Fiction by Wendy Fox
The Turkish tourist village I was staying in was small, with spires of soft rock
topped with volcanic basalts sprouting from the ground like the first uneven shoots
in a bean patch, and once a week, Yasemin would make the forty-five minute bus
trip to Kayseri to go to the bigger supermarkets and also just to get out. It wasn’t
the closest place to shop, but she said there were better deals. And she said that
if I was going be her helper, I would have to come along.
As we traveled east, Mount Erciyes came more into focus. The Greek
geographer Strabo wrote that the volcano was never free from snow in his lifetime
and that those who ascended it could see both the Black Sea and the
Mediterranean. When I hung out the morning washing to flap in the wind, the
peak of the volcano was something static to fix on. The washing was one of my
chores, every morning. I worked at Yasemin’s small hotel for meals and room.
She kept me busy and let me keep quiet.
When we arrived in Kayseri, we transferred to a local bus, traveling through
the downtown with its statues of Atatürk, some historic Selçuk era tombs—one
of them functioning as a roundabout—and high-rise apartment buildings poured in
solid concrete and painted in pastels, white lace curtains in every window.
Yasemin ducked into a fabric shop, and I stayed on the street to smoke. It
was a habit I had re-adopted, living in a place where no one seemed to care
about it one way or the other.
I liked working for her, but I didn’t necessarily have to. I had a little money.
I had accounts in America I wasn’t touching. I knew that at some point, the cash
I’d come with would trickle out and I’d find something I would not be able to
barter for—like the hospital, or a renewed visa. I also had a husband and a
young daughter in America, and I dreaded the day when the smooth slide of my
bank card would stamp my location on a statement.
When I’d left, I’d only intended to be gone for ten days in İstanbul—I was
unemployed and my husband had suggested a vacation. Now it was going on a
month, and, without telling anyone who might be worried about me, I’d made my
way into the interior of the country. Away from my life, I’d found I was less
content with it than I had thought. Away from my life, I’d seen a chance to make
a new one.
I peeked through the window and watched Yasemin deal with the
shopkeeper, flirting with him in the subtle, practiced way she must have learned
in the village, smiling while she looked past him, turning so he could see the slope
of her bottom, turning back to show the round of her breast. She was in her
middle life, and she looked her age, but her eyes were electric, as dark as
hazelnut. She was not married and so she wore no ring, but her fingers, I
thought, were perfect. Short nails, cuticles a little ragged, round knuckles—it
was clear that, like everyone else in the village, Yasemin labored. Even with her
loose-fitting, drab country clothes, and her barely noticeable angling, on our
errands, I had yet to see a man tell Yasemin no. She was older than I was, but
she was much more beautiful.
“Hello,” I heard.
The thing with Kayseri was that if you forgot for one moment, it was easy
to imagine it was anywhere. Home to a mid-sized university, a sugar refinery,
and a small military base, Kayseri also had Western fast food, people with gray
faces, and masses of unhappy-looking young.
And this man.
I had met him only once before, when he came to Yasemin’s hotel in the
morning, not on the regular bus schedule. I watched him lope into the
courtyard and sit down to smoke before he decided if he wanted to stay. I’d
seen him around in the village before, taking photographs. Clearly, foreign. But
clearly, not a tourist. Tourists have a look about them—they look hungry or
confused, or they smoke brands of cigarettes that are extremely expensive
locally, or they have backpacks that don’t look worn in.
“Paul,” I said. “What are you doing in Kayseri?”
“I live here. My wife teaches at the university.”
“We came to do shopping,” I said.
“Have you been to the sausage shops? Kayseri is famous for sausage,” he
“No,” I said.
“Well, listen,” he said, “I’m glad I saw you. I’ve been trying to organize a
trip up Erciyes. Just for the day. While there’s still some snow.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Okay.”
Then, he said he was running late, and he walked off briskly. I kept one
eye on him, his light hair bobbing half a head above the crowd.
When Yasemin came out to the street, she handed me a parcel, wrapped
in brown tissue. “For your room,” she said. “To make new curtains.”
I tore at the edge of the package a little and underneath there was a splash
of spangled orange.
“I love orange,” I told her, and this was true.
“You can use some color,” she said. She waited and looked at me.
“What did he want from you, Laura?”
I liked the way she said my name, not skipping any of the vowels.
“To go up the mountain,” I said.
“Erciyes?” she said, her pitch sloping. “Allahhallah. If an idea comes to
an American’s head they think it must be a good one. I think it is healthier to
I laughed. “I like some adventure.”
“Don’t you need a home?” She said this tenderly, as I cradled the fabric
she’d bought for me and I thought of Paul, disappearing down the long, busy
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“Not in America,” she said.
“No,” I said.
Paul had come to the hotel on one of the first days I was working there.
I watched him from the kitchen while he paced around the courtyard, and then
I met him in the lobby with my eyes down like a village woman would. I took
his ID—the government mandated that foreign hotel guests have their passport
number recorded—thick with extra pages and ratty stamps. His passport was
navy blue and printed with the spread gold eagle, like mine, but I couldn’t
place his accent, and I finally looked up and asked him where he was from,
“California,” he said.
I must have raised my eyebrow. “The Golden State,” I said.
He had gaps between his teeth and was unshaven. Brown eyes, a little
slope to his back.
“They say that,” he said. “I haven’t been there in a while.” He looked
away from me, out at the rock, out at Yasemin’s pretty terraces, out past the
late winter puddles and the outline of Erciyes.
He was staring at me.
He was stuffing his identification back into his tan shoulder bag.
He was turning to walk out as Yasemin came through the side door.
“I’ve seen him before,” she said. “He must live somewhere near. Maybe
Kayseri or Nevşehır,” she added. “Definitely ex-pat.” She straightened the
desk. She looked me in the eye.
My first day, Yasemin had told me that she didn’t like renting rooms to
traveling ex-pats. She thought of them as people with no clear sense of home;
she did not trust the impulse to run, and so she preferred vacationing Turks. I
wasn’t sure if she was right, but I understood her—she compared it to taking
a clipping of a plant. First, when the clipping is in water, it will put out roots.
But most cuttings, she said, will not bloom without some earth of their own to
I thought that there’s also something to changing the arrangement of the
garden, or putting new dirt in an old pot, or creating a successful graft that will
green up the leaves, make the blossoms come in full, or help the fruit to survive
I think Yasemin did not associate me as a fugitive yet.
“He doesn’t have a ring,” Yasemin said to me.
“No,” I said. But then, neither did I.
“He is handsome for an American, no?” she asked.
“He is. I think he is. He looks very much like people I know.”
“Hahhh,” she said, the Turkish was of saying, I see. “He is like you.”
“Yes,” I said, but that wasn’t it. He had more than a common face. I
meant that I saw that he recognized me.
And, after the day I saw him in Kayseri, I didn’t think we would stay
Three days after the shopping trip, Yasemin and I were making the
curtains. She was surprised I could sew, and we laughed as she tried to teach
me some Turkish while I worked her old machine. The season was low, but
we set up in the lobby just in case someone came by.
“Thread,” she said.
“Iplik!” I flicked the presser foot tight against the fabric.
“To sew,” she said.
“Dikmek!” I went forward and then reversed the direction of the stitch
to make a knot.
“Bobbin,” she said.
“Makara!” I depressed the foot pedal deeply and zipped out a quick,
even seam. I liked working with the bright, fluid cloth. It was like shaping
When the door tapped open I stopped so quickly the tension on the
machine kicked back and spooled the thread into a wad.
“Hello,” Paul said. “Don’t let me interrupt your lessons.”
How was my face then. Did he know I had been hoping?
“Not at all,” I said. I looked at where the needle had jumped.
Yasemin said something to him in Turkish that I didn’t understand.
“Tamam,” he said. Okay.
She waved us both out of the room then.
I think she knew better than I did what was happening. She knew it
was not appropriate; she smiled at me leaving with him anyway.
Paul and I went to a teahouse—as people in villages do. We sat on the
low stools and watched a few tourists filter in and out. The first teas I had in
Turkey seemed so strong even when I took them with sugar. Now I was
happily drinking tea black.
Paul told me that he was on a collecting mission. He was a sculptor.
Or something of a sculptor—he fused rocks and wood and made abstract art.
“I have a show coming up in Kayseri,” he said.
“I thought we were going up the mountain,” I said.
“We will,” he said. “But the soonest will be a day or two after my show.”
When we came back from tea, I could see the flash of orange in my
room’s window, and I felt soft for Yasemin. Who was this woman who had
taken me in, who did nothing but try and make my life more beautiful?
I turned to Paul. “What did she say to you before we left?”
“You’ll have to practice your Turkish more,” he said.
I looked at the curtains again as I thought of Yasemin’s sweetness.
Paul stayed at the hotel two more nights and I saw him each day. We
drank tea and talked.
He had dirt around his cuticles from scavenging in the hillsides. He had
a shine in his eye.
The next week, I did go to Kayseri to see Paul’s show. Along with the
rocks and sticks he’d collected, he had incorporated parts of the cultural
landscape: a rack of beef rib not quite picked clean—and by the end, he
reported, stinking. A jug of ağda—a mixture of honey and wax women used
to strip their bodies clean of hair—suspended between some boards and
drizzling a thread of gold into a cone of sand.
The bus ride seemed longer without Yasemin, and Kayseri grayer. I
knew people had been there for centuries, but I didn’t get the sense of a great
history. It seemed like toil to me. Hundreds of years of trying to get by.
Hundreds of years of walks to the tekel (the state-run liquor stores), to the
brothels, and through winter storms which Yasemin said were cold enough to
keep even the wild dogs away.
It seemed perfect and disheartening that Paul lived in this place.
I had learned his wife worked long hours at the university, and he put in
long hours with his own private students and his installations, and they came
home and prepared the spare, basic meals they preferred. He had time to
drink beer with me and cultivate our friendship because his wife paid the rent
in their subsidized flat and because she was too kind to leave him.
He was not faithful to her. He was not the faithful kind. I could tell.
The exhibit at Kayseri, I thought, was a spread of Paul’s indiscretion.
And I admired him for it.
I admired the way he had cobbled together these scraps of bone and wax
and tape recordings of himself talking on the telephone. He had made molds
from scrap wood and old tires and poured his forms with hand-mixed concrete.
The installation had been set up in the long foyer of the university’s art building
and during the exhibition Paul spent a good deal of his time outside in the snow,
smoking and pacing. I thought the curve of rusted wire remarkable the way he
had threaded it through an empty 5 liter tin for olive oil, as was the sound of his
voice blinking on and off from inside the cassette player, wrapped in paper.
I didn’t talk to him much. I mean, I said Hello and I stayed as long as
was reasonable, and then I had some tea at the canteen and got on the bus
back to the hotel in the village.
I didn’t feel like I knew a whole lot about art or what was going on in the
world of installation, but I was very sure these pieces did not come from
someone who was contented.
What stunned me most was the shame of it.
How he didn’t want to watch us watching his honey drip, hear us hearing
his loop play. Come inside, I had wanted to say to him when I’d catch the
half-moon of his head in one of the windows, it’s perfectly safe. He stayed
outside, the smoke curling through the frozen air.
We did go to the mountain, a few days after the exhibit. I convinced
Yasemin to come along, and I packed us all a lunch and dry socks. We
caught a shared taxi from Kayseri and bounced along in the backmost seat of
the minibus as it traversed the mountain road. Twice, we stopped to pick up
more passengers, and twice we all piled out and arranged ourselves in groups
of men and women, and then piled back in so that no man and no woman
shared a bench.
When we reached the ski village at Erciyes, the chairlift was zinging up
into a fog. There was still plenty of snow, though it had lost its winter fluff.
We hadn’t planned on skiing, or snowshoeing, or even sledding, but Paul had
the idea that we should climb higher. We decided that none of us wanted to
pay the full ticket price, so Paul and I watched as Yasemin worked on the
lift operator. A few pieces of her hair had come loose from her headscarf,
and her skin looked almost opalescent. She finally convinced him to let us go
up for one fare if we would fit three people to the double chair.
We rode to the top of the first crests, me in the middle. Yasemin and I
pulled our scarves down tighter on our heads; Paul adjusted his hat. The
snow stung against my cheeks, and Paul’s thigh stung against mine.
I trusted Paul—the day he’d left the hotel and Yasemin finished my
curtains, he said he was meeting with a friend who would be going to İstanbul,
and I gave him a letter to hand off. I addressed it and sealed it and dug out a
few lira for postage. Inside, I wrote I am okay. Love, Laura, in block
letters on an otherwise blank sheet of paper, and I made him promise that he
wouldn’t open the envelope and that he must impress upon his friend not to
mail it until he reached İstanbul proper—it’s a big city, twice the size of New
York, so I thought the postmark would be safe enough. I could have easily
logged in at any of the Internet shops in Anatolia and sent the same message,
but I thought that if I were on the other side of it, I’d want something that had
been touched. Paul didn’t ask me anything about not including a return
address, or who might live on Roanoke Ave. in Seattle.
“I will explain it to my friend,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said.
“My pleasure,” he said.
As the chairlift neared the turn where it would head back down, we piled
off onto the ramp and slid into the drifts. We’d seen a few skiers here and
there, but I think none of us were really sure what to do once we’d gotten up
there. We started hiking toward a clump of trees, where we sat down to rest
and watch the light snow that had begun to fall. It occurred to me that I was
really not wearing the right shoes.
“What do you think,” said Paul. “Is it true that no two snowflakes are
“I think it doesn’t matter,” said Yasemin. Her voice was soft.
Paul tipped his head toward hers as if he expected her to elaborate, but
From there we decided we would simply make our way down the hill. I
had my small pack, and Yasemin had another. Paul was empty-handed, but he
offered to take both our bags. I kept mine. Yasemin kept hers, too.
This trip was like many things in Turkey; we would do things for the sheer
sake of it—it was like counting bees or organizing kinds of sand: distracting,
entertaining sometimes, and almost wholly pointless. We just keep walking,
pointing our bodies down, which is hardly even a direction.
The snow was picking up, and it was like egg whites beating into meringue,
the clear air swirling into thick white. I wondered how much time the Greek
geographer Strabo might have really spent on the slopes. The going would have
been slower and colder then, without chairlifts and advances in outerwear.
It was a few more hours before the light would fail, but partway down the
hill, Yasemin pointed out that the lift had stopped even intermittent operation.
We’d been keeping close to the base of the lift as a guide. When I looked up,
the empty chairs swung like pairs of tennis shoes thrown over low power lines.
I think we all noticed how quiet it had become. The snow was coming
down harder and my feet were getting cold. I felt a little nervous. I had grown
up in Washington in a drafty house with wood heat, and so I had learned to fear
cold. That’s when Paul stepped in between Yasemin and me and took us each
by the hand.
“Ladies, shall we get off this mountain?” he said.
I liked holding Paul’s hand, even through gloves.
“Are you rescuing us?” Yasemin asked him.
“No,” he said, “I just want to hold on to something.”
Our linked hands made the going even slower, but there were several
times each of us nearly fell, and the others kept us upright. It seemed forever
before we saw the lights at the base of the ski hill, but when we finally made it,
we got excited and tossed snowballs at Paul. The lodge had closed so he
went off to check the other teahouse.
As Yasemin and I waited for Paul to come back, I saw how her already
pink checks had turned red in the cold. We laughed at how we must look, with
our wet pants and frozen fingers, loitering in the failing light, our heads and
shoulders dotted with snowflakes.
“I might already be in love with him,” I said to Yasemin. I could already
see him coming back towards us. When I was nine, my mother hoisted me into
the chair at the jewelry counter of the Rexall in town and I waited for the clerk
to nip each ear with steel—it wasn’t the pain but the anticipation that made me
feel funny, that made me nearly fall from the high stool, and once it was done,
I felt a rush of adrenalin and calm, just like I did now, confessing.
“I know,” Yasemin said. “I know, canim.”
Of course she knew, but I was relieved anyway. The snow sifted around
us and from a certain angle it looked like vertical sheets, like a white flag.
That day on the mountain, we missed the final transport off the slopes—
it had left early, and full, as the snow intensified. Even when we were highest,
I certainly hadn’t been able to make out any of the surrounding seas that
Strabo had written about. Perhaps it’s easy to invent a few details—a crest
here, an ocean there—when you imagine no one will retrace your steps.
When Paul returned to us, he confirmed the café on the main road was
open and we went there and drank tea. I passed out the dry socks and we
had our sandwiches. There were only a few other people inside the café, but
Yasemin asked around anyway; none of them planned to head down the
We sat close in a circular booth, with me in the middle. Under the table,
I put my cold sockfoot on top of Paul’s and aligned our toes. I kept my hands
up and in plain view.
After the first cups were finished, we took more tea and Paul sorted his
change on the table. He put on his shoes and plugged the small jukebox.
When he came back to the booth, he wiggled his foot loose from his boot
and placed it on top of mine.
When we found hope of nothing else, Yasemin re-wrapped her scarf
and went out to the road to hitchhike. We watched her from the window,
the snow sifting around her like confectioner’s sugar—a pious bride atop our
Alone with Paul, I wished I had something to say. I tried to compliment
him on his show, but he didn’t want to talk about it. We ordered more tea;
we peeked out the window at Yasemin. He was married, but he kept his toes
stacked on my toes. I was married, but I kept my ring in my room at the hotel.
I had already thought of selling it at the Kayseri gold markets.
When a box truck finally stopped, we crammed our feet into our shoes
and ran out to meet Yasemin as she begged the driver to take us back to
town. She pretended that she did not really know us. We understood that
someone who would stop for a local, covered woman in a snowstorm might
not stop for two Americans with their laces untied. She told the driver she
had come up to Erciyes on a sick call, and that she must get back to her
husband in town. She said she did not know so much about these yabancı,
foreigners, and what we were doing, but she knew we had nowhere to go.
In the end, Paul sat up in front, and Yasemin and I rode down in the
back. She said the driver told her that he would have rather put the
Americans in the back, but he was concerned how it would look driving into
Kayseri at night with a woman on his passenger side. She agreed.
I had ridden in the back of many trucks, but never like this. It was a
vehicle made for hauling meat owned by one of the larger butchers, filled with
hooks and an undercurrent of carrion.
Yasemin and I sat against the wheel well, leaning into each other for heat.
“You have to be very careful,” Yasemin said. She sounded angry.
I thought she meant taking on Erciyes and forcing her to hitchhike.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know it would snow so much.”
“No, Laura, not the snow. Not the kar.” Yasemin frowned. “You have
to be careful with the men here,” she said.
For the first time, I wondered if Yasemin might have a few secrets of
After the meat truck dropped us off in Kayseri, Paul walked us most of
the way back to the bus station, and he tried to tell us the driver’s story, but
neither of us was interested. I had gotten something in my right eye, a piece
of straw or animal hair, I wasn’t sure, and the entire surface was irritated and
When he left us, a few meters from the bus station, in the dark, I was
surprised how the day had turned. I had hoped he would come back to the
village with us, rent a room at the hotel, sit with Yasemin and me and finish
a few bottles of local wine and get warm with us.
I would have settled even for having him touch my frozen hair here in
When I was with him, I didn’t feel so stupid for failing to return to the US.
We had talked only vaguely about how we’d both been surprised to find
ourselves jammed in between things we had never actually wanted. Now I
would close my eyes and see the imprint of mosques, the minaret reaching for
sky, the rough edges of the stone walls, and it was as clear as a clean window,
as the iman’s voice at dawn, that I would not be returning to America before
the spring came.
Sometimes in the evenings, Yasemin and I would sit together in her flat,
which was actually a proper apartment, rather than just a regular room like mine.
The night we came off Erciyes, I went straight to my place. The light was so
low that even the orange curtains looked dull.
Above the door frame, Yasemin had painted a nazar boncuğu, a circle
of deep blue with smaller circles and a black dot inside of it. It was meant to
ward off the evil eye, to give protection, and to keep the wearer immune to
gossip, spells, and general bad luck.
A few weeks later, I was wandering alone in the markets and as I walked
past a heavy chain with many glass nazar clipped to it, the chain crashed to the
paving stones with a sound like a scream. The seller looked at me in disbelief,
and as I bent to help him pick up the chips of cobalt glass, he shooed me off
into the street, saying dokunme, dokunme, don’t touch, don’t touch.
By then I’d made one unsuccessful call to my husband. I’d been prepared
for anger or even indignation, but what I got was sheer sadness and a complete
inability on my part to help him understand why I hadn’t come back. For the
first time, as I watched the chips of blue nazar being swept into a bin, I thought
I finally understood what my absence must have been like for him. It was not
just that something was gone. It was also picking up the mess and piecing the
larger fragments—like our daughter, our home—back together. I thought of
how a bead of glue might fuse some of the hunks of glass, and how in the right
light, it might be hardly noticeable. In the full sun, though, the seam would glow,
and the first thing anyone would see would see was the hasty patch job, the
ragged mark of the scar.
Wendy Fox earned her MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers
in Spokane, Washington. After working as an adjunct instructor in the local
community colleges, she moved to Turkey to teach literature in a government-
run university. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Confessions:
Fact Or Fiction? (Chrysalis Publishing), The Expatriate Harem: Foreign
Women in Modern Turkey (Seal Press), Grasslimb, Jeopardy, The
Madison Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Pinch, Pisgah Review,
Quiddity International Literary Journal, and ZYZZYVA, among others.
I started working on the pages that would eventually become this piece
when I was teaching in Turkey—I wasn’t sure what I was writing, I was
just looking for a way to process the experience. The writing has changed
from being observations lifted from my journals to actual fiction. Nearly
ten years later, the manuscript is just beginning to take shape as a novel.
This is the opening chapter.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 5, Number 1
Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.
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