Sherlock Holmes didn’t look the same the second time he came to my dreams. How old was I the first time he visited? Let’s piece the clues together. It was the night we saw The Hound of the Baskervilles. I was able to sit still in a theater, but my kid brother hadn’t been born yet. That means I was around six years old. There’s more. My parents were getting along, or we wouldn’t be going to the movies together. That narrows it down to a particular week in the October of that year. Yes, it was during this happy week that Holmes came to my dreams and gravely predicted a murder. His words, dubbed in Farsi, were even more ominous than the English versions I would watch many years later on American TV.
“It’s not going to be that way anymore,” I told Holmes. “They like each other now.” Yet, a week later, Mother threw a knife at Father. The weapon bounced off the silver rice tray that he instantly improvised as a shield. Rice flew festively, as in a wedding. It was sabzi polo, I remember, because the fight began when Father mentioned what delicious sabzi polo his sister knew how to make. There was no doubt as to Mother’s murderous intention; as the knife whizzed toward Father’s face she screamed, “I will kill you!”
Years after Mother and Father were both dead, Holmes, dressed in cape and deerstalker cap, stepped out of the fog again. He was lighting tobacco in the huge upside down nostril that hung from his face. Suddenly his ears pricked toward the gloom, and moments later the hound’s ghostly howl swept cross the moors. He listened intently, absently flicking aside the match. “There’s going to be another murder; I’m certain of it,” he said trippingly on the tongue, with that Victorian nasal smugness. But with an Iranian accent!
“How can you be so sure?” I came in on Watson’s cue.
“Elementary,” he began.
“I mean who?” I had to rush to the point, as there wasn’t much time before the fantasy would skip away. Simultaneously, I noticed that I had just changed the direction of the dream. The training was working.
Holmes, in a Persian silk robe, stared into the fireplace, flame shadow busily animating a thoughtful expression. “Why, my own daughter,” he mumbled distantly.
“Who is going to kill her?” I hurried to ask knowing there was no time for “what daughter?”
He turned to me quizzically and said, “We must stop her.”
Then came the skip.
When Katie appeared on stage, the din of voices fell quiet. The occasional “excuse me” of a latecomer shuffling across the rows only accented the hush. One of the stragglers sat down just behind me next to a woman she knew. The friend whispered a brief update. “Technical consultant,” she summarized. Then she said something about Katie being someone’s daughter. I didn’t hear the name, but the latecomer seemed to recognize it.
Katie walked up to the podium, nodded thanks to our host, and took command of the auditorium. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully.
That was a few months before she accepted a permanent job in the company where I worked. There were only three other female scientists in the multi-acre campus--most of the women were in marketing, advertising, sales or human resources. Two were recent Chinese immigrants, and a third from India. Katie had a Pacific Time accent; her eyes were the color of spacious skies, and her hair amber waves of grain. Which is why I was surprised when at our first business party she told me her name was short for Kataayoon. She was born in London to an Iranian father and an English mother. To make me feel better she said no one else has ever guessed her ethnicity either. A few weeks into our friendship, remembering that first conversation, she asked why her last name didn’t clue me in at our first meeting.
“Gorgani sounds Italian,” I said.
“That’s Gorgone,” she replied.
“What about the hair?”
“L’Oreal, baa ejaazeh e shoma.”
“And the eyes?”
“Khanoum bozorg Fakhri’s.”
“Does your father have light eyes too?”
“Dark brown. So why did you ignore me that first night?”
“I didn’t. You drove Paul and me home, remember.”
“You looked out the car window the whole time,” she complained, “I thought maybe I had said something to piss you off.”
“I was just shy,” I replied.
I had kept my mouth shut because Katie was disturbingly attractive, and I was too drunk in the car to watch what I said. After we dropped off Paul, I was Katie’s last passenger. Getting out of the car, I didn’t even think of asking her in. My wife would have killed me.
Katie was in mortal danger too. But the threat to her life came from Christie, Paul’s wife. That was my fault. One day Christie was helping me shop for a birthday gift for Paul, and somehow we ended up at the perfume counter. Sniffing the inside of her wrist and offering me a whiff, Christie suddenly said, “Today I asked the mirror on the wall, ‘Who’s the fairest of them all?’ and you know what the mirror said?”
“It said, ‘The new chick at Paul’s work that he can’t stop talking about.’”
I said, “Tell your mirror to go eat glass cleaner. You know what would be a great gift for Paul? A diary. What he needs is a dumpsite for his mental diapers.”
“I like that about him,” she laughed. “If Paul ever stops sucking on his toes I won’t love him anymore.”
“You’re not worried about Katayoon then?” I said mischievously.
“What? Is that her real name?”
“Persian,” I said, putting as much Scheherazade into the word as I could. Christie could handle American competition like a baton twirler in a parade. In fact she and Paul delighted in the envy-me-my-spouse game. Maybe it was pride that made me nuance the word to imply that a Persian woman would be no baton.
“Ssshit!” Christie mumbled, putting down the perfume bottle.
“There’s nothing to worry about though.”
“I’ll poison the bitch,” she said.
Ever since Katayoon appeared on the scene, Paul had been dropping by my office daily to give evidence that nothing was going on between them. I imagined he was rehearsing for Christie’s interrogations, as I couldn’t see any other reason why he would so vigorously defend against an accusation I hadn’t made.
“We keep the conversation friendly but non-personal,” he would say. “It’s usually about her dog. Her dad’s dog really. Some sort of hound. She’s just taking care of it.”
“Where’s her dad?” I asked.
“That would be personal wouldn’t it?”
“How’s the marriage counseling going?” I said, not really changing the subject.
“Fine. Things are starting to work out.”
“What about kids?”
“Oh, Christie still doesn’t want any. Says she already has a baby.”
“And you still want them?”
“What does the therapist say?” I asked.
“He’s happy with our progress. What about you and your wife? Are you two still going to the same guy?”
“Yeah, we’re making progress too,” I said.
“Does she still want to stay together and work things out?”
“More than ever.”
“And you still want a divorce?”
“More than ever.” I hadn’t told anyone, even Paul, that I had already answered a roommate ad for a house in the country.
Paul had once offered to become roommates. This was when his divorce seemed as imminent as mine. In response, I had spelled out some obvious realities for him. He drank bottled water from a select mountain. I drank tap water. Paul used his iron on his shirts; I used mine to stub my toes on. There was only one place where I was more organized than Paul. His computer passwords changed unpredictably from one random string to another, whereas mine was famously abc123. I mentioned these facts because unlike him I did keep a diary, and had no need to tell anyone the real reason I couldn’t room with Paul: if he and Christie ever divorced, I wanted to continue seeing Christie at my house.
A lesser -- though just as sufficient -- reason not to be bachelors with Paul was that he didn’t have a subconscious. Without warning, he would spring his most intimate thoughts on the unprepared listener.
“I apologize for last night,” he said one day after a party. “Christie is never going to wear that dress to your house again. Not after the fight we had over it on the way home.”
“Why? She was fine.”
“She was turning everybody on. Weren’t you turned on?”
“You have a beautiful wife, Paul,” I said.
“Why can’t you ever say what you really think? Is that Iranian?”
“No,” I said. Any other answer would have triggered another avalanche of frankness from him.
I did worry for Christie that night. She was in a bad mood and didn’t warm up the gathering with her usual charm. The skimpy dress was an uncharacteristically unimaginative substitute for her subtler allures. In a different way, Paul too was exposing too much. His overreaction to his wife’s undress drew even more gossip than the color of Christie’s underwear. It seemed he never let her out of his sight. He checked on her even when she went to the bathroom. I wondered if the ‘new chick’ at work was the source of this silliness. Later I found out that if Paul had left Christie alone, I would have found her dead in my bathroom.
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