As Though She Were Sleeping

BOOK: As Though She Were Sleeping
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R
AINMAKER
T
RANSLATIONS
supports a series of books meant to encourage a lively reading experience of contemporary world literature drawn from diverse languages and cultures. Publication is assisted by grants from the Black Mountain Institute (
blackmountaininstitute.org
) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, an organization dedicated to promoting literary and cross-cultural dialogue around the world.

 

Elias Khoury

As Though
She Were Sleeping

Translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth

 

archipelago books

 

Copyright © Elias Khoury, 2007

English language translation © Marilyn Booth, 2012
First published as
Ka annaha na’imah
by Dar al-Adab, Beirut, 2007.

First Archipelago Books Edition, 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Archipelago Books
232 3rd Street #
A
111
Brooklyn, NY 11215
www.archipelagobooks.org

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Khuri, Ilyas.
[Ka-annaha na’imah. English]

As though she were sleeping / Elias Khoury ;
translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth. – 1st Archipelago Books ed.
p. cm.
ISBN
978-1-935744-34-4
I. Booth, Marilyn. II. Title.
PJ
7842.
H
823
K
3313 2012
892.7′36—dc23
2012002602

Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution
www.cbsd.com

Cover art: Edvard Munch

The publication of
As Though She Were Sleeping
was made possible with support from Black Mountain Institute of UNLV, Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

 

 

 

Death’s a long sleep from which one wakes not
And sleep’s a short death from which one must rise

A
BU EL
-A
’LA EL
-M
A’ARRI

She is not dead, but is sleeping.

T
HE
G
OSPEL OF
L
UKE
8:52

Contents

The First Night

The Second Night

The Third Night

The First Night

 

 

M
ILIA’S EYELASHES
drew apart over eyes still curtained in drowsiness. She would just close them again, she decided; she would pick up the trail of her dream. She saw a small white candle giving off a wan light that trembled and flickered through the fog. His fist closed tightly around the candle, Mansour walked ahead directly in front of the taxi, the wind buffeting his long overcoat, but she could not make out her husband’s features clearly. She reached for the glass of water that she kept habitually on the bedside table but found no glass there. She was thirsty. The dryness diffused along her tongue and broke against the roof of her mouth and down her throat. She dragged her left arm out from beneath her head on the pillow to arrest the numbness creeping from her upper arm toward her neck. She turned over in bed, and over again, and then lay finally still on her back. She put out her hand for the glass of water and found no table there. She shuddered, jerked upright, and suddenly found herself sitting against a wooden headboard. Where had it gone, that familiar white wall against which she propped her head? She could always sense the peeling white paint cracking and splintering beneath her long hair, even commingling with it as she rested her head on the wall. She pressed her arms to her chest, just touching the warm skin of her breasts. Suddenly she was afraid and the coldness of it
slunk into her thighs. She placed a hand there to press away the trembling in her legs. Her palm brushed against naked skin, glided upward as far as the top of her thighs went, and she felt blood collecting there. Gone cold, the blood had formed a solid mass at the lowest curve of her belly.

This is marriage, she said, her voice almost a whisper, and closed her eyes again.

Milia’s memory preserved the scene at Dahr el-Baydar as though it were a shadow play etched black and solid on the wall. Her husband, Mr. Mansour Hourani, holds a small candle before him as he steps forward in front of the car, still wearing his black wedding suit though a long olive-green overcoat covers it. The young woman in her white bridal finery sits on the backseat, swathed in darkness, staring at the driver’s bald head glinting with dandruff. Once they are in Nazareth, she decides, she will tell her husband how his image has been imprinted permanently on her eyes – today, on this evening – as a black wraith fading and disintegrating, appearing and disappearing ahead of the car whose headlights cannot cut through the viscous fog blanketing the heights of Dahr el-Baydar on this snow-mantled night.

At three o’clock, on the afternoon of Saturday the twelfth of January, in the year 1946, Mansour and Milia were married in the Church of the Blessed Archangel Mikhail, their union blessed by Father Boulos Saba. Following the service, the bridal pair stood before the church door surrounded by Milia’s family tendering their congratulations. The tears collected in Milia’s eyes so heavily that she could not make out even a single well-wisher, as familiar to her as they all were. Her tears overwhelmed her, spurting out as if intending flight before landing heavily on her pale cheeks. Mansour, the thin line of his lips wholly captured and partly transformed by a broad smile that revealed his small lustrous teeth, was oblivious to his bride’s weeping until he heard her mother scolding her. Shame on you, dear – Milia, stop it!
Ayb
. For shame – are we burying someone, girl? It’s a wedding, after all.

And when all of the guests had gone, carrying away the little silver boxes filled with sweets; and when no one was left in the churchyard apart from members of the family, the mother went to her daughter. She pulled the younger woman to her chest and, their bodies quivering, mother and daughter wept together. Then the mother pushed her daughter away. Even if you
are
breaking my heart, dearest, leave us to do the crying.
You
must show how happy you are! Come, now, we want to see it on your face! The bride smiled, choking back her tears, while the mother went on crying before releasing the joyful trill –
yuuyuuyuu!
– of her celebratory
zaghruda
into the air.

Milia’s brothers clustered around the newlyweds. It was Musa who particularly caught the bride’s attention, though. The pupils of his eyes seemed to cringe and recede inside their sockets. She sensed danger but could not define where it was coming from. She raised her arm, unconsciously almost, as if to shield her husband’s face from her brother’s stare.

Milia opened her eyes and saw nothing but the darkness of the night. She made up her mind to keep going. She would follow this odd dream of hers, for even in the face of her fear it reassured her. Finally the dream-spaces had come back to inhabit her nights.

In her dreams Milia had seen herself a small girl of seven, her skin tawny and her hair short and curly. The little girl scampered and darted among the grown-ups, espying everything there was to see. And when Milia got up in the morning she would tell things exactly as she pleased. But the reactions were always unpleasant: everyone stared at her, startled and dismayed, for these dreams of hers were like prophecies that somehow always come to fruition. But here and now, in this unfamiliar bed tucked inside of a murky blackness that thickened to press hard against her eyes, she dreamed of herself, a woman of twenty-four, her naked body lying full length across a bed not her own, her head on an unfamiliar pillow.

Milia opened her eyes to arrange her dream properly before going back to sleep. She saw nothing but a pair of eyes open upon the darkness.

She opened her eyes. She saw her own eyes, open. She was afraid.

The man leaned against the trunk of the lilac tree. He told her about the sky-blue glow that tinted the whiteness of her eyes and gave them a heavenly look. Her pale-white skin and her long neck, he said, had brought him here, not to mention her honey-toned eyes and the chestnut color of her hair streaming down her shoulders. All the way from his distant city her image had carried him. Here, to marry her. And he said he loved her. Where had he said these things? And why, awakening from this dream, did she find the dream still there, and why did it leave her seeing nothing but a pair of eyes open upon the darkness?

BOOK: As Though She Were Sleeping
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