a short story excerpted from:
Blood Feast, the Complete Stories of Malika Moustadraf
Translated by Alice Guthrie
The Feminist Press 2022
Dull, dull, dull. The same thing happens every day, in the same way and at the same time: I go to work, she goes into the kitchen, I come home at lunchtime, she prepares the meal, we eat in silence, we exchange a few words. The weather is stifling, the heat is unbearable, and in winter, the weather is freezing, the cold is unbearable.
I try to push her into conversation, any old conversation, just so long as we don’t stay silent. I fail, I try again, I fail, I go back to work, she goes back into her kitchen, washes dishes, wipes down the stove, chats on the phone, runs up a bill that electrocutes me. At night she makes dinner, we eat in silence, we exchange the same few words: the weather is stifling, the heat is unbearable, or in the best case she might add a sentence or two, grumbling about my mother, who visited her, or about my sisters, or…or…
I bury my head in a newspaper. She watches TV, flicking through the channels in obvious irritation. I ignore her. Rawboned fashion models, my God, don’t they eat? The outfits they wear are so weird it’s like they’re from another planet. I sneak a look at my wife. She’s always munching on something or other, chewing away. Thick folds of fat have clumped around her neck and her waist, but her legs are still as skinny as a goose’s. I take in the terrain of her body, the highland peaks, the lowland valleys. In this changing landscape, her backside is still as flat a plain as ever. It all feels so repetitive, I’m pining for the days of our betrothal . . . Uff . . .
I feel this routine choking me, like a poison I’m taking by the spoonful. It’s running through my veins, slowly spreading around my body, paralyzing me … it’s suffocating me, and yet death never comes. She ostentatiously heaves herself to her feet, goes into the bedroom. She calls to me in a voice she’s trying to make sound seductive. I know what she wants. I ignore her. She repeats her call, trying and failing to make her voice soft and tender. I pretend to be searching for something, I don’t know exactly what. She is still calling for me.
Her tone this time is laced with menace …. I surrender my fate to Allah and reluctantly drag my body into the bedroom. I find her spread out on her back like a mangy dolphin. Even the way we do this is dull … no excitement and nothing new, even in bed. The smell of onion and garlic mixed with cinnamon makes me feel like I’m sleeping inside a stew pot, or in a spice store, makes me completely lose any desire I might have felt. I turn my back to her. I can guess the laundry list of Moroccan swear words she must be rattling off inside her head. You try making a woman go hungry sexually! Just try depriving her of her rights in bed—whatever the reason—and suddenly her claws will come out. You’ll become an utterly loathsome person in her eyes, someone who provokes her fury on sight, who talks in a vapid way, with a repugnant mustache and an irritating mother and bitter spinster sisters who’ve made her life hell—she’ll turn you into a monstrous freak devoid of one single commendable feature, and she’ll curse everyone who conspired to “make the match and make the marriage.” A woman might let many things go unpunished, such as your empty bank account or your lack of interest in buying her a birthday present—she’ll even take a smack across the face dealt in a moment of anger—but she will definitely not overlook being denied her rights in bed … Even if you set her up in the most luxurious villa and dressed her in the trendiest styles and gifted her her body weight in gold, all that would count for nothing. She will seek out whatever ways she can to make your life hell, no matter what. The phrase “You’ve never once brightened my day” will become her refrain, repeated night and day in every rhythm and to every tune until you’re obliged to grant her a divorce. And if she isn’t able to get by financially without you and is forced to stay with you for that reason, you can be sure that she’ll cheat on you with the person closest to you, perhaps your driver.
Something else I want to whisper in your ear: women are really masochists by nature. Don’t let your mouth hang open like that. A woman loves an evening beating from time to time, before she goes to sleep, and for you to pull her hair every once in a while—these customs have been ingrained in women since the Stone Age. And when she complains about it to her neighbor, don’t you believe her cries of misery. She’s just doing that to spite her neighbor, as an indirect way of telling her, “My husband hits me, therefore he cares about me.”
The neighbor will purse her lips at this, outraged and indignant, and goad her on to stand up to her husband, informing her that only donkeys are still getting beaten like that in this country, and afterward she’ll go home (the neighbor), and you can be sure she’ll create some problem or other, do whatever it takes to provoke her husband and drive him out of his mind, and she won’t let it go until she gets her evening dose and obtains the indisputable proof she can offer the next day to her neighbor: that she too has a husband who cares about her.
Note: don’t try this prescription with all women. But that’s enough off-limits talk for one day.