Little to See
The air smells of rose water, and everybody is wearing black. I press my head to the chest of the woman, holding her tight. She smells of lilacs, although, at that time, I don’t have a name for it.
On the street, men march and chant, holding metal chains with handles. They are shirtless and whip their backs with chains. I can see the skin coming off as I hear the thumping, the chants. They whip until their backs are black with blood.
The woman has let me by myself. Black pants and skirts surround me.
I push my way through the crowd, but I can no longer find her.
Do you find it strange that your first memory is of another woman instead of your mother? the therapist asks.
I don’t find it strange. What I find strange is that I don’t remember what happens next.
I don’t remember how I make it back to the house. I don’t remember how I make my way back to this woman. If I make it back to her at all.
I’ve been away for two months in this foggy town. I’ve been staying in a hotel the whole time. During dinner, men and women sit in the hotel restaurant alone, parallel to each other, all staring at the small screens in front of them.
Sometimes I want to start a conversation with the others. Nobody stays as long as I do.
In the morning, I eat breakfast out of a paper bag, scrape ice from the rental car’s windshield.
At work, I watch the operators reassemble the machinery, repeating themselves hour after hour.
Cranes and forklifts. Steam coming out of mouths. Salt on ice.
We are surrounded by fields. Mountains at a distance.
I wear several layers of sweaters and shirts and I look big.
The operators take the broken modules out, disassemble them, replace the broken parts, assemble them back together.
They tighten the bolts to a specified torque. I measure the distances shown on the drawings and tick checkboxes on my list.
The operators point at the broken modules, and look at me to remind me that I am responsible for this damage. They whisper to each other in a language I don’t understand.
When they take their lunch breaks, I go back to the rental car, sit, and close my eyes.
In the hotel room at night, I lie down on the bed and call Tara.
When’re you coming back? she asks.
I told you I don’t know. It doesn’t depend on me.
After we hang up, the fake smell of disinfected sheets makes me sad.
The radiator growls like a sick dog.
On my bed, I turn on my laptop and copy the lists into files, email the files back to the office.
In response, they tell me they have no one else to send here yet, they tell me that I have to stay longer.
When I can’t go to sleep, I listen to the recorded sound of extinct birds.
On the weekend, there is only one other car in the hotel’s parking lot. I take a photo of a dry cornfield, send it to Tara.
Before sunset, a flock of geese fly through the red sky. I take a photo of this, but I don’t send it to her.
What’re you doing? Tara texts back.
When I don’t respond, she calls me on my phone.
Anything new? I ask her.
I sort of told you about it before, Tara says. But you didn’t react. I wished you would say something.
She is breathing deeply.
We had agreed on this, Tara says. Hadn’t we? Why aren’t you saying anything?
Tired, I say. I just want to be out of here.
After we hang up, I stare at the lights of the stores in the strip mall filtering through the hotel’s thin curtains.
Red. Yellow. Blue.
I can no longer see the fields.
Each Sunday I call the therapist. It is better not to go to his office. I cry more this way, covering myself with a blanket as I lie down on the hotel bed.
I transfer money to him every month.
I watch the fog rise up on the white mountains.
After I finish a sentence, I don’t remember what I’ve just said.
What do you think she’ll tell you? the therapist asks.
But are you comfortable being in an open relationship? he asks.
There are things I don’t tell him. There are things I am afraid to even tell myself.
When Tara visits, I will meet her in a nearby city for the weekend.
The day she arrives, I return the rental car, and the bus takes me past the vandalized buildings towards this city. The wheat farms are wet with dew. Passengers, sore and exhausted, sleep in their seats. A boy with a bony skull sucks on a bottle of milk.
When I get to the new hotel, Tara has already checked in to our room. She is sitting in the balcony, puffing on a cigarette. She sees me, puts the cigarette off in an orange peel and comes back inside.
Her neck has a strong scent of the soap from the hotel and the cigarette she's just smoked. She lies down on the bed, with her face in a pillow.
What is it? I say.
Do you still want to go out with them tonight? she asks, but she does not look at me.
I haven’t eaten anything the whole day. I hear her telling them about places we’ve gone together, but I don’t recognize them.
The music is loud. After two beers we smoke some of their pot in the parking lot.
I’ve never heard of the events and friends she is talking about.
Who’re you talking about? I ask.
When did you go there? I ask.
Nobody seems to hear me.
She chooses words she would have never used before.
When I put my head on her shoulder, she softly pushes it away.
I think he's not feeling well, she says to them. We should probably go back to the hotel.
Outside, we lose the way to the hotel and end up in a rugged part of town.
Where are we? I ask.
She is checking the address on her phone.
Can we go back to the hotel? I say.
That’s what I’m trying to do, she says, if you let me.
We're walking in circles and we pass the same dirty storefront again. She presses her fingernails into my arm, pulling me along, like I’m her dog.
I slip and fall on the ground. I’m holding my head in my hands, and I don’t see Tara.
Figures in black surround me.
I push my way through the dark but can’t find her.
I don’t remember what happens next. I don’t remember how I make it back to the hotel, or to her.
I return to our city two months later, but nobody picks me up from the airport. A cab takes me to the empty apartment. Tara has moved out, but other than her books and plants she has not taken much.
It may be just temporary, she says. We both need some time on our own, no?
I see the therapist in person after my return. He stands up and shakes my hand when I enter his dim office.
I hear the ticking of the clock. I smell the stale smell of the stained carpet.
But you were expecting that she may leave, the therapist says.
She hasn’t left yet, I say.
The book titles on the shelves haven’t changed since I was last there. Branches of a beech tree, on the other side of the window, block the view of the sky.
From where I sit, there is little to see.
Babak Lakghomi is the author of Floating Notes and South. His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, NOON, Ninth Letter, New York Tyrant, and Green Mountains Review, and has been translated into Italian and Farsi. Babak was born in Tehran, Iran, and currently lives and writes in Toronto.
Matthew Reed is a multi-disciplinary artist from Asheville North Carolina. Find more of his work at tvbeaches.com.