Michael Shirzadian

On the Saturday before graduation Ben will hang himself at the abandoned train station behind the library, and on Sunday your parents will drive from Columbus to Cedarville to sit with you and watch you chain-smoke on the porch outside the house you’ve been renting. She’ll say, “how long have you been smoking?” and you’ll say, “almost four years,” and then she won’t bring it up again until Christmas. On the porch, standing between you and the road so that a Cedarville administrator won’t see you smoking, he’ll say, “I think we should take him home, Shelly,” and she’ll say, “I think you’re right, Mohsen,” and you won’t be able to remember the last time they agreed about anything. You, however, won’t agree, citing your Monday biology final, but really it’s that you don’t believe that Ben, chatty Ben of all people, wouldn’t have left a note, and you’ll think that maybe he hid one in the Nike shoebox where he was always hiding his pot from his roommate, and because the sun’s still up you’ve deluded yourself into believing you’ve got the emotional stamina to sneak into that apartment after midnight and snoop around for it. So you’ll end up at the Springfield Cracker Barrel on 72 because that’s the compromise you’ll make with them. They’ll just sit there, crying with you, crying with each other, offering up strange and incompatible prayers to strange and incompatible gods, all of you holding hands beneath the antique farming tools and domestic contraptions strung up on the walls. Much later, after the divorce, you’ll look back and decide that this is their last note of harmony, a final convergence of East and West, not a dénouement but a swan song—right there in the booth at the Springfield Cracker Barrel on 72, huddled in prayer. You’ll open your eyes, look at your parents with their heads hung low, their hands locked so tightly together you’ll wonder how they’re not losing circulation, and slowly you’ll let your mind drift into another restaurant, so far from Cedarville, so far from that abandoned train station—the restaurant where you imagine your parents enjoyed their first date, where they asked each other honest questions about Farsi and English, about America and Iran, Christianity and Islam, where they held hands and exchanged creation myths, compared resurrection stories, found themselves astonished by how vast the world seemed, how much more of it there was to know.