Killing Harriet

A tale of two cities


Killing Harriet
by Mazloom

"..., it was the worst of times, was the season of Darkness,”. It was the last summer of Iran-Iraq war. I had returned to my family in Iran after being away for more than twelve years. I had given up all hopes of live in the U.S., and had decided to pack my meager belongings and go back home where I belonged, despite the fact that war was still raging on and there was a lot of hardship in the lives of Iranians.

Shortly after my arrival, Iraq began to fire Scud and Al-Hussain missiles to Iranian cities including Tehran. My parents, being fearful of a chemical attack, begged me to return. On the darkest summer of my life I left my family behind and returned to U.S., penniless, jobless, and in total emotional misery.

Fortunately, I had a brother in the U.S. who helped me get back on my feet again. He was living in the second floor of a house belonging to a lonely old lady by the name of Harriet Hass. She was in her eighties who had already begun to lose her mental faculty. Her house was in an affluent neighborhood and she was one of the oldest residences there. The house was on a half an acre lot that she had not maintained for many years due to her age. To keep my mind occupied; I get up very early every morning and worked all day cleaning up her property, repairing and maintaining whatever I could. Soon the garbage was all gone, trees were trimmed, and the grass began to grow again.

Eventually I began to work in a restaurant, washing dishes, to make a little money to pay my expenses and not rely so much on my brother. Soon I rented a room with a bathroom and a shower on the first floor of the house. Since Harriet was old, we kept an eye on her, helped her out with her needs, and tried to prevent dubious people from taking advantage of her, which was often.

One day when I was working in the front yard a lady approached the house and wanted to see Harriet. She told me she was from a church and wanted to take Harriet with her. Having talked to Harriet before, she had not mentioned that she was planning to go to any church that day, and I told the lady so. she insisting on talking to her, and I insisted on not letting her. I stood my ground and did not let her enter the house. It was a stand off. It was awkward, so I walked to my room, which had an entrance door to the yard. To my surprised the lady followed me and wanted to get in the house from my room, which she did not know that it was not connected to the rest of the house. Things got heated up, I told her this was my room and she had to leave. She was demanding to know who I was and where Harriet was.

She finally left, but soon we started getting visitors from the Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Elder Abuse and Crime and Violence Prevention. After a few weeks of investigation they obtain a court order declaring Harriet incapable of conducting her own affairs, and soon they put her in an elderly care facility.

Within two months she was dead.

I often think about that dark summer day, when I had my confrontation with that lady. I was sure I was doing the right thing, I am certain that lady was sure she was doing the right thing, but what she didn’t know was that Harriet was happy where she was. She had chickens in her backyard that she tended to every day. She had goldfish in a pond in the backward that she had built many years ago. But, they came and took Harriet away and killed her, all alone in a facility, away from her chickens and goldfish.

After all these years I can’t stop thinking about her, and my own parents who I saw for the last time on that dark summer of 1988.

At least my parents were surrounded by people who loved them.


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Thank you all who read

by Mazloom on

The characters depicted in this story are real. I made some adjustment to the storyline to make it narrate seamlessly.


My father, the only child of a divorced woman, took care of his mother, my grandmother, till she passed away. She was inflicted with dementia and she would not allow anyone, including my mother, near her. She would punch, kick, and bite with whatever teeth she had left, to keep people away from her. The only person she would allow to help her was her son, my father, who would tend to most of her needs including her personal hygiene. This went for awhile. My father's half siblings often made fun of him, but he continued to take care of her.

Those were the days that people actually took care of their elderly, as "be fair" is doing, which is the most honorable thing to do. I have gone to convalescent care facilities and I don't wish it for my worst enemies.

Thank you so much,

Jeesh Daram

Quality of this story

by Jeesh Daram on

Dear Mazloom,
My comments here are completely aside from the point that whether this article is about yourself or a fiction, because many good articles make the reader feel that it's about the author while it might not be.
So, from writing point of view it really hits the point. I like the way you draw the image of an Iranian that has to pay such high price for visiting his motherland, so that when he comes back he has to work so hard to rebuild a life in foreign land. So many people I know that this happened to them.
You also draw a brilliant image of the old lady's house, the mentioning of chickens and the size of the garden, the pond and all the little details that made the story the great picture that it is.
I only read short stories and this indeed got into my brain and registered. The ones we remember are generally the best.
Great job and this might be the style that you need to focus on, since this article can be expanded and still not lose any of its beauty.
Best wishes,


be fair...

by American Wife (not verified) on

I am depressed just reading your comment.  I simply cannot fathom how you survive.  There is nothing anyone can say to relieve your physical exhaustion but my heart goes out to you.  I'm whipped just working all day and going home to fix dinner.  Effective immediately, I am grateful for what I have and will value my free time all the more.  Thanks for putting it into perspective.

Niki Tehranchi

My dear overworked Lady

by Niki Tehranchi on

You are the shining example that all others should aspire to.  Please note I was talking about the people who did NOT open either their heart or home to that poor old lady, not even to visit her or spend a penny, but shed the loudest tears when she passed.  I just think it would be better, if truly you care so much, to show your care while the person is living and not afterward.  Not everyone can take on the burden of caring for an ailing family member, and it is not always by choice, sometimes finance, or family obligations or other health issues take precedence, that is true. For every story like that, I also know of selfless people who take on this burden without any resentment or bitterness, with great joy and caring, even though they may not even have a loaf of bread to spare.  My uncle's wife is like that.  She cared for his grandmother in Iran at a time when unfortunately all the closer family members had left Iran due to war or other reasons.  I will spare you the details of what it is to care for a 90 something lady in a time of war when bombs are dropping on your head etc.  To this day, she tells me she still hears the sweet voice of my great grandmother calling her name "Leyla, leyla" around the house.  She is like her guardian angel shadowing her and protecting her. We need to care more for our elderly.


Have you ever took care of an elderly?

by Niki jan be fair! (not verified) on

I am taking care of my mother and my mother in law. also have teenagers too with a sick husband also I work, and my health is not that good.
Somedays I just want to runaway. all I am doing is cooking cleaning attending everyones needs and working. I can not remember when was the last time I did go out with my girl friends to a movie?
So, unless , untill you have done it please do not judge. Or may be you can be a sitter for my 2 elderly mothers ( one with dementia, the other can not walk), and I can go to a summer weekend vacation without worrying about them!


Devastating short story

by niki not logged in (not verified) on

Very well written, very moving. A friend's great grandmother had all but lost her mental capacity and it was thought she was a danger to herself and others. She was passed around like a ping pong in between relatives and though her relatives were often exasperated with the burden of caring for this elderly matriarch, she was very content and never noticed their contempt or at least never verbalized it.

She had gone back to infancy, fighting over the dolls owned by her great granddaughter, which she would steal and tuck away safely underneath her pillow. At night, she was scared of the darkness and the unfamiliar surrounding and, waking up in the middle of the night, thinking she is 6 years old, would crawl into the master bed in between the two people she believed to be her parents.

This went on for years and years and though everyone always talked about the fact that she was perpetually on the brink of the other world, she stubornly refused to die and even seemed to thrive.

So they put her in the allegedly best nursing facility for the elderly and within weeks she passed away. I remember at the funeral how her relatives cried and cried their eyes out. Family members who had not opened their heart and home to her when she was alive, who had conspired in the decision to lock her away in a cold place filled with strangers "in her best interests." And I did not know whether those tears were those of mourning or of guilt, or simply of relief.



by American Wife (not verified) on

said and heartwrenching to read.  It would be pointless to make any judgements about who was right or who was wrong. That simply ISN'T the point.  You acted on your convictions in the face of confrontation.

More power to you.  And congratulations on your successes in the US.