My short story, “The Story of My Building” (an homage to Isaac Babel’s “Story of My Dovecote”) appears in the current issue of Hunger Mountain. Here’s a snippet:
I was ten years old when card-game night was moved to our apartment in al-Zarqah, the poorest neighborhood in Gaza. We lived in a sprawling compound of buildings which housed grocers, teachers, nurses, tailors, cooks, cobblers, and on the top floor of the third building, a translator of Russian literature—my father.
The men gathered in the living room, which soon filled up with smoke and the smell of bourbon, and the wives sat in the sitting room, a place which really was perfect for sitting, since it was set up like a diwan, with rectangular pillows on the tiled floor, and low wooden tables upon which small demitasses of tea were placed. My cousins and friends all piled together in my bedroom, which I shared with my sister, who hated the fact that she had to live with a boy.
The men guffawed and clinked their glasses, and every few seconds we heard an eager smoker clicking the metal wheel of an old recalcitrant lighter. We had a trick we liked to play with lighters: we’d empty the invisible gas into a closed fist, quickly flip the flame on and open our palms, which then appeared to be on fire. Our female cousins and friends taught us the trick, and for weeks afterwards, we worshipped them openly.
A few hours into card game night, the women would be so far gone into stories and sheeshas, and the men so drunk, that we would roam free in the buildings’ courtyard, which was sandy and surrounded by fake limestone walls, or climb the steps to the roof, where the doorman’s wife kept her pigeons. We loved the rainbow one, which we dubbed Magic, because of the shifting iridescent colors on its blue-black neck.
As we unhooked the cage door and brought Magic out, passing him from hand to hand, he looked like the opposite of flames in our fists. Majduleen, the youngest of my cousins, observed that when his neck was gold, he looked like the poster of the Dome of the Rock that her grandmother had plastered onto their kitchen wall. We agreed with her out of politeness; most of us deferred to Majduleen because of her exotic name.
Magic cooed in Majduleen’s fist, and a glass broke in our apartment. We heard men shouting. I ran downstairs, not wanting to miss the argument, and when I flung the front door open, I saw Uncle Fawzi, the cobbler, brandishing his walking stick at my father.
“Why are you defending them?” said Fawzi, “You son of a whore! You traitor!”
To read the rest of the story you’ll have to order your copy here.