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Salt Lakes

By Clare Elwell

A story responding to the photograph ‘Inside the Dilapidated Ship Noah’s Ark’ by Solmaz Daryani

A ghostly blue rinse swirled across the surfaces of the restaurant. The wooden benches and tables she remembered, but the once polished slats were no longer inviting, the metal legs now pitted, tarnished, the harsh parallel lines and sharp angles of the interior stark in the emptiness.

The Noah’s Ark was once the biggest pleasure boat on Lake Urmia.

Beyond the windows, cut with precision into horizontal planks of deteriorating pine, the grey water was barely visible, the horizon broken only by the silhouette of another ship. Waves no longer lapped at the hull lying abandoned on the cracked earth.

During the past 20 years approximately 80% of the lake has disappeared.

She squirmed, rested her hands on the table top. She, the knight in shining armour, a camera slung around her neck, extra lenses stowed in padded cases, binoculars (two pairs), notebooks, sharpened pencils; she was equipped to save the planet.

Lake Urmia was once home to many birds, ducks, pelicans and flamingoes.

She met Avi soon after that initial visit to Iran. She was bobbing in the Dead Sea, skin greasy in the brine. He had waded towards her, asking if the water was restorative.

A participant in a charity event, she was cycling in Israel, women raising money for women’s issues. Why do some eggs fail to fertilise? Or others fail to develop? Ninety-nine women cycling as one.

She felt a flush creep up her neck; she’d taken an unusual holiday, bypassed fund raising, chosen to pay the requisite monies herself, got fit.

There were a few men supporting the group; her first encounter with Avi when she felt his hand on the back of her saddle during a challenging climb, her legs grateful.

Parents were united only in their opposition, ignoring the fact their offspring no longer lived at home. Yes, she thought, we were still children then.

How easily the rallying cry of ‘Save the Planet’ became a cover, presenting scientific papers a smokescreen, camouflaging hospital visits, fertility clinics; incomplete pregnancies the reality. Nearly ten years together she mused, before she returned to Jerusalem.

They’d walked the Old City together. Baskets of orange, crimson and ochre powders spilled from shop fronts, pungent spices catching at her throat; different religions jostled for pavement space; thronging tourists meandered over the cobbles.

She started as her rucksack toppled on the ship’s floor, dust motes spinning in the daylight. She eased herself onto the bench and slid towards the wall, leant her head against the slats. Her eyes closed and she allowed herself to revisit that afternoon, the translucent expanse of sparkling azure sky, the golden hue of the Western Wall, men wearing black caps, gentle murmurs of prayer wafting upwards. Where were the women she had asked. She couldn’t recall his reply, but she could his questions.

Was it a good idea to bring a child into this world?

What future would it have?

Yes, she made a little compost from kitchen scraps, but?

Then he’d done that thing he did, slowly raising his broad shoulders, tilting his head slightly. That memory caused her eyes to prickle.

She had the knowledge he remonstrated, and the ability. He had emphasised the word ability.

What had she said in response?

She’d shivered in the warmth of the afternoon, pulled her shawl close and walked away.

During the past 20 years, climatic changes, intensive agriculture and dam construction have combined to transform the lake.

The grey sky over Lake Urmia gave way to a pale lemon sun and she lifted her face to greet the burgeoning light. She stretched to pull a leather journal from her bag. As she untied its worn strap, a postcard fluttered to the floor; a flamboyance of flamingos reclaiming their habitat at the lakeside.

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