Worthy reader, after solving the following brain-teaser, you can compare your answer with the author’s version of same (printed upside-down at the end). If yours matches hers, you win the “Harem Rose” prize. You can send other solutions to email@example.com . The best answers will be published in our review. Good luck!
7 virgins + 7 spoons + 7 young men + 7 pairs of heels + 7 old hags + 7 mouths + 7 widows =
You, my one and only, my destiny,
I, your twentieth, on a misunderstanding…
Seven bearded virgins turn in circles round a pot, clanking their seven spoons and stirring the hot, gluey, thick brew, and then, using that sticky sugar as a hair-remover, peel the down from my body (oy, mamma!); seven pairs of hands plying seven epilatory rings are pop-poppingly yanking little hairs out by the roots, epilating my armpits and curly-haired groin and making them shine…
They are readying me for the lord of the night.
Seven young eunuchs (yet oh! how they love me, how they caress me with their eyes, their moist, languid eyes), nothing but a loincloth hiding their small behinds (wondrous little body parts); in a large earthenware tub, seven pairs of bare heels are crushing, with precise little steps, seven-hued rose petals; dazed and languishing in the tangled torpid web of rosy aromas, they wash, applying drops of oil of rose with an infinity of slow gestures (ooh, mama!), my sweaty armpits and the backs of my knees…
They are readying me for the lord of the night.
Seven toothless old hags, nimble-lipped adepts of the techniques of refined oral love, are immersing my fingers in hot henna rice paste, sitting cross-legged in a circle round me and singing, clapping and rocking back and forth, clapping, singing, and rocking back and forth, rocking and singing and clap… clap… My hot fingers, ten snakes, writhe and wrap round my body and draw red streaks of henna across my back, thighs, and breasts, like the marks of a whip burning stripe by stripe…and the harrowing cry of my little heart (water, mama!), when the transparency in the pitcher comes dripping from it like, look!, milk-and-honey (drawing cold-as-ice-cream closer, inching closer to my lips, but transitorily, but grazing flow-and-transitorily, and oh, already passing and past) and fails to touch the tip of my tongue; I approach and it draws back, I writhe and it flies off: ach, a sip of water, just a drop of H2O… My fingers are ten condemned sinners in hot lava gloves, and the devil (who’s deaf) licks them, hell’s share, phalanx by beringed phalanx, with his fiery, bumpy, flame-swallowing tongue… Ay, they woke me up (had I dozed off?), the sudden silence woke me up, they’re not singing any more, the old hags aren’t clapping and rocking any more, they’re silently licking my hennaed fingers clean, my blood-red little fingers clean, with long greedy gulps, gasping for breath, they’re tonguing them one-by-one…
They are readying me for the lord of the night.
Seven widows who haven’t had a man for seven years, who’ve buried husbands, not in the earth, but in their imaginations alone (gathering, like pieces of a puzzle, suicide attackers’ body parts from bombed subways and buildings), knead dough with their spit and tears and rub it into my elbows and joints, pound and soften up my round little heels, massage my skin from top to toe with olive oil, bitter orange peels, and leaves of mint; they rub oil of rose into my sleeping veins, titillate my blood with passion and frenzy, comb out my damp hair with resin and aromatic musk and weave it into forty branching tresses, so that it will lift, forty times over, the forty cubits’ desire of my heart’s sheik… With shining gold coins and tinkling beads and rustling silk, they adorn my new body, a terminator of the east (I am all color and scent, I am tinkle and glitter and an epicenter scattering sparks and drops of light in the mists of femininity, spiraling round themselves)… They bring the aromatic musk-melons stacked one in the next and, with them, placed every which way, the seven-hued veils, and swathe me in all seven, layer upon layer and fold upon fold, wrap them round, wrap them tight, covering and hiding me until nothing shows, until I’m as promising as a cocoon – as yet a still closed, sober guarantee and a gilded little package, a pleasure-giving cavern with secret doors… Ah, whose hand holds the key? (I have yet to see my lord’s face.) When will it enter my lock and open me up to myself (inside, my heart pounds) so that I can cross my own threshold and find him? …. The one who knows the secret code will undo this dark knot and, stage by stage and line by line, solve, without tremble or pause, my obscure, brain-teasing rebus…
I am ready, look! — a stubborn secret, closed from end to end, sealed from top to toe, a mute whisper, a silent cry… Only my eyes are uncovered (and how I love with my moist, languid eyes, how I am caressed): look this way, amid the carpets, cushions, and pillows, ready to cater to your whims and conquer your heart, as if I were a gift for the little boy’s (as in his stocking under the fir tree) delight, unexpected, glittering, enveloped in seven-layered, tightly wound veils (the heart of a rose nestling in her petals), which will obligingly open as soon as my terrible Lord of the night draws nigh and lightly touches them…
Come sit on your throne, my king of kings, lord of my bosom, sultan of my heart: you are the emperor of this night, ah, mashallah!… My mighty sire, my patriarch, learned doctor of the religion of the rose, terrible jailer, keeper of the keys, torch of my soul, master of the way… I am, o mild-tempered oligarch, the favored one among your women, privileged of all twenty, out of turn; let me entertain you in the tent of my body, come play with me, o lord of heart…
Like the rose who plays hide-and-seek with the butterflies, beetles and bees, I have gone into hiding in myself; no-one who finds me shall ever look for anything else… Walk about blindfolded, turn in circles about me, recite your sounding promises, shower me with gold, sing my praises in deep, languorous accents, in lilting, lovely words, delicious, done to perfection, so that, lovingly and willingly, I open the burning box of my love, where dozing, half-asleep, half-awake and drunk with the odor of opium, the virgin rose nods, self-charmed, self-enchanted, rocking herself in her own cradle…
Stand here, hand on your heart, head hanging and barefoot,
Wet your forefinger with your tongue, turn the pages of your heart’s quarto one-by-one and warble eloquent words,
A couplet about my shining eyes,
A couplet about my flawless voice,
A couplet about my amber hair,
A couplet about my milk-white skin,
A couplet about the taste of my lips,
A couplet about my musk-melon breasts,
A couplet about my flower-strewn belly,
A couplet about you, a slave to love,
recite word by word, recite verse by verse, a procession of words strung out like beads; feed my lips, a spoonful at a time, a sherbet of words, bunches and bunches of your words deep in my ears, words like morello cherries, like sweet grape molasses… Work the pump of your wordworks, transform yourself into words, make earnest promises, sprinkle the hot-plate of my heart with burning blood, sing the praises of all the wondrous parts of my body, immerse me in the widening gyre of your endless eulogies, shining with spit, and slaughter me softly, line by line… In the maelstrom of your frenzied odes, the waves of your songs, in the coils of sound and the rainbowed vortex of the glittering kaleidoscope of your words, I swim line by line, heart aflutter and gasping for breath…
Leaf page by page through the quarto of your heart and, now and again, blow away the dust of the old words stacked upside-down, one in the next; wipe it clean sheet by sheet, read it through leaf by leaf… Sheikh of the night, imam of love, say open sesame, salam… Make your every word a resourceful key, and your vassal’s gates will open lovingly and willingly, gladly and wide…
Commander of the night, pursue me, find me, come look for me, come plumb me; roll after roll, layer after layer, pull off my petals off until you discover my body hidden away at their core, prepared by love’s seven mighty helpers, the accredited specialists of love. Come, hurry up, I hunger to be found; come slowly and on tiptoe, as if to kill me, or rip off in a frenzy, one by one,
my blue skirt
(no, not there, it’s not there you’ll find me)
my yellow skirt
(I’m not there, either; where am I? come see)
my green skirt
(if you find me, my little man, I’m yours for free)
my red skirt
(hurry up, would you please, I’m all fire and flame)
my white skirt
(Can’t stand it any longer, I’m already wet and faint)
my pitch-black skirt
my purp… cuckoo, now you see me, now you don’t,
now you see me: here I am,
you’ve found me, my lucky one, my pilgrim votary,
I’m a road, you’re a wayfarer,
I’m a love poem, you’re a reader,
trample all of me underfoot, o passer-by, learn me by heart, say where all my moles are
without looking, and the map of my sky-blue veins, in a languid voice and in rhyme…
Look, look, but what’s this? the rhymes are there, but not the words; the languor is there, but not the voice; the read is there, but not the er; the way is there and the y is there, but not the farer or the luck –the luck’s nowhere to be seen…
Oh, where are you, my Sun and Moon, my invisible husband? It’s already my turn, is that it? my turn to find you, who weave in and out of these lines, this cracked mirror, piece by piece, shattered, only by halves. How well you’ve hidden, how curious the way you were dismembered and scattered over these pages, silently, bit by bit… Let me touch my knee to the ground, get down on all fours, let me give these lines a good tuning, piece by piece, section by section, let me gather up the pieces of your dismembered body, gather you up sliver by sliver and a toe at a time, to everyone’s knowledge and right out loud, gather you up by phoneme and epiphora, suffix and prefix, from this syntagm, this self-investigating enunciation, true and whole and unmixed…
But I can’t produce you, reveal you, patch you up from top to toe, put you together and hide you away. Halved once and then halved and halved again, you double and redouble, you multiply; every part of you comes to life until every part of you is you, and whichever one I happen to find is my many-faced husband, too…. I’m a widow with many husbands and cheat on one with the next: now I fornicate with your head, now your leg, now your lips, now your heel, and sometimes I fornicate collectively, sneakily, when the parts of you come toward me together and all at once….
Come lie beside me, my plural one….
Your hot fingers, ten snakes, wrap round my chest and brand me stripe by stripe…. Crush me, choke me, sow ten thick drops of spicy, poisonous medicine from your fountain in me, spill my virgin blood on the carpets, cushions, and pillows, on the seven-hued veils…. Every drop of that blood will come from my womb as a child, like a parade; twins, boy and girl, separate and joined, matérielprovided by Allah and purest poison (deathly sherbet) in my mouth, much taller and straighter than the twins of stone, weak and yielding…. There will be no end to them, they will not cease, for as long as I live, an epicenter spewing viruses and spreading death; I shall bear seven times seven generations, of the choicest sort, willing serfs… I shall write eloquently with my engendering pen – page by page and letter by letter, one in the next and strung out one by one – the quarto of my heart, volume upon volume…. And frame by frame in this never-ending serial, twins will keep springing forth, like the phoenix, a terminator forever dying and reborn…. They will be born without end of my rose-colored virgin blood, a word of ill omen written in crimson ink in a sealed, self-enclosed package, my infectious, disease-bearing twins – a stubborn secret, sealed from top to bottom and closed from end to end, with only their eyes uncovered, they will burn and lay waste the green devil’s whole world, a disgusting wound; they will come born two at a time, like Twicks, to destroy this courtyard with its artificial, deceptive roses, like the matrix of a puzzle scrambled and ruined by Allah’s right hand.
Housewife or businesswoman, young or… not so young, whether you’re going through those critical days that only women face or are already past menopause, you are daily endangering the Woman inside you. Worries about your personal life or career and the energy you unreservedly devote to the world of learning or the family are depleting and drying up the eternal, secret spring of your Femininity. Dishpans and computers, diapers and test tubes are robbing you of your mysterious, divine face. Find your true self again! Activate the riddle of Woman and the divine grace that makes you an exception! You don’t think you can? Don’t know where to start? We’ll help you. You deserve it.
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“Harem Rose”: remember the name. It will be your true native soil, your parents, the fatherland you’ll never betray, if you come see us just once. Forget the Urartuan’s modest savagery and the Cilician’s passionate reserve. The “Harem Rose” – a new name for the world’s oldest riddle. Daily except Mondays.
translated by G. M. Goshgarian