split, dribbling juice from the corner of a jagged smile. The lucky ones land in the weeds.

There are steps and tiny terraces overgrown with vines, a wild and private Babylon in miniature.

All this can be seen by day, but it is dark now, a moonless night. The French doors that open from my bedroom onto the garden are closed, and their glass panes show only my own reflection and the dim features of the room, rippling on the surface of darkness. My room is lit by one small lamp, a white glass flute that echoes the shape of the lilies outside, and by the screen of my computer where I write these words.

It's late, and the longing I feel is a question that cannot be answered. Not now, perhaps not ever. I turn off the computer and sit for a moment at the darkened screen, half dreaming. A tiny orange flicker appears on the black glass, and then passes, the briefest mirage. I stare for a moment at the spot where it vanished. Of course it's a reflection from outside the window, the flare of a lighter.

He has gone to the garden to smoke.

Another time he would have asked me to join him, but I'm not surprised. There is a restraint now in our movements in this house. Not a distance quite, but a delicate awareness of the space between us, its fragility and how it must soon grow. Time has become a string of fragile moments.

I stand and turn to face the bed, and the glass-paned doors to the garden. I try not to stare, but I can guess that he assumes I cannot see him. It's true. In the glass I see only the reflection of the room within. And the tiny red glow at the end of his cigarette, hovering like a firefly.

I will give him a gift. I will give him a gift that carries no burden of acceptance or refusal.

I lift my arms and pull my sweater over my head. I unzip my skirt and let it fall. I fold the sweater slowly, hang the skirt in the closet. For this moment, I am actor and director. Time yields and slows as I play.

I imagine the ash burning long. It falls silently from the cigarette motionless in his hand. Only his eyes move.

I take off my bra. I slip down my panties and step out of them. I sit on the edge of the bed, facing the window, then lie back. The white eiderdown billows around me. I touch myself, my hardening nipples. I touch myself with your hands. I spread my legs and dip your fingers into the warm slippery liquid.

Look. You have wanted to look, so look. There is nothing here that requires an answer. I ask for nothing. There is no catch, no trap, no honor at stake, no feelings to consider. There is only this image behind glass. There is only this film projected on the night, and the reality of the pleasure that rises in your groin and spreads its slow warmth through you. Enjoy.

I will not choose my fantasy tonight. I have my store, like anyone: familiar pathways, functional, that arrive at an easy destination. But there are others that come unbidden, unpredictable. Fragments that sneak up in a gentle disguise and undress my heart, leaving it naked and exposed to the heat of my body. I have learned to protect myself against them, but not tonight. Tonight I will face you, through the glass, and open the doors of my mind to whatever comes...

I'm sitting in a train, outside the window a vast expanse of white, and my lover is playing with the fingers of my left hand while he reads. I am startled when the book drops to the floor. His eyes are dark and brilliant; they challenge me. "Come here," he says, and pulls me into a kiss so deep that my heart lunges, caught off balance by the swaying of the train. A kiss so deep that his lips suck softly on my heart and his tongue explores the warmth of its inner folds.

"Come here," he says. We lie across the seats and he holds me from behind, his arms wrapped across my chest, hands cradling my breasts, his face half buried in my hair, one leg between mine. His breath is warm on my neck, a gentle rhythm that rides softly on the pulsing of the rails. "Come here," he whispers, and I come.

The book lies open on the floor, its pages splayed and trembling with the movement of the train.

Outside, the plain is a vastness of white. I close my eyes. Salt crust dusted lightly with snow, white on white. I am standing at the still center of the horizon's circle, bisected by the lines of the tracks stretching far into the distance. At my feet, each separate crystal glints like a diamond in the morning sun. By afternoon the snow will be gone. It seems never to melt, but simply vanishes into the desert air.

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