Cerulean

February 1954

 

Eva was writing carefully on the invitations, licking the flaps of the envelopes and pressing them down, copying addresses in her spiky handwriting, and sticking be-queened heads on the corners. When she finished, the stack of them sat ready to be sent on the sideboard, by the cerulean vase. The colour of the vase made her think again of Greece, of the island, the boats gliding through the blue waters with the shimmer of white beyond, and the children waving from the dock. She remembered cracked blue and dusty hot tiles, and salt. Closing her eyes, she felt the fall of the slanted sun on her skin and saw herself seated again in the painted boat, brown shins hard and gritty with sweat. Under the heat of this day’s Australian sun she reimagines the sight of Athos against the blue water. Athos said that he belonged wherever she was, colours didn’t matter, and the smell of a place was immaterial. It was her skin that was constant.

 

July 1952

 

Her Yia Yia Soula smelled like her house, of lemons and aniseed. Soula cooked and sang and swayed and knew only a word or two of English. Eva spoke only a little Greek. Before the wars, her father had travelled by boat with his sister to Australia. All she knew for sure about Soula’s son was that he had found her mother and planted the beginning of Eva within her, along with some promises, and a little love, which was enough, until a brown snake came from the long yellow grass to meet him in the middle of the summer day while he was out working for the timber cutting crew.

Her mother and Ariana were drawn together in bereavement, and rented a house, living as twin sister-mothers to Eva in a home-island of three. Ariana hardly spoke about Greece until the second war came and she began reading stories about her old home in the newspapers. She wrote letters in strange characters and mailed them away, checking the letterbox daily until envelopes returned for her bearing the same foreign marks in a different hand. Her face was strained when she read these letters and the child Eva would come and touch her hand, seeking permission to climb into her lap. Once there she would point to the sheets of paper and ask her who the letters were from, what did they say? Ariana began to describe her childhood home, opening doors to the colours, tastes and smells of those dormant places that usually came alive again only when she closed her eyes after waking in the cold places of the night.

It was long after the war had ended when Eva boarded a ship to sail to Athens, and from there a boat to H- with a letter from Ariana to Soula written in Greek, and directions for Eva in English.

Arriving, she casts her eyes around and takes a deep breathe, she thinks I am my name here; I am my face.

She and Soula co-exist happily with no space within the wordlessness for questions. Eva reads, writes and walks. She walks the winding stone steps down to docks that smell strongly of fish and cats, and thinks about her father and Ariana walking the same steps, then stepping onto a boat and leaving, never to return. She wonders what it takes to leave a place forever.

She is left alone as she walks in the village. The local people know who she is, but though she is of them, she is also other. One afternoon as she sits on whitewashed steps reading a book, a young fisherman approaches her with a sweet smile, a dish of warm olives and bread. He proffers, with a tilt of the head and then, in a tumble of incongruous English, he asks, “Would you share these with me? You must be accustomed to silence and Greek by now?”
His name was Athos. He was born from the union of a local fisherman and an American mother who inexplicably left the island, and her son, when Athos was twelve years old. Too late to unlearn that mother language that had spoken only love to him, he held it as a sad stone above his heart until he heard of Soula’s granddaughter, who wandered the island in silence. His curled words unfurl like a ribbon upon his tongue, and travel outwards to her.

They spend days talking. Eva gets up early in the mornings and joins him fishing on the boat. They cast nets and pull them in full of slippery silver, and scales that stick in her hair, and set like cloudy mirrors on her cheekbones; Athos brushes them from her. In the sultry summer evenings they drink homemade wine and eat sheep’s cheese and fish on clay dishes. She breathes in his mixed scent of tobacco, fish and something like geraniums. They smoke cigarettes together and talk until their words are one long stream of uncomplicated happiness and discovery, entwining and knotting together, travelling down the steps, across the rooftops, to docks and boats and water, and other places of leavings.

Eva is kissed. Eva kisses, and four hands glide along salty warm skin.

 

October 2009

 

Spring is always the season that hurts most. The fresh beauty of life arises again from the dead. Each year I watch the apple trees outside in their telling seasons; that bare and deceptively desolate take on winter, only to sprout buds some night, heralding the show of open blossoms with their rain of petals, until the green leaves come again to cover the branches, and summers bounty of fruit arrives, before autumn falls them towards the arms of winter again. Such constancy, if it could only have been this way for me, just a brief decline, a hibernation, a season of slumber and then the awakening into the arms of love and promise again. I could bear each decline knowing that it was just a cycle, just a gently circle of seasons.

Athos used to read to me. It has been years, but I remember the words. It was all that I could do. Despair is as bottomless a well as resilience, I have found, and banality is deeper still. Ah, dusty hearts, dusty lungs, and none so dusty as these ones of mine. In my mind I am like a very old photograph of myself, still un-lined and pretty, still the skin that Athos kissed. I haven’t seen a mirror in more years than a lot of people have been alive. When I was young, for that precious little window, Athos was my mirror, and he shone back rapture without blemish, with every promise of good fortune.

 

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