The Turtle Shell

by Janet I. Buck


“Did you know that women in Afghanistan wear marbles in a net tied to their thighs, so they can shift a certain way and have a climax now and then.” That was all the doctor said, expecting me to laugh, I guess. I tried, but felt a hematoma brewing under pale skin.

Suddenly, I turn to stone. Thinking of their cloister robes of dark black wool, wire mesh across their eyes, probably a chestnut brown no fabric dye could ever match. Young women sold to cruel men like garden tools or quiet slaves that move without a single noise across the dust where floors should be. The clothes are dry—time to fold the laundry now—he likes his socks a certain way. She darns them through the midnight hours.

Has she ever known deep love, except to hold her children close? Does he ever brush her hair, kiss her gently on the neck? Does she know what sugar is? Has she ever had a meal beyond a bowl of sticky rice and dog remains? Living in this turtle shell, I do not know. Extrapolate from news bands over CBS. I think of all the bruises covered by the cloaks, think of all the whispered anger brewing there—she could be noodles at full boil, burned by heavy mists of steam. If she somehow rubs him wrong, he could pinch her like a gnat that’s landed in his cup of tea. Where’s the box where tears are kept, or does she leave them under lids, heavy with the weight of them.

The diamond sitting on my hand catches light, enough to blind me with its girth. I complained just yesterday, “Our lettuce is not green and crisp.” I shut my mouth, keep it closed. One woman punches through a wall, teaches children in a schoolroom tucked inside some hidden place. There is no board; there is no chalk; paper is a luxury. If she’s found, they’ll hang her in the city square. And so they did. And I complained for many years of students coming late to class. Shrink back in my turtle shell.

Dirty water’s heating up; she’s fixing supper once again—marbles shifting as she moves, a second of some pleasantry she practices to keep her sane. Hoping that his earthquake steps will stay outside their hut of clay.

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