Ali Salami

Madeline By Sadeq Hedayat

The other evening I was there, in the little parlor. Her mother and sister were also present, the mother in gray and the daughters in red, matching the crimson velvet of the sofas. I leaned my elbow on the piano and watched them. There was silence, except for the needle of the gramophone playing the stirring and melancholy melody of “The Volga Boatmen” The rustling of the wind and the splashing of the rain on the window pane blended seamlessly into the rhythm of the music.

Madeline sat in front of me with a pensive and somber expression on her face, resting her head on her hand as she listened. I secretly admired her curly chestnut hair, her bare arms, her graceful neck and the youthful vibrancy of her profile. This pensive demeanor did not seem to suit her; I imagined she was always up for running, playing and joking around. It was hard to imagine that thoughts crossed her mind or that she could ever be touched by sorrow. I liked her childlike, carefree nature.

This was the third time I had met her. Our first meeting was by the sea, a stark contrast to that day. She and her sister wore swimsuits and exuded freedom and openness. Madeline had a mischievous, childlike air, with sparkling eyes. It was just before sunset and I remember the ocean waves, the music, the casino. Now their faces look pale, introverted, shrouded by the weight of life, adorned with this year’s fashion of long red and purple dresses that covered them to the ankles.

The song of the gramophone, distant and muffled, reminiscent of the waves of the sea, came to a halt. The mother began to talk about the warmth of the gathering and recounted her daughters’ scholastic and artistic activities. “Madeline is top of her class in painting,” she said, winking knowingly at her sister. I smiled and answered her questions briefly and superficially, but my mind was elsewhere. I remembered our first meeting almost two months ago during the last summer vacation, a trip to the seaside.

I remember leaving with a friend at four in the afternoon, the weather was warm and busy as we made our way to Trouville. We boarded a bus outside the station and wound our way through woods and between hundreds of cars, the air filled with honking horns and the smell of oil and gasoline. Occasionally, the sea peeked through the trees.

We got off at one of the stops and found ourselves in Villerville. We strolled through the uneven streets lined with stone and mud walls and reached a small beach that lay like a round loaf of bread on a cliff by the sea. In the square facing the sea was a small casino, surrounded by houses and small pavilions perched on the hillside.

Also by Sadeq Hedayat: Manifestation (Tajalli)

Down by the sea, the sandy beach was littered with children playing alone or with their mothers, playing ball games or baking mud pies. Groups of men and women in snug bathing suits frolicked in the water or lay in the sand and sunbathed. Old men read newspapers under colorful striped umbrellas and glanced at the women around them. We took our place in front of the casino and sat on the wide ledge of a seawall with our backs to the sea. As the sun approached setting, the sea level rose, the waves lapped at the shore and the sunlight glittered in sparkling, jagged patterns on the surface of the water.

A large, dark ship, emerging through the fog and the steam of the sea, heads for the port of Le Havre. The air was getting a little cooler, causing the people below to gradually rise. Among them, I noticed my friend rise to greet two young women approaching us and introduce me to them. They joined us at the edge of the dyke. Madeline, holding a large ball in her hand, sat down next to us and started a conversation as if she had known me for years. Occasionally she would get up to play with the ball and then sit back down by my side. Jokingly, I tried to snatch the ball from her, which led to a playful tug of war. Our hands touched and eventually we held hands, her warmth radiating a gentle heat.

With furtive glances I admired her form: the curve of her breast, her bare legs, the graceful line of her neck. A thought caressed my mind, how wonderful it would be to lay my head against her bosom and slumber here, by the sea. As the sun sank below the horizon, a pale moon cast its ethereal glow on this secluded beach, lending the scene an intimate, familiar atmosphere. Suddenly, the lively sounds of a dance tune rang out from the casino and Madeleine, holding her hand in mine, began to sing an American dance number, “Mississippi”.

Also by Sadeq Hedayat: Three Drops of Blood [Se Qatreh Khun]

I squeezed her hand, the beacon of the lighthouse cast a luminous arc on the water, while the rhythmic roar of the waves crashing against the shore filled the air and the shadows of passers-by flickered in front of us.

At that moment, as these visions danced before my eyes, Madeleine’s mother approached the piano and took a seat. I stepped aside and suddenly, as if in a dream, Madeleine stood up, rummaged through the sheets of music scattered on the table, selected one and placed it in front of her mother, then returned to me with a smile.

Her mother began to play and Madeleine sang softly. It was the same dance tune I had heard back in Willeroy – that Mississippi tune.


Paris, January 5, 1930

© Ali Salami 2023

About Sadeq Hedayat

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction mark a clear departure from the traditional literary style. Hedayat is considered one of the most successful Iranian writers of the 20th century and was a pioneer of modernism, which continues to influence contemporary Persian literature to this day.

Hedayat was born into a prestigious family and received his early education in Tehran. He later studied dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This contact prompted Hedayat to abandon his scientific ambitions in favor of a career in literature. Sadeq Hedayat is known for a large number of short stories that have been widely read by Iranian readers. Some of these stories are: Dash Akol, The Stray Dog (Sag-e Velgard), Three Drops of Blood (Se Qatr-e Khun), The Whirlpool (Gerdab), Seeking Redemption (Talab-e Amorzesh), The Doll Behind the Curtain (Arusak-e Posht-e Pardeh), The Claws (Changal).

All of his stories have been translated into English by the Iranian scholar Ali Salami.

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