Joyland

Consulate |

Father Enver

by Ellen Rhudy

edited by Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

It was 1985, and Enver Hoxha had died that spring. Everyone in the village clamored for news from the capital and Alma began to have dreams of waking and finding herself in a new and better place. Through the summer, over the weeks before her wedding, she found any excuse to visit her friend Dita for coffee, to talk with her about all the things that still felt a step beyond possibility. Some evenings they stood in the stark summer light, looking down to the village where Alma would soon live. It was larger than their own and nestled deep in the valley. They could just make out the curve of smoke from its chimneys in winter; in summer, the black specks of men mounding hay into tremendous stacks set at perfect intervals across its shorn fields. “I’ll come there with you,” Dita said. “Next summer.” Alma held her friend’s hand so tight she thought it might break.

Her dowry was complete at the end of June and they set a wedding date for the start of August. An entire room, where Alma’s grandmother slept, was given over to suitcases of refurbished clothes, flat boxes packed with embroidered tablecloths and doilies, bras and underwear and socks. When her wedding parties began Alma felt only half-present: she wanted to know what her fiancé, Enver, was doing in the village below, what he was thinking, if he was thinking of her. It was hard to explain to Dita, who remained unengaged though she was a year older, what it felt like to be stepping into the main of her life.

The week of her wedding, Alma’s aunt came as the sun rose to paint her hands with henna and dip the fingers of Alma’s bridal party rust-red. After this Alma stayed alone, turning through the items of her dowry and thinking of what she was about to become. The next evening, her mother and aunt helped her bathe, dress in her wedding gown, array herself with so much jewelry that she could not breathe without something rattling. She cried as she hugged her grandmother, her mother, her aunt, Dita, the other girls from the village, although she wasn’t sad. The next morning they came and danced the valle in front of her house, the whole village, and before lunchtime Alma imagined she could hear the shot of guns from the village below. Several hours later her husband’s family arrived with a horse and carriage, red vests hanging open over their white shirts. She sat inside with her family, with his family, everyone congratulating one another, sipping from cups of Turkish coffee, the men smoking cigarettes and clouding the room gray.

When Alma went outside the carriage was creaking under the weight of her dowry. Her mother wailed as she was handed to the bench with her husband’s uncle. She couldn’t find Dita’s face in the crowd. The horse before them was white, its coat matted with dirt, its spine jutting free of its back. The entire time they wound down the mountain, Enver’s village turning in and out of view, she imagined she heard her mother’s cries. She sat silent next to his uncle, her hands shaking, the pattern on the backs of her hands reminding her of blood. When they arrived at Enver’s home she dipped her fingers in honey and brushed them against the doorframe; a coin revealed itself when she lifted her right foot aching from its shoe; she held Enver’s nephew on her lap, a boy so she could one day have a boy of her own. Enver’s sister Afërdita kissed her on both cheeks, held her hands, told her, “We’ll be such good friends,” and then spent the rest of the evening holding her son asleep in her arms. Several times, not meaning to, Alma looked up the mountainside, trying to find her village, but it was gone – it had been swallowed from view by the bushes and the trees and the curve of the hill. “I’ll find your husband,” she’d promised Dita, “we’ll be such close neighbors”; but as the party ended and people walked back to their homes, she realized she’d forgotten to look. Enver showed her their new bedroom, the sheets white and unwrinkled, a white curtain shifting before the window, the only item on the wall a portrait of the young Enver Hoxha in a gray suit. For a moment she wanted to go back to the way things had been. She found her first honest tears, but held them behind unblinking eyes as she turned to her husband.

#

The morning after the wedding, Alma swept the courtyard before visitors could arrive. Her mother-in-law hung the bedsheets, spotted and snapping in the wind, where everyone could see them. Alma filled a knee-high bucket with the yard’s detritus, mostly dust and dirt but also the singed nubs of cigarettes. Enver and his father left to work in the field as Alma’s mother-in-law helped her into her gown and slid bracelets over her wrists.

She was given the best seat as neighbors arrived for their visits. She offered small smiles and said how beautiful the party had been and how happy she was as they sipped glasses of water. A portrait of Enver Hoxha in a double-breasted suit, gray-haired, hung across from her, and she found it hard not to look to his beetle black eyes as the women considered her hair, her narrow shoulders, the gap between her front teeth. “You’ll come for coffee soon,” the women told her as they left. She promised dozens of visits and began to feel a closeness to her mother-in-law that faded when the woman directed her to clean the glasses and the yard after their last visitor. She dusted the house as well, and in her room turned the portrait of Hoxha to face the wall. The brown paper on his back was penciled with a year too faded to read.

Every day passed the same: visits, cleaning, tending the sparse vegetable garden at the house’s side, imagining ways of turning pans of cornbread into suitable meals for her new husband. Enver and his father were in the fields from sunrise to past sundown, drying and baling hay for the government collector’s inspection. Each evening after they returned for dinner her mother-in-law vanished for her evening xhiro. One evening the men were laughing, there had been some accident as they cut the hay, but in a miracle Enver had emerged with his skin unmarked by the scythe. Alma had the thought of knowing her husband, or of coming to know him, but that night and all the others he fell asleep so fast that she could only lay in bed and watch the shadows on his face. Every evening before she slept she turned Hoxha’s portrait to face the wall; and one morning, her fourth day, she forgot to turn him back to oversee the room. Enver’s mother found Alma in the courtyard as she inspected pale streaks that had appeared along the barn’s walls. Piles of red dust heaped on the ground.

“You know,” said her mother-in-law, “that father Enver is always with us, even now when some people think he’s left. He wouldn’t ever leave us.”

“No,” said Alma. “He wouldn’t, I know.”

“He hasn’t died –”

“It’s true,” Alma said, “he’ll live forever.”

“When he returns, he’ll remember those who remembered him.”

“He will,” said Alma. She looked to the woman’s knees. It would be easy to think she was paranoid, caught in the past, but Alma felt it herself: how attentive his gaze was, even when she had turned him to the wall. And it was true, that there was only one date on Hoxha’s tombstone, his birth date – that he was in some way beyond life and death.

“People are watching,” the woman said before walking away. “Don’t forget that.”

Alma watched her go. When she was a child there had been a man in her village who said Hoxha wasn’t a true revolutionary, that he didn’t understand the lives of his people any better than they understood his; and then, one day, he was gone. No one would visit his wife or play with his children, and one day they vanished as well. She’d had the idea that they’d gone into the hills to live in one of the concrete bunkers that had mushroomed across the landscape when she was a child, that they had made for themselves a second life.

She returned to sweeping, drawing the short-handled broom down the side of the barn to strip the lingering dust. It wouldn’t stop coming, it ashed onto her feet until she revealed a stained wooden beam. She held a hand to the wood: a deep depression sunk into the wall, the whole barn now felt insubstantial and destructible. When she swept the dust from around the barn it filled the bucket to its rim. She gazed up at the mountainside, tried to find her village stenciled among its trees, but the green was unbroken.

“What is this?” someone asked, and Alma started. Three women stood in the yard, in black heels and long skirts.

Alma looked at the barn and saw how much she had stripped. “I don’t know, it wanted to come away.”

Her mother-in-law emerged from the house, not even pausing to slip on her sandals. She pulled the short broom from Alma’s hand.

“But listen,” said one of the women, touching her mother-in-law’s shoulder. “Listen, this morning my carpet did the same thing –”

“We beat it and it fell apart –”

“Just a million threads in the yard. It’s like nothing, there’s nothing we could do. Just gone.”

Alma held her stomach. The henna, fading from her hands, was the same color as the dust.

“It’s not possible,” her mother-in-law said, “are you all fools now?”

“But it dissolved, just like that. And Lumi, he says one of the windows at the café broke and overnight a bird flew in.”

“The bird probably broke it,” her mother-in-law said, but she rested the broom against the barn’s wall. “What does he expect, trying to have a business.” Alma followed the four women inside, left them so she could dress and attempt her make-up. It’s not possible, her mother-in-law had said, but everything was possible. She had done something to displease someone, had done something wrong, and now the world would dissolve around her. She held her breath as she zipped her gown, she used a finger to even the lipstick on her bottom lip. Even years ago she’d known her idea was wrong, that that family hadn’t gone to live a better life in the mountains. That probably they’d gone to Burrel or one of the other prisons. There was never a reason for anything, but there was always a story. Before she joined the women Alma paused at Hoxha’s portrait. She touched his face with fingers pink with dust, slid them over his eyes. “Father Hoxha,” she said, and stopped. She wasn’t sure what she meant to say or ask him, why she thought he would give anything to her now that he was gone, when he had never given anything to her in life.

#

A week after the wedding Alma woke to find a crack seamed across the window, so thick that it cast a shadow on the bed. Outside, Enver and his father stood before the barn. Its door appeared to have torn itself in two: half laid on the courtyard, the other half swung from its hinges. Her father-in-law held a finger to the door’s raw edge, then placed it in his mouth. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” he asked when he noticed Alma.

She shook her head. “It wasn’t broken there, before?”

“It’s the weather,” he said. “Something in the air, some kind of rot.” He leaned to the door and breathed.

They had to go to the field again, they couldn’t be late. Alone, Alma imitated her father-in-law. The door tasted like wood and straw and hay, it tasted the way barns smelt. She swept the courtyard, careful around the fallen door and trying not to further disturb the building. Her mother-in-law watched her and then, after lunch, said, “Come on, get ready, we’re going for a visit.”

Alma dressed in her gown without mentioning the window, though she thought the crack had sharpened even just through the morning. She sat on the bed, she looked to Father Enver and then away as she pinched her cheeks red.

They went first to Afërdita’s home. Alma took slow, short steps behind her mother-in-law as the village opened around her: its pocked dirt streets; laundry flipping in the breeze; the scent of hay so thick it scratched her lungs. She looked again for her village and found no mark of it on the mountain. She had the stupid thought that it had been vanished from her, that having left she would never be allowed to see it again. An old woman spit in the dirt as she passed them, and when Alma asked who it was, her mother-in-law bobbed her head. “You don’t have to worry,” she said, “we won’t go for coffee with her.”

Afërdita stood in the yard, holding her son Bekim. Alma asked to take him as her sister-in-law prepared coffee. She sat him on her knees, hands under his armpits, as she had at the wedding party. “He’s such an old man,” Afërdita said, “look at his hair, it won’t grow in proper.” She laughed as Alma inspected the child’s chestnut brown hair, brushed thin over his scalp.

Her mother-in-law took Bekim from Alma before the coffee was served. Alma watched her lay the baby in his cradle, swaddle him and cross a white strip of fabric over his chest and beneath the cradle, again and again until he was wrapped from chest to feet. He gazed at the ceiling with wide eyes; he did look like an old man, Alma thought. “And how is my brother?” asked Afërdita, “you must hardly see him, it’s such bad luck.”

“They’ll be done with the harvest in a week.” Her mother-in-law used her foot to rock Bekim.

“It’s stupid, a hay harvest for a village with one horse.” Afërdita looked to Alma. “Did you know that, we have one horse? And not a single cow.”

“It’s all planned so we can have a good harvest as a country.”

Alma looked at her coffee. Light brown foam clung to the edges of the cup. “I’d like to see the fields,” she said, “we used to watch it, from my village.”

“Did you really? You could see us, from all that way?”

“Not so much. Just the men moving in the field, you know.”

“You watched Enver working, then!”

Alma smiled. “I did, maybe.” She watched Afërdita, how she was with her son and her mother, how she didn’t seem half so worried as her to say the wrong thing. She held her elbows as the women spoke about how Valbona Kastrati was pregnant at last; how Luan Duka was still alive, a minor or major miracle though he coughed blood and couldn’t leave the house; and then, at last, how they had heard about other homes dissolving themselves.

“Shpend’s wife says the roof is falling off,” Afërdita said, “and then all the windows have gone from the café, and there’s your barn, and we’ve had how many cracks in the walls?” She looked to her mother-in-law, who waved a hand and suggested five or six impressive ones. “And every morning the rug is thinner, look at that, you can see it,” and she tapped her toes on the carpet, which ran almost bare in patches.

“You know when it began,” Alma’s mother-in-law said, “is after the wedding. A coincidence of course. But I ask her, isn’t there something like this in your village, maybe a pest that came with her things.”

“We didn’t have anything like this,” Alma said. She looked to the other women, thinking that in their eyes she would find evidence that they didn’t think of her arrival as the moment when things had begun to go wrong. She wasn’t sure what was there, though. She imagined them on their evening xhiro, walking through the dissolving village, gossiping about her and what she had brought on them. She felt sorry that she had thought for a moment that she could replace Dita with a friend here, that she could speak to anyone here the way she had to her.

That night she watched how the moon glanced over Enver’s face as he moved in her. She held her hands on his back and smelled the dirt – sweat – hay – on his skin. She would know all the aspects of her husband that were unrevealed to his mother and maybe even to himself. She watched him sleep, trying to absorb and develop her understanding of him. She felt Hoxha looking down on them both.

#

The government collector did not arrive as scheduled the next week and the men, after weeks of unbroken work, were unable to relax. Enver and his father roamed the courtyard every afternoon, testing doors and windows, pressing walls with the flats of their hands. They patched the barn wall and took down the remainder of the door so they could join it back together, drilling holes into the door’s side and installing long screws that held it in one, though it retained a dramatic seam when they hung it. The stream of visitors had quieted to one or two a day, and so Alma followed Enver as he worked, offering water and asking him to describe what he was doing and what he thought was causing all of this. He said again that it was the weather, or the poor work of Pajtim Gega, who had helped construct so many buildings. She worried he saw her as the source though he wouldn’t say it, and at night comforted herself with the thought that in nine months there would be a baby and they would have to love her and welcome her the same as anyone else.

“Can I see the fields with you?” Alma asked when five days had passed and the collector still hadn’t arrived. She didn’t want to see the fields as much as she wanted to try for another view of her village, and to escape the house closing around her. For days her mother-in-law had followed her from one room to the next to see, Alma suspected, what she was doing to cause its disintegration.

“Come on, then,” Enver said, and she walked at his side through the village in her brown wool skirt too heavy for the weather. Everywhere families were repairing their homes: sliding tiles into place on roofs, spreading plaster across walls, testing new windows in their frames or boarding over windows until more glass could be found. Young men ran from one house to the next, several stopped to talk with Enver, and Alma found she didn’t want to ask after them—if they were married, if their families were good. They had to take from one building to fix the next, Enver said, like cannibals. Alma rubbed her hands against her skirt, she couldn’t find in her touch any sense of destruction. This couldn’t be something she had brought to the village, she thought, it was only a sad coincidence, though she felt nauseated when she looked back and couldn’t find any suggestion of her own village.

To reach the fields they crossed a narrow wooden bridge comprised of mismatched slats. The fields were vast in a way that hadn’t been obvious to Alma in the years she’d looked down on them: the shorn grasses ran along the creek, butted against the opposing mountain. Round bales of hay lay at intervals. “We’ll have to bring them in before the rain,” Enver said. He took Alma’s hand and they walked together. It was the first place she had been in weeks that felt substantial and solid beneath her feet. Her skirt caught on the splintered remnants of hay, and after a few minutes Enver turned them back to the village. The narrow band of the road to Bulqizë was visible as a break in the mountain, but there was no narrower road twining up from that, no suggestion that there was any life in the place from which she’d come.

“She doesn’t mean anything bad for you,” Enver said before they reached the bridge. “Try to understand her, to be kind.”

“How can I be kind to her?” Alma pulled her hand from his grip. “She thinks I’m doing this to the village, she tells everyone, she doesn’t let me come on the xhiro, she hates me. What does kindness do?”

“Ask her. Have you asked to join the walks?”

Alma didn’t answer. She thought that perhaps the field was a sickness, the very thought of growing so much hay when they had no need for it. Where were the vegetables, the rice, the oil, they would need for the winter? How far could it stretch, this wrongful land?

“You need to understand her.” Enver reclaimed her hand. “You aren’t so different as you think.”

“Tell me how we’re alike, please. Tell me what to do.”
“Be kind to her, that’s all I want. She’s my mother. And when we visit your family, I want you to say good things about your life with us. I want you to be happy.”

“I am,” Alma said. She tried to see the woman as Enver did, to imagine an affection.

They crossed back over the bridge. A stone kulla, three stories tall and with narrow slits for windows, stood at the edge of the village. It was the only building without some repair underway. At home she joined her mother-in-law in the garden, asked the woman how the vegetables were doing compared to previous years. “We used to have a fig tree at my home,” she told the woman, who didn’t answer. She tried to imagine her mother-in-law as having faith to anyone but Enver Hoxha, tried to imagine her as a woman who might have once felt doubt, and could not. A roof tile slid free, thudded against the woman’s crown before landing almost gently in the onions. Alma jumped to inspect her head, pressed her fingers into her mother-in-law’s scalp in search of blood or swelling. “Get off me, leave me, I’m fine,” the woman said, pulling away; and apart from a few disordered hairs, she was.

Alma knelt back in the dirt. She could see her whole village shuddered to nothing, how it might have slipped from the mountainside not gently or gradually, but all at once and without warning. If she had known, she would have brought Dita with her, she would have found a way, she would have her friend, she would have her family; but she hadn’t, and could only hold her shame as her mother-in-law carried the roof tile to her husband, exclaimed how things had gotten no better and maybe worse.

#

Enver borrowed the neighbor’s white horse and cart for their trip back to Alma’s village one month after the wedding. Nauseated, she went outside to vomit before anyone woke, but nothing came up. By then three of the home’s windows had shattered and been removed, and the unguarded curtain billowed as she made the bed and dressed for their trip. She watched the village distancing itself from them as they wound toward the road to Bulqizë, from which they would find the path to her village. The government collector was now two weeks late, and the baled hay had been stacked at the far edge of the field and covered with a tarp. A boy had fallen as he arranged the bales, had landed on his neck but suffered nothing worse than the surprise – another miracle, if a fearful one. “We’ll have to move it again if no one arrives,” Enver’s father had said one night, sounding doubtful. No one knew how to contact the collector; the man had simply arrived each season even when they didn’t want him.

“But the horse will be well-fed,” Enver had joked; and the animal’s chest did seem more rounded, its ribs layered beneath a thin vein of fat. From the main road Alma saw that the path to her village remained where it had always been, and they twined back and forth up the mountain. Her eyes watered in the sun and she shut them, trying to hold her stomach steady as they swung around the curves, the only sounds a faint wheeze from the horse, the squeaking wheels. Her armpits were damp with sweat.

“It’s here!” she said when the first roofs emerged above them, half-hidden by trees.

“Did you think it wouldn’t be?” She tried to stand, to see more of the homes, and Enver pulled her to her seat. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

The village laid itself before them as she remembered. There was no sign that it had shed any part of itself in her absence: there wasn’t a single gap where a tile had left its roof, not a single rut in the road. Men worked on the terraced hillside above the village. She held to Enver’s elbow as they drove through town, remained seated until he helped her from the bench, but then ran to her mother and grandmother, realizing after they’d hugged and kissed that Dita was standing there as well, waiting for her.

“We need to talk,” Dita said when they hugged, “you need to tell me everything.”

“I will,” Alma promised, but when they sat for coffee she began to wonder. How much could she tell Dita about her life, how much could she tell anyone? The idea of buildings shedding their walls as though they were an old skin now seemed as foolish as her fear that this village would be wiped from the mountain before she could return. The dirt courtyard was swept smooth and the house’s shadow fell even across the table. She found her face behaving like all the brides she had seen before her, still and perfect as she took her small sips of coffee. Her bracelets slid up and down her wrists each time she reached for the cup, and she watched Enver speaking with her father and her brother, Shkudrin.

“Have you heard about the construction in Bulqizë?” her mother asked. “They’re saying soon they’ll build new dormitories for the miners and Shkudrin, he wants to work for them.”

“For the mine or the construction?”

“The construction. Of course, most of the boys will go.”

Alma nodded. On the ride back she would ask Enver and learn that he hadn’t known about the construction either, though he would have been a good worker for it.

“The collector’s been late this year,” Enver said, but she lost his conversation as Dita asked her to describe the village, to tell her about the wedding party and how long it might be before Dita could visit her and have a coffee in Alma’s own home. Alma ate one pita with a sparse filling of white cheese; her family must have saved and bartered all month to produce the meal. Dita carried her stool to sit between Alma and her mother, leaned close and asked how it was with her husband, laughing, pressing for stories Alma no longer wanted to tell.

After lunch, Dita took her for their old walk, to look down on what was now Alma’s village. From here it was the same as it had always been, red-roofed and still. “Do you think there’s any chance?” Dita asked. “Does Enver have a cousin?”

Alma watched the village. Something in her felt knotted, pulled so tight it couldn’t be undone or even seen. “No,” she said. “There isn’t anyone there for you.”

Walking back to the house they held hands, but when she sought her friend’s face there was nothing there. Soon it was time for her and Enver to return to their cart. She kissed everyone, held Dita a moment longer, tried to find some different words for her and couldn’t. She wanted to root her feet to the ground but climbed in the cart, there was nothing else for her to do.

“You heard the collector was here two weeks ago?” Enver asked.

Alma watched her family returning to their work as the horse led them from the courtyard to the village’s main road. “They must be coming soon, then.”

“They would have been to us the same time.”

“Then they forgot, they’ll be back.”

“How do they forget?” Enver gestured at their village, caught at the edge of those glinting fields.

“He’ll be here soon, you’ll see.”

“Or they don’t need our hay anymore.”

“That’s not right,” Alma said. She pressed her hands between her knees and leaned back as they drove. A dull throb rose and she watched the Bulqizë road for a truck or a car – they appeared so rarely. “He’ll be here soon,” she said as they turned onto the flat empty road. No sign marked the village, only a faint dirt path with grass growing in its shallow ruts. They were known, though, located on a map in some office in Tirana. There were men who must be writing in some notebook how much hay they had produced, there must be some other man with his list of births and deaths and names; there were men to watch all of it, to know everything they did.

That something was wrong was clear when they had come halfway down the path. The Gegas’ house was gone, rubble. Women and men ran in the street from one home to the next. Courtyard walls had fallen, windows had shattered themselves across paved yards, the café’s awning hung ragged and loose from its metal posts. Kujtim Capi climbed into the back of the cart as they passed and leaned over the bench between them. “It’s all of a sudden,” he said, “and Shpend says your mother is trapped—we’ll help—but go faster—”

Enver urged the horse to a jolting trot. Alma held the splintering underside of the bench and stumbled out with Kujtim’s help when they reached the yard. The barn had crumbled, its refashioned door gone, posts twisted and turned to their sides, bricks shattered across the courtyard.

“She’s not in there,” she said, “she couldn’t have –” But just the same she ran across the yard with them, where several of the neighbors had joined her father-in-law in pulling bricks free of the rubble. Alma tried to find a place to help and was repulsed each time; at last she stopped, stood in the home’s entryway watching the men throwing brick after brick into the yard. They seemed to make no progress even when there were a dozen men arrayed around the barn. Every few minutes they paused so her father-in-law could listen. At last they uncovered her mother-in-law’s hair, gone a bitter gray, and cleared the dust from her face. Alma had the feeling she was watching the woman emerge from her grave, clawing herself from the ground.

It was Alma’s doing, that was what she would say—what they would all say. Some revulsion of the earth, as though it read in her something she couldn’t yet read in herself. As the men worked the shattered wood and brick from her mother-in-law’s shoulders, Alma stepped inside, walked to the main room, where an apple sat next to a fruit knife and an overturned glass. The rug had thinned and hardly soaked the spilled water, it had gone through and stained the concrete floor a dark gray. Outside someone shouted. She took the knife, worked a sliver of apple free, then another and another, letting the sugar dissolve on her tongue. Where had they found an apple? Someone shouted again, calling for her; the knife slipped and she walked out with her thumb in her mouth, knife in her pocket.

“Get her water!” Enver shouted when she emerged. “It’s a miracle—help her—”

The men were lifting her mother-in-law from the rubble, they walked her to the bench. Alma knelt before the woman and offered her a glass of water. She watched her drink, her hair and skin and dress coated in dust – but her eyes were focused and clear, she spoke without weakness. “It is a miracle,” Alma said, “it’s like Enver said—”

“A miracle that we lose everything, a miracle that we’re surrounded by this destruction—that’s what the girl says.”

Alma looked at her hands, the drying blood on her thumb. The slender plastic-handled knife pressed against her thigh. She had the urge to thrust it into her mother-in-law, to see if she had any blood left to draw. But she would be a good daughter-in-law, she would be silent. Later she prepared soup for dinner; and then her mother-in-law still wanted to go for her evening xhiro, said it would be good for her to move, and Alma watched her leave. She stood at the edge of the road as the woman walked through destruction, her gait unmarked by even a slight limp.

They didn’t speak in bed that night. Alma watched Enver sleep, she wondered if there could be another version of him, of them, with some other name; how different everything might be if he were a Mehmet or a Burim instead of an Enver. Would they speak more freely, or would they only have found some other reason to guard themselves? She touched his back and he didn’t move. Her thumb still stung from the knife, the apple. No one could know every part of the person they married, she thought. That was normal. No one could ever know all of anyone.

The room was cold with air blowing through the broken window. She pulled herself against Enver, shadowed his breath. She’d thought his mother was wrong to call her a destroyer, but maybe she wasn’t: Alma would create something, a child, a life, and one day it would crumble. But she didn’t want to think about this summer or even this day, she didn’t want to face the things she had broken and undone around her, the house shifting and ready to fall. She only wanted to hold her husband and believe that there was no sickness here, that nothing here was less right or less true than Hoxha’s portrait was meant to be, half-caught and half-hidden in the glancing light of the moon.