Stench of Straw
Translated by: Sevinç Türkkan
Artwork by Riopelle - Sans Titre
The memory of that day filled his lungs with an odour of blood and damp straw.
That moment was carved on his flesh and memory with stench and sound. Memories were real. The evening azure, the incandescent pavement under the drizzle, the slopes wrapped in the silvery emerald of olive trees. The smell of moist bark and earth.
An old song on the radio. A perfectly straight highway, white straight stripes. Trees fleeting behind and villages with few lights. Fine mist on windows, water droplets. Listening carelessly to his wife’s small-talk, whose bright smile shone like daylight at that evening hour, he was driving among the same newly harvested cornfields as if the road were a speed track.
That unattainable inner mystery, the endless happiness, the wonderful shiver in his groin!
Suddenly, he noticed the horse-cart, heavy with straw on the edge of the road. He turned left, blinded by the headlights of the oncoming truck. Then, he yanked the wheel to the right, and skidded.
A violent crash, slam, sounds of mutilation, and his wife’s screams fill his ears. The cart topples in a flash and hits the front window. The horse’s skull, its blank eye rolling like a single bead, enlarged with terror; and then, its gory taut stomach cuts through his eyesight… in a flash. Everything rolls in pieces of shattered glass, jerking and scattered…
Sounds fading, vanishing…. Everything halting, ceasing…
No one knows how long time abides in that indefinite space between amnesia and awareness that follows acute pain. Consciousness returns gradually. Resting on the slope among the trees, he glanced at his wife, and saw her lower limbs squeezed between her seat and the hood, her head slumping from the headrest. On her face a lovely, listless smile, indistinct as if rising from a distant dream. Blood rushed down her breast and wounded neck, crimsoning the new-moon that peeked behind the slicing clouds. The wind and the electrical wires; time reaching into void and absence…
He supported his wife’s dangling head with one hand, the other pressing on the bleeding cut. He kissed her eyelids, tasted the salt in her tears. Looked at her large amber-clear gaze slowly receding into her pupils, her spirit swallowed and extinguished. He felt intense desire to scream, to speak, to say something but words, cries, questions drowned in his throat. Fear pierced his brain, his thoughts rushed with unbearable weight. He found himself at a place he had never been before… but space itself became a meaningless void. Everywhere was nowhere. He wished he could escape this moment, an impossible desire to escape into an impossible direction…
He dragged himself out through the hole in the windshield. His hopes followed him. No! She was too young, too likeable, too beautiful, too content; she could not die yet! He had to call for help! Help!
His right leg must have been broken; it took him too long, as if a hundred years, to crawl down the short slope to the road. The earth was soft and slippery. His hands were covered with blood and mud. A whistling wind under a whip-like rain; stalks of straw flying and sticking on his face, his mouth, his hair…
The horse lay splayed on the road among piles of straw and broken timber. Scattered shards of timber, covered with some childish and fantastic images once crafted by a village artisan, were everywhere. The gay vitality of the streams, full of interlaced bright flowers, bathing cattle and ducks, nested with the gaping, pathetic teeth of the wretched corpse and its splintered chestnut mane. How suddenly one notices these strange details and how all this, as if reflecting the transiency of life and beauty, aches!
On his palate, death’s burning, dull copper-taste. He contracted and drifted away in the darkness of the desolate road, writhing with an infuriating innocence; angelic, complete, pitch-black. Bright-eyed cars passed by the ruins of the accident; they slowed down slightly then whizzed by. The unbearable distress, shame, and regret of being guilty filled every single cell of his body; sick to his stomach, his eyesight fuzzy, the whiz of the road echoed in his brain, and the anger he felt to the world’s indifference settled inside him irrevocably.
His wife’s face and breasts linger in his recollection: Her plain beauty, crowned with the meekness of a farewell, full of goodness. The tiny blue flowers on her white shirt swelling with blood. The delicate contour where her breasts meet. She will survive! It is too early. Of course she will.
The scent of her skin, like a sting… Her fine hands intoxicated by touching and feeling. Her mouth soft, ablaze, like a rose. A sharp pain of disbelief pierced his heart. He lingered between fear and hope, and felt her breath inside him.
He misses her, the way he used to at the very beginning. All those days are a moment now.
First touches and first caresses. The different viewpoints they had when deciding on the furniture for their house: she was keen on exaggerated and elaborate items... Their wedding night… Small, countless moments that seemed insignificant at the time and gained significance later. Her elegance when she stooped down to pick up her hairpin. Her smile. Their sad silences. Dicing the tomatoes, placing in a vase his roses, pleas for forgiveness. Her shy passion. Her furtive –behind the drapes– evasive glance. Her teeth pearl-white at dusk. Her eyes that turn linden, bright green, or amber according to her mood. Her wavy hair, in shades of honey, wheat, and hay.
Those exuberant evenings when small jealousies were smoothed over.
Beauty that has come to an end too soon…
Their union with pre- and post-dating had been only sixteen months. Is this why he remembers so little or was this only the time of surprises, love, rendezvous, and longing that delayed memories to the future? All of them, everything! Sixteen months, dense in taste and affection; life experienced to its fullest and yet suddenly gone!
Now, those days scatter idly like straw.
A bus stops close by. Curious passengers get off. Wild bestial eyes gaze at him, at the horse, at the scattered timber, and piles of straw. Some faces cyclopean, others miniature; nested, a pile of faces, of eyes, of moving mouths, repeating, “What a pity,” “Lift up, carry,” confused decisions, and a rising murmur…
Sirens approaching from a distance. A sharp pain moves down his groin, spreading through his leg. He fell on the side of the road, almost collapsed; vomited the gall and saliva that had accumulated together with the spirit left inside his body.
White-clad men emerge out of the light of that circling blue lamp. He begged them to save his wife, held tight on to them, hugged them, crying, feeling neither revolt nor pride, his face covered with vomit, and the heavy night closed on him like an iron door in the end.
The stench of blood and damp straw. An ash-like pain and a woman, whose name melts into beauty, affection, and longing…
İnci Aral (b. 1944) is one of the most prominent contemporary women writers of Turkish. Her 19 volumes of fiction and non-fiction span genres and engage with personal and moral struggle in relation to modern Turkish history and politics, human rights violations, and the status of women. None of her work is available in English. The short story is part of a larger collection ("Ruhumu Öpmeyi Unuttun" [My Soul, Forgotten]) that I have been translating for a while. Aral's activist approach to problems facing women in contemporary Turkish society has much to offer Anglophone readers interested in this subject.
I am Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at Binghamton University. I specialize in modern Turkish literature, Anglophone and postcolonial studies, and gender studies. My work has appeared in Teaching Translation, Global Perspectives on Orhan Pamuk, Post-1960 Novelists in Turkey, Making Connections among others. My translations from German appeared in the Best European Fiction edited by Aleksandar Hemon (Dalkey). I am the co-editor of Approaches to Teaching the Works of Orhan Pamuk (MLA).