sidebrow

Students

Passion


He was the kid whose story about kissing a girl made the rest of us quake, trying to hold in our laughter. I had to think of funerals in order to restore the class to a more suitable demeanor. We called him Menelaus because he had orange hair.

A few days later he was seen carrying the wildflower book. If we’d watched when he opened it, we’d have seen his finger on the hallucinogen mandragora.

That spring, the leaves were unusually large and soft. I imagine his fingers staining yellow as he pulled the berries, two orange, one red, from the central stem of the leafy plant. And how his mouth would have puckered, the berries, slightly tart.

He walked the rocky soil, maneuvering through sharp rocks. The land filled up until he felt swallowed by the edges, the browns and greens, rocks and stones, roots and leaves, pieces of shell and bone. Beyond, the melodic, flashing sea. Above, the blanketing sky.

While he communed with the mountain, the berries doing most of the work, the students and teachers searched for him, calling both names, Menelaus and Tom, into the quiet blue sky. The day went by. Each hour of his absence measured. Each, in his own way, feeling responsible for what, as the sun began to set, felt like his demise.

When he eventually returned, we embraced him and offered him water. He drank the first cup and with glassy, pinning eyes, said he’d seen us from a ledge as we walked among the rocks. “I was so thirsty and no one would let me drink from his bottle!”

Two days later, we put him on an airplane bound for home. He whispered to me that one day he would write a good story and send it.

Every spring, I pass the leafy plants. Some days, quietly desperate for a little adventure, I contemplate the possibility of picking a berry or two, sour and sliding down my throat. But even the smile-mouthed goats know to stay away from the leafy green mandragora. A plant without a friend like Menelaus who, despite his promise, never sent a story.



Poison


Areti’s long hair was black, her wrists were tiny. In any weather, she wrapped herself in a beat-up leather jacket.

She went through the boys like paper napkins, then used up the girls as well.

Even I, seasoned teacher, drank her poison and found it sweet.



Gypsies


Circe and Odysseus had spent the previous two hours sitting in church pews listening to Byzantine chants. Easter, two days away.

Outside St. Nicholas Church, a gypsy woman approached them. She held out a dark, handless stump. In the crook of her other arm, she stored something swaddled in sheets.

Odysseus sent the gypsy away with a gesture. “Man, it’s so obvious there’s no baby.”

“Can you lend me a ten?” Circe asked.

Odysseus muttered, “You’re crazy,” but pulled out a note. Circe placed it in the crook of the gypsy’s arm, beneath the head of the bundle.

Another gypsy approached and stood beside her. This one had two good hands and no bundle.

“Hey,” Circe said, “I don’t have any more money. That was it.”

Odysseus watched her pull the black lycra shirt over her head. Beneath it, a lacy peach bra, pale skin. She handed the shirt to the gold-toothed gypsy who held it to her nose then threw it to the ground. Odysseus grabbed Circe’s hand. Steered her past the gypsies and into the late-night souvlaki joint. All the candles had gone out in the church of St. Nicholas.



Tear Gas


The students sat on uncomfortable couches, letting themselves be educated. Outside, the hibiscus were in bloom.

“The air,” he said, “was thick. We lit fires with anything we could find—it’s the only way to neutralize tear gas—then stood beyond the iron gates of the Polytechnic. Tanks rolled up and down Patission St. We handed out mimeographed fliers to the people waiting for the streetcar. In the next two days, innocent students were killed.”

Their teacher had sparkling blue eyes, bushy gray hair, and ruddy skin. He broke off speaking and looked away. Their eyes followed his, trying to see tear gas, fires, tanks rolling down an ordinary street.



Helen


Drinking raki from a tiny clear glass, Helen told me she was looking for an Odysseus. She hinted that she’d once had a Jesus. Evidently years before there’d also been a Rasputin. Her last boyfriend, she said, had been a nobody.

I asked: “But who will you be to this guy? Penelope or Circe? Kalypso? Nausikaa? Where do you put yourself in the timeline of this Odysseus’ life?”

“I’ll fall where I may. Voyage or Homecoming. No Trojan Wars.”

In the background, tourists applied suntan lotion. The ice cubes in their Nescafe frappes clinked, releasing watery puddles.

I remember when she first arrived, wearing American jeans and colorful t-shirts.

Eventually, she located the man she called Odysseus. Within weeks, she’d abandoned everything she owned, walked the streets in a toga.

Some boreal wind must have scooped up her clothes, strewn them across the Aegean peninsula. A batiked Grateful Dead t-shirt down by the rock where we swim. A pair of worn jeans stuck on the thorns of an orange rose bush.



Sound Travels


The evening was clear. From the top of the mountain, she looked down toward the sea. Goats and sheep moved through the valley of sharp aspalathus, tin bells clanging.

She heard the cries, then found their source: the woman’s body was tanned, his was pale. They were fucking in a forest of dwarf pines, half-eaten by the goats.

Beyond them, the road and then the sea, all the way to the horizon.



Writing


The student, who is almost a man—though small for one, with dainty hands—begins to seduce the girl far away in Canada, but only through writing everything down for the woman, his teacher. To her, he can write anything at all.

She picks up his blue notebook, reads it in the quiet of her house. The boy’s not put off by the possibility that her husband may be there beside her, may be kissing her while the blue notebook, his blue notebook, labored over, is placed on the kitchen table, while she and the man who is her husband may find themselves dancing toward lovemaking, stepping across the tile floor of their house, knowing exactly what they are about to do.

That thought doesn’t bother him as he boils water for tea. Everything—lighting the gas stove, the voices from upstairs asking him to add more water, the spoonful of honey—mixes with thoughts of his notebook and the words he’s written for the older woman, or the girl, or possibly the woman’s husband.

He thinks he can see the girl in her kitchen, about to peel a tangerine. Rain comes down against the street below her window. Here, too, rain washes the road. When he walks outside, it wets his nearly ecstatic face.