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Zereshk
Short story

July 30, 2001
The Iranian

I have been replaced, simply, swiftly, conclusively. The realization sinks into my heart like a lead submarine. He was standing there, a woman at his side. I could tell they were still at the early stages of their relationship. He was putting on the charms looking as immaculate as ever in his raw silk suit presenting his thrilling ideas and deep insights. She will quickly recognize his brilliance. It will take much longer to discover he is heartless. The pain will cut deep, it will be too late. The cycle repeats, a new lead actress, take 15. There is a certain level of freedom gained in the realization that the man who claimed to love me, no longer does. The chains breaking one by one force me to move on, to not look back expecting to find him there looking in my direction. The hope of love gone forever, I realize this is an exaggeration but under the circumstances, only melodrama will do.

Nothing depresses me more than a cold. Pain in my throat, burning eyes, heavy head, I hate it. Here it is, however. It has taken over my body yet one more time and I lie in bed sniffling and feeling sorry for myself. I have no milk, no juice, no soup. I don't even have the ingredients to make soup. This is the time life stares one squarely in the eye and says, "You are alone. There is no one to take care of you. No one to hold your throbbing head. No one to soothe your aching body. No one." The stuffed sinuses block the release of self-pity and it just builds up inside and takes over my system until I turn into a useless pile of gloom. Jaded. Jilted. Jeered. I might as well end it all here and now. Oh, the hell with them all.

I drag my body out of bed, blow my brains out of my nose, cough out some greenish black stuff that resembles nothing remotely similar to the soft pink lining of the airways I learned about in anatomy class. My head feels like a truck sitting heavily on my neck, my neck decidedly incapable of handling the extra weight; it gives in and I walk to the kitchen with my head hanging to one side, my limbs dragging, my spine bent. In short, I do not feel well, physically and emotionally. It always goes hand in hand. As expected the empty refrigerator offers no solace. I make some tea and let my body drop in front of the television. . Watching TV is the only thing that could make me feel better.

The horrible programming and the relentless wave of ads defining my needs and wants in life are a constant reminder that whatever my condition, I'm better off than anyone who finds comfort in a cup of creamy - vanilla - hazelnut - all - sugar - and - powdered - imitation - fat drink, or anyone who defines style as looking just like everyone else who has watched the same ads on TV. Commercials don't sell just products anymore, they sell lifestyles. It's a whole package, the college lifestyle as defined by Felicity, the single's lifestyle as defined by Friends, the divorced lifestyle as defined by Once And Again. Who defines the married lifestyle, you ask? The ads! Yes, they are primarily directed at the heterosexual working couple struggling to own as much as possible and spend as much money as possible on their children because they are so guilt ridden about not spending any quality time with them because they are too busy working 60-hour-a-week jobs to support the lifestyle dictated to them by commercials. All in all I would say there are still a few things in life worse than having a cold.

The doorbell startles me. Someone asking for money, no doubt. If I ignore them maybe they'll go away. No success, another ring jolts my head. Go away! I want to yell out but then I hear a familiar voice calling my name. It's Nader. He is standing behind the door. He had called earlier and now, here he is. I seem to frequently run into Nader these days. Reportedly he has just resettled here after an unsuccessful move to San Diego. Last week we ran into each other at the grocery store and spontaneously decided to go see a movie. Two days later, we saw each other at a café and ended up having dinner together. I must admit that I enjoy his company more than I expected. Before I had seen him at parties here and there and he basically seemed like everyone else, nothing outstanding about him at all. Now that I've gotten to know him a bit I see that he is funny, well informed and most importantly, kind. But I don't feel we're close enough yet for me to expose him to my demons: depression and self-pity, and certainly not to my germs.

What could he want? I wonder out loud. He has come bearing gifts, he says, offering the world's top remedy for a cold. I measure him up and down when I open the door. He says he would go if I want him to but I would be shortsighted not to try his remedy. He appeals to my visionary side. The two bags of groceries bulging with food hang heavily from his hands. I let him in apologizing for my condition and the condition of the apartment. No problem, he says, he is here because it was obvious on the phone that I needed nursing. I thank him somewhat surprised at his apparent comfort in my kitchen. And what might the number one remedy for a cold be, I ask Nader who is busily unpacking the groceries -- chicken soup? He huffs unimpressed, chicken soup is the number two remedy for a cold, as everyone knows. Curiosity is not enough to keep me standing and I'm forced to excuse myself taking refuge in the comforts of my bed.

It is in fact the smell of chicken soup that wakes me up. Not sure how long I've been out but if what I'm vaguely hearing is indeed Jeopardy it must be past 7 p.m. Nader appears at the doorway during a commercial break. I stare at him dumbly. He disappears. He reappears tray in hand. What have we here? "Ah, this is just the appetizer," Nader says. He places the tray on the nightstand. "You want to sit up, dear?" he asks in a Dezi Arnez tone. I smile and lift my body up a bit. He adds another pillow to the bulge between the wall and me. I try to remember exactly when was the last time I was so patiently nursed. Cannot recall. Double Jeopardy. I can hear Alex introduce the categories. A spoonful of soup is placed in my mouth. Nader says India. What? "Jewel of the Crown" he explains. Right, I saw the movie. The soup is yummy.

All of a sudden Nader looks very attractive. I notice the different shades of brown, gold and gray in his eyes. The wavy hair partly covering his long forehead touches the bridge of his strong nose. His lips are pressed together as he repeats the cycle of filling the spoon with soup and delivering it to my mouth careful not to spill a drop. Nothing soothes the soul like chicken soup. "More?" Nader asks. I wave my head no. "Ready for another nap?" he continues his 21-questions. 'What are you going to do?' I wonder out loud. "Hang out," he says, watch some TV, read a book, unless you want me to leave. I don't want him to leave. He tucks me in, kisses my forehead and brushes my hair back.

I feel him watch me sleep. He unbuttons his shirt to reveal an amazingly tight set of abdominal muscles. How did I miss this chest before? The pants come off next. The white logo on his black Speedo reflects the light of the tropical sun. He dives into the swimming pool and disappears under water for centuries. We gently land together on the blue floor of the pool. Speaking to each other in bubbles. I laugh at his medusaesque hair. He pulls down the straps of my bikini top. I free my arms and float to him legs wide open. The force of my desire is so strong that the entire swimming pool is vacuumed inside of me. A monster is laughing in the distance: "You can't have it all! Never!" he screams as I search desperately for the man who has now disappeared. "Fire or water, you've got to choose. Can't have them both." Did my greed destroy him?

The sun is burning my skin and I see a white cloud steaming off me. I evaporate into the sky and from up near the clouds I see Nader sitting on my bed, leaning against the wall legs comfortably extended, reading Out of Place. Never having seen the country that defines half of my identity, I fully empathize with Edward Said's tale of displacement. Even more so now that I have been replaced in the arms of the man with whom I shared the very bed I sleep in now. Where is my place? Not only have I lost a lover, I have lost my place in society. I am at once an object of desire and a hungry leopard out for a kill. They either want to own me or keep me a safe distance away. The society's perception of me has dramatically changed while I have not. Being in a relationship places a stamp of approval on one: this person is safe to be with, a third party has already certified it. She will not jump you because presumably she is getting enough else where. But now the safety seal has been removed. It is no longer possible to just be with me, the human being. One wonders if anyone was ever interested in that in the first place.

Years later I open my eyes to find Nader sitting next to me on the bed, leaning against the wall, legs comfortably extended, reading Out of Place. "Hungry?" is the first thing he says when he notices I'm awake. "The main course has been ready for quite some time now," he continues. Is he saying what I think he is saying or is he just talking about food? I ponder for some time, in silence. "It seems having a cold has really dampened that sharp tongue of yours. Care to utter any words? Feel free to go back to sleep, I'm really enjoying this book, only a few pages left." Nader goes on looking very much at home on my bed, in my bedroom, reading my book, in my house, next to me. "How does your tongue feel?" I finally ask. His "Excuse me?" forces me to repeat my question. "My - tongue ­ feels ­ pretty - good," Nader carefully lays out each word placing the book on the nightstand before he turns to face me. "Are we feeling energized?"

The big smile on my face is all the encouragement he needs to slide down and plant a sweet kiss on my lips. In my mind I see us banging each other like cave people but in reality he is only stroking my face. Something in his eyes is uncertain. He probably wonders if I have sex with every man who feeds me. I don't like answering this line of questioning. So I let my eyes close and turn away from him. He comes closer to me and continues stroking, first my hair, then my shoulder and the back of my neck. His lips are now on my left earlobe, warm, soft; he slides his hand under the covers along the length of my arm. I can hear his breathing getting heavier; his heart is pounding against my back. I turn to face him. If passivity turns him on he might as well know right now that it is not my game.

Uncertainty must be dancing in my eyes now because Nader feels compelled to explain "I didn't come here for this, I mean, I don't want you to think that I planned this whole thing to get into your pants." The clarification elicits further probing. Why not? would be my first question. What if I'm not wearing pants? And why were you sitting on my bed if reading a book was all that occupied your mind? And many more of course but somehow I don't care to ask any of them. I hold his face in my hand and deep in his eyes I see my own reflection: pale, puffy, and pooped, not my most glamorous moment. He brings his face closer to mine "I love your eyes," he whispers, "they're like bowls of honey."

The kiss following this declaration closes the lid on those bowls of honey for some time. When they open again Nader is shirtless and under the covers with me. Not quite the washboard of my dreams his abdomen is nonetheless shapely and his chest offers ample surface area for my lips to cover. If the stiffening I feel against my leg is any indication, he must be enjoying what my tongue is doing to his nipples. It is curious how freely air seems to flow through my nose now. No sign of the stuffed sinuses, the sniffling gone, the entire anatomy focused entirely on a singular mission. My hands slide down his body to free him from the bondage of jeans. His body responds with joy appreciating its newfound freedom to take on different positions. My body certainly responds with joy to the position he is in right now. And I must concur with the statement Nader had issued earlier; his tongue certainly does feel pretty good.

I gently comb through his hair and slide him up over my sweaty body. He marks the road with kisses, kisses, kisses and more kisses. When our lips finally meet again it gives me deep satisfaction to taste myself in his mouth. It feels good to be underneath him. His body covers mine perfectly. I feel like I could stay just like this for hours, that I could smell him, smell us together for days. Nader interlaces his hands into mine, stretches our arms out and nails himself into the cross he has made of us. The calm and collected man of days ago has turned into a hungry beast devouring my flesh. Somehow the energy I'm expending seems disproportionate to the nourishment I was given earlier. The nourishment I'm receiving now however is more energizing than ten million bowls of chicken soup. Number one remedy indeed, for everything I would say. So much of the disgruntlement in the world today is a direct result of people having dissatisfying sex lives. If we were continually reminded of how blissful love can be, why would we ever engage in war? Simplistic, you say? The requirements for a gratifying life are very few and very simple. It may be true that on that short list, oxygen and food come before love but without love neither is of much value.

Nader is breathing deeply and calmly in my embrace now. I want to thank him. It seems odd that expressing gratitude is not a regular part of lovemaking. Yet very few gifts in life bring us as much joy. Perhaps we don't think of sex as a gift, or love for that matter. We assume we are entitled to them, that just because we are lovable we should be loved. True, we should but we aren't, are we? Finding a soul mate is the exception not the rule. As I play with Nader's damp hair I whisper to him "Thank you." He whispers "You're welcome" without any questions and kisses my chest, or to be exact that lump of flesh between the armpit and the chest; is there a name for it? I smile remembering that my sister once said she finds that spot very sexy. I wonder if Nader is born under the same sign as my sister. Can this be the first time I've had sex with someone whose astrological sign I didn't know? Very interesting!

Nader lifts up his head and out of nowhere says "I love you." He keeps staring at me as I freeze up and continues "It scares me a little but that's part of the fun, isn't it?" If anyone had ever told me that one day I will be in the arms of a man who would dare to express himself so openly, so causally, I would have never believed it. Most of the men I've been with were of the emotionally unavailable type, the mentally brilliant but emotionally handicapped category. The type who will wither in denial before uttering his true feelings, assuming he even recognizes his own feelings at all. I stare right back at Nader. "You don't scare me." I say. He laughs.

- "So are you ready now for the number one remedy for a cold?"

- "Again? We just had the number one remedy."

- "No we didn't."

- "He's denying it already."

- "What?"

- "Sex!"

- "No, that's not it."

- "What do you mean, of course it is..."

- "No, no."

- "Yes, it is."

- "No, it isn't."

- "Yes, it is."

- "No. It is not."

- "What then, prey tell, is the number one remedy for a cold."

- "I can't tell."

- "What?"

- "I can only show. Give me two minutes."

Nader jumps out of bed like a child who has just been invited to play his favorite game. I continue to linger in bed amused by the turn of events. What a change from a few hours ago. It was only this morning that I felt shattered by the knowledge of my ex dating another. And look at me now, loved, sexed and pampered. What more can a girl ask for? This man is indeed a rare find as his name would suggest. Just goes to show you that love knocks on your door when you least expect it. Am I in love? Well, I certainly feel loved and what's even more important I value being loved. But is he really the one for me?

Nader has insisted that in order to fully benefit from the alleged number one remedy I must exit the bed, wear something warm, and report to the dining room. And so like a good patient I have followed doctor's orders to the T. Now that I stand at the doorway of the dining room, Nader, looking like a Greek soldier with a loose towel wrapped around his waist, sounds the imaginary drums and ceremoniously unveils a platter on the table. I stare in disbelief. Can it be? Is that my all-time favorite dish in the universe? Yes, it certainly seems so. Glorious Tahchin. Had my sinuses not been so completely congested I'm sure I would have smelled the saffron from a mile away. The juicy bits of chicken glare at my salivating eyes. It is absolutely perfect. I am certain now that Nader is the man for me. Convinced, converted, completely open to the possibilities. Love is on the table, ready to be enjoyed, that golden masterpiece covered generously with zereshk.

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