Tender Trap

Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh

 

 

           The lamb arrived as a gift at dawn. Minutes after her parents had risen for morning prayer. Narges was already awake. Still in bed, she strained to hear the familiar rhythm of running water-interrupted followed by the deep hum of her father’s prayer, but the violent altercation that she was at the center of every waking minute made it difficult. Always only louder, always only more debilitating. She felt guilty for waking up, but not rising to pray. She was afraid she wouldn’t pass US security clearance, and, generally, confused and anxious about the value of a green card, the risks of leaving behind an already established career. So, when the doorbell buzzed, she welcomed the opportunity to ride on a conversation outside her mind. She heard her father greet a man through the open window in her bedroom. 

           “Salaam.”

           “Salaam. Khaste Nabashid,” Narges’s father replied. 

           “I am delivering on behalf of Mr. Abolghasemi.” 

           Hearing her father-in-law’s name, Narges sprung up to the window. Her braided hair hung behind her, as she pushed the curtains aside—a slit big enough to give her sight of the truck, but narrow enough to keep her unseen. Tehran was just starting to rise, twitching more and more often with every passing minute—the call to prayer from the mosques nearby, the taxis swerving and speeding young couples to the foot of Mt. Tochaland Mt. Kolakchal for early morning rendezvous climbs, the sounds of round men opening up shop to serve kale pache to taxi drivers who had worked all night, but it was still early, the sky just barely lit, and the birds sung from the maple trees that lined the streets and boulevards surrounding Narges’s house uptown. As the man spoke, he pulled back the truck door, held onto the back of the lamb’s neck, and gave him a tug. After hesitating for a moment at the edge, the lamb landed on the sidewalk; from where Narges stood, she could see nothing beyond a flash of white body. Narges’s father, still in underpants and a thin white undershirt, knelt down, wrapped his arms around the lamb, and looked up to the man, “We are so grateful to Mr. Abolghasemi. This is so generous, so kind.” 

           “May it bring blessings. Eid Mobarak,” the driver said, as he pulled at the squeaky door with his left, and brought his right hand to his chest, bowed his head before driving away, releasing exhaust fumes into the air. Her father pressed the palms of his hands into the lamb’s body and guided it into the building, through the garage, and into the yard. Narges released the curtain, and laid back in bed. She would add the morning prayer to the noon prayer. In one sitting, she now owed three additional prayers, two from the night before, and one for dawn.

           A few hours later, Narges awoke to the sound of the phone ringing. She shot out of bed and ran to the phone, confident that it was Mr. Masoud with another project lined up for her. 

           “Yes.”

           “Salaam Narges joon.” 

           “Oh. Salaam maman.” 

           “Good morning. Your father-in-law has sent you a lamb as an offering for Eid.” 

           “Oh. That’s so generous.”

           “Don’t forget to call him and thank him.” 

           “I won’t.” 

           “Your father has put him in the yard for now. Make sure he doesn’t create a mess. I have to go run some errands. I want to go see Malek khanoom—you know, she’s still sick and they say she’s starting to forget. Just yesterday, Niloo said she went to visit her and she couldn’t remember if she had four daughters or five. I’m going to do some shopping afterwards. We have to clean the sheep tonight. I’ve already invited everyone over for dinner, your aunts and uncles. I did not want to tell your dad’s sister, because of the way she behaved last time, saying all that stuff to you about how your delayed security clearance is a bad omen, but it’s an offering, and it’s bad juju if one doesn’t consider all family, so I’ve invited them all.” She sighed. “Yaaaaaa Allah. I’ve told them to be here by 7:00, so we can have dinner by 10:00. Your father and the uncles will arrive earlier to take care of the lamb.” 

           While her mom had been drawn into a hurricane of gossip, Narges analyzed every fingernail. She needed to clean the turquoise off of six of the nails and repaint them. Maybe she would just start over with yellow. 

           “Narges?”

           “Oh, Okay.”

           “Don’t forget to call, Narges. Your father already called and thanked them, but you should too. It would be a nice gesture, even though we don’t normally do this kind of thing on Eid. Lamb is not a light expense, especially now with inflation rampant and the sanctions. I just pray every day that you, brimful of blessings, will go to California, and God will just force sense into these presidents. Anyway, have you started packing?”

           “No. I have time. I’ll start today.”

           “Naargeesssss,” she sighed, “I’ll see you in a few hours.” 

           In anticipation of her move, Narges’s manager had stopped assigning her projects, and she was home much more often. In what seemed like an effort to keep both Narges and herself as far away from quick sands of thought about the impending emigration, Narges’s mom would shake up the house at every opportunity, bellowing gossip over the phone while pacing outside Narge’s closed door, slamming cupboards and knocking over light furniture. And even when her mother wasn’t home, she would call and talk incessantly. 

           Her mother had left the stove on low. Its blue flame kept the tea warm. Narges lifted the teapot from atop the kettle and watched first the dark, Ceylon tea pour into a quarter of her cup, and then hot water take over the rest, creating the perfect hue of amber. She took a few sips of her tea as she turned down the staircase to the garage and yard. The site before her shocked even the morning thirst for tea out of her. 

           On either side of the lamb’s body, her father-in-law had painted the letter “N” in purple. A crown of woven, white flowers circled its head, drooping down the outer sides of its ears. A short, cheap, lace veil draped from the crown over other parts of its body. A necklace made of fake, cherry-sized pearls hung around its neck. Red carnations around each ear. Each hoof glistened with cubic zirconium anklets. It was a lamb dressed as a bride, a gift to Narges, Mr. Masoud’s newest daughter-in-law. 

           Heels planted into the ground, the lamb flapped its bottom lips against its top. Jaw to the left, jaw to the right, champing away at rose petals in the yard. Its gaze passed through Narges, who had now managed to squat on the porch with her tea set beside her, but her lips were still parted and her eyebrows still furrowed. Her left hand with the ring—white gold with three, inset briliyan diamonds—was fisted and under her chin, as she watched the lamb snap its neck up and then back down. A patch of ornamental grass caught its attention, and it trotted towards it. 

           She must have been staring at the lamb for an hour before her cell phone rang. 

           “Alo, Salaam.” 

           “Good morning, Narges joonam.” 

           “Good evening, Hamed. How was work? You must be tired. What are you eating for dinner?”

           “I forget I’m tired when I hear your voice.”

           “How many solar panels did you install today?” 

           “I did five home inspections, and am scheduled to install panels for a house on Saturday.” 

           “Your parents sent a lamb.” 

           “Oh, they did?”

           “I have to send you a photo. They’ve marked it with N, and they’ve hung jewels all over it. It has a veil and everything. I’ve been staring at it all morning.” 

           “What? Are you serious?” 

            “Poor thing. It’s dressed like a princess. It’s too pretty to be an offering. I’ve spent more time with it this morning than I have with you all month.”

           There was silence.

           “You there?” she asked the dreaded question.  

           Lost call. 

 

           The lamb was still chewing. If it didn’t stop after a few mouthfuls of grass, she would have to find ways to distract it. Why wasn’t it tied up, she thought? And then, her cellphone rang again.  

            “I’m sorry. The connection always seems to be worse at this hour,” Hamed said.

            “Yea, it must be all those damn transnational lovers occupying our waves.” 

           They laughed before he said, “I can’t wait to see you. I know this is hard. Inshallah, it will only be for another month at most. Soon you’ll be here in California, and by then, I will have found a place for us right in the heart of San Francisco.”

            “How is that going, by the way?”

            “It’s OK. I can only find in-laws in San Leandro right now with our budget. But, I mean, when you’ve settled, and found a job, we may be able to move into something bigger, somewhere better.”  

            Narges remained silent.

            “Narges? I know what you’re thinking. Just say it.”  

           “I can’t help thinking, maybe you should just come here. We could have lived really well here. I’m getting high-stake projects, and I may even receive a promotion as head designer at the firm. You could find a much better job than installation. Here, you would be considered a proper engineer.”

            “I know. You’re right. But we’ve talked about all of this before. I promise, if you come here and decide you don’t like it after a year, we’ll move back. Plus, you’ll find a job here. You have so much architecture experience from Iran.”

           “But what kind of land-of-opportunity deprives you of a decent place to live when you’re educated and working full-time?” 

           “It works differently here, Narges. I mean, it takes time, but instead you can create your own path. You have control over your creativity. You know if I came to Iran, I could only be a proper engineer if I worked in my dad’s company. It’s not like that here. And how many years has your manager been telling you he will promote you after your next big project?”

           “Yea. I don’t know, I’m just so bored and conflicted. It’s as if there are a hundred opinions in my head at once….you there?”

            She sighed. Lost call. And that was the end of their conversation for the day. At first, they would call each other back and forth, back and forth, for hours. Sometimes, she would spend an entire six hours just trying to get a conversation in that lasted an hour. But a few weeks ago they decided it was frustrating, even bordered humiliating, the way they’d call and call and call and call, clawing for each other. Some days it would feel as if they had been rotting all day, since it would take nearly that long to fit in a satisfying conversation. Now, they’ve agreed: after the second phone drop, it’s over. Some days they’re lucky and it totals to several hours of conversation. Other days, like today, it’s barely five minutes. 

            She dialed the firm.

            “Baleh?”

            “Salaam Sanam. Khoobi?”

            “Narges? Is that you? How are you?”

            “I’m good. I miss all of you!”

            “We miss you! You won’t be coming back?”

            “Mr. Masoud was supposed to call me as soon as he had a project lined up for me. I think he’s just forgotten. It’s been two weeks. Can you put him on the phone?” 

            “Yea! Wait!” Sanam said. After a few seconds of silence, she came back on the line, “Narges, Mr. Masoud is in a meeting. He says he’ll call you.”

            “How did he say that if he’s in a meeting, Sanam? Aren’t you his secretary and know when he’s in meetings anyway? You don’t have to check to see him in a meeting.”

            “Narges, I’m sorry.”

            “Just tell him I won’t leave before I’ve finished the project. My damn security clearance isn’t even in yet,” Narges yelled, and hung up. 

 

           Back in her room, she felt the coolness of the marble flooring through the rug as she knelt and slid the suitcase out from underneath her bed to unzip it. Still empty. Her gaze was suspended at the beige lining as the clamor in her head picked up. Why pack when the outcome of her green card remained so unclear? Security clearances are unpredictable. Farzaneh khanoom, the community matchmaker, who had married off a number of young men and women had comprehensive security clearance data:  Davood, who had studied Physics, a major considered ‘high security risk’ by the US, and had even completed his two years of military service, was cleared by the US government in 20 hours; Maryam, who studied Art Practice and who had never left the country had been cleared in seven months and three days. Narges’s wait tallied to one month today. One month of paralysis. 

           Anyway, reports back from the States had it that all Iranian, working women who immigrate to America gain so much weight within their first year, their family can no longer recognize them. They have to spend years burning it off. They say every Iranian woman in the United States has a suitcase packed with dresses and pants they’ve brought with themselves from Iran, sized to a body that no longer exists. To erase all memories of their past figure, they hide the clothes in the suitcase, and with it any photographic evidence. Whatever photos they choose to frame and showcase from their life before America has them absent from it. Plenty of these women visit Iran during the summer. They often start most of their sentences with “Before I left…,” or “When I lived here….” or “I don’t know why, but over there, I…” No, there was no way she could pack any of her clothes. She had promised to resist gravitating towards the cliché immigrant woman—the one who moved, but clung to a previous version of herself from another place.

           Narges stood before the burst of color hanging in her closet, and imagined the leather on her favorite black dress being stretched, Hamed squeezing the dress’s opening with one hand, and trying to zip it with another, her back fat getting caught in between, the gold sequins across the sides bulging and popping off one by one while she was dancing at a party. 

           In fact, the only thing she had packed into the hidden pockets of the suitcase was her lingerie, embarrassed by the possibility that their housekeeper or worse, her mom, would see them. The white babydoll draped out over her hands as she pulled it out, and with it came the memory of the first time Hamed ever touched her body. She tried to re-experience his reach into her dress, the way he licked one breast while trying to fit as much of the other into his palm. She laughed to herself, recalling the way he lifted his head long enough to say, “How do you keep all this in a contraption like that?” as he pointed to her bra thrown in the corner of the room. 

           But just as she caressed the fluffy fur along the bra cup, she remembered the lamb. She ran to the living room window and gasped. The ornamental grass along the walls of the yard were destroyed. Parts of the grapevine were torn apart. And now, it was relieving himself at the base of their mulberry tree. Its crown had fallen forward and had brought the veil with it. The sides of the fallen veil surrounded its face, partially covering its eyes. Narges shuffled towards the lamb. Standing a foot away, she bent over to straighten its crown. As soon as it felt her touch, it ran to the furthest end of the yard, dragging her a step forward. She caught herself just before she stepped into the lamb’s shit. 

           “Ey Vayyyyyy.” 

           She walked back up, grabbed her cellphone and dialed Samira’s number. 

            “Salaaam my dearest Aaaamerican Narges. Talk in Eeeeeenglish, let me see if you’ve perfected your American accent.” 

            “Samira, I need your help.”

            “What’s happened?” Samira said, bringing her voice to a lower register.

            For a second Narges hesitated. How could she tell her about the lamb without making it sound like a joke. “Nothing. It’s no big deal. I just need help moving something. It’s heavy and urgent and no one is home. Can you come over?”

            “Anything for you my dear. Just remember us Iranian common folk when you disappear over to the stylish West.” 

            “Hurry.”

 

           In the meantime, Narges went into the kitchen, and scanned the fridge shelves. Two apples. She scrubbed them with a scotch underwater, an act of hospitality that was now mechanical whenever she brought fruit for someone other than herself. Lambs like apples, right? She peeled the apples and methodically chopped them into quarter-inch slices. Narges washed each leaf and stem of lettuce, and laid them alongside the apples on a plate. On the lettuce, she dropped a handful of sugar cubes. The intercom rang,

           “Bale?” she asked. 

           “Open up, your highness. I’m here to be at your command.” 

 

           Narges pushed the buzzer, opened the door, and waited for Samira to come up the first flight of stairs to her doorstep. 

           “Yo. What is that? Are you getting ready to feed a horse?” 

           Narges realized she was holding the plate in her hand at the door. 

           In giggles, she said, “Actually, a lamb.” 

           “How rude. You drag me over and then call me a lamb.” 

           “No, I’m serious.” 

           “What?”

           “I’m actually getting ready to feed a lamb,” she kissed Samira on both cheeks, wrapped her fingers around her wrist and pulled her to the living room window, “Look.”

           It took only a few seconds before Samira started cackling so loud she had to hold onto the windowsill. “What?! You’ve got to be kidding.”

           “Don’t tease. It’s a gift.” 

           “I can see that. I can’t tell if they’re offending you by making the lamb out to look like you, or if it’s their form of honoring you.” 

           “Look like me? If anything it looks like you, with its curly hair fuzz,” she snapped. “Plus, doesn’t honor and offense look the same with in-laws?” 

           “It’s a sacrificial lamb?”

           “No, Samira. It’s a pet lamb. We’re going to let it run around in our yard. And then when I leave for America, my parents are going to bring it into my room to take my place, sleep on my bed, use the toilet.” 

           “But why wouldn’t they just send a normal lamb? Why all the fuss? Oh my! Narges, it even has carnation earrings. They must realllyyyy love their bride. Soooo, what?” she said, wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks with both palms, “Is that what we’re going to move?”

           “Yes! We need to drag it and tie it to a tree or something before it destroys the entire yard.”

           “Honey, it's already destroyed most of it.” 

           “Well, we have to save whatever’s left. ” 

           They both walked down the flight of stairs into the garage, and stood at the door of the yard. Samira rolled up her sleeves, “Narges, let’s do this. You won’t get any more of this when you leave. Enjoy every moment.” 

           “Be serious, Samira. I’m screwed. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to throw an apple at him, and then we’ll create a trail of apples, and as he’s eating them, we’ll both grab him by either side and then drag him to that tree in the corner of the yard. I’ve put rope there. We’ll tie him to the tree.”

           They both walked to the lamb. It flipped his head back, flicking the veil out of its face, before digging its mouth back into the roses Narges’s family had ordered from Turkey. Narges set the apples down—one slice right on the tree’s bulging root, and the rest on a path to the lamb. The apples were shaped like crescents with the concaved bellies echoing the tree’s trunk. 

            “Why did you peel the apples?” 

            “I don’t know what they eat, how they eat.” 

            “They only eat one thing…. anything.” 

            “No idiot, goats eat anything, not lambs. Also, I was bored. The days are so boring now.” 

            “Okay, take a slice of apple, Samira, and try to feed the lamb from the palm of your hand. As soon as the lamb takes one, it will connect the other white crescents with the delicious one it is chewing, and make its way to the tree. Go. Go. You can do it,” she said closing Samira’s fist over the apple slice and pushing her towards the lamb. 

            With her arm stretched out to the fullest extent, Samira shuffled towards the lamb, and wiggled the apple slice in her hand. The lamb stood still, and stared at the apple with its beady eyes, and his head tilted up. “Nargesiii, Nargesiiii, take the apple.”

            “What?! Don’t call it that.”

            “I’m not making it up. It has N painted across its side. What better sign do you want than that? Hey, look at the apple, Nargesiii, up here at the apple,” she said.

           Narges shot out from behind Samira, and grabbed the lamb with her arms hugging both sides of his body. “Samira, do something.” 

            “Do what?” Samira said. 

            “Drop the apple, and use both hands.” 

           Samira snatched the rope, and together they pulled. The pressure around the lamb’s neck forced it to follow. 

             

            Once tied to the tree, Narges and Samira dropped back, lying with their backs on the cement, their eyes towards the sky.  

            “Damn, that lamb is strong.”

            “And it’s only still a baby.”

            “You’re missed at work,” said Samira, turning her head towards Narges. It was the first comment she had made in a serious tone all day. “Everyone is still talking about your last project. The president of Sharif University called and said that he couldn’t have even imagined a more practical and modern design for the gym. ‘It’s a gym that deserves to have the name and reputation of the university itself,’ he said, or something like that.”

            “Has Mr. Masoud paid any of you yet?”

            “What do you think? Did he end up paying you what he owed you?”

            “He said next week. I’m still waiting for him to assign me a project.”

            “Well, at least this kind of thing doesn’t happen in America.” 

            “Really? How do you know? Does it actually not happen or is it just that women don’t actually get jobs?”

            “Are you really nervous about that?”

            “Shouldn’t I be? I’ve been spending all my time designing. I only have a B.A. The rules for architecture are different here. We use different software, different metrics, different building standards. We even have different material.”

            “You’ll learn all of it.”

            “My dad’s sister bought me a set of tea cups, a kettle and teapot, a silver tray, and candles yesterday. She said, ‘You’ll end up spending so much of your time at home now, so you should complete your set, at least.’”

            Samira laughed. “What did you say?”

            “Nothing. She’s probably right.”

            “Aw, Narges. That’s so not your style. You should have done what you do best, smiled in her face, thanked her repeatedly, and then said, ‘I already have a job lined up for me there, but I’m sure there will be a lot of charities that would really appreciate your generous gifts.’”

            They both laughed. “Can you imagine! She would probably snap back.” 

            “Yea, but everyone knows your wit can’t be topped. Is she also coming for dinner?”

            “Yea. Stay. Stay for dinner.”

            “OK, but relax, Narges, loosen up. You’re not going forever. Just imagine you’re going there to try a real McDonalds Burger, a real Starbucks coffee, visit New York and Los Angeles, and then come back.” 

            “But no one ever comes back.” 

 

           The aunts, her mom’s sisters, always arrive together, and she could hear their high-pitched cries from the stairway before they even reached her front door. It was 7pm, Samira and Narges had spent the rest of the afternoon listening to music in her bedroom. Samira insisted on transferring as much music from her MP3 player as possible for Narges, since she had heard that ‘one must pay for everything in America.’ But at 7pm, the rest of the house moved from silent to clamorous in seconds. 

           “Narges koo? Narges koo? Where’s Narges?”

           Narges walked through the hallway to the living room.

           “vayyyyyyyyy khale jooooooooon,” both aunts screeched at once. 

           Narges surrendered her face to her two aunts, as they placed their palms on her cheeks. One aunt brought Narges’s head forward and kissed her cheeks with the side of her lip to avoid smearing her lipstick. 

           The other aunt was pinching her stomach, “America is already creeping in,” she said as she pushed in and grabbed whatever flab she could. They both wrapped their arms around Narges and held her tightly. Two different sweet perfumes rose from their bodies—a combination that was slightly nauseating but familiar. 

            “Narges, we’ve brought you something,” said her eldest aunt. 

            “But why did you trouble yourself? You shouldn’t have put yourself through anything for me.” 

           They were already all reaching into their bags. Each of them drew out a dress. “We’ve had them designed and tailored for you.”

            “This one is from fabric I purchased in Italy. It’s very expensive, Narges,” her eldest said as she held up the halter-top dress to Narges’s body. Its velvety material would emphasize her every curve. 

            “This one is for more casual occasions,” her other aunt said, as she held out an olive green vest dress. 

            Her mom who was in the kitchen entered the living room with a tray of tea. “But why did you put so much time and money into this? She’s not even willing to take the clothes she has.” 

            “Well, they all say that it is not uncommon to go to a party in America, and find someone who is wearing exactly what you are! Can you believe it? That’s unimaginable!” 

            “I’m sure that’s just another rumor.”

            “No, Nasrin! Our neighbor, her daughter went to America and came back and said that they all dress the same there. On some occasions, she’s even seen people wearing the same coat. And the same shoes…..well, that’s very common to see,” she said staring at Narges with a very serious face, as if she should be warned. 

            “Khaleh, you are so dramatic. Who knows? I may be back within a year and won’t have to deal with any of that. Plus if they all wear it, why can’t I wear it.” 

            Both aunts screeched as they brought their slender fingers with glitter-manicured nails to their lips. “Who has a chance to go to America and thinks about returning for good? It doesn’t matter what you do there. Just go and stay,” the eldest snapped. 

            “Plus, it doesn’t matter how often you come back to visit, but don’t go walking around dressed like them. You have to look different, so they won’t notice your accent, right?” The younger aunt turned to get affirmation from her sister.  

            “Narges, we are going to offer the lamb. Since it’s for you, you should come for the blessing.” It was her father. Relieved to step away from this conversation, she walked down the stairs to the garage, but froze halfway there. 

            “Baba,” she called. “I can’t. I don’t want to see it.” 

            She expected her father to say what he often said when she or the rest of their family criticized the traditionalists in the country who offered lambs every year for Eid: Is it more noble to see what an animal must endure to feed you at every meal, or do you prefer to pretend like these pink cubes were yours, always yours, from the moment they were imagined? But instead, he gave her a reassuring smile, and said, “Then, offer a short prayer instead.” 

            When she returned upstairs, the smell of browned onions and turmeric filled the home. Narges didn’t step into the kitchen where she heard the rhythm of plates being stacked and spatula’s striking the bottoms of pans. Instead, she walked to the living room window that overlooked the yard. 

 

           Their local butcher, Mr. Amini, had already arrived, and was kneeled at the sheep’s body. Her father, like most men, knew how to butcher the offering, but it takes a kind of courage to commit the act with grace and a speed that reserves the animal’s dignity, and only few men know how to do it like that. The basins of water and food her father had brought to the lamb as soon as he came home, were more than halfway empty. They must have seemed bottomless to the lamb. Beside it, in a pile, lay the jewelry and veil that adorned the lamb all day. Mr. Amini brought a bowl of water to the lamb, and dipped the tips of his fingers into it and rubbed them onto the lamb’s tongue. He raised his palms and head up and said the blessing, “In the name of Allah.” The lamb lay motionless just before he pressed the knife into its throat. Narges’s father curled his lips in, tightened his cheeks, and brought his head down to the gravel. Her uncles both looked away, one towards the tree to which Narges and Samira had tied the lamb, the other towards the direction of the rose bush. For two minutes, the lamb shook as if it was fighting to make its way out through the slit on its jugular vein, and then it lay still. Its body and bones deserted. 

           It would take another forty-five minutes to transform the lamb to the neat stacks they purchased at their local meat shop, but Narges left to her room. She needed a moment of silence, and the only excuse all guests and family would respect was prayer. 

           As she brought her forehead to the cool stone on her prayer rug, she recalled the remaining process of the offering, having seen it in various honor ceremonies over the years. The small incision near the lamb’s heel. The largest and strongest of the men) breathing into the lamb’s body. Air space between meat and skin, to ease the separation of the two.

           She stood up and recited the suras for the second salutation circuit. This time, she brought her palms up, lifted her head, and closed her eyes while reciting the verse. 

           One reaching deep into the body, turning out entrails, holding them all together in the curves of his elbows, with his palms turned up.

           She fell forward, hands on her knees, with a straight back, and recited verses of thanks. And then the division and distribution: the lamb’s skin for the butcher as payment, the meat from the legs for two of the neighbors, the head for Mr. Askari, their corner grocer whose wife had recently given birth to their third child and who for ten years now, every time they purchased goods from him would thank them and express how business was only getting worse “these days;” the liver and the ribs they set aside for one uncle and aunt, the sirloin and the neck for a for another, and the flanks and shanks reserved for tonight’s meal. 

           She finished her prayer, realizing afterwards she recalled none of it. Next time, she thought, she needed to be more mindful. 

            

            Two hours later, they all took seats at the dining table filled with food from one end to the other. Narges served herself chicken and kashke bademjoon. She couldn’t eat the lamb tonight. Her father’s sister, Amina, who had arrived thirty minutes ago, with yet another gift for Narges—this time, colanders designed for Persian rice—sat across from her. Her black, silk scarf curved loosely around the bleached, blonde hair she had brushed back and sprayed well to stay in place. Her thick, brown tattooed eyebrows sagged further down the sides of her face every year. She smiled at Narges with fuschia-painted lips, enlarged from excess lip liner.  

            “So, your husband’s family is traditional, yea?” she said. 

            “I don’t think they’re any more traditional than we are,” Narges replied. 

            “Well, we don’t ever buy a lamb to offer.”      

            “We don’t offer a lamb, but even you and I buy lamb. What’s the difference? There’s no difference,” her father said.

            “Well, isn’t Eid just like Thanksgiving in America?” Samira said, “I mean, wasn’t there that one time when their vice president, or whoever that lady was who turned out to be kind of crazy, went to the turkey farm and they showed turkeys being butchered on the farm on live TV? Like the butcher was staring straight into the camera while he beheaded them with a machine and she was talking about family and food or something?” Samira said, giggling. “Would you rather be a turkey in America, or a lamb in Iran, Narges?” she added.

            “Let’s change the subject,” Narges’s mother interrupted. 

            “Yes, you are right,” said her eldest aunt. “This food is delicious. Who made the kashke bademjoon?”

            “Didn’t you make the kashke bademjoon?” Narges’s mom asked. 

            “Oh yea. You’re right. That’s why I love it.”

             

           That night, Narges couldn’t fall asleep. After she and Hamed had used their two phone calls, each only two minutes long before the abyss between them had struck the call dead, they messaged each other for an hour and a half. “What I kept meaning to say before we lost connection was, I’m sorry about this morning and how difficult this is for you. If you are sure you want to stay, we will,” wrote Hamed. 

           “No, I want to come. It’s just so hard to understand what that even means.”

           “Well, in that case, I will make sure that whatever place we do get has a little yard with at least one maple tree. That way, whenever you are homesick we can both go sit under the maple tree and think about our first date in Park Mellat.”

           “How boring. You didn’t say a single word on our first date. It was horrendous. If it wasn’t for Samira, I would have never seen you again.” 

           “Come on, I said a few words. Plus, whatever I did worked, didn’t it? Did you keep any of the jewelry hanging form the lamb?”

           “Yea, there’s nothing like keeping that memory with you forever and ever.” 

           “What did you eat?”

           “You know what happens when they all get together, about four different types of stews, an aash, salad, fresh olives. They can’t keep it simple.”

           “They must be exhausted.”

           And eventually, his lunch break ended, and it was past midnight in Tehran. Narges returned to the steps in the yard. She sat on these steps whenever she had trouble sleeping, which happened often. Before, it was because she was wrapped in the details of her current design. Now, it was because she was wrapped in every detail of what remained to be seen. The scents of the city’s summer breath always peaked at night— damp dirt-strewn cement, the bitter-sweetness of jasmines, the faint wafts of the nectar of the watermelon they had shelled and enjoyed in the yard before they all left. Not a trace of the lamb was left, and the yard did not look as worn down in darkness as it had during the day. Her father must have hosed down the cement and the gravel, watering the bushes on both sides with whatever blood remained. The gardener, who had come that evening to pick up the share of the lamb Narges’s father had set aside for him, had promised to replant everything over the next few days.  “In a week,” he said, “it will look brighter and even more beautiful. After all, the lamb wasn’t sacrificed in the yard for nothing.”  

           Narges adjusted her headphones. Set the volume to max. It was Frank Sinatra. 

                                 And all at once it seems so nice, 

                                 The folks are throwing shoes and rice.

                                 You hurry to a spot, that’s just a dot on the map, 

                                 You’re hooked, you’re cooked, you’re caught in the tender trap. 

 

           Tomorrow, Narges thought, she had to start packing. 

 

 

 

 


Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh is a PhD student in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She has a creative nonfiction essay forthcoming in an anthology, Iran Musings: Voices from the Diaspora. Her work has been published in Zyzzyva, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Poetry Northwest. Her translation of Sohrab Sepehri's "Water" has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her poem "Unibrow" won the Lydia Wood Prize in poetry. She is currently working on a novel based on her family's immigration story.  

unnamed-1.jpg