Story Shop 2014 – Mon 18th August

Marjorie Lotfi Gill

Marjorie has read at Story Shop 2014, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust’s daily showcase at the Edinburgh International Book Festival of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today. You can find the four stories she read on Mon 18th August 2014 below.

Short biography

Marjorie Lotfi Gill was born in New Orleans, spent part of her childhood in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution, and has since lived in San Diego, Washington DC, New York City and London before settling in Edinburgh in 2005. Her poems have been published by various journals, including Rattle and Mslexia, and are included in the current issues of Ambit and The North.

The Short Stories she read on the day

Working Too Late, New York City
a short story by Marjorie Lotfi Gill

Weeks of the hearse-like black car waiting outside on the curb at dawn, hearing her mother’s “this will be the death of you” whileshe showers and slides across the dark leather seats in a fresh suit, waiting for the usual middle-eastern driver to ask again why a woman with a surname name like hers is out so late, and so early. Mostly, the halogen lighting and jacket-on temperature of the office sets her body clock to nowhere, except when she looks through her own image to catch the sunrise flaring in the spokes of the Chrysler building across the street.  But when this deal is done, the markets closed, share certificates held by the right hands, signatures collected by fax or in ink, out of escrow and into manila folders she’s prepared for the purpose, she allows herself, for a change, to go home by subway.

As she descends into the windowless dark, the heat and grit slap her like a switch.  Her platform is almost empty, and when it comes, the number 4 is noiseless, rocks her standing body like a child’s playing at ship’s captain. She leaves the train under Union Square to transfer to her Brooklyn-bound Q, watches the bald eagle in the station plaque across the tracks hold its number, and look away. Somewhere out of sight a saxophone plays a tune she knows and doesn’t know. The glassy white tiles of the tunnel between stations bounce a neon light like sunshine around a blind bend where she stops, suddenly alone.

Above her, the Saturday hawkers proffer slivers of Red Delicious apples and split Concord grapes, while the checkered taxis, collared into gridlock, stall around the market’s outer edge.

(c) Marjorie Lotfi Gill, 2014

Waiting for the Marmalade to Set
a short story by Marjorie Lotfi Gill

One reviewer made her sound
like the kind of woman who ‘wrote a bit’
while waiting for the marmalade to set.”

The underside of the knuckle on her finger, having completed the rough work with the knife twenty minutes ago, has begun to swell. Her husband or daughter would never notice an injury like this one – not a cook in the pair – but she could pick out a woman who’d been chopping for jam or chutney by the marks

on the underside of her hands. As a girl, she’d read her mother’s fingers more than her schoolbooks, knew the chafing along the knuckle from peeling for marmalade, the swell under the index nail from coring early strawberries, the beetroot stain of a pound of soft summer raspberries.

She reaches for her notebook, set beside her mother’s red sugar tin (her mother had forgotten at the end, filled it with flour, salt, porridge), is careful not to budge the tins queuing in the pantry. She sighs at her need for order, raises her fingertips to her face, and for a minute, they are her mother’s hands, callused but raw, the warm citrus muslin she’d loved to hold against her own, younger, face; even into adulthood – just last year, just this time of year.

Could she have preserved these clementines instead (as she does the Amalfi lemons), packing them in sea salt, tiny white peppercorns, a single star of anise, the dark bay leaf, carrying the one year into the next?

She writes in the notebook, owls watching from its cover, printed for her by an old school friend, an architect with a hobby. The words finally come, good words, words she’s been sleeping with for days, breaking the sea surface after a long dive, the kind of words her readers use to stave off winter, hiding under their fat goose duvets. (Why don’t the poor read her books? Her agent doesn’t know.)

Later, when her publisher writes that these words are finely-wrought and carefully, even meticulously, disciplined she laughs out loud. Her marmalade hadn’t set; she’d had to start again.

(c) Marjorie Lotfi Gill, 2014

Immigration Officer
a short story by Marjorie Lotfi Gill

She was always the one who noticed the shape of the eyelash or the hard line of a jaw, the way the mouth slackened with disappointment at the end of a life. Twenty years and she can still draw every face in her kindergarten class, her grandmother’s drooping ears, so large she covered them with loops of grey hair pinned to the top of her head, and every boy she’s ever kissed.

She’s taught herself notto look when filling in forms, to glance at the ceiling, then down again, red strip lights repeating across her vision; this notion of land owned, and belonged to that holds her to this room isn’t hers.

Often, she hears the story while a child with no words balances on the knee before her. She tries to imagine each detail as a drop in the wave that begins as a single line across her bare notepad every morning; she adds to it until it becomes a swarming sea, cresting before her, spitting out woman after woman, as she studies the gapped forms, filling in boxes, refusing to look up until this woman stands to leave and another, waiting outside, walks in to take her place.

(c) Marjorie Lotfi Gill, 2014

Four boys from the same family (prose)
a short story by Marjorie Lotfi Gill

Four boys from the same family clamber along the rocks of a jetty, pretending they can walk on water, to check on family fishing nets stowed in a shack that balances on this man-made outcropping of stone. They stall for time, as ten year old boys (not allowed out in darkness, and lately, in daylight) do. The waves enlarge as they reach shore; no one suggests turning back.

Each scans the horizon for a familiar boat, and knows he won’t find one.  My father, one says, swears he won’t fish again. Another points, and like the child that he is, names what he sees: Israeli warship. Obviously, he adds.

Eight hands reach down for pebbles, which, on another shore they’d choose for shape, throw out to sea in the old game of who can skip most, survive longest out of water. Here, there is nothing beneath them but sand that sprinkles back into their eyes. One boy with only sisters thinks he will ask his father to demonstrate, again, how to throw like a boy.

When the nets beside him take flight, he watches their arc and thinks only of this small miracle: his yellow canary flapping mid-cage; resolves to set it free. By the time the nets hit water, three boys are running across the beach, not turning to look back, each now certain he can hear his mother calling from a doorway: come inside son, hurry, come home.

(c) Marjorie Lotfi Gill, 2014



Other places to find her stories

Her stories have appeared in various journals including Mslexia and the upcoming issues of Ambit and The North.

Next Story Shop:  Tue 19th Aug

 Helen Foster →