Who is Fallen
*Note from the Editor: CW—This story contains allusions to terrorism, institutional violence and cultural references that may be controversial. This story is about love, not politics. Discretionary Love does not endorse any social agenda and aims to deliver work that includes the nuances of love in ‘real’ life.
She sings to me in bed. Up on her knees, straddling my pelvis as I lie sideways across my bed, the hourglass of her figure silhouetted in the predawn lights of the financial district and reflected in the mirrored doors of my closet, the twin towers where she will die in a couple of hours illuminated beyond her hip, she sings in microtonal scales. Arabic scales. Scales that only in the crushing void of her absence will I realize my cheap keyboard can’t duplicate. I lie beneath her, desperately aroused, aching for her to make a movement, some movement, any movement beyond the flexing of her breath as she sings, but her fingers on my tensed belly admonish me to lie still, to resist those urges just as she is doing, and to revel with her in our mounting urgency.
She sings to me in bed, something she hasn’t done before, and I am both completely present with her in the moment—the smoky wail of her voice, like a kamancheh or a muezzin, the hourglass shadow of her figure and the cascading tangles of her hair, the smell of her body, the salty taste of her sweat on my lips, the soft touch of her fingers warm on my abdomen and her assertive grip further down—and at the same time her voice conjures images in my mind of faraway lands and exotic cultures, bright colors in bright sunlight and mystifying languages and the mingled scents of spices and incense and heat and dusty animals. I am here in this bed with her and I am there in those places that only exist in my fantasy, and at least for the moment I am not regretting that the first time she told me she was from Germany I looked at her face, browner than my own, at her lush, wildly curly hair, thick and black as coal, listened to her not-quite-German accent, and said, “No where are you really from.”
Kurdistan. Not Iran. Not Iraq. Not Turkey. Not Syria. Kurdistan. “My mother wants me come back to Kurdistan,” she shouts over the noise of some apartment party over in Brooklyn, gesticulating in the air with a jam jar of red wine and a bummed cigarette in her hand, splashing the wine onto her bootleg Funker Vogt t-shirt. “She says they have husband waiting for me there, and she says he is open mind about my past, but she doesn’t listen that Kurdistan is not my home anymore and I’m hairy feminist now, grew up in Germany, and I like living here in this filthy New York that stink of piss and garbage, and I’m Atheist”—she catches her German pronunciation—“atheist now and I’m not Muslim for what, fifteen year, and I like to drink ret wine and I like music, all kinds of music, and I like to go out dance, and I like to feck who I want to feck when I want to feck” (that’s how she pronounces it), “so why I want to go have nothing in nowhere place that music is haram and singing is haram and dancing haram and art and wine and lovers all haram—they still have fecking honor killings, feck sake—and marry some man I don’t even know? And be poor wife in tiny village with nothing to do but chasing goats out of garden and having baby?” Her voice is an ebullient mountain stream, sometimes bubbling and playful and sometimes crashing, agitated.
She sings to me in bed and she raises her arms with a dramatic flourish, locking her eyes to mine as she gestures along with her vocal improvisations, glancing up at her reflected silhouette in my mirrored closet doors and touching the sides of her face as she sings, looking back down at me and crossing her forearms behind her head in a movement that opens her torso and lifts her breasts, her areolas slightly darker in the gloom, the dark thatch of her armpits harmonizing with the dark thatch against my pelvis as she rocks, so slightly, ever so slightly, to the undulations of her voice. Furthest from my mind is the time down in the lobby when I turned away from her to check my mailbox and when I turned back seconds later she had wrapped her pashmina around her head in some kind of hijab I think, covering her hair, ears, neck, forehead, even the top of her denim jacket, leaving only her face, makeup-free as always, and I found myself looking down at a woman I barely recognized. I knew even then that the submissiveness in her upcast hazel eyes was an impish prank, but I saw my own shock mirrored on her face for an instant before she threw her head back and broke into her loud, mischievous laugh.
“Yeah, sicher, young Kurdish woman are soldier and do fight beside man in PKK, but fighting woman not always mean equal woman. No matter what side win, the woman still lose, because all sides of the fighting are man that want theokratie—Taliban, Khamenei, Kurd, no matter who, they all want sharia, they all want patriarchat, they all want the man have control always, and own everything, and have all the power. They all want woman in hijab—worse—in purdah—separate always, locked away, no voice, young girl kept like some animal, not to read, not to learn, not to think, just submit and cook and be servant and for sex, cut in their qûz so the feck is never fun for the woman—for the fecking girl—but just pain, every time pain, and to have baby, baby, baby, and die having baby before thirty years old. I am old woman there. I am still twenties, how I am old fecking woman?”
She sings to me in bed, her eyes in the gloom relishing the sight of my body, beneath her where she likes me, of her own body on top of mine, of the place where our bodies meet, and neither of us is thinking about that time she was trying to figure out when between her various waitressing jobs she could take the two trains to deliver the overdue rent for her sublet way out in Brooklyn, trying to figure out how she could cobble together the rest of the money she owed her roommate, but she had spent every night here with me for over a month, left behind a laundry pile of bootleg t-shirts and waitressing clothes and a hundred or so CDs: Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten, the unlabeled one that sounds like machinery, the Funker Vogt I recognized from her t-shirt (Hey, he kinda look like you!)—so I suggested hey maybe she could just give up that sublet and save the money and the hassle? Sure I was also thinking about the rent on this one-room apartment with its expensive view above Houston Street, this apartment that’s also my office, the billable hours I don’t get clocked when she’s here, and how maybe a little extra money wouldn’t hurt—but she cut me short, her eyes slicing toward the door as she explained, perhaps a little too carefully, that as long as she has somewhere else to go we’ll know she’s here because it’s where she wants to be.
She sings to me in bed, this woman of a few St. Mark’s Place coffeeshop glances spread over weeks, who plopped down across from me in her jeans and combat boots and that not-yet-stained Thanks For Nothing t-shirt, “Hi.” I had been reading, hadn’t seen her come in, but she took Lady Chatterley out of my hand and said, “Is erotisch, yeah?” and I started talking about how it was erotic yes but had a lot more to it, and I think I geeked out and rambled, but the more I gushed the more her eyes glowed, and we talked over coffee, and then over beer and red wine at a sidewalk table over on First Ave, until it was late, and with mischief in her eyes she said, “I’m bored, you have place we can go?” and then she laughed out loud at my hesitation that she might be, uh, working—“Hey you wanna give me money, I do owe the rent!”—and along the walk she sent me into a bodega for condoms, and before we got to my building she’d made it clear that she was her own fecking woman and this don’t mean I have any kind of exclusive claim to her attention. “Or if you not okay with that I can just take subway home.”
She sings to me in bed, having woken me by crawling on top of me, which is no longer a surprise, and her voice grows husky, her breathing ragged, her movements more involuntary, her arousal more obvious, increasing with her struggle to hold back and her delight in that struggle,and it won’t be until much later when I’ve tried to write this a dozen times that I will think about the time she enthusiastically dragged me to a gallery reception for some cringey-ass fetish photographer she had met at a big scene party and someone we got to chatting with (she’ll talk to anyone) called me her “…um…boyfriend?” and we exchanged a quick glance before she sidestepped the question.
“Some punk try to mug me last night,” before she started mostly staying at my place, and back when I knew I wasn’t her only lover. “I’m down by the river throwing rocks and some jugend walk up to me and show me knife, tiny knife can hide in your hand and say give me your money. I tell him get fecked. You think I’m in brownfield throwing this pieces of concrete in water because all my fecking money? And you think you scare me? I grew up under Taliban, you think I’m scared by some twirp all alone with little toy penknife? Go get fecked!”
She sings to me in bed and though she’s about to go to her first day of training it’s not remotely in our minds that just last week she was applying for this new wait-staff job up at Windows on the World, a job with a view and upscale tips, and hoping if she got the job she could maybe make enough to quit running around so many subways, so many jobs all the time, and that it was an advantage speaking four languages. Even if her Kurmanji maybe not so in demand her Arabic and her German would look good on the name tag, as long as her English good enough.
She sings to me in bed and as she circles back to a phrase from earlier she reaches for a falsetto note, but she misses and her voice cracks—startling both of us—and she bursts into a giggle, and that turns into a full-on giggle fit, and she has been holding us both teetering on the edge for so long that our giggling is finally enough to tip her toward an orgasm, and she shouts out, slams her hands down on my chest, hair flying, and grinds and slams against me with an animal wail as I fumble clutching at her hips and ejaculate into the condom that separates us. Then her hair is in my mouth and my forehead is throbbing from some impact and she is lying hot and slick on top of me, her breath a throaty laugh in my ear as she devours my face with sloppy ice-cream licks and toothy kisses.
“What was that song?” I ask when I’ve got my breath back. “It was beautiful.”
“Not song.” She raises up to look down at me through her hair, squirming her soft body against mine as a devilish grin spreads across her face. “Call to pray. We are both going to hell.”
In an hour she will be showered and dressed for the first day at her new waitressing job, her hair beaten into submission for the moment as she stops beside my desk chair, reaching down with a smirk and fondling me through my sweatpants, saying “I see you tonight,” before leaving me with a lingering kiss, her hair smelling of the conditioner I won’t be able to throw out for years. I’ll turn from my view of those damned towers and watch her walk out the door, her loose, rolling swagger barely interrupted as she snatches up the bagel I’ve bagged for her. And because I don’t know it’s the very last moment I’ll see her alive—because I don’t know I will never again hear her key in the lock, smell her hair, feel her hungry greeting kiss, the suggestive tilt of her pelvis, her arms tight around me, the growing comfort of her presence in my life—because I don’t know these things I’ll be checking out how the delicious roundness of her ass fills out those black waitress pants as she strides out of sight down the hall, until the heavy steel door clacks shut behind her. In another hour I will watch in horrified disbelief as the first 767 slices into the tower.
Her body will never be found. It will never be confirmed that she was actually up on 107, but she will be among the thousand-plus declared missing. Presumed dead. In the eerie silence of the locked-down city, not a single car moving below me on Houston Street and her ornate voice still fresh in my head, I’ll realize—numb—that I have no idea who to contact. Not a clue how to reach her family. Not even her roommate’s number out in, what, Canarsie? Nothing but her hair in the drain and the clutter of her toiletries in the bathroom, her CDs and their cracked jewel cases scattered around my stereo, the silent jumble of her clothes behind my mirrored closet door, her waitressing clothes and her jeans and her boots and her album-cover t-shirts, Thanks for Nothing crumpled on top of the pile with its wine stain faded but still visible if you know where to look. Silent reminders of this woman I won’t realize I’m in love with until it’s too late, and her voice has been silenced in a flash of jet fuel and hostility. This woman lying on top of me and breathing on my neck, blissfully unaware of her own prophecy.
Jay Parr lives with his partner and child in Greensboro, NC, where he’s a lecturer in the nontraditional Humanities program at UNCG. He owes thanks to Diya Abdo, Rana Israili, and other readers for helping him check his white-male privilege, to Kaya for inspiring this character, to Greg Minnig for letting a stranger crash too long at his tiny Houston Street apartment, and to Gabriella McField for her brilliant line edits. Parr’s work has most recently been published by Dead Skunk Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Streetcake Magazine, and Variant Literature Journal.