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 – Dangerous Liaison

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 © C E Ayr

Dangerous liaison

Alone on the beach, I stand silent. The winter sun dapples land and sea, confusing the eye.

I need to plan. What can I do? Where can I go?

I finish my cigarette with three long drags, but the nicotine hit brings no inspiration.

It was my own stupid fault.

Poor Dolores. Beautiful. Seductive. I couldn’t resist her. Giovanni had beaten the truth out of her, then killed her.

Perhaps if I go to London? By train, of course.

I turn towards the steps. It’s my only hope.

There’s a flash from the sand dunes. The sun on binoculars? or…

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

What Pegman Saw – Gay Terror

“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. This week’s location is Chechnya.

WPS - Gay Terror 200607

Gay Terror

I can’t tell anybody. They would kill me.

Adam was a pupil from my school, older than me.

He was lovely. Sometimes I used to follow him.

He used to meet a friend in the forest, another boy. I saw them kiss each other. I was jealous. I wanted him to kiss me.

They had a special place. I would hide in a nearby bush, right out of sight, and watch them.

One day his friend came with a gang. They had pick handles and baseball bats. Adam screamed as they beat him. I stuffed my hand in my mouth so as not to cry out.

When they had finished, they dug a grave and threw him in. They hit his friend then, several times, until he sobbed.

“If you ever kiss another man we’ll kill you, too,” said one of them.

Letter received by the Guardian newspaper March 2017

Author’s note

This is entirely fiction. Unfortunately, the actual situation in Chechnya is far worse.

Friday Fictioneers – Bum Deal

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 - Bum Deal 200108

PHOTO PROMPT © C E Ayr

Bum deal

The streetlights were yellowed by the onrushing dawn as Tony, groundsman of the Paradiso Marina, parked his scooter in its designated parking bay. He doffed his helmet and strolled to the big campervan. He yawned. It had been a busy night, both profitable, if not strictly legal, and pleasurable, if not strictly monogamous.

Why was the campervan here, by the Sopranos’ mooring? He would have to move them on before nine o’ clock.

He hammered on the door, then noticed the hissing and the smell of gas.

“Shit!”

The explosion of the campervan was heard all over the town.

Inlinkz – click here to join in

What Pegman Saw – Redemption

“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 Tasmania, Australia.

WPS - Redemption 191216

Image from PixbayBlade by Pixabay

Redemption

Reverend Luke spoke sternly to Matt. “You should not have seized Lowanna from her home and family. That is against God’s law.”

Matt went white, his finger twitched and the gun roared, deafening in the confined space of the cabin. Disappointment stained the face of the priest as he slumped.

“I forgive you,” he gasped. “Now put right the evil you have done.”

His eyes closed, he shuddered and his chest stopped heaving.

Matt Cox stared aghast. The gun rattled against the table as he laid it down.

He buried the body in his kitchen garden. He could feel Lowanna watching from the room in which he’d locked her.

Reverend Luke’s face haunted him, day and night. Suddenly, Matt realised that the sadness in the priest’s eyes was for him and nobody else. On Sunday morning, as the church bell rang through the clear air, Matt restored Lowanna to her family.

Note

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, British settlers – where men vastly outnumbered women – used to seize aboriginal women as ‘wives’. Occasionally the aboriginals would strike back, killing a few settlers, whereupon they faced massive reprisals and many deaths. This conflict was known as the ‘Black War’.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Friday Fictioneers – Resolution

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!

FF - Resolution 191004

© Dale Rogerson

Resolution

Lean as a hungry wolf, he loped through frosty streets towards the dojo, trainers scuffing against the pavement. He remembered his mother as she was before she killed herself. His steaming breath hissed through clenched teeth.

As he ran beneath the floodlights of the basketball pitch, a friend hailed him, “Hey, Connor, fancy a beer?”

Without breaking stride he shook his head, swerved off the road into the shadows between the trees and accelerated.

Every step stoked his determination, built his strength. He was nearly ready. Soon he would make his mother’s abuser pay. He would kill his father.

 

 

What Pegman Saw – The Thain takes a Wife

“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 Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

WPS - The Thain's Wife 190922

Image from Axe20 by Pixabay

The Thain takes a Wife

My parents’ blood soaked into my clothes. I lay still, as though dead, clutching a knife beneath me. Its serrated blade was designed to strip the hide off a seal; it should take the life of at least one of these murderers, these Vikings.

I heard footsteps; I felt the draft as he lifted the flap of our mamateek. I could smell him. He reached down and touched my shoulder.

“Aiieee!” With the loudest cry I could muster, I twisted to one side and thrust upwards with all my strength, willing the blade to snatch at least one Viking life in exchange for the deaths of so many of my tribe.

He stepped back, and his boot kicked away my blade.

His sword was raised.

He stared at me, then seized me and dragged me from the floor.

“Come,” he grunted. “To the boat. You will bear me many warriors.”

Friday Fictioneers – Terminus

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 (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Terminus 190724

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Terminus

As the express raced through the night, Cameron sized up the other passenger in the first-class compartment. Strong, fit, and, it would seem, armed. Like many before him, he seemed oblivious of the scrutiny of the self-effacing Scotsman sitting opposite. His mistake, thought Cameron.

The train roared as it entered the tunnel. Acrid steam blew into the carriage.

“I’ll shut the window, shall I?” enquired Cameron.

He stood, and operated the emergency brake. The train bucked, the brakes squealed, and Cameron turned, gun in hand.

“You’re past it, old man,” he heard, as the other man’s bullet felled him.

Blue Froggie!

 

 

Friday Fictioneers – Murder in the Cathedral

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 (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

I have to confess that I’m not quite sure where today’s story came from. It’s an emotional response to the prompt.

FF - Murder in the Cathedral 190710

Murder in the cathedral

On to the dead go all estates,

Panting, I crouch, hidden behind the High Altar.

Princes, prelates, and potentates,

The Dean manages to wrest a sword from the grasp of one of the murderers; blades clash. A jet of blood, bubbling with his mortal scream, sprays over the altar, while the assassins’ ring-leader bays in triumph. They skewer the Archbishop as he babbles prayers, shrinking into his Cathedra.

Both rich and poor of all degree;

Will they butcher me too? I’m only a monk. I have no part in great events. I tell my rosary, shuddering.

Timor mortis conturbat me.

 

Notes

The story is written interleaved with a stanza of “Lament for the Makers” by William Dunbar. I first wrote the story using the original words, but that looked a little daunting, so I turned them into present day English. The final line of the stanza is Latin, and means “The fear of death troubles me”.

Murder in the cathedral

On to the ded gois all estatis,

Panting, I crouch, hidden behind the High Altar.

Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,

The Dean manages to wrest a sword from the grasp of one of the murderers; blades clash. A jet of blood, bubbling with his mortal scream, sprays over the altar, while the assassins’ ring-leader bays in triumph. They skewer the Archbishop as he babbles prayers, shrinking into his Cathedra.

Baith riche and pur of al degre;

Will they butcher me too? I’m only a monk. I have no part in great events. I tell my rosary, shuddering.

Timor mortis conturbat me.

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