These were the things Martin knew about Art:

1. She was a photographer, though she did not say if her pictures had been printed in any magazine or newspaper.
2. She lived in Poughkeepsie like he did, which felt something like fate, like the twinning of their names.
3. She told him she’d recently ended a relationship with a man who didn’t take her seriously enough, but if it were truly over, why did she still wear her wedding ring on the chain around her neck?
4. She liked it when he kissed the insides of her knees.
5. She pushed her fingers through his short hair and said she needed something longer to hold onto.
6. He hadn’t shaved in two days and the rough rasp of his stubble made her laugh and gasp and pull him closer, closer, which was exactly where he wanted to be.

These were the things Martin wanted to know:

1. Why did she ask him to take her picture at the beach, the museum, the café, but never asked a stranger to take theirs?
2. Why did she carry a journal with her everywhere but never let him see what was inside?
3. Who did she think of in the sleepy mornings when she was startled to see him in her bed?
4. Everything.

 

He found an answer to #2 one hot day in the harbor, sitting on a low wall overlooking the docks and the ships and the children playing, when she pulled a tiny gold key from her pocket, twisted it in the lock holding the diary shut, opened the book to a page she had marked, and began to read. He watched her lips forming words he didn’t understand for long sunny minutes before he asked, “What does it say?” and, to his surprise, she answered.

“It’s in Spanish,” she said, fingers curling over the leather spine. He waited, wondering, then she said, “I can translate,” and out in the bay he watched the wind filling the ships’ sails as she took a long breath, then let out the words: “I do not think my mother would have understood. Nor God. But in this country I pray to her for guidance…” She read to him about a husband she didn’t love and about an unnamed man who she wanted. She knew it was wrong. But oh—she paused, searching for the translation—she ached. Martin knew the feeling.

Later, he found himself thinking of the diary in the blank minutes and hours they were apart, thinking of her voice sounding out the words she had chosen for him to hear, of the cool salt water air and the story she shared of desire and temptation.

Her eyes were dark and intent on the page, her voice slow but thick with feeling. Her hand made a fist pushing into the stone like it was pushing back. She spoke of bodies and sins and a need he understood all too well: “I need to be touched,” she said, nearly a whisper.

She was tense and closed, but she opened when his fingers settled over her clenched fist. They touched from shoulder to thigh, and then she turned into him. Her eyes were light over water and he forgot everything when she kissed him. His mission pulled at his limbs but she pulled at his heart and he did not know how he could resist the fantasy of what if. He had this feeling that he just needed her to take his picture, to commit to that—to including him in her story—but he wanted to be…a good man, perhaps, in her view. He couldn’t explain it to her, yet, but he needed to finish what he came here for before he could be whole.

 

Because Aminta would not take his calls, and because he did not find her any place he looked, Martin had no other recourse. Perhaps her husband had begun to suspect, and that was why she ignored him. She had said that he knew, but maybe that had been a lie meant to dissuade him: look at my life, so wonderful, and none of it for you.

He took another ride to Finikounda. The taxi left him at the mouth of a narrow lane, and refused to go any further because there was no way out. Martin went on foot, looking around for a street sign. He’d found her in a phone book, but the address wouldn’t do much good if he couldn’t find his way around this town. Sweat was sticking his shirt to him by the time he found a villager to ask directions.

“Papagiannis?” he said. “Aminta Papagiannis?”

After a few false starts, the man pointed the way.

Efharisto,” Martin said, about the only word he had. The sun was high in the sky as he approached, and his trepidation dragged at his feet, but he had crossed his own Rubicon and he had to see this through. He had to make her understand—and then a tiny house, white with a blue door and shutters and red clay roof, and a rope hammock strung up in front. A woman asleep, her face tipped away, showing just those yellow curls, a loose shirt rising up over the swell. Although they were nothing alike, Martin thought then of Art as he had seen her that morning, curled on her side, away from him, all the sheets wrapped around her even in the heat.

His eyes found Aminta’s belly button, rising with every breath. She snored a little, he remembered that, but in their time together she had always slept on her side. The door opened and a man stepped out from the dark interior. Martin’s feet were rooted to the brick road. The man was a bit taller, a bit thinner, black hair speckled with gray, feet bare as he strode over to her and splayed his fingers right there on the curve of her belly.

That morning, Art had woken when he pressed his lips to her shoulder, and for a moment she had stiffened against him before relaxing. Later, when he left, he’d glanced back at her as he stood in the doorway. She was sitting up, her back to him, hair tumbling down to the wings of her shoulder blades, sheets pooling around her hips and her tattoo just a hand’s breadth from the dimple above her ass. She leaned forward and he thought the tattoo was a line from a poem, maybe, but he didn’t know much poetry. She extended her arm and he saw the flash of light on gold as she slipped the chain over her head.

Aminta and her husband whispered to each other, and though he stood only a few yards away, he might as well have been in another universe for all the note they took. In that moment looking at the pair and their home, Martin felt his hope draining away. He was not needed. He realized that he had not crossed his Rubicon—he was caught in its current, and like any man drowning, he would reach for anything he could grab hold of, and he would not let go.

 

Martin had taken the coffee beans from the market because he feared the chasm that would open in his hours without Art, hours spent scouring winery after winery or dialing a phone that never picked up, and in those hours he needed something. He took the other things because when he lost even his tender hope, the beans were not enough. He spent as much of his time with her as he could—walking along the shore, exploring Pylos’s ruins, sleeping between the crisp linens in her room while the ceiling fan made its wobbly rotations above them and she stretched in the bed and rubbed her toes against his calf, all of that with her. But in the other moments, in the moments when he sat alone and waited for something that never came, in those moments he inhaled the still fresh aroma of the coffee beans, or cradled the sand dollar she’d given him in his cupped palms, or lingered over the pink cotton flower she’d been wearing in her hair before he plucked it.

 

It was only ten days in the end. They were walking through the low remains of Nestor’s palace, a once-great structure reduced to six-inch walls and a painted bathtub. She stopped him with his back to the valley below and hefted her camera. “Let me get a picture of us. Something to remember you by.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m going home,” she said, and she wasn’t even looking at him when she said it, but at the camera. “I’m leaving tomorrow night. Going to Delphi for a few days, then back to the states.”

His breath was loud in his ears, like the conch shell’s roar, and he could only look at her not looking at him. “I could go with you to Delphi. Or find you back home,” he said. “We could…”

She stopped fiddling with her camera and met his eyes. He flinched. “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” she said.

Martin felt like he was capsizing. He was watching Aminta in the hammock with her husband touching her swollen belly. He wanted to close his eyes and imagine the feeling of rolling the coffee beans between his fingers. He wanted a drink.

She frowned at him. “You cannot honestly be upset right now.” He wanted to back away, but she grabbed his arm and even that contact felt like a lifeline. “Martin, come on, what were you expecting? You have to go home too, you know.”

“We could see each other, in Poughkeepsie…”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she repeated. Her voice was gentle now, like she didn’t want to anger him, but he was angry, irrationally so. He’d thought that she needed this as much as he did. She’d taken her ring off. She didn’t want to go back, he knew it. Was she too much of a coward to stay? He swallowed. He didn’t know what he would do without her.

“Sorry,” she said, although she didn’t sound it. She dropped her hand and walked away.

 

That evening, he was leaning out the window when the phone rang. He pulled himself inside after the third ring and cradled the receiver between his shoulder and his ear as he poured himself a drink.

“Hallo? Martin? Martin, it’s Aminta.”

He closed his eyes and swallowed the liquor. “Aminta.”

She breathed down the phone line. “You are still here.”

He shrugged in the empty room.

“I only called to say…well this does not change anything, but I thought you should know. It’s a girl.”

 

He didn’t mean to do what he did that night. He only wanted to look. He couldn’t read the Spanish, but the memory of her voice as she read to him about loving someone who wasn’t her husband—he had to know if there was something of him in there. He had to know why she had shared that with him. Why she had wanted him to know.

When he knocked on the door to her hotel room, she’d opened it. He’d thought she was angry with him, but for whatever reason, she turned to the side and said, eyelids at half-mast, “You want to come in?” Who was he to resist? Their bodies knew each other, if nothing else. She fell asleep first, and he lay awake for a long while just listening to the even ins and outs of her breath before he eased out from under her arm and walked as quietly as he could to the bedside table. He opened the drawer where he knew she kept the diary, pausing when the hinge squeaked, but she didn’t wake so he reached inside. The key wasn’t in the lock, and it wasn’t in the drawer either. He settled back on his heels. The light from the window caught the silver chain on the bedside table. He didn’t mean to steal her ring. He only wanted the key that was strung up beside it. But when his hand closed over the cool metal he imagined her flying home and leaving JFK or no, Newark, he had a feeling it would be Newark, and she would slip the ring back on her finger before going to meet him, her husband, who she shouldn’t be with anyway, and Martin walked right out of that room with the diary, the ring, and the key, and her still sleeping when the door fell shut behind him.

 

On a bus to Athens, he opened the diary and flipped to the last page. The last entry was dated 1993. Was this some trick? Some of the pages in the beginning were dog-eared, and her pencil had circled and underlined and scratched notes in the margins. All of it nonsense. Incomprehensible. Where was the husband she was running from? Where was Martin?

Through the dusty window, Pylos receded. In a hotel looking down on the harbor, a woman was just now waking up. Martin closed Art’s book. He knew then that she was as foreign to him as this country, as the child would always be.

 

Pages: 1 2 3 | Single Page