1. "Have you been saved?" she asked as you sat slack jawed and silent in the passenger seat, skin like fire against your still-wet beach towel the one with the 4th of July print. "Saved?" "As in Jesus," drawn out as though you couldn't understand English. How to respond to pretty blonde mothers with Southern drawls and bless-your-hearts? Curse you, politeness, and your ugly sister deference. 2. What you do know is that the first time you heard a fairy tale you asked about the wolf not the girl in red. Your father—Farsi as lyrical as a real Iranian's— responded in key words perfect for learning gorg besha afsaneh From another room your maman bozorg, wizened and newly American, praised your father for his words. 3. When the towers fell, your friends thanked God on your behalf because they knew you wouldn't. Thank God you don't look Middle Eastern! Thank God your name doesn't give you away! That night, someone placed an American flag sticker on your mother's car— a reminder of their God. 4. Later, your lover, the one who preferred you use your study-abroad Spanish at dinner parties Wouldn't it be fun? You could be from anywhere! would kiss you feverishly, whisper sin for hours and then rush to the shower. God is watching. Another story. 5. In a sad attempt to learn your mother tongue, you subjected yourself to hours of Farsi lessons, hoping the words would fit together—finally—their pieces a pomegranate jigsaw puzzle. The basics, first. How do you say no? Nah? Not nah! Nah kheir, the white professor rebuked. Nah was reserved for cheap girls the ones from bad families. Just a word—it shouldn't be so difficult—and yet there was that time with the boy who also could have been from anywhere— What was it he called you? Persian princess? Back at his house, once you realized what was happening, no language no God no version of no could save you.
Originally from New England and currently residing in the South, Leila Emery received a BA in Comparative Literature from Smith College and a MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She is a co-editor of and contributor to the forthcoming anthology Iranian Revelations: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora. Her work has appeared in Matter and Lines + Stars and is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review.