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May 11, 1940 - Image 1

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-05-11

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PERS PETIYES
University Of Michigan Literary Magazine
VOLUME 3 NUMBER S Supplement to THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAY, 1940
LIFES FIRS RIDDLE
..by Emmanuel R. Varnndyan

DON'T remember how old I was, pro-
bably five or six. An unusual stir in
the house awakened me. Half asleep,
head withdrawn under the heavy quilt,
like a contracted tortoise in his shell,
I was listening to the commotions round
about me. I could hear strange voices
-threats and pleas and words of en-
couragement; I could hear faint groans
and sighs and hurried steps. I felt that
there wa ssomething ominous in the
air; I was afraid to open my eyes and
look out of my shell.
For frightened children warm, cozy
beds are like fortresses, strong and im-
pregnable. When they are in danger,
they withdraw into their stronghold,
close every passage and doorway, secure
in the hope that no enemy can break
through.
The noises became louder; the threats
more emphatic; the pleas and groans
more pronounced and distorted. My
little brother and sister who were sleep-
ing by me awoke too. But seeing that I,
the eldest, didn't dare to put my head
out, they slowly crept closer and closer,
without uttering a word.
My girl cousins also woke up. They
were older than I, Nano by two years,
and Sultan by four, I heard them whis-
per to one another. I was sure this time
that there was something ominous in
the atmosphere. But in spite of it,
oblivious of my fears, I automatically
jumped up and like a rabbit squatted in
my bed. My brother and sister did
likewise; then all of us like scared fawns
looked about.
Dawn had come, the grey light was
wedging its way through the porthole
in the ceiling. The dark was still linger-
ing at the corners of the house. A dim
castor oil lamp was flickering in a nitch
near the door. The furniture was grad-
ually assuming distinctive forms, like
rocks emerging out of an ebbing tide.
The tall wooden pillar in the center of
the house, supporting the heavy earth-
en roof on its shouders; the huge grain-
box in the corner, half full with flour
and wheat; my mother's dowry trunk
next to the east wall; the cupboards and
the "bedding-stand" and the pots,-all
seemed to shake their slumber and in
a solmen posture pass the word of
morning greeting.
I said solemn, for they seemed to
watch with reverence the drama which
wvas being enacted under our roof. I
was observing, too, but coudn't make
anything out of it. My mother-a
young woman of twenty-eight-a blank-
et on her shoulders, the two-yard poker
in her right hand, serving as a support,
her head drooping on her breast was
painfully trudging around the toneer,
(a well-like structure in the ground.) But
the hat! My father's huge fur hat
which heavily rested on her head! The
sight was melodramatic, funny, almost
ludicrous, something that I had never'
seen before. And a tickling sensatin
gradually swelled in my throat; my lips
were tightly pressed, my cheeks were
distended, my breath held in suspense.
I was just about to burst into loud
hysterical laughter, when my mother
looked at me with her beautiful black
eyes and my laughter froze . . . Her
pale contorted. face, her compactly
pressed lips, her half closed eyes, like
two fountains flowing in clear drops, and
her sweat profusely rolling down the
white brow,-all painful and ghastly

de
THE TELEPHONE WIRE stayed with us though all else slid by;
The abrupt house and spring-resistant snow,
Carbon -black trees writhing against the sky.
Above, the gull winged plan followed in line
Then turned; only the motor purr and lethargy.
Time lost all meaning in a bus that raced with time.
There was the saturated sponge feeling of completeness, the
circle closed.
Your hand held mine in rest
And with my hand, my brain and body dozed,
With slow subtlety and then finality of instant realization,
The grass growing green and new buds bursting,
And the sudden silent shout, "This too shall pass away," the
word mutation.
I looked at you. You pressed my hand. Your smile
And half closed eyes from peace monotony
Told me you had not heard. The heavy bus brushed by
another mile.
- Nancy Mikelson

punctured the happy bubble in my breast,
and I dropped like a deflated balloon.
My mother was ill! And if she were
ill, why didn't she lie down? and why
did she wear my father's huge hat?
Why walk around the hearth with the
long poker in her hand? The whole
thing was a puzzle for me! my childish
soul was troubled, I couldn't find a
solution.
Mariam, an itinerant midwife, a par-
tially deaf, hunched-backed old woman,
was muttering a sort of incantation un-
der her heavy plump nose; and every
now and then, as she went about giving
orders and instructions to my mother,
stuffed big pinches of snuff in her dilat-
ed yellow nostrils and sniffed like an
annoyed hippopotamus. Every time she
sneezed she murmured imploringly:
"Lord deliver us from evil, from mis-
hap; and from the Satan! Lord look
down with thy gracious eyes and have
mercy upon us."
In the meantime my mother kept on
making her rounds, as though drawn
by a centripetal force residing in the
hearth.
And my mother, obedient to the direc-
tions of superstitious Mariam, con-
continued her revolution around the fire-
place. But her steps became heavier
and dull, her face wan and grim; then
exhausted under the cross of mother-
hood she stopped and faintly mumbled,
"Mariam, I can't go any further." Her
knees yielded and she was on the verge
of total collapse when the mid-wife
came to her rescue.
"Lord, deliver us from evil, from mis-
hap, from misfortune," chanted Mariam.
"Lord, have mercy on us, be gracious to
this poor woman," and she kept on
stuffing snuff into her nose.
"Here, here, 'priest's daughter'," (this
was my mother's nickname, her father
was a priest) "take the second poker.
A few steps more, a few more turns and
we shall be all right. Now come on,
some more .. . What's the matter with

you? Thank heaven that you are a
strong, hardy woman"-this was the
virtue of virtues in her code of feminine
excellencies. "I don't like flimsy, wishy-
washy women," she continued her ha-
rangue. "Well . . . get up, continue
. . . that's good! Call unto the name
of Virgin Mary, priest's daughter, call
St. Garabed," she nervously inhaled the
snuff again and sneezed twice.
"Oh, that's good, it's even! Everything
is going to be all right; see . . . I told
you to implore the saints," she exclaimed
with a gleam of triumph in her eyes.
Confident in the magic of the even
sneezes and the saints, she ran about
and scratched crosses on the four walls
of the house.
No source of help was ignored-
saints, gods, Virgin Mary, heaven and
earth, fires and fireplaces, fur-hats and
pokers, even-sneezes and incantations,
prayers and crosses, but, in spite of it
all, my mother didn't seem to find re-
lief. I was angry, especially with that
sorceress Mariam. I knew that my
mother was sick, very sick; but that
witch didn't leave her alone. I hated
her, I hated her hump, which was so
much like the hump of a camel; I hated
her nose, that dirty yellow nose smeared
with brown snuff, her turban, her crink-
ly face, her thick lips, and, above all,
her voice which harassed my poor
mother so much. My childish instinct
revolted against her, and I spoke out
with bitter resentment,
"Hey, Mariam, why are you bother-
ing my mother? Leave her alone!"
"Get up you brats, get up and go to
the sakee (1) 'till we fix the hearth and
call you back," cried out Mariam.
I didn't pay the least attention; on
the contrary, her peremptory orders
irritated me even more, and I was pre-
paring to launch a second and fiercer
(1). A sort of platform built at one
end of the stable, used in winter time
for family gatherings where they sit
and tell tales and yarns.

sally, when my mother turned her dark
eyes on me and said in a tender strain,
"Yes, dear, I wish you would put on
your clothes and go to the sakoo, it's so
warm in there, soon we will call you
back."
Her sweet voice disarmed me, and
Mariam was safe.
It was easy for her to tell us to get
up and go the stable. The bd was so
warm and the house so cold. The icy
breath of January had laced a gauze
of crystal dew over our sooty ceiling.
The sky, grey and sullen, settled heavy
on our window, (that circular hole in
the ceiling which like an eye watched
the course of events in the external
world.) The wind stole in through the
chinks of our door, and I could feel its
bitter sting in my back. The house
was really cold, the tip of my nose was
almost frozen, and I could see my breath
gray in the air. The cat, too, pinched
by the cold had crept into my bed and
was purring in sound sleep.
Instead of getting up I turned to
Mariam and asked,
"Mariam, why have you put dad's
hat on my mother's head, what for?"
"Dress quick, you rascals," she roared
sternly, without answering my question.
"Get up, you won't freeze." She was
actually angry this time.
My cousins, my sister and my little
brother began to put on their clothes
shiveringly. Only the cat and I re-
mained motionless. Mariam's threats
did not scare me, I was the spoiled child
of the family, and had an earring in
my right ear, too, which meant I was
the most beloved of the children.
"Listen, dear," began my mother im-
ploringly, "get up and go to the sakoo;
it's so warm in there, and your grand-
father is there, too."
It was my mother speaking, I couldn't
resist. I reluctantly put on my clothes
and joined the rest of the children who
had huddled near the door, like a group
of scared chicks ready to fly away as
soon as they could find an exit.
But I couldn't detach myself from
the scene, it was so new to me. Although
I couldn't explain the mystery, I knew
that something unusual was taking
place under our roof. I knew intuitively
that all the commotion centered about
my mother, who obviously was sick and
in danger. I thought that old sorceress
was going to play some sly trick on my
mother, and I was anxious to defend
her, to stand by her. I was loathe to
move, but at last when the mid-wife
rolled her fiery eyes on me, I recoiled,
receded step by step and slipped out
of the door. But before the final re-
treat, I stuck my head in and with a
roguish twist of lips and tongue made
a dirty grimace at her, and ran away.
I was, nevertheless, defeated. The
mystery was unsolved, and chased away
by Mariam. I brooded over my Wretch-
ed lot, and, like a dark swollen tloud,
I was ready to burst into a torrent of
tears, but I didn't; I was afraid that my
sister and my cousins might laugh at
me. Instead, I turned to my cousin
Sultan and asked,
"Why has Mariam put dad's hat on
mother's head?"
"Dumb bell," she replied with a sur-
prise. "Don't you know? it's used in
order to ward off the evil spirits, and
the pokers too, are for the same pur-
pose."

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