by Eleni Artemiou-Photiadou
As published in In Focus, Vol. 9, No 2, June 2012
ere calling their children in from the fields, and the men were folding the last card game. A feeble breeze, a summer song, caressed the doors and windows of the houses before saying goodnight, vanquished by the windless night.
Yiorgena crossed herself in front of the icon of Ayia Marina – her Feast Day was approaching – poured more oil in the lamp lest it run out, and started setting the table for her husband and three daughters. Yiorgis would be home from tending to the cattle soon, and her daughters would leave laughter and play behind in the village streets, saving for tomorrow all that today had not accommodated.
At the stable, Yiorgis threw the last bale of hay to Kanello and her newborn calf. The young animal’s tender and playful snout nuzzled with hankering in the palm of his hand, taking in life. Yiorgis caressed the feral, shaking head in his hand, then downed some raki from the bottle next to him. Terrible thing the drink… When it has you in its grip, it makes you its slave, always dependent to the need. Yiorgis drank secretly, away from the eyes of his family. It would not take much for Yiorgena to start nagging about the expense and the waste of money on raki. He had sown three girls, the grooms would want dowries, and the daughters weren’t much to look at. They had taken after their father: small foxy eyes, hairy arms, and shapeless bodies, which didn’t improve with any merchant’s clothing.
He downed another gulp, dispersed the drops that had fallen on his chest with the back of his hand, and half-closed his eyes against the bright disc that was departing for its rest.
And then he saw her… a fifteen-year-old spring, his brother’s firstborn, Despinio, walking down the road, her slender body swaying in the dusk. The dusk dressed her in the playful gait of a fairy and with the countenance of an angel, depositing them on Yiorgi’s greedy gaze, on his excited senses, on his sick desires for this unripe youth. Despinio swayed as she approached the stable as did Yiorgi’s reason, lost in bottomless depths from which neither conscience nor morality could draw it up.
He had coveted and craved this forbidden fruit for some time; since her breasts had rounded out into taut lemons in her bosom. Yiorgi’s gaze had leaned to smell them, and it was as though that gaze was bound to its magic “Out of here,” and not a day passed when he did not yearn to harvest them.
– Good evening, Uncle!
Yiorgis quivered again, hastening to withdraw his desire from her half-open provocation. Before him – with her fifteen years of youth and flustered from walking – stood sin. He shut his eyes hoping that temptation would recede, but it stood there looking at him with a hint of curiosity in the irises.
– Are you okay, Uncle Yiorgis?
He hesitated, struggling to find words with which to respond in the dying light of dusk, but the shadows overtook him before he could utter a lie. He simply looked at her with the ravenous eyes of the male screaming in his flesh, and that same beast leaped onto its prey.
She was startled. For a few moments that seemed like centuries, she was helpless and defenseless to the assault. But when the initial shock passed, she became a bulwark to his madness. She bound her heart tight –a drop of a girl – transforming her fear into a fist and holding it in her chest, defending against the demon seeking to besiege her secrets. Terror rose to her lips with the scream of a traumatized adolescence over the streams and fields of the village. Failing to reach any ear, it buried itself deeper into Yiorgi’s excitement, strengthening the hands that fought against her resistance and compelling them to momentarily leave the tender flesh and reach for her mouth, to stifle the scream.
Then the alcohol started to speak in this unequal struggle between inebriation and rectitude.
– Stop tormenting me. Stop it, I tell you! I’m not going to hurt you… You’ll see. We’ll have a good time together, goddamn you. I’m not a bad guy… I’m just crazy about your breasts, my little fairy….
He was trying to sweet-talk her but Despinio, a wild sea, was raising a tempest with her resistance. The more she struggled to break free, the more excited he became, rushing to achieve his goal. Some flesh of her white breast shone before his eyes, dimming his judgment even more, making him want nothing else but to plunge into its pleasure and to suck back all the sweetness to its marrow. But as his two hands grappled with their prey, he had no way of calming the nonverbal fear rising from the struggle between male and female. And the more he reached for the spring, the further away his quenching seemed to be.
His force could no longer be contained. At the moment when the night completely defeated the light, he was also defeated by his weak soul. He wrapped his hands around her lily neck, looked at the panic-stricken ‘no’ in her eyes for a moment, then squeezed tightly and firmly until he could feel the pulse at its sides dying, her breath slowly fading, her youth being sacrificed to his middle-aged desire.
A vampire, he rushed onto her still-warm body, releasing the passion that had been consuming him.
The night spread naked on the lifeless fate. Yiorgena was setting down the last plate on the table, when the candle burned out, as though a wild wind had passed through, taming it.
Startled, she crossed herself.
“Strange thing to happen in a closed house,” she murmured and lit the candle again with silent apologies to Ayia Marina. Yiorgis was very late today, the stable was taking up a lot of his time now that the livestock had multiplied, but they had three girls, and bless him for being able to work from dawn to dusk.
Alone in the wilderness, still embracing the raped dream and with the beast inside him slowly calming, Yiorgis began to think about what he had done. It was the middle of summer, but frost had settled in his soul, fear grew fierce, and panic overtook his mind. He could think of nothing, saw no salvation in the night. Still holding onto Despinio, he paced blindly in the darkness. He stumbled on something, the opening of the well, which he had pushed aside earlier, to draw water for the animals. Hesitation passed like lightning through his hands and then, it too defeated by fear, he let the dead body drop into the water’s depths. A splash and then everything was covered by the desolation of the night. The dark conspiracy let out its last whisper between the trees and the bushes, while the half moon closed its eyes and moved toward silence.
He did not know how long he had stood there, looking straight into its soul, but it – a mute verdict – gave neither answer nor solution. Yiorgis maniacally started throwing stones into the well, trying to close it, as though he would also be closing the eyes of God to his depraved act. A faint summer breeze brushed his hair, slightly clearing his mind, and compelling him to get up and leave as soon as possible.
Before he reached the village, still trembling from drink and from the unexpected event, he fixed his clothing, patted down his hair, fought to calm his breathing and to soften his gaze that still held some of the fierceness of his impassioned body.
“You’re late,” said Yiorgena, a woman of few words since birth, as soon as she saw him.
“A lot of work,” he managed to say with his soul still trembling and sat heavy at the head of the table.
The daughters hunched over their food, as did he, pretending to pick at the lentils in the midst of his turmoil. No one at the table said a word, as though they were all tormented by the same fear. As this strange supper was coming to an end, distraught footsteps and loud voices were heard in the yard. His brother came to the door, filling its frame. He had always been the tall one in the family, the pride of his father for having sown such a cypress tree.
Constantis entered obviously worried, and behind him, a wrinkled dot, his wife, Marika, submissive, silently holding in her anxiety.
They had come to look for Despinio, who had been gone for hours from the house, missing without a sign, no one had seen her, not even her girlfriends, what on earth had befallen them, and what would they do in the middle of the night… How could their girl go missing? They did not want to think the worst, but it did not take much for corruption and injustice to take place. Had Yiorgis, who was out in the fields all day, seen her? Because Despinio liked to go as far as forest, despite her mother’s grumbling and her father’s shouting. She was not a subordinate female; in fact, she had raised a flag and did as she pleased. She even wanted to leave the village, but go where? Supposedly to the city, to finish her schooling, as though she needed more learning to find a good lad and settle down. Could she have done something foolish, and left with the morning bus? Then again, none of her things was missing, and for the last two days she had done nothing but speak of the festival at the village, on the Day of Prophet Elias. She had had a new dress made, a new ribbon for her hair…. Despinio loved such frills. No, why would she leave?
Constantis stopped to catch his breath, Marika drowned in her sighs, Yiorgena went to support her and to bring her a glass of water.
“She must have sat down somewhere to rest. I’m sure she’ll be home soon,” she muttered but the consolation sounded weak, drawn from a lie and not from the soul.
Constantis eyes became fixed on his three nieces who nodded ‘no’ in bewilderment and shock about their cousin’s fate. Then he turned to Yiorgis, who had been struggling to calm the fear and shame in his chest the entire time.
“You haven’t said a word, brother!”
And what could he say anyway, he, who has been consumed by the stable and the toil! No, he had not seen Despinio for three days, since Sunday, when she came to the house to borrow the mortar and pestle from Yiorgena. He happened to be sitting in the yard having coffee.
He spoke quickly hoping to convince himself first, then stood up with an abrupt movement, looked his brother straight in the eye, and fired out the accusation.
“Your daughter must have run off with some young man, brother. I know that what I’m saying hurts but if I, your own flesh and blood, do not dare say this to you, who will? Because one wouldn’t call your daughter a prudent girl… Last year, when she was barely fourteen, you yourself caught her at the hedge with Samartzi’s son, an eighteen year lad.”
Constantis froze but that was when Marika found her voice. How dare he speak that way about her daughter? Because Despinio had all the charms while his daughters, well, she’d better keep her mouth shut… And nothing happened with Samartzi’s son, they were simply chatting about tomatoes, because Despinio was still only interested in her dolls.
That’s how Marika exploded in her anxiety, and Constantis looked at his wife with new eyes. Then he grabbed her arm, murmured something about his brother picking the time to spew his bile, and they disappeared into the night and into their desperation.
An icy silence crawled in the summer night for a few moments.
“You should have gone, too,” Yiorgena mumbled and crossed herself as if she had been the one who sinned.
“Go where?” Yiorgis pretended not to understand.
“They’ve gone to look for her. They won’t leave a stone unturned. You, we must lend a hand.”
“They’ll lose their sleep for nothing. How are we supposed to know where the little slut has gone and with whom….”
He rushed to the bedroom to hide, before Yiorgena thought up of more reasons and arguments to try to convince him. But there, in the twilight, the shadows grew long, the walls shrank, and the room became too small. In front of him, again and again, her two eyes at the moment when he was taking her life. No, they would never find her; he had hidden the killing well, no one would ever suspect. But the storm inside him would not subside. Sleep would not come to relieve him. When Yiorgena came to lie down next to him, he pretended to be asleep, in case she wanted to talk, because he had nothing more to say.
The hours passed slowly, torturously. The night of a day that never dawns. Eyes wide open, heart on fire, while memory had picked up an axe and chased him all night. With the first kiss of day that – to him –felt like a bite, he could not bear it any longer. He ran out of the house like a fugitive, not knowing where he was going. But the Furies guided his steps, slowly and unwittingly back to the closed well. He shivered as though it was winter, in July. Why had he come here? The fears and worries that he had been trying to assuage for hours only grew. He took a few steps back like a wild beast, made a sharp turn and started running senselessly, until his turmoil pushed him into the stable. There, amid the cows that were looking at him with their large, serene eyes, he tried to regain his lost serenity.
He had no idea know how much time had passed. He had felt neither hunger nor thirst. He had just kept working, trying to stop himself from thinking. In vain. His two hands were betraying him, constantly trembling around Despinio’s neck. When he could not take anymore, he fell onto a bale of hay and wept like a small child.
Face down on the hay as he was, he did not notice the shadows that had entered the stable. Their steps entered his hideout and hovered with bewilderment above his outburst. He heard only a cough, stood up and froze in front of the policeman who was looking at him with eyes full of questions. Next to him Constantis was flustered, and Marika had the night in her eyes. The policeman had something in his hands. Red, shiny. A memory leaped up inside him. The ribbon! The ribbon that had held the torrent of her hair. With the first light of day they had found it next to the well. In the darkness he had missed it! And now they were here looking for explanations, after he had told Constantis that he had not seen his niece. It was obvious that she had passed by the stable. And what was he doing on the hay with eyes which betrayed his turmoil? If he had something to say, he had better say it to the authorities, cooperate in the investigation and in the restoration of order.
He fought not to betray himself. He did not know, did not understand what they were saying, since he had not seen Despinio. Constantis examined him with a penetrating gaze, Marika with pain in her eyes, and the policeman with distrust and asked him to follow him to the police station. They would to start at the beginning and maybe they’d make some sense of all this. The policeman had seen a great deal at the capital where he had been previously assigned, and nothing seemed implausible to him anymore, since he had learned to look well beneath the surface and had uncovered much until now.
Yiorgis was dragged to the station. Fire inside him, and Constantis’ heavy shadow and Yiorgena’s silent questions outside him. Despinio, wearing the red ribbon in her hair, beautiful as an angel from heaven, came and sat across him, next to the policeman’s perseverance and force.
He broke after twelve hours of questioning. The red ribbon turned into the rope that tied his fate.
The funeral was held on the Day of Prophet Elias, among few lamentations and many curses. Left dead in the well was only his life.