I’ll tell you a secret: there are vowels.
Yes, but not ones I can read, she mumbles into his shoulder.
The slashes of light from the Venetian blinds move across them.
He sets the slice of preserved lemon carefully on the piece of cheese. Beyaz peynir, he reads. He kisses the sunlight in her hair.
She doesn’t question it. Is that cardamom in the coffee?
Yes. You’re good at this.
She has been sitting on the bed for a long time when he comes back from the market. Working out the consonants on the spines, wishing she knew how to fill in the blanks.
He holds up a bag of raw beetroots.
She smiles crookedly. They still have mud on them.
It’s a cultural thing, he says, inscrutable.
The curved one at the back of the throat, the one that looks like pi, the silent one. She looks at the floor.
I’m not the one who’s afraid, she says.
He doesn’t answer.
She watches him slicing spring onions, the coffee sharp in her nostrils. She separates the smells: tahini, raw garlic. Golden, bitter olive oil.
You don’t like onions?
She shakes her head. I like kissing you.
We just woke up, he says.
Her eyes sting.
Did you want maple syrup? He smiles, but it doesn’t move his lashes. They are too soft, and too dark.
Yeah, I want maple syrup with bacon, she says bitterly, her hands pressed to her knees. I want bourbon and iced watermelon.
There is a story in some villages by the sea, he says. Mothers hold their sick children up to the moon on a wooden spoon. They ask the moon to heal them, or take them away.
Does the moon ever take them away?
I don’t know.
Maybe if you put your crippled baby on a spoon you’re asking for it.
He laughs. She leans against the balcony railing.
I had a tape of Jewish folktales, she says. All I remember is a witch rising from the sea, smoking. It was terrifying. When I was a kid I was sure it was a cigarette but now I wonder if she was meant to be on fire.
Where’s it from?
I don’t know.
This is how you would spell your name, he says. The first letter would be the same as mine.
The church bell outside is very slow.
Do you want to get stoned? She shakes her head.
Still, he kisses the arch of her foot.
Sometimes, she dreams in a language she can’t speak.
She has cupped her hand inside his. It is the only part of her with blood inside.
I’m going to miss running water, he says. And going to the supermarket. You know, you just open the tap and you can drink it.
She wonders if she can kiss him; disappear. The city lights glow on the surface of the water.
I hate swans, he says.
I don’t like it when they’re grimy, she answers. Sometimes, their necks are just like snakes.
This is a weird conversation, he says.
She ducks her head, holds up a lemon. Is this what’s for breakfast, tomorrow? Or do you only eat Jaffa oranges, now? She tries a smile. You could just bite right into it. Cool waxen fruit…
You know Joyce gets it wrong.
She doesn’t know what he means.
About the oranges.
He frowns, preoccupied. She wonders if Ulysses ever walked the streets of Jaffa. That heavy, sweet, wild perfume.
Of course, this is not everything she wanted to ask.
In the street, some kind of bird cries.
In the darkness, he stands up.
Are you going? She doesn’t quite wake up.
Bathroom, he whispers, halfway out the door.
He lets in light; a draft. Someone is still in the kitchen.
He crawls in beside her, warm as smoke.
Call me when you’re homesick for running water, she says softly.
Why do your hands smell like oranges, he murmurs, turning over, already asleep.
Published July 2014. Buy the issue here: