STORY OF THE MONTH
By Semia Harbawi
Her bluish lips were slightly parted, the gossamer filament of saliva a tenuous bridge between them. Her eyes were caught in the wide stare of someone having tripped on the brink of finding the solution to an abiding dilemma. In the milky-cataract light, seeping through the semi-transparent curtains, her hair fanned out on the carpet like a sea anemone of burnished red. It matched the purplish hue of her face. I applied gloved sausage-like fingers to feel for a pulse in that area of exposed vulnerability beneath her jaw line. Under the still warm flesh, the internal gears had been put to rest, brutally halted in their tracks. The strangulation marks on her throat formed a grim red necklace. It could be safely surmised that the flimsy nylon hose tossed beside her head was what was used to squeeze life out of her inflatable-doll mouth. An obvious conjecture would be that she had let in her murderer, for there was no sign of forced entry.
I hummed to myself as I gingerly picked up the hose and stuffed it in a plastic bag. I surveyed the crime scene for evidence that might be traced back to the culprit. The plush surroundings indicated she was accustomed to a lavish life style, and I was reminded of the austerity of my own life. A fly was droning in a lazy erratic pattern. Sweat beaded my hairline. The overpowering fragrance of a costly perfume tweaked at my nostrils; the sulphurous emanation of the pit of sin where the dead girl wallowed. Used to. The scent was redolent of whispered promises. Her nightgown was a diaphanous shroud enswathing her slender boyish frame. Not the kind of physique usually paraded by women in this part of the world where generous folds and prominent buttocks were the norm. Her frilly black lingerie was the manifestation of the slut paraphernalia in all its lethal glory. She must have been expecting someone: certainly not a father or a brother on this eve of Valentine Day; a borrowed celebration artificially grafted onto the body of our schizoid culture.
I moved around eager not to disturb anything. When I was satisfied nothing was out of place, I made ready to leave and cast a last look at the Sleeping Beauty that was the centrepiece of a macabre mise en scène. As I contemplated my handiwork, a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, chapping my dry lips (I made a mental note to buy some lipsalve on the way home). I tried to etch her image on the inner retina of my mind. There was lying what used to be my best friend: a deadly warning to other perfidious home wreckers, the sad slut. It had been child’s play to overpower her; she had her back to me, loath to meet my eyes while rattling through excuses for her betrayal. I garrotted her from behind with the hose and straddled her back, pinioning her flailing forearms with my knees. When her convulsions finally subsided, I clipped her manicured scarlet talons in case incriminating fibres should have gotten under them. I would keep them as a memento of our deceased friendship. My husband’s face flashed through the blank screen of my consciousness and I was reminded of how much I loved him, the extremes I would go to keep him by my side. A fact fiercely corroborated by my deed of a few moments ago. Happy Valentine, sweetheart!
Semia Harbawi: I am Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University of Tunis I. I teach English and postcolonial literature. My publishing credits include short stories which appeared in Moondance, The Loch Raven Review, The Taj Mahal Review, Miranda Literary Magazine, The Hamilton Stone Review, The Blood Orange Review and The Istanbul Literature Review. Contact Semia.
Congratulations, Semia! We loved your story. Now, tell our readers more about yourself.
A. I was born in Tunisia in 1976. I am married, with two beautiful children. I am an Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University of Tunis I. I teach literature and postcolonial writing. My publications include:
Short stories: “The Chant of the Odalisque” (Long Story Short, vol.38. July, 2006); “The Good Daughter” (Moondance, September, 2006); “Burning” (Miranda Literary Magazine, October, 2006); “Potent Remedies” (Moondance, December, 2006) “Welcome to Hawa’s” (Moondance, March, 2007); “Love, Dandruff, etc” (The Taj Mahal Review, June, 2007); “Crocodile Blues” (The Hamilton Stone Review, July, 2007); “Shorn” (The Blood Orange Review, August, 2007); “Isha’s Hand” (The Istanbul Literary Review, Fall Issue, 2007); “The Guest Room” (The Loch Raven Review, Fall Issue, 2007), “Monoxide Blonde” (The Taj Mahal Review, December, 2007); “A Fatal Cabal” (Long Story Short, January, 2008).
Articles: “Resistive Aesthetics: Jamaica Kincaid’s Formal Strategies” (Connecticut Review, 25.2, 2003); “Narrativising Betrayal in Hanan al-Shaykh’s The Story of Zahra” (The Arabesques Review 2.4, 2007); “(W)riting Memory: Edwidge Danticat’s Limbo Inscriptions” (The Journal of West Indian Literature, November, 2007);“Against All Odds: The Experience of Trauma and the Economy of Survival in Edwidge Danticat’s Eyes, Breath, Memory” (Forthcoming in Wasafiri, 2008).
Q. What would you want our readers to know about you?
A. I want readers to know that when I write, I feel it is the real me being transposed, one way or another, in bits and pieces.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
A. I mainly write about women, though not just for women.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
A. I am obsessed with details however trivial. I think details in a story do make a difference. Taking readers by surprise, startling them out of their sometimes complacent expectations is another aspect I always bear in mind.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. I don’t use any set formula; I would run the risk of boring myself. I let my
characters guide me for the plot to reach what I consider as its natural, inevitable culmination though it might not necessarily be the case.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
A. I read a good book, watch a movie, eat chocolate, and tease my husband (sometimes all of these at once!).
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
A. It might be anything or anybody. In my case, inspiration strikes when least expected (especially when I’m in the bathroom but that’s another story). It might be a peculiar look in a person’s eyes, dicing onions, the hairs blindly poking out of someone’ nostrils, chapped lips, a couple arguing in public, a whiff of perfume on the stairs, a picture in the newspaper, an anecdote I’ve overheard in a restaurant …
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
A. Well I would like to have a collection of my short stories published.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
A. It is quite frustrating to feel that a dialogue (you have meant to be tense and fraught with barely suppressed emotions) has fallen flat no matter how long you have been tinkering at it, or when a character waits for you to take her by the hand to where she is supposed to be and you fail her as inspiration blithely passes you by. On the plus side, it is a most gratifying sensation to have one’s piece selected as best story of the month in Long Story Short!
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
A. It might help to listen to that nagging small voice inside your head. Try to write what you yourself would like to read. Be ready to re-write your story as many times as necessary until that small voice calls it quits.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
A. Never surrender to doubts and uncertainties as crippling as they might seem. Try to write on a regular basis at specific hours so as to acquire a certain discipline. Don’t let your spirit flag if your story gets rejected. The publication process is highly subjective; it is a matter of taste: bear in mind that what some editors decline would work just fine for others.