an excerpt from Memories of Birth
A sensation like ice crept up between Hindee's fingers as she smoothed the clothes. Her mother stood silent, watching her. Hindee knew this moment: Alia seeming to want to talk, and yet not talking, a moment like a crease in time, full of vanishing possibility. She had been raised in a refugee camp. She once had said that in her camp you were allowed two possessions: silence and the prayers in your stomach instead of bread.
"Did you talk to him?" Hindee asked. Too late; Alia was already retreating, moving back to her own room. "Did he ask about me?"
Just a glimpse of Alia's shoulders rising. "Who knows what that man wants? Even he doesn't know, believe me."
Hindee looked at her hands on top of her stack of clothes. There were small striations that crosshatched her hands, across the knuckles, and a few cut deeper across the wrist bones and along the softer, inner flesh, the hidden flesh of her forearms. The marks were almost invisible now, present only to those who knew about them. Hindee had the ability to bring them back at will by touching a finger to each secret cut; she could bring back the blaze of pain concealed in each. Once, when a group of girlfriends insisted on going to a fortuneteller in the city, the gypsy had held Hindee's hands in hers for much longer than she'd held the other girls'. Hindee saw her eyes travel up the length of her arms and stop, wondering, at her shirt sleeves. The woman closed her eyes as if she too had felt the heat that started again in Hindee, as if it had stroked flame into the woman's own loose skin.
The gypsy nodded slowly; she said, "You must learn, now, to protect yourself. You will go through life feeling as though you are carrying a burning bushel and it will be your own heart." Nothing about the dark men and long journeys she told the other girls. She closed her hands on Hindee's. No charge. "Come back tomorrow and I'll teach you more." Hindee never returned.
It was his belt. Full leather-grained, silver buckle. First, always, the sound of it. Often without warning, without a single accusation or scolding. Just the tinkle of the metal tongue against the buckle piece as it unhooked. So in later years, the sound of a lover undoing his belt was enough to ice her skin, make her eyes smart. She asked her steady lovers not to wear a belt.
Father, father. Anger in his arms and neck and temples. She was born into it: she spoke English; she tilted her head like an American; born in this country not his.
He is standing over her and she has been too slow in picking up her toys, awkward in buttering her bread, subdued in answering a question. And it comes like a lick of lightning into her arms, crazy electric eel, flicking over shoulders, chest, white fire licking, again and again. She is carrying a basket of fire; the leather tongue licks her flesh, sometimes draws blood. Sometimes he kicks her too, or lifts her, throws her tumbling, a boxful of building blocks against the wall, the floor, there goes Hindee, all falls down, scattering, some of her here, some there. She is in pieces. She is crying and crying. Each time it happens she thinks that he will kill her, that the world will shake apart.
The terrible, terrible shaking, the world, her body carved apart, again and again.
Always, afterward, he tells her to wash her face. To come sit on his lap, give him a kiss, so he can forgive her. Perhaps take her out for ice cream.
Once, when she was eight, the belt slashed her across the mouth. She saw her mother's face rising like a white shadow and something caught the swinging belt just as Hindee's mouth filled with the taste of blood. The tears on her hands were stained red; she saw her mother's hands around one end of the belt, her father's looped around the other.
Her mother was screaming something in their language, the wavy sounds she and he kept hidden between themselves; and Hindee knew that it was stop it, that she was telling him to beat her instead.
"You are ridiculous," he had finally said to her mother.
The belt was a smear of red in Alia's hands. Her eyes, when she looked at Hindee, were ferocious, devouring. Hindee had an inkling then of where her mother had come from. Palestine, she called it. And she could never go back. Her mother was from Palestine.
Many Mountains Moving Tribute Page
Fiction Contents Page
STANDARDS Home Page
Contents by Genre
Call for Submissions