The End of an Era

A few weeks ago I wrote a Friday Fictioneers story with the title “The end of an era?” It felt like a story with potential and I said I would post a longer version. Here it is!

The end of an era

Giorgios sat with his youngest grandson, Yiannis, looking across the Gulf of Argos, over a  sea that was motionless, a lacquered blue-grey. He drank occasionally from a glass of ouzo, rolling the liquid around his mouth, appreciating the flavour of aniseed and herbs. His posture suggested contentment, but his eyes were troubled.

“There’ll be a storm tonight,” suggested Yiannis.

Giorgios frowned. “Perhaps.”

Memories. So many memories burdened a man, he thought. Once he had been decisive, quick to sum up options, quick to plan necessary actions. Where was that ability now, when he needed it most of all? He missed Eirene at his side; how lonely he had been since she left him a widower.

“What do think of your cousin Katerina?” he asked Yiannis.

Yiannis sipped his ouzo as he considered the question.

“She’s bright. She can be too hasty sometimes.”

Giorgios turned back to the sea. The sun’s reflection in the water was dimpled like beaten bronze.  

Hasty.

How different life was nowadays from when he was growing up. He remembered his teenage years, the years of German occupation, the years of resistance. You had to be quick, or you were dead. You had to be ready to save yourself, and not be too fussy about your neighbour.

And you made mistakes. You shot, and maybe the person you hit wasn’t German.

Giorgios closed his eyes. It had been a long time since he’d thought of Gennadios, Some things were best forgotten.

He heard Yiannis. “You’re tired, Grandfather. Would you like me to take you home?”

Giorgios opened his eyes and scowled.

“I want another ouzo,” he said.

Yiannis knew better than to argue. He ordered two more ouzos.

“Your Uncle Spiros thinks he should be my successor,” said Giorgios. He looked intently at Yiannis, who smiled.

“He is your eldest son. Why should he not inherit the business?”

Giorgios grunted. Clouds were building in the west, great mounds of cumulus racing heavenwards.

“You’re right. We shall have a storm. I’m glad Katerina invested in awnings with a guttering system. Our guests will stay dry. Take me back home now.”

Yiannis pushed Giorgios’ wheelchair back to the café, positioning him just inside the doors where he could watch the customers – and the staff. Georgios looked at the mighty plane tree sheltering one end of his café. He remembered Eirene planting it when they had just started the business. He remembered the thoughtful expression on her face as she firmed the soil around the sapling. “What are you thinking about?” he had asked, but she hadn’t answered. It had been an inspiration of hers, though, the mature tree drawing customers into its shade throughout the day.

Spiros bustled over, frowning at Yiannis. “Go and help Ajax in the kitchen,” he snapped. “We’re very busy tonight.” He scanned the tables. “Father, I wish you’d have a word with Demetrios.” Giorgios followed his gaze.

“Send him over to me,” he said. “He knows better than to sit down with our customers.”

As Demetrios minced towards him, Giorgios saw him compose his face, hiding resentment with a smile.

“You’re going to tick me off, I know, but that young man is so handsome I couldn’t help myself!”

“Don’t use your perversion as an excuse for unprofessional behaviour. I don’t want to see you sitting at a table again.” He waved Demetrios away.

He must make a decision. Who should inherit the café, the family business he started so many years ago? He sensed his time was running short.

Katerina joined him.

“You should eat something, Grandfather. Would you like Ajax to make you an omelette?”

“With mushrooms?”

“Yes, with mushrooms.”

As she served him the omelette, Katerina said, “Ajax is an excellent chef, a real asset. I heard other tavernas had approached him, so I’ve given him a pay rise – I hope that’s okay?”

Giorgios grunted. “What did your Uncle Spiros have to say about that?”

“Nothing. I asked him who he had in mind to replace Ajax when he left.” She smiled.

“How is Yiannis getting on? He’s been working with you, hasn’t he?”

“He’s good. Methodical, thorough, and with some flair. I let him negotiate our contract for ice-cream, and he did a good job.”

Giorgios pushed away the half-eaten omelette. “It’s good,” he said, “but I’m not hungry. Bring me a coffee.”

“You know what the doctor said about coffee.”

Giorgios glowered at her.

“I suppose one won’t hurt,” she said.

“Send Yiannis to me with the coffee.”

When Yiannis came, Giorgios glanced around. Was anybody listening?

“How would you feel if I left you the café?”

“There are others who have a greater claim than I.”

“But could you run it?”

Yiannis looked troubled. “Well, yes, I think I could if they let me. But don’t you think the family would oppose me?”

“Could you not talk them round? To run a business you need cunning and determination. Have you got those qualities?”

Giorgios watched Yiannis intently. Perhaps it would be unfair to burden him with the challenge of running the family business. Maybe the time had come to let control pass from the family.

“Don’t look so glum. It may never happen. A storm is the worst we’re likely to see tonight! Now, take me to my bedroom. And make sure the bell is on my bedside table.”

Although his wife, Eirene, had been dead four years, Giorgios still slept solely on the left hand side of the bed. But tonight, sleep eluded him. He thought of Eirene, beautiful, tranquil to the end of her life. As a young man he had loved her passionately; in middle age he loved her as the mother of his children, cherishing her; in old age desire had still burned, albeit with a cooler fire.

For some reason, the distant rumbles of thunder reminded him of Nazi artillery. Why had he thought that?

He dozed.

The hammering of torrential rain woke him. He clambered out of bed, and gazed out of the window at the plane tree. The raindrops slammed into the leaves like machine-gun fire, making them rattle, and beating them to the ground.

His chest hurt. He was used to that. Too much ouzo and coffee. “I don’t care if they do kill me,” he muttered, as though answering someone. The café was closed, the guests all gone.

“I must decide,” he thought. “I must decide.”

Giorgios stood panting. The room felt stuffy. His cheeks felt cold and clammy, and yet he was sweating.

Eirene had always loved Katerina more than the others. And now that he thought of it, Eirene had urged him to give her responsibility in the business. Eirene would want Katerina to inherit the business. He would leave it to her.

But the pain in his chest was too great. The air he breathed felt heavy as water. Giorgios stumbled to his desk and turned on the light. His hand found the notebook and pen without looking – he always kept them handy to jot down good ideas, day or night.

“Katerina is to have the café outright,” he wrote, “The remainder of my estate is to be split equally between my children.”

He added his signature, stumbled back to his bedside table, and rang the bell as loudly as he could. The pain was overwhelming. ‘Is this what Gennadios felt as my bullet ripped through his flesh, and his life gushed away?’ thought Giorgios.

He saw Eirene’s face, her teenage face, filled with desperate grief for Gennadios, and now he could see the shadow of that grief in every memory throughout her life. “She knew,” he marvelled. “How could she love me knowing that?”

Why had he never noticed?

Even as his bedroom door burst open there was a brilliant flash and an immediate shattering explosion of thunder.

“The tree!” exclaimed Yiannis.

“Katerina is to have the café,” gasped Giorgios, scarcely able to articulate the words. Eirene’s grief-laden stare, the terrified pallor of the dying Gennadios, accused him.

“Murder. I murdered him.”

Nobody could hear him. The rain hammered. Sirens shrieked. Even as Yiannis ran to his bedside, Giorgios died.

Friday Fictioneers – The end of an era?

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © BRENDA COX

The end of an era?

The café lay under a mighty plane tree in a marble-paved square. It was always busy, from dawn until well after midnight.

Giorgios gazed over the café he’d started. He thought of his sons and grandsons working the tables. He thought of his unmarried daughter Katerina, so shrewd. His other daughters were happily married with children. Giorgios smiled briefly.

His heart laboured as he wondered to whom he should leave the business.

That night, lightning felled the plane tree. The deafening crash woke Giorgios. His chest tightened until he couldn’t breathe. Hastily he scrawled, “The café is Katerina’s.”

And died.

InLinkz – click here to join in the fun!

Note – I’m planning to write a longer version of this story and post it on Sunday or Monday. Just sayin’!

Friday Fictioneers – Sunset, Nafplio

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Sunset, Nafplio

I sit at peace, gazing over the sea to the mountains opposite, an ouzo on the table and my beloved beside me. Second by second the colours change, as the sun descends in golden fire behind the peaks. The valleys recede into grey, the foreground tinged with violet and sage.

The small boats moored near us cast shadows, darkening the water slapping against the quay. A waiter places an oil lamp on the table and my red sunhat glows in its warm light.

The palette of my life’s colours is nearly spent.

I sit at peace, my beloved beside me.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun

Two Friends Meet

This short story is a little over 300 words long, and is more or less true…

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Two friends meet

We were waiting for the concert to begin. It was an open-air recital of music performed by an ensemble of violinist, cellist, flautist and pianist. A faint savour of cooking permeated the air from the nearby tavernas. Swifts swooped and shrilled their thin song, accompanied by the obsessive rattle of cicadas.

Although it was past the advertised starting time, half the seats were still empty and there was no sign of the performers. We laughed, quietly; late starts seemed to be a feature of Greek performances. “People watching” is a very Greek thing to do, so, like the other eighty or so people making up the audience, we looked around.

There was a woman in a green dress sitting in the row in front of us. Her skin resembled a peach that had dried just a little, losing moisture until fine wrinkles had appeared. The wrinkles spoke of smiles, laughter, and love, and the set of her eyes and mouth confirmed them.

Her hair, unambiguously grey without hint of white, was short, straight, and beautifully cut. She sat upright, making the most of her height, projecting confidence. She was on her own but seemed completely untroubled by this. Nevertheless, had my Greek been adequate to sustain a conversation I would have greeted her; there was a warmth about her that invited friendship.

As the remainder of the audience straggled in, the woman looked around. She glanced to her right and her eyes widened. Her face glowed with delight. She reached out with both arms to embrace a woman who was threading her way between the seats. The two women hugged, exchanged greetings and sat down side by side.

They didn’t chatter; occasionally one would make a comment to the other, who would nod, or say something brief in reply. They just sat, relaxed, companionable, enjoying the occasion together, plainly friends of many years standing.

Shortly afterwards the musicians entered, and chased away the sounds of swifts and cicadas with the music of Smetana.

 

I’m on holiday!

For the next two weeks I am on holiday in Greece.

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I’m afraid that means I won’t be reading all the Friday Fictioneers stories, or the What Pegman Saw stories. I may post stories for both of them (I’m addicted, okay, I know that!) but if your reason for reading is purely reciprocation then apologies but I may not read your story.

Neither will I be posting about my progress on ‘The Dove on the Pergola’. I’ll be thinking about it, of course, but writing very little, so there won’t be much I can tell you! The next update will be on Monday 16th July, I hope.

If I blog anything beyond FF and WPS, it is likely to be a record of my holiday. Do feel free to join me if you wish!

The Sirens

I don’t often attempt to write poetry, and this piece was originally intended as an exercise in descriptive prose. However, a rhythm gradually infiltrated the writing, so I tried laying it out as a poem and worked on it in that form. Whether that makes it a poem, I leave for you to judge! BTW It helps if you know the story of Odysseus and the Sirens.

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The Sirens

A nightingale that heard them sing

Would blush for shame.

The lines of melody intertwine,

The words blend, rhyme.

Oh, to be whole, free from the pain of loss!

So many heroes dead, friends hewn by sword,

Skewered by spear, or crushed by rocks.

Now peace. The voices offer peace.

“Helmsman, steer to shore!” I beg,

But wax-stopped ears are deaf.

I struggle with my bonds.

My vessel’s oarsmen beat the waves to froth and past we go,

Past surf that breaks on rocks like knives,

And on the rocks the Sirens feast

On rotting flesh and broken lives.  

What Pegman Saw – “Life and Spirit Free”

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Athens, Greece.

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WPS - Storming the Polytechnic 171111

Genre: Historical fiction – 17 November 1973

Word count – 150

Life and Spirit Free

The night’s blackness is beaten back by the soldiers’ arc lights.

Stinking exhaust from a tank blows across the road towards us as we cling to the gates of the Polytechnic. Somebody has a radio. My Giorgios is still broadcasting from the heart of our struggle.

“Polytechnic here! People of Greece, the Polytechnic is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

Giorgios, I love you!

The tank’s engine revs.

It creeps across the road. Surely it’s not going to crash the gates? There are a dozen of us hanging on to them!

Alex, next to me, yells at the soldiers massing behind the tank.

“Brothers in arms! Disobey your orders! Support us in the struggle for liberty!

‘From the Greeks of old whose dying

brought to life and spirit free…’”

I join in.

The tank is coming.

Aagh! That hur….

Historical Note

From 1967 – 1974 Greece was ruled by a military junta. They used all the techniques of a totalitarian state including arbitrary arrest and torture. Students were at the forefront of the resistance, and in November 1973 they occupied Athens Polytechnic, and improvised a radio station using laboratory equipment.

On the night of 17 November 1973 the army stormed the Polytechnic, using a tank to break down the gates, to which students were clinging. No lives were lost during the assault – although there were many injuries. However, later in the day soldiers shot dead several people outside the campus, including 17-year-old Diomidis Komninos shot through the heart by a sniper.

I have quoted a translation of part of the Greek national anthem, which students were singing as the tank attacked.

Greek National Anthem

I shall always recognize you

by the dreadful sword you hold,

as the Earth with searching vision

you survey with spirit bold.

From the Greeks of old whose dying

brought to life and spirit free,

now with ancient valour rising

let us hail you, oh Liberty

 

Wild Dogs

I wrote this story in response to the success of the far right in winning seats in the German Bundestag. It’s about 1000 words and will take about ten minutes to read.

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Wild Dogs

Her way to the archaeological site was blocked by a large dog, with alsatian in its recent ancestry. Its coat was unkempt. It was restless, raising its head, occasionally snarling; the snarls were, oddly, silent.

Alice was always wary of stray dogs, particularly here in the Balkans where rabies was still endemic. She crossed the road. The dog watched her as she passed.

“Good day,” the attendant at the entrance greeted her. She smiled, and her apprehension about the animal receded.

The dog was there again the following day, this time with a companion which yapped. As she passed them, the smaller dog stood up, took a pace or two in her direction, snuffled the air as though to catch and remember her scent. Alice shivered.

Her heart sank when she came out of the site that evening, and saw the two dogs. As soon as they saw her, they rose to their feet. The larger dog growled as she went past. Still, they made no move to approach her. She told herself it was silly to be frightened. “They’re only dogs, for goodness sake!”

Nevertheless, she mentioned it to the manager of the pension where she was living. He smiled.

“Don’t worry, Professor. I will have a word with the mayor tonight. He will sort out the problem.”

“Please don’t put yourself to any trouble,” exclaimed Alice. “I’m sure I’m worrying unnecessarily.”

“It is no trouble, no trouble at all.” He spread his hands, thought a moment, and then added, “Will you do me the honour of drinking a glass of ouzo on the terrace?”

They sat in the evening sun, sipped their drinks and nibbled small savoury snacks.

“I hope you don’t mind my speaking,” began Spiros, “but I feel I need to give you a word of advice.”

Alice concealed a grin. “I shall be most grateful,” she said.

“I read your letter in the daily newspaper – you write very good Greek, such good Greek, it’s better than mine – but your message might have been misunderstood. It’s a very sensitive time.”

“You mean with Turkey making warlike noises over Cyprus again?”

“Well, yes, partly that.”

He hesitated, and Alice interrupted, “I don’t see how my letter causes offence. I don’t mention Cyprus. I’m merely saying that it is now more important than ever that opposite sides of the political debate listen and try to understand one another.”

“That is not a message that the generals want to hear. To them, if you give anything less than enthusiastic support they look on it as opposition. And you said that Greece should stay in the European Union.”

“Well, so it should! It’s madness to leave!”

“Ssh!” Spiros looked so upset that Alice fell silent.

“Well, I can see what you’re saying,” she agreed at last, and the two of them sat quietly for a few moments.

“This view is so beautiful,” said Alice. “I love Greece – and the Greeks.”

The sun setting behind the mountain turned her grey hair gold, as it had been in her youth.

Spiros gazed at her, this strange foreigner, who spoke Greek almost like a native, who was so clever, so learned and yet so naïve.

“I will walk to the site with you tomorrow, and make sure everything is okay.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Talk at the taverna that evening was all about Cyprus. Would there be war? One boy had received his call-up papers that day. His family were celebrating, proud of him. The town’s priest sat at the table near the entrance.

“Love of country is the highest virtue,” he intoned, over and over again. The townsfolk nodded.

“Greece for the Greeks,” said one. There was a cheer.

“Cyprus for the Greeks!” said another. The cheer was louder.

Alice sat with friends, eating and thinking. Perhaps she should take a break, go back to the UK for a few weeks? She’d been working on the site without a break for six months, after all. Perhaps Spiros was right; her lack of sympathy for the regime might be costly. They might send her out of the country for good.

Next day, Spiros was as good as his word. In the morning he walked the mile to the site with Alice. There were no dogs.

“The mayor worked fast! Thank you, Spiros. I’m fine now.”

Safely on the site, Alice thought no more about a holiday. The present phase of the study would be complete in five or six weeks. Time enough to think about holidays then.

She worked late that night, and the sun had set. She toyed with the idea of a taxi, but there were street lights, and she’d probably have to wait thirty minutes before the driver arrived.

She walked briskly, thinking of the work they’d done today, planning the tasks for tomorrow. The street lights were dim and widely spaced. It was only when you were close to one that its light hid the stars. Between them the sky was like velvet, decorated with a thousand sparkling points of light.

There was growl behind her. She quickened her pace.

“It’s a dog. That’s all.”

The pointed muzzle of an Alsatian emerged from a gap in the fence beside her, as the stray pushed its way into her path. It snarled; she heard the sound very clearly this time. Her breath came quickly, and her heart pounded.

“Go away!” She spoke with as much firmness as she could.

The dog squatted on its haunches and growled. Alice felt in her handbag for her mobile phone. Who should she ring? Spiros would probably be quickest – but only if he answered.

As she dialled, the dog howled. There were answering howls from behind her. Then the dog sprang, knocking the phone from her hand.

Alice barged past it, and ran, ran as she hadn’t run since she was a teenager. And when running was no longer any use, she fought…

 

 

A Writer’s Perspective

Here is another piece of flash fiction. Again, it’s a ‘Drabble’ being 100 words long and having a beginning, middle and end. It was inspired by a scene I saw on holiday, but it’s completely fictional. Rather entertainingly, we subsequently met some of the performers – including the two lads – in a taverna and were able to express our enjoyment of the concert.

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A writer’s perspective

Those who were to perform in the Festival concert were in the front rows of the audience. Two young men sat side by side. The compere introduced a piece for solo piano, and both boys stood up. One went to the piano, the other stood at the side, recording a video of the performance.

Were they a gay couple, I wondered? The youth turned, looked at me; I smiled back.

Afterwards, he asked me why I had stared at him, rather than watch his friend performing.

“I am a writer. I have to look where other people are not looking.”

The Angel of Epirus

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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Photoprompt (c) J Hardy Carroll

The Angel of Epirus

They met in the fragrance of pine trees and the harsh smell of shattered dwellings. Hans should have killed her, but he was sick of violence. Magdalena should have screamed for the partisans; but Hans looked like her brother, dead twelve months. He looked despairing.

Shuddering, terrified, she removed her dowry necklace, pressed it into his hands.

She hissed hated German words. “Walk! Three days!” She pointed west. “Find boat. Pay man. Italy.”

Now the new buildings after the war are themselves old and in disrepair. Magdalena still feels the scars of her whipping. She still hears the whisper “Krautfucker!”