Iranian Edition (Vol I) | Fiction by Azarin Sadegh | Issue 39 (2021)

The Suicide Note

An excerpt from Grasp of the Moon, a novel
By Azarin Sadegh

Most people didn’t know the woman I called Mimi wasn’t my mother. My real mother died in Kerman when I was ten.

I was told it was impossible not to fall in love with her.  But, going back to my most vivid memories, I couldn’t recall her scent, the contour of her eyes, or the rhythm of her laughter. Instead, I could only envision her crackling whisper at night when I couldn’t fall asleep, her obsession with little things that didn’t matter, and the oddity of her brief moments of stillness, because she always seemed to be in a rush. Since the day she chose to die without writing a simple note of explanation, all my memories of her became flawed. In this sense, Mother transformed into this mysterious creature I hadn’t truly known, and, after her passing, we all wondered if her constant cheerfulness was real or just an act.

Soon after her suicide, my father declared he could only handle his five sons. “Girls need a mother, Zora,” he said, before giving me away to my childless Auntie Maryam in Tehran. I called her Mimi to grant her the vague status of a mother, aware this could be misleading. Her husband had left her unexpectedly, a few years after their marriage, and everyone in the family assumed she planned to assuage her loneliness with a daughter.

Mimi became my guardian, but I never let go of Mother, always trapped in the disquiet of an image.

In this image, Mother looked at me with disbelief right before her fall. But every night, in my dreams, she died in different moods, different attitudes. Some nights she pointed at me in an accusatory fashion; on other nights she cried that she forgave me. Sometimes her jumps were cheerful, filled with hope and relief, sometimes mad and punishing, sometimes fearful. On especially moonless nights, she fainted and dropped silently to the ground. But in every dream, she jumped, and I never woke up before it happened, nor before she looked up from the mess she had made on the ground and blamed me for her shattered knees. ribs, and bones.

No matter what, our lives and death intertwined: I didn’t let her die and she didn’t let me live.

***

The Iran-Iraq war, which had started two years before Mother’s fall in 1980,  continued, . I met Sheerin in 1984 on my first day at school in Tehran, and almost instantly she became my best and only friend.

Together, we grew up, lived through the war, while imagining a life that didn’t resemble reality. We read books, watched movies, played games, and spent a good chunk of time dreaming.

At first, the war looked nothing like the images we’d seen in the movies. The mountains north of Tehran didn’t vanish behind fuming columns  of smoke. Trees didn’t grow burnt leaves or dead dangling legs. An expanding mushroom cloud didn’t rise on the horizon to give us incurable diseases, and hunger didn’t bloat our bellies. The school bells didn’t go silent, and Mrs. Principal, unfortunately, didn’t disappear. Our war martyrs looked just ordinary in photos displayed in newspapers, on tree trunks, on street lamps, and in all the windows of Daryani chain of grocery stores as if their pictures had been taken a long time ago before the war.

At the beginning of winter, after the first Iraqi missiles destroyed a six-story house and killed everyone inside, panic settled in. All young men were sent to the frontiers, even Sheerin’s beloved Sohrab. I wasn’t sure about the true meaning of falling in love, so when Sheerin told me they loved each other to death, I could only think of why not loving each other for life. But I believed my friend. Sheerin wasn’t the same girl anymore.

The war emptied park benches of old men. The children vanished from playgrounds. And I spent my mornings in lines, monthly ration coupons in hand, waiting, or exchanging my coupons. Inline, we all talked obsessively about the food we missed, but to tell the truth, this was nothing but a ruse. We wanted to distract ourselves from what was really on our minds: Those who had lost their lives.

Sometimes when the electricity was cut, Mimi and I sat on the sofa, our legs propped on the glass coffee table. She told me stories she knew by heart while I kept looking at her until it was too dark to see her face, my mind drifting, remembering Mother and Father and all my brothers in our old house in Kerman. Slowly, Mimi’s tales overlapped my own memories, and everything blended into the monotony of her voice. She made up tales and fables just because we couldn’t stand the truth anymore. As long as the war kept on, we were going to read happy-ending stories where the hero lived a quasi-eternal life.

Sheerin and I were lonely. We had nothing to do, yet so much to imagine. Loneliness was a space we could shelter inside, living imaginary lives, having imaginary friends, going to imaginary places. We built cities with names that rhymed with Machu Picchu and discovered moons so small we could hold them in our hands. Our loneliness was sometimes round like a small moon, sometimes thick like night, and sometimes jarring. Sometimes it wrapped around us, and other times it was dragged behind, like a shadow. Loneliness was fun. It became our most precious friend.

We were told to smile so the world would smile back at us. But this new world didn’t have lips or teeth, so it couldn’t grin. That’s how we grew up, by going along, but there were days we just couldn’t. Days we skipped school and dinner, stayed in our rooms to hide inside a dream.

Even so, we knew we were peerless.

True, we hadn’t done or experienced anything extraordinary. We just knew we were invincible, because of our  suffering. Imbued with the resilience of our hopes, we had no doubt of our magnificence, able to rise and to fall beyond any measurement.

***

One day I was zapping TV channels when the front door swung open. Keys rattled in the ashtray on the entry table. A heavy purse dropped on the floor beside it, and the wet overcoat found its usual place on the coat rack.

Mimi stood still in the hallway, keeping her scarf on.

I turned the TV off. “What’s happened?” I asked, noticing her red eyes. But Mimi never cried in front of me or anyone else. Crying was only permitted when nobody could watch or question or console.

Mimi took slow steps to join me on the sofa, our shoulders meeting. I rubbed her arm gently. But how could she be so reckless? Her role, as my guardian, was to calm me, to uplift me. I couldn’t take more terrible news. Another war, another revolution, another boyfriend leaving her. “Mimi, tell me. What’s going on?”

She leaned towards me, almost as if she still expected me to comfort her. I listened carefully to understand her barely audible voice. “I just heard that Sohrab, Sheerin’s boyfriend, got killed at the frontier.” She hid her face in her palms. “God. Only nineteen.”

No. No way. “Who told you? How do you know for sure?”

“A neighbor, just now.” Mimi got up, untying her headscarf, leaning over me. “It’s too late to call her anyway.” She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Come! Help me with dinner.”

But I couldn’t move. I watched Mimi walking to the kitchen, remembering the day after Sohrab’s departure.

The ground of the deserted Golestan Park was drowned in dead leaves. Sheerin had curled up on the pink wooden bench next to the empty playground. “What if Sohrab never comes back?”

“He will. He won’t leave you.”

“But what if he does?”

“No. He can’t.”

“If he loses his life, I’ll die.” Sheerin was looking at me like she truly meant every word.

That day, our only reassurance lay in the hope that nothing tragic would ever happen to Sohrab. But now, it had. Sohrab was not any more of this world.

I rushed to the kitchen. Mimi was peeling an onion. “How do you know Sheerin hasn’t yet heard the news?”

Mimi cut the onion in half. “I hope she hasn’t.”

I wiped my eyes, pressing my cheek against Mimi’s shoulder. Sohrab’s death was no more only Sheerin’s nightmare, but mine too. I hugged Mimi tightly, imagining my best friend’s lifeless body in different forms:  It was crushed; it was hanged; it bled; it was drowned; No. She couldn’t die. She couldn’t kill herself

I was the one talking about suicide all the time. I was the desperate, the dark, the unhappy, the one who was supposed to die young. 

I felt betrayed.

I was robbed of my own tragedy.

No. Sheerin, my only friend, couldn’t do this to me.

***

The next day I woke up late, hurried to the phone, and clutched the receiver so hard that my fingers felt numb. What friend would I be, if I didn’t give her the terrible news as soon as I could?

The phone rang only once. “Yeah,” she said.

“Do you know that–”

She interrupted me. “I know.”

Sheerin wasn’t crying. She didn’t even curse.

“Sohrab … A martyr for fuck’s sake,” I said.

The phone went silent.

I dropped the receiver, took my overcoat and umbrella, and ignored Mimi’s attempt to reason with me. I left the house and ran like the bearer of a Greek tragedy.  The sky shone silver, the grass grey, and the ground brown and pregnant with spring, everything colored with a color that didn’t suit the youthful life we lived. The wrong colors painted the world.

Sohrab was dead, a boy I didn’t even love, but his tragic destiny made obvious the absurdity of who we were, and who we couldn’t be.

Sheerin’s mother admitted me to their apartment.

I held Sheerin and whispered: “Don’t be scared. I’d never leave you alone.”

She was silent, tears dripping off her chin. We smiled at each other, both pretending not to know what this was all about. I couldn’t be the one reminding her of our pact at Golestan Park. What if for her that was just a dream of dying like Romeo and Juliette, a childish imitation of an imagined romanticism. Did we have real guts to kill ourselves? Did I really want to die? I wasn’t sure anymore. How could I let the world go on without me?

Sheerin stepped back. “I’m scared.”

“Me too,” I said, while slowly the idea of dying a spectacular death morphed into the desire for surviving this impossible life.

***

We spent the following days away from one another, as if we were intimidated by our suicide pact. Maybe she too had changed her mind. But after one week, she showed up at my door, with a suicide note in hand.

This is my last letter to you, the living! You’re going to regret what you’ve done to me for the rest of your miserable little lives!”

Sheerin made me read her ridiculous note twice. “Why would you accuse your parents? They haven’t done anything wrong. They don’t deserve to live with this kind of guilt.”

She glanced quickly at the mirror, removing her scarf. “The note is addressed to the whole world. Anyone who reads it must feel angry for our absurd death, for the irrationality of wars, and Sohrab’s loss.”

I crumbled her note and threw it in the trash basket. “But this is not it.”

“God, it’s hopeless.”

I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. “We’re all hopeless.” I walked to the window.

Sheerin joined me, hanging onto my arm. Together, we looked outside. I had scratched off most of the tin foil covering the glass, so we could watch the rows of balconies facing us.

“We’d better come up with our final version soon.” She drew hearts on the foggy window.

“I’ll work on the note tonight,” I said, remembering Mother and how her non-existent suicide note just hurt me, nothing more. Maybe our note could never be perfect. I hid my rising doubts about this whole affair, but I couldn’t break my promises. “It’s going to be perfect,” I said.

Dark clouds shadowed our view of gray buildings and blue sky.

Sheerin stepped back and threw herself on my bed. “We also have to decide how.”

And we spent another hour talking about different ways to die. Throwing ourselves under a train like Anna Karenina or eating arsenic like Emma Bovary. We thought of lighting ourselves on fire like monks, but we didn’t want to be copycats.

“How about pills?”

“Pills are a coward’s choice for suicide . Painless is never spectacular.”

“We’ll look peaceful. It will trick them—until they read the letter.”

I didn’t have the strength to tell her about the impossibility of writing a perfect suicide note. “I’m not convinced.”

“It’s symbolic. Rest for those who have suffered when alive.”

I kept quiet, watching her get up.

She walked from one corner to the other. “I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I’m tired of pretending I’m fine. My mom is driving me crazy since she found out about Sohrab. She watches me. She picks me up from school and doesn’t let me breathe. Not that I care about breathing.”

Sirens blasted. Sheerin checked her watch. “Time to go.” She wrapped her scarf about her head and shoulders and left in a rush.

I looked out the window. The city rested, waiting for falling bombs. I covered the window with tin foil and turned on the light. I sat behind my desk and stared at the white page in front of me. Bombs didn’t worry me, nor did my terrible grades at school. Or the laws forcing girls to hide their curves and beauty under layers of dark fabric. I didn’t care about dangerously empty streets or curfews. What I couldn’t take anymore was this amorphous zone of torment where we stood. How abruptly our natural optimism, this belief in reaching for elusive happiness, which somehow had endured the ceaseless news of random deaths, faded when someone we knew was taken from us.

The words of anger, hatred, despair, accusation, and agony marched in arbitrary order in front of my eyes, but I didn’t need any of them.

I pressed the pen to paper. “For years, I wondered why my mother chose death. But now I know. It’s not about hating life. We only choose to die because we hate this life,” I wrote, reading it at the same time over and over until the rain began and the thunder broke. The light waned, and once more sirens blared. Darkness leaked into my room and crept over my page, and my sentences lost their clarity and power. The city hid under an instant layer of prayers, and our collective suicide became irrelevant.


Azarin Sadegh was born in Iran. She studied computer science at Bourgogne University (France) and years later moved to California working as a software engineer in IBM and a few other firms. Passionate about writing, she completed parallelly advanced novel writing courses through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program where she was a student of late Les Plesko. As a writer, she was a 2011 PEN America Emerging Voices fellow and a 2010 UCLA Kirkwood Award nominee.

Her work has appeared in Place Art Magazine, Scoundrel TimeLA Review of Books, Chicago Sun-Times, Coast Magazine, Iranian.com, and various anthologies.

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