From the Unsaid Archives: Tell, Don’t Tell By Ottessa Moshfegh (From Unsaid Seven)


My husband drives his taxi from five in the morning until six at night. I wake up before him to boil water for tea, lay out his clothes, make his bath. Then I go back to sleep. When it is light out I get up, cover myself as usual, say my prayers, eat my food. It is my job to keep the house clean and cook the dinner. That is easy. I don’t tell my husband it is easy. I tell him it is hard. I tell him how hard I scrub the floor, and how carefully I fold the laundry. But I do not scrub the floor so hard, and I fold the laundry very fast and carelessly. I am a smart woman. People can’t tell. It is easy to wash the dirty plates or put the chicken to cook. Many things are so easy. But I say it is so hard for me. My husband thinks I stay at home all day, maybe watching the television because I am so tired. I don’t do that. I am not stupid. I go out. I walk and talk to people. I see things. I look around. People think to be a woman is so difficult. I say it is easy. I have an easy life. I do what I want. God is very good.

On my block, beneath the subway that runs up high between the buildings, there is a big store full of chickens. They have so many kinds of chickens. It smells very bad there. I like it. I go there and think, why, God, have you so many different chickens? There are white chickens, red chickens, yellow and grey chickens. Each time I go I buy a different kind. Today I buy a black chicken. Its feet are very thick and red. The feathers look so oily, so shiny. The chicken’s face looks like a monkey face. I tell the woman which one I want. She opens the big cage and takes him by his legs. He is angry. His wings spread so far, almost as far as the woman is tall. She is taller than me. I am short in this country. But in my country I am tall. In my country people say I am very good looking. But here people don’t see me. I like it this way. I am easy to hide. I lift the corner of my black dress, I lift the corner of my hijab. I tell my friend, I go behind the curtain, like this. Many people say to kill the chicken in the store. But I like to kill it at home, myself, and sit by the window and pull the feathers out and look down on the street, at all the people.

There are so many different kinds of people, it makes me laugh. We are like the chickens. Fat and thin, big and small, this one with the face like a donkey, that one with arms like a rat. I put the chicken to cook. I put the oil in the pot and water and carrots and potatoes, onions and spices. I do not peel the carrots. That is too boring for me. My husband will eat the dirt on the carrots and say nothing. He does not taste very carefully. He is too tired at night from driving his taxi from here and there, and so many people saying go this way, now that way, and the cars blocking him, and angry people yelling and blowing their horns. He will not taste the dirt in the soup. Me, I like rice. I put the rice to cook with butter and salt and cover the pot with a cloth and then the lid, and I fix my hijab with pins in my hair and go out again.

There is one place I like to go and sit and talk with my friend. She works on the next street. Her work is so easy, so she can talk with me while she works. Women go to her to braid their hair or pluck their eyebrows or color their hair, those things. She is very good, my friend, since she is very smart and has strong hands. Whatever the women ask, do this, my friend will do, and still talk with me about things. We never talk about boring things, you know. She is a black, my friend. She holds her head like a lion, very proud. I like her. When I lost my child she said, don’t worry, you can have my child. I shook my head. Her child has something wrong with him. He lives with her on top of her shop, just playing games all day. He looks so stupid to me. I ask my friend, Is he reading books? Is he thinking something? She says no. He is only sitting and playing games. He smokes something, he eats candies. I tell my friend, you can keep your child. I will make another one. If I will be able. We laugh. We laugh because my husband is ugly. He is so ugly. He looks like an ugly cow. That’s alright. He works very hard. But sometimes I say to him, Wear my hijab. You are too ugly for me. We laugh together, me and my friend.

Today my friend has no customers in her shop. She tells me there is another woman in another shop who is stealing all the customers. I say that is very bad. I say, Let us hurt that other woman and burn her shop. My friend laughs. I laugh too. She is very smart. Oh well, she says. She pulls my hijab down. Oh no, I say. You will disturb my pins. She pulls the pins out and holds them in her mouth. She likes to brush my hair. It is soft and long and black. It is very nice. When my friend puts her hand on my head, to hold my hair down, her fingers come down on my face like this, and it feels very nice. I say to her, Thank you, thank you. That feels so nice.

We listen to music, just some love songs. We eat some cherries because it is nearly summer. Then a woman comes for her hair. But she looks strange to me. My friend gets up. My friend is very fat, so fat she gets stuck in the chair. But then she gets up. Hello? she says. Hello. The strange woman has a voice like a man. Then I remember sometimes men want to be like women. Have women’s hair and clothes. I think, this is one of the men playing games. I think, I do not like it. I fix my hijab. But my friend is very nice. Come this way, sit down, and so on. What can I do for you? she says just like she says to a woman, but this is not a woman. It is a different person. I think, why God, you have so many kinds? The person says, I need a new style, and my friend is so nice. I look at the person in the mirror to see its face. It has big lips and big eyes and wide and thick, bumpy brown skin and it’s ugly. That’s alright, I think, maybe it is a nice person. But I don’t know that. The hands are so big and ugly, and fingernails are so long and painted purple. Then I think, oh my God, and I look at the breasts. They have some paper in them, I think. They must have some paper napkins in there. The bra is showing through the shirt. I think of what is in there, the stuffing in the bra. Maybe it is garbage in there, I think. Maybe some dirty toilet paper. I reach under my hijab and feel my breasts. They are soft and warm. I smell like onions and spices. It is not very nice.

My friend is talking to the person. Then she takes her brush and is brushing its hair. I think, is it real hair? Man’s hair so long? I don’t know. The person says something, it says how life is hard, how it is hard to walk in these shoes. The person’s shoes are really terrible. They are plastic and orange with jewels. Not real jewels. And they are very big and high and they squeeze the person’s feet, which are a man’s feet, I think. The toenails are painted purple. It looks really terrible. Me, I am wearing black shoes made of cloth. I don’t care how I look on the outside. I am just hiding. It’s alright. I am free inside. Then my friend is saying, yes, life is so hard! And I feel mad and I say, No, life is so easy. I tell them, You are wrong. If your shoes are not good, change them, I say. Look, I say. I think I am being very nice. I am a woman, I wear these cloth shoes. Be easy, I say. Your shoes are very difficult, that’s not smart. You can buy these there, down the street. Only five dollars. I can take you. Okay, the person says. I’ll try on those shoes.

So I am happy. If I can do something nice for this person, maybe it will see how life is easy. You take the easy way, then you have a good time. Like I tell my husband, if the road is full, take another road, you will get there faster. And he says, You don’t understand anything. You’re a woman. You don’t know. I laugh. Because I know my husband. He is always taking the difficult road. His friends, the other taxi drivers, all they talk about is the roads that are difficult. They never say, Oh that road was so nice, oh that road was so fast, I love that road. It doesn’t matter. I don’t drive a taxi. So for me, I love all roads.

When my friend is finished with the person’s hair, it looks very nice. I say, How nice you look. Like a woman, I say. The person laughs. I feel the person doesn’t like me, or thinks I am stupid. Oh, I am not stupid, I say. I pull down my hijab and say, look at me, I am not a stupid woman. I turn my face. Okay, says the person. It says for me to relax, be comfortable. I pull my hijab back up. I don’t know, maybe this person is a bad man. Maybe it is a man who plays games, so he can play tricks. That is terrible. But the person looks all right. It looks strange, but it looks like a nice person, I think. It pays my friend and I say, I will take the person to buy the shoes, then I will come back to talk. Okay, says my friend. She is smiling, like I am acting funny. I don’t mind.

I go with the person on the street. It is very tall. I shake my head. The shoes are so terrible. It walks like a horse on two feet. I point down the road at the store that sells cloth shoes. They don’t speak English there. We walk together. The person has pants which show the bum in back. I can see the hair on the bum in back. The top of it. And in the front, there is nothing. Where is the penis? I ask. I am not shy. I say what I want. The penis, I say, where is it? The person says it is a secret. I say, But how? It says it is private. It puts it in the private place, it says. I shake my head. I do not believe it. I say, but where? The person says I am too curious. I am too nosey. But I am not too nosey. I say, Please, show me how. But first, buy the shoes. The person says nothing.

We go to the shop. Hello, I say to the man, waving my hands. Please, bring us these shoes, for this person. I point to my cloth shoes, and then to the person’s feet. The man shakes his head. I say, For this person, big ones. But they haven’t the big size the person needs for shoes. I say, I am sorry. The person says it doesn’t matter. I say, But now please, show me where you put it? The person says we must go someplace private. I say, Come to my home, I have soup. Do you like chicken? I say. The person says okay, so we walk that way to my house. I am thinking this is very good. Many people will not believe it. I will see the secret way. I think, God, thank you. Thank you, God.

In my home, it is very small. There is only one place to sit. On the bed. I say, Okay, first you sit, be my guest and have the chicken soup. I bring the table to the bed. The person is very big, so big I must bring the table away a little. It isn’t very comfortable. I am sorry, I say. Your legs are too big. My legs, my husband’s legs, they are small. So it is like that. The person tries to cross its legs. It bumps the table. See, I say to it, not very comfortable. I am sorry. I go to taste the soup. It is not finished cooking, but I take the broth and some chicken. I will not give the person the carrots with the dirt. That is not nice. I say, Please, try it. It doesn’t taste good, I say to be polite. The person must lean over to the table. It tastes the broth. It is too hot, I say. Blow on it. The person is so strange. I have never seen someone so ugly like this. It wears purple makeup on its face, on its eyes, and pink lipstick. Its skin is thick and bumpy and oily. I want to see it eat the soup. So I lean over and blow the soup. I think, this person could be my child. I could blow the soup for my child like this, this person. The person tastes the broth again. Thank you, it says. The voice is so strange. It makes me happy. It is like the bad smell in the chicken store. I like the strange things. When the person is done drinking the soup, it eats the potatoes. I say, Now please show me how you hide it.

The person says, I will show you, but you must pay me. I can’t believe it. I say, That is terrible. How can you ask for money, I say. But I want to see. I say, My husband will see the money gone, even a few dollars. I will have to tell. Tell, don’t tell, says the person. How much money? It says how much. Okay, I say. I say, please, close your eyes. Cover your eyes with your hands. I keep the money in the bag of onions below the sink. I take as many dollars. I watch the person hold up the big ugly hands. There is a ring on one finger. I say, Alright, here is your money. Now please, show me where you hide it. And the person stands and takes the money and carefully unbuttons its pants and pulls them down. I am watching very closely. I sit on the bed. I must hide my eyes a little behind my hijab. I am shy, I say. The person shows me what is down there. Pulls it from beneath his bum, bending his knees. You see now? it asks me. Yes, I say, I see. And then I feel very stupid. The penis is very small and thin and brown and wrinkled. I sit on the bed and watch it in the person’s hand. It smells like the bum. It is like an old snake. It is blind and weak like an old snake. I say, Oh, my God, I am sorry. It must make you very sad. The person says nothing, but I see its face and it is very sad. I like it very much.


The next day I go to see my friend at her shop. Still, she has no customers. I am very quiet. I sit and look through the window. I watch her sweep the floor. Then she asks me what did I do with that person yesterday. Did you find those shoes? I say no. No shoes. I am quiet. She asks have I ever seen a person like that before. I say no. It was the first time for me. She smiles. She is thinking something, I know. So I say, what are you thinking? She says, I think you liked that person. I say yes, I did. It was so interesting. I think that person is so sad, I say. But my friend says no. Those people aren’t sad. They do what they want, she says. Maybe she is right. I don’t know.

It is fine, it is nothing, I think. But then I think it is not fine, it is not nothing. I wonder what the person is doing now. I ask my friend, What do those people do? How do they get money? I say, Nobody would choose such a person for a job. Those people, they look terrible. My friend says the person yesterday has a special job. The job is to be someone’s friend. I think to say, Oh yes, I know about it. I think of yesterday, the person in my home, asking for money. But I cannot tell my friend about that. She is too boring. Well, I say, I need to make some money too. And that is true. I need to make back the money I gave to the person. My friend says, Anybody can make money. It only depends what you want to do. I say, I would do anything, it doesn’t matter. My friend says, Clean houses, care for other women’s children. She says, Go upstairs and use the computer. My child will help you to write an ad. It’s so easy. Alright, I’ll do it, I say. Although my friend’s child is so terrible. Every child is terrible, I think. I would never care for another woman’s child. But I could clean houses. That’s easy. Anybody can do that.

My friend takes me upstairs to her home where her child is playing games on the television. He is very fat and round and has eyes like a frog. He does not move his head, only his eyes. His head does not move from the television. Help this woman, says my friend. The child makes a face. Do it now, she says. The child throws something on the floor. He moves his head at last. When his head moves, his neck wrinkles like a turtle. And the carpet, the chair he sits on, all is so dirty and smelly. Help her write an ad, my friend says. On the computer.

The child is so fat, like my friend. So fat that he must bend over his knees and put his hands on the ground, then move his bum up to the edge of the couch, then put his hands on the edge of the couch, and push himself up. I can see his ears are so dirty and full of wax. I look at my friend. She does not make a face. I think, Better to have no child than one who doesn’t wash, who is so fat, so ugly. The child walks to the desk, where there is a computer. He sits in the chair. Then he turns his head. What do you want me to write, he says. And I am surprised because his voice does not sound stupid. It sounds very soft and careful. He looks at the computer and pushes the buttons. My friend says, Tell him what you want to say. Thank you, I say. Write that I am a smart and friendly woman who works so hard to clean dirty places. Write that I will do anything except be kind to children. And give my phone number. I tell him my phone number.

Give a name, says my friend. Okay, I think a while. Write my name is Sparkle. Because that is like sparkling clean. My real name has a strange sound. People here don’t like it. The child pushes all the buttons. He is smiling a little. Maybe he is not so dumb, but he is so strange. When he is done, he puts his hands on the edge of the desk and holds the desk, then he tries to lift his bum from the chair. He must push on the desk to lift his bum from the chair. Then he does it and moves the chair away and walks back to the couch and sits like an elephant splashing into water. But then he makes a noise. Hand me that please, he says and points to a thing on the floor. I go and pick it up. It is part of his game. He takes it from me and pushes the buttons and the game goes on.

I must go cook dinner, I tell my friend. She is in her kitchen, eating something. I have never been in her kitchen before. It is not so clean. There are cereals on the floor. My friend is pulling the refrigerator door and looking in. She takes a chocolate pudding from inside. Chocolate pudding? She asks me. No, thank you. I don’t like that kind of food, I say. I think I should tell her to clean her kitchen or tell her child to do something better. Take some fresh air or wash himself. But I am quiet. I will see you later, I say. And thank you. She puts her finger in the chocolate pudding and uses her long fingernail like a spoon. Her fingernails are like that person’s fingernails. They are plastic pieces stuck on. I look at my friend’s shoes. They are terrible, like the person’s. They are red plastic shoes, very shiny, and my friend’s foot is squeezing through the sides. I make my voice very soft and friendly. I ask, Why do you wear those shoes? Do you like them? I like them, says my friend. People like looking at them. So do I, she says. You like them? she asks me. Oh yes, I say. They are very good looking. I am lying. It is best to lie sometimes.

I like to lie to my husband. If he says, where did you buy the soap? I say, I bought it in the shop downstairs. But really I bought it down the road. Or why did you throw away my newspapers? I was not done reading them. Oh, I say, I spilled yogurt on them. I am so sorry. And when he says, Why must you sleep this way? I want to see your face sometimes. I say, It is because the bed is hard here. I pat the place on the bed between us. And it hurts my back. He is very pushy sometimes. He will say, I want you to sleep here, closer this way. I don’t believe the bed is hard where you say it is hard. I say, oh, alright, and I move myself closer, filling the space between us. And he can do what he wants then. And I stay in the spot, and he does what he wants. Sometimes it is really terrible. Sometimes I like it very much. And in the morning, I hold the chair with my hands. Oh, my god, I say, it hurts very much. And he says, What has happened? Are you ill? But I say, No, it is my back. It is almost broken from that hard place in the bed. And he is sorry, but he is also so angry that he can’t make me happy. And so I burn the rice, and I burn the special herbs which makes him cough. And I am angry too.

Sometimes I say, life is difficult. And always what happens? I lose my key, or someone pushes me in the road. You must be so careful what you say. Sometimes I am so angry, and I am thinking of the person, and I think I must change my life, I must go someplace different, I must leave all of this, I must fly away. So I must pray now and say how life is easy, oh, what a good life I have, and God help me not to boast too much for happiness. And then I feel good again. I go to pick another chicken. This one looks like a little cat, golden brown. I laugh at her terrible singing, hold her between my knees, and pass the afternoon while I twist her neck very slowly, just a little bit, a little bit more, and so on. I sit by the window. I look down at all the people.

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1 Response to From the Unsaid Archives: Tell, Don’t Tell By Ottessa Moshfegh (From Unsaid Seven)

  1. Pingback: Featured Bookmarks: The Literary | The Woven Tale Press

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