Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

alex simand


"recipe for khash"

 

Ingredients

      ● 1 onion (diced)

      ● 1/2 tbsp. dry chives leaves

      ● Water [1]

      ● 1 hunk lamb tail fat (kurdyuk) [2]

      ● 1 chilli pepper

      ● 1 clove garlic (diced)

      ● Salt to taste [3]

Directions

Wash and add the cut meat to a deep bowl. Pour in cold water and allow to soak overnight or for at least 8 hours to soften. Wash thoroughly then add meat to a pot with onions, pepper, water and garlic. Cook until meat is tender and extracted from the bones. Add salt to taste and serve warm with chives sprinkled over the soup.


[1] Water. It was long past tourist season, but I was determined to swim in the Caspian Sea that morning. The last time I'd been on its shores was when I was three years old; I'd barely had the chance to form a memory before we'd absconded from Azerbaijan with as many heirloom rugs as we could carry. They'd almost left me on the train at the Austrian border, the story goes—so preoccupied were my parents with unloading those hand-woven treasures they'd neglected their little human treasure cowering in the cabin. As I stripped to my boxers, I imagined a life in which they had left me there: how much darker my skin would be, how much richer my stories. I watched my father look over the long empty beach as if he was trying to remember a word he'd misplaced in some refugee camp. He eyed my tattoos warily, an implicit betrayal in the ink that adorns me—further proof of the distance I'd carved between our generations—before he, too stripped, removing only his shirt. I'd been brought here for a baptism, I thought, to be cleansed of cheeseburgers and leftist ideas. I ran in; the water churned me, turbulent and unforgiving. On the shore, I thought I caught a wisp of a smile on my father's face.

[2] Kurdyuk. Slava and I are outside his mother's cottage, threading chunks of kurdyuk onto metal skewers and placing them over hot coals on the ground. We eye the fire warily: the fat dripping off kurdyuk kicks up flames, which we must continually douse with cold water from a bowl. I've been speaking Russian with Slava; I am out of practice but there is no choice and I've been getting better by degrees. I remember the word for assimilation. A small black kitten, one of the many strays who wander the compound, darts towards the bowl of meat and chomps down on a chunk. Slava curses and kicks it into the shadows. The sound of Muslim prayer fills the darkened country sky; untethered from a source—the mosque cannot be seen over the massive walls that separate properties—the prayers seem divine, as if God Himself is chanting from the Milky Way. Slava's son, David, scampers toward us clutching two tall bottles of beer to his chest. Slava passes me the joint he's been holding and asks David to pour the beer. David is a sweet child—the kind we believe we'd been but can't quite remember actually being, full of hugs and baby teeth, and syrup-sticky. David pours our beers into fragile glasses, holding the bottles with both hands, his tongue lolling from his mouth with effort. Before Slava can take his glass, David takes a big gulp from it and laughs. I want to be just like daddy, he says. Slava begins to scold him but David's already chasing after the kitten, which is remounting an attack on our meat bowl. The doctors say he has ADHD, says Slava, they want us to give him drugs. I think he just needs nature and freedom. David is making gunshot noises at the kitten, who mews meekly.

[3] Salt. My father'd been given directions to grandfather's grave but it takes us some time to find it anyway. The graves are packed so close together we are forced to walk along its partitions, careful not to step over the bodies, carrying our own superstitions with us even though there is nobody to witness deference but the dead, who cannot see. We play a game of Find Your Ancestors. A treasure hunt for that name written in Cyrillic characters, but decidedly not Russian: Симандуев. It feels morbid at first and then appropriate. This is, after all, the full purpose of our trip here—to find the bones of the dead who live through us, who have not yet disappeared from our imaginations, whose bodies continue to decompose even as we draw breath. We manage to find my grandfather's grave, and his sister's beside him. Their portraits etched into the stone, their faces staring at us from their two-dimensional universes. Grave expressions on their faces. I laugh at my joke then feel guilty then believe they'd have enjoyed the levity then don't know what to think. I'd never met my grandfather, only heard terribly unspecific stories about him: he worked in a shop; he was a serious man; he smoked a pipe. Chiya's thick glasses and broad forehead fill the space on his gravestone. It is the same image that adorns the wall of our dining room at home, and I wonder if this is the only photograph of him that exists. His sister seems small beside him, a slight woman with a bright shawl wrapped around her tiny head. We clear the brush, decades old, from around their graves—dirt and pine needles turned to peat a reflection of the churning that happens underneath. Worms ooze from the dark earth, which stains the white soles of my new running shoes. My father wipes thick dust from Chiya's gravestone with his bare hand, which feels like a ritual; I wonder who taught him this. I wonder if he'd witnessed Chiya wipe his bare hand on a gravestone the way I am witnessing him. I'd like to ask, but it feels indelicate in this moment. Later, I will forget.


Alex Simand lives and works in San Francisco. He holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. Alex writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in North American Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Mudseason Review, Five2One Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, and other publications. His short story, "Election Cycle," was a winner of the 2017 Best Small Fictions Prize. Alex is the former Editor for Blog, Nonfiction, and the Diana Woods Memorial Prize at Lunch Ticket. Find him online or @AlexSimand.