Fiction in Translation

The Visit

By September 11, 2022No Comments

     She watched Adam’s apple move up and down with every swig he took from the beer; watched the manner of muscles on his arm and shoulder under thin shirt plastered to his damp skin, how it revealed the curve around his breasts.

He followed her gaze.

     “With my shirt on, scars of surgery don’t show.” He smiled shyly and wiped his damp forehead.

     “I’m sorry I’ve wasted your young daughter’s heart.”

This was the first long sentence he uttered during their visit; at the end of the sentence, he exhaled. The woman could hear his breath, which seemed to be hardly managed, and blended with a gentle whizzing. She didn’t know what to say. She had dreamt of this visit and this conversation day and night, awake or asleep. And now his whizzing in the intervals of sipping his beer had emptied her mind of all the other sounds. She wondered why she wanted to see him.

     He didn’t ask questions. In the station, as if knowing her for years, he walked to her with intimate body language, without sizing her up, asked her how she was fairing. They walked without a word and reached the café, sat on the worn wooden chairs in front of the still sea. Reflections of sun light spread on the surface of the sea, blended in with the majestic gray, rocky shore, filled the four o’clock P.M. with dull, white light. The shore and the café were vacant. Farther away, sat a man and a woman with a little girl on a bench, biting on their sandwiches.

     “Close to the end of the summer; almost no one comes here these days.” He took a breath, took another sip.

     “Water is too salty for a swim, the view not so great.” After a short pause, he continued. “But I come here every afternoon, I like this place.” Without looking away from the sea, he added. “Maybe because it’s a good for nothing spot,” He looked at her, and smiled, “Like me!” His voice was soft and monotone. No vibration disturbed the gentle flow of his words. Only the whizzing, when he paused, gave it a halt; then it kept streaming on again. The cadence in his voice was so in harmony with the silence that when a sentence ended, the melody of words kept on to the next sentence with no tremor disturbing the perpetual calm in his tone. From the start, when she called and asked to meet with, no hint of surprise or suspicion seeped into his voice. He accepted.

     The doctor said it was of no use. That she had donated her daughter’s heart to another person, and it was best that this other person remains a stranger. That she’d better accept the fact that she had donated her daughter’s heart unconditionally.

     She didn’t want to donate her daughter’s heart; didn’t want to sign the papers. She said to the doctor that she couldn’t possibly sign the permission to her death. A mother gives life; cannot consent to end her life, she said.

     The doctor looked at her with dry eyes and a pallid face and repeated that her daughter was no longer alive. That her daughter would not live, and her heart was working only with the help of the machines. That it will stop beating in an hour. His fingers drummed on the desktop, his tone of voice getting in a quicker pace, he said he wondered how a mother would prevent her daughter’s heart from going on beating.

     She said she needed to think whether it was a good idea for her child’s heart to pulse in someone else’s ribcage; she needed to think, couldn’t decide just now. The doctor’s fingers stopped drumming. He knotted his hands together, and with a softer voice repeated that there was no time. She had to decide what to do with her daughter’s heart.

     She didn’t want to decide for her heart. An hour later asked her husband to sign for both and donate the heart. She didn’t ask who the receiver was. For months she never thought about it until in her dreams her daughter started to keep away from her.

     They went for walks together. They ate together. They talked. Her daughter walked close, very close to her. Suddenly she began to keep her distance. She would look at her watch and say that she had to go; had given her word to be somewhere, they were looking for her, she had to go. She begged her to stay longer; her daughter said she couldn’t, not even a minute longer, and in a rush, she’d walk away every time.

     Every time she woke up from her dreams, her sorrow was heavier than the previous time. In her next dream she begged more, didn’t want to let go. Her daughter, with a face that looked unhappier every time, said there was no use persisting.

     The doctor said the dreams were rooted in her unconscious, about the heart being left somewhere. He said she must come to terms with the fact of her daughter’s death. Must agree to disconnect, otherwise mourning will turn into hallucinations. She tried to analyze her thoughts, cut through her imagination, wipe away the image of the stolen heart from the depths of her mind. But her daughter’s urge to leave got more rapid in the dreams, her face unhappier.

     She was afraid she’d stop visiting, not see her again. She was afraid her obsessions with the beating of the heart in some stranger’s chest, fall on her thought like a sheet of nightmare, keeping her daughter from entering her dreams.

     Finally, she decided to meet with the stranger, hoping her worries over the heart let go of her.

The doctor agreed, the man did, too. On the phone, he had listened to her and said that a visit would be a good idea; the way to confront a temptation is to plunge into it, he said.

“Doesn’t watching the sea, calm, with no tides, calm you?” He asked the woman as he looked peacefully at the far edges of the sea.

       She said it did so before the accident. But after that the peaceful outside world reminded her more vividly of her distressed inner side. She said she had found this out one night when a horrible storm uprooted trees; she had felt calm, in harmony with the outside, as the storm caused turmoil in the street. Then she asked if he had always been so calm.

     Without an answer, he drank the last drops of his beer, placed the glass on the table, and asked the woman to go for a walk along the shoreline with him. “At this hour, the breeze lessens the moisture in the air.”

     He took her arm in his and they went towards the rocky shore widespread amid the horizons and the sea. Now he had let go of her hand and walked with his back stooped a little, his hands hanging idle on his sides. His up-right neck was in contrast with his bulging belly and arched back. His heavy stature looked limp and tired, his head, happy and energetic. His breathing seemed lighter. When they sat down, sheltered by the cliffs, where the shore was flat, his breathing mixed again with a light whizzing.

     “Calm came when the temptations stopped.” He talked without looking at her. “After nights of insomnia, I slept sound and safe one night,” He exhaled. “And the night after that. Gradually my drive faded away.” He paused. “And then the last bits of it vanished; in my body and in my head.”

     For one second, he took his eyes from the sea, and looked at her. His eyes were calm; no vibration disturbed the soft melody in his voice. “First came anger, and then… sorrow…” He smiled, “then calm came… the end of all seductions, absolute calm … like death.” Leaned towards her, his eyes half shut, and whispered: Now you understand why I apologize for wasting your young daughter’s heart in my idle body?

     He opened his eyes wide and looked at her. In the dark of his eyes a sparkle shimmered and died away.

     “Can I see the scar?” She said.

     Slowly, he unbuttoned his shirt. His bulging chest and belly stood out. The scar of the stitches like a red, irritated strip, above the belly button, divided a portion of the chest from the rest of it.

     She traced the line with the pad of her finger: As if your heart is fortified. Her fingers touched the proud flesh line, and the damp fine hair on his breasts; leaned closer, enough to hear the beating heart.

     He took her head in his hands gently and pressed it to his chest. The orderly beating swirled in the labyrinth of her head. Her cheek pressed to the damp breasts, she looked up at his half-shut eyes, whispered: Please—?

     Holding her in his arms, he leaned back, and held her tight.

    She felt his big belly under her, and the gentle hold of his arms on her back. Her lips touched the fleshy line around the scar; touched it with her tongue all ‘round. Sucked on the nipples. Felt the salty sweat in her mouth. A shudder ran beneath her skin. She felt with her mouth for his. Her tongue in his warm, wet mouth moved around; warmth poured in her mouth, ran in her cheeks, on the soft tissue behind her ear, slipped down her breasts. She pressed to the fleshy stripe around the wound, pressed harder. Shudder, wave after wave, spread, streamed towards deepest spot in her belly, pressed to his belly, quivering with the monotone throbs rumbling in her head.

Shahla Shafigh

Translated by Saghi ghahraman,
2004, Toronto

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