The Border Town3
March 19, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Mehr-Afarin Kohan
There is mud and rocks on the ground and tire tracks from trucks carrying cement and bricks. I see footprints, small ones- four holes drilled in, sometimes eight. There’s the smell of fish, stagnant in the air, coming from the stands by the gravel road. Silvery scales glitter under the sun as men pour water to keep them fresh; fat ones, long ones, thin ones laying next to each other, some overlapping. A trail of blood and water drips from the wooden tables. At times a tail flaps, seizure running through the body.
“They’re alive!” I scream. I’m scared of the open mouths of the fish, their round yellow eyes. They stare at me and I run away.
My father is bargaining with a man, who has almond eyes with fish scales stuck to the sweat on his shirt.
“That’s my final price!”
My father tries to be firm. His shoes are stained with mud and he hovers over the fish to protect his light jacket from getting dirty. He’s wrinkling his nose at the smell. So am I.
The Fisherman shakes his head. My father is terrible at bargaining, my mother says.
“But these poor people,” my father says. He somehow never wins- sometimes paying even higher the original price. “How did you manage that?” my mother sulks. “A man like you…”
She touches the fish with both hands, caressing their bellies, flipping them back and forth quick, the way she would when frying them in the pan with oil and breadcrumbs. I cringe and turn away from her.
There is a mountain with cabins built on large rocks, now on the verge of falling. There are sheep on the grass around them, like woolly clouds hiding in the bush, sharp green in the aftermath of rain. I breathe in the green, the dew, the soft wool, the pillow of my dreams- of wooden cabins flying above mountains, where I go with my parents and our friends during the spring break. There a fluffy golden retriever is my friend and I don’t wash my hands to keep the smell of sheep, making my mother upset.
“Don’t lay in the hay,” she yells.
I roll and roll on the grass. I eat all the seeds of a sunflower in concentric circles on a tree. I put my cheek on the soft wool and chase the mini tornados sweeping across the grass on dry days. My mother shoves me into the shower. The cold water condenses the air in my lungs for a moment and I swirl in a refreshing mix of suffocation and laughter. She waits for me with a towel. I’m shaking, dripping my way inside our cabin.
There are three boys- ten, maybe nine, approaching our car. They speak a language I don’t speak. They’re wearing plastic boots. They have grey wool sweaters with navy stripes across the chest and muddy pants. Their heads are shaved. Their hands and faces are unwashed. They press their foreheads to the glass and cup their hands to see us cramped in the backseat eating baked sweets we got from the last village. They see me and my friends putting our hands into the large white box, licking our fingers one by one. We look at them. They look at us.
“Daddy, look!” I say pointing to them.
My father rolls down his window to face them. My mother gasps and covers her mouth. He takes the box from us. I never know if it’s the noise of the automatic window rolling down or my father’s bushy moustache, but they run away, never looking back.
My father holds the box out the window, shouting after them to come back, come have some sweets. But the louder he shouts, the faster they run.
“Don’t ever do that again!” My mother says, locking the doors.
Maybe somewhere in their memory remains a moustached Russian that shouted “Fire!” to the squad that executed the men, while the women and children watched from behind the dusty glass with dew running down on it, later shattered and burnt with the sheep, leaving only the grass.
This my father says, looking at us from the rearview mirror, which I carry with me with a mixture of awe and terror until I am old enough to understand. We hold each other’s hands on the backseat as he drives in between the fields of tulip, yellow, pink, red and white, stretched to the horizons of Turkmen Sahra in Northern Iran. There I see clouds forming and condensing to rain.
Mehr-Afarin Kohan is a Toronto-based emerging writer, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Her writing has appeared in the Belletrist Magazine and The Healing Muse. Her stories have been long-listed for The Fiddlehead’s Short Fiction contest and Thomas Morton Memorial Prize and she has received the Bruce Dearing Writing Award. She has a psychotherapy-based private practice. She lives with her husband, two-year-old daughter and two cats. Find her at mehrafarinkohan.com.
Very well written. I enjoyed reading it.
I really loved this short story, it’s evocative of the place the author grew up in, but is so subtle that it could take place anywhere! It is well written and descriptive language who can imagine it vividly.
I would like to correct the last sentence, which should read: “one can imagine it vividly”.