I remember her in this way: she has her hands wrapped around a chipped mug, her eyes pinned on the fake fruit. She spots some dust, reaches, with a stroke brushes it away. She sips, and then she begins. “I said I wouldn’t speak no more about this, but here I am. Your father—.” While she spoke, she wept. Hers was a tragedy unworthy of such unadulterated being, and she made you weep too. She was a woman of few words, but when it came to her story, she would speak. “They think I’m crazy, but they have not seen—.”
I do not remember her in this way because she did not want me to.
“I do not feel well.” Her stomach is in upheaval, waves crashing, birds pecking at the gates. But she does not even croak. She is silent, even though her life fumbles and slips from her grasp. She calls her sister, who comes rushing from next door (they are immigrants, boiled down to their bare need to live among the unknown—to survive). Her sister gasps and wails as Egyptian women do. “Mary, what is all this?” She grabs her sister to steady herself, clots of blood already cascading down, hot. “Take the girls, Layla.” Her sister accidentally knocks over a vase, but is relieved that her task is merely to shield the girls from the sight—a sight she does not want to see either. The girls and the sister leave, slamming the door behind them, so she pulls herself up and walks to the bathroom of the small apartment.
Blood, almost black and in chunks, falls as if her body does not want to live anymore—it already knows the loss is too great, that the soul will fail once it is done. Yet she moves towards the bathroom, panting not screaming; no one wants to hear the cry of a woman, especially in a foreign language. Yet she moves towards the bathroom, slowly but determined; her daughters need her—their father would surely remarry and that woman would surely upset them. Yet she moves towards the bathroom, her life breathless before her, her essence already shattered since appearing in the New World. To herself, she is a shadow, an essence belonging somewhere else, to someone else. Finally, she makes it to the bathroom, and quickly, she glances at the toilet. No, she thinks, I cannot. She glances at the tub, climbs over the edge, and as she is doing so, her life slips out from between her. She weeps only then, heaving, realizing what she has lost. Her creation lies before her, almost formless but in essence present, a structure of mere cells extracted from herself and her being and now separated; she hears someone crying for her, hears its suckling. She weeps, mourns herself. And when she hears the cry of the siren, she dries her face, pulls herself out and lets herself return.
They take her to the hospital. “She’s lost too much blood.” She stays only the night; they have no insurance, and he already is speaking to his manager about an extra shift. The doctor comes in, tries to stop her, gives her a prescription when she doesn’t listen; he speaks to her husband. When she comes back to the apartment, her husband dropping her off before he goes back to work, she holds herself together alone. She drinks freshly squeezed lemon, warmed, throwing away the doctor’s prescription. “No insurance,” she had told him. “Need home. Two girls.” She holds up two fingers to stress what she has, what she has to return to now.
The carpet is still red, a trail of her life streaming through the house. She bends over and begins to scrub until her hands are red too. She does not want to remember this; she does not want to tell this story. We cannot know what creeps beneath her surface: the true tragedy of a woman unloved, her own mourner. So she scrubs until her hands are red.
About the Author: I learned to share a story from my mother, who is the subject of most of my stories. She blurred for me the difference between fiction and nonfiction in this world, and I think that has become the essence of my work: at one point, what the author knows, what the reader knows, what the subject knows is never enough and never the Truth.
Born and raised in America, my biography floats between the realm of something else too. It’s never right to assume ownership of our knowledge of others or ourselves, but I know that I am Coptic Orthodox—that indigenous Christian population of Egypt’s soil—and that I am studying Middle Eastern Studies as I hope to bring stories of Middle Eastern immigrants to life’s stage.
I inherited many stories from many people, and because they are unable to speak what is spoken here, they have entrusted me with the stewardship of their legacy. I also ask that the reader consider the possibilities of human Truth and essence as measured by this story.