By Danny Smitherman
I walked where tulips blossomed red,
And whispered to the morning breeze,
"Who are yon martyrs cold and dead,
Whose bloody winding sheets are these?"
"Hafez," he answered, " 'tis not mine
Or thine to know this mystery;
Let all thy tale of ruby wine,
And sugar lips, and kisses, be!"
The marble was cool on Sam's bare feet. He walked across the living room where they did a lot of their living: the TV. was there, and the comfy couch and chairs. The sun was up and it was summer. Sam's mom and dad had left for work. He had chores to do, but first, in cut-offs and white t-shirt, blonde hair turning brown and well over his ears, Sam headed into the kitchen to give his best friend Shane a ring.
"Is Shane there?" Sam could hear Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting in the background as Shane's sister answered.
"Yea, hold on."
Shane's parents, too, were gone to work. It was summer, and while all the grownups were at work, the kids played.
"Shane, it's Sam. How 'bout a bowl of cereal?"
"Far out. I'll be right down, but I have to wash out the car real quick." Shane's parents were very rare amongst the Americans who lived in Tehran, as they not only had a car, but two cars. Most everyone else took private taxis or, more often, company buses to work.
Sam hung up. He walked back into his room, carpeted concrete floor, a big window facing north that looked on to the 12,000 foot Elburz Mountains. It was a clear morning so far, for a city of 5 million people and 4.5 million cars, and Sam could see the brown, dusty and craggy slopes. He had drawn open the long, heavy curtains to each side, which hung from near the ten foot high ceiling, down to the floor. He opened up one of the windows, and looked through the white metal bars that covered them on the outside. The sidewalk ran right up against the wall, a marble sidewalk, which had the jube running on the other side - the ubiquitous open sewer and drain - then the dirt street. They were at #9 Nihktbahkt. Nihktbahkt was a dead end, with one apartment building beyond theirs to the east.
Sam looked at the highest of the peaks as he fished his arm out the window but still behind the window bars to get a hash pipe, hidden more because of its smell than its appearance. Thousands of years ago those mountains hid Assassins – Muslims who would ambush and murder Crusaders, and whose name comes from their drug habit: hash eaters, or hashshashin.
He sat on the edge of his bed, between the bed and the wall with the windows, watching the mountains as he dug in his pocket with one hand and held the pipe in his other. He was sixteen years old.
Just then he heard someone coming down the sidewalk from the west - from his left. He couldn't stick his head but a few inches out the window because of the bars, but could see Shane reaching up at the front gate to buzz their doorbell.
"Shane, I'm coming!" Sam jumped up from the bed and ran out of his room and to the front door. He pushed the button at the metal panel by the inside of the door, and the front gate latch could be heard clicking open.
Sam opened the front door as Shane was opening the gate and coming through.
"Don't let Jasper out, Shane!" Sam called.
Shane quickly grabbed the sturdy, golden brown dog that was leaping and had gotten halfway through the gate.
"You really should keep him chained up, or inside." Shane was stocky and well built, slightly taller than his friend, but 20 to 30 pounds heavier. He played football, ran cross-country, and wrestled. He wore only cut-off Levi’s - no shirt, no shoes. He was older too; he was seventeen.
"Come on, Jasp." Sam took the dog at the collar and escorted him inside the apartment.
"I've gotta get a lighter," Sam said.
"Hey Merrell." Shane was standing just inside the living room, petting Jasper and looking at Sam's younger sister coming out of her room at the far side of the living room. No lights were on in the place, but the apartment felt wide and bright. Light came in from the north through windows in the living room. The sun hadn't risen high enough to shine directly into the atrium on the east side of the living room - glass doors opened onto it, and it rose up through the second floor and was topped with a glass roof - but the white light of morning was shining in there too. The white marble floors, walls and ceilings shined.
Sam came out of his bedroom holding and hiding a lighter in his right hand. The pocket of his cut-offs showed the bulge of the hash pipe.
The two teenagers went out the back sliding glass doors, down the steps to the yard and pool. They crossed the small lawn and hopped over the marble covered wall separating the yard from the one adjoining it to the east. That apartment building stood empty. The ground floor was an open garage area, just like Sam's building, marble covered pillars spaced throughout. Sam didn't think how odd it would be to actually park a car, dripping oil and sputtering dirty exhaust, on the marble floor.
The two walked towards the closed back end of the garage area. There was a little bathroom there, with a sink and a Farsi toilet - a porcelain hole in the ground with a metal handle for flushing.
The white of the porcelain lit up, and a spicy scent stunk up the little room.
"I'm gonna get a nose hit." Shane stuck his head over the bar of dark hashish as Sam heated up one corner of it.
"Shit, Shane, you're going to get stoned before you get the pipe."
"I know," Shane smiled and laughed.
It miffed Sam, the delicate flower, the Romantic. "I'm going to get stoned the right way," and he crumbled the more friable compound into the homemade metal pipe. "I'm going to get stoned, Shane, and you're just going to get shit faced."
"I know," Shane laughed and smiled and laughed.
"Fuckin' get off my back, man." Shane's face screwed up in rage.
"I want to enjoy myself." Sam's face only showed peevishness in the flame and smoke.
"So am I. I'm gonna get fuckin' stoned." Shane's face went from screwed up to laughing again with his eyes closed.
Sam's shoulders rose with the long inhalation. A fallen ascetic, he never could discipline himself, only breathing deeply in a thick seed coat of dope that was yet to fall into the ground and crack and grow.
Shane watched and smiled, eyes now wide. He took the pipe from Sam but watched him hold the smoke at the bottom of his lungs.
"Fuck man." Shane smiled.
Sam tilted his head back and swallowed, and swallowed again. His lips pursed in a loose whistle and he set smoke free in a slow and steady stream.
Shane watched the bowl of the pipe, the flame, the glowing ember of Persian dope. "I'm already fucked up," he said with a throat full of spicy smoke.
"One more," Sam said. He took the pipe.
"Sam!" Merrell called over the wall from the other side. "Sam!"
"What?!" he yelled back. "Fuck!"
"Jasper got out!" She sounded like she was going to cry and shriek in terror.
"Let him go!" Sam's face showed Shane's earlier rage. "Fucking dog."
"He's gonna run away if you leave him out there." Shane handed the pipe backed to Sam as he spoke the words soberly.
"No he won't. Shit. I'm not going to go get him. I get him every time he gets out. I don't even let him out the door anymore. Go get him, Merrell!"
"No! I'm not dressed!"
"Get dressed!" Sam was bringing the pipe to his mouth again, but his mouth was taut, his forehead frowning. A sober light flickered in his eyes, anger cutting through the sluggish haze. "Goddamn mother fucking dog!" Then he inhaled deep again, eyes closed, dog and sister released from his wrath, the hashish jinn, cousin to the barley devil his father had.
Shane started walking out into the light and open of the garage. Sam noticed him halfway through an exhale.
"Where are you going Shane?"
"To go get Jasper," he said quietly.
"Goddammit! I'll get him," Sam growled. He dumped the still glowing hash ember into his palm. "Fuck!" He dropped it into the dry dusty sink basin. "Shit." Cooling the coal with spit-covered fingertips, he got the remains into his pocket and followed after Shane.
Inside Sam's garage area, both the boys headed to the ramp at the back leading up to a wide metal swinging door. They slipped out through the smaller gate to the left.
"Jasper!" Sam called, and looked around in all directions in front of him. On the other side of the road was a wide dirt field, a swath running left to right, east to west, about 200 yards wide. The Elburz, brown and dry, played out sharp in front of him, jumping closer by miles when the air was clean.
"Jasper!" Shane called, with hands cupped to his mouth. His voice was loud, and he yelled again. "Jasper!"
"Where does he go?!" Sam complained. He stepped across the narrow street and stood on the opposite curb. "I don't see him in any direction."
"Let's go down to the kuchi store and get some Coke, and we'll see him on the way if he's there." Shane spoke in a much quieter voice than his shout suggested. He looked at Sam.
They looked around them as they walked down the steep sidewalk along Bahar Street, mud brick walls on their left and the rutted dirt street on their right. At the bottom of the hill they came to and crossed Javenshir and walked into the kuchi store there at the corner. They hadn't seen Jasper on the way down.
They got their Coke, and stepped back out into the sun.
They were just about headed back up Bahar when Shane suggested, "Let's get some bread."
"Sure," Sam said.
"They're not baking right now, but it might be warm still."
"How do you know these things, Shane?" Sam looked at Shane in admiration, as if he had calculated the rate of heat transfer from the bread loaf to the surrounding air.
"They bake three times a day, Sam."
"I didn't know they had a schedule."
"Of course they do. Do you have a schedule for school? We have schedules for work. Of course they have times they bake. That's why there's always a long line when it's coming out of the ovens."
"Because people know?"
They cut across the Bahar/Javenshir intersection and down Javenshir a block to the bakery. It was hot and dusty, but the morning felt fresh and the sky was not yet grey but still blue. The Elburz could be seen up Bahar as they passed. Traffic was heavy. They passed two cots on the sidewalk, late sleepers covered with a blanket and a coat, shoes tidily set under each one.
"I don't see him." Sam looked around.
"We'll find him."
They got their bread - two loaves, long and light brown, stacked one on top of the other and wrapped in newspaper. Sam grabbed off big bites and chewed them up, obviously with delight.
"I'm still fucked up," Shane said, mildly seriously surprised.
"Me too. This bread's great."
"I'm eating up the sun, man. That hash had acid in it."
"It did?" Sam looked at Shane, to see the authority on his face. He wanted to be this safe on acid, with a friend, a desert mountain morning on a dusty street in shorts and t-shirt and flip flops, dusty dark suited men and dusty dark chador-covered women and loud smoky cars going by on dusty sidewalks and streets, looking at brown crumbly mountains stand out like reliefs from a blue wall behind. "If it could be that way, Shane, I want to take acid."
"Do you know?"
"I've had friends do it, and it fucked them up."
"Why do you think it's in this hash?"
"Because the mountains look blue to me, and that woman's chador is red."
"Jeez, Shane." Sam looked around and saw brown mountains and black chador, relieved and let down. "Are you ok?"
"Let's go crash in my room," Sam said, and hurried up the sidewalk. "Come on."
They made it up Bahar and turned onto Niktbahkt, and headed down the sidewalk. Down at Sam's apartment gate, Merrell stuck her head out and looked down towards them.
"Sam! Jasper's throwing up!"
"What!" Sam yelled back to deflect for a second a feeling of horror.
"Jasper's choking and freaking out!"
"O god." Sam tore down the sidewalk and Shane was right with him.
They crashed through the gate and into Merrell.
"You found him?"
"He came home. His tail was down and he looked sick." They clamored up the stairs to the front door and in. "Then he started to choke and get all stiff."
They found Jasper in the big bathroom on the floor, and Sam's brother Mason was down on his knees and trying to get Jasper to drink from a bowl of soapy water.
"I called Dad at work," Mason said. "He said to try to get him to throw up with soapy water."
"He hasn't thrown up though." Merrell almost cried.
"Shit, Jasper! Why'd you get out!" Sam knelt down next to him. "Hold his mouth open, Mason. Come on, Jasp, doggie. Open up bud."
Jasper's big golden brown body heaved up and down with frantic breath. The white paws flickered nervously. They got some of the foamy water down his throat, but he didn't throw up. He tried to get up to his stomach and onto his feet.
"Come on Jasp. You're okay."
"No he's not Sam!" Merrell was crying.
Just then Jasper spasmed and laid out on his side. He was stretched out and tight, and jerked around, hitting the toilet.
"Hold him so he doesn't hurt himself!"
"I'm going to call Mom!" Merrell ran out of the bathroom.
Jasper's body relaxed, and his breathing slowed.
"Come on Jasp doggie." Sam lifted him up to his feet. "Let's get him outside onto the grass."
"No, Sam. Leave him." Shane spoke calm authority. "Leave him here. You're going to need to keep him cool in here."
But Jasper was on his feet, and on his own headed out the door of the bathroom. Sam walked next to him, petting his strong neck and beautiful head.
"Are you okay, Jasp? Are you going to be okay?”
The dog walked slowly through the parents' bedroom and stopped at the sliding glass door to the balcony. Sam caught up and slid the door open. Jasper walked out and headed down the stairs. He stepped onto the top stair and his legs straightened out in front of him and behind him and he tumbled down the hard marble stairs to the first landing.
"Aaaaahh!" Sam ran down behind Jasper and lifted him up with his arms around the dog's rib cage. But the dog convulsed again and the boy wasn't strong enough to hold him. He half let him down, half lost his grip as the dog's body leaped out of his grasp. Sam jumped around the dog onto the lower steps and pushed the dog back from the edge.
The boy's hashish high had evaporated five minutes before, in his anger, sorrow, terror and shame.
"Jasp, I love you." He held the dog away from the landing's edge. His furrowed forehead showed anger as strongly as it did physical effort.
Jasper's body convulsed and his head cracked against the marble wall.
"No Jasper! No!" Sam blocked his arms out to guard Jasper's head, and keep him from tumbling down the stairs at the same time.
Jasper convulsed two more times, and then his body collapsed in a heap. Sam lifted him up in his arms, Jasper's legs dangling down between. He weighed seventy pounds at least, and though Sam was small himself without the build of Shane, he carried the dog out of sheer fright and shame. Jasper looked grateful to be held, and laid his head on Sam's shoulder. Sam couldn't see the steps with Jasper's brown body and head in the way, so he felt them with his feet. He made it down, and got Jasper onto the grass.
Merrell, Shane and Mason came out the bedroom door and down the stairs.
"Dad says to keep him walking!" Merrell yelled coming down the stairs. The instructions gave her something to do, and desperation left her voice.
"I can't! He doesn't want to walk around." Sam was looking at his sick and exhausted dog lying on the grass with its head between its paws, looking as if he were hoping it was all over. His eyes were open and he looked straight ahead, as if he knew he was going to get hit again.
"Sam, you have to keep him moving. He doesn't want to but the poison will have a harder time taking over if his metabolism keeps up." Shane's hands hung at his sides, standing before Sam.
"Come on Jasp. You have to get up. Get up Jasper." Sam walked slowly over to Jasper, sat down in front of him, and reached under the dog's chest to pull him up. Jasper looked at him, and his body lifted a bit, but Sam did most of the work.
He got Jasper on his feet and pulled on him gently to get him walking.
"Keep him away from the pool, Sam." Merrell spoke more calmly, studied, like she'd done this before and was training Sam in the procedure.
The morning coolness was gone. Release and transport in a spicy cloud gave way to a headache and an empty air all filled with sharp knives and cliffs, pits, holes, tumbled rocks and mud.
"Can one of you watch him? I'm going to call Dad again." Sam ran upstairs.
He called and spoke to his father, and when he came back out the door he saw Colonel Sears, their upstairs neighbor, in his Air Force uniform, crouched in front of Jasper, who was lying in the rock beds on the north end of the pool. Col. Sears was keeping the dog standing as he checked his eyes.
"Col. Sears! Do we need to keep him walking?!" Sam called from the balcony, and didn't move toward the stairs.
Col. Sears turned to look up at Sam. "I think you should keep him comfortable down here, under the house, in the shade and let him rest." He turned back to Jasper and still crouched, held Jasper's chin in his hand and stroked his head.
Sam went back into the house, went to his room, and lay down on his bed. He cried, and then he pushed himself up off the bed, pulled the blanket from the bed, grabbed his pillow, and walked out.
They sat with Jasper the whole day, in the shade under the house, on the cold marble. Jasper convulsed again and again, each bout leaving him sprawled out and exhausted and relieved.
"The fucking poison. Why doesn't it leave him alone!" Sam sat in front of Jasper, Indian style, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. Jasper panted. He lay spent after an especially long and violent seizure.
"Why didn't you go get him, Merrell!"
"I did! He was too fast."
"Those fucking Iranians. Why do they hate dogs so much?"
"It might not have been an intentional poisoning." Col. Sears was out of his uniform, and was walking down the car ramp from the north end of the garage.
"Oh... Hi Col. Sears." Sam looked up surprised. Then his face changed to a slightly less credulous scowl. "Shane thinks someone fed him poisoned meat."
"I've heard that too, that some Iranians do that. Have you seen anyone hanging around outside today?"
"There were some with some goats this morning."
"Well, they're likely candidates. Dogs, especially wild ones, are a threat to their goats. But Jasper could have gotten into some bad garbage."
"That would do this?" Sam's face screwed up tightly in anger.
"Hello Jasper." Col. Sears crouched and petted the panting animal.
It was getting dark out, the sky filling with stars barely visible through the haze of car and truck exhaust.
"C'mon Sam," Merrell said, standing up. "We've got to go in." She waited.
"Will you stay with him, Col. Sears?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, you bet. The girls are already in bed, so I'm free for awhile." He petted Jasper's head.
"Goodnight, Jasper," Sam said, and gave the dog a last stroke. Merrell did the same, and Col. Sears remained crouched by him. The two kids walked up the stairs.
Alex sat on the shin-high ledge around the edge of the flat rooftop. Dark folds of land shown in outline through the heavy sprinkling of lights up to the foot of the Elburz, sparkling foam against dark mountains. She had her back to those lights, toward a lighted match being lifted to a hand-rolled hash-and-tobacco cigarette. Her deep drag pulled the glowing embers back unevenly from the cigarette's lighted end. She finished the drag with a quick and deep intake of air. If she were on a roof ten stories higher, Damavand would have shown like a cone shaped cloud above the eastern horizon. She blew a thick bluish-white tube of peppery smelling smoke from her mouth.
Someone stepped out of the dark stairwell and onto the roof, and Alex flicked the cigarette down at her foot; she quickly put a sandaled foot over it.
"Alex! Jasper's doing OK! Col. Sears is down there with him now!" Merrell ran up to her sister, and Sam followed behind, watching his older sister over Merrell's shoulder.
"Great!" Alex spoke with relief and real enthusiasm.
"What are you smoking Alex?"
Alex uncomfortably ignored Sam's accusation and responded to Merrell instead.
"He's not throwing up anymore?"
"I don't know." Sam let Alex off the hook. "I hope he's OK. We really screwed up."
"We've got to keep him inside." Merrell said, sitting down next to Alex on the roof's ledge. "We can take him for walks on a leash."
"You can take him," Sam snorted.
"Remember when he tore down all the clean clothes off the clothesline!"
Alex laughed, relaxed after her one hit of dope, and the reprieve from her younger brother's self-righteousness, a self-righteousness he justified on an aesthetic basis – she just didn’t do it right. "He really messed up Mom's new dress."
"He's chewed up so much stuff." Sam observed.
"Hey you guys." Alex's voice had a serious but excited edge to it. "I've been watching the stars, and saw a satellite go by. Wouldn't that be far out if a space ship came down some night?"
Merrell was quiet. Sam looked up into the blue black cloth of Persian sky, a jeweler's cloth with white diamonds displayed. His eyes dropped down and his forehead wrinkled above his nose.
Alex looked at them each directly in the face, leaning toward them. "We could all close our eyes and concentrate on bringing one to us."
"Why would that bring one here?" Sam asked and the wrinkles on his forehead deepened, showing intention, a squinting of his mind to see more clearly.
Merrell was still quiet. Alex mistook Sam's gravity as scorn, and turned to Merrell to get her idea across.
"Merrell, have you ever had a dream, and then later, when you were awake, something happens, and it's exactly what you dreamed, and you say `I dreamed that exact thing!'?"
"Yeah! Once I dreamed Jody and I were on the bus going to school and I was showing her my new puzzle ring. Then it happened in real life." She looked grave.
"That's ESP. Your mind talks to you from somewhere else. The future communicated with you...."
"I've had a dream like that too." Sam's wrinkles had been dropped for raised eyebrows and open eyes. "It was weird. I knew it when it was happening that I'd gone through it before."
"That's ESP. We can listen to things far away and in the future with our minds." Alex pulled out a pack of Marlboros from behind her on the top of the ledge.
Merrell frowned. "Dad's going to kill you if he catches you smoking."
"He knows." Alex lied.
"No he doesn't," Merrell said sure of herself. "Don't lie."
"I'm not lying." Alex lit up the cigarette and took a drag. "Do you guys want to try contacting a spaceship?"
"I do." Sam answered.
Alex took another drag, and blew out the smoke as she talked. "Let's close our eyes, and keep thinking `Come to us here' over and over."
"How long?" Sam asked.
"Five minutes. I'll say stop when we're done."
"OK, close our eyes." They did. Alex dragged again on her cigarette, a red coal burning on the earth, a tiny red dwarf. "OK. Keep saying to yourself `Come get us here." They did.
Warm sound and warm air rose up off the rooftop and through the soles of their bare feet and shoes. Both air and sound shimmered and wriggled, and a flame at the top of a refinery stack licked at the black night cloth below on the southern part of Tehran. Alex put another cigarette to her lips and lit it. Sam's eyes rolled up into his head behind closed eyelids. Merrell opened hers and looked at Alex.
"OK." Alex opened her eyes. Sam opened his. Merrell looked at both.
"I'm going inside," she said. She got up from beside Alex and passed though the doorway and down the stairs.
"Did anything happen Sam?" Alex asked earnestly.
"No. Would they come right away?" He questioned himself, but didn't know the answer.
"Do you want to smoke some dope?" Now that Merrell was gone, Alex felt she could ask her brother.
"No. Shane and I did some already, and your tobacco gets me dizzy." He watched her lift her foot and retrieve the joint, intact, from off the rooftop.
She put out her Marlboro, inspected and mended the hash cigarette, and then put it to her lips. The little flame of the lighter, because of perspective looking the same size as the refinery flame miles away, brought the cigarette to life.
"I looked for a spaceship in a dream once," Alex said, looking ahead and seeing inside, the hand and joint to her lips. She closed her eyes as her hand drew the cigarette from her mouth. "It was cool as shit." The desert night and Assassin's breath blew in a heavy white stream from her pursed lips. The star twinkled in her eye like a medium's.
Sam watched her, and the sparkle of her eye sank deep into his own eye.
"When I was in Isfahan," Alex continued to look out and down south at the city's edge, "we went to the bazaar and got lost in the back alleys and I found a shop with lots of bracelets and necklaces and stuff that had these signs on them that looked like moons and stars. The Iranian who owned the store said that Persepolis was for astrology, and had moon and star symbols, and things that look like rockets." She looked out, and dropped the roach on the roof, gently put it out with a sandal, and picked it up and put it into her cigarette box. "You should have come on that trip. Julie went."
"You like her?"
"She's got a boyfriend."
"No she doesn't." Sam looked into Alex's eyes.
"Do you really like her?"
"She's a fox."
"I'll tell her that. She'll think that's pretty cool." Alex stood up. "I'm going in."
"Do you want to do a bowl with me?" Sam's self-righteousness was coming undone, and he was lonely.
"No, I'm pretty fucked up."
Alex walked into the dark stairwell, and Sam watched her go. He sat down on the roof ledge and took out his hash pipe, lighter, and matchbox. He took a dark chunk of hash out of the matchbox, heated it with the lighter, and crumbled it into the bowl of the pipe. He put the lighter flame to the bowl, his lips to the stem of the pipe, and inhaled, held the smoke deep in his lungs, swallowed, and then exhaled deeply.
"Yek e dige," he said in Farsi, formed on the air in a cloud of white smoke, and he sucked in again. "Yek e dige."
Col. Sears sat down and put the dog's head into his lap and stroked his head. He convulsed soon after, and Col. Sears held him firmly in his arms, talking to him and stroking him with each release from the seizure. The moon came up over Damavand, and the smell of evening and desert blew in from the south and east. When moonshine cast hardly any shadow from straight over head, after an unusually long calm from seizure, the dog lay down his head on the man's leg, and closed his eyes. He let out a deep sigh. He was so tired. And then he quit breathing.
In the morning Jasper was dead. Col. Sears had covered him with the blanket. Merrell and Mason cried when they saw him, and Merrell hugged him and lay on him for a long time. Their parents had already left for work, but left a note saying to wait until that evening to bury him. They would do it in the field across the street.
Sam sat with Jasper all day, and when dinnertime came near, Col. Sears came down. He and Sam wrapped Jasper up in the blanket, picked him up, and carried him up the car ramp and out the little gate. They walked across the street, and into the dirt field. Fifty or so yards to the east and north was a pitiful little grove of trees, widely spaced. They set Jasper down under one of the trees and took turns with a shovel digging a hole in the ground. They laid Jasper down into the hole, and covered him up with dirt and rocks.
"Col. Sears, we weren't good to Jasper. We kicked him, and didn't train him. He wanted to run away."
Col. Sears was looking at the small new mound of dirt. The sun had headed down into the west, and the mountains glowed pink and shadowed black. He and Sam walked back across the field and street. The white gate glowed pink like the sun.
"Thank you for the help, Sam."
"No, you did all the work. And it was our dog."
"He was a good dog. He'll be missed. Heidi and Heather have great memories of him."
They were at Sam's front door.
"Would you tell Heidi and Heather that we're sorry we didn't take better care of him. Jasper loved them too."
"I will. Goodnight, Sam. You did what you're capable of."
Sam opened the apartment door, and Col. Sears went down to the garage to put the shovel away. In his room, Sam heard the clank of the shovel underneath the house, and heard the storage room door shut. He waited to hear footsteps going up the stairs. Instead, he heard the front gate click open and shut again. Sam sat up on his bed, in the dark room, and pulled his curtains open. Col. Sears was walking across the field with something white in his arms.
Sam moved his face closer to his window, squinting hard. He could see the white thing shining pink in the westering sun. Col. Sears was crouching. The white thing unfurled, and Sam saw it was a sheet. It lifted up in a cool summer evening breeze. It had writing on it, but Sam couldn't read it because it was in Farsi. It hung there, and while Sam watched it, the front gate clicked open and shut; footsteps passed by and up, and the upstairs apartment door opened and shut.
Sam turned back to the window, and the sheet hung lifeless, inscrutable and grave. He could hear Merrell in his parents' bedroom, crying. His mother's voice was high and clear and stoic. His father's voice was deeper and quieter, softer. As he spoke, Merrell's cries came down an octave, and lower, and level with her father's talking voice.
"They wouldn't know what it says either. None of us knows how to read Farsi." Sam got up and shut his door and turned out the light. He came back to his bed, closed up the curtains, put a tape into the cassette player on the windowsill, and got under his covers.
Jasper's mound outside shined red in the last of the sun, in the threads of the sheet, on Sam's window, but not through the heavy curtains drawn across the window. The power indicator light on the cassette player glowed red, and even showed on the ceiling that Sam lay watching. He fell asleep before the first song ended, and didn't wake until the next morning, when the sun was high above Damavand's peak thirty miles to the east and 13,000 feet closer to heaven.
© Danny Smitherman
Danny Smitherman's first published poem appeared in a high school collection, and began: "When will it end/This state of utter confusion". He has continued mostly in that spirit to this day. He's had poetry and other written work published in The Austin Chronicle, Missoula Magazine, and The Journal of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. He is the author of Philosophy and the Evolution of Consciousness: Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances, and is currently working on a collection of essays tentatively titled A Phenomenology of Wilderness. The last half of his life has been shared with his wife - scientist and green thumb - and his daughter - artist, cellist, and WOW Level 70 Mage.