He was dreading going home. Few things were motivating Soren to get out of bed in the morning. But his job was important, so he felt the urge to get up earlier than he could have, just so he could spend an hour and a half in front of the mirror making sure he looked good. Not only good but flawless. He held a job far above what he would normally be able to get as a foreigner, especially an uneducated foreigner. Therefore, he had to dress as if he belonged. Unlike in Russia, this was a place where money talked. Anyone could get rich in Persia, regardless of where they started. Anyone could become a citizen, regardless of where they were from, and once citizenship and wealth were acquired, it didn’t matter so much if he wasn’t a native. Most people accepted a man who held prestige and wealth, save for the upper echelon, members of the royal family, and hardline traditionalists.
More likely than not, Soren was going to end up right where he started; in a tiny house on a large mountain. But he could dream he was going to end up in one of those enormous elaborate mansions of the higher-ranked courtiers much easier in Persia than he could in Russia. The system pumped out enough rags to riches success stories every ten years or so to make the dream reality.
The house was a mess; if one could call it a house. Sunny and Soren lived in a small two-bedroom house along the sixteenth lot of the Russian Settlement near Pasargadae. Sunny, Sunniva, and he met not long after he arrived. They married a few months later, then came Aesir the next year. Now four, Aesir was tall for her age. She inherited her mother’s sparkling eyes, but her hair was a much darker blonde than Sunny’s platinum. Aesir inherited that from him, as well as his slight ability to tan if the sun shone just long enough during the day. His mother moved in with them after his youngest sister left home when she could finally leave their father. The help was much appreciated, especially with his long stints away from home and Sunny’s slow descent into addiction.
Essentially, each lot was built on the side of one tier on the side of the mountain. This Lot in particular possessed a total of twenty-five, but in some places, there were as many as sixty. Usually, it took him an hour to take the lift down the mountain since the glass boxcar stopped at all thirty tiers on the way down. Then it took him another hour to drive to work at the Palace. The commute was far too long for him to live outside the city, so he moved into an apartment inside the second city.
The apartments were even smaller, with only one bedroom, a small bathroom and a half, and a room that only separated the kitchen from the living area with a wall that jutted out between the two. There was no way he could live there with his mother, wife, and small child. So he stayed at the apartment during the week, only coming home on the weekends.
Tonight was one of those nights. It was around eleven in the evening before he was able to make it to his humble stone house nestled deep among the hundreds of others. Standing at the wooden door, he readjusted his ponytail and stepped inside after taking a deep breath of confidence, exhaling any remaining tension in his broad shoulders he could. He was greeted by an uplifting but concerning sight. Aesir was lying on the floor on her stomach in front of the television. She paid no attention to the snowy screen displaying whatever Late Night show was usually on, as she was preoccupied with the open coloring book she was scribbling into.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, stepping into the dark room whose only illumination came from the television, the unnatural light casting a shadow on her. Aesir jumped to her feet, the crayon she held falling out of her hand. She ran to him, embracing him by the leg and looking up at him with excitement in her eyes, “Daddy! You’re home!”
“Ace, sweetheart, what are you doing up? It’s almost midnight, you should be in bed.”
Ren bent down to pick her up, noticing his mother was asleep on the couch. Sunny was nowhere to be seen.
“Nana and I were waiting up for you.” she explained with energy, “But she fell asleep.”
“I can see that.” he chuckled, as she rested her head on his shoulder, her tiny arms around his neck. “Where’s your mother?”
Either out of pure coincidence or because she heard her name, Sunny slammed open the door to the bedroom, a few feet to his right. She came stumbling out. Her hair was a bedraggled mess, held up by half a ponytail, and a contortion of tangles. The jeans she wore were old, torn to shreds, held up by a belt since they would no longer fit tightly. Equally as ragged, was her sweatshirt she wore despite the fact it was summer. By now his mother was awake; she rushed over to him and he took the signal to hand off Aesir.
“You’re finally home.” Sunny mumbled with a hint of sarcasm behind her voice.
He waited until he heard his mother close the front door behind him to respond. They were safely outside now, and hopefully, Aesir would hear very little of what was about to happen. Almost tripping over the recliner, Sunny made her way past him. “Well? What do you want?”
She plopped down on the couch, not really looking at him but staring straight ahead of her. He sighed, moving to block her view of the television. But it wasn’t the T.V. at which she was staring because she was still looking in that direction, except now straight through him.
“Sunny, I know you’re high.”
“I’m not high.”
“What day is it?”
“I don’t know, fucking Wednesday?”
He ran his hand through his hair, rubbing the back of his neck, his voice only able to sound exasperated instead of angry. “It’s a weekend, you know I don’t come home until Friday…”
“Yeah, you don’t.” she sneered
“We’re not starting this again. Okay?” he offered and started to walk past her, “I’m exhausted and I just want to go to bed.”
“You’re always exhausted.”
Soren stopped, he’d only made it halfway to the bedroom door. He turned to face her again, his frustration now fueling him, overriding his exhaustion.
“No shit, I’m always working! Someone has to keep the lights on in this place!.”
“I’m taking care of our daughter!”
“Bullshit, all you do is shoot up and lay in front of the TV.” he raised his arm to gesture towards the door where his mother was on the other side waiting to bring Aesir back in.
“My mother is the one who has to get Aesir up in the morning, my mother takes her to school, she watches her, and she’s the one who tucks her in at night when I’m not here!”
“If I’m so terrible, then why don’t you go ahead and leave!?”
“Because it’s my house!”
He spoke louder than he meant to, now more ashamed than angry. Both of them stared at the other, in a stalemate. She stood with her arms crossed, expectantly as if he hadn’t made his last point. Soren shook his head, “Fine. Even though this is my house, I’ll leave.”
He stormed over to the main bedroom, slamming the door behind him causing a few framed photos hanging on the wall to shake. By now he guessed the entire neighborhood was awake listening in. But he was past the point where he cared about that sort of thing. He went to the closet, sliding it open, but not before jiggling it loose from the track it always got stuck on. Sunny once again was out to obsessively outdo him in dramatics, flinging open the door and stomping in. Reaching for a duffel bag on the top shelf, he ignored her as if she wasn’t there.
“Great. Perfect. Leave, like your father. I just hope to Odin you didn’t touch Aesir.”
He paused, he could almost see the knot form in the pit of his stomach, tied tight like a thread in the eye of a needle. It was one thing to compare him to his father by accusing him of abandoning them, it was quite another thing to lay such a disgusting accusation against him. She knew it was one of his biggest fears, she found the chink in his armor and stuck the knife straight in. He swallowed his pride and his pain and continued to grab what he could, squeezing past the tight fit between the drawer and the bed, taking items from his drawer, the closet, and the floor – shirts, underwear, socks – to stuff into his bag. When he was done, he zipped the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Making his way out, he stopped by Sunny who was standing by the doorway. Looking her straight in the eyes, he snorted, “I hope you die on the toilet with a needle in your arm.”
With that, he stormed out of the house.
Soren sat on the ledge of what was the edge of his so-called front yard. The purple-gray of dawn was slowly approaching, dragging the sun eastward with it. From this vantage point, Soren could see the entire city. Much like his own little corner of the world, the city was a sprawling heavily populated rock carved into an inhabitable series of tiers encircling the mountain, except set on several platforms. It was also more cultivated with plant life, newer buildings, and better transportation. At the top sat the inner part of Persepolis, the so-called ‘Royal DIstrict’ where the royal family lived in their mansions and palaces, surrounded by five-star restaurants, hotels, and shops, glass and gold, riches that would make Midas jealous. Such a place was where he lived during the week, only like a kid near a stove patiently watching as his mother made cookies for the bake sale, he wasn’t allowed to touch any of it.
This week, King Sephr traveled to Rome, so Ren was assigned to the entourage charged with escorting the Queen Mother Roshanak about Susa. Most of the time she spent attending fancy dinners and complaining about Princess Zilia. He was certain his mother would’ve traded her drug-addled daughter-in-law for the Queen’s slightly antagonistic one.
He wondered if King Sephr, or anyone in the royal family, ever thought about how their people lived. Technically, he was not one of their subjects but all the same he still inhabited the lands within the Persians borders. He sought refuge in the Empire, didn’t the leaders have a responsibility, if not to him, but the most vulnerable like his mother, or Aesir? He may have been doing the best to abilities to provide for them, but he was only one man in the undulating sea of millions doing the same for their family, fighting over a supposedly limited supply of resources.
The ground he sat on was littered with broken glass and Pall Malls. The smell of Pall Malls made Ren Sick, which was the odor lingering in the air; the ground littered with empty beer bottles and cigarette butts. Those were the type of cigarettes his dad smoked, and because he was a trucker with a 3 pack a day habit, the smell of it inescapable. If Soren never smelled another cigarette in his life, he would consider it a gift. Hearing certain deep throaty laughs, hearing the engine of a car backfire, The rotary phone was an old fixture of the house. He would stare at the phone, like the clicking of each move of the pendulum he decided to figure out how to rat his father out for his despicable deeds.
He wasn’t sure how long he was sitting there before his mother came to join him. But when she did, she snapped him out of his daze. She was a thin woman, her waist-long white hair blew ever so lightly with the breeze. At one time she had been beautiful. And she still was, her blue-grey eyes still sparkled, and her pale skin relatively clear of wrinkles. But most people only looked at her and saw an old woman, as society is wont to do to all women past a certain age.
Soren grabbed a handful of rocks, letting them slip through his fingers one by one. For a few minutes they sat in silence before he turned to her, “Mom, I screwed up.”
“You fell in love with the wrong woman, it happens.” she shrugged with the comforting wisdom only a mother could offer. It was the motherly reassurance he made no mistake, he just made a slight error in judgment which could be rectified.
“She accused me of…” he started, but couldn’t find the strength to finish his sentence. But he didn’t care to, she was well aware of what he insinuated.
“Mom, you know I would never hurt my little girl.”
Soren looked down at the dirt, and grabbed another handful of rocks, “What should I do? Should I try to take Aesir with me? Or is she better off here?”
“I can’t tell you that. This is a decision you need to make on your own.”