Friday, September 25, 2015

Steel Dog-13

Everything Will Come True

The movie wasn’t much, and take away a handful of laughs, it was nothing.  Two hours of sitting in darkness, a strange woman close enough to share her heat.  Every accidental touch led to the wrist or leg being pulled away, but of course nobody was unfriendly and they agreed on drinks afterwards.  The movie house used to be a theatre where traveling plays and comedians entertained pre-television audiences.  Tucked behind the modern screen, among curtains and giant ropes and inaccessible walkways, was a narrow but extremely tall tavern.  Unlike every other bar in town, smoke didn’t form choking clouds, and despite being crowded, there was surprisingly little noise in the place.

Quentin asked about school.

Farah talked about her classes, which was how literature got set on the table between them.

He mentioned his new favorite author.  Did she know Konsky, the Angry Slav?

“I don’t read fiction, Quentin.  I’m sorry.”

“What do you read?”


He hadn’t expected that.

Pleased to put him on the defensive, Farah sat back, reciting a few favorite lines, presumably in Farsi.

“What does that mean?”

“My translation would be ugly,” she said.  “I don’t want to scar what’s beautiful.”

“Well, it sounded lovely,” he said, without lying.

Drinks arrived:  one carbonated licorice, one vodka and lime.  A few sips made her relax, and a few more made her less cautious.  Watching smoke lift from neighboring tables, she said, “There is a plan, you know.”

“A plan.”

“Oh, I believe there is.”

Words demanded interpretation.  Leaning forward, he asked, “Who’s doing the planning?”

She snickered.  “God, of course.”

“Of course.”

“But that’s right.  You don’t believe.”

“Not in magic, no.”

She challenged him with her eyes.  “What do you believe, Quentin?”

“Endless, infinite plans.  And everything will come true.”

She swirled her liquor and ice.  “What a sad way to think.  Can’t you see the guiding force that carries us through our days?”

“You mean gravity.”

A long look at her glass marked the topic’s end.  Then, “The West is so different from the East.”

“For instance?”

“Your ice is sharp.  In Persia, we prefer our ice rounded, easier on the mouth.”

“Like the shape of your buildings,” he mentioned.

“Some buildings are round.”  She sat back, shrugged.  “The important ones.  But small homes and hovels are usually cubes.”

She laughed; he couldn’t tell why.

“Round like desert tents,” Quentin said.

“Smart people say that.  ‘Round like tents.’  And they’re always angry when I explain their mistake.”  Another sip.  “Where does this ‘desert tent’ story come from?”

“Public school.  In the fifth year, Dance Grade, they show us films.  The footage comes from the Arab provinces.  Sand and camels, and the narrator explains that tent-shaped buildings are a Maimun tradition.”

“Desert people, yes.”  Farah sipped.  “I’ve visited the Persian wastes.  Several times.”

Quentin nodded, waiting.

“The wastes are nothing like Persia.”

“Drier,” he ventured.

She shrugged and hesitated, and considering who might be listening, she leaned closer.  “I don’t like desert people.  Sand makes men vulgar.  Persian men are bad enough, but Arab men believe women are playthings, and worse, Arab women are happy to be playthings owned by stupid brutes.”

Insulting an entire people, Farah seemed prettier.  Was this why humans were racists?  Did hatred help the skin glow, the eyes dance?

“What about your father?” he asked.

“What about him?"

“What’s his job?”

“He’s an engineer,” she said.  “In the petroleum industry.”

Quentin nodded as if that was familiar.  And maybe he had heard it before.

“Father and I haven’t spoken in a long time.  But when I was young, he’d take me on trips across the oil lands.”  Another sip preceded the question, “Did the films look romantic, these camels and the bright sand?”


“Well, the Prophet Maimun never wrote about tents.  But He had a great fondness for the round form.  Breasts, feminine rumps.  Though He didn’t put it bluntly.”  She sucked up a cubic chunk of ice, spat it out.  “In the Final Testament, the Prophet claims that half-spheres and wind-shaped dunes are the loveliest shapes beneath the heavens and that God would smile on those who built their homes along such divine ideals.”

“But he was thinking about breasts?”

She laughed.  “He was a man.”

Quentin sipped his fizz, considering questions.

“I left my homeland, but I still love its distinctive buildings. And I still find it jarring, the sharpness of your boxes.”

What surprised Quentin was how personally he took the reproach.

“But of course,” she continued.

He looked up, past the top of her head.

“Inside those elegant half-eggs and mushrooms, Persian rooms are as cubic as yours.  Flat ceilings, every corner pointed.  Otherwise, how could we hang our important artwork on the walls?”

Sharp-cornered ice rolled inside his mouth, revealing its flavor.  Leaning across the table, he said, “This is what I believe.”

A wary nod was offered.

“Life is fiction,” he said.  “Reality is a sequence of eternal moments stacked close, moments where matter and energy are almost identical.  Every life story is built from an infinite pile of similar ingredients, and nothing’s real except possibility and mayhem.”

She didn’t react.

Quentin sat back, laughing joylessly.  “Everything, Farah.  That’s what our universe believes in.  We see God’s fingers because our brains are wired to find connections, building coherent narratives in piles of random sand.”

A different smile emerged.  Thin, but tough.

Then she said, “No,” while leaning halfway across their table.  “You don’t believe that, Quentin.  You cannot fool me.”

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