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Writing dialogue in fiction about the lives of ordinary women

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When writing dialogue in fiction portraying the lives of ordinary women, you need to provide about a paragraph of backstory placed between every few lines of dialogue so the reader understands the backdrop of the novel, as a form of narration.

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An example below, is the excerpt from one of this author's novels where the stream of consciousness becomes a present reality to the reader rather than a flashback in time. The story line progresses as if it were written in the present tense or in the present time rather than recalling past events. This action allows the characters to move the plot forward by the dialogue and tag lines or behavior.

The result is a faster-moving page-turner so the chapters can be kept short. In fiction, particularly in thrillers, the readers of such novels prefer that the authors keep each chapter short. The slice of life narration, can be like the description below, followed by a faster-paced sequence of dialogue and behavior or gesture, as in the fiction below, a novel excerpt that easily can be turned into a movie script or play without the narration or "inner space" journaling approach to introducing the reader to the storyline. Here's an excerpt:

Bread is the symbol for life

He raked his eyes over Hoda's metallic gold fabric costume as the four-musician band faded into nuances of magham seekah delight. Beyond the double doors of the restaurant kitchen where Samira put in time, a magic world took center stage. There was a round platform where the oud-player stood, a place for the violinist and a pink light on the clarinetist.

Sometimes Theodakis, the Greek, from Alexandria, Virginia, came in to play his bouzouki. And Hoda twisted her grief through the sieve of a flute.

Between dance performances, there was the roar of rhumba drums covered with hairy hide. Then Hoda would rush out and coil so that the candles trembled.

Ahmed was dressed in a Tuxedo, his hair slicked back like a wet beaver. Now that Hoda had to get ready to dance, Ahmed walked over to Samira to peer over her shoulder. She had cut all the tomatoes in quarters.

"I distinctly told you I wanted fifths.”

" I'll cut them my own way. Who's the cook around here, anyway?" Samira shot back, holding in her jealousy of Hoda.

"Are you sassing' me again?" Ahmed wheezed in his clipped, Arabic accent.

"They're going to get cut the way they look prettiest." Samira thought he preferred a mistress who spent her spare time sewing historical ethnic costumes for six-inch dolls. Samira thought the Marines had made her a “real and independent woman.”

Just at her career zenith, her post traumatic stress and panic disorder kicked in, and she was out. That’s when she grabbed that government contract with DNA Detectives, an outsourced firm that also contracted with the CIA for special--but temporary assignments.

"Why don't you ever listen?" Hoda flushed. "Quarter slices take up the whole plate."

"I don't take orders from my husband's whore."

"You nasty little bitch," Hoda grunted. "Get out of this restaurant."

"No! I've invested four thousand dollars of my insurance money in this place. It was my idea to start this restaurant."

They didn't know Samira had set up a tape recorder in a secret place and recorded all their conversation when they were alone. Later, she played it back many times to confirm my hunches about what went on between these lovers when they talked about her behind Samira’s back. She saved it for many years, then threw the tapes into a dumpster long ago when she had once dreamed that someday she’d run up a pittance into glory in the stock market in her middle age based on her own researched picks.

"Get the hell outta here!" Ahmed was a pool of anger.

He lifted Samira by the back of her blouse collar and threw her bodily out the kitchen back door into the alley where she fell against two garbage cans.

Samira promptly walked back into the restaurant, wanting a relationship so badly that she was willing to fight for it.

"I got my head smashed in while I was feeding my baby in the car he was test driving and wrecked. All my insurance money that came for the masked epilepsy 1 have now for the rest of my life went into this restaurant. You didn't know that, did you, Hoda?"

"Why are you telling me all this?" Hoda was fixing her lipstick in her compact mirror.

"Now you're gonna get it," Ahmed ranted.

Instead of running, Samira waited, waited for an answer to come charging down on a white horse instead of going out and digging it up for herself.

Ahmed picked up the carving knife and ran after Samira. She bolted out the kitchen door and ran down the dark alley.

"Damn you," she screamed back as she ran. "I just came back for my purse. My keys are in it. "

"I don't give second chances," Ahmed yelled.

He chased his wife, running more than a block down the neon-sign lighted street. He waved the knife over his head. Samira rounded the corner and disappeared into the night. Ahmed returned to his restaurant and calmly began to re-slice the quartered tomatoes into fifths.

"Did she go straight home?" Hoda asked.

"I don't know. She said her keys were in her purse."

"It's over there on the counter."

"I try to control her," Ahmed commanded. "But she's not obedient anymore."

"What about that psychiatrist that comes in here everyday for lunch?"

“He gave me his most expensive oriental carpets to store," Ahmed confessed.

"Maybe he'll testify for you so you can get custody of the kids."

"I know he will."

"Have you told I that the kids are going to live permanently with your mother in Syria after the divorce?"

"No. Not until she signs the quitclaim deed on the house and restaurant-and I sell them."

"Why would she willingly sign a quitclaim deed?"

"I told her the divorce was cancelled-that we were moving to Beverly Hills."

"How can that woman be so selfish?" Hoda adjusted her faux-pearls. "I'd kill anyone who tried to take my children away from me."

"She's riddled with panic disorder. No way can she support herself, let alone children."

"She gets dizzy just sitting at a restaurant table."

"If I divorce her now, she'll sign anything just so I deliver groceries to her door."

Ahmed popped a grape in his mouth. "There's no way she can step outside unless I drive her to the restaurant and leave her in the back where she won't have to talk to people."

He embraced Hoda and slipped his hand under her belt. "The little bastard's afraid to even talk on the phone. You know my psychiatrist friend?"

Ahmed shook his head. "He told me he diagnosed her as borderline paranoid."

"How can she just leave her children like that?"

The music echoed. Whirling dervishes spun like tops until they were hypnotized. The thumping roared louder. Men yelled "Wah, wah, yalla, yells ay...." The pitch grew intense as the music faded...into wailing nuances of Oriental delight. The audience ate up the act.

Then Hoda was on, under a beam of violet light. The rhythm pumped. An Irish whistle in E flat piped out the shrill music of ancient Egyptian wheat fields. The ceiling of the restaurant was blackened and lighted with stars like a planetarium dome.

A singer crooned, the poem Samira had written years ago and they used for free: "From her ruby navel poems contract."

Hoda snapped her gold whip, dressed like Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess. Gold Egyptian tunic, fake leopard skin down her back, and the Isis headdress.

Twangs of the oud explored hot bubbles of lava. Hoda could go from pure Nesselrode to the burning passion of flamenco in Zamba Mora style in seconds, then to the world beat of Maghrebi Magham Seegah. Her Turkish finger zills clacked in time with the hand-clapping, feet thumping, the oud, the pipes, the dumbeka, tar, tom-tom, castanets of wooden spoons, the whirling dervishes on the circular stage.

Down Hoda's sallow breasts burst blue-black beaded braids, innocent as Eden to the audience. Each man in the audience viewed the other with mistrust. She did a back bend-applause. For a grand finale, Hoda ripped her skirt to show how she was cleft.

Samira’s flight for survival pushed down any symptom of agoraphobia or panic disorder for the moment. She hailed a taxi and ran to her next-door neighbor's house.

It was just like when she was pregnant-the anxiety attacks, the panic would disappear, only to return again full-blown when the baby was a week old.

The attack would be the only way she got touched. Battering was caressing. Being scared to death was feeling existence, having personal space of one's own, being recognized.

“You'd go to any extreme to be the center of attention, even marry someone like me, just to have material for your novel or screenplay. So you can get rich?" Ahmed babbled to me as he parked the car.

The neighbor lady paid the taxi bill, since Ahmed paid Samira two quarters a day for ice cream for the kids. He brought home all the food from his restaurant.

She spent the night sleeping on her neighbor's sofa. Ahmed's two brothers lived with him and watched the children when she was in the restaurant.

Ahmed cooled down by the morning after spending the night with Hoda. By noon, almost everything was back to the same routine. But he never allowed Samira to set foot in his restaurant again.

The more Ahmed chased his ex-wife with a carving knife, the more often he put his .38 against Samira’s head, or spit in her face and called me a "dirty divorcee," the more physically well Samira felt. Only it was he who said he wanted the divorce, and only a decade after the divorce did she take her Finnish lover. And now, the family honor killing was set up and in motion to preserve the family’s image in the eyes of their ethnic community both in America and back in the Palestinian refugee camp.

It was only when he was charming to Samira or kind that her agoraphobia and panic attacks returned or that she had vertigo spells or migraines and went into convulsions of hyperventilation syndrome. Each time Samira fell into a sick complaint, he'd take off his shoe and whack her over the head.

She would provoke him by telling him her dream of joining the Marines and then entering a career with the FBI in law enforcement and to remain in California. At the other extreme, when she revealed weakness, he'd attack and hurt her, ranting, “I’ll smash you one.” She’d run for life and in the running process itself, she would feel a sense of well-being, an adrenaline rush that would suppress the panic and anxiety. The feeling of being free would well up when all was stagnant and routine calm.

Then, just before the divorce, at 28, Samira pulled herself from the station wagon, dragging her four-year old daughter and two-and-a-half-year old son. She tried to walk a few paces, pushing the boy's stroller ahead of me.

She panicked at the idea of walking the stretch of parking lot. Samira turned to Ahmed, fearfully clutching at his middle in an attempt to get back a futile hug.

Samira starved for skin contact. "I can't walk, I told you. I can't walk outside the house. Where's a wheelchair? Get me a wheelchair!"

"Goddammit! Walk, you whore! I said walk"

Ahmed slapped her in the face until his knuckles bled.

"Wheelchair! I want a wheelchair!"

"You're not a damn cripple! I didn't marry a crazy woman. You'd better walk, I tell you. I'm not going to push you in a wheelchair. Don't start that stuff with me again."

"Don’t you ever call people with disabilities cripples,” she scowled over her shoulder. “You don't know how badly I want to see the Del Mar Fair. Anything just to get out of the house after all these years. I can't walk," she sobbed, whining.

"Either you walk or you get the hell outta here!"

"I can't. I can't. Push me in the wheelchair, love me, nurture me, care about me. Be my mommy, my family. Love me."

"I'll kill you!"

"I demand to be pushed and to be cared for like a wife." She now ran before his fist again lashed out.

"You can go back alone, you whore." He sounded like daddy. People were staring and Ahmed didn't want anyone who might be a potential customer to see him lose his charm. He cared what the neighbors heard more than he cared to plan a time just for talking with her. The more he withdrew emotionally by falling silent, the more verbal Samira became, begging, “I demand a relationship, and I’m willing to fight for it.”

Husband one or two, it was the same....withdrawal, uncaring.....me more verbal, asking for a relationship, begging to get closer through talking....he becoming violent, putting hands around my throat...when she asked him to respect her, to show less contempt.

Her ex-husband in 1970 hustled "his" children away from Samira and carried them tenderly back into his car. Ahmed sped away leaving a trail of dust for her to eat.

"Hey you didn't give me any money," she shouted to the empty air as the car disappeared.

A female security guard drove by, and she signaled her attention. "My husband and kids drove away without me, and I haven't a dime to get back home. Can you help?"

"Hop in."

"I'm sorry. I'm having another postpartum panic attack. My legs just turned to rubber. There's no way I can walk anywhere with this agoraphobia, probably caused by loss, grief, and a drop in hormones after childbirth causing this chronic anxiety in someone like me-genetically prone to get this panic disorder." Her whole body shook with too much insulin and adrenaline. It subsided when she ate something.

"We'll call Traveler's Aide. You got a long way back to Hollywood. How do you know he won't turn back for you?"

"He won't. He's got the kids with him."

"My boss expects me to make everyone feel good."

"This was my first excursion out of the house in years. Agoraphobia with panic disorder, you know."

"Oh, the housewife's disease."

"And Mr. Take Away Man. He just wanted my American citizenship."

"Sounds like my own ex-husband...the shortage. What you need is a good lawyer. "

“Sure. And who pays?"

"Your husband."

"He'd shoot me first."

"Leave. Change your name. Get a new identity."

"Oh, no. Agoraphobia. It's genetic-a chemical imbalance.”

The metabolism of the right brain goes at twice the speed as the left hemisphere. Samira had been told by other women with agoraphobia that she could have been married to the President, and the agoraphobia with panic disorder would come back with more force after every additional childbirth, operation, or heavy medical conditions, and job stress.

A live band was playing the most romantic of music. The Hawaiian luau at fifteen dollars a person was something that she had saved up for a long time. She had received a fat check for the sale of her story to Saturday Review and was going to spend it on food and music.

Patrons waited in a long line for the oriental buffet. Couples danced on the wooden floor. The chandeliers pulsated. In a corner the Christmas tree was still up, decorated with love.

Ahmed and Samira ate together for the first time in months. He had always eaten with his brothers in the restaurant or with Hoda, but never with Samira after the honeymoon petered out in six months of marriage. The last time he ate with her he ended up throwing a vase in her head. Something she said ticked him off. Only she couldn’t remember what. She walked on egg shells. Her dad acted the same way in the presence of her mom, she remembered, asking herself, “Why do women always end up marrying men so much like their fathers? Is it familiarity—even if abusive?”

The band played Auld Lang Syne, but Ahmed scowled with confusion. He wasn't going to let Samira move him to sentiment.

She thought about Christmas Eve. He had taken Hoda to a nightclub and brought home a bag of peanut shells for her to take down to the garbage cans.

A quarter to midnight…everybody was touching, dancing. Ahmed stared coldly across the table at her. "You don't need a lawyer of your own. My attorney will refer you to his attorney friend for a token seventy five dollars to keep it legal."

She sighed and crushed her napkin. "Why are you sending my babies to a Palestinian refugee camp when they could live with me here in California?

“I don’t want my kids on welfare.”

“I could always find someone to marry me and support my kids. Maybe I could even get a good job. Is that so unbelievable? What if I got well again and joined the military?”

“I want my mother to raise them as Moslems. Don't you dare tell that lawyer anything other than that you're giving up custody to me because you're in bad health. Besides, your family doesn’t want your kids. They wouldn’t even lend you money to get away from me."

"Why won't you answer my question?" She wept.

"It's too expensive to raise babies here. Besides, they'd only grow up to be California addicts or tramps, like all American kids."

"But you told me that if I signed the house over to you that you'd cancel the divorce. You said you needed the money for your restaurant liquor license."

Ahmed rose and put on his jacket. "Listen, I want a divorce. You're a stone around my neck. I want to be free."

"I don't know any man more free than you. Don't take my babies."

"You're too crazy to have babies."

"You can't take both of them. Let me have just one. Please don't leave me. I'll give you my parent's four-family house that my brother took away from me when they died."

"Shut up! I'm not separating my kids."

Twelve midnight cracked open the music. The band went wild playing nostalgia from the twenties. And the balloons and confetti flew around the ballroom.

Couples kissed and hugged and merged into one happy moment of celebration. She wiped the tears from her cheeks before anyone noticed how she trembled. Samira was unable to look Ahmed in the eye. Slowly she raised her head and looked around miserably at the frenzied couples hopping to the 1926 Charleston. Then the 1963 twist came on-sheer nostalgia now. Couples circled on the ballroom floor, laughing out loud. The drunks sprawled across their chairs.

"I paid for both of our dinners, Ahmed...paid so we could be together again." He looked down at his shoes. "It's after twelve," he said. "I have to get back to close up my restaurant-see whether it's crowded."

"I won't go to that empty house alone. I want my justice." She gathered her jacket and purse.

Ahmed gave her the barber's itch. He pulled that little wisp of hair at the nape of my neck that gave me a terrific sting.

"That hurt.” She bit her lip.

"If you open your mouth to anyone, you'll be dead in twenty-four hours," he warned her. “I won’t be punished when I return to the Middle East before they find your body grinded up like chopped meat. It would be an honor killing because you have humiliated your family and mine, and we are one family. No one would punish me. Not in the country I’m going to for a new job. Nothing would be done.”

“That’s what I get for marrying my uncle.”

“You should have married your cousin.”

"I called my brother for help yesterday. His wife answered the phone. I told her I wanted to take the kids to another state. You know what she said? She told me to drop dead or go on welfare."

"No child of mine will ever go on welfare. If you want money, go out and earn it like everybody else. You’re nothing but human garbage." She turned away because he spit in her face. He'd pay attention only to her actions, not her reactions.

"Are you coming home? I said I have to get back to the restaurant!"

Now he'd fired her up. "Back to your whore, Hoda?” Samira pleaded. “You hire a pitiful forty-year-old bellydancer more than ten years older than I am and you break up the family. For her you steal my babies and try to kill me, for a tramp with a grown daughter. You’re the one who brought dishonor to the family, not me.''

"You're gonna get it later tonight, you flat-cheated, four-eyed dirty bitch!" He slapped his hand against his belt and his thigh and punched his fist into his palm.

The hotel ballroom took on the tense and tedious gray tones of a madhouse. "You filed for divorce papers just two days after you became an American citizen. Then you flew to New York and borrowed a thousand dollars from my brother."

"Go to hell," Ahmed belched.

He stormed out, shoving the dancing couples out of his way. She yelled across the ballroom floor at him as he passed through the doorway. "My sister-in-law thinks I'll ask my brother for support money. Hoda told me you're the worst lover she's ever had. Are you gay or just feeling guilty?"

Ahmed pivoted. "What did you call me?" There was fire in his hazel eyes. He came over and grabbed her on the dance floor, shaking her violently. He threw her to the floor and kicked her in the kidneys. She screamed, but he clenched his hands over her lips.

"Wife batterer!" She moaned, lost among the dancing feet and drowned out by the magic brass. The crowd was hell bent on yelling its own celebration. She pulled her arm out of Ahmed's grip and ran to the door, screaming.

"Lower your voice! Don't you hear me?" Ahmed followed her out of the hotel. "I said can you lower your voice? I'll stifle that anger. Just wait 'till I get you alone at home tonight, you whore."

That's what her father always called her. Neither had reason to. Why would they call a faithful woman who remained a virgin on her wedding night such a name, or a studious girl who hid behind thick glasses and astronomy books such a term? What did it do for them?

The radio played the instrumental version of "Ave Maria." Samira sat on the tweed sofa staring off into space. But Ahmed couldn't sit still. He paced back and forth, trapped as a caged lion, waving his .38 handgun at me. Finally, he pointed the gun against her head.

"You're not a Nazi. I trust you with my life," she whispered.

"Do you?" Ahmed squealed. "I want custody of my children. You're jailing me. Too damn dependent, you are. I'm divorcing you and sending the kids to my mom. You told your own mother you wished a doctor married you. Now you'll have your chance. "

"I gave up a doctor for you."

"You think you’re that beautiful to attract a doctor? You're nothing, a nobody. Why would a doctor look at you?"

“To examine me when I pay him,” Samira responded.

"Why would a doctor look at you?”

“Would you want your daughter to marry a man exactly like you? "She sighed. “I hope your daughter becomes a doctor or marries one that treats her kindly. If I didn’t marry one, I hope my children will.”

It made Samira think that her mother said she wished Samira would have married a doctor because she couldn’t marry a doctor. And her dad went to medical school for a while, until he had to leave for America in a hurry, but when they arranged the marriage, it wasn’t with a doctor, but with Samira’s uncle, a business owner wealthier than any doctor they knew. Ahmed after all, was family, and honorable.

"So I wasn't good enough for a Princess-with a lawyer for a brother?" He chided her.

"So I wasn’t good enough for a rich doctor," She replied with disdain.

Ahmed pulled off the wedding ring on Samira’s skinny finger and spit on it.

She whined "You lied. You told me your were a PhD. in mechanical engineering. I married you because I wanted a professional man for a husband. You were a dropout from some high school, a machinist in a German factory for six years. You knew exactly what you wanted when you married me—to get money from my family to set you up in business. And they did."

"So I'm not good enough for you?"

“I'm a rich girl without money. I'm not a poor girl. But you-you lied every inch of the way."

"Fortune hunter!"

"For you I went to college almost six years?"

"And what have you got to show?"

"Class, taste, dignity! Books."

"And I've got a quarter of a million dollars from the sale of my restaurant." Ahmed squeezed her cheeks together with two fingers until her mouth puckered.

"I'm divorcing you because you're a cold fish in bed." Ahmed watched his wife's expression. "After two children, who'd want to look at you with your pitted chicken flesh belly, stretched out below--and above a flat chest?"

"Am I that bad of a mother? Please, please don't break up the family. It's all I have left. "

Ahmed removed his shoe and whacked her over the head. He spit in her face. Then he fondled his pistol. "You know what Hoda did on Christmas Eve? She sucked my cock twice."

"Go to hell, you bastard." She ran into the bedroom in tears, suddenly realizing that all she had left was her self respect, her izziti-nefiz.

"I'll kill you. Sharmutter! Whore!" Ahmed flung the Turkish coffee pot at Samira. “If you give me any trouble, I’ll grind you into kibbe nea burger in my restaurant’s meat grinder.”

"Don't take my babies. I can't break up the family. What else have I got, except myself and my ambition in a world where I'm really not wanted?"

Ahmed looked up at her wide-eyed. She had given him a new idea. He locked up his gun and phoned the police. "My wife is going to commit suicide." He was calm and cool on the phone. I'm divorcing my wife and she's threatened to take her own life. Please come quickly."

"What?" She paled. "You're calling the police to develop a record of suicide reports on me when you know I'd never do such a thing? You're doing this just to build a record so you'll get custody of the kids, you bastard!"

"I'm divorcing you." Ahmed repeated, still on the phone with the police. Gamal * (name changed for privacy)-- Ahmed's brother walked into the house. He laughed for no reason, viewing the arguing couple.

"Your ulcers acting up again?" Ahmed called to his younger brother.

Ahmed motioned for his brother's help. The two men exchanged conversation in Arabic. Suddenly Gamal and Ahmed grabbed Samira and dragged her across the living room floor. Gamal was laughing and speaking loudly in Arabic. She was barefoot, wearing my flimsy negligee. Her hair flowed to my waist, and he made sure he pulled it.

They dragged her into the bathroom and pushed her face close to the mirror. Ahmed whipped out a razor blade from his shaving kit and held it against her wrist as Gamal laughed crazily, not interfering with his brother's taming of his wife.

"I can kill you, if I want to. You know that. And I can tell the police it was just one more suicide attempt." Ahmed rubbed the razor back and forth against her wrists, not making any marks. Then he put it down and slapped her until her mouth bled. Ahmed bent her head down into the toilet.

"See the crap stains you left unscrubbed? You'd better clean this house, you lazy asshole. I've got to sell it." He pushed her head into the bowl and flushed. Then he pulled her out as she coughed and choked on the swirling water.

Samira saw myself as a tiny woman hurled into the blackness of the night air as Ahmed's door slammed shut in her face. She banged on the door pleading to be let back in. But her cries went unanswered. Inside Ahmed phoned the police again. She pressed her ear against the window to hear the conversation.

"I want to report my wife is trying to kill herself. Hurry over here. My two babies are sleeping soundly in the bedroom, and I don't want my ex-wife back in here.

"Yes, I have the interlocutory decree of divorce in my pocket. No, she doesn't live here. This is my house.”

Ava was a British immigrant married to a Pima Indian. The light was still burning in Ava's living room. Samira peered through her window and watched Ava sitting on the sofa next to her husband. The middle-aged couple were cuddling, snuggling up to each other. Their fireplace was ablaze, and the TV set was on.

Samira could hear the dance music on TV from the Times Square broadcast. She pounded on the door begging to be let in. A fine drizzle had started, and she shivered beneath her transparent negligee, Her bare feet strained wet and caked with mud.

Ava jumped up as Samira pressed her face against the window. "What happened? Why are you here at this hour?" I ran in as soon as she opened her door. “I don't know where to go."

"We were just going to bed straightaway."

"He threw me out."

"Please let me sit here for a moment." She sat herself in Ava's rocking chair.

"He said he's divorcing me and taking the kids to dump on his mother in a Palestinian refugee camp. Don't believe him if he tells you I'm planning to commit suicide. Ahmed keeps calling the police and telling them I'm going to do it-just to build up a record. He needs a reason why he's entitled to custody.''

"Why would your husband act crazy?"

"Don't you understand? He wants custody of the children. Building a record of suicide reports at the police station is easy. Every time they come over I get a light shined into my eyes and they look at my wrists and go away."

"A woman is nothing without a man." Ava poured her a cup of lukewarm tea that was standing on a small table. “A woman without a man is always in danger when she gets old. She’ll be attacked on the street by grinning teenagers who hate her race.”

I sighed. "A woman without a man can go to bed knowing she'll still be alive in the morning."

"I've got multiple sclerosis," Ava scowled. "Who'd take care of me if my husband left? There’s nobody else.”

"I'm not crazy, I tell you," Samira whined. "But my psychiatrist betrayed me. He played back to my husband the recorded tapes he made of our session-after he promised me our conversation would be confidential."

"Are you going to let him get away with that?" Jose, Ava's husband butted in.

"Who would believe me? The doctor is my husband's best customer and friend. He even stores the doctor's expensive rugs for him."

"How'd he set after he heard the tapes?" Ava brought out some leftover cake.

"Beat the hell outta me."

"You're just going to hand over your kids to him?"

"He told me to tell the lawyer my health was bad. Do you think he'd let me live one hour if he thought I'd run back home to New York with my kids?"

"His kids? It's your divorce. What about those stretch on your belly and those episiotomy scars?"

"I don't have money of my own."

"Grocery money?" Ava was grasping at anything.

"He brings food home from the restaurant or goes shopping. I can't step into a supermarket without getting a dizzy spell and panic attack. It's my agoraphobia. "

"My goodness, look at you. You're a goner with that man." Jose left the room, disgusted.

"Don't you see? I can't ever open my mouth."

Ava saw the flashing lights and went to her window. "A police car stopped in front of your house."

"I told you he calls them every time we start to talk because he wants me out. He tells them I'm committing suicide each time. It's the only way he can get custody of the kids.”

"Bull. You're signing away custody of the kids to him because you're really afraid he'll kill you."

"He beats me where it doesn't leave any marks, except inside my mouth. I can't leave my house without a panic attack. How can I support kids?"

"He sure hits below the belt when you're in the pits."

"Ahmed even forced me to sign a quitclaim deed to the house. He said he cancelled the divorce he started last year and he needed the money for his liquor license."

"And you believed a wife beater?"

"He said he canceled the divorce. Oh, your right! Is this what childbirth does to a woman's logic?"

"Babies can be crazy makers."

"Not with the right man."

"Even with the right man, Ava. Wouldn't it be great to wake up in the morning and know that you're still alive-that no one-man, relative, or jealous woman-would kill you while you slept? "

"Just walk away."

"Impossible. There are loose dogs in these dead-end streets. The neighbors just let their German shepherds roam free during the day when the streets are empty. I'm the only one who doesn't drive around here. The dogs attack me."

"Taxi?"

"To where? With no money? No friends? No living relatives to call on for help anymore?"

Ava ran her fingers through her shaggy blonde hair. "You're a love junkie, you are. You must thrive on natural highs, self-made panic attacks. Do you miss the action?"

"I want a caring family more than anything else in the world."

"You've got a prison for a home."

"I know. At the astrology convention years ago, someone looked at my chart and told me this. Mars in Aries in the seventh house of partnerships square Venus in Capricorn in the fourth house of home life and domesticity."

"That's nonsense superstition. Maybe you just don't want to do the dirty work to support yourself. We can't all be princesses."

"I've always felt I'm somebody special, that I was meant to be a princess. I'd rather be famous than loved."

Ava shook her head with impatience. "I've got to get to bed."

She locked the door as Samira hurried out. She waved to her and peered out of her window watching Samira walk back home in the rain. The police car was still parked in front of my house.

"I'm okay," Samira whispered as the police officer shined a flashlight in her eyes looking for signs of drug use. "I'm a strict macrobiotic vegetarian." He looked at her tongue and turned Samira’s hands over to examine each wrist. As usual, they found no signs other than my high anxiety symptom complaints or hyperventilation syndrome, my asthma, or the shakes.

“You think I can get a job like you have?” Samira asked the cop.

“Probably, you’d have a better chance of getting hired if you joined the Marines.”

“Then I’ll take that chance as soon as I’ve walked off my panic just to show I can override my genes.”

"Can you make her go?" Ahmed asked the police officer as I sat down on my own sofa. “It’s my house,” my husband insisted. Where’s my house? I thought.

"Don't you have your own house to go to?"

"No. My husband sold it after he got me to sign a quitclaim deed when he convinced me he cancelled the divorce."

"But this is his house. You're divorced."

"Ahmed moved all my things in here when he sold my house. He bought this place for himself and his brothers because it's around the corner from his restaurant."

Ahmed pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "Here's my interlocutory decree of divorce."

The officer read the paper. "You need a lawyer, lady." I don't have a dime to my name."

"We did have a suicide attempt report."

"My husband just wants custody of the kids. That's why he called you. I never said a word to him or even thought of suicide. He makes up things to get custody of the children whom he’s planning to send to his mom to be reared in Syria. Won’t anyone help me? I have no money and no place to go. My parents are dead, and I have no relatives or friends to turn to for help. "

"Isn't there any way I can get this woman out of my house? My kids are asleep in there. "

"I signed custody of the kids to him because I couldn't step out of the house to support them with this agoraphobia, panic attacks, and panic disorder. What if I change my mind and want my kids back? Every week he says he’s canceling the divorce. Last week he said if I signed the house over to him, he’d cancel the divorce. I did so he could by a license for his restaurant. He promised he would cancel the divorce."

"I'll have her arrested for kidnapping." Ahmed snapped his fingers. He pulled out the divorce papers. No, he did not cancel the divorce. Why did I want to believe him? Why was I so afraid of finding a job and then quickly getting fired? Why did I cringe at the thought of having to walk out of my house? The agoraphobia, I decided created anxiety when I tried to walk to the mailbox.

The loose dogs would chase Samira, large German Shepherds from the neighbor down the block who worked all day. The dogs got out no matter how many times I sent letters. And then there were the loose pit bulls across the street, between me and the bus stop. I called so many times, but nothing happened.

The dogs ran loose for six years up and down the streets, between me and the bus to the freedom of seeking work. And then the babysitting fees. She had no money. If her husband found a baby sitter, it was always his mistress, the belly dancer. Samira had no choice in childcare. He ran the home as if he was the dictator of a foreign country, and he looked like a body double in face, coloring, and behavior of Saddam Hussein, more now than he resembled any character played by actor Omar Sharif in the 1963 film, Lawrence of Arabia. In fact the only trait in common Sadam and Samira’s husband had was that both were born in the same year in the Middle East and actually looked alike in face and build.

"But he's kidnapping my American-born babies and taking them to his mother overseas."

"A father doesn't have any less rights to his kids or faith than a mother," the officer quipped. "But who you really need is a lawyer."

"I'm the one who spent hours in labor and then months recuperating from the hormonal change and episiotomy stitches and stretch marks and migraines."

"She can't work. She's crazy." Ahmed sneered. "I want her out of my house, away from my babies."

I began to hyperventilate. "He's not a good provider."

"All we can do is take her to the rescue mission."

"Not with the bums and wings," I groaned.

"Look you two, it's New Years Eve. Can you let her stay just until morning?" The officer extended his hand to bargain with Ahmed, getting eye contact.

"You mean in America, a foreign man can just throw his wife into the streets at night and take away her kids just because she has no family to stand up for her?" She pleaded with the officer.

"Your brother hates you." Ahmed squinted.

"He's in the hospital dying of diabetes and his 350 pounds of overweight. His wife is going nuts thinking that I want him to give me money. That's why she hung up on me and told me to disappear. So I disappeared."

"Say, why don't you two kiss and make up. Everything will be okay in the morning," the second officer insisted.

Samira’s voice cracked. "He'll kill me if I try to stay in this house. My babies are in his bedroom and I'm locked out. Always on the outside. Don't you understand? He's sending them to his mother forever. Can't you see I'm powerless?"

"She can stay until dawn, officer. I'm not going to touch her. "Ahmed knew he had won.

"Pray he lets me live until morning. Last week he tried to strangle me with a wire. The week before last, he chased me with a knife. Tonight he and his brother dragged me into the bathroom and put a razor to my wrists. He makes up this story about suicide."

"She's under mental treatment with my psychiatrist."

"Disturbed? Hell, no I'm outraged. When a woman is outraged instead of hysterical, then, they call her crazy."

Samira began to weep quietly. "Did you hear him say his psychiatrist?"

"Now don't get hysterical, lady. We've got to be going." The officer patted her on the hand. "These domestic calls are the pits," The second officer said to his partner as they left. "He’ s not going to bother you. Just leave in the morning. You can go down to legal aid and fill out an application."

"Legal aid is for the poor. I'm still married to a rich man. He calls himself an Arab sheik to charm and romance the American women that eat in his restaurant."

"The party is over, folks. Good night."." The officer finished his report and walked to his car.

"We don't drink. It's haram, forbidden," Ahmed shouted back, bubbling with his conquest as he quietly locked the door. Ahmed bolted himself in the bedroom with the kids.

Samira dressed and finally lied down on the sofa in her overcoat until daylight came. She saw that Ahmed had left his wallet on the coffee table. Since Samira had no money of her own to leave, in a flash she cleaned out two fifty-dollar bills and change for bus fare.

Before anyone else in the house woke up, Samira had packed and sneaked out. For the first time since the birth of her daughter in 1965 and son in 1966 and the onset of agoraphobia/panic disorder, she could board a bus alone to the YWCA and get a cheap room. Never before in her sheltered life had she traveled alone and felt so utterly isolated.

As a child, Samira didn't know where the boundaries between herself and her Arab parents began or ended. Now, she missed the boundaries between her children and herself or her husband and the nest of family life.

Standing alone forced itself on Samira like a vortex. All her possessions, real estate, children, and relatives were swept away, and with no money of her own and no friends or family supporting her emotionally, divorce became real. There would be no way she’d be allowed to live if she dared to ask for custody of her children.

An inner voice kept nagging: You can't make it without a man to pay the bills. No one will hire you for long. Your health will fall apart. You'll always be fired for incompetence.

Resisting, she repeated: Someone out there will pay me, will allow me to survive Who will allow me, but myself?

When all else fails, when you have nothing to sell but yourself, you sell yourself. Not your body if only because it's ugly. You write a movie, a play, or a monologue about your life. You commercialize your memoirs and survive on the pittance until you take responsibility. She had a choice. Call the tabloids and sell her story, or join the Marines. Samira chose to stand on her two feet and pull her own weight. She put her faith in commitment and chose to join the Marines. Her first step focused on building up her body with military exercises and boot camp routines so they’d take her when her body fell into place.

Another voice pounded in her solar plexus: No, no my body is too sensitive to stress. I'll fall apart and disappear. My self will disappear. The second battle Samira won. She made it to the ""Y"" in one piece and had her lightweight portable typewriter with her.

After Ahmed threw her out of his house, Samira took a furnished room four blocks from his restaurant--a garage studio in back of a house.

Each time Samira would open the front door, she'd step right into the bathtub that was covered by a plywood board. The old fashioned bathroom sink sat next to the tub, a hotplate right above the sink, a toilet, all perched on a white linoleum-over-cement-slab floor covered by a new braided cotton throw rug.

The studio couch served as a bed. Her old portable typewriter and a stack of K-Mart paper stood on a small writing table. The desk chair was draped with sweaters and stockings. A Mickey Mouse lamp stood on a particle board bureau drawer.

All for $75 dollars a month rent in the sixties. Outside the window the rain lashed against the leaky windows as the chill crept through the stucco building. The whole room was one oblong box, everything done in faded dark brown by the landlady. Samira added touches of her favorite color, coral. Ahmed had delivered her sewing machine to her, and Samira had spent Thanksgiving alone, sewing the white lace pillows and white on white quilt tops.

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