The second piece I created for Sparks is based on a novel excerpt from Lisa Lipkind Leibow. The piece I created has a feeling of foreboding that mimics the story. Certain elements in the piece I originally planned on using did not make it into the final cut. But I feel this piece reflects the story quite well.
To read the short story excerpt that inspired the piece, read below:
A COILED SPRING
A novel excerpt
(A portion of this yet-to-be published novel appeared in Pisgah Review as a standalone short story entitled, FORBIDDEN PASSION)
By Lisa Lipkind Leibow
My third European-facial client opens her eyes. “That was heavenly.”
“Thank you, my darling.” I excuse myself from the room and notice the flurries.
Snow in Northern Virginia means every appointment gets cancelled as people rush to the grocery store and head home to hibernate. While others hurry to stock up on bread, milk, and eggs before a storm is due, typically Meher heads to the market for an extra case of beer. I hope he has no time for lager today. It turns innocent conversations about new haircuts or whether to have lamb or chicken for dinner into fights, where he grabs my neck, shoves me to the floor, or worse.
By the time I leave the salon parking lot, it’s carpeted with snow. Streaks of gray tire tracks trail through the white, and the wind gusts swirl the feathery snowflakes. I arrive at my sister’s house before Meher does. Sara isn’t home yet.
I fidget around in the kitchen, open a cabinet, and retrieve tea. I also take out two brass teacups. I recognize them from my childhood home in Tehran. And although I’ve lived in the United States for years, homesickness surges. Alone in a suburban kitchen, as I fill the kettle with water and put it on to boil, I long for a bustling household filled with friends and family around the samovar. I place a teabag, labeled Tetley, in the brass teacup from a lifetime ago, and my imagination transforms the American floral and malty aromas into fragrant Darjeeling liquor with a hint of muscatel.
The doorbell rings. When I answer it, I find Meher, with his gray-tipped five-o’clock shadow, clutching a mess of paper. Behind him, the sky is filled with large, wet snowflakes and howling wind. The blustery snow seems to blow him through the entry, and a magazine, along with a file folder, slips from his pile to the floor.
While he dumps the untidy heap on the kitchen table, I retrieve the stray items for him: last week’s Time Magazine – emblazoned on the cover, golden letters reading, The Hostages Breakthrough!, against a sky filled with flags striped the color of blood – and a large envelope with my name, Sanaz, scrawled across it in angry ink. I return them to the pile.
Meher sits across from me at the table, looking as if he hasn’t slept in days. He wears a wrinkled, black Italian suit, with the tails of his custom broadcloth dress shirt hanging over his belt. As he mumbles under his breath, shuffling through the papers on the table, the sour stench of Budweiser-infused sweat wafts in my direction.
I lead him to the kitchen, suddenly worried my sister might have inadvertently left a chef’s knife or other sharp utensil. I don’t want weapons handy. We sit across from one another at the table.
I search for fond memories and the only ones I can muster at this moment are sexual in nature – the feel of his chest hair and skin against my breasts and his baritone whisper at the nape of my neck telling me in the afterglow. “Beauty and talent – you make me so happy.”
How can one feel lust and hatred at once? Without him, who am I? I think of Rumi’s poetry.
Tonight, when love’s sorrow is forever and ever,
And the ruby wine is my strength and pillar,
The law prescribes pain and contemplation.
Food and sleep and passion are forbidden.
Why is forbidden passion tantalizing? Even after all of the horrible things he put me through, I feel the urge to hold him.
Instead, I offer tea. “Would you like some?”
The words escape my mouth as tears escape my eyes. Although he doesn’t answer, I get up, intent on bringing him tea. Fingers clasp onto my hand.
“Sit.” he holds so tight, his grip tethers me. When he lets go, I still feel glued to my chair. More tears run from my eyes. I want to hold him.
His gaze remains on the papers spread across the table. “You know how much I love you. I would never let you go.”
The teakettle whistles. I stand. Only then do his eyes pierce me. “Sit down!”
Together the spout and I wail. “I want a cup of tea.” I walk toward the stove.
When I pick up the kettle, its cry ceases. As I pour steamy liquid into the teapot, instead of a gentle trickle, the water lands with a blast. When I hear a rumble, a fleeting question runs through my mind: “Thunder in a snowstorm?” Something hits my head and I fall to the ground. As I lie on the floor, I hear more explosions – again and again. Am I still holding the teakettle? Hot water runs on my body. It can’t be the boiling water from the stove because it doesn’t hurt at all. I want to sit up and investigate but for some reason, I can’t move. I open my mouth to ask, “What on Earth?” but I can’t speak.
Just then, Sara and her husband bound in. It’s only when I hear their screams that I realize it’s not hot water. It’s blood – my blood.
I open my eyes to find I’m no longer in Sara’s kitchen. Looking around, all I see is tangled vegetation—the heavy brush is alive with birds calling. I’m in the jungle.
Vines envelop the trees. The sound of twigs crackling, heavy breath, and then a roar comes from behind. I hurdle over and tear through thick, leafy vines, dodging around trees with a canopy so heavy, it’s burying me alive. I gasp for air. Flesh of succulents and sinewy bark lodge under my fingernails as I claw through smothering forest. The panther snarls, sending vapors tinged with the metallic smell of blood into the air. I surge ahead. My thorn-gouged hands reach an impasse when they claw at a heavy, thick slab of wood. I scratch at the creeping plants, tearing them away to reveal a door. I ram my shoulder into it. It doesn’t budge. I rub my bruised shoulder and stare at the immovable door. It’s studded with brass. Intricate carved triangles laced with lotus flowers surround the two golden knockers – one for women and one for men. My hand trembles as I grab the familiar women’s door knocker. Creak-thud. Creak-thud. I knock twice. The hinges moan as the door opens.
I creep inside. My aching feet sink into the plush fibers of a Persian rug. I’m in the entry of my childhood home, but everything is in a haze. The smell of rosewater and saffron – Mother’s rice pudding – embraces me. I’m flooded with my parent’s voices as smooth and flowing as the brook falling into the pond on the property; chop-chop of knives against table as my mother dices fruits and vegetables and grinds pistachio nuts and walnuts; smells of delicious and fragrant stews flavored with garlic and pomegranate, simmering on the fire; and the continuous commotion of children underfoot.