I slid my fingertips inside Katayoon’s blouse, thumbing her top button out of its buttonhole and gliding my hand inside her shirt. “Stop,” she whispered clutching my wrist tightly and slowly pulling it away from her breast. She held me from herself in this way for a long time, staring a meaning at me that I was not understanding. How disappointing to have said, “but you told me to undress you.” That much was apparent. She was saying there was a key to her body that I should find. But how could I be sure?
“I should go,” I finally said getting up in confused embarrassment and walking towards the door. When I put my hand on the doorknob I saw Tank trundle sleepily towards me wagging his tail. As I reached down to pat a goodbye on his head, he gently lowered his head to my feet and put his mouth around my ankle.
I felt a pity for the old animal, too old to ask to be taken out for a walk. “Did you teach him this trick?” I asked Katie.
“I told you, my dad liked to teach him tricks. I thought you wanted to know how he worked. Now you’re taking off?”
“I’m not into games, Katie.” I frowned. Usually that line opened up the most difficult Peggy Sue to a torrent of counter accusations, revealing all that was going on in her mind.
Instead an alluringly amused confidence appeared on Kataayoon’s face as she recited verses for the occasion in the Persian custom,
بلکه ملولی که چرا آمدم؟
من که به این خوبی و رعناییم
دخترکی عشقی و شیداییم
گیر تو افتاده امای تازه کار
بهتر از این گیر نیاید شکار
خوب ببین بد به سراپام هست؟
یک سر مو عیب در اعضام هست؟
هیچ خدا نقص به من داده است؟
هیچ کسی مثل من افتاده است؟
این سر و سیمای فرح زای من
این فرح افزا سر و سیمای من
It was too late for “Oh crap. ” With all my soul I had always known Katayoon was no Peggy Sue. How could I have let those sea blue eyes and sunny hair fool my brain? It felt as though the key that opened her body to me had invisibly locked that front door. My soul couldn’t leave even if my brain wanted to.
“There’s ink and brush in the bedroom,” she hinted.
“I don’t know what you’re asking me, Katie,” I said. She did not reply.
It felt clumsy just to walk into her bedroom looking for the clue she had dropped about ink and brush, so I went back to her, lifted her out of the sofa into my arms and carried her into the bedroom.
Her bed was covered with a pale blue sheet. On the nightstand a small painter’s brush leaned inside a bowl of ink. I lowered Kataayoon onto the bed and bent over to kiss her on the mouth. She turned aside and pushed me away. I expected that, but had to make sure I had understood her meaning. Taking the brush out the ink bowl, I began where I had left off by spreading her blouse open at the opened button and softly writing a word on the skin of her chest:
She sounded the word out loud with her eyes closed, letting me know she could read my brush movement across her skin.
She giggled ticklishly.
I continued slowly as she spoke the words.
با سر انگشت عطوفت گشود
Then I put the brush down and undid all her buttons. She let me!
“You know the poem,” she said.
“Not all of it.”
“Too bad for you, then.”
“Help me remember,” I said.
“Uh-uh,” she teased, “Let’s see how far you get on your own.”
Hesitantly, I wrote:
رخ چو برم پیش تو واپس گرا
I put my hand under her head and brought her lips to mine. She kissed me back so deep and long that I had to come up for air several times. Then she unbuttoned my shirt and went back to kissing me that way over and over again until I learned how to breathe her exhalation and exhale for her to breathe. As I took in the moist air from her mouth and nostrils my hand reached impatiently towards her thigh. She slapped it gently away, chiding:
ترکه خوری از کفّ سیمین من
ناف به پایین نبری دست را
نشکنی از بی خردی بست را"
I dipped the brush into the ink bowl again. Now I knew why Kataayoon had prepared the fireplace for early morning lighting. This was going to be the longest night of my life.
“I have to undo your bra for this next verse,” I said. “ Would you let me?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “I don’t believe you. Write a hint right here,” she said drawing a finger across the top of her bra.
She grinned and arched her back for me to reach the buckle, raising her arms in front of her so I could slip her bra off her breasts. Her eyes kept her gaze on me so she could see my pupils sparkle at the loveliness I beheld. “Second base?” she said, rubbing it in for my falling for her Peggy Sue feign.
“Damn you!” I said. “Witch!”
“Well, is it going to be curses or verses?” She said, closing her eyes for more.
I began writing:
موش گرفتار در آغوش تو
گربه صفت ورجه و گازم بگیر
ول ده و پرتم کن و بازم بگیر
طفل شو و خسب به دامان من
شیر بنوش از سر پستان من
By the time the reddish hue of dawn streamed into her bedroom, Katayoon, her bed sheets and I were thoroughly spotted and striped in ink. Black butterflies fluttered over a male and female pair, part leopard part zebra. She took me into her shower to wash the ink off. I watched as water and steam slowly rinsed away the record of what we had done to each other the night before. Between her thighs I had run out of Qajar verses and resorted to modern prose. A soap soaked sponge wiped away the last letters of
Yet underneath the creamy soap rinsing down Katie’s legs I still remembered and felt every word I had brushed on her. Starting on one knee, spiraling around her thighs upwards and around to her pubic hair were the last lines she had read out loud to me as a promise of what she was about to do and feel:
She had screamed to fill the neighborhood.
خیس عرق بود. از عرقش بدم نمیآمد. دانههای عرق را با نوک زبان از روی صورتش پاک و زیر لب زمزمه میکردم. زیر سنگینی بدنش احساس خوبی داشتم که هیچوقت نداشته ام. با چه اشتیاقی این مرد را میبوسیدم. لبم را دور گلویش از یک بنا گوش تا بناگوش دیگر میکشیدم. خر خرهاش را میمکیدم و دلم نمیخواست از خود دورش کنم. با ذره ذره وجودم او را میبوییدم، میبوسیدم، میخواستم. نفهمیدم چه شد که یکهو یورش یک احساس گنگ و خوش از درون من برخاست. از میان پاهایم بالا آمد، و به قلبم ریخت و در سراسر بدنم پخش شد.
We dried each other with a big towel then, wrapped in blankets, lit the fireplace and sat in front of it, each with a cup of coffee. Tank also got up from his mat to move up to the morning fire. He rested his chin on his paws, eyeing our conversation. Katie’s hair was still damp, dangling around her face in rope-like twists. It was the first time I had seen her without her slight mascara and she looked more gorgeous that I had ever seen her. As I sat marveling at her, she suddenly jerked up her blanket over her head like a chador and laughed.
“Stop it. I was looking at you,” I said.
She peaked from under the blanket and said, “What am I wearing under my chador?”
“Poetry,” I said. “I can still feel it written all over you.” Then I wondered if she were to take off her chador, what could she be wearing underneath that would do justice to the dress she had made me ink on her the night before. Slowly the understanding dawned on me. “So that’s what your dad did to his models,” I said.
She nodded, staring into her coffee steam. “He wouldn’t stop trying different materials, colors, cuts, angles, folds, until every piece of cloth said exactly the same thing as the verse it covered on his model. Took months sometimes.”
“Months? Did they ever fall in…?” I started to say, but quickly her eyes flashed a warning at me. She knew I was no longer talking about her dad’s feelings for his models. My unfinished question had to do with what she had stirred in me.
“They were prostitutes usually. Hey, you want to hear a story?” she beamed.
“My dad is fourteen years old and his friends take him to a brothel in South Tehran. He’s never been to a brothel and his ears are red as beets with embarrassment. They go into this waiting room and the prostitute calls him into her chamber. His friends have to push him through the door and the prostitute is teasing him to stop being so shy. So they go inside, she closes the door, and my dad is so flustered he says he has to leave right away because he has homework from school.” Kataayoon slapped me on the knee as we both guffawed at the awkwardness of this first-time Romeo. I pulled her close to me, hugging her in her blanket as she went on.
“So she shoves her boobs at him and says, ‘Here, do your homework on these and he’ll give you a really good grade.’ My dad starts to run out the door, but she blocks his way, and says the only way she’s going to let him out is if he either fucks her or does his homework on her. I guess she didn’t want to lose the money. So he takes out a ballpoint and writes on her just so she’d let him go.”
“Wait a minute, he got his first inspiration from a prostitute in old Shahr e Now?” I asked flabbergasted.
“Yep! After that, he realized he couldn’t stop going back to her every week. After a while he got to know her really well and she started asking for gifts. One day she asked for a dress. He spent the whole week looking to buy something that felt right on her, but all he found was the trendy I’m-better-than-you stuff; nothing honest that just said ‘want me the way I want you to want me.’ Finally he had to go to a tailor and draw the right dress on paper. Guess what happened after she got the dress.”
“A lot more customers,” I said.
“Her business went through her ceiling!” Katie’s eyes widened elatedly. “Then somehow a pimp from North Tehran found out about things and started paying my dad to design dresses.”
“For high class North Tehran prostitutes?” I asked.
“Sorta, but sometimes my dad spotted his dresses in European magazine articles about Iranian Royal family women. Thinks that’s where the money came from. Of course my Persian grandparents had no idea about any of this. They were getting ready to send their nerdy nineteen-year-old son to London to study accounting. So the first thing my dad does when he’s in London is go from brothel to brothel looking for the right prostitute to feed his habit. Finally he finds the right one, and the same thing happens as happened in Tehran. Her business picks up, her price goes way up, and she gets to pick richer and richer clients until she’s only booking Buckingham palace and the like. Doesn’t take long before the rich wives pick up on what’s going on, and my dad starts getting noticed. The rest is in the tabloids.”
I shook my head slack jawed. “The Gorgani fashion empire, all because of a prostitute in old Shahr e Now.”
“Um, don’t forget the London prostitute. She helped a lot too.”
“Yes, what happened to her?” I asked.
“Mom lives in Los Angeles.”
To be continued.
Farsi poetry by Iraj Mirza (1874-1926), Zohreh va Manouchehr.
Farsi prose from Setarvan, a selection of short stories by Shirindokht Nourmanesh. PO BOX 321022, Los Gatos, CA 95032.
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