Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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Niloufar's Friends

by Amalita Kriyodhi

When the aroma of spicy nutmeg exited Niloufar's room, I entered it. My sweet peanut had ridden to Lucerne with the high school chess team a few hours before.

Papers littered my sweet peanut's floor, covering up the lush scarlet carpet Mitra had fussed over. Our daughter refused to discard the many pink gum wrappers, white school handouts and blue party flyers that gathered dust.

A mini-oven released the nutmeg smell. I smiled, remembering how this expensive birthday gift had captivated Niloufar.

I blinked. Beneath the oven lay red carpet. Next to the oven a table came up to my knee. Four dolls sat at the table, each dressed in puffy white nightgowns. They turned their faces, or rather their plastic heads, to me.

My foot kicked colored English syllabi. "I want to talk to you," I spoke.

Their expressions, mere paint, did not change.

"A few days ago," I began, "I found this in the bathroom." From my jacket pocket I produced a book titled Ancient Curses for Modern Times. A library book dated from 1954. "There's a chapter titled 'Giving Sentient Life to Enhance A Curse's Power', specifically saying that sentient life can disappear if the bodies are burned."

One carrot-head doll picked up a blue teacup with daisies. Her feet stabbed the ground as she arose and stomped towards me.

I laughed. "Don't worry; no one can burn you. You're made of indestructible plastic."

She stopped. Brown waves churned within the blue cup.

"I'm serious," I met its unmoving eyes. "You're designed to outlive me. That's why I need to talk to you." I smiled as I remembered when I had given this quartet to my daughter when she was seven -- and how she had refused to throw them away when she turned eleven. "A few days ago Adele Castor, Niloufar's best friend, came down with a burning yeast infection. Niloufar told me that Adele had betrayed her." I let the smile stretch into a frown. "As her father I need to know the details. Tell me what happened."

The carrot-head doll lowered her head. She lifted her left foot and let it drop as if it were baseball from a skyscraper roof.

The tea swirled. I bent forward. Niloufar, tea-brown from head to toe and wobbling a little, appeared. If someone could make a photograph out of chocolate and then shrink it to palm-size, they would capture the same depiction. "I'd do anything for you, Adele. You're my best friend," she spoke with false cheer, chewing on her lip.

Adele leaned in, frowning and clenching her fists. "I never said I was your friend. I hung out with you because I felt sorry for you. I have to think about myself now."

Shock crossed my sweet peanut's face. "What?"

Adele turned around. "Find someone else to latch onto."

Niloufar's body quivered. Twin tears descended. Her feet pattered against an invisible wooden walkway; sobs flooded my ears. Adele did not move.

The image faded. Brown tea splashed against the cup's sides.

I leaned forward into the doll's face. "Don't let Niloufar do this to herself," I pleaded. "If she learns to hate people, she'll change."

The doll shook her head.

"You don't understand?" I bit my lips together. "Do you have a spell where you can read my mind?"

She nodded. Pointing at her companions, they walked forward. They formed a semi-circle position.

Images invaded my mind, of the guards who married the virgin prisoners before executing them, of the morality squads that hunted for make-up and loose veils. Their faces hardened and blurred until they all resembled one another

Something exploded. Red carpet filled my mouth. I coughed and spat, watching comrades on television confess to crimes they didn't commit, watching movie theaters burn down on charges of prostitution. Lead filled my arms, making me helpless to the squads that would raid bookshops for dirty literature.

Iran, I screamed to myself, IRAN! My home! Stop defiling my happy memories! Let me remember the Caspian Sea! Let me remember my childhood, spent skiing and sledding in the mountains! Let me remember my four years at university! Let me remember Mitra, her smile covering up grief for her brothers killed in combat- no, just let me remember Mitra, our marriage- don't let me forget the bootleg vodka at our wedding, the loud and tasteless Western music- wait, let me forget it, I want to be happy with my memories-

Please don't change, Niloufar, I whimpered, please don't become like those prison guards ... stay pure and innocent ... don't succumb to hatred.

The images faded. Wet red carpet lay in front of my mouth. Lead refused to leave my legs. "Please understand," I moaned.

Their heads dipped down before popping up like bubbles. The carrot-headed doll offered me her cup. I forced a hand to steady myself to a sitting up position. What had they done? I grasped the tiny handle, took a sip, and smiled. Chimney soot, but most people would make bitter chicken broth out of tealeaves and water.



I looked up from the computer. My boss's email would have to wait.

Niloufar's body trembled in the doorway, as if she were a vibrating cell phone. Clenched fists hung at her side. "What did you tell them?" she shrieked, her hands flying up. Her uncombed hair hung off every part of her face like inky tentacles.

I willed my body to become a marble statue. "I told your teachers that you would finish your homework on time."

She shook her head. "You know what I mean!" her voice gained an accusatory screech. "Why did you speak to them? Why were you in my room?"

I met her gaze. Angry concern replaced marble stoicism. "You think I would let you become a monster? You think I would let you compromise your soul?"

"My soul?" she laughed with cold shrieks. "Did Adele give a damn about her soul? Why should I care about mine?"

"Think about this," I told her sharply. "When Adele serves her time in purgatory, you may have to share it with her."

Her mirth faded into slow gasps. "They ... they called me evil, they called me sadistic. But how can they, when they helped me?" she broke down to a quavering whisper. Water gathered in her eyes.

"They're dolls, Niloufar. They did what you wanted."

"Hypocrites," she spat before stamping out.

I sighed and returned to the five-line message on my computer screen. It would take weeks, even months to help her forget those feelings, that infernal desire that hatred craved.

My wife, four indestructible plastic dolls, and I outnumbered my sweet peanut, and we cared about her. We perhaps could snuff her fury.


© 2008 Amalita Kriyodhi

Bio: Amalita Kriyodhi has been writing since fifth grade. (Not coincidentally, her mother had forbidden her to watch television starting in the fourth grade...). Her stories placed second in the 2005 and 2006 Miami Dade County Youth Fair writing competition, and first place in 2007. She has also had a story published in Alienskin Magazine in 2001 (at what must have been a remarkably young age!) She invites readers to visit her blog at A Faceless Author.

E-mail: Amalita Kriyodhi

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