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Drama Adventure

Page 41 of Greek Gods and Goddesses had the heading: Calliope: “Chief of all Muses”

I paused, brow furrowed. If Calliope was chief of all muses, who decided it? Who bestowed upon her the title? Some poet, presumably. Maybe many poets, if she was that kind of muse. A typical artist’s entitlement, though, isn’t it? To think of your beloved as chief over all. 

It was a challenge to philosophize on these rural dirt roads. Or maybe it was the lack of suspension on this cabbie’s tires. Either way, I decided the bumpy journey was future story-stuff that was charming, since it was foreign, and not just a New York bumpy road. 

Viscerally, it brought me back to my school-bus days. The melted grey seat back of the row ahead of me with the duct tape barely holding the whole seat together. And the kids- were so loud. I wasn’t. In the mornings, at least, I was cynical and silent. So I’d usually just lean my head on the window. The shaking was awful, rattling my brain around like a neural rock in a tumbler, and I don’t doubt I caused some permanent damage. But I remember thinking I had to do it, for white noise. Of course, I didn’t have an iPod then, so… c’est la vie, huh?

I did have an iPod now, but alas, in line with the tragedy of the epics, it had died on the plane. So I bought the train-station mythology book, which was far too verbose for my jet-lagged self, and besides, it was in Greek. I think if I had actually memorized a word in Greek for every time I vowed to get better at Greek… well, I wouldn’t be translating every other sentence. 

Leaning onto the window the way I used to, it wasn’t quite as brain-melding as I remembered. And wow, that view was just… trees. It was just trees at the moment. But they were exotic trees, so it was lovely. It was really green, actually. So much so that I wondered if I was on the right island. But that fear was soon quelled by my noticing a pile of maps tucked into the dusty glove compartment. This was Zakynthos. I didn’t know all that much about it, apart from it was cheaper to sail to than Santorini from the airport that was cheaper to fly to than Athens International. Maybe it w..

“It’ll be around the corner,” chimed the cabbie, in Greek. 

“Optimal news,” I replied, with a thumbs-up.

Oops. I could tell that wasn’t it. I sighed, and smiled. I was trying, at least. 

As we turned that corner, the sky opened up, and the canopy greens became bold and steady blues. And crisp whites, as suddenly, the roofs of a village appeared below us, houses steeped as an earl grey on the coastal mountain. We had travelled pretty far inland crossing to this point, but it was well worth it... here were the views that made other countries (and social media followers) jealous to no end. And though Zakynthos wasn’t Santorini, it was wonderful. Worth every penny pinched. 

Or so I thought. 

*********  

“But what does that mean, ‘I can’t have the room key.’ Why?”

“Because,” explained the desk clerk, Eleni, “it’s already with Nikos, in the room!”

“Again though, who is NIKOS? I have a single suite, ” I replied, frustrated, tired, and above all, a tourist.

“No, it’s a double,” Eleni continued, slower, “I will repeat. Yiannis’ daughter is getting married. All the rooms here are full of family and friends. They come from all over the world, and, uh” she laughed, “no one else thinks to come here on vacation during a big wedding,” 

After this, maybe the fourth time she’s explained it to me, I finally absorb the majority of the words, and I realize what’s happened. I flashback to my apartment: scanning the travel site, finding this place for a really fair price. And. I remember now. Probably it didn’t help matters that when I called I pretended I was booking for a honeymoon, so I could do that thing like on TV where they give you free honeymoon stuff if you pretend to have been jilted at the altar. But I see now. I said wedding, and with my poor translation, they threw me in with the actual wedding’s guests. This one’s on me. Karma for trying to scam the world with fictional heartbreak.

“I am sorry,” she added, while laughing a little more at me, “I’m sure they’d love to have you at the wedding tomorrow, if you do stay.”

I mulled it over. What was the alternative? It was a long cab drive over from the last town. I turned from the desk and looked past the packed lobby of, apparently, Yiannis’ family members. Through an open window, the morning’s sun peered in, warm. And beyond the window, that same sunlight danced on the ocean’s waves: shimmering, inviting me to do what I already knew I would.

To stay.

I hoisted my bags, resolute. One question remained. Who was Nikos?

*********

I felt a gentle nudge on my shoulder. 

Then another. 

Wait? Was I-  had I been sleeping?

It only took one open eye to confirm my suspicions. I was very-much-so horizontal, and very-much-so lying on a fluffy and comfortable… bed. Come to think of it, I was actually still tired. And I thought- hey, I know what’d be fun. Going back to sle..

“Hello?”

I spun around, tangling a bit in the blanket, and the nudger retreated. 

Nikos looked oddly familiar, for a stranger. 

His ‘look’ conveyed the confidence of a younger man. But his wrinkles gave him away. Well, that and the greying stubble. He wore a cap that sat above his oversized ears, and a moustache that lived below his oversized nose. But when you looked at him, your eyes went to his, as they glistened with a kind, yet mischievous charm.

“I wouldn’t have woken you,” he replied, a little awkward, “Except… earlier, you did tell me to wake you at ‘a normal time’ so you wouldn’t get on the wrong schedule.”

So that’s why he looked familiar.

“Sorry about that,” I laughed, ashamed, “Jet lag and all.”

“I understand completely. Time shifts are always hard.”

He looked absolutely Greek, almost like a few of my own old Theos. But his English was perfect, and I tried to place the accent. I wondered where he had flown in from.

“I take it we’re related,” he added, “we look a little alike.”

Right. The wedding. Was it easier to just…

“I suppose we are,” I lied, “but I’m very distant on the bride’s side so you wouldn’t have heard of me.”

Better to cover the bases and go for the good ole’ third-cousin-twice-removed gambit.

“So am I actually,” he smiled, “I’m told I’m her third-cousin-twice-removed.”

Gasp.

“What are the odds?” it slipped out.

“Low, genetically speaking,” he countered. 

I was glad he was funny. But it made me feel a bit worse about the lie. Sometimes I think I should’ve gone into acting, the way I so often slide into different characters. My real reason for having left New York? I had a week off of work, really. I was ‘being spontaneous,’ though the whole trip felt a little insincere. Plus, it felt a little wrong, lying to this guy. 

“I’m afraid to say it, but I let you sleep altogether too late into the evening. I suppose you must have had people to eat with, but… in case you didn’t I didn’t eat yet in case you wanted some company,” Nikos confided. 

What could I say? Of course, I knew no one else here, and frankly, the offer sounded lovely. 

*********

Nikos wasn’t kidding. It was late. The infrequent streetlights were hardly enough to safely guide us down the mountain to the ‘hotspot’ restaurant, so we walked arm in arm. He brought along a bag- which I insisted on carrying. My idea, I couldn’t bear the thought of him getting hurt on my behalf. Not to mention we’d then be going at the same pace- his. 

We introduced ourselves on the way. He was from Indiana, though he was travelling in Europe before arriving in Zakynthos. He had been a restaurant manager like his father, though he was also a veteran. Of course, I was from New York. A writer. Both of us were Greek by blood, but not by postal code.

“Two Greeks who never visit!” he joked. 

Of course, we both had been to the ‘homeland’ before, but neither had been while travelling alone. I didn’t want to pry, or tire him out, so I left the last stretch to walk in silence. 

We passed all walks of life on the path. Children laughing, playing soccer through the dark winding streets, stray cats that followed us a good portion of the way, hoping for some morsels we couldn’t give them. And, once we got closer to the ‘platia,’ the town square, the old men seated at outdoor tables with drinks and cards became more and more frequent. 

Then we arrived. The tablecloths were covered in Greek landmarks, perhaps to draw in tourists (to be fair, it had worked.)

“Up to your standards?” I inquired of my new restaurateur friend.

“We’ll see,” he winked. 

He had a trick up his sleeve. That bag I’d been carrying contained a plastic soda bottle of bright-red wine. 

"It's real Greek wine- not what they'll serve here to tourists."

I had to laugh.

**************

Through horiatiki greek salad, second-best (non-wedding) cuts of meat, and endless lemon oregano potatoes, we discussed it all. The wine took the edge off everything, and I shared with my companion the stories of my life. 

Bus rides, baseball as a kid, my university adventures, my celebrity encounters as a barista, my manuscripts. 

“Wonderful,” Nikos said to almost everything, “You have a wonderful life.” 

Everything, then, was a wonder to Nikos. And he was genuinely enthralled. He was! I dissolved, talking to him, that was his charm. 

A little drunker, we shifted to his stories. 

He discussed his world travels, to Australia, to Rome, to Panama, and North, to see the Aurora Borealis. 

“I live by ‘Do not dare not to dare’” I added.

He asked what that meant, and I told him it was a C.S. Lewis quote. He nodded. 

In lesser details, he discussed his time as a soldier. Mostly he described the actions and heroism of his friends. I’m sure he was modest as to his own. 

“Courage is grace under pressure,” I chimed. 

“That’s Hemingway. Why are you always quoting authors?” he demanded.

“I... don’t tr,” I thought for a second, “Because I think.. the best words are not our own.”

“I disagree.”

“Yeah, but… isn’t it a little narcissistic to assume that our experiences are symbolic of everyone else’s,”

“Aren’t you a little bit of an English major?”

He had guessed, but I, of course, was an English major. We laughed at that. And drank some more. Plastic-bottle wine was, quite simply, caustic, but it was strong and tasting better and better the closer to empty it got. 

“I thought,” I blurted, to break a long silence, “you might have thought less of me for being young.”

He coughed down another swallow from his cup, “Never.”

A shorter pause followed as I managed another swig from mine. 

“But you,” I continued, “You’ve lived a life. You’ve lived through war, you’ve travelled, you’ve been marr..”

I stopped. I didn’t know he’d been married. 

“Yes,” he proceeded, more gingerly, “I have.”

There was something innocent about him then, as he stared beyond my shoulder, and into the past. Really, I wouldn’t have been insulted if he had stopped the story there. After all, we’d only just met.

But he went on, and I never forgot what he said,

“I was married. I was. I’ll tell it now, I’ve started- I suppose” 

I waited, silent.

“I met her early in my life. 1961. I was seventeen, I was young, and I saw her. She was wearing, I’ll never forget, a green dress- emerald green. In that one moment I knew love. I knew the love that Shakespeare and the Beatles, and everyone wrote about. I understood what they meant in the love songs and the sonnets, but for once, I wasn’t… thinking about that, at all. None of those words made me feel what I felt. No feelings were truer to me than my own, then. You think it’s narcissistic, but it’s not. It wasn’t like the movies, it was real. And of course, because it was real, you know how it goes, she was with someone else. Thomas, his name was, but they all called him Tommy,” 

I was frozen, watching him change like a kaleidoscope. 

He went on, “and I never forgot his smug little face. So in that first moment, when the emerald dress spun around and she was kissing smug Tommy, I felt real pain. Like from books, only not at all. Worse. I felt it like a punch to the throat, and for days after- or weeks, actually, it stung terribly. Terrible! Until I said to myself, I said, ‘Hey, I love this girl, huh?’ So, I did what they do in the epics and I went on a journey to win her love. But the idea didn’t come from your books, it came from within. I thought it up. For years I waited, until eventually I was close enough to her to realize her eyes were the same shade of emerald her dress was that first night. Better than my loving her was her loving me. It was an honour, kid, ” he paused, “and you won’t know it until you live it.”

He drank a swig of wine again, this time finishing the glass. 

“We married after I got back from the war. And a while after that my son was born. Hey,” he asked, “Have you ever read a story where someone’s proud of their kid?”

I nodded. Of course I had.

“Scrap that. Be a parent. Then you’ll know. When your son first walks? It's like Armstrong on the moon. When he talks? It's an aria’s beauty. And he is perfect. And time goes too fast. He gets to be almost grown. As old as I was when I met his mother.” 

He breathes here, purposefully, then continues, “She always told me and our boy to eat our vegetables. She made us run. She kept us all alive, really she did. I snuck him donuts and french fries anyway. But she was... always so healthy. Life is cruel.”

He drank what remained of the wine right from the plastic bottle.

“You've read Orpheus and Euridice?” he asks.

“I have,” I reply, looking him in the eye. 

“So you remember, then, when the boy looks back at the girl, breaks the promise, and she fades back into the underworld?”

I nod, “That’s the key part.”

“People read a moment like that and think it’s the tragedy. Our lives are filled with tragedies that hurt us worse.”

“To Orpheus, it was though,” I interject, “It was his great tragedy.”

“His, not yours. What was great pain for him need not be great pain for you. Don’t glorify it. And please stop trying to live like your books. It’s useless,” he was now yelling, "your wife ends up dead and you end up with the idea that somehow, that isn't a great tragedy. It is, damnit."

He waits a long time. If a tear fell, it was wiped away too quickly for me to notice it. 

"And don't be sorry for me, either. She kept us together, the boy and I. She cooled us down. Truth of it is, seeing him reminded me of her, and it brought me right back into the thick of the grief. I couldn't do it. We fought. I haven't said a word to the boy in maybe seven years. I haven't been there for him," he was drunk, and sad now. The waitress was eyeing us with concern.

"I hear from my family how he is. He graduated college. Met a great girl. He never reached out to me either. But I can't," he groaned, "miss everything. You have to know. I just... missed so much."

It dawned on me slowly, then all at once. 

“Why did you come to Zakynthos, Nikos,” I implore.

I was reading his face, He was silent, angry. And all at once he was stood up, and storming off.

"Nikos," I bellowed. 

He spun around, distant. 

"Don't make your great tragedy his."

He had heard me. 

***********

I paid the bill. I made the drunken walk back up the mountain. We did share the hotel room that night, though no words were exchanged. And when I woke up the next day, Nikos was gone. 

Maybe he talked to his son that day, at the wedding. Maybe he kept running. I never did find out.

Less hungover than I should have been, I packed my bags up. Maybe I would stay a few days and camp around Zakynthos, maybe I’d go. I wasn’t certain. But I did know one thing for sure. It was true because it was true to someone. 

Calliope was the chief of all muses. 

March 06, 2021 04:55

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4 comments

Izzie Q.
11:55 Mar 11, 2021

hey! you left such amazing feedback on my stories that I thought I'd take a look at yours...and I'm stunned. This deserves way more attention from other writers! you kept me hooked all the way through and the last line was really powerful. Great character building and good job at keeping the dialogue balanced with description. so, how's your day going?

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Amélie Aspen
20:06 Mar 11, 2021

thank you for reading my story, Izzie! I'm glad you liked it :)

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Izzie Q.
12:12 Mar 12, 2021

ofc!! it was wonderful!!

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Lily Kingston
18:53 Mar 13, 2021

Great story. I like how her scam turned against her--that was funny :) Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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