03/27/2013 - 7:51am
The Goldfish’s Memory
by Katrin Arefy

The sun, the silence, the sound of the little fountain, the warm water in the pool and the quiet resort all so relaxing. The two women accompanying me, my mother and she, made my long weekend feel safe and peaceful. The three of us looked so much like each other, our slim arms and shoulders, the curve we have in our lower back, the color of our skin and the tone of our voices.  I was glad they could talk all day and I could read and read and laugh out loud or enjoy the hot spring pool in silence.

I had a wicked plan to lead one of our conversations to past memories, one of the subjects that I am writing about.  At the breakfast table she said that she has no feeling about Iran, she laughed and said that her husband feels bad about this and thinks that she is betraying the country. My mother said, “It must be because of all the things that happened.”

All the things that happened. Things like her, acting as a revolutionary just out of excitement, similar to many young people of her generation. Things like she losing her mother in the revolution and things like her sister fleeing the country for political reasons and never contacting the family again. Did she have feelings about these things at that time?

I asked how old my younger cousin, her little sister was, when it happened.

-“Seven. Just  going to start school that year,” she said.

- “And how old was I?”


- “I have always thought I was nine.”

- “All right, now we are on vacation here. Look at this packet of milk. Is it a goat or a cow on it?”

- “A cow” I said looking at her and seeing how different we are.

A goldfish’s memory lasts three seconds. We have got a better one to remember what we want and delete what we don’t want.

And we decided to move on after my aunt lost her life in political prison and her daughter… we don’t know where she is. But the rest of us were able to move on and buy more necklaces and bigger houses overseas for a life-long vacation. Now everything is peaceful, well at least in Canada, and the three- seconds-long memory doesn’t bother a goldfish.


In the horrific years of the Yezhov terror, Akhmatova spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad in the hope of hearing something about her loved one on the other side of the wall. One day a woman in the crowd identified the poet and whispered to her with lips blue from the cold:

- “Can you describe this?”

- “I can” Akhmatova answered.

And  “ Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face,” Akhmatova described in the Requiem.

The horror, the pain, the coldness in the hearts and on the lips, and the reaching out and wanting to be remembered, to be felt. The willingness to be heard, by her grandchildren, and others on the other side of the border.

The borders, the walls. The prison’s walls that we build with our hands and the borders that we build in our imaginations, one more horrible than the other.

Our memories, living their own lives, waiting for us to get back to them, waiting in cold lines.

The warm feeling of a smile, to those unknown faces that will remember her one day.


The red polka dot puffy sleeve new dress. A lazy summer day. A nine year old girl daydreaming, perhaps, or playing with her younger brother.

The first experience of your dream not coming true.  Somehow my memory is longer than the one of goldfish’s. I can still hear the chaos. It sounded like an endless loud screaming noise. My cousins went to visit their mother that day in Evin, the political prison the name of which invited everybody to silence.  But they were to be sent home without seeing her.

My brother picked up the phone and was told to hand it to someone older. The voice, the messenger of death, sounded like a junior follower of the Supreme Leader.

I could think of nothing, I ran to the other room, I knew I shouldn’t be wearing red. I looked like a chicken whose head was cut off but still alive, running, perhaps running away from the pain.

The fear of how to tell my grandmother and my cousins when they come back home pushed away the grief. The fear has stayed with me till today. I took my red dress off and put on a dark shirt.

Soon it came, the horrible moment. They came back home. My mother already weeping, I knew mothers read their children’s minds. My grandfather looked pale. My older cousin screaming “Tell us! What did they say? You are killing us.” And my grandmother.

It took me time. I couldn’t. I chose my middle cousin who was three years older than me. I still remember that moment every time I hug her, every time I put my arms around her shoulders. I whispered to her ear, not believing my words. It wasn’t true, my aunt, her mother could not have hanged herself.

My aunt was killed. They killed her. My aunt couldn’t tolerate her body after they killed her so decided to leave her body. A hero.

I have lived with two vivid images of my aunt. The image of the day they took her from her home, dragging her on the street, and the image, the dream, that she will come back home one day.

I remember all the exotic gifts she gave me made my childhood so colorful.  I remember she was a warm temperamental  woman.  I remember she was beautiful.

If there is a border that separates people, labels them and puts them in different groups, then here are the only two groups that I can imagine: those who love and those who forget.

The voice. How many phone calls did he make? How many messages of death? Does he remember?

And the pain, does she remember.


And then that woman with no name. She turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, for trying to get the last glimpse of her town, her memory, her past. She turned into a pillar of salt for loving, for the sin of love.

Forget-me-not, that is the name I give her, to the one who couldn’t betray, who couldn’t forget, to the one who became the pillar of love.


Katrin Arefy was born in Tehran. She received graduate degrees in Art and then in Piano Pedagogy from Moscow Gnessin University, only to end up expressing herself in words. While pursuing her music career as a teacher, author and artistic director, she has devoted all her free time to her passion for literature.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

Read more stories from Action Fiction! productions.