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Oriental Architecture
Bedoin Rugs
  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Drea Tarter

In Genesis 22, God instructs Abraham to bring Isaac, his son, to Moriah. He is ordered, in a test to prove his piousness and loyalty, to tie Isaac up and sacrifice him to God. Yes, yes, Abraham is momentarily conflicted, and I do give him a sliver of credit for that, not jumping to murder his son. Father of the year. But in the end, he was not only willing to execute his own blood, but actually went through the motions of doing so, tying up his son before an angel came down and sent a lamb to substitute for Isaac. When I recounted the verses to Alia, she raised her eyebrows, remarking it must have been an awkward dinner conversation after the whole charade. No, I said. They never even spoke again.

Alia and I both draw parallels between Genesis 22 and our lives, which is why I told her. Her father sacrificed her right to the Egyptian throne and a social standing, for his own religious delusion that a single son must be brought to an Arabic throne to please Allah. My family, Irish Catholic, sacrificed me by disowning me. I think they believe that by accepting my daughter and I, they too would be disobeying God, as I did, and would be sent to Hell with me. And as I sit in my empty dorm room now, in the most prestigious boarding school in the world, on the most joyous day of a Secondary’s career, all my mind is focused on is the final email I received from my mother two months ago.

Dear Charlotte,

We hear your studies are concluding well. We would expect nothing less from an O’Ryan. Now, to get to the point. Your father and I believe it is best to come to terms with the choices you have made. You have chosen to disobey God’s plan for you. Our household is devoted to God and we have tried to fix the situation, darling, but still you rebel. So unfortunately we have no place for you in this family, and as you are an adult now, we hope that by some miracle God sends an angel’s light to lead you in the right direction.


The O’Ryans.

It has been three years since I have seen my mother. Five years since I have seen my sisters. Six since I have seen my father. Theoretically speaking, I have been disowned from my family ever since I found out I was pregnant at 16, the letter just made their decision official. It is my last day at the Institut, the last day I will be in the care of anyone else. I am no longer an O’Ryan, I no longer belong to anyone, or anything, and I feel so utterly alone I could cry.

Storage boxes are filled to the brim around me, each containing a fraction from the most important years of my life. The only things left untouched are Eleanor’s diaper bag, her travel car seat, and my own personal luggage. I look down to the floor where Eleanor is napping in her car seat. She is my everything. I have to manage both our lives with limited resources now, with my bank account only holding a hundred grand Euros, and draining quickly. We won’t be able to last long on such dire holdings, but we will be forced to make it through the summer on the futile funds I do possess. I have been adequately procrastinating for the last half of the month, dreading the day where I will have to move out with nowhere to go and build a whole new life for Eleanor and I. And today, the day has finally come, and sure enough, we are homeless.

I see outside my windows the vast, beautiful Swiss campus and the happy families embracing their children with bouquets, sweet treats, perhaps a new horse or car. Even if my family hadn’t disowned me, I doubt they would’ve remembered or cared to show.

I pack my graduation papers into my Birkin and pick Eleanor up from the floor as she awakens, smelling her diaper to make sure it’s still good. I sigh in relief, it is. I loathe changing diapers. Before, I could just use my employed and on-call nurse, but as I am no longer reaping the benefits of belonging to a multi-billion dollar family, I have no one.

Eleanor tugs on my shirt and babbles what she sees, a bed, a desk, a puppy from outside, “mommy boobies” is my personal favorite, a phrase she noted from Sebastian. I bounce her on my lap as Haider knocks on the door. I know it’s him because he routinely knocks on my door more than anyone else, and because he has a signature pattern. Bah, bah, bah bah bum. I imagine again, like I imagine every time I hear him knocking, his calloused knuckles and bruised chest from participating in underground fighting rings (which I have repeatedly expressed my dissent for). My breath hitches a little.

“Haider?” I call out, just like I do everytime, both verifying that he is the one standing on the other side of the door, and giving him approval to enter.

He comes in. He wears nothing but black athletic shorts, leaving very little to the imagination. And I imagine quite often, unfortunately. The first thing he does is peck Eleanor on her head, in which she coos out a “Hi-da” in response to his affection, clapping her hands and giggling. I’m worried that she’ll start calling him “dada,” when in reality, we are not even close to a family. I’m all she’s got.

Then, he sits down on my bare bed across from me, and I find it very difficult to be a lady, and a friend, and avoid making direct contact with his muscular, sweaty abdomen.

“Habibti,” he begins, which is what both he and Alia nicknamed me. “How are you?”

I blink. “Did you win?”

I only ask this because I’m not sure how to answer his question. I know he won. But what am I to say? Should I lie and reassure my friend that Eleanor and I will be fine, or do I confess my homelessness?

“Yes,” he nods. “But how are you?”

I shrug. “I have… things… I need to straighten out. But I think after I get my affairs in order, we’ll be doing fine.”

Haider nods slowly, his hands awkwardly positioned on his thighs, like he wants to reach out for something, but he’s containing himself. Then, his gaze shifts from me to the screen behind me.

“Huh,” he murmurs.

He leans over to get a better look, and I whip around to where he’s looking so quickly that my neck burns. I forgot to close my laptop, and the email my family sent is still up. I pray to God and hope that if he can’t see the words and only my indifferent reaction to the screen, he’ll drop the matter. I smile back at him so his attention will rest back on me.

He stands up, and I shoot up with him, making a futile effort to block him, as he comfortably rests at a whole foot taller than me.

“Where are you going?” I nervously ask. One, because I don’t want him to see the screen, and two, because I genuinely enjoy his company and would like him to stay.

“Just over here.”

I exhale as he turns to walk to the window and not the door or my desk, but I let my guard down. He swiftly and speedily moves to the computer, grabbing it from the desk and holding it up in the air so I cannot reach it.

“Dear Charlotte, we hear your studies…” he murmurs the path his eyes follow on my screen and trails off as he finds the embarrassing contents within.

I snuggle Eleanor a little tighter, and kiss her sweet cheeks for comfort. When Haider concludes reading the letter, he places the computer back on my desk, and just stares at me like I’m a wounded bird. His eyebrows are ever so slightly furrowed, and his mouth opens partly in sadness for me. All I can think to myself is, don’t cry, don’t cry, blink it off. He moves towards me, and I’m hopeful for some reason, and then he drops down on the bed instead, and I’m disappointed. I have known Haider for five years now, almost two thousand days. We have been friends for half of that time, and still, nothing. Frankly, I’m not quite sure what I’m getting at.

“Come with me,” Haider says after a while. “Come to Cairo. Come stay at my estate. Summers are so fucking boring alone and I could use some company.”

My eyebrows shoot up in shock.

“Stay with you, in your castle?”

“Alia never stays for the summer, the only people occupying are the politicians, Baba, and me. I’m serious, Charlotte, I need a friend. Please. Come with me.”

I know he’s only pleading with me to come live with him for the summer because of his own thoughtfulness and the fact I’ve got no other chunk of land I can call home at the moment. But why should his motivations stop me from agreeing? I’m desperate for a place to go, and there are worse places to be than in a castle.

“What about your father? Are you sure they would even allow me?”

Haider waves off my concern.

“Don’t worry about it, the estate is so wide they wouldn’t care. Someone’s gotta occupy the empty space we have.”

I bite my lip, and then I make a great mistake, and concede.

  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Drea Tarter
DECEMBER 6, 1992


Dick had always been infatuated with fire. He would sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace for hours on end, watching the flames sizzle. He didn’t blink— swear to God. The fire paralyzed him, turned him into stone. Something about the heat of it all, how such a tiny, miniscule spark burned into a giant bonfire.
It was a Saturday. Dick was defrosting by the fire—his morning ritual—as the sun rose and the snow fell. I noticed that his hair, once carefully gelled back, was wet with melted snowflakes. Wafts of vetiver and cinnamon cologne drafted my way, his signature Dior Fahrenheit. A nice, expensive wool overcoat I would never be able to afford was discarded by his side, along with a pool of muddy water seeping adjacent his boots. I was the scholarship kid; I couldn’t afford any ruin to my $15 K-mart jacket, the way Dick could. No other student was down here this early; anybody in their right minds would wake up after eight.
The fire crackled. He didn’t notice me, sitting unmoving. Or perhaps he did hear me coming down the stairs and was waiting for me to acknowledge his presence.
“Where’d you go?” I asked, sitting down on the floor next to him.
“Library,” he said, staring straight ahead.
“To terrorize the librarians, or what?”
“To read.”
“All right, where’d you really go?”
“God, Don, if it’s any of your business, I’ll let you know.” The line sounded like something out of The Godfather. Even as his best friend, I was subjected to his sarcasm.
“Why do you never tell me anything?”
Dick crumbled up a piece of paper from his notebook and threw it into the fireplace. He watched the edges fray and burn, disintegrating slowly. He didn’t answer until the paper no longer was paper, but ashes below the mantle.
“Sure I do,” Dick said. “I tell you lots of stuff. You just ask too many questions.”
“What’d you just throw into the fire?” I asked, ignoring his complaint.
“If I answer this one, would you stop grilling me?”
“Marge again,” Dick said. “She gave me her fax, like we work together.”
“She has a fax machine? In her room?”
“Chick’s crazy. Probably.”
Marge was the second Eklund girl. The older one, a huge bitch by the way, was in our year. Marge, on the other hand, was the thirteen, maybe fourteen-year-old girl who was obsessed with Dick. She thought we didn’t know, but she made it so goddamn obvious. Notes on his door, giggling with her friends whenever we were within ten feet of her, gift baskets sent to his room. At first, we tried to politely decline. Hell, Dick even sent me up to her to tell her he had a girlfriend.
“Listen, Dick wanted me to come and talk to you,” I had said to her, just outside the cafeteria. “He thinks you’re being creepy. His girlfriend doesn’t appreciate it when you hit on him. Maybe keep your distance. Thanks.”
Then she cried. Her bright orange hair in pigtails, she was probably cursing me in German. She whined to me for a few minutes, and I didn’t really know what to do, so I let her. When she finished sobbing, Marge pulled me down to her height, and told me and Dick to fuck off. She stomped away, heartbroken. I thought she had conceded, but nope. Another note on Dick’s door.
“Does Sophie know?” I asked. Dick’s girlfriend.
“Who the hell cares?”
You see, Dick had an attitude, but a tamed attitude. He usually didn’t unleash such harsh words unless prompted, and I definitely had not. Many times I forgot why I was even friends with such a shallow bastard. Perhaps I wanted to live vicariously through him. Perhaps I enjoyed his awkward sense of humor. Perhaps nobody else would sacrifice their reputation to be friends with the poor kid. Dick understood me, as cliché as that sounds. Both of us had absent fathers growing up; mine at work all the time, his a drunk. I loved my mother, but Dick’s mother was dumb as a rock. Seriously, I met her once at parent night. She came in high and forgot Dick’s name. I was the only one there with him to witness such a tragic exchange, as both my folks were too busy, and couldn’t afford a flight to Switzerland.
“Jesus, Dick. Something happen between you two?”
“You could say that.”
I groaned, frustrated.
“Would you cut the mysterious shit out? I can’t read your mind.”
Finally, his hair bounced back into its natural middle part, one of the few times I saw him without any product. Dick turned towards me, his light brown eyes sprinkled with hazel.
“She broke up with me.”
“Right after our last masquerade? Oh jeez.”
“On the nose as usual, Don.”
“So that’s where you were this morning. Visiting Sophie.”
“Surprising Sophie,” Dick corrected. “Today’s our one-year anniversary. I got her this camera. She was always talking ‘bout mental pictures, crap like that.”
Dick grabbed a box on the other side of him and threw it into my lap. Polaroid, it said on the front. I unboxed his gift for Sophie, and found a gorgeous printable camera, a rainbow stripe right down the middle. The most expensive camera I had ever held, and Dick dumped it into my lap like it was nothing.
“This is a really nice gift,” I told him, observing the weight of it. “What are you gonna do with it?”
He shrugged. “Eh, what the hell. You want it?”
I stared down at the camera, and then back up at him, my eyebrows drawn up in surprise.
“You’re kidding.”
I wanted to hug him, squeeze him in spite of his own misery. Even though Dick regifted the Polaroid to me, I had never been so grateful for such a present. I stocked the empty photo liners into the back of the polaroid, trying to find an “on” button.
“Say cheese,” I said, holding the camera up to my eye like a professional photographer.
“No, Don.” He brought his hand up to the lens, but he was too late. I snapped the picture right then and there, the flash practically blinding him. A few seconds later, a square yet empty photograph appeared before my eyes. It would have to fade into place. I aired out the photograph, waving it like a flag. Eventually I saw Dick, his mouth in an “O,” his hand outstretched towards the lens.
“Lemme see.”
I took the picture and handed it to Dick. He glared down at himself for
a few seconds, then tossed it into the fire.
“No!” I reached out, watching the picture burn. “Hell was that for?”
Whatever. At least I had the camera. Many more pictures to come, and next time, there would be no fire to throw them into.

Section Quotes

“The past is never where you think you left it.” -Katherine Anne Porter “Very few of us are what we seem.” -Agatha Christie

“You drew stars around my scars, but now I’m bleeding.” -Taylor Swift “The only way out is through.” -Robert Frost

Playlist (In Order of Progress)

  1. Crocodile Rock – Elton John

  2. Carmen – Lana Del Rey

  3. Liability – Lorde

  4. Paper Planes – M.I.A

  5. Evergreen – Richy Mitch & The Coal Miners

  6. Would That I – Hozier

  7. Salt And The Sea – The Lumineers

  8. Starships – Nicki Minaj

  9. S&M – Rihanna

  10. Wishful Thinking – Gracie Abrams

  11. Light On – Maggie Rogers

  12. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear

  13. All The Stars – Kendrick Lamar, SZA

  14. Bad Blood – Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar

  15. Take On The World – You Me At Six

  16. Scott Street – Phoebe Bridgers

  17. Carnival of the Animals – Camille Saint Saëns

  18. Style – Taylor Swift

  19. Time in a Bottle – Jim Croce

  20. You Make Loving Fun – Fleetwood Mac

  21. Chicago – Michael Jackson

  22. Car’s Outside – James Arthur

  23. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John

  24. Where the Streets Have No Name – U2

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