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 – Farewell

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 © Ted Strutz

Farewell

Like a summer breeze, her voice, plaintive and beautiful, caressed the package that was the gritty ash of his absence. “Always and everywhere the music will follow you, my love.”

The sea called. Herring gulls soared, riding the thermals of the cliff.

“May we dream of each other as we sleep.”

Clutching the package to her breast, Eleanor stepped into the void.

Inlinkz – click here to join in

Friday Fictioneers – Roller Coaster

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 © ROGER BULTOT

Roller Coaster

He sat in Nathan’s diner from two until three every day, stirring a coffee. Sometimes he would take a swallow, look across at the Steeplechase roller coaster opposite, and grimace.

Every five minutes the cars rocketed into the corner of the ride, the squeal of the wheel flanges against the track completely drowned by the shrieks of excited riders.

Every five minutes he saw again in his mind’s eye the car leaping off the track, the boy flying through the air, plummeting.

Every five minutes he heard the despairing wail, “Dad…”

It was even worse the days he didn’t go.

InLinkz – click here to join in the fun!

Friday Fictioneers – At first sight

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 © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

At first sight

Standing at the grave-side with my children, I remember a shop on Down Island.

The window held an intriguing mixture of objects; stained glass fairies; crystals; natural remedies; and some brightly patterned kaftans.

Inside, the place smelled euphoric. The man behind the counter was smiling and humming.

“I like those kaftans. Could I try one, please?”

He glanced at his watch.

“Heavens! It’s quarter past one. Sorry, we’re closed. Open again tomorrow morning. It’s Beltane, you see.”

My face fell.

“Come with me,” he suddenly said. “There’ll be some great vegetarian food!”

Forty years we were together.

Goodbye, my love.

https://fresh.inlinkz.com/party/2767a29a0c1640709ba002042b5f4381

What Pegman Saw – Some days are good

“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 Taunoa, French Polynesia.

WPS - Some days are good 200321

Some days are good

Some days are good, some bad. Paul was such a big part of my life. I sigh and put away the nail polish. I can’t be bothered. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered with a vacation either; September will always be tainted by the memory of those last days as Paul fought for life.

But I did bother, and it’s a pleasant resort, and a gal’s gotta eat. That waterfront fish restaurant tonight, I think, only I mustn’t feel melancholy as the sun sets.

“Bonsoir, Henri!”

“Madame!” Professionally charming. “We ‘ave lovely mullet tonight. ‘ere, I give you a seat by the water!”

The sky is azure, the light crystal sharp. It is a courageous sky.

I am so lost in my thoughts, that at first I don’t hear him.

“May I join you?”

Silver hair but unlined face, gentle and scholarly, a quiet smile.

I smile back.

“Please do.”

Inlinkz – click here to join in the fun!

 

Friday Fictioneers – Well Done

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!

FF - Well Done - 200222

PHOTO PROMPT © DAWN MILLER

Well Done

The farmer’s son drove the tractor, and the blades of the plough turned the clods like a sexton’s shovel. The empty grain silo coursed with rain.

Winter came, harsh and unyielding. The farmer’s son stayed home, just the whisky bottle for company. Icicles like swords hung from the silo.

Milder weather came. The farmer’s son rose, sighed, and sowed the summer wheat. Day by day the land greened under the gentle sun.

Then the harvest.

The farmer’s son confronted the silo. With an effort of will, he filled it with grain.

“Well done, son,” said the memory of his father.

Inlinkz – click here and join the fun!

Friday Fictioneers – Breaking Up

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!

FF - Breaking up sequence 200212

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

I’m afraid I’ve cheated this week, writing three separate stories for the prompt. I’ve put them together because they’re on a single theme, and form a sequence. So that’s how I’ve cheated – I’ve written a 300 word story in disguise! I hope you’ll all forgive me!

 

Breaking up, breaking down

Robert looks cold and aloof.

“I just prefer her,” he says, quietly. “It’s nothing you’ve done. Can we stay friends?”

I clamp my jaw, shake my head.

“Better a clean break,” I manage.

I shudder uncontrollably as I walk to the station to catch the train home. It’s full. I huddle in my seat and weep, heedless of stares.

What more could I have done to keep him?

My phone chimes. A text message. I can’t read it for tears.

As the train pulls into Manchester my crying stops, and I feel the ice crackling and crystallising around my heart.

Breaking up, breaking out

Robert looks cold and aloof.

“I just prefer her,” he says, quietly. “It’s nothing you’ve done. Can we stay friends?”

I look at him and remember what he’s said in the past.

‘I find commitment difficult.’

‘It was a fling – it didn’t mean anything. I’m sorry.’

‘I don’t like you seeing other men.’

‘I don’t like you dressing like that – it makes you look like a tart.’

“Friends? Forget it!” I say, and stalk out.

Outdoors, the wind is icy, but my overcoat keeps me warm. I feel energised. Let Robert play his mind games; I shan’t be joining in!

Breaking up, breaking through

Robert looks cold and aloof.

“I just prefer her,” he says, quietly. “It’s nothing you’ve done. Can we stay friends?”

Prefer her! When’s he had a chance to find out? What a rat! I punch him, hard, on the jaw, then gasp. ‘What have I done?’ I think, horrified.

We look at each other.

Suddenly, he grins, then laughs, a great belly laugh.

“Your face!” he hoots.

“I’m really sorry,” I stammer.

“It’s my fault. I was being outrageous. I’m sorry.”

We sit down, side by side, and talk. The ice between us melts as we understand each other better.

Inlinkz – click here to join in!

What Pegman Saw – The Crossing

“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 Tolchester Beach, Maryland, USA.

WPS - The Crossing 200125

The crossing

Jim drove towards the water, parked and sat in darkness. The far side of the estuary was spangled with lights.

He gulped bourbon from his flask, then stripped, folding his clothes neatly onto the seat. “See, Mom?” he slurred, not knowing whether it was a sneer or a lament.

Then he waded into the water and swam towards the far shore.

It’s five kilometres and he was not a strong swimmer. He would swim until exhausted and then quietly let himself slide under…

The water wasn’t cold, not at first anyway, not as cold as his loss. He swam steadily, his mind floating free. This wasn’t such a bad way to go.

A slap of water roused him. His limbs were shuddering, but still moving. Orange street lights! Close!

His left leg cramped.

Only one hundred yards to go.

His head was submerging.

Every stroke was agony.

He made it.

What Pegman Saw – Farewell

What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

WPS - Farewell 191209

Image by melaniejwagar from Pixabay

Farewell

The dawn sky glows oyster and then shatters as a golden ray of light lances across the land. I start the Harley.

“For you, Namid,” I whisper, and her voice whispers back the lines of poetry she spoke at our first meeting.

Cruising south-west, I take time to notice the lake by which we picnicked, the woods through which we roamed hand in hand. The bike throbs gently. Lakes, trees, kilometres and hours creep past inexorably, like the years of a life.

Fifteen hours after setting out I ride through Cold Lake, down to the water’s edge.

I watch the massed clouds, purple and gold in the evening light.

I remember.

I remember the attacker’s snarling face. I remember savage pain in my belly, ripped as I struggled to protect Namid. I remember her eyes as the knife pierced her chest, her anguished gaze of farewell.

The sun sets.