He grabs a little marble from the tool pocket of his overall, which seems to store the whole world in it. He puts the marble on the center of the kitchen floor on the mosaics and bends back up. The three of us watch the ball roll down slowly to the corner of the room, getting stuck under the oven. “So this is why the pipe burst.” He then extends his index figure toward the cracks that crawl outward from the window frame. “This is another sign.”
He adds that there are two kinds of cracks. Living and dead. He suspects that the window cracks are alive. He shows us another larger fracture on the same foundational wall. This one rises from the bottom of the wall and opens up ever so slightly as it moves upward. This one he is certain, is alive. He tells us to imagine the house splitting into two halves. When that happens, it bends the pipeline to the point of breakage. Mother pushes her chest forward and asks if it is at all possible to fix it and if it is safe for someone to reside in the house in the meantime. She already looks like a winner. As he shakes his head his greasy hair jumps around. He doesn’t know the answer. We need to speak to a licensed structural engineer. He would be happy to refer us to one guy that he has worked with before. From the community he adds. My mother hands him a glass of tea that she has just brewed and invites him to sit at the kitchen table. He puts his dirty gloves on the table and descends onto the chair. “It’s probably the soil.” The drought of this past decade has done this to many houses in Tehran. Once the soil dries it contracts, causing the foundation of the house to sink. He pauses, taking a sip of his blistering hot tea as if it’s lemonade. His thick eyebrows drew to the center of his face, making a knot. “There must be another reason though, especially since the foundation is settling so unevenly on one edge of the house.” I sit quietly next to him at the kitchen table. I know what it is. But he doesn’t need to. Neither does mother. In fact she should never find out.
Life means the capacity to grow, animate, change, and reproduce. Not all, but some cracks do all that. In that sense, their life resembles that of plants. They move ever so slowly, duplicate, and grow. Like the lush vine that grows on the other side of the kitchen wall, they branch out from the window frame, unhurriedly disintegrating the foundation wall, or they move up like the alarmingly wide fracture that he just showed us. The fractures and the vine are competing with each other in growth, while working together to bring the house down. My money is on the vine not because it has more life, but because of its’ deadly ally that is drying out the soil aggressively. If every tree’s roots grow as far as its’ canopy, then the magnolia has been slowly taking over the underground world of this house. Am I crazy if I stayed put and watched the structure of this three story house collapse?
The plumber man is saying goodbye to mother, who sends her greetings to his wife and hopes that his mother recovers soon. Community life. We know and share everyone’s miseries. I can hear her heels’ nimble clacking on the white marble of the house, walking him outside, her perfume following her out of the kitchen. The same sweet and warm one that she has been wearing for the past thirty years or so. The wrinkles on her face also have a life of their own. Every time I go back they are deeper, the sadness that sits in the back of her eyes darker.
A tabby cat fast walks into the kitchen with an erected tail. She jumps on the kitchen table, meowing and looking at me stressfully. I open my hand and rest it on the table. She bumps her head to my palm and rubs the top of her little head against it. As the worry in her eyes withers away the purring starts.
Mother is back. She pours us both tea and puts the glasses on the table. “They shouldn’t jump on the kitchen table. This cat has no manners.” I keep on playing with the soft hairy little creature. She takes a sip of her tea. “I’m sorry for asking you to contact those people. I know he is not coming back.” She is using her soft voice, her caring voice that I so longed for in childhood. I look down onto the hole in my stomach. I wonder if she could see him too, if she looked in the mirror on the third floor. She gently picks up the tabby and puts her down on the ground. The cat continues purring, rubbing her body against my ankles now. “But living here is madness my love. How do you not see this? Come stay with me. We will figure this house out.” I find myself unable to resist her request. It has always been like that. She is a master persuader. I promise her to leave the house, just not today. But soon. She is right and I am wrong. Nothing new ever happens between us.