She knew they’d manage to spoil this day, too, as they’ve already soured every day of what could have been the best vacation of their lives. The drive is gorgeous—the curvy road keeps dropping to beach level and climbing again to cliffs high above dangerous looking rocks—but the children have retreated into their shells. From time to time Jack calls out, or she does, “Kids, look at those goats up there!” or “Hey guys, did you ever see such intense blue water?” When Jack offers, “Homer called the sea wine-dark,” Danny and Margie condescend to a brief glance and a grunt. Kevin, fourteen-year-old Mr. Cool, doesn’t bother to attend at all. He has his music turned up so loud his head’s giving off percussive tinny noises.

Her head is fuzzy. Two Advils only half suppress the pain behind her eyes. The kids’ sullenness doesn’t help.

This morning she suggested almost half seriously, “Let’s leave them here at the beach and if they drown, they drown.” Because he’s not insensitive to her frustration, Jack acknowledged the crack with a half smiling roll of his eyes. Now they haven’t driven an hour and Margie’s started whining she’s hungry (having refused breakfast because she insists an empty stomach keeps her from getting sick on the winding roads), while Kevin gripes about the little Nissan’s cramped back seat and Danny asks if this day is going to be as boring as the drive to Delphi was.

After Delphi, Jack chided her, “Isn’t the idea for everyone to have a good time and only incidentally learn something about the ancient Greeks?”

“Don’t you see?” she said. “They’re refusing to have a good time.” The Oracle had revealed it to her: Beware your children, Janet, they’re Harpies sent by the gods to torment you. She hates them for hating Greece. Naturally Jack takes their side.

The few beach concessions they’ve passed were boarded up, their owners on vacation somewhere else. Margie asks, “Isn’t it lunch time? Aren’t those restaurants we keep passing?” She’s chewing on the end of her braid, a habit she has, hungry or not.

“I told you, we’ll eat when we get to Kabos,” she says. Here she is fighting them again, while Jack says nothing. “It’s a ‘colorful fishing village,’ ” she reads from the book on her lap, “‘unspoiled by any modern buildings.’ It’ll be great. And it does have a restaurant.”

“Ancient Greek sea food,” Kevin says. “Oh goody.” His Discman is no impediment to hearing any opportunity for sarcasm.

“You guys will like this,” Jack assures them, the same prediction he made fifty times during four days in Athens. He’s been wrong every time.

“All right,” she sighs. “Stop at the first goddamn place that’s open.” She can almost hear Hebe, goddess of youth, hissing Yesss!

As the car rounds the next curve, a white structure appears above the coastal road. At a distance it looks more like a farmhouse than a commercial establishment, but a disproportionately large sign on its roof says

εστιατόριο ΗΡΑΚΛΗΣ -- RESTORANT.

Jack stops on the gravel shoulder. There are no other cars, just a small sign with the words GEOFFNET – OUVERT – OPEN – ABIERTO. Driving with the car windows part way open they had a breeze, but it’s as hot as their Chicago summer now, no shade in the midday sun. An arrow constructed out of driftwood points up a flight of concrete steps. Kevin and Danny lead the way, her oldest invoking the god Jordan across the back of his Bulls jersey and her youngest in a Cubs t-shirt. The terrace above the road looks neglected, but it offers a glorious view of the cove below, blue-black water dappled with sunlight, and the whole coastline they’ve just driven. The five outside tables are empty. Each is furnished with a candle holder carved from wood, some still holding wilted stumps of wax.

“We’re a little early for lunch,” Jack says. Danny opens the door and leads the way in, waking a ragged old man who rises from a soiled cot in the corner of the restaurant, rubbing his eyes.

Bringing up the rear, she stops in the doorway. The man hasn’t shaved or bathed for days. If she takes charge now, tells them “wrong place,” turns and flees, Jack will have no choice but to troop the kids back down to the car. The car in the empty parking area—which should have warned them. But the children are already seating themselves around the best table in the room, next to a picture window that looks like it hasn’t been washed since Socrates ate his last meal here. Through streaks and smudges, the window frames a gorgeous view, like a poster, of the ivory sand beach below.

She sees Jack hesitating, suspended between the children’s enchantment and her veto. She might be quicker to flee if she were wearing sneakers or at least walking shoes, as she did in Athens. For this excursion around the island she chose her platform sandals and a navy, mid-calf, cotton skirt that buttons down the front. She has a denim jacket thrown over her shoulders. Still, she could bolt and scurry down the steps. They could all be in the car before the old man crosses the room.

Is it really a restaurant? With a bed in the dining room? Averting her eyes from that corner, she assesses the greasy plastic tablecloths strewn with black dots. For a moment she pretends to herself they might be cinders from a wood stove, but she knows flyspecks when she sees them. She won’t allow her children to eat in such a place.

Jack is more adventurous—she used to think she loved that about him—but surely he, too, must see they have to go. Is the creature a wino, a satyr, or what? The children are gaping as if this were theatre. If she insists they get back in the car, it will mean an argument. She knows them: With the moral certainty of fourteen, twelve, and eleven-year-olds, they’ll say she’s a snob for judging unsanitary this poor, strange man who’s probably no more hung over than she is, whose restaurant is his bedroom because he hasn’t seen a customer in ages. Never mind that they’ve been making an Olympic sport of disapproval and rudeness all week; suddenly, when disapproval is called for, they’re lambs.

The creature shuffles sluggishly toward them. His hair is thin, gray, and untended. He could be seventy or eighty—or ageless. He surveys her blond, pink lambs. “Iraklís,” he says, patting his chest. He extends a paw to Jack, who repeats the word as a question.

“Iraklís? How do you do? You speak English?”

Englisch, nein. Deutsch.”

Deutsch. Ah. Nicht sprechen Deutsch, ich”. Jack can’t speak German. The man reverts to Greek, rapid and loud. He’s desperate for them to stay and order lunch. Yet it’s hardly what they had in mind. “Actually,” Jack turns to her, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

“We’re not staying,” she says.

“Mom, you can’t do that,” Margie hisses. “We’re here.” Her usually fastidious daughter got them into this and now won’t risk her brothers’ ridicule.

“Those are flies.”

“But they’re dead,” Jack says, as though that makes a difference. “I don’t see any live ones, oddly enough.”

“Oh, God,” she groans. “Jack, come on.”

Iraklís walks with a stoop; from an injury, perhaps, or scoliosis. She sees now that he isn’t so old. He just needs a bath and a shave. A dermatologist. Some clean clothes. And a dentist. Then his restaurant needs a busboy to clean the tables—and the floor, and the walls. Actually, what it needs is a good arsonist.

She had such hopes for this trip. Jack’s conference in Athens the week before the children’s spring vacation, when they could meet him—the timing was perfect for their first foreign travel as a family. In the years ahead, she said, we’ll shift westward, retracing in our family vacations the march of civilization.

In another life, she came to Greece as a college student, exhilarated. It inspired her thesis on Aristophanes and the decision to go to graduate school, where she met Jack. She hoped the country would captivate Kevin, who used to obsess about ancient and medieval weaponry, and Margie and Danny who are avid readers. She spent months planning the trip, put off remodeling her kitchen to save the money—and it’s all wasted on them. Their clearest memory of Greece will be this dump, and whatever diseases they contract here.


He knows Janet is right, they should look for a cleaner place. But her controlling has spoiled this whole vacation for the kids. He’s for letting them make the decision. They probably won’t find anything they like on the menu, but if they want to stay, it might turn out to be all right. Maybe it’s time for Mom to chill, as Kevin would say.

They’ve disappointed her every day, and he’s sorry; most of the time she’s a great mother. She hasn’t tried to force any more gods, heroes, or architectural wonders on them than the ones they’ve already met in comic books and Bugs Bunny cartoons. Janet came down from Olympus years ago, when she shelved her MFA in stage design in favor of part-time work as a decorator. She only insisted they tour the two or three high spots of Athens, with excursions to Delphi and the magnificent theatre at Epidaurus. The rest of their trip, on this Aegean island with its sunny beaches and traditional villages, is pure vacation.

In Athens, they tried to accommodate the sightseeing to the children’s ages and interests by booking a private guide. Daria met them at the Hotel Akropolis each morning with a small van and an even smaller driver. The kids thought the driver was funny as he railed at his fellow Greek motorists almost to the point of apoplexy. They reserved their antipathy for the effusive Daria, deliberately running ahead and falling behind so as not to hear the poor woman’s spiel. They didn’t want to learn anything. Their fun was in ignoring her, staging battles across the fallen walls, and mocking their parents’ fervor.

They did like one or two things. At Epidaurus, they took turns up in the highest row, hearing each other whisper on the stage. And they thought the motorcycles in the center of Athens were cool, darting between the lanes of jammed taxi traffic. Kevin loved the flea market in the Plaka, until they refused to let him buy an army pistol. The rest of the time, when their behavior ranged from uninterested to insufferable, Jack tried to inspire the enthusiasm Janet wanted in them. He’s read to them each night from Graves’s Greek Gods and Heroes. But he couldn’t help laughing when they declared a strike, refusing to look at any more ruins, the only time they’ve agreed about anything.

Even Margie, who loves school, said, “This vacation is too much like school.”

“Come on,” he said. “In school you’d hear about the Parthenon. This is the Parthenon.” Then he promised that when they got to the island there’d be no guides and no lectures. But it turns out there isn’t much to see or do here, with or without a guide. The native son, Pythagoras, apparently left for school on the mainland and never came back. The sea is still too cold for swimming, the hotel half empty. It would help if Janet would lighten up. It isn’t their fault they’re bored. She’s over-organizing all of them.

Last night was the worst of his seventeen-year marriage. Janet had her Scotch on the plane from the mainland; she’s always been a nervous flyer. But then, while unpacking, she took a vodka from the minibar—pretending it was a glass of water, but she didn’t manage to conceal the small bottle under tissues in the bathroom waste basket. When she realized she’d drunk too much on an empty stomach, she identified a good restaurant, but the kids weren’t hungry.

“If you don’t come out now,” he said, “you won’t get anything else until morning. No room service.”

“Fine, whatever,” Kevin said.

“I saw a McDonald’s,” Margie said, “where we got off the ferry.” Janet suddenly flung her Fodor’s out the open balcony door, toward the sea.

“Screw it!” she shouted, and slammed back to the parents’ room. He followed. There was no reasoning with her. She would go to the recommended place alone. “You take them to fucking McDonald’s!” He went back to appeal to the kids, but Kevin argued they shouldn’t give in to her tantrum. In the end only Danny came out to dinner with him. They found the Fodor’s in a flower bed and went to the restaurant she’d marked, but Janet didn’t show up.

Later, while the wind came up and waves splashed below, he gave the kids a vivid rendition of the twelve labors of Hercules. “The two headed dog leaped for his throat,” he condensed Graves’s stylish prose, “but Hercules was too quick for the two headed dog and bashed both brains out with his mighty club. Splat!” Danny wanted to know if only one head leaped for Hercules’s throat, or both at once, one baring fangs from the left and one from the right? Did he bash both heads of the dog with one blow?

“Great stuff,” he reported after finding Janet back in their room. “They loved it. A three headed monster with a two headed dog.” She was re-reading The King Must Die in bed with a refilled glass, with four rollers in her hair.

“I think I know a three headed monster,” she said. “Its names are Kevin, Margaret, and Danny.” She looked up at him, saw his irritation. “And you know the two headed bitch, you’re thinking.”

He felt her reaching out, for a moment at least—she didn’t want him angry at her, wanted him on her side—but he knew it wouldn’t last. Anything might bring her rage to a boil. And she probably feared he’d say something about the glass of water that wasn’t water.

“You’re not a bitch,” he assured her. “I understand. You’ve been looking forward to this so long.”

Seeing tears, he sat on the edge of the bed and tried to put an arm around her. She pushed him away, as she’d done too many times before, with increasing frequency over the past year.

“It’s been a disaster!” She sobbed, “I’d like to kill them.”

“No it hasn’t. And no you wouldn’t.”

“I’m telling you how I feel, don’t tell me no it hasn’t. You’re no help, you’re on their side.”

“Okay, okay, it’s been a disaster for you. The rest of us are having a pretty good time.” The rest of us, he heard himself say. It’s true. He is on their side.

From there, Janet escalated. “You’re so fucking reasonable, aren’t you? Mr. Reasonable. God help anyone who blows their top.” The look she gave him was one of contempt. She wasn’t merely angry; she despised him. “So judgmental. Yes, it’s my third vodka tonic. Who’s counting? I’ll have three more if I goddamn please. After all, I have to drink for both of us, don’t I?”

She had silenced him. There was nothing he could say that wouldn’t incense her more. She added other ugly things, all of which she’s said before, sometimes without the spur of alcohol. When Janet gets like that, she doesn’t mean any of it, and she means every word of it. “You have turned me into a bitch,” she screamed.

He closed the door to the balcony, but her voice surely penetrated the walls to the kids’ room on one side and any unfortunate guests on the other. “Tell me how I turned you into a bitch.”

“By the way you talk: ‘Tell me how I turned you into a bitch.’” She got up then and locked herself in the bathroom. Her sobbing sounded like she was gasping for breath, then throwing up.

He muttered, “You are an insufferable bitch”—and turned off the light. In the night, he heard her get up several times. Finally, she dressed and left the room. It was still dark.

Some time after sunup, she returned with a carafe of coffee and two cups and saucers on a tray. “Sorry I was horrible last night. I don’t know what I said, but it isn’t true. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I took it out on you.”

He felt the retraction was sincere. He wishes it could have erased last night.

“Never drink to escape,” she said. “It only makes things worse.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Are they okay?”

“They love you. You didn’t help the cause last night, let’s put it that way.” What else could he have said to her? Last night was only the second or third time he’s seen her demons raging in such ferocity. No, he won’t abandon her; and yes, he can change, be less reasonable if that’s what it takes to hold his family together and spare the children seeing their mother throw books out windows and yell obscenities.

At breakfast she semi-apologized to them, promising she’d try not to be a grump today. But here she is, scanning the dirty tables and unswept floor. “Jack, come on. It’s filthy,” she says. At the same time, she lets go the door handle, puts her arms into the sleeves of her jacket and buttons it.

He tries not to ask himself if he still loves her. Of course he does. Her intellect attracted him first, her verbal quickness—they were avid Scrabble players—and her dry humor. But she’s beautiful, too, to him, especially naked and without makeup. It isn’t a great body—a little too full in the belly and hips, not much in the bust—but he loves the way she loses inhibition when she takes her clothes off. She didn’t need a drink to relax, in those days. His few lovers before her were more conscious of their bodies, nudity making them vulnerable. He never told Janet that she was different. When she stepped out of her lingerie she seemed to revert to a primitive world. Like Eve, pre-fig leaf.

In the two minutes they’ve been in the restaurant, the sky has grown darker, clouding over. The pines along the road below the window are swaying in a gusty wind. Iraklís is readying his kitchen at the other end of the room, talking nonstop, roused from dormancy by the first customers he’s had, it appears, in days. The man flips a light switch, but nothing happens. He says something in Greek and steps out the back door. Jack sees there are no lights at all; the power is out. He hears the man start a gasoline engine—a generator—and the two bare bulbs above the kitchen area begin to glow half-heartedly.

“I’ll have a gyro sandwich,” Danny says.

“They don’t have it,” Kevin says.

“How do you know?”

“It’s not on the menu, stupid.”

While they look for English words on the menu, Janet asserts control. “Come, kids,” she says.

Kevin protests, “We can’t walk out! Dad?”

He shrugs. “It’s up to the Tour Director.” She glares at him.

“We’re staying,” Kevin says. “You can wait in the car if you want.”

Her behavior contradicts her pretended wish to do away with them. She overprotects them. No child of hers—however undeserving of her care—is going to eat off a flyspecked table. He’s seen this before, never more clearly: She’s furious with them because she cares so much for them.

To his surprise, she approaches the table and calls out, “Please clean it off.”

“Eh?” Iraklís replies.

“The table?” she points, smiling with patient condescension. “It’s dirty. Clean it off, please. And the chairs?” She makes wiping motions. Iraklís hustles over with a cloth whose gray belies its value for this purpose. He wipes the table and all six of its chairs, apparently oblivious to the rest of the room’s filth. Jack sees Janet staring at the man’s cot with its grubby sheet and blanket. He doesn’t imagine a wiped table will satisfy her.

He himself is pleased to see his sons and daughter sympathize with this old man. Iraklís’s face and whole body welcome them to his home with an urgency that they don’t need to know Greek to appreciate. They must feel intuitively that haughty American tourists have no right to interrupt a person’s nap and then treat him like an untouchable. Good for them.


This is what we get, she thinks, for fostering their creativity. The truth is they’re not bored with Greece, they’re not against learning stuff. They’re mad at her for being uptight all the time. What she needs is a drink. And not to be scrutinized. Not only Jack—she’s seen the children’s eyes every time she refills her glass. At home, Margie asked her point blank why she had to have one before Dad got home. She told her, “because none of you like me when I’m restless.” Jack, most of all, wants her sober and relaxed—an oxymoron. When they’re all together like this, morning till night, how could she not be irritable? Jack pretends to mediate between her and the kids while he makes himself look like a fucking angel. She resents his patience. She hates needing him, hates him for being necessary.

Her headache’s coming back. “How about if we just have Cokes,” she says. Compromise.

Kevin picks up a menu. Does he see this unkempt, gap-toothed, red-eyed old man as the real thing, the true descendant of heroes and gods? Kevin must be thinking, at last we escaped from that phony world of art and “the birth of democracy” into the real home of a real Greek, and now this isn’t clean enough for Mom? She knows her son: Iraklís’s sign said OPEN, they got out of the car and came up the steps and woke him up. So they’re obligated to eat a meal. Besides, they’re hungry, isn’t that the reason they stopped? Cut and dried, like his father.

“I’ll have an omelet,” Kevin says. He taps the greasy plastic menu. She looks at hers. It’s in four languages. Under Englisch she sees Kalamari, Musaka, and the word Ommlett. The only real English word is Chips.

“Me, too,” Danny says. “And chips.”

Omelett!” Iraklís echoes. “Chips no.” Thank God; she can imagine how old the deep fry oil would be. “Zwei Omelette?” For confirmation he holds up two fingers. His hands then indicate the rest of them—her, Jack, Margie—what would they like?

“Jack?” she presses.

“Mom!” Kevin says through clenched teeth, “We’re not leaving! He’s nice. Don’t be so American. You don’t always have to eat in fancy restaurants.”

Jack’s letting them defeat her again. “Look, sweetie,” he says, “as long as we’re here? You know how it’ll be if we get these guys back in the car without giving them anything to eat. An omelet wouldn’t kill us, would it?”

“Eggs are the last thing you should eat out of that kitchen. They could have been there for weeks.” She points to the counter, where a cluster of eggs sits in a bowl, unrefrigerated. Iraklís, misunderstanding, nods eagerly, says a word that might be Greek for eggs, and then omelette again, then the word frisch.

“He says the eggs are fresh,” Jack says with confidence.

“Sure he does,” she says.

Heute Morgen frisch gelegt,” Iraklís reassures her, and her husband, suddenly locked into the man’s brain, translates: “They were laid fresh this morning.”

She shakes her head, but the man takes her hand—touches her—and begins to lead her through the kitchen. Then, before she can pull away, he releases her. Jabbering incomprehensibly, he reaches up to a shelf on the wall and takes down two wooden puzzles. He carries them back to the children’s table. They’ve seen that type before, a cube and a sphere, each made out of a dozen pieces interlocked in such a way that it’s a challenge to deconstruct and put them back together. Iraklís touches a spot on the cube’s surface and pushes one piece, the key, all the way through. He shakes the block and it falls apart. Meanwhile the man continues chattering, in what sounds to her like a mixture of German and Greek. “Oh,” Jack says, “you made these? Both of them? He says all the crafts on the walls are things he made himself. So—you’re a wood carver? He’s saying eucalyptus—same word in English—this one’s carved from eucalyptus.”

The kids are impressed with the man’s craftsmanship, but it’s a dubious vocation for a restaurant owner as far as she’s concerned. “For all you know, he’s saying he bought them on eBay. Since when do you speak German?”

“There’s a lot of overlap between English and German. Did you hear him say ‘Meine Frau starb drei Jahren’ ? His wife did something for three years.”

“She left him, obviously”—tipping her head at the room’s ambience. From where Iraklís left her standing near the kitchen, she sees the pan on the stove, covered with the same flyspecks as the counter and empty tables.

Tot,” Iraklís calls. “Sie ist tot, drei jahren.”

“Taught!” Margie suggests. “She’s a teacher.”

“Dead,” Jack says. “She died three years ago.” This the man confirms with a sad-eyed nod.

The bent satyr again grabs her, this time by the elbow. Caught by his determination, she calls “Goodbye, family!” with artificial gaiety as he leads her through the kitchen and out the back door. Behind her she hears Margie ask Jack, “Where’s he taking Mom?” To a bar, with any luck. If he happens to have a bottle stashed back here, she wouldn’t refuse a slug of ouzo.

The wind has come up, and it’s cooler. Litter blows across the ground behind the building. There’s a cinder block structure with two doors, carved silhouettes of a man and a woman. They need to leave now, she thinks, before Margie asks for the restroom. Beyond the outhouse is a steep trail, studded with rocks and small pine trees, switchbacks leading up past a stone shed. Iraklís indicates the shed; he wants her to climb there with him, on the dirt path. Even in sneakers she’d have to use branches as hand holds; to do so in platforms is an invitation to break an ankle. But he pushes past, finds a firm footing and reaches down to help her. She catches an animal odor, not repugnant, but embarrassing because it comes from the man. She hesitates, but then what the hell, she bends and opens the three lowest buttons of her skirt. She hitches it above her knees and takes his hand. Where is he taking her? Why is she letting him? They scale the path together. He’s as sure-footed as a goat: The baggy flannel trousers are his fur, and his slippers are hooves.

Inside the shed, rusted broken equipment litters the floor. Straw is everywhere. Sunlight filters through the walls and roof. Her grandmother kept chickens in a place that smelled just like this: earthy, the air hot and close but not unpleasant. The only occupant is a single red hen, sparsely feathered, perched sleepily on a straw-covered wooden ledge, one eye closed.

Iraklís lifts the bird, revealing a clean brown egg. She picks it up. One chicken, one egg per day, at most. So the eggs in the bowl cannot, in fact, be fresh. Nonetheless Iraklís’s grin seems to say, You see? Now he’s talking to the hen, smoothing her tail feathers. As Janet’s eyes adjust to the dark, she sees what crunches under her feet: dry, gray feces.

She hears the wind whistling distinctly though distantly. The henhouse smell is like that, too: sharp and strong, yet through a fog as though she were remembering rather than actually breathing it. The man is still talking to the chicken. The chicken replies; they have a conversation about eggs and children and women, which she seems to understand. She feels oddly lightheaded, relaxed—more drowsy than faint. She imagines sleeping here, in the straw; but her eyes are open, and she hears and sees and feels everything: the whispering wind, the shafts of sunlight, the clucking man and bird, the crunch of chicken shit under her feet. His hand is dry, warm and firm. He goes on stroking its feathers. They’re safe with him.

Grandmother kept half a dozen hens, maybe more. Janet seems to remember on her visits fetching eggs each morning for Grandpa, her uncle, Mom, herself—but did she ever, really? Was life ever simple? Did her grandparents converse with their chickens?

The man beckons her to come closer and watch the hen. He moves aside to make room for her. The bird is squatting, pushing. Then she stops, stands, clucks and shakes herself, and steps away. There’s a second egg. Presto. No episiotomy, no epidural, no anesthetic needed. Iraklís gestures, take it, let’s go. He pushes open the door. Both eggs are warm. Where the path starts down steeply, he reaches to help her. She tries to hand him the eggs. He takes her wrist instead, but she pulls free. She uses the branches and rocks to steady herself, cradling the eggs in one hand. At the steepest point she has to sit down and slide, but she arrives at the bottom without a fall.

Her headache is gone. More than gone: She sees clearly now, like the Oracle. She sees her family’s journey home, and what lies ahead for them, and the rest of her life. They’ll be back in Chicago in three days, and she knows what she needs to do.


He doesn’t suppose Janet will come to any harm, though in a fleeting thought he sees her turned into a statue, or carried off to the nether world. He occupies the time with Danny, working on the pieces of the cube. Margie leaves the table to explore the carved figures that hang on the walls and shelf. “Don’t touch anything,” he says, as she goes through the kitchen area to look out the back door. Danny gets the cube back together. Kevin is trying to reconstruct the sphere, but now that Danny has solved his, Kevin pushes all the sphere pieces over to his little brother, as not worthy of his own effort.

Just as Margie is asking again, “Where did Mom go?” Iraklís opens the door.

Janet’s comb is falling out of her hair. There’s mud on her sweater and skirt. She holds up two eggs. “Fresh from the hen,” she says. “These two, at least.”

“There you go,” he says. “Let’s do it. Omelets for everyone, then?”

“Having seen the frying pan,” Janet says, wiggling her eyebrows, “I’ll pass.”

“I’m not hungry,” Margie says—the one who was starving. “I just want a Coke.”

Drei Omelette,” our host says.

“That’s right, three, drei.”


Fünf Coca-Colas.” The children look at him as though he’d sprouted wings. “Pretty impressive, eh?” he rolls his eyes. “I can count to five in German.”

He sees a few tomatoes and an onion on the counter. In English augmented by chopping signs, he asks Iraklís to use those in the omelets.

“Do you have any sausages?” Danny asks.

“No!” Jack says firmly. “No sausage. No, thank you. Danke. Nein.

Janet rubs dirt off her hands. He wonders, where did the man take her? She starts to brush her clothing as well, then gives up and sits at the end of the table. She folds her arms on the plastic cover, puts her head down and closes her eyes. Through the window behind her, in the rocky cove, waves foam silently along the beach. The sea looks dark and dense, more like blueberry jam than wine. As far as Jack can see along the coastal highway, there isn’t a single car or truck.

Iraklís brings a basket of rolls, somehow oven warm. He sets it down and puts on a big face of astonishment at the fact that they solved his puzzles. Bowing deferentially to Danny’s genius, he takes a fifty drachma coin from his pocket as if to pay the boy. Danny refuses, embarrassed. Iraklís puts the coin down and covers it with a paper napkin, crumples it in his left hand and makes it vanish. He finds it a moment later in Margie’s hair. The kids laugh. “We know how to do that,” Margie says. “It was in your other hand.” Baby stuff—they can do that trick themselves. Fine, his gestures say, whatever.

Jack looks at his sons. Even Kevin, the jaded teenager, is charmed by the good soul. From a cooler near the back door the man brings cold bottles of Coke, with clean glasses from a cupboard. Janet sits up, lets him pour the first one for her, and drinks a third of it at once.

Iraklís is pointing to the puzzle again. “He wants to see you do it,” Jack says. Margie begins to look for the key piece in the sphere, with the boys telling her what to do and the rest of them watching expectantly. Nothing budges. Kevin takes it from her. He picks up the cube, but can’t make that one come apart, either. Some parts jiggle a little against each other, but the boys can’t find the trick release. They’ve pressed every piece; nothing budges.

“How’d you do that?” Danny demands. Iraklís shrugs and withdraws to the kitchen.


She’s given herself over to what will come—flies, lice, goats, whatever. Three more days. Margie uses her fingers to steal a bite of Danny’s egg. “I guess I’ll have one, too,” she says.

She exchanges a smile with Jack. He calls Iraklís back. “One more?” he points.

Iraklís nods happily. Suddenly he snaps his fingers over the top of the puzzle cube without seeming to touch it. It falls to pieces. Go ahead, he indicates; put it together again. He snaps his fingers at the sphere and it, too, falls apart. This time neither Danny nor any of them can fit the pieces back together. The kids all try, and Jack tries to help, while Iraklís goes back to his kitchen.

When he brings Margie’s omelet, he feigns surprise that they’ve forgotten how to solve the puzzle. He shrugs, scoops up all the pieces of both puzzles, dumps them into his jacket pocket. Then he goes back to the shelf and reaches into the pocket to pull out, magically, a cube and a sphere again.

No one says a word. Danny’s eyes widen. Jack whispers, “Ooh.” She expects Kevin or Danny to run over and check the man’s pocket, but something stops them. They turn quietly, as Margie does, to the plates in front of them.

“How is it?” she asks.

“Good. Have some,” her daughter offers.

She tears off a piece of bread and uses her fingers to put a bite of the omelet on it. “It’s good, you’re right.”

She is going to quit drinking. But first she has to do the harder thing.


Her mood has changed. He was surprised she’d go out to the man’s chicken coop like that. How did her hair and clothes get so mussed? He doesn’t recall the buttons at the bottom of her skirt being open when they arrived. It’s conceivable the old man would try to grope her, but surely she’d have screamed, and slugged him.

“We should hit the road,” he says, thinking: while we’re all in a good mood.

Iraklís beckons to Margie to come with him. Pointing to the carved figures all around the room—and to himself, saying again that he made them all—he takes a shoe box from a cupboard. Open it. Inside is a doll in traditional Greek folk costume; not wooden like the ones he made, but a porcelain antique figurine. Janet gasps. “Be careful with it,” she says as Margie lifts it out admiringly. “That’s not a toy.”

Now Iraklís indicates he has something to show him and the boys. He leads the way out the door and points up a path. Herded before him, they hike about fifty yards, past what must be the chicken coop, to the top of the cliff above the restaurant. In the ground, partly hidden by low brush, are four walls of cracked concrete. Jack recognizes it immediately. “Do you guys know what that is?”

“A bunker?” Kevin says.

Deutsch.” Iraklís is indicating the outlines of a German gun emplacement. Here, a tripod. He mimes a machine gun. There, a cannon of some kind.

“Did you fight?” Jack asks. “You?”

Iraklís shakes his head. He points to himself, then to Danny’s height: He was only a boy then. His hand sweeping the island, he says: Italiener, Deutsche.” Then, pointing to the sea: “Engländer.”

“Cool,” Kevin says.


She looks down at waves breaking on the rocks, white foam against blue and black and the alabaster sand. Margie is smoothing the dusty skirts of Iraklís’s porcelain doll when the boys come back. Jack says, “Finally, some archaeology they said was cool.”

They’re ready to leave. Iraklís opens a drawer and digs out five printed cards with his address in Greek characters, except for the word GREECE in the last line and a little drawing of an ancient warrior with a club—“Iraklís,” he says.

“Hercules! Oh, of course,” Jack says.

The man shows them postcards tacked to the wall near the cash register. That’s the point of the address cards; he wants a postcard from Chicago for his collection.

Margie lays the folk dancer carefully in the box and places it on the counter. But the man says something that clearly means, It’s for you. Janet looks at Jack and shakes her head. “That must have belonged to his wife. It’s worth a lot. We can’t accept that gift, honey.”

Margie understands, but Iraklís places the box firmly in her hands, with the same beseeching look he had when they arrived. He writes the amount they owe for lunch on a slip of paper: five thousand drachmas. Jack gives him six thousand. “That’s only, what, about fifteen dollars, Jack?” she whispers. “And he wants to give us that figurine, which is worth … I have no idea how much, but it’s French and a hundred years old. If he insists on Margie taking it, give him at least … I don’t know.” She’s flustered, unwilling to take advantage of the man, yet reluctant to spend much for an antique that Margie will play with as a toy.

The encounter with Iraklís ends as it began, awkwardly. Jack peels off thirty thousand drachmas, but the man won’t take the money. He is adamant. It’s a gift. From my heart, his gestures make the Greek words clear, I want her to have this. Remember Greece. Remember Iraklís.

“That we will,” Jack says.

She repeats, “We will.”

“Thank you!” Margie says, and the boys: “Thank you.”

“Efharistó,” Iraklís says.

The kids learned that word in Athens. “Efharistó,” they say in unison.

His artwork spills out onto the terrace—she didn’t notice it when they came up. Every tree, every niche in the hillside, every windowsill displays Iraklís’s virtuosity. Here is a shrine made of driftwood and parts of old garden tools. A string of electric lights encase a low, fat olive tree in the midst of the tables. The terrace would look festive at night with those lights as well as candles on every table and all the way down the path to the parking lot. There’s a whale—she wonders what inspired that. There are three or four signs in Greek, each letter carved out of wood. And the piece de resistance: Iraklís turns on a fountain, which he built with cement poured into the hillside so water spills down runways all tiled with shells. “This is beautiful,” she says. He beams proudly. His style is all his own. If these random organic materials fashioned into functional but superfluous objects seem kitschy, it’s only because the whole ensemble is like a gift shop stuffed with too many cuckoo clocks. You have to study each piece individually to appreciate its ingenuity. A magician or an artist or a dirty old man, whatever he is, there’s nothing he couldn’t do.

The cloud cover has passed. It’s still breezy and far from hot, but the sun feels warm again. Danny and Margaret are petting a dog, a healthy looking German shepherd that lies in the shade of a table. A chicken walks between Jack and her. If it’s the same hen, her feathers are fully fluffed out now. Everything is all, somehow, magically, right. Addressing the bird as much as Iraklís, Janet says “Goodbye” as if leaving a friend she might not see for a long time.

“Andío sás.”

Andío sás,” Margie carefully repeats.

Kevin says, slowly and in two distinct syllables: “Good bye.”

Gud. Baí,” Iraklís says. “Andío sás, gud baí.” He laughs with them.

Kevin takes the middle seat without argument—it’s his turn. She waves to Iraklís, who stands on his terrace and nods to her as Jack shifts gears and pulls out onto the road. When she turns to look back at the Greek, she sees Margie waving too.

“See, Mom?” Danny says. “That wasn’t a bad place, was it?”

Kevin says, “We made his day.” Before disappearing into his Discman, he reaches forward to give her Iraklís’s card. “Keep this for me. I want to send him a postcard from Evanston.”

As Jack drives on toward the fishing village, she catches Danny looking at the farms they pass. “I wonder,” he says, “if there’s other Iraklíses inside those houses.”

Jack and she both smile. “I doubt if there are many quite like him,” Jack says.

She watches the island scenery slip by. A man who looks like Anthony Quinn. A flock of goats. A half-finished villa, abandoned in mid-construction. Near a cluster of houses she sees widows in black dresses and black stockings, and men standing by the road with no other purpose than to watch them drive past without stopping.

Jack lays his hand on her knee, gives it a pat, then takes her hand and squeezes it. The divorce will hurt him—maybe more, in the long run, than it will the children. She gives him an answering squeeze, thinking, three more days.

© 2007, Ken Kaye

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