Jamie Brown earned his MFA from American University, where he worked on his fiction with Frank Conroy, Terry MacMillan, James Alan McPherson, Joyce Kornblatt, and others, and worked on his poetry with Henry Taylor, Myra Sklarew, Linda Pastan, Kermit Moyer and others.
A native of Washington, D.C., he taught for over a dozen years at George Washington University, for eight years concurrently teaching creative writing at Georgetown University. He taught the first-ever creative writing workshop, an eight-week intensive workshop on poetic forms in poetry, at the Smithsonian Institution.
His fiction has been published in Cup of Joe: Coffee House Flash Fiction Anthology, The Delmarva Review, The Fiction Review, Gargoyle, Ginosko, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, The Washington Review, and Wordwrights Magazine. His poetry and has been published in dozens of literary magazines, including California Quarterly, Gargoyle, Gypsy Blood Review, Negative Capability, Howling Dog, Kipple, Maintenant, Midwest Poetry Review, Minimus, Musings, Nebo, Phase and Cycle, Poet Lore, Poetry Motel, Rat’s Ass Review, San Fernando Poetry Journal, Sulphur River Literary Review, Tekintet (in translation in Hungary), and Voices International among others. He’s won both Best Book of Verse and Best Chapbook of Verse from the Delaware Press Association for Sakura: A Cycle of Haiku, and for The Delaware Bay: Poems respectively. His most recent chapbook, Aftermath and Other Poems, is forthcoming from Moonstone Press, Philadelphia. His full-length collection, Conventional Heresies was published by Bay Oak Publishers in 2008.
He’s a member of PEN, American Academy of Poets, National Book Critics Circle, and operates The Broadkill River Press. He was presented with the first Legacy Award by the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association for his contributions to building the literary community on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Five of his plays have been produced “off-Ken-Cen” in the Washington, D.C. alt-theatre corridor of Fourteenth Street in Washington, D.C., a revival of one of which, “Death Comes Twice,” a comedy about Sex and Death (and Sex with Death), swept the awards in the 2007 One-Act Play Competition in Milton, Delaware (Best Play, Nest Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Costuming). The revival of “Re-Education of the American Proletariate,” won the Best Actor Award the following year.
The women from the mainland seem intent on shedding their clothes almost as soon as they arrive – this they do in front of open hotel windows or on the floating docks reserved for the swimmers on the side of one of the promontories of the town – for the town itself is shaped by the natural bowl of the harbor – in the main square, the plateia, they content themselves with wearing cut-off blue jean shorts and halter tops or bikini bras. Few of the women climb to the top of the island, however, and if they did they would find their ease with disrobing awkwardly at odds with the peasant population of the island.
Dorothea had come over from Mykonos about fourteen years ago, having married her husband Demetrious straight out of academy. They had met as drama students in a paragogí theatrikón panepistimíon – a university production of Sophocles’ Electra, as I understand it, and had become lovers first in Thessaloniki when the company went on tour. But I am wrong. It was Eurypides’ Electra. I find it is easy to get the two confused.
At first they thought they would come to Hydra and open a small-but-soon-to-gain-an-international-reputation theater group, Paíktes Théatro tis Ýdras . There were several interested parties here at first, including myself, Apóstolos Xénos, and they spent much of their free time enlisting volunteers like me for scene building and costume design. Many of the actors in their first couple of seasons were old friends from their academia theatricals in Athens.
In their third and fourth years , they had to rely on local talent – even giving me a small part – a Scythian archer – in a production of the Lysistrata, but, as with anything, as they progressed, memorization of lines and the length of rehearsals proved too much for most of the locals, well-meaning though they were, and Dema — Demetrious, who had meanwhile taken a paying position in the office of his father’s small shipping service on the mainland, took to commuting back and forth every day except Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the company’s boats did not stop for deliveries on Hydra.
When they folded their company, Dorothea told him, I understand, in no uncertain terms, that she was not going to wait around all week at home for him; with her dark hair and olive skin, her high forehead, high cheekbones, and slight overbite, she could have been the model for those Minoan women whose forms still grace the walls of the excavations on Crete. She worked at first in a ticket office and received paltry wages, but it gave her something to do.
When, a year or so later, she discovered she was pregnant, Dema had said to her that she must quit her job, but she was not to quit until her ninth month. Dema had taken to staying on the mainland more and more during the latter stages of her pregnancy – in fairness, his father had had a mild stroke, and without him there, at the family home in Megara, Dema’s mother would have been lost.
It wasn’t until the boy, Teodorakis, was six months old that Dema revealed that he had taken up with a woman in his father’s firm, and she – Dorothea, that is – resolved to make a go of it here on Hydra all by herself. She took a position with an open-air bar high on the side of the promontory, up and over the summit, which looks out across the kolpos idras – the gulf of Hydra. It was the closest point to the Peloponnese, and I often wondered if, as she tended the bar, she did not look out and wonder about her husband – they had never divorced. It is still customary to remain married even in such circumstances.
Now young Teo is six, and schooled in town; when he is older he will take the boat across the channel to the mainland. He and I have grown fond of each other in the interim – he calls me Theios ‘Pos, short for ‘Uncle Apostolos.’ Though Dorothea’s face is lined in places – it is from her constantly smiling at her son, I explain, although the strain and uncertainty of her relationship with Dema are mostly responsible – and her skin is more copper-colored than ever, for the bar is an outdoor establishment and she gets plenty of sun, and her features are as youthful as the day we met.
When I speak to her lately, it seems to me that the lines melt into smiles and cheerful warmth, and I believe at such times she is flirting with me. Even though I am nearly old enough to be her patéras – her father, I certainly hope that I am correct and that she is doing so. It is flattering to imagine that she does.
Last week, when Teo was visiting his father and grandparents back in Megara, she invited me to go swimming with her, down the cliffside track to the narrow, rock-strewn shoreline. As it was fairly warm, though not so hot as in the high season, I agreed, and we picked our way down the tricky switchback with the rolled towels she had brought along, setting each foot down gently, at first, with a momentary hesitation to determine that no errant pebbles would cause one or the other of us to pitch headlong onto the rocks below. When we had arrived, and found a flat rock upon which to spread our towels, Dorothea grabbed the hem of her shift, and with one deft motion peeled it up over her head. She was wearing a conservative dark-blue two-piece swimsuit underneath.
“Come on, ‘Pos, come swim,” she said, and stepped gingerly out into the water until it was deep enough to support her, and as I was wearing shorts, sandals, and a short-sleeved shirt and undershirt, I took off all but my komménos my cut off shorts, removing my keys and wallet and rolling them inside my shirt and undershirt, and did. She practiced her crawl by racing me out to the float moored just to the east – I, of course, gave up much too soon to suit her, but she is in much better condition than I – eventually I hauled myself up and out of the water, to join her where she lay sunning herself.
I was gasping anyway from the exertion but inhaled deeply when I saw that she had removed her suit and lay upon the raft in naked composure, feeling the heat of the sun bake into her skin. This, then, was clearly something she had been doing in her off hours, for her tan was even. She opened her eyes into thin little bands of darkness, squinting, and said, “Lay down! Isn’t it glorious?”
“Mmmm,” I said, as if in agreement, although I was not just then thinking of the weather, and lay down beside her. I looked at her out of the corner of one eye; she lifted each breast out of her armpits, wiped a finger beneath each one, and dropped her arms to the surface of the platform. I closed my eyes and relived the moment of realization of Dorothea’s nakedness inside my eyelids.
I remembered especially how the little droplets of water glistened in her public hair like flakes of gold, and how her nipples rose from her breasts like the peaks of dormant volcanoes not yet collapsed under their own weight, and, within moments, I was actually asleep, pleasantly dreaming of some ardent affair with her. The next thing I knew she was prodding me awake. My skin was glowing like embers, a sensation I recognized from my childhood and long days in the sun.
“’Pos, wake up,” she said gently. “You’re burnt.”
“Mmmm. Yes,” I said. “I can tell. Shall we go back in?” It was just then that I became aware that the stýsi péous I had developed in my dream had peeked out of the leg of my still damp shorts, and was rapidly retracting back to concealment. I hoped she hadn’t noticed.
“I have some lotion in my bag,” she said, nodding in the direction of the shore as she hooked the strap of her bikini top in front of her, then swiveled it around to the rear so that the cups appeared beneath her breasts. Reaching her arms into the straps, she lifted each breast and tucked herself in.
She seemed distracted, and perhaps a bit disappointed.
“What’s wrong little girl?” I asked, relieved my anatomy had returned to normal.
“Nothing,” she said, but she was, even then, so transparent.
I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Tell me,” I said.
She looked up, and I thought she looked resigned, somehow, and she said, “I don’t know, Apostolos, I guess I thought maybe something was different.”
“Between us?” I asked.
She attempted to smile and a large tear trickled down her cheek.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Am I attractive?” she said.
“Oh,” I said. “It’s that. Of course you are.” I paused. I thought she must have seen it, but then realized that she must have discovered what half of the gossips on the island already knew.
She remained silent, so I asked, “How long have you known?”
“About a week. He flew to Slovenia with her, apparently. That’s where they did it – the divorce and all.”
I reached out and took her in my arms. “I was afraid of this,” I said.
“I’ll be all right,” she said. “I’m sorry about today. I shouldn’t have tried — ”
“Tried what?” I asked.
“You weren’t even interested,” she said.
“In you?” I asked in astonishment. “Are you insane?”
“But you – you fell asleep – “
“I was afraid of staring, afraid of misinterpreting – when you – when I got here, and you were as naked as Aphrodite stepping from the sea, I – I – ” I stopped stammering for a moment, and took a breath. “Just because you saw no outward visible signs of interest – ” I hesitated, trying to determine if she had seen the visible sign of my interest which had developed as I slept, and, which was now, thankfully, fully out of sight – “What I mean is, because I was a gentleman and did not behave as one of the younger men on the island might, with obscene comments or lascivious overtures, does not mean that there is no interest. As men age, with any luck, they gain in tact and reserve. I closed my eyes so that I could imagine myself making love to you, and fell asleep right here because I did not want to open my eyes and find that I was not making love to you. Katalavaínoun? You understand?”
“And your – dream — was for me?”
“Yes, of course,” I said. Well, she might have noticed, but I was telling the truth.
“Really?” she asked, and her fingers traced a pattern on the inside of my thigh.
“Oh yes,” I said emphatically.
She looked into my eyes as if she could see the truth of my statement there, and then, remembering, said, “Let’s go back to shore and I will put some lotion on you. I shouldn’t have let you sleep so long.”
When she placed her hand sympathetically upon the top of my shoulder it stung like a sea nettle, and I quickly agreed.
Into the cold water – at least, it felt cold to my skin, and bracing, and whatever the physical manifestation of my sleeping desire had been, or the play of her fingers on my thigh, the shock of the cool water ensured that everything remained discreet – and moments later donning our clothes, she slipping her shift over her wet suit, I my shirt and sandals, unrolling the towel she had provided and pocketing my keys and some loose change – I would carry my portofóli – my wallet – rather than put it into my wet shorts. Then we hiked back up the path down which we had come what seemed like a lifetime ago. Where would that winding path lead?
An older man may be forgiven for his fantasies when they involve a younger woman if they remain circumspect, his private rumination only, and he behaves always like a gentleman, but I knew where I hoped it would lead. Teo, I was sure, would make an easy adjustment to my more frequent presence in his and his mother’s lives.
Dorothea – Thea – stepped from the shower drying first her long hair with a towel which she then wrapped about her head like a turban, then plucking a bath towel from the rod on the wall. I watched from the bed as she passed the towel behind her back and pulled with either hand, beginning at her shoulders and working her way down her back, where she dried her derrière. Totally unconscious of her nudity or completely comfortable déshabille, drying the last running wetness from her skin with a swipe under each breast and between her legs before lifting each leg, in turn, to the covered commode to dry down to her ankles and arches. Then she wrapped the towel about her torso.
“We should swim more often,” Thea said as she walked into the ypnodomátio – the bedroom – from the toualéta – the bathroom.
I rose and pulled on my clothes as she spoke. If the outcome of swimming with Thea would lead to such an aftermath every time, I would volunteer for a swim three times a week. Surely, when younger, I would have gone swimming daily, but the climb up the path from the secluded beach and the exercise after in her bed had had such an effect on my heart that it was still strongly beating like a large drum. Or so it seemed in my ears. Part of the reason, to be sure, was my admiration for Thea’s body and, additionally, with her insouciance, her ease within her own body, but in matters of physical intimacy, my cardiologist back on the mainland advises some caution.
“And why is that?” I asked her.
“You need the exercise,” she said, poking a slender finger in my belly.
I am not overweight, but I am out of shape. “You shouldn’t be so cruel,” I smiled.
“Not cruel. Honest,” she said. “Come, get dressed. We will have lunch in the harbor.”
I was convinced in that moment, in a flash of understanding, that our going to lunch at one of the many the quayside restaurants was a way of her showing everyone how inconsequential their particular petty judgements were, and how she was still able – despite the shame of the secret divorce her former husband had arranged – to show her face in public.
I was certain, also, that that change in her features, imperceptible though they might be, especially to a man, would nonetheless suggest the truth of the matter, that she was not only still a vital individual but also a woman capable of expressing her desires and finding a man – despite my being so much older – to satisfy them.
She would rub the fact in the faces of the town gossips and be damned by them for it, for most of what angers a gossip is that they are not bold enough to behave in a like manner. Every time they thought of her, they would imagine her in bed with me, making the beast with two backs, rolling around, thrashing about in delight and (perhaps, in Thea’s case – I hope in Thea’s case) ecstasy, while their own bed-lives were dull and routine where they had them at all. That’s why we were having lunch in the Piato Café.
Thea ordered the fish of the day – grouper – and a salad, I the red bream and an horiatiki and a good cold Amstel (brewed under license just off the E-75 between Athens and the Piraeus) in its dark amber bottle, sweat beading at its neck and running down its body in a manner that reminds me of Dorothea stepping from the shower. The doctors say I should decrease my intake of animal proteins and stick with fish and salad, and while the bream is wonderful, the horiatiki on Hydra is at least as good as that in the Piraeus, if not better. I think the latter. I was as happy to be her trophy before the locals and the tourists that sunny afternoon as any reasonably intelligent male of the homo sapiens species has a right to be at any time in his life.
She slipped her right foot out of her shoe and rubbed it against my ankle under the table, and when I looked up at her she smiled wickedly and took another bite of her grouper. Then she began stroking my shin and calf. She is aware, of course, that tomorrow the gossips will be full of the scandal of how Dorothea, a young mother whose divorce was just so recently made public, was seen making such an overt fuss over that fossil ‘Pos. The look I see there then, in her eyes, says she will welcome it, even as the color rises in my cheeks and ears. I have never been made a fuss over by a woman, any woman. I have much to learn.
By the time we near the end of our meal, her toes have found their way to the bare skin of my legs between my thighs, and I can hardly think of anything other than accompanying Thea back to her modest home on the hilltop, and making slow delicate, delicious love to her, if the climb up the stairs to her bedroom – our bedroom I remind myself – doesn’t prove fatal. But the risk is worth the reward.
We sit there at our leisurely meal long enough to watch two Dolphins arrive, one from Piraeus and one from Poros, and discharge their passengers – those from Piraeus were mostly tourists, those from Poros mostly from the mainland around Galatas transporting goods on carts and wagons to merchants on Poros and Hydra and then, after an hour or so, those same hydrofoils would load up again, with mostly those tourists who had already spent the day – or several days – and who are now returning to the Piraeus, and mostly vendors with empty hand carts and pockets full, to Poros, where they will catch the short ferry across the channel to Galatas.
Like those merchants and tourists, this is what we – people – individuals – do. Life is a series of stops, some longer than others, in which a sort of trade is carried on, in the exchange of affection and openness of emotions and vulnerability, a safe harbor where we can unload our stores of goods, our ideas and our words, until the emotional baggage has been unpacked, and we can be free to engage without fear of baggage needing to be or being repacked, without further journeys or voyages being undertaken, and this holds true no matter the ages of those involved, some, like Thea, still so very close to the beginning of her life’s odyssey, and some, like me, so very much closer to the end of theirs.
Prose in this post: © Jamie Brown
Published with the permission of Jamie Brown