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Story by Fatima Alharthi (Read author interview) March 25, 2019

Art by Sebastien Gesell

Aziz is still, still like a rock. Or like a Madame Alexander doll. Except if you sit him up, his eyes won’t pop open. Aziz has been lying in the same hospital room for nineteen years. Green curtains pulled around the bed. A ventilator veils the nostrils and mouth. Heaving chest. Galloping heart. Changing nurses. Above the bed, a round clock ticks, the sound excruciating. Five successors inherited Aziz’s spacious office, his mahogany desk, the indoor plants the Bengali janitor still waters every week, and the full drawer of peoples’ pleas to squeeze their children into public schools.

Aziz’s children have grown up now. The eldest became a doctor after he hung the photo of Al-Qaeda’s leader in his room, then upon 9/11, spat on him, tore the beard, the turban and fucked the whole Jihad illusion. The middle, a daughter, bore four children, none of whom carries Aziz’s name. And the youngest, who still lives at home, masturbates as part of an online game with some adult.

Aziz’s wife objected to her son’s advice to donate Aziz’s organs. To her, the son is a failure whose medical profession denuded his faith. “Why are you a doctor if you can do nothing to him?” his mom, siblings, uncles, and the whole city asked. He fled home and joined Johns Hopkins. Flesh imprisons the wife’s gold ring. She quit henna-dying her white hair and still goes to Aziz every Friday. She changes the blurting Turkish soap opera to the mellifluous Koran. Sits by his head, remembering the day of their marriage, their honeymoon in Greece, and the truck that bumped their car. How Aziz carried her to the hospital fearing the loss of the fetus, and how despite the people’s criticism of Aziz’s cruelty, and abstinence from listening to the poor, for her, he is a heroic angel. At home, she kneads dough for samosa, her youngest’s favorite pastry. Stuffing it with a mix of minced beef, parsley, and eggs while sitting cross-legged on the living room floor. The grandchildren play hide and seek in Aziz’s now empty closet. They hear a shot from Aziz’s youngest son’s room. The daughter lifts her scratched phone and slouched body from a tattered sofa, dashing to the brother’s room. She knocks. Thumps. Shouts his name as if crying it out will bring him back to life. She fumbles on her phone. Is it 999 or 998 or 997? She calls all three. Police, firefighters, and ambulance arrive. A feast of sirens. They carry the naked body. White covers it. Blood drips on the beige-carpeted floor. The daughter shushes the kids with Humpty Dumpty on YouTube and calls the eldest. Coated in green, he is working on some arteries and saves a life.

The mother fries the samosa. Tears well. Oil bubbles, and she dips one after the other, kid after another, until they all drown, disappear from the earth. The next day, smoothing Aziz’s white sheets, she waits for him to wake.

About the Author

Fatima Alharthi is a Saudi writer. She studies PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in Flyleaf Journal, Crack the Spine, Apeiron Review and Santa Ana Review.

About the Artist

Sebastien Gesell is a Paris-based photographer who also spends extended periods of time living and traveling with his family in east Asia and other regions around the world. He works primarily with a 35 mm lens, investigating the fine-grained detail of that world with macro photography, but also surveying landscape, architecture, and even the night sky as he searches for new vistas to share with others.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Three

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