Even in Paradise, Someone Will Be Bluffing . . .

Ersi Sotiropoulos

Translated from Greek by Chris Markham

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(This piece is recorded in the original Greek. Enjoy!)

He always hoped for a warm welcome when he came home from the office and would ring the downstairs doorbell to announce he was on his way up. He pressed the button for the lift, shifting the weight of the bags on his shoulder to get a better balance, and in the little hall mirror his face was invariably smiling and good-humored. Emerging from the lift on the fifth floor, he found the apartment door closed. He had to ring this bell, too, and stand there waiting, still feeling the weight of his laptop and shoulder bag. There was no mirror here, but even without one he knew that his face retained the same expression of good humor, the same smile.

The door would open, footsteps were heard—retreating rapidly—and he just glimpsed the shadow of a dress as it vanished from the edge of his field of vision. An empty room—so much for his welcome. The lights on, the coat stand groaning under the weight of overcoats in winter, bare as a withered tree in summer. Loaded down with his bags, his lips still curved in the same smile, he stared ahead of him in bewilderment.

I’m going to make you pay, is what the house seemed to be saying. I’m going to make you pay, was the message in every room. And yet it failed to disturb his good mood. He put his things down on the desk, stooping like a rider dismounting from a horse, and strode along the corridor. “Magda!” he called. “Magda!” Silence. All right, what about the dog, then? Why didn’t he at least run to greet him, yapping and leaping up to welcome him?

But the dog was sleeping under the kitchen table. At the sound of his master’s approach, he lazily raised one eyelid, and let it fall again. On the stove there was an empty saucepan, some strands of spaghetti lurking in the bottom. What about the fridge? A Tupperware for cheese, empty, except for a few discolored parings adhering to the plastic sides. A rotting tomato. Some rusks, then. But the packet of rusks was empty, too.

A panting sound made itself heard from the rear of the apartment; he stepped into the corridor and listened, then moved to the bedroom door and pushed it open. He put his head round the side of the door and peered into the gloom. The shutters were down, the atmosphere stifling. Sprawled on the bed, Magda was smoking.

“Would you like to go out tonight?” he asked, still in the doorway.

She drew deeply on her cigarette, and for just a moment the glowing tip was reflected in her eyes.

“A movie, or some place to eat? Some fish? How about it?” he insisted.

“Leave me alone,” she snapped, raising herself from the bed, her voice choked.

So she had been crying again. For a while he remained motionless in the doorway, staring into the darkness of the room. “All right. If you change your mind, you know where I am,” he said, and retreated to the corridor.

“Pig!” she screamed, and ran after him, catching him by the shirt. “You make me sick,” she cried, her voice trembling. Her mouth twisted as if she were going to spit at him. Her face was splotched with tears, and in her hand she held a torn piece of paper. “Take it!” she said, and shoved him away with all her force.

He nearly lost his balance, stumbling into the wall. But he wasn’t upset. With his hand in his pocket, he wandered from room to room, as if exploring an unfamiliar house. He was distracted and yet noticed the tiniest details. A tap dripping in the kitchen, a window banging against the wall of the building’s light shaft. He felt awkward, making this tour of the apartment whenever she was in one of her rages, but where else was he supposed to go? It was his home too, after all. He opened the French windows and stepped out onto the veranda.

Never mind, he said to himself. Never mind. He removed the scrap of paper from his pocket. “I’m alone in bed, thinking of you . . . covering your body in kisses. . . . ” The rest was illegible. “Covering your body in kisses . . . ” It was that which would have plunged Magda into a rage. He stared at the flowers in their pots, the tender shoots stirring in the afternoon light. At heart, he was a romantic guy. . . . How he wished that after a big fight they could make up and relive the passion of their first weeks together! To make love, with her clinging to his body as she squirmed beneath him; to see in her eyes only his own gaze, only himself mirrored there: his dreams, his desires, in deep spirals which swallowed her up, in which she vanished completely, while he emerged intact, magnificent, unique; a man who didn’t need to dream, because whatever he wished became real; a man who didn’t have to desire anything—for he himself was the embodiment of every desire.

A tiny gray bird alighted on the pot of basil and stared at him. He returned the stare, feeling dizziness steal over him. The bird shook its wings and took flight, pausing to perch for a moment on the washing line before once more vanishing into the air. He studied the clothes hanging from the line: two of his own pairs of socks, one of Magda’s bras, a yellow blouse. And suddenly melancholy overtook him at the sight of these clothes hung up to dry side by side. The years would pass, they would grow old, and then they would die. And their clothes would hang here, drying in a line, billowing in the wind together, swaying idly in the breeze in their own little rippling paradise—the only paradise they knew . . . the only paradise possible.

Enough of this. He had to think of something else, he had to react. He closed his eyes and remembered the little aerobics instructor he had met a few days before: her round, unripe breasts, her firm little buttocks. He had struck up a conversation with her, but had been unable to persuade her to meet him for a drink. Nor had he had the courage to ask for her phone number. It was unlikely he would run into her again. What had she been called? He hadn’t managed to find out her name. Olga, that would do. He would call her Olga. . . . He returned to the hall, opened the drawer in the desk, and rummaged around for a pen and some paper. Back on the veranda, he seated himself at the little table and began to write, in large, round letters: “How can you bear not to be here with me, making love to me right this minute? Olga.” He folded up the paper, went back to the hall and placed the note in the inside pocket of his jacket.

“Just going out for some cigarettes,” he called. He knew that as soon as she heard the door close behind him, she would be in the hall searching his jacket pockets. He waited a moment, leaning against the doorframe. “Can I get you anything?” No reply. He opened the door and stepped out of the apartment, his lips curved in a complacent smile. There’s no denying it, he told himself. I’m just an incurable romantic . . .

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