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OCTOBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 10



The Arc of a Rotten Apple | Steve Mueske


Side of the Sea | Holly Day

VASILIS AFXENTIOU, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Online. Vasilis lives in Athens, Greece.


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"You do not know how to give," he had said last night. "You try, but do not know how. And you must learn what you want in return." Defeated, she lifted the sheet off herself and sat up on the edge of the bed. With effort she got up, slipped her jeans on, and went to study.

She didn't wake Dino up, but brought with her a mug of Nescafé and settled in the chair. The pungency of the black brew briefly dispersed the sleepiness in her head.

She had heard the melody one day in the past. But today her fingers felt thick, clumsy, undisciplined. The tips were blistered on the left hand and her thumb cramped from fatigue.

"How are your exercises proceeding?" Anastasi had asked her at the music conservatory the other day, giving her a pat as she stretched the knotted muscles of her back.

"Just fine."

He had looked at her with those knowing eyes, weighing and regarding, as he stood in front of her, twice attempting to say something that he did not.

She enjoyed watching his curiously delicate manner. He used his large hazel eyes to tell more than his tongue - but that morning she pretended to busy herself preparing, not looking at him for long, for she knew he was probing her. She had even evaded their usual patter.

"You're not well?" he had finally asked.

"Not very. It'll pass."

He put the stool and foot rest in place, shifted ebulliently with brisk, spirited movement. And he paused a little. He did not sit immediately, but delayed this moment of focus. He relinquished himself to it as thoroughly as to his playing. He was never hurried at this particular stage; he never rushed at this point. It was, she thought, a kind of liturgy in him, just as when he was performing, he was undividably surrendering.

Yet Anastasi could be as utterly grave or severe. His reproaches were the bleakest she had ever seen. He thought as an evangelist preached. It was for this thoroughness, she imagined, that she felt esteem for him.

Ilianna now raised the instrument off her lap and laid it upright next to a desk scattered with music sheets, a copy of Chosen Country by J. dos Passos, and Mary Magdalene portrayed weeping.

She heard Dino get up and she shut her eyes. The tiny garret closed in on her and a sudden vortex made her slump to one side. She caught herself from falling and sprung her slight, lean torso up straight on the uncomfortable chair.

Two years, Anastasi had said. Two hard years for the fingers to break in. "Don't give up," was his favorite infamous statement, "you come to me with a perfect right hand."

She whiffed the heavy blue smoke meandering into her cubby-hole study from the Gauloises. Dino was smoking in the kitchen. Her throat tightened and her nostrils pinched. He was making Greek coffee. Its rich fragrance mingled, somewhere along the way, with the silty wafts from his cigarette and made her head whirl. Oblivious to her discomfort she could hear him murmuring/singing, " Take my hand. Take my whole life too..." to himself - the King was The King for him.

She sat there listening and listlessly stared at the only two paintings in the apartment, one was an Andrew Wyeth and the other a Norton Simon. They represented her wealth and were sent by her mother, who had brought them from Astoria, Long Island, six months after Ilianna had departed from her home.

She had been raised in the ancient neighborhood of Plaka in a house of post-classical architecture that vaunted better days right after the war. Her family was moderately wealthy and an old Athenian family, endorsing the old ways, trying hard not to be assimilated by the onrush of world changes fostered by satellite television and her media-nurtured generation. From childhood she had known that her future was already planned out. She would be sent to college, earn her degree, and marry a man with a solid profession, perhaps even a shipowner. But all that had changed when one morning she left her home with rucksack bearing down on her thin shoulders and trust in a calling.

"And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry:
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;" came the Burns' hyperbole in the form of a tv commercial for scotch whisky from the kitchen where Dino sat.

They had been together for almost a year, then she was nineteen and he twenty-three. He was like nobody she had ever met before. He didn't worry any more about the years ahead than did cattle in green pastures. There was a primal manner in his air and a puerile spontaneity that uninhibited her. He had a careering way about him, like a twentieth century gladiator, all was intense sport, love-making, drinking, prancing his shiny second-hand Harley as if he were Marlon Brando and she the counter waitress.

His family had been killed in a train disaster when he was four. He had been on his own since he was twelve, when he had done away with the source of his obstacles by hurtling over a glass-strewn wall. The opportunity had come, just before Christmas dawn, another inmate and he had scaled the shard-sowed barrier to freedom, bloodied and frost-bitten. Nightmares of the orphanage persisted to this day.

A garage owner had offered him a job and Dino had taken his courage in both hands. Though he was still a boy then, he grew up fast to become a man. Yet the strong arms transformed to comforting wings at night. She could have let her life surrender into his and part with all that tortured her, walk away from her own honeyed trial, into the tangy freedom his world promised....

[ MORE: the gift of oneself ]