We had a house at the east of the mountain, we chased one another’s shadow at the light’s orbit. I was to one who got up and got burned, motherless, breastless, I had grown up with the bitter milk of goats. I wandered among frozen hollows for nine days when I realized that the old lady with a straight face wasn’t the bearer of the womb that carried me. I stuck my knees in the soil, across the prairies with reeds and fluctuating long bushes that resembled hair combed in the wind. I kept walking and walking and reached the ice with my fingers. They found me at the last cave I came to following the way of pine cones. I spit on the woman’s face who screamed because I froze and said things that hurt her. The big man with brown glasses warmed me up in his coat and took me back to the house. He reminded me how we seasoned the soup together. Under the patchwork blanket transformed into a tent, I asked him many times to go back home, to the other side of the mountain, the house with my mother, with bread, where I could reach anytime and find a breast to suck. He gave me the bread the old lady made every time, and I hit his hand.
His papers lay everywhere in the house. The idea was to shed the light straight onto writings. His glasses on his head, a pen in his mouth, from chair to sofa, from sofa to step, he kept changing his spot. I would read the books that I liked over and over again, sometimes murmuring, sometimes out loud, to get his attention, searching for a window to open his eyes. When my head dropped by the end of the day, the old lady would come and light the stove.
The fire is in the mole next to my nose, that’s where the first spark jumps to wood. I cowereach time before this mesmerizing scene, close my eyes and focus on the animals’ noises coming from the back yard. In a moment she will lean over the fire, boil a soup in the pot, saltless. If she’s in a good mood she will put beans in it, I will smell like onions to the roots of my hair. Seared, pink. Then she will approach the eyes buried in writings, wherever they are, and rub his shoulders, accept the coin she’ll be given and leave from our sea–green door, quietly. I will dip my fingers in the bowl and sprinkle salt on papers. He will look behind the old lady with his bloodshot eyes, and smile.
I create my friends, distille them from his silence. I go out and sit on the ground with the need to talk to someone about his papers full of odd letters, without indentations. I knead my friends with my bare hands. They are dark black and crippled looking. Their arms are shorter than their hands, their heads way too big for their torsos. Some have huge bellies, I wonder what they have eaten. A couple of them have giant ears that keeepcoming when I pull them. I tell them about the writings that I can’t read, as I lie near their porous bodies and listen to the noise the snow makes while melting.
The cold brings along a strong urge to sleep. When I wake up, they are corpses, split into cracks of sacrifice. For a while I try to whisper some sort of agility, spirit, or life into them, but then I decide to aligned them all under the fence and organize a mass funeral with the hopelessness I find in dismembered body parts. Then I throw them all to the railroad that passes beyond the fence, and curse that they left me.
For days I talk about them under the blanket’s colors, until waters come down my cheeks. They neither talked nor played games, gave me secrets nor peculiar information about where the road to the other side of the mountain began or how much time it took to run to rails from the fence, or where those trains went. He comes and uncovers me only after my nose and my mouth form a unity on their own, and as if he finds me at different locations every night he will say: “So you’re here again?” My head on his arm, I wait to be carried to my bed.
An outrageous sleep, no interruptions, far from the sea, shoreless. My head hurts, I want to call him out as my throat is ripped apart by claws, to let at least some letters go off their nails. I know that my arms are lying dead still, while I had thought they were waving throughout the darkness. To get rid of the stinky breath of the wicked who licked my eyelids to make me open them, I call his name: “Sleep! Sleep, come! Take me now and don’t leave, cover all my sides.” He won’t come. Everyone I threw over the fence now sit on me and hold my limbs. I promise dozens of times that I will not knead them, let them dry and throw them away. When my tangled tongue can finally reach and touch my teeth, the sorrow of not being able to call him out until comes crashing at me and I lie on my face. Touching the sheets, my flesh will shiver, and I call his name as it was given to me: “Dad.”
He reads more than he talks. I am angry at him for it, forquieting me down, discouraging me from telling and making me stick with the old lady. I hate that he walks around in the house with his cheeks blushed from the barely warm oven, his sweaty forehead and his shirt clinging to his back, that he spends hours without eating, or even wanting any apples or dates, that he daydreams on his own, without once calling out my name, without a tale. So much so that I study a meticulous plan of how I will push him on the oven, and hurt him, yet I couldn’t knock him over. He doesn’t even know that I wantto burn him into ashes, he goes on moving his lips as he rearranges his papers according to their page numbers.
In the evening, I decide. I am going to properly ask to the old lady when she comes. She does come, and I sneak near her as she bakes bread for the soup. “Ulaina,” I said. “Am I invisible?”
First from her eyes, then from between of her breasts, two straight teardrops come down, and she huggs me. Through the window, she points to the mountain crests where the night has already falleb, and said “Look, go ask ‘em, ask ‘em the same question. Let’s see if they can see you.”
I wake up before my dad’s hands touch the boiling teapot. I munch three sugar cubes and run to the garden. Trembling, I approach the goat whose milk I grew up on. It gets along quite well with my palm. I caress its tiny tongue. Then I go near the horse in the distance, where the smoke coming out of the trains also went. It doesn’t look down on my height. I don’t evenwhich wouldn’t reach its shoulders even, and it levels its head with mine. I hear my name in its whisper. Successively, to rabbit’s hole, chicken’s farm, and under the rooster’s wing I go. I find in each a heat similar to that coming out of our oven. I see it beyond the fence, I want to jump over our wooden curtain and go near it, too. It flies away as I lift a leg, splinters in my thighs.
I begin to tell Ulaina everything that happens to me in a day. I look forward for her arrival, and after a rehearsal of what I am going to say, I watch the embers and wait for her footsteps. The moment she comes I grabb her skirts before she can turn to the oven and tell her about what I did in the garden all day long. She listens with patience and makes noises of surprise with her mouth that lacks some teeth. I get carried away, mix dream with reality and make those in the garden talk. I transfer everything they said to her, word to word. Ulaina keeps glancing to my father at intervals, and taps my back, stays quiet. These are moments when I dive straight into the horizon, when the words of the language we speak coincides. The beginning of the days when Ulaina decided to leave me a piece from the teeth, bones or hairs from her headdress.
One evening, before she leaves I see my dad’s head finally rising up from his papers. His eyes are locked with Ulaina’s and his lips press on each other. One of her hands on his shoulder, Ulaina tells something to my dad. I can’t see her face. But I see his curly hair tremble anxiously, from the hole of the rainbow-colored blanket.
I hear Ulaina say, :
“This much is not okay.” Her voice trails off. “She’s older now, and she understands all of it. Talk to her, tell her a bit. Or she will wander off to strays’ side.”
I know the horse. Its croup tall. It runs me over. I hear its hoof right on my sacrum. It was beautiful and surprised. It found my movements shocking. Scared too, big breaths huffing out its nostrils. If we wanted, we could. Leave, I mean, leave here, this land. Run, straight on a line. I, balbal, rock, quiet, and lost; its feet crushing my cracks, on my widths and heights where I was incarcerated as I tried to grow up, pain from all and none of the angles, both of its feet. Terror, the human-likeness of the menace. It runs me over.
I know the goat. Fuzzy hair. Warm. I feel its front feet on the back of my neck. Stinky, scared. Baaing into my mouth and my throat cracking through its axis. It was in a hurry, various characteristics dwelled in its beard. We wore its hair, and it resents what has been done to its children. And the complaints:it stinks, stinky this is, and hard, too, you can’t chew this. It’s offended and thinks, if I see one of you, even though I like one among you, I will run you down. I, beyond writing’s quiet, but while all these tales and stories growing inside me, I feel my pointy collar bone crack. My shell is robust. My shell is crooked.
I fall while I was trying to find my balance with my one foot on the horse, the other on the goat, and the animals shy away, stepping on me. Meanwhile, once again his unpronounced name behind my tongue, I see my mother deep into the darkness, my limbs kicking the air.
Since I fell, the oven has never been turned off. I lie there stiff, among the flames and my dreams, murmuring the names I gave to the horse and the goat. Faces enter my vision—looking from above, a doctor from the village, with a healer Ulaina brought. My whole head motionless, I want to reach and touch her cheeks. Caress, kiss her. To cry and not shut up, dive to her breasts salivating, sucking her instead of my mother. My arms don’t move, nor my eyebrows. I keep growing up with the crunch of creased papers.
I’m neatly placed on fine-cut wood, no nails. Clean pieces of cloth keep my flesh together. I can’t turn my head to my side and look at my miserable horse and goat. I can’t wipe the tears coming down from its big eyes, or shove the rabbits. I can’t scare them, laugh at them. I only hear the train’s whistle. The crackling in the oven. I find a way to move from one sound to another. I transfer my mind to the steam and travel along the rails
It is about five or six months since my fall. My dad has finished the work he’s been working on for years. He is reading it, with his deep voice, in a language I would understand. He teaches me the papers, the letters and sounds on them and hopesfor the best. I learned about “You,” and “U,s” become the words of the tablet erected after Tonyukuk’s funeral. Choose any tale, my dear heart. Childish narrations full of praise are long gone, mighty doors have invited me in. Had I known that I could be a part of his story, which fed on his discoveries and deductions, without moving at all, I would have climbed sooner on to the tops of the high horse and the wooly goat. At the same time. And fallen.
At that very moment he becomes my father for real. I am hit by his scent that fills my nose from his sweaty shirt. I like it when he sits on the tip of my bed, right in the light triangle created by the dying fire , crosses his legs and puts his palm under his chin. I watch him seasoning the soup without me, as he talksabout Tengri, Hammurabi, Kadesh, Sumerians. I want to get up and hug him as I taste and try to swallow the undissolved lumps in the soup, which stay scorching hot despite all his blowing on the spoon. I ache, a splinter buried in deep.
Now I am making humans out of what he tells me, with my fingertips in my mind. I have one who is splendid, a sacred one, holy, more merciful, more real than my mud people, who were always wet. They wouldn’t dry out even if I threw them away, each with a soul, if not a breathing body, and wings. I put in every one of them the bird that I couldn’t catch. A step of Zeus, for instance, or Hera’s eyes, without lingering much on Artemis’s arched back or the honey–dripping thighs of Aphrodite, to Hermes, to the Sirens, sphinxes, and Ares. I am holding the arrow from Achilles’s heel and I can now see my dad as Herodotus come to life in a body with veins. We crash on the names we can’t repeat, like crushing fresh snow slaloming as our chests were opened for the Titans, we swirl and fall into the floral shores like Aegeus from the summit of Olympus. Our mountain is in Ida, far from us. It faces west, and it is green. Only the top of it is snow covered and there we are in seclusion with the god of gods.
In the night when I can lift my whole arm without moving a single finger, I try until my sweat–filled to my eye craters and hang my legs off the bed. I hide the fact that I can move, don’t say a word to anyone. Not even to Ulaina. She keeps sprinkling bone dust on my head and legs. She washs my skeleton in need of bison’s marrow and deer’s horns with unseasoned soups.
Before morning, after midnight. In that moment when I am overjoyed with moving my flesh and become one with wood, the size of my lifted limbs surprising me. I watch my elongated parts with admiration, although they are a bit flabby from the lack of motion. I ask Ulaina what happened to me. She said: “The last part that detached from your mother is now bigger. Because you are reborn.”
After a long nap, I wriggle in the shirt made of aba. I stretch my leg over Agamemnon’s hand and he puts it on the ground. I wrapp the other around Apollo’s arms, the floor cold under my soles. They lift me up, Zeus exhales through my backbone and I stand with the support of Medusa’s hair. There are cinders in the oven and the soup is cold. I hope to find my dad with his papers gathered on his lap, sitting on the doorstep as he did years ago. He isn’t there. I look everywhere, under the couches, behind the shelves. I carry myself to the window. Same shadows in the garden, but older. The horse’s back bent downwards and the goat’s hair turned gray. The rabbit, sluggish, the rooster, senile. The chicken already cut and eaten. My dad’s shadow isn’t among them. Slowly, I take slithering steps back to my bed and wear the colorful blanket like a cape. I am more apprehensive than the rulers of these lands. I take a piece of wood from the cold fire. I smash it around. Then I hold onto it, put my entire weight on it. Quietly I ask it if the dead tree could carry my little age. Proud, I lean on it, it isn’t offended. It carries me.
We go out, cold burning my lungs. Oh, I think, this side of the mountain. I remember a sentence from before my mother passed me over to my dad: Don’t go to the other side of the mountain. No intonation, no sound of it in my baby ears, a mere sentence. Now I am driving the body that I lifted up with the strength that I found in the things I listened to, like that time I did when I was five years of age in the world, in search of the last one of the nine caves. As I leave through the door, a celebration of my height that can finally reach the fence’s lock. The train passes at my right.
I don’t say the names I gave to those in the train when I was little. I save those repeating, offensive words to myself. I go out and don’t sink. I wrapp my blanket around my chest and tuck it in. I wait for a light or a sound to direct my way. It is dark. The more I thinkt about the possibility of my dad leaving me, the more force my legs find. I take bigger steps with the desire to find and cling to him. Of a sudden my head bumps the first tree of the beech forest. I stumble, and fall. I got up. I shake off the snow off. When I see a silhouette moving in the trees, I run after it before giving a single thought, branches scratching my face.
I don’t know the forest. I was never allowed to go. Why all the trees? What derives from the seed? Various, combined. Some separate, far away, some stuck with a branch like me, asking for power to fix their back. I shut down my sight and focus on what I know, open my ears to any sound. Don’t be scared of the dark, he said, it’s a hole to nice genies, as he closed the book. Don’t be scared of the leaves, they covered you first, whispered blood to your veins, you dripped from their water, became whole, both your mom and I are sexed, we reproduced thanks to them. We made you, as a result of friction, we took you out of her with laughter, happiness, madness. You took me, you took her, both of us, and you took a sip from her breast, then we died at the same time and were buried, then we lived and sought after the one that needed to carry on. Don’t abstain from the soil, cover your feet with it and move on. It will be whispered into your mind, let yourself go but don’t wander off from here, from the east of the mountain, from our house, because I although I turned down my voice to raise you here, I left my city behind and followed tombstones to read the story, I resolved the mystery of the dead language; forgive me. For I have not called your name and put salt and oregano to your soup, I was stuck in my brain, focused on achievement and I left my little girl alone in mud, for I have failed to know what motherlessness was. My daughter without a pair of breasts, or milk, and her barn-smelling hair.
I arrive at a plateau where treetops crossed to form a ceiling-like braid. The forest is quite enough to hear snails running away from my feet. No wind, no hiss. Nothing from my dreams, either. But I know something passed my face. Something washing away my eyebrows, eyelashes. My nose, the same smell of him with his shirt stuck to his back. I sense the glowing essence gliding down his armpits. I turn around, my eyes my ears my tongue closed. I don’t put my hands forward, trees could try to stop me as much as they wanted.He is of more value than my face, I didn’t know my face. After tiny puppet steps, my nose touches his hair. Mad curly, even madder than the forest around us. He is angry and seems stuck where he stands. He can reach and grab me even. I only know the smell of his upper body, his hair made me confused. An essence bursting out of hair, tail, until he crashed me down.
If only I opened my eyes, it would be my dad, I knew. With his shadow on the paper, almost lying on the couch.
I stop the tremble of my eyelashes, open them wide and see him clearly. He is holding a bunch of papers, his eyes have lost their whites, dark, the color of the void, shiny. His hairless chest that I had never seen naked before is literally glowing in the moonbeam, penetrating even through thick layer of trees. I see the lines of his body, arcing belly as clear as the milk I drank growing up. If he didn’t have enhaloing groups of hair going up from his crotch, if my dad weren’t standing on his four feet under his two arms, I would say that I was in my dreams again, playing with my handmade babies. I ache under the weight of the unique hooves crushing my back to the ground. I rub my eyes, it isn’t a dream. He had told me before, the form he took, but he didn’t give much detail about how he was sucked into it. He is standing in front of me with his four feet and two arms, and I, behind a dry tree trunk, am trying to understand.
He hears and looks towards me, his feet clacking, no shoes on.
“You thought me.” I say. “I know what you’re called.”
He laughs and when he does, the trees laugh, too. The darkness laughs. He drops the papers on my head, says they aren’t necessary anymore. He tells me why he left me in my bed and came here since we had moved to the east side of the mountain, and that he had listened to the gods from the forest that hid them. Not just Zeus, but how he chattered with Kul Tigin, went to the lake nearby and wrote the inscriptions together, how he didn’t have his own god, and really saw a siren. That he saw the water called sea beyond the lands he traveled daily, on foot but as fast as the wind. That he was afraid of my face touching his, and me turning into a fish and swimming away. That he saw a rose on its branch in layered gardens of the sky, and that he couldn’t take it from the snake, bring it to me. He told me how he raped Hera, how Eve was his fifth generation descendant, I saw it, me, I saw Cain. How the rose stayed in him for all time and how he stuck it to his forehead. Past and present, from his companionship with Pan to how he lay on my mother in this very forest and killed her with his limb he put inside her. All.
“Then she gave me you. Spare her from two legs, go, wish it from anyone, she said. I ran the world with you wrapped around my hip. My arrow did the talking when it was necessary. My moon always returned to me. I made you two armed and two legged, but I couldn’t take your nodulation into account.
Centaur. My dad. The one who showed me how to let myself into the soil, to turn into nail and hoof where the trees intertwined, calmly. He showed me how to bore a bison out of a tree, a deer from a bison, and get along with them all. The one who patched my tongue with every language he knew from that of Zeus to Tengri, and kicked me far, far away when he was just about to wrap his tail around my head.
We had a house in the east of the mountain, where we didn’t check clocks but chased one another’s shadow. I was the one who stood up and got burnt, the one without a mother, deprived of her breasts; my flesh was widened with the sharp milk of goats and my height touched the last layer of the sky that it could touch. My dad, without a woman, alone by the Orkhon River, looking to find hope in Selenege, his house at the other side of the mountain, a house without my mom in it. He was strong, but old. In a village outside Karakorum, he had spent everything that the monthly bourse could buy to make me a garden. It was his strongest desire to render his life, which he devoted to legends, gods and magical lands immortal with a great work, and dedicate it to me. That was the sole reason why he did not not speak a word to me until I turned thirteen and nearly broke all of my bones. Forgetting even to eat, my mud-centric diet. If it weren’t for Ulaina, then perhaps we wouldn’t have known anyone but ourselves, drunk the water of an adjacent village. She was the salt in the soup, the one who made us remember how it tasted. I have believed to this day that it was her spells that put me up on my feet after that baleful accident. She kept reminding me of the last day when I saw my father, but although I didn’t tell her; I remembered so much more.
Before tucking me in and leaving that night, my dad had said to me: Bear. The only way to exit me, is for you to give birth to those who thrust upon you, hit you on the neck and take your foot, pour dust on your bones, call your name from afar, write your age on stone. That’s how you will be freed. It wouldn’t make any difference if I had said I didn’t want to be freed. My lips, my hands were standing still. He looked as if he were itching, he snuck his head under his right armpit and bit his shirt. You’ll hear so many more things, and people. Read my papers, follow my path, I won’t last.I got carried away by another voice, my feet got cold and the river is frozen and I’m walking on it. I trust Ulaina with your flesh, and I have your bones, I’m at your heels, my heart beats in your tendon, it will, and all is for you to think of me when you stumble. You were born at the otherside of the mountain, your mother is taiga, don’t ask for more, she took you out and got in you.”
I couldn’t get used to people. I was dark, I could only rest in Ulaina’s tent, which I reached after long walks, after long flights. I had a lot going on. I was the fortress of a core team travelling worldwide for the research of the university. I was stuck in Istanbul, and Copenhagen for a long time. I observed long-term excavations in Peru and Chile. While I got lost in thousands of papers I thought about my father, he was like me I said to myself, That’s how he buried his head in letters he spent nights to figure out. While I left fancy hotel rooms with my faceprint on pillows, I ignored the indented swelling behind it.
I couldn’t express myself in my language. I turned to the past, a familiar alphabet, as if the geography were the harbinger of a news already infused to my blood. I was asked to solve the inscriptions that were written near me during my childhood. I accepted without reading the terms. I signed up for walks after car rides to our destination, passing wild meadows deep in taigas, the two years that we would spend in a tent that took us. I returned to the lands where I grew up, fifty years later, to track down my father’s work.
I walked to read what was read already, to discover once more what remained after the horse, and the goat. I brought my cleft spine and crooked groins with me. My broken collarbone tilting to my pelvis, my breast hanging almost over my knees, I walked. The door of the tent when I arrived to was painted with alizarin crimson. The years of the past scratched my wounds, it couldn’t be possible. I opened the wail.
Ulaina was cooking the lumpy flour for her soup.
I sought her eyes and said: “I read it all. But I failed to bear as it should have been done, what came out was twisted, broken, I bent over and strangled it.”
Illıustration: Anjo Bolarda
“Other Side of the Mountain” is originally published by Mistake House Magazine, 2019 issue.
Translator: Eylul Doganay