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At dawn, there was a sharp knock on the door, her voice full and low, coming from the other side. “It’s your mother, darling,” she said. “Open up.”
“Where have you been all this time?” I asked.
“Look how you’ve grown!” she said.
None of this surprised me in the least, even though my mother had been dead for twenty-three years. A reel of thought, wound tight inside my mind, began to unspool. Memories of the way we were. Combing wet henna through our charcoal hair. Loose white skirts skimming the Kaaba’s marble ground. Holy ground. A tiny mole, just offshore of her sad little mouth. Ours, a world of immovable routines and restraint. Ours, a world of misbehaving men whose terrible secrets we kept.
My mother settled on the sectional now, carefully arranging the folds of her pink kaftan, pushing cable bangles up her forearms, as high as they would go. She said, with neither pretense nor prologue: “Out there, I’ve made many new friends. From these women, I’ve learned everything there is to know. What I taught you was wrong. Shame is pointless. Pleasure is the path. Rumble your hips often and rejoice. Tell the truth about them. Shout it, if you must. Everything else has been explained here.”
From inside the wide bell sleeve of that glorious cloth, she produced a folder of hammered gold. I watched as she placed it carefully on the cushion beside her. I opened my mouth to speak, but she was already gone.
Hilal Isler teaches college social justice in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, the Brooklyn Review, and the LA Review of Books online. She earned her doctorate from UPenn.