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Contemporary Fiction

I stepped off the ferry to Crete and kissed the ground. I looked around me. All I could see was the azure water and white houses, snaking up the hills. I raised my hands and yelled “I’m free!” Some of the disembarking passengers turned and smiled, some shook their heads. My divorce was final, the kids were off my dime and financially independent and I had quit my job. Thirty years working for the same corporation was enough. The drudgery of doing their accounting year after year had been too much. The board pressured me to find ways to escape taxes. Their suggestions were becoming borderline criminal. I had had enough. My wife was used to a lavish lifestyle, and I was the main provider. I don’t know why she went to medical school and had residency training. Once the kids were born, she became a full-time mother and refused to resume her medical practice as they grew. I have to admit she had exquisite taste, but I could barely afford the mansion in the Palisades. Once she enrolled our two daughters in riding lessons, I knew it was all over. The kids wanted their own horses. I resisted until I couldn’t. The horses’ feed alone translated into more work hours. Boarding costs meant moonlighting as an accountant for a small medical practice over the weekends. I barely had time to visit my aging parents. My mom had developed dementia, required extra attention and Dad was in a wheelchair. They could not live alone but my sister resisted the idea of putting them in an assisted living facility. It was easy for her to say since she lived in Connecticut. My folks and I lived in Los Angeles. It was my responsibility to hire a caregiver and pay their wages. My sister was an artist and lived on the poverty line. I felt like a hamster on a flywheel, but I was determined to be a good son, husband, and father.

My friends began to abandon me. I had no time for them. I worked most evenings, so I rarely attended the weekly poker games. John, my best friend, made sure I still ran with him at 5 in the morning four days a week. For years, he warned me that my plate was too full and eventually I would crash. I’d try to change the subject or speak to him in runner’s parlance. “Life is a marathon-one foot in front of the other.” He’d just shake his head and try again months later. I knew he was right, but I couldn’t get off the fly wheel. When I’d come home late in the evening, Sharon, my wife, was rarely there. Occasionally she’d leave dinner in the fridge. By ten pm, I was exhausted and ready for bed. Most nights, Sharon would arrive home just in time to join me. She claimed she was exhausted by her charity work, Zumba classes and riding lessons. It took me twenty years to realize that her lack of libido had nothing to do with exhaustion. Freddy, our next-door neighbor was a successful movie director and sometime actor. He had been single for years and seemed like a nice friendly guy. Yeah, maybe a little too friendly. One night, I left the office at 9pm and saw Sharon leaving Freddy’s house. I didn’t say anything but developed a little paranoia. Sharon forgot that she had installed a Find My Friends app on my cellphone. I started checking her location most evenings. Sure enough, she spent hours next store.

A tearful confrontation led to couples’ therapy. I really had no time for it, but I felt it was necessary. Sharon’s liaisons were less frequent but still occurred. The therapist’s bills just added to my burden. Sharon complained I worked too much, and she sought solace and intimacy from Freddy. The therapist could not make her see that her lifestyle required large amounts of money. Her small inheritance and savings from five years of medical practice were long gone. She insisted that it was the kids’ needs that were expensive not her lifestyle.  According to her, it was my idea to build a mansion in the Palisades and buy two Mercedes for us and a Mustang for our oldest daughter. The therapist turned to me for a response, but I was tongue tied. Sharon lied so easily. Hadn’t I noticed it before?

It’s not easy to end a twenty-year marriage especially when there are kids involved. Not only did I have to pay my lawyer but Sharon’s as well. Since I was the only breadwinner and two of our kids were under eighteen, I was liable for child support and alimony. Sharon would also get the house which was fine with me. I couldn’t stomach paying alimony, so my lawyer arranged a lump sum. I sold everything I owned of value and took out a big loan. It was worth it. I didn’t mind child support but after all the lies and infidelity, alimony was a hard pill to swallow. Somehow, a lump sum was easier. A new therapist had made me look at my inability to set boundaries and say no. I had been a prisoner of my own weakness. It was a hard lesson to learn.  I began to refuse extra hours dumped on me at work. It felt good. The next ten years were tough, but I began to shed some of the shackles. I no longer paid for Sharon’s riding lessons. The kids grew up, stopped riding and we sold their horses. Child support ended but I still had to cover their college tuition.  Working two jobs and long hours precluded any sort of social life.

I was nearing retirement and my kids had finished college and were getting married. My obligations were coming to an end. John had just returned from the island of Crete and urged me to consider a trip there. He had stayed in a stone villa just steps from the sea in a town called Myrtos. He raved about the people, the sea and culture. After several visits to Knossos, inland on the island, he became interested in the ancient Minoan culture. He and his wife considered moving to Myrtos once their kids left the house. He had even contacted a realtor. According to him, the lifestyle was the healthiest he had ever encountered. The sea air and water were enticing. He had become a daily swimmer and ran on the beach. Vegetables were plentiful and fresh, and seafood was a staple of his diet. He didn’t mind the isolation but actually enjoyed the company of the locals. John was a history professor and specialized in ancient Greece so he may have been bias. Still, he was convincing.

I took a two-week trip to Greece and did all the touristy things in Athens before taking a ferry to Crete. The Acropolis and Parthenon were spectacular, and I loved Greek salads, moussaka and souvlaki. Still, I didn’t relax until the ferry reached Heraklion in Crete. The white buildings and houses clustering at the port and up the hillside were impressive. After inhaling and smelling the clean sea air, I felt somehow lighter. The one hour and sixteen-minute bus ride to Myrtos was scenic. We were forever climbing and descending white mountains. Woodlands and scrubs dotted the mountainsides. I was happy to note that most of my fellow passengers seemed to be natives. Most were dressed in white linen but there was an occasional older woman wearing long black dresses and a head scarf. It was a pleasure to listen to conversations in Greek although I had no idea what they were saying. It made my escape from my western life complete.

Myrtos was on the southeast coast of Crete. I had rented a cottage, walking distance from the Aegean sea. It was a small white structure at the foot of a large marble cliff. It had a big bay window looking out at the azure water. I was mesmerized by the sea’s beauty. It instilled in me a calm I hadn’t experienced in years. I was looking forward to taking a page out of Freddy’s playbook. I’d run on the beach and swim in the sea. Maybe I’d keep a journal and write about my experience. I aspired to being a travel writer when I was younger, but I chose the more practical profession of accounting. It was all so freeing. I frequented two local cafes and ate healthy and fresh food, although I did have an occasional baklava. I could not resist.

I took several day trips around the island but always seemed to land in Knossos just south of Heraklion. I was fascinated by the Minoan culture. Maybe it was John’s influence. At the end of the two weeks, my calm started to dissipate. I walked into a realtor’s office and took some fliers before I left. On the ferry back to the coast, I was mildly seasick. It could have been dread. I knew my job and responsibilities awaited me. It would be good to see my daughters and John, but I dreaded resuming life on the flywheel.

 I had only one more year until retirement and enough of a pension to have a good life, but something was missing. I wanted to capture the calm I had experienced during my two weeks in Greece. I had to think outside of the box. After a few months of work and an outrageous request from my youngest daughter to buy a piece of property in Malibu for her and her husband, I planned an escape. Instead of the Malibu property, I would buy a cottage in Myrtos. I contacted a realtor and made it happen. My daughters and John could visit but I needed to escape my life in Los Angeles.

I finished out the year at work and said goodbye to my employers. John was excited for me and would be a frequent guest. I sold the condo in which I had been living since the divorce and gave my Mercedes to my middle daughter. It was liberating selling most of my furniture and possessions or giving them away. By the end of the year, I boarded a plane to Athens with two suitcases, some credit cards and a large cashier’s check. I spent two days in Athens and then took a ferry to freedom and a new life.

A year passed in bliss. My daily swims and walks along the beach were rejuvenating.  I became a fixture at the local cafes and bakeries and even learned a little Greek. The local barista, Fanny, was an English ex-patriot who left a teaching job and a toxic marriage for the idyllic lifestyle of the Greek isles. We bonded immediately and were soon living together. I couldn’t have been happier. Yet when my ex-wife showed up at my door, claiming she made a big mistake and insisting she still loved me. I paused and told her to give me some time to consider my options. Did thirty years of marriage mean something? Could I ever trust her again? I thought I loved Fanny, my girlfriend. I felt unfettered and joyful for the first time in my life. Why would I risk everything with someone who had betrayed me and stomped on my heart? What could she tell me to change my mind.

A week later, I visited her at her hotel and took her for a walk on the beach. I had to admit she still.

looked beautiful at age fifty and the attraction was still there.  As we walked and talked, she took my

hand. I felt the old electricity and forgot my prepared speech.  I began to sweat. At that moment, I saw Fanny waving in the distance. Something moved inside of me, and I dropped my ex-wife’s hand.

September 15, 2023 22:26

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11 comments

Mary Bendickson
23:18 Sep 17, 2023

And so it ends or so it begins...

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Rose Lind
04:44 Sep 29, 2023

Rudy I can hear your story. It's the big weight that generations passed have followed. Like waiting for that moment when things make sense. Like you said, I does not make sense, it's a feeling, a state of being.

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Rudy Greene
20:37 Sep 29, 2023

Thanks. You get it!

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Rose Lind
02:27 Sep 30, 2023

Yer, I struggled with that stuff in a divorce. With little education, probably followed the programming of snow white, or thou shall not divorce. These days ppl are no longer totally crippled with those old school notions.

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Nina H
19:15 Sep 26, 2023

I was so happy when the narrator freed himself of everything and moved to Crete! I really liked him as a character all throughout, and felt for him. In the end, he very well could have told his ex he moved on and not given her the time of day after what she did. But a credit to his character, he met with her, let her speak her mind, before what I’m taking it as seeing the light (in Fanny). Life takes so many turns, and I think he found his happiness ☺️ I really enjoyed this story!

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Martin Ross
16:28 Sep 24, 2023

Nice sense of place and mood, Exquisite details in counterpoint to our narrator’s internal conflicts and struggle. Well-done!

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Rudy Greene
18:46 Sep 24, 2023

Thanks. It was a fun write. We all have had temptations and conflicts and don't always make the right choices.

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Bob Long Jr
00:45 Sep 24, 2023

Nice read ! Takes a lot to treat someone like that, be so selfish.. and then show up expecting to go back to normal.

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Rudy Greene
18:48 Sep 24, 2023

Everyone has met someone who has a sense of entitlement. It's important to recognize them and not be a victim no matter how alluring they are.

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Helen A Smith
10:23 Sep 23, 2023

Now I want to book a place straight away and head off to Crete! It’s a magical isle. Who wouldn’t want to live there? The salads alone are to die for - they never taste the same back home. The colour of the sea. Ah! I could go on and on. I wrote about a dragon from Crete who has a brief encounter with the Minotaur in “Rumour Has it” if you fancy a read. I hope the MC doesn’t go back to his old life, but you left it as a possibility. I enjoyed reading.

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Dragon The Poet
09:27 Sep 23, 2023

I low key want to vacation in Greece now, lol. I like how you get left with the choice of either going back to the wife or staying with the new gf. You can feel the weight of the trauma mc went though.

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