Mariana Sabino is a freelance writer who is currently working on a novel. The Ionian Sea has left an indelible impression in her life and imagination. She has been published in Dogmatika, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Culture Unplugged, and Taste of Cinema, among other places. Her poetry has also been included in an anthology.
Carol longed for a simple life. Simple and dignified, though her mother always said the mole on her left shoulder ought to mean something. Those who came across the mole agreed that it was exquisite – a smooth chocolate dot, so round and flawless it almost looked artificial, the way movie stars had them. Discomfiting, the way it invited longer glances from men and hushed asides from women without moles, Carol noted. Duly, she might add.
It wasn’t surprising that it should be noticed now, swathed as she was in a sheath wedding dress. Baring the mole on a platter of glowing skin. She sensed the glance from across the store as she handed the creviced old man behind the counter drachmas coins for three loose cigarettes. “Ef…haris..tooow,” she said to the old man, dragging out the oow, out of habit and for emphasis. Like the mole, it was an unnecessary flourish. Unnecessary like icing on a good cake.
The old man, as if sensing this, looked right past her with cataract eyes, his left thumb flipping through a deck of cards with 50s-style pinups in the back. Breasts in full display.
Outside the store, she lit her first cigarette – a vice reserved for special occasions like graduations and funerals.
In twenty minutes she would be picked up in a moped and whisked off to the wedding – her wedding – which loomed large but still lay in the background.
Peter’s mother had prevailed that a moped would be delightful, saying “for local color, dear.” The ceremony was scheduled to start at sunset, on the beach. Carol waited out the minutes, punctuating each breath and drifting off at the same time.
Carol had long fantasized about what it would look and feel like to be married on a Greek island, but now that it was happening, it didn’t feel quite real, not as real as it did when she had run it over in her head with the exhilarating soundtrack of ocean waves and Abba songs.
Right before the accident, she’d shown pictures of Corfu to her mom, Andrea. And Andrea had smiled indulgently, but Carol could tell she wasn’t really listening. It was Andrea’s habit to dismiss any mention of Peter with a wave of her hand as if he were as consequential as a passing fly.
“Mom, you watched ‘Terms of Endearment’ too many times. My Peter’s nothing like Flap,” she had always insisted.
“You’re right. He’s not even as smart. You’d do well to marry a college professor,” was Andrea’s inevitable reply.
They had gone over this so many times there was no longer any sting to the slight.
“A dream is one thing, reality another,” Andrea would say, tucking the ends of her robe before falling into one of her Blanche Dubois moments, her eyes glazed, her speech ferreting for truths, which she would then deliver with mangy aplomb over the third glass of Chianti. By that time, she was regularly waking up at 4 a.m. – after three or fours hours of sleep, tops – ever ready to drown in dreams, her acting career now relegated to dinner theater and the occasional bit part in no-budget films.
After a couple hours with her mother, Carol would rush off to Peter’s swim meet, just to watch him glide underwater, just as she hoped to do with her own life.
That reality that had materialized, and here it was.
She was now standing just outside a dilapidated store on a hillside facing an immense sky that showered gold like it was all for the taking. Below, the sea glimmered as if an oracle demanded imminent bliss on that Greek island in June.
I will be happy, she told herself, as earnestly as she knew earnest to be. Rules, rituals, and rights had often been sources of reassurance for her – a reminder that life was navigable with a map. Perhaps that view made her dull in the eyes of some, but so what? The alternatives left a tawdry tinge.
Drawing another drag of her first cigarette, she brushed a stray lock of hair off her shoulders. As she leaned back against the wall, she heard a man’s voice say, “What’s the rush?” with a New Yorker’s accent. It didn’t exactly sound like a challenge, but it was personal all the same.
“Huh?” she answered, turning towards the voice. He was in his late twenties with brown hair in loose tufts, his medium frame in an orange t-shirt and Carhartt shorts. He wore aviator glasses. One of those guys who touted hipness as his resume. The same guy who’d been trailing her inside the store. Even though she couldn’t quite see his eyes, she could tell they held a sardonic expression. He tilted his water bottle, his gaze on her left shoulder.
“If you mean the wedding, no rush. Have all the time I need,” she answered.
She was never sure what to say to guys like him, with their bold nonchalance. Men who had little to recommend them but sank into you. Men who had shown up in various configurations as her mother’s boyfriends. Actors, painters who drove taxis for a living, set designers, occasionally a promising director with an alcohol problem.
Not one you can depend on, who will be there when things get too real. For her part, Carol had opted that along with a law degree, her reality would do well to embrace Peter. Peter with his silky blond hair, brimming with health from hundreds of hours of swimming, and a good-natured personality all around, embodied her aspirations for a life perhaps lacking in novelty but more than making up for it with stability and comfort.
Like Carol, Peter was about to specialize in Family Law.
“Peter Pan’s reliable,” her mother had conceded time and time again since they’d started dating five years back.
To be sure, the worse you could say about Peter is that he was a tad flat: there was not much music in him. But nothing was perfect. The guy in front of her now, for example, most definitely was not – though from the way he was standing there, advertising himself, you’d think he was pure nectar.
“May I?” he continued, motioning for one of her cigarettes. She wasn’t planning on sharing any of the three she had bought to chain-smoke, but it would be more trouble to refuse. So she opened the palm of her hand and let him choose one of the remaining two, which, to her embarrassment, lay crumpled in her palm. He chose one, lighting it with one flick. She wished he’d remove his glasses so she could see his eyes. “Thanks,” he said, pulling up his glasses. Beady brown eyes, she noted, self-satisfied. Peter’s were large and green.
He slid against the wall next to her but didn’t say anything else. They just stood next to each other, smoking and staring at nothing in particular.
She wouldn’t be able to explain why it happened, but her thoughts drifted after that. Maybe it had something to do with the approaching sunset and those few precious moments she had left.
As a breeze brushed past them, she caught a whiff from him– something spicy, sweet, and not altogether unpleasant. It wasn’t perfume. It came from his skin, sun-kissed skin, she saw when she turned. He had a gap on the side of his front teeth, his lips red and full as he inhaled slowly, closing his eyes as he did so.
She felt herself, inexplicably, slide closer to him on the wall, so that they were almost touching.
He turned to face her, leaning his weight against the wall; he had on a lopsided smile, his gaze steady and pulling. Reaching over with his hand, he grazed her mole.
She was too stunned to say anything as she felt a strong electric charge coursing through her. And before she knew it, there they were against the wall, kissing, lit cigarettes on the gravel below.
She would later recall it as a Doisneau kiss, the template of all French kisses: Oceanic. On the street, against indifferent human traffic, two lovers freeze in oblivion to everything else but the pressing heat between them. She’d never kissed like that, certainly not in public since she and Peter agreed that it’s rather exhibitionistic. “And if you feel it you don’t need to display it for everyone else, do ya?” Peter would say.
Once she tried to tell him that some people are so enraptured it just spews out of them (love-lust on the brim), powerless as they are to contain it, let alone stop it.
Suddenly she knew what that meant, as she heard her breath settle, almost like breathing was superfluous. At that moment, she forgot completely where she was and who she was with – the wave of electricity overpowering all else – so that it would seem very natural if she and this complete stranger were to make love then and there.
And if it weren’t for the sound of a moped trudging up the hill, who knows what might have happened. Snapping to attention, she pulled away, making her way downhill back to the hotel. What was that? she thought, her left shoulder with its indecent mole still burning.
The wedding took place at sunset right on schedule, too soon after that rogue kiss to make her feel anything but bewildered. It was a small wedding; their closest friends and his parents.
All assembled in casual beach wear, just as they had planned. Peter’s mother had arranged for a local official to undertake the ritual reading of vows through her travel agent, even though the ceremony was more symbolic than anything else. Back in California, they would get married again – in the town hall for the sake of the marriage certificate.
They sealed their I do’s with a chaste peck on the lips. Afterward, Carol looked at her husband’s face, a decision she would come to regret. He grinned, looking the way he did when he had just won a swim tournament – that placid pride, so tranquil and light. A pond’s depth of feeling to him, she thought.
It filled her with a sudden violent dread. She looked at those large green eyes, and the feeling of being underwater, something or someone holding her head down, came over her.
She felt herself being dragged to shore – with his mother, dad, their friends witnessing it all with their faces grinning stupidly as Peter plunged her in, chiming “Glide!”
But what was she thinking! Peter would never do that. Sweet Peter was merely scrunching up his nose, still grinning. “Someone’s been smoking,” he said, all jokey. She raised her shoulders as if to shrug, but let them drop back down instead. Peter never looked at the mole. For him, it didn’t exist.
The party after dinner came as a relief, as a troupe of folkloric dancers had been summoned to the taverna. After their last number, the newlyweds were ushered to the stage and someone handed Carol an empty glass.
What was she supposed to do with it? And then she remembered. Right, Greek wedding, glass throwing. She tossed it at the designated spot that Peter’s mom had marked with chalk. It read “Throw glass here.”
She threw the glass, but it didn’t break. Instead, it skittered off the edge of the stage. She heard tittering before it went quiet again, all eyes on her. Oh, the suspense, she thought, with a sudden bout of sarcasm. The glass was handed back to her and was just about to throw it when she saw him. Him. How did he get there? Sure, the taverna was open to the public, so that technically anyone could walk in, but this seemed like a deliberate taunt, something her mother would have found funny. Somehow, it was as if she were right there, whispering “Here’s reality pinching you.”
Even dead, Andrea still had the last laugh.
She met his eyes across the room. Unlike everyone else, he was the only one who looked real now. Peter nudged her. “C’mon babe, what are ya waitin’ for?” he said.
“Nothing,” she answered.
She threw the glass at the dotted line, splintering into pieces as nearly everyone cheered.
Text in this post: © Mariana Sabino
Published with the permission of Mariana Sabino