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|Folegandros (standard:drama, 3108 words)|
|Author: Charles Rudolph||Added: Jan 22 2004||Views/Reads: 3008/1937||Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|The first thing Heinz loved about Esther was her eyes. When she removed her sunglasses, the light gray turned magically emerald|
Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story She hesitated, feeling awkward, but really wanted some. "That would be pleasant." He chose a table and held a wooden taverna chair for her, an act she acknowledged with a little smile. A boy slipped between the low branches of a meopera tree, and Heinz ordered the coffee in Greek. He turned to Esther. "So where in America is Lexington, Kentucky?" "It is in the South." She avoided his face. "Ah, near Florida." "No. Not near Florida. Not near the sea." The boy brought the coffees, and Esther stirred the black liquid in the small white porcelain cup. "You do not know America?" "No. I have been there only once. We flew a charter that stopped at Bangor, Maine - a very lonely place. Then to New York. It was a business trip and not very pleasant. I was happy to return alive." He took a sip of his coffee. "And what do you do in Lexington, Kentucky?" She glanced his way. "I am an academic." "And your field of study?" She looked up through the branches of the meopera tree. "Philosophy." He raised his eyebrows. "Very nice." She smiled. "When I tell that to people, they usually become uncomfortable." "Yes. High intelligence frightens most of us." He sipped again. "Have you been there long?" "One year, but I do not think I will stay." She kept looking up at the branches. "It is a good university with a good department, but I need more cultural surroundings. My previous position was at the University of Toronto, for ten years, a place I loved. But it was simply time to move on." She decided to chance a longer look at him, but his face began dissolving into Uncle Abba's. She turned her head away sharply. He leaned towards her. "Is something wrong?" "Just a momentary thing." She avoided his face. "And you, what is your work?" "Oh, it is not exciting. I manage an office in Athens for international cargo traffic, a British company." He paused. "So what has brought you to this little island of Folegandros?" Esther told herself she should close the conversation. She could not go on avoiding his face. Yet there was something so softly attractive about his voice and his manner. "I am taking a three-week vacation in Greece, which, curiously, I have never visited before." She was looking down into the dark residue at the bottom of her cup. "From Athens, after seeing the antiquities, I flew to Crete, which I adored - especially Phaistos, even more than Knossos. Then a ferry to Santorini, which was lovely to look at, like a moonscape, but so crowded. I wanted a smaller island, so I took another ferry here, to Folegandros, arriving two days ago. It is exactly what I expected a Cycladic island to be." "Here in the chora," he said, "it is as elevated as Thira in Santorini, also with beautiful views, but much less visited, even though Folegandros is just being discovered." "Then I am glad I have come in time." She dared a glance at him. "And you, what brought you here?" She looked quickly away. "The Flying Dolphin." Ester's eyes followed an attractive young couple passing by. "And what is that?" "A hydrofoil from Paros where I have a house." "How lovely. What kind of house?" " A beachhouse for vacations and weekends." "Actually, I was thinking of making my next island stop at either Paros or Naxos, depending upon connections." Her peripheral vision caught what she thought was a dimple at the edge of his smile. Why couldn't she handle this? "A stroke of fate," he said. "You have traveled north from Santorini, and I south from Paros to meet here on Folegandros." He finished the remainder of his coffee with slow pleasure. "So what have you been doing for two days?" She looked beyond the meopera branches up toward the dazzlingly white monastery near the top of the highest hill above the chora. "Yesterday I climbed the path up there." She pointed. "Have you done it?" "No. I am not fascinated by monasteries. Last summer I climbed the hill, worse than this, to the monastery in Amorgos. I was exhausted by the heat, and then, because I was wearing shorts, they made me wear a flowered skirt to cover my legs. I felt like a hula dancer." Again his soft laughter. "Then the tiny interior of the church was dark, crowded, and uninteresting." He studied her profile. "And today, what are you exploring today?" "I plan to take the eleven-fifteen watertaxi down at the wharf to one of the beaches on the south side of the island." She looked at her watch. "Which means I must go back to my room to get ready." "That was my plan also." She opened her purse for drachmas, but he had already placed a bill on the table. "The coffee was my idea," he said. "Well, thank you." She closed her purse. "Perhaps I will see you at the wharf." She dared another quick glance at him, and her eyes filled his heart. * When the white, wooden caique was filled with passengers, it pulled away from the wharf of the tiny harbor of Karavostassis, a thousand meters below the chora. Its noisy, vibrating engine propelled it past grottoes in the ocher cliffs. Heinz had joined Esther on the wharf, helping her take the long stride over the boat's gunwale. Now he was sitting beside her on the vibrating wooden bench, unable to see her eyes behind her wrap-around sunglasses as she watched the passing limestone formations sink into the turquoise sea. As the boat approached the first beach, most of the passengers prepared to disembark. "Shall we go to the one across the cove?" Heinz asked. Esther looked over at the small crescent of sand with a taverna part way up the hill. "Yes, let's do that." At the beach, more pebbles than sand, she unrolled her straw mat, removed her shorts and tank top, leaving herself in only a bikini bottom, and headed directly towards the sea. Heinz, spreading his beach towel and removing only his shirt, admired her wiry body, the dark pointed nipples, the good legs. He had not admired a woman's body in a very long time. Any thinner, he thought, she would begin to look unhealthy, but for a woman probably in her early fifties, she was lovely. He watched her dive into the shimmering water and surface into a graceful crawl stroke. Soon he joined her, using a breast stroke to where she was, far out, floating upon the sea which was meters deep yet perfectly clear to the bottom. Realizing his presence, she dived, resurfacing nearby into the sun with a glorious smile that caught his breath. "So marvelous!" she called, "So perfect! There is no sea like the Aegean!" She dived again and swam off. When he rejoined her on the beach, she was already supine, well-oiled, absorbing the sun. He spread his towel nearby and took a paperback book from his bag. During his reading, he took frequent glances at her. After another swim, they made their way up to the taverna for lunch, taking a table with blue chairs beneath a pergola covered with fuchsia bougainvilla. They ordered a Greek summer salad, kalamaria, a half-bottle of water for her, a Heineken for him. "Do you enjoy traveling alone?" he asked. "Yes and no. I like being free to go wherever I want and to leave whenever I feel like moving on. Yet sometimes I wish for company." She tasted the soft white cheese atop the salad. "This is not feta, but very tasty." "Have you always traveled alone?" She put her fork into a slice of scarlet tomato and held it before her. "It has been eleven years since my divorce, so now I am quite used to traveling alone. Every summer I return to some part of the Mediterranean. It's in my blood. To Israel, Spain, Italy, Corfu, even Cyprus. Now, finally, in 1996, at the end of the century, I have my first trip to the Aegean. I have waited too long -- it is glorious." She tasted the slice of tomato. "I would like to visit Israel," he said. "Really? Germans rarely visit." "I am not your typical German." He looked at her, wanting his eyes to meet hers. "Why do you always avoid my face?" She looked towards the sea in silence. "Can you tell me?" he asked softly. "I have always avoided Germans. It has been easy in North America, in my work. Easy even in traveling. I simply keep a distance." "You hate us so?" "Yes." She continued staring at the sea. "You murdered my parents before I ever knew who they were." "I was born in 1947, after the war. I was never a Nazi." "And your parents?" Heinz also gazed at the sea. "Yes, my father was an officer. And he still has some of that mentality. But not my mother. I return only for her birthdays. I do not like it there." He paused. "Please believe me." "When I look at you, something terrible happens. I begin to see the face of my uncle twisting in pain, telling me again the stories of men in boots and armbands who came to our house in Dresden when I was an infant - clubbing my father, seizing my mother, dragging them wailing into the street, loading them into the van of a truck, tearing them away, never to return." Heinz's body tightened. Her eyes were cold and gray. "Then a month later they took my uncle and me to a death camp where we survived only because he was a violinist who played Mozart and Beethoven to entertain the Nazi officers. I remember nothing. Somehow Uncle Abba made it in 1948 to Israel, when it was young and idealistic, and I grew up there with much happiness. My only sorrow was the stories Uncle Abba told me about the Germans - and now I see his tortured face in yours." There was a long silence. His hands shook as he lit a cigarette. She turned her face to his. "You should not smoke, you know." He returned her stare. She did not see Uncle Abba. He sighed. "What can I say to you?" She saw his brown eyes, the wave of his receding brown hair, his soft expression of pain. When they returned to the beach, Heinz watched Esther collecting stones at the water's edge. He joined her. "What happened to your marriage?" Surprised, she tossed her head. "I made a mistake, and yet it turned out well. A quick and careless marriage. I was twenty-five and he twenty-six, a rich American Jew who swept me away, taking me from Tel Aviv to his fast-track life between Baltimore and Miami. He was charming, but really a little boy." Heinz frowned. "Yet you say it turned out well?" "We divorced when I was thirty-six, and I redirected my life. I suddenly reveled at being my own person. First, I returned to Israel to reclaim my earlier life, but it was gone, all changed. In one decade, the land had been transformed from a Zionistic vision into a militaristic camp." She shook her head. "I did not belong." Heinz watched her let little stones trickle through her fingers. "So I enrolled for a degree at the University of Toronto, suddenly loving my life as a middle-aged student, devouring philosophy. I did so well that I continued on as a graduate assistant, then a lecturer, and finally an assistant professor - loving it all. Yes, I rediscovered happiness. So it has all worked out." She looked up into his face with a smile, her emerald eyes alive. * They dined that night at a taverna recommended by the young proprietress of their hotel who wore a diamond in her nostril and seemed to enjoy the way Esther and Heinz had befriended each other. The taverna was away from the busy little platias of the chora, and they shared orders of moussaka, lamb with aubergine, and a large potato stuffed with greens, garlic, and cheese, also consuming two kilos of homemade wine gently flavored with retsina. Returning to the hotel, they took chairs on the veranda looking down upon the isolated lights of fishing boats on the dark sea, then up at the stars brilliantly alive in the equally dark firmament. In the silence, the proprietress brought them glasses of brandy. "We talk only about me, as if you had no background." Esther spoke to the dim outline of his face. "Are you married?" "I have been, but like you, it was not good - worse than not good." He sipped the brandy. "I had a German wife who almost convinced me that I was homosexual." "How could that happen if you were not?" "By degrees. By continually telling me. And telling others. We became strangers, and then she took her case to lawyers as a basis for divorce. It made me very withdrawn and hateful of myself. Even my family turned against me, especially my father." Heinz half-smiled. "I was the only case I know, who, instead of coming out of the closet, put himself into the closet." "How terribly strange." "Yes. Very strange. It was then I left Germany and took the job in Athens, developing a friendship with a man, a Greek sculptor. We never lived together, were never lovers. I simply enjoyed his company, his personality, his work. Still I found it confusing and assumed it reflected some abnormality." He shrugged. "I accepted it as fate." "You speak again of fate. It is a weak and dangerous philosophy that makes one abdicate responsibility." "I hear the professor in your voice." She smiled. "So what happened?" "For years I went on that way, very subdued, waiting for something to erupt in my feelings, merely drifting. My boss assumed I was homosexual, telling me not to let it interfere with my work, which, of course, was never a problem. So I lived in a world of shadows, never sure of who or what I was." Heinz leaned towards her in the darkness. "You know, I have never spoken about this before." After a silence, she said, "Continue. Please." "It was solved for me when my friend found a real lover, another male artist. Suddenly, I was free. After almost twenty years of curious, uncertain relationships, I was finally disconnected - and free." "Did you seek then to be with women?" "Yes. But nothing came of it." Heinz laughed. "I decided I was of a neuter gender." "And that is how you feel now?" "Not now. Not this moment." He wanted to tell her how she made his feelings surge, but they sat silently in the stillness. "Tell me about your house in Paros." "I am very happy there." He looked at the stars. "Athens is impossible in the summer, so I go during vacation and weekends. But I also love to go in April and May when the island is covered with wild flowers, then again in September and October when the climate is so sweet. I love to hike the beaches and breathe the wild thyme that covers the dunes, to read, to care for my garden. My pleasures are simple." Protecting the flame of his lighter in the warm breeze, he lit a cigarette. "That habit doesn't seem to fit you." He hesitated, then ground it into the earth beside him, the embers drifting away. "Such a beautiful evening." She inhaled a long breath. "There is jasmine nearby." "Yes, there is." He reached across, placing his hand upon hers. "When you leave here, you must visit with me in Paros. Would you like that?" She let his fingers sink softly into hers. FOLEGANDROS/RUDOLPH 1 Folegandros/Reich Tweet
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