By ESTABRAQ AHMAD
Translated from the Arabic by MAIA TABET
During her worst fits, my waters couldn’t drown out her cries. Stacking plates, cups, spoons, and knives, her fists flailed against the sides of my bowl; she’d stare at the gushing water stream, her head slackened against her chest.
In a departure from daily routine, she went on an angry, blabbering rampage, hurling her son’s glass pill bottles into my lap, smashing cups and plates, and turning on the faucet. Water and bits of glass floated everywhere—oh, my, I got so dizzy and regurgitated the larger pieces that had lodged in the drain.
She kept kicking me as I coughed my guts up, and she smashed more plates with the skillet.
The specter of her son appeared, grabbed her wrist firmly but tenderly, and wrapped his arms around her from behind. She stopped and breathed a deep sigh but didn’t raise her head or turn around.
We were so tired of this, even her son, who was increasingly impatient and dejected.
She was constantly screaming, cursing, and vituperating, and threatening to dispose of us as she had done, just after the tragedy, with some of his favorite things.
Her anger at my stubborn drawers and doors was relentless. She kept pulling them out and banging them shut, and they ended up damaged or paralyzed.
She went completely nuts during her sister’s last visit; she berated her son and cursed the kitchen, accusing everyone of causing her repeated breakdowns. When her sister tried to calm her, she became quarrelsome and threw her out, despite the son’s attempt to stop her.
He came back an hour later, ignored her ranting, and busied himself with rummaging for the notebooks and pencils he kept in my drawers. She punched him in the back and spat out profanities about the kitchen, and then wept.
It’s the right decision. Her mental state is worsening, she isn’t following the treatment, and she isn’t going to her doctor’s appointments.
Earlier, she’d lit one of my burners––or eyes, as we call them––and set on fire whatever papers of his she’d managed to get hold of. She went so far as to stuff his notepads and books in my oven, babbling hysterically, and then insulted and cursed me, claiming the oven still smelled of him.
More recently, her frenzied outbursts have multiplied. Looking for a box of matches, she kicked the cabinet in, then gathered up his photos and papers, even his medical reports, and lit one of my burners, extinguishing her delusions one by one; then she stuffed the charred debris in the sink—the one hurting the most amongst us.
She cussed us out––because we hadn’t intervened when her son needed us––and left, slamming the door.
That’s when I asked them to cooperate on a rescue plan; the sink got so-o-o-o excited.
With the patience of Job:
And they agreed to the plan.
She shattered my dreams, buried them, piling them with stones. I really did try to find a measure of success, but she pinned me by her side and thwarted me at every turn. I couldn’t free myself from the tentacles of her sick love. Even the few friendships I had she experienced as betrayals; and I wasn’t sticking to my medication regimen. I often carried my books to read in the spacious kitchen that I loved, talking to the things there, telling them about my heroes, about those who’d managed to shed all fear, those who had the courage to go and die… and about my ongoing cowardice.
What We Did
That morning, she came into the kitchen weeping and was surprised by the burble of water coming from the sink, glistening on the ground. She almost slipped, steadied herself by grabbing onto the marble countertop, drew herself up, and opened the lower cabinet door, bending down to look for some tape with which to strangle the holes. The panel of the upper cabinet fell on her, it cracked her head, and she fainted. The stove went on the attack and started leaking gas so that she could drink in death, and drink abundantly, a poetic touch proposed—unwittingly, I think—by the son.
And then we waited a long time for her one and only. He never came, and we never so much as caught a glimpse of him.
The next-door neighbor: She changed this past year. She didn’t ever get in touch anymore, or even go out. She vanished.
The building watchman: She called me, insisting that we had to find someone to take the stove away immediately. She said its ambiguous whisperings were getting more and more frequent, and I promised to sell it within days.
The weeping sister: Her son suffered terribly from his dark moods and from her attachment to him. In the year that followed his inexplicable and sudden death in the kitchen, her hallucinations worsened, and she descended into a vortex of delusion, alleging that the kitchen had played a role in his death.
The son: I saw her heading into the kitchen, I heard her fall, and I got up to follow her but froze. I later learned that the stove had spurred on the oven, remembering my story about a poet named Sylvia Plath, whom she increasingly resembled.
Estabraq Ahmad writes short stories, children’s books, and young adult literature, as well as hybrids. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Laila Al-Othman Literary Award and the Kuwait State Award for Short Stories. Ahmad’s work has been translated into several languages, including English, Chinese, Farsi, and Spanish.
maia tabet is an Arabic-English literary translator with five book-length translations to her name. Her work has also appeared in Words Without Borders, Banipal, Fikrun wa Fann, Portal 9, ArabLit Quarterly, and the Journal of Palestine Studies, among others. She is currently completing a translation of Rula Jurdi’s ‘Ilbat al-Daoww.