We recently published Defne Çizakça’s gorgeous “The Deceased with Red Skin.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the specificity of the funeral rituals here — there is something so beautiful about entrusting your body to someone who will have “prayers and spells in [their] mouth.” Were these based on any specific funeral rites, or are these purely your own creation?
I was inspired to write this story after a visit to the Brooklyn Museum, where I came upon an exhibition titled “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt.” It was only my second time in New York City and I was keen to explore all the landmarks, but the display was so fascinating I kept returning to it day after day.
The ancient Egyptians believed that rebirth for a woman was only possible if she temporarily turned into a man in the hereafter. This was because, in their worldview, only men were fertile. They were the ones who created the fetus which they passed on to women during copulation. Women did not have the creative power to birth themselves, hence the necessity to become a man to facilitate the next incarnation. Priests assisted by marking the woman’s coffin with red — the color of men — and reciting spells and prayers that addressed the deceased with masculine pronouns.
Walking through the museum, I felt these rituals might have offered a window of opportunity for someone. The burial rites mentioned are based on ancient Egyptian ones.
2) I’m especially drawn to the transformation offered in this story. Do you think the narrator will find what they are seeking in this death?
I really hope so. On the one hand, it is uncertain whether the priest can make the transformation last. He seems unreliable. On the other hand, this journey is to an in-between realm. By definition, it must house possibilities we are ignorant of. Perhaps ones that are even more beautiful than the narrator’s expectations.