"Interior with Dining Table and
By Anjali Arora
When there was no more to say, they
listened to the swishing of cars. They lived on the first floor of the apartment building.
The highway ran outside the front windows, separated from them only by a metal railing, a
narrow side street, the sidewalk and a hedge. At two in the morning, the sound was still
there, softer, but there. That's why the rent was so low for such a large apartment.
Reuben complained he couldn't concentrate. She, however, found the continuous traffic
sounds a soothing background to her daily routine.
Once, the entire highway was repaved. For two months, the only daytime sounds were of
tractors, heavy earth-moving machinery, and the shouts of the workmen. Seeing the yellow
machinery and the brown clods of earth through the sheer curtains gave Iris the illusion
of living in the country, which she had always wanted to do. It drove Reuben to
distraction. These sounds would not fade into the background, and when he was home between
classes, he could not concentrate at all. Instead, he found fault with her and everything
she did. Not that he hadn't before, but now she was subjected to a constant barrage of
criticisms--about her hair, her cooking and her slovenliness. He even accused her of using
his razor, even though she showed him that she had her own on the edge of the tub.
His tirades extended both in length and in scope. She decided she could not live with him
anymore. One day, she packed a suitcase with which she appeared in the livingroom. He was
sitting at his desk. The noise at the moment was of one man yelling instructions to
another over the sound of an earth-leveling machine. Reuben sat with his elbows on the
desk, his head in his hands which were clasped tightly over his ears.
"Reuben, I'm leaving." No answer. "Reuben! I'm leaving!"
He looked up, wide-eyed, his mouth open, elbows still on the desk, hands in mid-air.
"Reuben, I'm leaving."
"Whatever for? I mean, what's gotten into you? How can you just get up and leave?
What's happened? Sit down here and talk to me. Tell me what's going on."
"Reuben, I'm leaving." She stood in the same spot, a suitcase held in her hand.
Reuben got up and stood facing her, on the side away from the suitcase. He looked into her
eyes, and said, "I don't understand. You just decide you've had enough? Don't you
think I feel that way, too? Do you see me leaving? I've had it up to here, as a matter of
fact. But do you see me packing a suitcase, without any warning, and telling you that I'm
leaving? What is the matter with you? Here we are. I've got work to do. I'm having a hard
enough time with all this noise outside, and then you come in--as if this whole situation
weren't bad enough--and say you're leaving. Why? Why now? We've lived together for three
years. Why now?"
She stood in the same place, quite still, looking over his left shoulder to a spot outside
the window where the earth mover was sitting still. It must be twelve, she thought. That's
why everything's stopped. The workmen usually eat lunch in the underpass nearby, out of
the hot sun. Reuben has a very loud voice, she thought. There's no reason for me to stay
here to listen to it anymore.
"Reuben, I'm leaving," she said again and her eyes flickered toward him and back
to the yellow machine standing in the dirt.
"Wait! Iris! You just can't do this! You know, I have my thesis defense next week. I
simply can't have you leaving like this. Stay. We'll go out tonight. OK?"
She turned without looking at him, without saying another word, and walked away from him
out of the livingroom, through the foyer, and out the apartment door.
"Wait! Iris! No! You can't do this! Iris! When are you coming back?! Where are you
going?! Iris!!" She gently closed the front door behind her. He opened it, yelling,
"Iris!" and then immediately lowered his voice to a hissing whisper when he
heard it echo in the uncarpeted hallway. "Iris, please. Come. We'll talk about this
over a drink. Come on. Come back in." He held the door in one hand, gestured, palm
up, with his other. His white shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, his collar was
unbuttoned. She didn't want to look at him.
As she walked out the front door of the apartment building, she turned and said,
"Don't forget to water the plants." She knew that he wouldn't come further than
the door, because he didn't have his keys in his pocket. Her heels clicked and echoed on
the hexagonal tiles of the courtyard. She looked up at the four-story building and
thought, what a fine place, like a medieval fortress. Outside, she stood on the sidewalk,
holding her suitcase. Where to go now, she thought.
"Iris! Please! Be reasonable! Please! Come and talk to me. Come back in here!"
He was leaning out of the livingroom window. She was surprised to hear his voice. She
thought she had left him behind. She was impelled forward, away from him, by the sound of
his entreaties. Because she was facing the torn up highway, she moved in that direction.
"Iris!! Come back here!! Talk to me!! Please!!"
She turned to look back at him. His face was red. Above him, a woman was leaning out of
her window, looking down at him. When he saw Iris look up, he did so also, then withdrew
into the apartment closing the window with a rattle of glass. He's going to get his keys
and come after me. She had to get out of sight. She was standing by the metal fence
between the side road and the highway. Putting her suitcase on the other side of the
barrier, she climbed over the railing, picked up her suitcase and looked around for the
nearest hiding place. He'd never look in the underpass.
The sun was so bright that she could not see the workmen in the darkness of the tunnel.
But she knew they were there. She heard them, catcalls and kissing sounds and "Hey,
baby, got something for me? I got something for you." Entering the shade of the
tunnel, she saw several men get up and slowly walk toward her. As her eyes accommodated to
the dark, she saw that others were still sitting and eating. She made no move to leave,
but stood there, just inside the shadow of the tunnel, holding her suitcase. Good that she
was wearing her low heels, she thought. High heels would be impossible here on this uneven
"Iris!! Iris!!!" Reuben was out there yelling for her.
She had to hide. No. She'd just keep walking until she came out at the other side and then
he wouldn't be able to see her anymore. She began to walk. The men who had come toward
her, fell back and made an aisle. The ones who were sitting continued their lewd comments.
They weren't close enough to see her face. As she walked, she gradually heard the voices
recede behind her until all the raucous sounds stopped. Reuben's calling was still faintly
audible, and she could hear the crunching of dirt and gravel under her shoes. It was cool
here and she decided to rest. She had been carrying her suitcase for quite a while.
Putting it down, she sat on it, straight-backed, knees together, hands folded in her lap.
She was about half-way through the tunnel and she could now see the arch at the other end
past a slight curve. The archway framed a hot white light, and she wasn't close enough to
tell what was out there. Now she couldn't hear Reuben calling anymore. She heard the sound
of the machines begin again. Something moved over on her left. What was it? There, again.
She couldn't hear anything, but saw movements here and there. Just look at one spot. Oh!
It's a rat! What a big rat! There must be lots of them here. She was not afraid of rats,
but rather felt that her presence was an intrusion. Picking up her suitcase, she walked
She could see graffiti on the arched walls of the tunnel. Many names. How nice to believe
that your name in itself is deserving of being the subject for a work of art. Further on,
she saw a large stylized drawing of a disembodied, erect penis with testicles hanging from
it. The penis pointed to an almost anatomically correct drawing of a vulva done in white
spray paint. The inevitable droplets of spray on either side of each line, suggested mossy
hair. The vulva had a crown of curly pubic hair. A bright red, longitudinal line ran down
the middle of the oval outline, almost bisecting it. At the bottom was a little circle to
indicate the anus, but there was no mark of any kind to show the clitoris. No clitoris.
Underneath was written DORA-564-1258, in red. This couldn't be a drawing by a woman,
because of the anatomical inaccuracy. Was it an advertisement of sorts?
Further on, almost at the end of the tunnel were the most beautifully executed balloon
letters. They were at least six feet high, white, and edged in black spray paint. The
shading was so carefully done that the letters looked air-brushed. MUNRO 17. The letters
started almost at ground level, and the tops curved high over her head. Next to MUNRO 17,
was an empty space. Iris looked in her pocketbook for something to draw with. A pen,
eyeliner, lipstick. No good. She tried to remember where she would be when she came out of
the tunnel. I'm sure they have a paint store or a hardware store somewhere around here,
The sun was blinding and she blinked rapidly, then squinted and finally put her hand up to
shade her eyes. A shopping area, she judged by the numbers of women with baby carriages
and strollers, each with at least one brown paper bag of what she assumed were groceries.
Several women stopped and looked at her. She was standing in the middle of the torn-up
road, holding her suitcase in one hand, shading her eyes with the other and turning first
one way and then the other. She walked to the metal railing, put her suitcase down on the
other side, climbed over, and addressing the growing group of women, said, "Could you
please tell me where I can buy some spray paint?" The women stared at her and then at
one another silently.
A boy of about ten spoke up and said, "Sure, lady. Right over there at Nelson's, the
hardware store there. What're you gonna do with it? Make some graffiti?" and he
When she came out with her purchase, she was smiling for the first time that day. Brown
paper bag in one hand, suitcase in the other, she walked back to the railing, climbed over
and went back into the tunnel. Got to find a good spot, she thought. She looked around,
walked further into the tunnel, and found a blank space that was just about the right
size. She wished she had something to climb up on, so that she could make hers very big.
She could pile up a lot of dirt and stand on that, if she had a shovel. She took out the
two cans of spray paint and read the fine print with difficulty in the dim light. She
shook one can till the little ball inside echoed in the tunnel. Then she began.
With a wide sweeping gesture, she made a bright pink line. Two cans would not go very far.
She would not be able to color in her piece. "Well," she said out loud,
"I'll just do the outline first." Her voice echoed and she looked around. No
one. Continuing the line, she drew it about three feet long, then rounded a corner, one
half foot across, and up another three feet, and again round the corners, until the end
met the beginning. It was a perfect oval. Then she drew in a long line along the inside of
the oval, but not touching the outer line. Then two more, slightly shorter lines on either
side of that, and then two unequal circles at either end between the midline and the
boundary of the oval. The smaller top circle, she filled in so that it was completely
pink. None of the paint ran. Her application of it had been perfect. Satisfied, she shook
the other can and with shiny block letters she signed her name somewhat to the right and
below the drawing. IRIS. Underneath that, she added her telephone number.
She was pleased. She stepped back to look at it. Her arm was tired. She walked further
back into the tunnel and tried to see it as if for the first time. Something else was
required. She started to spray again, a long, thick arrow, starting about four yards from
the drawing. From the darkness into the light, she thought, as she completed the point a
few inches from her drawing. Now, it's done. She heard a sound and located it near the
entrance to the tunnel. The boy who had told her where to buy the paint was standing just
outside the tunnel.
"Little boy!" she called.
He stuck his head into the darkness of the tunnel. "Yeah?"
"Come here, will you please?"
"What d'you want?" He walked cautiously toward her. Then, looking at her
drawing, he shouted triumphantly, "You did want it for graffiti. I knew it! Never
seen a girl do it, though." He looked at it thoughtfully, one hand holding his chin.
"Hey! It's pretty good, for a dirty picture."
"It's not dirty. A woman's genitalia are never dirty."
The boy looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He was almost as tall as she. A big
boy for ten, she thought.
"How old are you?"
"I'm eleven," he said and pulled himself up to his full height. He is as tall as
I am, she thought, looking him in the eyes. He looked at her curiously. "Hey, lady.
You do this a lot?"
"No, never. That is to say, this is my first time."
"What made you do it now?"
"I wanted to."
She smiled a wide smile, feeling the simplicity of her answer. How good it felt to have
"Hey, lady. Are you crazy?" he said, lowering his voice conspiratorially,
bringing his head closer to hers and squinting as though to see her more clearly.
She stopped smiling, and thought it over. Am I crazy? She considered. She thought of
Reuben. Could be. Would I know it?
"I don't know," she said, puzzled.
She sat down on her suitcase and looked at the ground. She thought of the razor she had
packed in her suitcase. She had even shown Reuben the accumulation of hair and soap on the
underside of the blade. She remembered the boy's presence, and moved over slightly on the
"There's room enough for you to sit, too," she said, glancing down at the space
and patting it with her hand.
"Okay." And he sat.
They faced her drawing as though they were spectators in a theater. Iris would not have
been surprised if the lines had started to move, if the labia she had drawn moved further
apart, to bow, to arch away from one another.
"Hey, lady. Why are you so quiet?"
"I'm thinking of my drawing."
"You mean your graffiti."
"My graffito. It's an Italian word. Singular is graffito, plural, graffiti."
"What you saying? Never heard of it. It's a grafiti."
"No. graffito. This is one graffito. There are many graffiti in this tunnel."
"Aw, you sound like a school teacher, lady. I'll bet you're a teacher. Right?"
"No. I'm a housewife."
They sat there, side by side, his right arm pressed against her left, looking at her
drawing. After a long time, during which she thought about the accuracy of her anatomical
representation, she said, "I should have done this a long time ago. It's a very
beautiful and freeing thing to do."
"You know, lady, it's against the law. Like if they catch you, you'll go to
jail." Dreamily, she looked at her drawing. "Hey, lady, you know they'll put you
in jail if they catch you. Did you know that?"
Sighing, she said, "I suppose I did." In an angry voice she added, "But it
shouldn't be against the law!"
With that, she rose abruptly, and turned towards the boy. He almost lost his balance as
she rose, and he stood also. Then she stuck her right hand out toward him. He stood there
puzzled, looking at her hand, then realized that she wanted to shake hands. They did.
She said, "It's been a pleasure. Perhaps we shall meet again some day."
"Likewise," he said, mirroring her formal tone, and added, "Do you think
you just might be a little crazy?"
"Maybe I am," she said, smiling at him.
With that, she picked up her suitcase and walked back into the darkness of the tunnel.
This story, "Iris
Leaves," was written quite a few years ago and before I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Since that time, I've been able to write very little. But I have gotten things published
and, thanks to the editors of Moondance, this story is finally out! To get links and lists
of my work and what I've done since, you can check out the following URLs: http://www.webgrrls.com/eva/,
(stories, bio), http://wwcoco.com/cfids/esgraphics.html (graphics).