Mallows for Seline

 

Vasilis Adams A.

 

Seline woke and said nothing, just lay there in the sheets, watching Dino carefully but not daring to make a sound for fear he would wake up. I am with you, he seemed to be saying, I will be with you from now on. I will be with you, Seline, forever.

Seline turned over and closed her eyes.

"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."

What was an artist doing in Athens without a job? What did she lose that she was searching for in a country only vaguely familiar to her?

Memories. Ah yes. And endless stories: Parents who uprooted themselves and her from the island, many years back, to find a sure job and a decent life across the Atlantic.

She had memories of running and playing by the water, memories of feeding herself and smelling the sea breeze, hearing it rustle through the pink and white flowers of the holyhock and the flat green leaves of the vine on the warm portch, and learning to swim and dress herself, even memories of learning to fish and sail.

Seline Politou, once stuffer of fish, once assistant to her marine taxidermist father on a coastal village of the island, lowered her thorough-blue eyes, and overcome lifted the covers off herself and sat up on the edge of the bed.

With effort she got up.

Back then her father and she would turn dead, empty-eyed fish into handsome, live-looking, trophies that customers hung on their walls, for friends to admire, but eventually neglected. Seline now mulled over the many things she neglected, had not learned from the aberrant stares of the angled 'prizes'.

The shower's warm water made her tingle. She closed her eyes, leaned back and opened her mouth. She spat out the refreshing stuff several times as the troubled night almost faded in lieu of what the day had to promise.

But what did it promise?

She slipped her jeans on, and went to the canvas. She didn't wake Dino up, but brought with her a mug of Nescafe' and settled in the chair. The pungency of the black brew briefly dispersed the persistent sleepiness in her head.

She had seen the place again and again.

She saw herself give a hefty shove to the deserted, wooden quay and row till she was well away. Then turn and look back. She savored the crisp, stretching splendor around their sea side home with the slumped, patched red roof, the airy porch, the flowers, the table. But for the vision inside her, she would never see the place that had first nurtured her again--a disco/restaurant now took its place. And she wanted to so much, more than anything else in the world.

But her fingers today felt thick, clumsy, undisciplined. The tips were blistered with splotches of colors and the thumb cramped from fatigue.

"How are your strokes proceeding?" Anastasi had asked her at the studio 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 said.

"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 muse. 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 if he was performing, he was undividedly surrendering.

Yet Anastasi could be as utterly grave or severe. He taught as an evangelist man preached. It was for this thoroughness, she imagined, that she felt esteem for him.

Seline now raised the brush...

...The pristine break of day was balmy and bright and promised good voyaging. She took a hefty whiff of iodine, and her boyish bust bulged. The sail fluttered a bit and she pushed the tiler out to trim it. The bag swelled with salty breeze. The skiff leaped forward hissing as it skimmed the gentle brew like a gull's wing through air. The boat cleaved the sleek bay in two, tacking into the draught. Bit-by-bit the cove receded and soon melded into the checkerboard of gold-brown fields in the backdrop. Ahead spanned kilometers of sparkling Aegean. The small boat pranced onward banging on the ripening crests, lifting a coruscating spray and dozens of little morning rainbows...

...the reverie then scattered into glimmering fragments. She laid the brush back down on a desk scattered with sketches and empty white sheets of paper, a copy of Chosen Country by J. dos Passos, and Mary Magdalene portrayed weeping.

She had heard Dino get up.

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

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

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 Dino.

She sat there listening to him sing. His torso yielded slightly, his back bowing a little with the lyric. Tall and nimble. Crude and rasping, the timbre seesawed, and she pondered what it ment. What was going on inside him to make this harmony come out?

She turned away 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 father, who had bought them in Astoria six months after Seline had departed from her home.

She had crossed an ocean and a sea and had been living since her arrival in the ancient neighborhood of Plaka in a house of post-classical architecture that vaunted better days right after the war. The 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 Seline 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 somebody like her father. 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 twenty-three and he twenty-five. 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 shattered his sleep often.

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...

Meanwhile the canvas stood waiting. Elegantly and emmaculently silent, skillfully tormenting, crafting her pain, like picks etching away in her heart. It ignored her and the fever in her hands. Two years had passed four months ago, and still the hues did not fit--clashed like cymbals. The colors dragged slowly, sluggishly, producing a cacophony-- rebellion in parody. There were days when she painted adeptly, but few. She could not account for it; if she could only do that.

Dino's deep, black eyes--she could feel it--were upon her from where he sat, this minute. She could sense their moot, fixed look. It had been a bad night, last night. A bad night for love and dreams. There had been depression in the dark of the room, a tiredness she felt more often than not. He had finally left her and gone to the other end of the bed, and she had lain alone and silent, and sirocco-warm tears ebbed out of her, scouring the hours by.

The night faded once more whence it came.

She massaged the thumb muscle to lessen the stiffness. Veins stood out like winding blue worms on her forearm and on the back of her hand. She dipped the brush into the dish of solvent.

A straight dark line like clotted blood scarred the once soft tissue behind the finger nails. Pigment from the repeated scraping at the palette--a vice, an exercise in maintaining the wounds fresh and visible. All credits of the craft. All the visible signs of hard, diligent work. Texture no.

Dino brushed by her on his way out. She smelled the tobacco on his clothes. He halted and stood by the door not speaking, then closed it behind him.

"The canvas is like a man," came Anastasi's first words that decisive March noon. Seline's first lesson about love had begun. "He will want and want some more. You will hate and love him. Give yourself to him and he will give everything to you. 'Love is, above all, the gift of oneself',' someone once said."

Anastasi had then begun to paint. Seline's last minute doubts dissolved with certainty. Each undulating stroke charged a longing that had so long been left yearning for its mate. The colors mingled and blended, entwined and braided, melded and plexed and fused weaving a dulcet onomatopoeia plenishing her every pore, progressing so ever softly turning, spinning longingly sheer spring air into a depth that had no end. The dappling of the tints echoed on, ignoring, conquering time.

"The moan of doves in immemorial elms/And murmuring of innumerable bees--do you see him, do you see Master Tennyson's sigh in the strokes? You are in love, no?" Anastasi had remarked, putting the brush down.

Yes.

But the canvas before her today seemed unconcerned, aloof, like Dino. Both promised ecstasy, both wanted her soul. But she had not the strength to serve two masters.

When she had awaken that morning it was a comfort to know that the entire day would belong to her to be alone. But by the time she got through mixing the easels, even the light burden of the brush was too much for her. She had not slept much during the night, she realized, for her eyelids drooped more often than not. She had a drifty feeling that made her dreamlike and lose herself.

"Rest if you must,/but don't you quit." came Cushing's words from the poem Anastasi had drilled into her memory two years before.

Finally, she put the palette down. The morning sun rays dabbed the wall next to her with a craggy segment of column from the Parthenon beyond. She found herself glide into oblivion on the chair. She dozed. She was overwhelmed by her dreaming of her mother, and felt happiness.

She was seldom like this, not ever since she had met Dino. But now, like a torrent, the cumulated snags in their relationship suddenly all deluged upon her, and she was surprised that she did nothing to stop the onset. She recollected afresh the quarrel the night before, recalled the options remaining--put to her; about the painting, she could not remember what had been said to be wrong with it; possibly it was not the painting; she did not know. She retained only the oppressive, mostly mute, suffocation of Dino's demands.

Now, at this recollection she began to tremble for an instant, uncontrollably, and gasp for more air to enter her lungs. It had been a turbulent episode, the worst; like an Aegean August gale, with only a hint of warning, that drowns one unsuspectingly. She was sinking, she told herself. She was feeble against his wants--whatever these were. And perhaps the giving on her part would never quench the needing on his....

The fingers felt better. She dipped the brush once more and waited. And the vision came again, this time urging and stronger than before. She picked up the palette and gave, yielding herself to the strokes. There was a knock on the door that she did not hear.

She was solely aware that the mellifluous strokes did not come from the brush but from her. Like heartbeats, they were as much hers as her heart's. A presence was there, completing a metamorphosis. Unlike before, she knew, the threshold now was scaled, the union of her and her dream realized. She painted, all of her, and did not stop her care because now she could not. Like the pulsing in her chest, her will no longer participated in its existence. A being had been freed, and free it reigned over a kingdom of two. The knocking stopped, the footsteps died softly away behind the closed door, and the room glowed in the autumn morning with Seline and her island home, her very own place in the spring, to look at and be close to wherever forever.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

Vasilis Adams A. is an ESL/EFL (English as a Second Language) teacher in Athens, Greece. He has been teaching English on-and-off since 1968 and full-time since 1985.

Prior to that he worked as a Technical Specifications Writer for seven years and as an Engineer for five years. Although born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Vasilis attended university in the United States where he received a B.Sc. degree.

His writing credits include published fiction and non-fiction appearing in Greece, Europe, Australia, Canada and in the USA. His work has appeared in such U. S. publications as Greek Accent, National Herald (Proini), and Crosscurrents. In Greece, he's been published in 30-Days, Key Travel News, Greece's Weekly, Athena Magazine, The Athens Star newspaper Writer's Choice, Akkadian, National Herald (Proini), Crosscurrents and he has been invited to be published in the poetry anthology of Contemporary Greek Poets, Vol. III.

 


 

 
 
 

Copyright © 1999 Vasilis Adams A.. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 1-11-00.

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