Pirooz Kalayeh


I Am Being Poisoned

t was my first time coming home since I’d gone to school in December. I didn’t know what to expect. My mother had been at my father’s throat ever since she found an e-mail he had sent to some floozy. He tried to tell her that they were just friendly, and I think my mother half-believed him, until she sent me the message, so I could give my opinion. I almost puked right there in my dorm room. It was filled with sappy lines like, “You are my eagle,” and “I climb the highest mountain for your love.” I told her that this probably wasn’t a message someone would send a friend in the kindest way I could think of saying, and she broke down right there. I found out later from my younger brother how she went ballistic, and called my grandparents and all their friends, and even strangers in the neighborhood to tell them what she thought of her so-called Good Samaritan husband.

You see my dad was a big deal at the time. He was always organizing events with the community, doing bake sales, getting people together to talk about diversity, things like that. I never thought much of it, because every time I went to one of these things I’d be stuck with a view of my dad behind a podium with aviator sunglasses on trying not to look like his ego was the size of New Jersey.

I told him how I felt too. Or at least I tried, he stopped me before I could finish to tell me how I didn’t see the big picture, and then started in on how his next event was going to do gangbusters. Of course he didn’t say gangbusters. He said, “amazing”. I hated when things were amazing, so I just let him go on, giving up on making any point about ego, contradiction, hypocrisy – words I used frequently at the time, or at least I think I did, because my little brother is looking over my shoulder as I write this and says that’s all I used to say.

Anyway, tonight when I got off the plane, I was kind of nervous about how things would be. It didn’t help matters that I spent over a half hour trying to find my parents. They didn’t even bother to meet me at the gate. They just waited down in the lobby of the airport, like that would be the natural place where I would find them.

I almost gave up before my little brother ran up to me and nearly knocked me over he was so excited.

“Where are mom and dad?” I asked.

“Over there.”

My mom had her glasses on; she looked real sweet, with a purse slung over her shoulder. She was looking back and forth at the flood of people coming out of the airport before she caught sight of us walking up to her.

“Oh, Houssein,” she said in that way that was totally hers, with her arms open and her mind on what she was going to make me for dinner.

“Hey mom,” I said.

“How was the trip?”


“What do you want to eat?”

I thought about the various Persian dishes my mother was fantastic at making, before I saw an image of fried eggplant, covered with mahst, homemade yogurt, and a green herb called kashk.

Kashk-e-bademjoon,” I said in Farsi.

“Oh you still like the kashk?”

“Of course.”

My dad was never much for hellos or goodbyes. I didn’t expect much. He stood off to the side and waited for me to come to him. He winced and stepped back when I tried to put my arm around the guy. Then he put his hand over his stomach.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked with a laugh.


“It must be something. You look like you’re in pain.”

“No, is,” then he let out a sigh, “My liver is not functioning properly.”

“What do you mean?”

“I went for a check-up, and they find something wrong.”


“Eh, Houssein, let’s not talk about this. Is a joyous time. You’re home. We’ll talk later.”

I didn’t say a word as we walked to the car. Neither did anyone else.

At dinner, I noticed the water tasted funny. I thought maybe it had to do with water tasting different when you live in different places. My dad disagreed. He was convinced it was my mother’s cooking.

“I am being poisoned,” he said.

I looked over at my brother, Fardeh and my mum. They remained quiet with their eyes on their plates. They must have been through this whole charade already. We all knew what a hypochondriac my dad was. Every time he got a little cold, he would act like he had Pneumonia or worse. This time he was being poisoned.

“Dad, I don’t think you’re being poisoned.” I told him.

“Something is wrong.”

My dad eyed my mother as she walked back to turn off the oven. He leaned towards me with one eye still on her, “Is something in the food.”

“It’s probably the water”

I emptied the glass back into the jug.

“No, I am being poisoned.”

He said it as if a prison sentence had been passed.

“How do you know its poison?” I asked.

“They tell me. The doctors say my liver is not functioning properly. Is like the liver of an alcoholic.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I never drink. I never smoke. I never do anything.”

It was true. He was as straight edge as they come.

“So how come you have the liver of an alcoholic?”

“I don’t know. They say they find poison.”

“Do you think its cancer?”

“I don’t know. Could be. I have to get more test.”

“Is there anything different in what you’re eating?”

“No, I just eat what she makes me,” he said looking in my mother’s direction.

My mom had a glass of water in her hands. I could see her upper lip twinge. She shook her head as she placed the glass on the table.

I waited until after dinner to ask my mom about it. I knew she wouldn’t say anything, if my dad were still around. I didn’t bother with the poison stuff. I was more concerned with how he was treating her. She didn’t seem to care.

“You know the way he is,” she said. “I cannot change him.”

“But he accused you of poisoning him.”

“Houssein, after many years with someone, you learn to accept.” She paused. “Is better this way.”

“Has he told anyone about this?

“No, no. You cannot say anything.”

My mom was pretty secretive. I don’t think I ever heard her gossip to anyone. Come to think of it, I don’t think she had a friend she could gossip to anyway. My parents kept to themselves. They didn’t go out to parties, or invite people over to shoot the shit. Sometimes my dad would have a get together, but it was religious, or had to do with one of his latest, amazing projects. The only time my mom got to talk to someone was when my uncle Hooshang and his family came to visit. The rest of our family was still back in Iran.

“What does Uncle Hooshang think?” I asked.

Her face scowled when I said his name.

“I am not talking to him ever again.”


“Oh, Houssein. His family they are all crazy. Didn’t I tell you what happened with Bahtu?”

Bahtu was one of my many aunts. She had come to the states a couple months ago. I met her once. She seemed nice. There was the language barrier though. I can understand Farsi, but speaking is a whole other story. It was pretty funny to hear us have a conversation. My aunt knew almost no English. All she could say was, Hello, hello (she usually said it twice), I love you, and how are you. It was really sweet when we met. She just said her three phrases over and over, while I tried to mumble some Farsi.

“How are you?” I said in Farsi.

“Hello, hello,” she said in English, not understanding me.

“How are you?” I said again.

“I love you,” she said in English. Then she went on a barrage of all three in one big breadth: “Hello, hello. I love you. How are you?”

I took a look at my parents, then back at Bahtu.

“Hello, hello,” I said.

Then everyone burst out laughing. My Uncle Hooshang said he had never seen such intelligent conversation. At least that’s how my mother translated the joke to me. She thought it was real funny. When I didn’t laugh she tried explaining it again, but I told her not to worry about it. Then she went back to Hooshang and they had another joke on my account. I couldn’t hear what they said, but Uncle Hooshang pointed in my direction when he said it. Then my mom and him had a good laugh. That was a couple months ago. I couldn’t imagine what would make my mom so upset that she’d say she’d never talk to Hooshang again. They had always gotten along.

“What happened with Hooshang?” I asked her.

“I tell you later.”

“Tell me now.”

“Is not the time,” her eyes darted to the empty seat next to her.

“He’s downstairs don’t worry,” I said, talking about my father.

My mother tiptoed towards the edge of the kitchen and opened the basement door. There was a loud wail from a trumpet. It must be Miles, I thought. My brother had discovered jazz, since I had gone to school, or at least done a good job of raiding my record collection. For the past two days it was all we heard.

I doubted my father could hear us in the kitchen over the Miles. My mother must have thought the same, because she rushed back to me in mid-sentence, “Oh you wouldn’t believe it,” she said with a pant, “When Bahtu come to stay it was something. Everyday I come home something was broken. They broke my pictures from Iran. You know the craft with the pearl on the frame?”


“And they make the house filled with dirt. They go outside to play and when they come back they go to the bathroom before they take off their shoes. From the bathroom to garage is one line of dirt. And I can’t do anything because I am at work from morning to five-six o’clock.”

“Why didn’t you ask Bahtu to tell the kids not to make a muss?”

“Bahtu is not like that. She doesn’t say anything. I have to tell them, ‘Don’t touch this, don’t touch that,’ but Bahtu doesn’t say anything. All the time she is napping.”

I couldn’t blame my aunt for sleeping. She had been through a lot. Her husband had left her to take of three kids, without money, or anything. I could only imagine what she had to go through to get to America. But my mother didn’t see that. For her, the floors were dirty, and that’s about as much as she saw.

“So is that why she’s not staying with you guys anymore?”

“No, wait.” She looked at the basement door before whispering, “On top of all this her brother come to visit.”

“Which one?”


“Yeah, he’s my uncle too you know,” I joked.

My mother ignored me, “And he bring all his family. Bahtu got so friendly with Hooshang’s wife. And you know what kind of woman she is.”

“What do you mean?”

“She is nosy you know? She want to know why Bahtu’s husband got on drug, what happened in Turkey, all these things. But Bahtu doesn’t want to talk about these things, she say is the first time they are together and she doesn’t want to make anybody upset. But Hooshang say, ‘We are family’, ‘We love you’, you know these things to make her talk, but Bahtu say ‘No, not now. I don’t want to do it in front of her’, she say about Hooshang’s wife.

Oh, Houssein, Hooshang’s wife got so mad she want to cut her head right there. She start screaming, talking about, this is not respect. All the time no one respect her. Oh, it was very bad.”

My mom stopped to look at the door behind me.

“Keep going,” I told her.

“Don’t go telling dad this, he’s going to kill me.”

“Don’t worry.”

“So, in the middle of all these things, Bahtu wanted to wax her face. And I said I don’t have time. She said please, please take me, so I take her to Wall Mart for the chemical to cut the mustache, you know?”

“Nair or something like that.”

“Yeah, so we go to the place for the cosmetic, and I show her the one I use. She say, ‘No, no, is too expensive.’ So we pick another one, which is cheaper, and I read the direction, ‘It says only four minutes.’ I say many time times, ‘don’t put this any longer because is chemical. Is dangerous.’ ”

“Then the next day we decide to go to the beach. Is the kind of beach you have to take you own food, so all morning I am fixing sandwiches, koo koo-eh-sabzi, cauliflower, these kind of things.”

“While I did this, Bahtu come and say she want me to put the cream on her face. Because I was busy, I tell her to put it on. She so okay, and I go make everything ready. Then after I make everything ready I go to see Bahtu. Oh, Houssein, you wouldn’t believe it. Suddenly I see Bahtu’s face is so itchy. Is all red, so red. All over. Like someone take her skin and cut it. I ask her I say how long she put it. She say she did it for a little bit. But I know it must have been long time, because I didn’t see her for half an hour, while I get everything ready. And I see, she put all these cosmetic to cover it, and is making her face so red. I tell her we should go to doctor. But she said, no, she is fine, so we left.”

“Then in the middle of the road Bahtu is scratching and scratching her face. Finally she say she can’t go she has to go to doctor. Oh Houssein, I got so scared. Because her face was so bad. She must have leave it for half an hour. And it wasn’t just her lip, she put it all over her face.”

“Oh my god.”

“Then she put the cosmetic, and that is the worst thing you can do on wounded skin.”

“What did you do?”

“Your father take her to the doctor, and the doctor say is chemical burn, and maybe her face stay like this and she need surgery. Oh, Mohte get so upset he go to the place where we got the cosmetic and yell he is going to sue them.”

“So then what?”

“Then she put this cream the doctor give her, and little by little it goes away.”

“She was lucky.”

“Yeah, boy, is dangerous these things,” she agreed. “But I am not finish. She told Hooshang and his wife - the person who was going to kill her last night - it was my fault. She turn it on purpose. She say I don’t like her and these things, and I tell her the direction wrong. And how we treat her bad, and tell her children not to run and make the house dirty, all these things. And Mohte hear everything, because they went behind these bushes to talk, and he go listen.”

“At that point Mohte say to me this is not going to work out. He find an apartment for them. Then we just forgive her.”

“You just forgave her?”

“She is in bad shape. She has to take care of these kids. What is she going to do? So we forgive her. But I never forgive Hooshang.”


“He try to turn it on me. He say I don’t like his sister and I want to hurt her face. Why should I do that? I let her family come stay in my house for three months, without saying anything. I am a good person, not like him. He just want to cause problem, because he is jealous that Mohte send money to bring her to his house, and he doesn’t have any. I know what kind of person he is. I’m not talking to Hooshang in my life.”

“Mom, I don’t understand.”

“He disrespect me. All my life I take care of him, since he was little boy. Whenever he want to come to stay. I never say no. I make food for him, everything. And then he think he has the right to say I am going to hurt Bahtu. He is horrible. Oh, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It makes me so mad.”

“What about Bahtu?”

“I forgive her. I know is Hooshang and that Sia, who make her think these things. She knows now how much I am good person. Every week I take her for shopping. And sometime they come here and I make them food.”

“That’s nice of you.”

“Yes, but I told Mohte I am never talking to Hooshang again. I told him I say, ‘if he come put me in hotel, because I cannot be in the same house with this kind of people. I told him I said, ‘I understand he is your brother, but I cannot talk to him.’ ”

“Is there anything Hooshang can do to make it better?”

Hooshang? No. No, I don’t want him to even say sorry. I hate him. I am never talking to him again in my life. But please please please don’t tell Mohte, I tell you about this, because he doesn’t want to hurt your relationship with them.”

      A couple months passed. It was summer. I was back in school, taking some classes to finish early, when my dad called out of the blue. He seemed down. I tried to cheer him up. I had just written him a nice Father’s Day card. It was fresh in my head, so I basically gave him the gist of it, telling him how I thought the family was coming closer, how our relationship seemed better, that life was good, all that kind of stuff. The whole time I talked he just said, “yeah, yeah,” like he heard it all before.

            “What’s wrong, dad?” I finally asked.

            “I don’t want to bring these things to you,” he said.

            “Don’t worry about it. What’s up?”

            “The police came again last night.”

            My heart dropped. I knew it was my brother before my father said anything.

            “What happened?” I asked.

            “Fardeh crash the car.”


            “I don’t know. Fardeh say he was following his friend in the park, and he look down to put on a CD, and he crash into the thing that has roof. What do you call those things?”

             “A pillar?”

          “Yeah. The whole thing collapsed. The police came last night. This is the third time. They come in front of everyone. All these neighbors see. I was so embarrass.”

             I couldn’t imagine how my brother crashed a car in a park unless he was drunk or something. I mentioned this and my dad told me not to talk about it like the phone was bugged:

 “Let’s not talk about these things.”

             “So did they file charges?”

            “You won’t believe it, he said. “The woman say she is going to place charges and go to her car to write the ticket. In that time, I pray. I say, God please don’t let them make criminal charge. I pray so much. Then when she come back she says, she is not going to place criminal charge. They let it go this time.”

            “He’s lucky,” I said.

          “Yeah, man,” my dad, said. “He doesn’t know if you get criminal charge, is on your record forever. If he go to get a job and they see he has criminal charge, he won’t get a job.”

“I know,” I said. “He’s got to be more careful.”

            “I don’t know what to do with this guy.”

             I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there.

            “I try so hard. You know?” my dad said all choked up. “I try so hard.”

“I know, dad.”

I stayed on the phone and waited for him to get it out. After a while he mumbled that he had to go, then hung up.

I sat on my front porch waiting for him to call back. In that time a hundred thoughts went through my head. Mostly about my brother. I was mad at him for making my dad upset, for not getting his life together, for smoking dope. I couldn’t help but think about how it was my fault. How I had smoked up with him a couple years before, and ever since he’d been on the stuff.

            The phone rang in the middle of all this.

            “Sorry,” my dad said on the other line.

            “Don’t worry about it,” I said.

            “I just need a vacation from all this stuff.”

            “Why? Are there other things?”

            “This mommy. She is causing all kinds of problem.”

            (Apparently, my Uncle Hooshang had visited, and my mom kept her word about going to a hotel if he did).

            “I try to arrange everything to get this family together. And it was ruin. Everything 

was ruin—”  

            My dad stopped.

            “Is too much. This mommy. Everything. I’m telling I need vacation.”

            “Yeah, take a break, dad. Come visit me if you want.”

            “Oh, man. We can go to the mountain everyday. Oh, Houssien, I miss that mountain.”

            “Yeah, sure. Whatever you want, dad.”

            I looked over at the mountains behind my apartment. They were beautiful. I hadn’t been up there, since my dad visited last summer. I missed them too.

            “Yeah, come visit, dad. We’ll go on the mountain.”

            “Sounds good. Well, son. Thanks for calling. It was good to talk to you.”

            “You too, dad.”

            I hung up the phone. It was almost night. I stared back at the mountain. There was still snow on the caps. Last summer when my dad and I climbed up it was almost a hundred degrees. We climbed it pretty quick. He stood close to the edge and raised his hands when we got to the Royal Arch. He kept shouting over and over, “We did it! We did it!” like we had just climbed the Himalayas or something. My little brother thought it was funny. He was at that stage. Everything my parents did was utterly hopeless and stupid. Me? I was proud. Here was this guy, taking on a mountain like he did everything else. No stopping. No looking back. That was something the whole family had.

The whole way down the mountain I tried to remind my brother of that.

My dad was quiet the whole time. Later he told me it was one of the best moments of his life.

“What you did today was fantastic!” he said.

            “I don’t know what good it did.”

            “It was good. Believe me. Fardeh needs all the help we can give him.”

       My brother’s here now. Visiting for the summer.

            He just said the accident wasn’t his fault.

            “It’s not!”

            “You saying you weren’t mussed up?”

            “No, I was a little mussed up.”

            “Were you drunk?”

            “No, I smoked a little.”

            “What, it was summertime, so you figured you might as well relax?”

            “Yeah, I guess.”

            “Okay. Well at least that makes sense. If you had crashed into some picnic benches without being high, I was going to start worrying. ”

            “I don’t know what the big deal is. You got in an accident when you were my age.”

            “Yeah, but I didn’t run over a picnic bench. Someone hit me.”

          “You’re being like dad, right now. I don’t like it.” He pauses. “And stop writing everything I’m saying. Stop!”

            “I’ll stop when you do.”

            “Fine I’m stopping.”

            My brother gives me a look.

            “You better not publish that.”

            “Don’t worry. No one reads these things anyway.”

past simple home