Over the long holiday, three of Parviz’s sisters got nose jobs.
Anahita’s came out perfect, like a dwarf rose floating in a porcelain finger bowl. Nasibeh, who along with her twin sister, Niloofar, had just turned twenty-one, woke to the stylish button Niloofar had wanted – a mix-up of the hospital or a twist of fate, no one would ever know. Meanwhile Niloofar’s, hastily fitted with struts, would appear, once healed, upturned and overdone, as if growing toward a more distant, profligate sun.
During their week-long recovery at their grandmother’s, the sisters sat wrapped in bandages and in the mystery of their new faces. Propped on silk pillows they had brought with them from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, they allowed Parviz and Maryam to feed them tadig and milkshakes while Maman Bozorg watched through gigantic glasses.
“What is wrong with my granddaughters, always rearranging themselves, bleaching their vaginas?” Maman Bozorg wanted to know. “All this for men who wear shirts open to their navels. Cock of the walk. Strutting here, strutting there.”
Niloofar started laughing, then winced.
“Cut it out,” Parviz said. “Unless you want to eff up your stitches.” Which for some reason made Nasibeh laugh. “Maman Bozorg, see what you’re doing? Don’t rile them up.”
“Listen to your brother,” Maman Bozorg croaked, “No laughing.” Even as she said it, she was yanking her grandson into a corner. “But really. Can’t you do something?”
Parviz, do something? Parviz had already done the hard part, had already come all this way.
“It’s what they wanted, Bozorgi.” He wrested his bicep free from his grandmother’s arthritic grip and went back to playing nursemaid, forking a triangle of burnt rice between Anahita’s lips.
Maryam, the youngest, fanned the twins with a Vogue.
“I’m nauseous,” Anahita moaned.
“Thy name is vanity,” Parviz told her. “And vanity must eat lest the Percocet make her puke.”
During the surgeries, Parviz waited with Maryam, the two of them sprawled across a couple of Razi Hospital’s most sadistically designed chairs. Sometimes they waited and sometimes they slept, dreaming dreams that they were still sitting, waiting. A small, outmoded television bolted into a high corner showed mostly state TV, though occasionally Parviz was roused by soccer coverage, his thumb hovering over the screen of his phone.
Maryam read Parviz’s Lord of the Rings, jamming her bean-shaped feet into his loafers.
When her brother napped, she gently pried away the phone and dragged her fingertips over his fingerprints, blowing up maps of jungles, tree canopies magnified like bacteria. She slept some against the bloom of his stomach, and in the afternoon wandered the halls drinking from a paper cup.
Parviz never had to tell her not to go far. She was fourteen and bony, with big teeth and big ears. In seven years, she’d look like a model, like the twins, but for now she was of no interest to anyone.
Maryam cried a lot. Ever since Baba – Maryam was six then.
Good father, bad heart, their Maman had said, without any heart at all.
“Maybe she cries because she has a mother who has to make a joke out of everything,” Parviz snapped.
Or maybe it was because Maman was gone too soon after Baba’s death, off to the U.S., as if someone had left open the door of a cage. She only took Maryam.
“You monkeys are practically grown,” she told Parviz and Anahita. “Girlfriends, boyfriends. And the twins have each other.” Even though no one said anything, she continued to argue with herself on the farewell drive to Khomeini Airport. “I’ll send as much money as I can. You have your Maman Bozorg, not that she’s much help. Anyway, you’ll see. It’ll be good. Nobody wants their mother around, for sure. Mothers ruin all the fun.” She laughed some strange laugh, someone else’s laugh.
They didn’t see their mother for eleven months. She married a Professor at Pepperdine and filled his house with white furniture, their weepy Maryam, and a stocky West Highland terrier. Baba wouldn’t have believed it.
After Maman fled, Parviz picked up the slack. He wasn’t the best brother – he admitted that – but he paid the right people to get his sisters on the Visa lottery, then more to move them up the list. A year and a half after Baba’s death, Parviz, Anahita, and the twins were in California, Parviz had met Olivia, and Maman was at least a neighbor, forty-five minutes away in good traffic.
Now, nearly a decade later, they were more Californian than not.
Still. Maryam cried, avoided school, was generally emotional – even for fourteen. When
she glimpsed Niloofar and Nasibeh being wheeled away for surgery, swallowed by two massive gray swinging doors, she began sniffling. “They’re taking them.”
The twins, who for years had taken superficial stabs at distinguishing themselves – Nasibeh blond to the roots, while Niloofar kept her color but tweezed – had become identical once again in the confusing haze of pre-surgery, their faces dark without the usual makeup. They held hands until their stretchers were taken in opposite directions.
“They’ll be fine,” Parviz told Maryam. “Read your book.” He had already reminded her that a million girls were probably getting something done right now, somewhere in the world. As he said it, he imagined a great, rusty dumpster behind the post-op wing, overflowing with a soup of abandoned noses and breasts.
Parviz’s sisters had begged him to accompany them to Tehran, self-appointed capital of bargain rhinoplasty and place of their birth. It was spring break – Nasibeh and Niloofar at Irvine, Anahita a TA at Berkeley, Maryam at Uni High – and the beginning of the Persian New Year.
“We just need a driver, and maybe some light care. You’re not working,” Anahita loved to remind him. She had already landed a summer internship at a design firm, building simulacra of hotel rooms with computer software, working two jobs while she carved away at her PhD. “You’ve got Olivia to support you.”
As if Parviz wasn’t already ashamed to have been out of work for two years, Olivia working at the lab through most of her pregnancy, everything about her snowman-like, latex gloves on her chubby fingers, paper booties. She didn’t mind working to support them, which only made Parviz feel worse, no matter what he told himself. It was just how she was, Olivia. When he’d first proposed, she’d leaned over him on the bed and said: “Let’s do it. Work hard, save money, go on little trips. Kids, especially. Let’s be those people.” It had scared him, how sincere she was, how serious, and he’d had to stifle a laugh.
The truth was, Parviz had never held a real job. Bagging groceries, delivering chocolate- covered fruit for a catering company. The longest job he ever had was as a trainer at an O.C. Gold’s Gym, which he had halfway enjoyed. The deafening music, long stretches of nothing between clients, staring across the street at an outdoor café that served blue martinis to women in tube tops. His sisters were mortified to see him with his long hair cropped short, helping position strangers into lunges. It was a good job, but like the others it didn’t last. He let himself go, grew a scraggly beard. Sometimes now, when the baby was asleep, he’d lower himself to the floor to see if he could do the old abdominal crunches.
The job hadn’t mattered, the way Olivia’s job – her career – mattered.
After her maternity leave, Olivia’s hours increased, and Parviz scrolled through job listings, balancing Thayer on his knees while yellow cartoon animals belched tuneless songs behind him. He quickly gained twenty pounds.
“Job searching is my job,” Parviz told Anahita. “I’m not going to jet off for two weeks – in this economy – while some douche straight out of school gets my dream job. Fuck that. So you can get an unnecessary cosmetic procedure.”
“I can show you the studies, Parviz. An attractive woman will always get the job, even if she isn’t as qualified as some brilliant fat person.”
Parviz closed his eyes against an ocular migraine. A white egg vibrating at the edge of his vision.
“You’re not really considering what I’m saying,” Anahita said. She walked across the dingy carpeting towards the fridge, dodging a collection of sticky pacifiers. “This is the perfect time to take a break from all that clawing and scraping. Don’t you want to see Maman Bozorg? Maman says she’s not doing well. She definitely had a cyst in her knee, remember?”
“I have a fucking infant.”
Like a dog hearing its name, Thayer rolled his head back and looked at him.
“And an excellent daycare provided by the friendly folks at Pfizer.”
“Olivia doesn’t like him to be in daycare. Daycare babies are at an academic disadvantage. Meaning if they grow up fat, according to you, or with lousy-looking noses, they’re screwed – ”
“A week and a half. Maman says she’ll put you up at the Azadi. Five hundred thread count.”
She bullied him into buying the tickets a week later, jiggling the baby, standing over his shoulder while he entered Olivia’s credit card into Priceline.
Once you click submit, do not hit the back button. Otherwise you will be charged twice.
Then: two full days sitting with his sisters on planes, Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Tehran. Two days of surgeries, followed by a week of post-op at Maman Bozorg’s. He had his books. He played games on his phone and scrolled through pictures of Thayer, whose first teeth were erupting. Little vampire, Olivia called him. Waiting to see his aunts’ beautiful new faces, she texted, along with a photo. Thayer looking up expectantly, a soggy, solitary cheerio stuck to his chin.
Every so often Maman would text Parviz to check in on her daughters.
Poor Maryam. She needed it the most. R the others ok? Take them out for a plate of koobideh right after.
They can’t eat right after.
Oh, u said that. I need 2 come c my grandson when u get back. I bring him cucumbers.
He wants 2 eat the carpet in the upstairs bedrm. And base jump out of his crib.
O dear. :-/
Bottom right tooth came in. Now he has 4.
How is Saint Olivia? Maman asked.
- Missing conference 2 stay w/ Thayer.
What a sweetheart. u 2. U R a good brother.
Somebody had to go. Otherwise they’d come back w/ tummy tucks & brow lifts.
Maman, no stranger to Botox, made a smiley face. Imagine trying 2 tell them apart now.
They probably asked 4 the same nose. Angelina Jolie.
Parvis LOL’d. Nasibeh wants 2 look like Shakira.
New faces, Maman texted, to face a new year.
Maryam sobbed, gulping back a ball of snot. “Anahita said that after, I would probably look like Golshifteh in M for Mother.”
Parviz could barely understand her. “Say that again.”
“Anahita said –”
“Anahita’s an idiot,” he said, aiming his words towards his lap.
“How many idiots do you know who have PhDs?”
“She doesn’t have it yet, Yam. And when she gets it, it won’t have anything to do with noses, so you can pretty much disregard anything she says. Unless it’s about architecture.”
“I don’t want her to know…” Maryam wailed. A Yahudi family cut their eyes at her.
Maryam wasn’t supposed to be crying on Parviz’s stomach. She was to have her nose done like her sisters.
First thing in the morning, Parviz had had to sign a consent form for her, his eyes roving over words like “clot” and “sepsis.” As he signed with one hand, he grabbed Maryam’s foot with the other, trying to still her trembling. Unbeknownst to Parviz, Maryam had begun the chickening out process an hour before, when the nurse affixed electrodes to her chest and stomach. By the time the anesthesiologist fed a needle into a hollow in her hand, Maryam, or scaredy-gorbeh, as Maman called her, was in a state and had wet the stretcher.
Dr. Hafezi clapped Parviz’s shoulder. “It happens,” he said. “They’re really just thinking about the blood.”
Somewhere, in a small room, Maryam was struggling back into her clothes.
“Should I talk to her?” Parviz wondered aloud. For all his years as an older brother, most of the time he still felt himself a bad actor, one of those lame Iranian comedians he’d see on the late night channels back home, joking about nukes. You said the things you thought you should say, tried to soften your voice a bit. Then waited to see their reactions. “Is it better if I try to convince her or something?”
Dr. Hafezi said nothing. He touched his chin probingly. “It’s better if we do it when they’re younger. Younger skin, younger personalities, more time to get used to it. But what do I know?”
Which seemed, to Parviz, like a strange thing for a doctor to say.
A short while later, Maryam emerged, disheveled, her bangs in a curve over one eye. “You can’t tell them,” she keened. “Especially Anahita.”
“Don’t be weird about it. They’re going to be able to tell.”
She hadn’t needed the new nose, as if any of them needed a new nose. Among the girls, only Maryam had inherited Maman’s elegant roundness, her tiny pinprick nostrils. The twins with their wide noses, Parviz and Anahita with Baba’s, uneven as a rutabaga. “Your nose was perfect, still is perfect.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask him about the ears. Perhaps she would grow into them.
“You’re saying that because you’re my brother.”
“What about college?” Parviz asked, patting her. “Aren’t you going? Maybe pre-med?” He thought of what Anahita had said about looking good for a job. Thought suddenly of Olivia, expansive in her baby weight, in her lab coat, eating a veggie wrap with the Japanese kid she was teaching, a cell splitter.
Parviz sensed he was about to say something Olivia would kill him for later. “This whole nose job business is out of control here. In the U.S., you know how it is. Smart girls only have to be smart. They don’t have to look good.”
At that, Maryam cried harder.
Although for years neither Parviz nor his mother had returned to Tehran, the sisters flew home whenever they could, staying with Maman Bozorg, making meals for her. Maman Bozorg played it up.
“My beautiful granddaughters,” she said. She settled down on her worn place on the floor, the wood accommodating her shape.
Anahita came with the latest herbal supplements, squeezing fish oil pills between Maman Bozorg’s teeth. Nasibeh and Niloofar unwrapped the gifts they had smuggled in for her, mostly old movies from the 99 cent bin they had wrapped in their panties. Legends of the Fall. Mannequin. Maman Bozorg asked after her daughter and her grandson Parviz, slipping into her familiar ululation and fogging up her glasses.
What’s going to happen to him? No job. Married. There are good girls here, not like the Americans.
“Olivia is a good girl,” Maryam said. “Parviz really loves her. She’s a scientist, or a lab worker or something.”
Maman Bozorg sniffed. “Remind me the child’s name again.”
Anahita told her for the fifth time. “Thayer.”
Olivia had mailed a picture of him at eight weeks. Maman prayed over it, kissed the picture once a day. “What does that mean?”
Niloofar shrugged. “American names are different. They don’t really mean anything.”
“That’s not true,” said Nasibeh. “There’s Faith. And Grace.”
“Why they didn’t name him those?” Maman Bozorg asked.
At night, after Maman Bozorg had fallen asleep in her corner, the sisters would go out to the gym to dance with other girls, to talk about boys in America, about school and their professors. They’d reveal the new English they’d learned. Motherfucker.
“Talk to that boy,” Anahita said to Maryam once, because she had never had a boyfriend. “That one, there. Samira’s cousin. He likes you.”
Maryam shook her head and turned away. At Uni High, they called her “skeleton” sometimes and “ana” for anorexic.
“Go say hi.”
“Shut up,” Maryam said, mortified.
On their visits, the sisters saw their Persian boyfriends, their once-a-year-boyfriends, who sent them Facebook pictures of their Persian girlfriends when the sisters were in America. Everybody worked hard to make each other jealous. The sisters laughed and told them about their big American boyfriends and their big American fucking, which everybody could do in public, in the streets of Tehrangeles, LA, just like drinking and wearing sexy clothes. In Iran everybody had four or five boyfriends or girlfriends, none of which they could do much with, unless it was from behind, to avoid pregnancy.
On surgery week, Parviz completed the Lord of the Rings books and started Histories of Middle-Earth.
Doing his best to be a good older brother, he stationed himself in Razi Hospital, imagining himself ennobled by his duty. He hoped he was serving a penance. It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried to connect with his sisters.
But who could speak their language?
Niloofar and Nasibeh were forever chattering, whispering stories into the down of each other’s cheeks. All of them – save Maryam – all of them trafficked in secrets. Night clubs, satin mini-dresses. Secret boyfriends they met up in Runyon Canyon. Parviz hated to think what he didn’t know about them.
Lately though he’d been taking a more active role in his sisters’ lives. He called the twins on Saturday, Anahita and Maryam on Sunday. He’d drive them to the Farmers Market and the Santa Monica Pier, buy them IKEA wardrobes for their dorm rooms. The occasional lunch out. He was trying.
“Watch they don’t end up like those celebrities,” Maman had said when he called to tell her about the trip.
“You’re not coming?” he asked.
“I’ll see that Yam is packed up,” she said.
He imagined his mother standing in the center of the Professor’s house, the modern white furniture spaced out over an expanse of hardwood floors. Her shiny life. Could imagine the look on her face, her mind turning over. How happy she was to have proven Maman Bozorg wrong.
“You’re going to leave me in charge of them? You want me to unleash those girls in the Gandi District?”
“Please. They’ll be busy with pre-op and post-op when they’re not actually under the knife. It’ll probably be a relief to have all of them unconscious. You know I’ve got to help Edward with the spring syllabus,” she told him.
“I’m not the one they want with them. They need their mother.”
“Anyway,” she said, settling the issue. “I can’t bear to see them all cut up like that.”
One by one, the sisters woke from their chemically induced slumbers, bruised princesses glittering under tubes and the spells of modern medicine. They were told not to laugh or smile or use straws, to make rest and healing their first priorities. They would have little time to heal before getting back on a plane to return to school.
“You do realize everyone else will have tans and bikini lines, and you’re going to have tape all over your face?” Parviz had asked on the Frankfurt-Tehran flight.
“Oh my God, Parviz, you really don’t know anything,” Niloofar said. “It’s Los Angeles. My Media Studies prof has Restylane injections every month. You should hear her try to say ‘acoustic environment.’”
Parviz drove his sisters back from the hospital, only leaving them unattended while he went in to fetch painkillers and extra gauze; even then, they were never aware they were alone. When he came back to the car, he found Anahita asleep with her head against the seat, breathing through her mouth. Only Nasibeh stayed awake from the beginning of the procedure through the trip to Maman Bozorg’s, later claiming she felt the doctor gently hammer back the pieces of her cartilage, like repairing a delicate historical ruin.
He didn’t stay long at Maman Bozorg’s, long enough to see them through the first couple of days of recovery. He didn’t know what he was afraid of exactly, but he was glad his sisters were too doped up to ask.
“I’ll pick you up Thursday morning. Be ready or we’ll miss our flight.” He handed them a bag with their medications. “Maman Bozorg will make sure you take these. The directions are on the bottle. And the doctor says don’t touch your bandages. Maman knows some surgeon back home who’ll check that everything looks okay.” He glanced at Maryam and Maman Bozorg. “You’ll call if they start acting up?”
His grandmother nodded.
“Don’t be such a hen,” Anahita said, barely moving her lips.
“Mind if I come over later?” Maryam asked. “I’ll take the bus.”
“Fine,” said Parviz. “I’ll be at the Azadi, 204. Call if anybody needs me.”
As he pulled out into traffic, he saw Maman Bozorg’s head hanging out the window staring down at him.
Parviz had been there when Maman and Maman Bozorg had their big blowout. Three weeks had passed since they’d buried Baba. It was blazing hot, the windows open, and they were fighting in whispers so as not to inform the whole neighborhood.
“I love you, I sacrifice myself for you, but I’ll tell you something,” Maman whispered into Maman Bozorg’s neck. “You are wrong about everything.”
Maman Bozorg wept, fogging up her giant glasses. “Probably you are right. But promise me when you get there and find yourself surrounded by bad people doing bad things, you will think of your poor mother here, all alone with her teapot.”
Maman collected her bags and smoothed her clothes. She had spent good money on new luggage and a Brazilian hair straightening treatment and felt unstoppable. “I promise.”
“And then you’ll come back.”
Maman didn’t say anything. She peered out the window at her neighbors walking on the roof, letting their three forbidden dogs pee off the side of the building down on someone’s sheets. She didn’t miss her husband, her eshgheman, and knew she wouldn’t miss this.
“Khoda hafez,” Maman said. When she said goodbye, she meant it.
Maman Bozorg didn’t bother to walk her to the door. She stayed in the corner, talking to herself. “And then you’ll come back,” Maman Bozorg prayed, to no one, to the walls, her mouth in a perpetual pucker. Maman Bozorg had married at thirteen, raised eight children in a dirt floor house she shared with her husband’s family in Zarabad. She had long ago come to the edge of her knowledge.
Maman tried to smile. “You don’t get all the way to America just to turn back around.”
“Then you will be miserable,” Maman Bozorg said, puckering.
Parviz showered off the hospital smell and collapsed on his hotel bed. Somewhere across the city, his sisters were sleeping on a pile of blankets on Maman Bozorg’s floor, a sticky web of narcotic dreams beclouding them. When the drugs wore off, they’d be sore and swollen, maybe a little confused. They’d look pretty ugly before they looked pretty.
There were to be psychological complications in the weeks ahead, after the bandages came off. They would catch themselves in the mirror, said Dr. Hafezi, in the windows of stores.
Parviz thought of his grandmother’s face hanging out the window, the bruise of her mouth. Could still see her as he pressed himself into a mountain of pillows. He had entrusted his sisters to a ninety-year-old woman whose only knowledge of medicine involved prayer and rosewater.
Before he knew it, he had slept an hour or two, more than he had since arriving in Tehran.
In the evening, Olivia popped up in a window on his laptop, wanting to Skype. It was eight in the morning in Irvine, and she thought they could feed Thayer his breakfast together.
The light from the bay window cast a diagonal bar across her neck as she leaned forward.
“Well, how was it?” she asked. “Are they happy and beautiful?”
“It was Saw. Plastic Surgery Edition. Gruesome.”
Olivia laughed and turned away, spooning oatmeal onto Thayer’s tongue. Loll, loll, loll, Thayer said after each swallow.
When she got as much as she could into him, Parviz knew she’d lift him up by his armpits and wipe down the highchair, the hem of her thin blue robe sweeping through uncollected trails of crumbs.
For some reason he recalled a pair of pink platform sandals she wore on their first date, the edges scalloped like an oyster holding the pearl of her foot. Her pale skin and pale eyes, a transparency to her. She’ll never lie to me, he thought.
“They’re like welterweights, but they’ll look better when they heal.”
“Dow!” Thayer shouted, banging his fists against the plastic table.
Parviz smiled at Olivia, just a flicker, like an accident. He wanted to ask her if she found it as depressing as he did to be home all day, the baby DVDs with their shrill music, strong-arming the wheels of Thayer’s stroller down the apartment steps. How tired you could feel, doing nothing. He didn’t ask, of course. Because he knew. She was grateful for the time away from work, grateful to be with their child. She was, he thought, so incomprehensibly patient.
“Mowy!” Thayer shouted again, waving his arms frantically. “Dow!”
“Hold on,” Olivia said. “I’m going to text you a picture of him. He wore his big boy pants yesterday.”
“The ones your mother got him?” Big boy pants. Parviz reached down and squeezed his fat roll.
But Olivia was up, after her phone in another room, having never heard him, or never answered. She left the baby in front of the computer, where he continued to hammer his fists for a few seconds, his face threatening to dissolve into a mask of frustration. Abandonment. In another moment, however, he was fine, and even seemed to notice Parviz on the screen.
“Hey Thayer, hey buddy,” Parviz waved, but the baby quickly looked away in the direction Olivia had disappeared.
There was a knock on the hotel room door, and Parviz got up to let Maryam in. She was already rolling her eyes.
“Uh-oh. Everything okay over there?”
Maryam sat on the bed next to him. “Nasibeh’s out cold, and Niloofar and Maman Bozorg are watching Point Break. Hi Thayer!” she called, waving to the baby.
“What about Anahita?”
“Anahita’s on the warpath because she forgot the Internet connection here is so fuzzy.”
“She should be resting, for fuck’s sake. Hey, Thayer’s teeth are coming in, did I tell you? Olivia calls him ‘little vampire.’”
“I can’t believe he already has teeth,” Maryam said, yawning, curling up with her back to Parviz. “I thought they get those at three or something.”
“Apparently not. This is a picture of him in his new pants. Gift from his granny.”
“Yeah, right. Olivia’s mother.”
Elaine, who arrived early for babysitting, smelling of hand lotion. He’d left Thayer with her more times than he cared to admit, accepted money from her, even when it wasn’t necessary.
- misses you, Olivia texted suddenly. Are you still flying back Thursday?
She hadn’t, he realized, said she missed him. He could barely see her, her waist behind Thayer’s highchair, the phone in her hand.
On schedule 4 Thursday, he texted.
He flipped through the photos Olivia kept sending, one after another. Thayer in a collared shirt and khakis, a part in his hair. Thayer on a wagon. A studio shot at the “North Pole,” wearing a turtleneck, surrounded by cotton batting for snow.
“Do you think it’s weird I didn’t get a nose job?” Maryam asked.
She was so quiet, he’d thought she had drifted off. He turned around to look at her.
“I think it was smart. You didn’t need one anyway.”
“But they’re all going to look beautiful,” she said, yawning again. “And I’ll look different.”
“You look beautiful,” Parviz said, catching her yawn. He exhaled, touching his stomach. “You know you look like Maman. You’re the only one. The rest of us look like Baba, Baba’s big fat nose..”
He thought of his father at the beach in Kish. Baba’s hair in a black ponytail down between his shoulder blades like a snake. Wearing his tight white pants. Parviz was six, Anahita one, and Baba was teaching him to swim. Parviz was terrified, the saltwater splashing into his mouth.
“Hold on to my shoulders,” Baba said, ducking into the green water so Parviz could climb on his back. “Baby birds ride between their mother’s wings. You get here, between my wings.”
Maryam shivered. “What if I stayed here? With Maman Bozorg.”
“Bozorgi can barely take care of herself. Plus, you have school. Look, Yam, see his teeth? Four of the suckers..”
His phone buzzed again: This is his new jumper. I took him to see Amanda and her kid Caden across the street. He loved it.
He texted back: That Caden seems slow for his age, no?
“What if I said I was pregnant.”
Maryam pushed herself harder into him, until he could feel her spine along the length of his.
Maybe a month before Thayer was born, Olivia came home in a good mood. She was huge by then, needed help sitting and standing sometimes, but she still had a meager buzz of energy, like a low watt bulb.
They sat together at the kitchen table in front of her laptop.
“I emailed this to myself,” she said.
It was a high resolution scan of a 10 week old embryo’s face. A ridged, shapeless mass, two dark holes for eyes. A metamorphosis, sped up, like footage of a blade of grass sprouting from the ground. For a second, it looked like a pumpkin. A crack became a mouth. Suddenly there were nostrils dropping from the crown of the head, eyes moving flounder-like from the side of the head to the middle. The lip rose from the jaw. It widened. It built and rebuilt, each second becoming more recognizable.
Unfolding, revising, erasing all mistakes.
Elizabeth Eslami is the author of the forthcoming story collection Hibernate, which won the 2013 Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction, and the novel Bone Worship (Pegasus 2010). Her essays, stories, and travel writing have appeared most recently in The Rumpus, The Literary Review, and The Sun, and her work is featured in the anthologies Tremors: New Fiction By Iranian American Writers and Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema. She is a senior prose editor at Tupelo Quarterly and currently teaches in the MFA Program at Manhattanville College.