Ikons, No Halos: An Interlude

Fay Devine and Tina Martin were on a six-month romp around the Mediterranean or, as I heard frequently in the Pan Pub & Bacchus Bar where I met them, for as long as the money lasted. Both were nurses, and both could drink, one better than the other perhaps and both wore glasses, one light, one dark, but all the better to see you with, to borrow a phrase from the wolf.

“I’ve come to Greece to learn about deities,” Tina declared and looked at me with bright eyes full of challenge, owl-like behind large, round, wire-rimmed lenses.

I knew she would have a learning experience in Greece, especially around the Old Port of Chania where many contemporary Greek gods in tight jeans and leather jackets hung out in dense bar and discotheque scenes, each with a tale of the miraculous to unfold to her. She knew about kamaki men, for she understood completely the effects of her well-contained charms, she in her busty little mauve suede vest. Her moves were efficient, designed for effect, and she measured her words knowingly. Typical was “fabulous” or “bull” or “he was an arrogant prick.” Tina projected a no-nonsense approach to things; she’d be the nurse you wanted on the ward overseeing your recovery, knowing that if you followed her directives, you would recover because disease and death would be browbeaten back.

Fay Devine, on the other hand, you wanted to lean over you, enfold you to her bosom, and cure you with love, or guide you with morphine and gentle mystery into the arms of forgetfulness and afterwards, perhaps, heaven. She was your pudgy cousin at fourteen who at twenty-two has developed voluptuous beauty. You see beyond her attempts to conceal it. You also wish then that she were not your cousin. But I did not feel quite that way when I first laid eyes on her.

Fay Devine: such an old fashioned name, I thought, as she sat there in faded blue denim overalls with one of the bronze bib buckles about to work loose, listening to her friend hold forth in that getting-close-to-drunk state of being, more tacit, perhaps, but just as complicit, and a little looser, Raggedy Ann with hair in braids on tour in Medusa’s playground. She had full, sensuous lips that broke into a smile whenever she caught me studying her. Symmetry played about her face, her complexion the olive gold of Greek girls, but I could not then tell absolutely about her eyes. She wore shades: large dark blocks that revealed nothing about what she might be thinking, blocks that gave back only the image of my own puzzled face. The sunglasses did not bother me as much as the occasional kick she gave me under the table whenever I said something clever.

I met them the evening after some expatriate poet in this same Pan Pub had assumed for me the role of chorus. Surrounded by cronies, he sang out the name Magalee in goat-like fashion as I passed his table, at which point every one with him erupted into laughter. I grasped immediately his satiric intent. Tina and Fay had a table near the door by the statue of the satyr whose leer was a wide as his erection was long, supporting the point ever so graphically that certain forms of art tend to hype, ridicule, and humiliate.

I looked at Fay, then at Tina, then at the satyr.

“Pathetic phallusy,” Tina said, and they both giggled like naughty schoolgirls.

“Shall I spell it out for you?” she added, and they both giggled again.

“I get it.”

“Not yet, you don’t!”

The Pan Pub and its intimate congestion gave you a sense of the palpable, of limb entangled with limb, of flesh potentially rubbing against flesh. I crowded in between them. I ordered beer. Tina ordered a couple of ouzos. Introductions followed.

They were staying in a new hotel with private bathroom and shower. Tina had had it with the conditions she termed “rank” on the ferries and in certain spots they had rented, with closet sized two-stepper toilets she did not know which way to face in.

“Fay accuses me of not knowing my ass from a hole in the ground!”

I looked at Fay. Her mouth creased mischievously.

The beer came and the ouzo. When they asked about me, my orphan persona presented himself but not very convincingly and not for very long. Growing mellow together, we talked of common travel experiences like a boat trip up the Bosporus, of Mediterranean light, and winter in Chania.

At one point I looked out toward the breakwater. An old blue Citroen with four pink fenders happened to be passing along the quay and temporarily blocked my view.

Into the space it vacated came Montgomery and Magalee arm in arm.

“Something wrong, Steven?”

I shook my head and looked away. Then I looked back at Fay. A smile broke around her lips, which she licked away with the tip of her tongue.

“It’s long story, originating deep in the heart of the Old Port.”

Tina disappeared with the waiter at some point. She wanted to throw plates. I knew of no place where she might, but apparently the waiter did. This left me sitting with Fay in a bar where pandemonium could break out at any time. Take off the shades, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Fay may have looked Greek, but a stand-in for Medusa with eyes that could turn me into a statue she was not, or not quite, or at least not yet.

“Let us take us, you and I, to a disco,” she suggested suddenly, and smiled. I thought she spoke whimsically; but no, she was serious.

“Sure. Why not?”

Fay smiled again, and I could already taste the cure for love in the parting of her full and sensuous lips.

Along the quays we ambled, Fay clutching a parcel to her breast in one arm, her other around me for support, making our slow way towards Circe’s. Fay kept repeating how cool it was to be walking just so in the oldest city in Europe, wondering if any of it were true. I wondered if she wore her shades to bed as a kind of protection.

When we met the blasts of syncopated rhythms on the threshold of the disco, Fay disengaged me, and in a series of quick breaths where she seemed to be biting at the night, informed me in so many words that we weren’t going to make it, not tonight.

Two flights up, half pull, half push, and sitting stupidly at every turn, we managed to get up to my place. Her ordeal lasted only a few minutes. Expectations’ perfect parody.

I talked quietly to her, soothing her with mummers of understanding. I washed her face and hands, the bib of her overalls, and her sweatshirt. I laid her down in a shirt of mine on the sofa where, in a pseudo conscious blubbering of apology, she crashed, exhausted, into a long and enduring coma. Then I washed the parcel that she had in her paroxysms heaved across the floor.

As for the sunglasses, they remained miraculously unsoiled, and I left them on her, the least I could do to respect her privacy.

I cleaned up the floor, rinsed the sink, soaked the sweatshirt and the bib, in my own dim witted way seeking a connection between excess and catharsis. This was Greece. I went out on the balcony for a last cigarette, wondering where the old Citroen with pink fenders had got to by this time in the oldest city in Europe.

Fay Devine: not the first girl I didn’t get to sleep with the first night.

 

 

I was reading when Fay awoke, her shades angled, half on, half off. Slowly she righted them. On my table I had orange juice, a liter of water, apples, bread, and honey.

“I feel ugly,” she said, inadvertently knocking the table.

“Something to drink? Coffee? The WC’s out back. A two-stepper. Sorry! Your things are over there, drying. Take your time, Fay.”

I felt responsible for her and wanted her whole again. I wandered out on the balcony for a while. Streaks of sunlight pulled at the sky, and small waves broke across the harbor. A wind was up. Venizelou Square appeared normal, with lots of people on the go. When it seemed as though all stopped what they were doing, and looked up to see what I was doing, I retreated inside, drawing the shutters after me. I lit a candle.

“We didn’t dance, did we?” Fay said when I sat down. She was drinking water and chewing on some bread. She had changed into her clothes, but still wore her shades. She made no reference to them.

“We tangoed up the stairs, and did a bit of a twist on this floor, but, no, we didn’t make it to Circe’s.”

“I’m trying to lose a little weight,” she said as though that explained what had

happened.

“Why?”

“Look at Tina.”

“Tina isn’t here. Besides, she’s tiny. And bumptious.”

Fay laughed, and that made me happy. She took a chunk of bread, spread honey on it and handed it to me.

“I’ll make it up to you,” she said, and bit into an apple.

 

 

Fay and Tina’s hotel room overlooked Plateia 1866. Twin beds took up most of the space. Reading material on the nightstand: a travel guide and a book of myths. An open commode in the corner revealed sundry articles of clothing and now the contents of Fay’s parcel, a long dress, much like something I’d seen Magalee wear, like something stripped from a marble statue and reworked with wonder and love into vibrant blue.

I lay down on a bed. Bemused yet somehow excited, I wondered if Fay showered with her shades on. I dozed off.

When I awoke, Fay stood before me wearing the dress. Her hair cascaded down in furls in some contemporary style, like that worn by Greek girls I had watched at the cafés, or Magalee wherever and whenever. She donned a pose for a moment, then broke it with a smile. Fay Devine—immaculate, beautiful, statuesque. Hers was not the face that had launched a thousand ships. She was not the fairy tale princess that awakens from the comma with a kiss. If it had not been for the shades, however, I might have believed she was both. I soon understood what she had meant by making it up to me. And in the heat of it all, her shades hardly moved.

When darkness fell, we went out to eat. She had a limited appetite, but what she ate she savored, giving me the impression that this might be her last meal. I caught glimpses of myself in her dark glasses studying her. She took golden crusts of bread and teased out curls of taramousalada, placing one first in my mouth and then one in her own.

“Bread,” I explained, “it comes with every meal here. Can’t resist.”

“So take this bread and eat me,” she said and put a sloppy piece into my mouth.

 

 

The most intriguing thing about Fay was her mad desire to dance. Music unleashed in her a divine fury, a primitive outpouring of energy where nothing seemed to matter but rhythmic movement, as though she were the only instrument for the heartbeat of the earth. At Circe’s that night, she drew me in with an irresistible magnetism, and I succumbed willingly. I had no place to go but where she led me, nothing to see but what she showed me, a mop-headed Madonna in bouncing bibbed overalls under madding strobe lights.

We were the only couple there, which made this scene of frenetic engagement all the more absurd, especially with the disc jockey at the bar chain smoking cigarettes and yawning. Mirrors made it seem as though the two of us filled the place. Only once did Fay, her forehead beaming with perspiration, remove her glasses, but she gave nothing away. Her eyelids were portals shut before the uninitiated, her long lashes, veils. All part of the game, and I played along most agreeably. I had developed theories about why she kept the shades on, the most disturbing being that she had a glass eye that saw deep into my future. All I knew for certain, along with Fay’s palpable imminence, was that I needed to change my shirt. Fay Devine—the essence of opulent female energy that seduced from the ankle up.

 

 

Fay asked me to leave the lights off when we got to my place, so I lit a single candle. Her mood had altered. Shadows flickered, playing out like private thoughts against the coming dawn. For her it must have been doubly dark.

“You could’ve been with Tina,” she said, sitting down next to me, her voice low, almost a whisper. “She liked you. I could tell. She said there’d be guys like you.”

I did not know how to take what Fay said, but I had the impression that she was holding back tears, and that vulnerability would assume some melodramatic form and ruin what had been up till then a perfect day. She reached for my pack of Papastratos and with the flame of the candle lit one. I watched her almost fighting the cigarette, blowing out smoke like so many phrases that would not work.

“Yeah right, guys like me,” I said, getting up. “We’re all kamaki when it comes down to it.”

“That would make it easier. No, you’re different. And I don’t just mean you’re a dreamer. I like you, and I like being with you. And you don’t ask dumb questions about why I do the things I do. Last night and today have meant everything to me. I love the bread thing, want more of it, can’t get enough, but—” She twisted out what remained of her cigarette.

“But?”

“But maybe you think I’m just using you. Or does a guy not think that’s possible? I’m confusing you, Steven Spire.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time a female has confused me.”

“You seemed so, well, depressed when you first walked into the Pan Pub, before you let loose a little. Vulnerable, even. Like you had just lost your best friend.”

“Right now, you’re my best friend,” I said, not wanting to get into details about either Montgomery or Magalee. “Right now, what’s here in this room is all that matters. So let what there is of that candle burn.”

“But certain things are implicit, aren’t they? We have only so much time, I think that’s what I’m trying to say.”

“Yes, but it’s Greek time. Go ahead, use me. I won’t object.”

“Even to wearing sunglasses in bed? You never questioned them, not even once.”

“Yes, I did, Fay, right from the moment I sat down and you kind of kicked me. At the Pan Pub & Bacchus Bar. So—”

“So why the shades? Well, it started out as a joke when Tina and I were with two

Israeli soldiers on leave in Tel Aviv. Tina’s idea. This whole trip was Tina’s idea, but I’ll get to that. To see how long I could wear shades before some guy asked me to take them off. Then it was how many days I could go.”

“Like a challenge?”

“Exactly. Then it became an education. Tina made the connection, when the ‘wasn’t he an arrogant prick’ started in earnest. Mediterranean men. Tina loves puns. She called the game pathetic phallusy—nature mocking the size of the male ego. The more I went along with it, the more her ridiculous theory, a control thing she said, proved to be true. I really began to enjoy the role. Woman of mystery! But I’m not mysterious, and it’s all more of a joke than anything else.”

“Oh, but you are mysterious, Fay Devine.”

“Not very. I’m rather obvious.”

“Not when you can make me feel like a character in a Ray Bradbury tromp l’oeil.”

I wanted at that moment to tell Montgomery about Fay. “Beat this story, beat this little bit of your mythic in the quotidian!” But then, I reminded myself, he already had. I preferred to stay with the here and now; and taking her hand, I asked: “Are you fey?”

“That’s what Frank says.”

“Frank? Who’s Frank?”

“I’m engaged to Frank.”

“Lucky Frank!”

“Well, sort of. Doubt comes over me, you know, premonitions. We’re supposed to get married next June. He’s interning now. Hates dancing. Loves Barbershop. Tina says he’s wrong for me. She’s known a lot of men, Tina.”

“Tina’s something else.”

“Gives as good as she gets. Got us into trouble a couple of nights, but managed to escape unsavory, wolfish characters with big smiles and bad teeth. We’ve been friends since high school, though travel with her has had its moments. I’m sorry for putting you through all of this when we could be breaking bread.”

As dawn light began to filter into the room and diminish the power of a single candle, Fay removed her sunglasses. She looked at me with dark, laughing eyes, full of assurance and contentment.

She kicked something under my chair, then stooped to pick it up. A gift from Montgomery before the rift.

“Neat owl. One eye is broken.”

“It’s kind of like a blink, Fay.”

She kissed my eyes shut, and in so doing allowed me to hold on to my illusions. Fay moved like the sea outside my window, and I moved with her, our bodies on creaking springs of ecstasy. We were joined at the hips and joined at the lips, unable to part. In flushes of erotic sweetness she worked a mystical enchantment that rendered me just about senseless. Then the paradox of physical separation, our tremulous and shivering nakedness touched by January whispers sweeping under doors and through cracks in a building centuries old where love and hate and life and death were memories and replays of memories, making us mindful of what passes for immortality during these ever so human moments in time. Then Venus on the rise again, her form the whole horizon. And had I been able to consume Fay entirely like so many luscious loaves of bread, it would not have been enough. Too much was never enough. Or did I flatter? Not her, my perceptions of her and the mystery that cloaked her there standing naked before me.

Montgomery had not lied; he had only told part of the truth.

 

 

Tina led us into Skridlof Street. Tina looked at everything, but had nothing in particular she wanted to buy. I contented myself just watching her try on earrings, necklaces and rings. She was pert and pretty and decided.

Fay had sandals in mind, and I loved to watch her model different pairs, and purses too small for her, and satchels too awkward, and lace up boots she had no intention of owning. But mostly I was happy just to listen to her murmurs, and fondle her with my eyes in wistful glances across the heaps of woven things or between the stacks of pungent leather. I prized her most among the copper pots and brass scales and candleholders in the shops of the tinkers. At times when fingers of golden light caught her on the brow, I wanted to cast her in bronze. She was so beautiful. Only art could hold that beauty forever.

“In here,” Tina directed, “I love this stuff. It’s fabulous.”

Faces of saints looked out to us from behind the golden mists of the beatific vision. They followed our progress in the aisles of the living through the candelabras, the censers, the lamps.

“These things fascinate me,” Tina said, picking up an ikon of John the Baptist.

“This makes me want to examine my values. Consider redemption as a real possibility.”

“Feeling guilty again?”

“Oh, Fay, you’re such a pagan! Where’s your sense of beyond the flesh? Everything here’s so orderly. It’s all about resurrection, isn’t it?”

“Too artificial. Too austere.”

“Steven?”

“Too challenging for me, Tina. The complexity of Byzantine metaphysics. I agree with Fay.”

“Besides,” added Fay, “I prefer Steven’s resurrections of the flesh.”

“Fay, you really are a pagan!”

“No halos here.”

I had not paid too much attention previously to these religious shops full of dusty ikons. I had always seen faces of the apocalypse, previews of the Second Coming looking from windows out into a street like Halidon and its passing traffic, narrow heads with wide eyes full of longing.

“All right, Fay, forget the philosophy. I like them as art. Figures contemplating the future through veils of gold. Nothing more.”

“Well, that settles it then,” Tina decided, leading us out.

On the shelves of the store next door, a different kind of dust had settled. Sitting behind his desk, a man with a leer for a face looked Fay and Tina up and down and then all over. His generous arms welcomed us in to view his extensive pantheon.

Helmeted, owls attending, wise Athena observed from on high as we moved about. In the likeness of Botticelli’s Venus, a naked white Leda glanced sideways at the long, up-thrust neck of the swan at her feet. The Bull of Minos stared above the heads of Minoan figurines.

“That racked-up snake goddess, very interesting,” said Fay.

“Oh, Fay, you’re so—”

“Special winter price!” said the man from a few feet away.

Demeter, next, a sheaf to hand. And near her, but not that near, Persephone.

“I like her the most,” said Fay, touching Persephone.

“For such a sweet little goddess,” said Tina, “she can be such a bitch. From what I’ve read, that is.”

“No, it’s the lost then found thing that I like.”

“Like what this trip is all about, Fay? Here today, gone tomorrow? I’m just kidding, Steve.”

“I still like her, Tina, like the idea of her.”

“For you I make special price,” offered the man as we made our way to the door.

We kept a leisurely pace along the lane. In one of the leather goods shop, I bought for Fay the sandals she finally settled on. In another shop, she and Tina tried on belts, some two and three and four inches in width, and the shape of time was redefined. She flirted at length with the young salesman, while the older woman at the counter rolled her eyes in a variety of telling ways. Time with Tina had to be measured in seconds and minutes and be full of quips and lover’s fallacies, a twist on Greenwich time. With Fay, and regardless of what was implicit, seconds, minutes, days, nights, all flowed out of Greek time.

“Get a load of that!” Tina broke out, pointing into the display window of a men’s underwear shop. “What a joke!”

An eight-inch marble statue of Zeus in classical pose: his little bearded face all frown and determination, he was throwing a thunderbolt, decked out in a miniature pair of double stitched, form fitting blue briefs.

“That’s pathetic,” I said.

“Yeah, pathetic phallusy,” Tina said

“No, I really mean it’s pathetic.”

“Steven, you’re such a purist!”

Tina left us at the end of the row, saying that she would catch up with us later.

 

 

The fantastic little Citroen with the pink paint job was parked near the entrance to the market.

“How about an apple?”

“Touch only what you intend to buy, Fay. Otherwise—”

We poked along eating apples, like innocents with an allowance to spend and everything at our fingertips, but we were spending with our senses, taken with the aesthetics of arrangement designed to lure and seduce. We sat down for coffee at one of the booths in the east sector near a kiosk. Display racks within easy reach revealed cat calendars and cleavages, smiling Cretan mountain men leaning on crooks, sandy bare bottoms of the summer time beaches, and various other scenic views, including many of the Old Port. Fay bought a postcard depicting the laughing countenance of a goatherd

“For Frank,” she said, and began writing. I picked up a postcard of the market and penned a few impressions as a memento for Fay. She kicked me under the table after I read her the line about the two of us poking along like innocents through the sawdust and the blood.

 

 

Tina left a note saying said that she would be at Erato’s, that we should join her and her beau (a Gallic euphemism for Greek kamaki, the note explained) to enjoy a program of Bach advertised for that night. We went to The Stygian Cave instead. That become the pattern for our nights together: we always had the opportunity to hook up with Tina, but managed to do so only once, the night a waiter from the Pan Pub got into a shouting match with a waiter from Circe’s that Tina dubbed the wolf. Other than for a few hours here and there, Fay and I were inseparable, and we played out the same themes with unplanned variations: different cafés, different walks, different tavernas, different positions, but the same imminent lips, the golden brow, the deep, dark eyes, and my same eager willingness to transcend time.

During those few hours here and there, when Fay returned to her hotel, I returned to my room and my intermittent journal scratching where I recorded impressions of her and detailed the places she took me to, places I thought possible only in the arms of Magalee. I cursed the words that failed to hold the realities and I remembered how Montgomery once complained about the impotence of language. I tried to get beyond images of Fay in a blue dress dancing barefoot with anklets on. Fay with gold dust on her brow. Fay like Raggedy Ann in faded overalls, hair coifed by Medusa. I strove desperately for other awakenings, tried to recapture the experience of how, whether in darkness or in light, fingers, knees, tongue serve to open up interior spaces, to rediscover the already known, the already known many times over that nonetheless begs to be rediscovered.

“How can every pore be an erogenous zone?” Fay asked, shivering, licking what had to be morning dew from above her lips.

“Because in spite of what you might believe about yourself, Fay, you are so beautiful.”

An illogical answer, perhaps, but true.

I wrestled with logic and language, making every effort to deal with Fay’s question truthfully. To understand what motivated her to say I was a satyr with angelic appetites. Or why her quivering eyelids moved me to tears. Or why her face, such a beautiful face, could furrow as though in agony and foreshadow darker things. Her heartbeats, the heaving of her breast, her cries of pleasure made me fearful. Fearful because I could not possess her completely.

I ripped out many journal pages.

And when efforts proved futile, and when eyes opened at dawn to see the arrangement of exhausted passion, ripped out pages passed for truth.

“Do Botticelli’s Venus,” I said as she rose to stand naked and trembling. “Or something classical.”

I wanted to work imprints of eternal beauty into what had blossomed between us,the better to capture her and it beyond the forms of time. And when I remembered the ikons and what Tina had said about them, I realized I had been developing my own sense of veneration, ethereal perhaps, but also of this world, tracing lines of former deities, human figures shaped by perfection, carved in marble or cast in bronze.

She stood contemplating the moment, then draped the sheet about her artfully and holding over her right shoulder the plastic water bottle she had taken from the table, assumed the appropriate form. She closed her eyes and became rigid. I held her thus in my mind, statuesque as always, but removed and unmoving, idealized, like bronze, like marble, like stone. Half willing her to remain that way forever, half afraid that she would, I held out open arms to her. She broke the spell completely when she jokingly asked for her shades.

“Your turn,” she said after I had enfolded her in my pea jacket. “Do me the satyr from the Pan Pub!”

Then time resumed its old resolve.

“If I write, you’ll write back?”

“Postcards. But if I don’t write to you, I’ll write about you and how you used me.”

Implicit things. I knew, however, that I was letting her go because she was not a real goddess. And I could not capture her in stone.

A Gypsy family and its little trained bear were entertaining travelers amidst the noise and confusion of the Chania bus station. People with bags and boxes and bony elbows pushed their way through the seams, and shouted over the sound of horns and the squawking of the PA. Buses were everywhere they could be, taxis and automobiles just about everywhere else.

Having secured the seats that she wanted, Tina waved, blew me a kiss, then plunked herself down out of sight. Framed by their window, Fay raised her shades, smiled, pressed her lips to the glass, pulled back and then dropped the shades back on her nose. I held up the candle she had given me just before boarding the bus. In response, she bit off the end of a loaf of bread.

A Gypsy boy stood before me, his tambourine extended top down for collection.

He grinned as I searched my pockets for change. And then, as quickly as diesel fumes can make eyes water, Fay Devine was gone.

 

The old blue Citroen with flying pink fenders turned right off Gianari. I followed it down Halidon back into the heart of the Old Port.

 

Copyright © 2013 Reed Stirling.

Reed Stirling retains all rights to this work, granting Fickle Muses one-time, non-exclusive electronic publication rights. Please contact the creator to request permission for reprints or other uses of this work.

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