Desert – from ‘Waking Dreams’ by MohammedReza Gudarzi – 2011

Whatever I was thinking, I don’t remember why I was woken up. It was midnight. I felt really thirsty. I went to the kitchen to drink some water. I turned on the light. On the kitchen floor, first I see the water tank, then the black fish and little father with red fins. Instead of going to refrigerator I choose to go to the jug of water. The fish was motionless in the middle of the water, facing me. Ever since I remembered I saw him, but now is the first time that I am seeing. Last week, when father died, mother said:

I ordered you to take the fish to your house.

She said it in a way that made me disgusted with her words. I don’t know whether in fact I was disgusted, or what I felt was fear. Who can tell the difference between those two states?

At the time I remembered her quarrels with my father, mostly about fish. On the other hand, my father used to say that he grew up with this fish from chldhood. He used to say the same thing to his father, and his father’s father. That is to say, everyone remembered this ancient fish, for hundreds and thousands for years back, what is interesting are the eyes, the days are not clear, but tonight I realize how right and human he is.

I narrowed my face tighter . He looks at me, with a black hand and red fins. I’m sure he’s looking at me. If eyes could speak. What color are they? I don’t know, they are constantly changing color. He turns toward the refrigerator. I remember drinking water. I had a bottle and poured water into a glass. As I drink water, he was in my eyes. He also gazes at me.

I remembered that he never ate/drank anything, not bread, not fish food. Also, we never changed his water, because my father said he heard from his father that ocean water was our environment and the fish gets used to it. I goto sleep, Does that mean I should say goodbye?

I am awake, I go wash my face. He sits motionless on the narrow bed. Or I imagine he’s sitting. I realized how inattentive I had been over the last few days about his movements and moods. The floor/bed is cramped for days, I don’t know whether its sleeping or sitting. And it is only at night, that the size of the eyes changes, sometimes dark and sometimes light, they run deep into ones eyes. Like two needles or two lasers that want to take a picture of your soul.

I hear my wife’s voice behind me. There is a certain sadness in her voice: you were too careful and you were paying attention to it, and now, day and night you’re blinking at this old fish!

Old fish. What a name! These names are only found in my wife’s distress, when she is upset. We don’t say such things. I ate my breakfast in silence and went to work. Old fish!

These days I’m am wrapped up at work, occasionally remembering him. In the midst of reading or writing, I see his big eyes, which stare boldly. When I return in the evening, I open the door and he is sitting or lying down on the narrow bed.

My wife said: I’ve thought once or twice about dying, and I thought about throwing it out, but I’ve said if it dies, it will turn out to be because of the water. I said: You put it in the fish bowl! She said: It doesn’t fit. I said: How many years have you been thinking about our marriage? Has anything in your family come to us to be good for you? I said: Tell me how and what you mean by good. She said: Okay, you’re right, it’s good for you, this fish is a dog, get your head out of your ass! And your dog of a fish, too.

That night I fell asleep, dying of thirst. My whole body is dry, from mouth to stomach to intestines. I seem to be dying. Both inside and outside. My body is like you, a desert, that hasn’t seen water for years, cracked and dry. From outside, I see my body dessicated, old, wrinkled, pale, dead forever. I fall asleep and directly I go to the refrigerator, before I even ask whether I’ll see the fish. In the middle of the fish bowl he is standing. I put my face forward and gaze at those righteous living eyes. He turned to the side of the refrigerator. As if he knew I was standing outside. I drank four glasses of water. I returned to the side of the fish. Standing in the middle of the water are two needles of light shining in my eyes.

I heard the sound of the door. I return – it’s my wife. Her eyes are on the blink and are half stuck to this miracle. I said, ‘What’s happening, its itwo o’clock! God damn, it’s a pain in the neck to do anything but do it. By God, you’ve brought on the revolt. Does this mean its two o’clock at night? I looked at my wife. I didn’t know what to say. I felt ashamed. I was afraid if I had done anything wrong. I felt numb. Without speaking I went to my place to lie down. Towards morning, I slept and then woke up. I roll out of bed. I know the fish is awake and waiting for me. It was floating in the middle of the fish bowl across from our room.

Next morning I don’t go to the front of the bowl, but instead, first my wife is careful and if she sees something, she will say something; second, the fish looks to be asleep or anyway is not moving in the bowl. I dream at night; bare and naked. I’m going down the street. Everyone except me iw wearing clothes and I feel embarrassed but in the dream, no one hurts me. I run. I’m sweating. I’m thirsty. I wake up. I look around, my wife is sleeping. Maybe he is asleep. I won’t dare get up for a while, but there comes a moment when I feel I can’t lie there anymore. I quietly get up and go outside of the room.

The fish is sitting in the middle of the water across from me. I press my face against the glass of the fish bowl. It has a soothing coolness. He also comes forward. Now our eyes are close together. Its like all eyes are on him, even as he breathes with his eyes, speaks with his eyes. His eyes are like a sea; seas, oceans, and living waves and dead waters.. I wish that I were there, too, in the deep of those eyes. In that back and forth, never to emerge.

It’s the first day of NoRuz. I’ve gone to see my mother. Alone. She is still wearing black. Her eyes are dull and expressionless. The Haft Sin (New Year’s display of seven symbols) is not finished. She has been watching me for some time. I say: How long do you want to live like this?

She says: To whenever. Until forever.

I go to the refrigerator, saying: You’re always thirsty like that, God have mercy!

I say: Nothing better than water, drink it in good health. She says: Not too much. Don’t you remember your father drowned in water?

I returned to my mother and said: You didn’t say much to me that night. She said: I don’t know much, but I know that every night, long ago, he had to get up and drink a few glasses of water. He didn’t get up that night; the rest of it, you know.

I remember when he was dead; when I arrived, his body had turned black. My uncle said: This is probably a funeral, we have to think. Finally, our neighbors solved the problem. My uncle’s doctor will issue a license for burial. We agreed. The doctor issued a burial permit, but said: Very strange! I’ve never seen this before – he drowned in his sleep. His lungs were full of water.

I eat one of the dates I brought instead of candies, and then return home after sitting for an hour.

My wife was still home shaking out rugs and is busy cleaning. There are welcoming glasses set out. The sweat shines on her forehead. The maid always shakes his hand at home and has never been shy about it.

I go to the kitchen. I feel dry. The fish bowl is gone. The kitchen floor isn’t damp. Hours must have passed for us. I ran forward, and I conclude you’re the killer! There is still some water left at the bottom of the fish bowl. I returned to the kitchen. There is nothing new. My wife approaches and asks coolly: What happened? I point tito the fish bowl and yell: What do you mean, what happened? She said: Oh, who who overturned this? I said: I must have. She said: Oh god, I don’t know, probably when the curtains, that I took to the car, a corner must have pulled the fish bowl. I said: And you haven’t noticed yet! I look around. My heart aches,and my hair is stiff. On the rug, the tail of the fish is lying. I reach out my hand, picking it up. It was bone dry, like the desert that hadn’t seen water for months. It looks like I can’t do anything; I turn on the water tap in a tight, desperate way. The fish acts like a piece of wood in the water. I put the fish bowl on the kitchen floor and go to the balcony. The air in the room was stuffy and close. I felt dizzy. I looked down, it’s a long distance away to the hot asphalt. At the same time, it’s as if my strength is returning to the kitchen.

On the kitchen floor, inside the fish bowl, the fish stood in the middle of the water and shakes its fins.

At night I dream I am swimming in a lake. A natural lake by a mountain. I dive in the water. I stay for moments under the water. Under the water there’s a lot of seaweed.

I recall falling asleep and I am not swimming long. I want to get out of the water before I suffocate, but I can’t because the seaweed is wrapped around my feet. I see fish which is coming toward me. It is very beautiful. Until now I have never seen a fish of this beauty, some parts green, some tawny, some silver like moonlight. The size of its body is the same as mine. Its bid eyes are smiling at me from afar. He approaches and stops before me. Now our eyes are not two centimeters apart. His gaze warmed my whole being. Now I don’t care whether I am swimming or not. I don’t care if I can drink the water. I run myself into the depths of those eyes, those waters.