“Frida Kahlo’s Mustache”—flash fiction from Abdullah Nasser

5 July, 2024
A couple struggling to conceive undergoes a transformation that changes everything.


Abdullah Nasser

Translated from the Arabic by Lina Mounzer


She still hadn’t had a baby, and she didn’t think she ever would.

The first years were years of great anticipation. They were happy every time her period was a day or two late, and upset whenever it came early even though they pretended otherwise. The fourth year, they began begrudgingly to accept the situation. They didn’t go to any fertility clinics. This was his idea: he said that the tests would sooner or later destroy what was between them. No, he didn’t go see the doctor in secret — careful of suspicion — and neither did she, though she did make an appointment, deciding against it at the last minute.

In truth they maintained a glimmer of hope until the seventh year. As he looked at her, he thought, “this is fate, and when things come to this point, it’s better to submit willingly.” As she looked at him, she thought, “It is fate, and even if one were to be outraged and stamp their feet like a child, he will also eventually submit.”

Like most couples, they argued more over the little things than the big ones, and argument was anyway healthy, necessary even. There was a special room in the house for arguments, and one of them would sequester themselves inside it when things got too fraught, not coming out until the other apologized.

This time, the husband carried his pillow and bedding into the room though there had been no fight. If he’d been a little late, he would have found the wife had beat him there because she’d intended to do the same.

Almost nothing happened except that his hair began to fall out — the hair on his body, not his head, for the hair on his head began growing thickly until it spilled over his shoulders, while his body gradually became hairless. His broad chest grew rounded, and little by little his breasts swelled outward, until he hid them beneath his baggy shirt. The thing between his thighs shrunk until one day he woke up and could find it no longer.

These were difficult days for him, and for her as well. Her voice deepened and her nipples dried up like raisins. Her buttocks became flat as a frying pan, and what her husband had lost suddenly appeared between her own legs, growing bigger by the day.

He remained in his room, and she in hers. They came out only to share meals, but silently. Every time a hair fell from his mustache it grew under her nose, until she had Frida Kahlo’s mustache, and everything became exceedingly clear.

She put on his blue shirt and it fit her new size perfectly. And when he stood before the mirror to try on her pink pajamas, he looked like a flamingo, even standing for a while on one foot. They went back to sleeping together, and to keeping track of the monthly cycle as avidly as they had during the first years, if not more so. 


Abdullah Nasser is a Saudi writer and translator. His collection of short stories, Fann Al Takhalli (al-Tanweer, 2016), was translated into French under the title L’art de l’esquive (L’Harmattan, 2021). His story collection Aalek fee Yawm Ahad  [Stuck One Sunday] (al-Tanweer, 2019) won the 2021 Literature Prize. His work has appeared in Al-Qafila, Nizwa, Akhbar Al-Adab, and Maana Electric.

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