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The Short Form

“My Mother and the Stranger”

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Excerpt

Shortly after the abrupt and unceremonious departure of my father, who also happened to be her husband of ten years, my mother abandoned the name Sayrafiezadeh and returned to her maiden name of Harris. “He gave me twenty-four hours notice,” my mother has told me dramatically more than once. And I imagine the scene unfolding in the perfunctory way it does when one is laid off, effective immediately, and escorted from the building. My mother’s return to Harris was a way to be away from Sayrafiezadeh, it was a way to divorce herself from my father who would not legally divorce himself from my mother for twenty more years, that is until he was ready to remarry again, and his legal status in the United States was no longer in jeopardy. But my mother’s return to Harris not only succeeded in divorcing herself from her ex-husband but also of divorcing herself from her present-son. Written on the mailbox in the lobby of our apartment building was “Harris/Sayrafiezadeh,” as if roommates resided there, or an unmarried couple, or a progressive married couple, a progressive married interracial couple at that.

“Supper is almost ready,” my mother calls to me twenty-nine years ago when this story begins. Together we are alone in our apartment. I am playing on the floor in the living room, while my mother is busying herself in the kitchen. I place this colored wooden block on top of that colored wooden block. Silence surrounds me, interrupted only by the faint clink-clank of my mother’s dishes in the sink. It is that time of night in New York City when everything seems to fall silent and still. And on the sixteenth floor of the apartment building we live in, everything is even more silent and more still, the sounds from the street falling short of us. And it is also at this time of night, for reasons unbeknownst to the scientists, that strangers choose to enter people’s homes unannounced and do evil things. It is during this pre-supper séance then that the stranger, who has decided against being detected in the elevator and has climbed sixteen flights, enters our apartment and silently, stealthily, creeps, quietly, whisperly behind my mother and waits. His presence my mother and I are unaware of.

We read it in Open City: 17.