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What Became of Pandora Nouri?

In her head she found her way back home and it was the home that she used to know; just a small terraced house on the outskirts of Bradford.  She walked through the water (this was in her head) and she walked over the drowned moors of Yorkshire until she saw her old school.  She only knew the way home from there if she was on a bus so she waited by the bus stop she used to wait at with her grandmother.  Her grandmother was Iranian.  She would meet Pandora every day after school and they would get the bus home.  Her grandmother would bring a tiny can of coke and a packet of crisps. She would speak Gilaki so the white people on the bus would look at them.

When she stood at the bus stop her grandmother was there (in her head) and on the bus ride home, through the water, she told Pandora about her great-grandfather and how he had tried to sell a goat to five different men.

“He even managed to get the money before any of them saw the goat,” her grandmother said in Gilaki but there was no one on the bus to look at them.

At home there was bread baking and she made toast with sugar sprinkled on it.  Her grandmother didn’t come in so she sat alone in the living room watching television, smelling the bread baking and eating her sugared toast.

“I can’t come in,” he grandmother had said in Gilaki, “besides you’re not a baby anymore are you?” She walked off towards the drowned city.  Pandora finished the sugared toast and looked at herself in the huge mirror above the fireplace.  She was how the Stag Man saw her.  She wasn’t how her grandmother had known her.  And then she remembered that none of that was right.

She had never had a school to go to.  She had never known her grandmother and there wasn’t any looks on the bus.  All she had in her head of her grandmother was of her grandmother holding her and making strange sounds that might have been another language.  All of this, the school, the toast, the bus, was imaginary.  She was making it up in her head and in truth she couldn’t even remember if they had lived in terraced house, a large semi or a mansion.  They could have lived in the biggest house in all of Bradford.

She left her imagined childhood home and went out into the water.  She came to the place where she had been abandoned.  It was high up on the moors. There was a path and when she walked some way along the path she saw herself; swaddled in a grey blanket and crying.  She picked herself up and cradled herself, made cooing noises and sang an old Gilaki song.

“I can’t take you with me,” she said and she carried herself to where the moor met the encroaching water and took some heavy stones and put them in the blanket.  She put the baby in the water.  She put herself in the water and watched as the stones made her sink.

If only that was true.  What must have happened was that someone, a woman the Stag Man had told her, found her and when the woman met up with the Stag Man and his first lot of thick necks, he took the baby, took Pandora, and said she could be his daughter.  He had wanted her from the first moment he saw her.  She was the first demand he made.

“I’ll take the baby,” he said to the woman and two of his thick necks had to hold the woman back.  Later they took the woman to the water, swaddled her in a blanket that was stuffed with stones. Her hands and arms were tied beneath the blanket.  The woman sank into the water.

Pandora walked away from the moors and eventually she came to a tower.  It was a folly built in the late nineteenth century by a wealthy Harrogate merchant.  He had built it for his wife but his wife thought it ridiculous and told him so.  Pandora (this was all in her head) pulled back the folly’s near rotten door. The door fell from it hinges.  She climbed the staircase that clung to the walls that were covered in vines.  The stairs circled up and up to a hatch.  She pushed up the hatch and (this was in her head remember) she pulled herself up into a room.  It was a damp room.  The floor was covered in dirt and there was a bed against the far wall.  There was a small boy in the corner. He was crouched with his head in hands.  He was very young.  On the bed was another boy, not much younger than her, and he was looking at her.

“What’s your name?” she asked but he wouldn’t answer.  She kept asking him questions but he wouldn’t answer any.

“Who are you?”

“Where is my grandmother?”

“Have you ever tasted sugared toast?”

“Where’s your dad?”

“Does the Stag Man know I’m here?”

The boy stayed silent and for a moment she considered undressing and going to him, using her body to make him talk.  But she resisted and left the room, left the tower, left the moor.

In her head she was in her own bed, the one she shared with the Stag Man. He was sleeping and she couldn’t sleep.  She got up and walked to Stag Man’s stag head.  He always left the stag head on the floor at the foot of the head.  She lifted the stag head and placed it on her own head.  It was so heavy.  It had an awful smell.  The skull came down over her eyes and she looked out of the stag’s hollowed out eyes.

“What are you doing?” the Stag Man asked.

This was all in her head so she told him to shut up, to go back to sleep, to leave her alone and he did.

She saw his knife, his favourite long knife with the dried blood, and (in her head) she picked it up.  She lifted the stag head off and placed it on a chair and kneeling beside it she began to cut the antlers, saw at them, with the knife.  Antler dust fell to the floor and one by one the antlers fell off.

When she was sleeping again, when she managed to sleep, she had a dream about her great grandfather.  He was going from village to village collecting money for a goat that probably didn’t exist and as he walked home through the hills he saw ahead of him a stag.  He had never seen a stag before.  He wasn’t even sure if there were stags in Iran and for a moment he thought it might be an angel come to punish him for his lies.

“Please don’t,” he cried in Gilaki and fell to the ground, prostate, begging for mercy.

When he looked up again the stag was gone but there on the path were its antlers.

He picked the antlers up and wrapped them in the shirt he was wearing even though he was cold for the rest of the walk home, even though he shivered.  He promised himself he would never lie again.  All the way home he kept saying it.

“I will never lie,” he said in Gilaki.  He hid the antlers beneath his bed and he never told his wife about the angel or its mercy but every morning he would take the antlers to the very spot where the angel had spared him and he would pray.  Years later people would say this; “He is the most devout of anyone in the mountains.”  And someone else would say this; “But he wasn’t always so devout”.  And a third person would say this; “That is how it can be, who knows what truth lies in a man’s head.”

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About michaeleganpoetry

Liverpool based poet and editor. I have had four pamphlets of poetry published, most recently After Stikklestad (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010). Penned in the Margins published my first collection, Steak & Stations, in 2010.

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