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Athens (standard:other, 1049 words)
Author: Rask BalavoineAdded: Jul 12 2002Views/Reads: 2289/1Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Saved by Jazz
 



ATHENS 

Jazz draws in through the open window from a bar across the narrow
street as the day‘s light begins to disappear; it slices cleanly 
through the dense, fume-filled,  end-of-summer atmosphere. The wooden 
partition beside the bed muffles the sound of retching from down the 
hall; a quietness settles in the air followed by the weak, hopeless 
flush of a toilet and the halting, sporadic trickle of a slowly filling 
cistern. On the ceiling far above the bed an old, ineffective fan 
clicks and whirrs and in Enzo's squalid little room the mysteries of 
suffering and madness begin to mix and curdle one more time. 

For almost a month Enzo has been lying in the rented room, held tight in
the noise and grime of the city. He arrived in a bad way from Corinth 
on a military bus, all guns and elbows as he remembers it, in the early 
hours of an October morning, 1974, and sat shivering and cold on a 
concrete slab near the parliament until things began to bustle up a 
bit. It was way too early to look for a room at that time of the 
morning and the bus had been a bad idea - he should have stayed on in 
Hazy's flat in Corinth, and he might have done that if the idea to 
leave hadn't come to him in the middle of a fever when he wasn't 
thinking straight. And he'd had a row with Hazy. On the way to Athens 
the only way he had of keeping from passing out was to fix on the vague 
shapes that floated by at odd angles in the dark, and on the flames 
that shot into the night from distant oil refineries; as he stared and 
stared someone up near the front of the bus put their head out of the 
window and puked and it splattered over the window Enzo was sitting 
beside. He sat and thought about this for a while, concentrating on the 
open death-mouth of the gun the soldier on his other side was holding 
loosely across his knees. The gun was pointing straight at him and the 
soldier's head was thrown back, asleep, with his  mouth hanging open 
just like his gun's. Eventually the sleeping warrior keeled over and 
slumped himself on Enzo's shoulder giving  the only heat he had felt 
for a long while so he just let the soldier lie on.  In the midst of 
all the foul-smelling taste of mounting fever and disorientation Enzo 
eventually gave into delirium and came out of it some time later with 
the vague impression of having been on a boat. By then he was so cold 
and the bus had stopped and was empty. Even the warm soldier was gone 
but Enzo was reluctant to move because he knew that moving was going to 
release all the staleness that had gathered in his mouth. But the 
driver kept pulling at him and so he got out, all cold and sick and 
even emptier than the bus. That's where he found the cold concrete 
slab, and Corinth and Athens and the bus all melted into one terrible 
nightmare with shivers. 

So by the end of the day he was in a room in John's Place near the
square and John fed him on Aspirin and coffee for a few days and then 
lost interest, so there's no exact record for him of all that was going 
on around him or inside. No witnesses. But he still holds tight to 
impressions which might easily be memories, but on the other hand might 
just as easily not be. People put blankets over him when he shivered 
and took them off when he sweated. Water arrived, and pastries filled 
with spinach. The sheets on the bed were mysteriously dry and clean and 
fresh after each night of fever. Two nurses - Canadian. Leonard Cohen 
songs. 

It was after a week or so of tormented nights and vaguely remembered
afternoons that a hand, cool like a touch from heaven, came to him and 
lifted him just as he was beginning to re-enter the disturbance of 
dreams and temperatures after a reasonably calm and lucid afternoon. It 
was a sweetness, real and sublime, and it transported him far from 
illness and away from the brown of the walls and from the sickness into 
some other place where logic was warm and a different lucidity held 
sway. It was like floating, but not on clouds or water. Just floating. 
Every night since then, as the fever begins to rise and Enzo's senses 
are sharpened to pain and he  becomes newly aware of his troubled body, 
a time arrives when the pain no longer hurts. That's when Jazz from 
across the street begins its first trial runs, loose and trailing off 
and falling apart. Disconnected false starts. The first blind attempts 
to locate the seat of the pain; looking for nerve endings exposed by 
disappointment and betrayal and lying ragged and bleeding at street 
corners. Then the music begins to come together bit by bit. The 
instruments, the souls and the night correspond ever more closely to 
each other in preparation for something that promises to be awesome. 
Anticipation is kept alive but on a low light till later when the 
master arrives and adds a few practice blasts on the saxophone. He 
takes a while trying to get into the rhythm ad the mood that the band 
has been laying down. Sometimes the master sits back a while and lets 
the band go on alone before stepping up again to declare himself to all 
creation in a blast which matches exactly the anxiety welling up deep 
within Enzo's soul. In the tortured night the music wraps itself around 
Enzo's pain and draws out the poison and sick like a dentist draining 
an abscess from the base of a long-rotting tooth. Somewhere deep 
underneath the Jazz the twanging of bouzoukis in the tavernas strackles 
around  the square here tourists come for something traditional, but 
Enzo is laid beside cool waters. He is plucked from the dark, menacing 
valley and carried up over hills, up and out of the sick of the city to 
where the air is clean and easy to breathe, then sleep. Perfect, 
untormented repose


   


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