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Leave

By Ioannis Pappos
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Souvli (pop. 1500), Central Greece, October 1982

 

My last day at Souvli the thunderstorm brought me to life. The rain gushed down and water dripped into the room I shared with my brother, this corridor with two narrow beds and a scrap of mosaic floor between us. My head battered from the retsina I downed with that knockout for all hours, my jaw popped as I yawned, and my body shivered in this refrigerator. I reached for the Marlboros on the bed stand we shared, pressed around, but fingered no smokes. So I raised the empty pack above my head and saw the 500-drachma bill I had stashed in it gone. That was shit. I crumpled up the empty piece of toss and whacked it at my brother who, passed-out, drooled on his arm in the other bed. “Γαμιόλη! Motherfuck!”

Finally up, I tried to push my piss hard-on back in my drawers and scratched my armpit right at the scar my father left me when he caught me stealing his wine. My crops-tanned neck and arms filled the skewed mirror at the back of our door. I was the first to burn in the summers on the fields. My hair had the color of wheat on a sunny day. I was too blonde for Greek; Σαρακατσάνος! Sarakatsanos!, army pals called me. Drunk, the rest. “Σκανδιναβεζα, Scandinavian pussy. Πισωγλέντη, you like to party from behind. Already a drunk, just like your father,” the Sergeant howled to me once during basic training, those forty days of drill, of skipping rope like a girl and waking up at three in the morning. ‘Αντερεγαμησου! Gofuckyourself!’ I mumbled. Soldiers can kill you. They’ll set your bed on fire. They’ll piss on you. On me twice, when I wouldn’t wake up from tsipouro—plenty of booze around the camp if you had cash or were willing to clean the johns for someone else, and I did, the stink not worse than that of our dung at home.

The Sergeant gave me a week’s detention for attitude. I wanted to break his neck for cursing my father, but then I’ve wanted to break my father’s drunken neck since I can remember. In Souvli, being drunk was being a man. We grew up to drink. It was expected, required. You didn’t even have to grow up: my brother, not fifteen yet, blacked out with mucus on his face. I leaned over and slapped him. “Get up, malaka! Where’s my money, you piece of shit?” But the little prick started to wheeze again his wimpy snuffle, which had nothing to do with my snoring. Slim, skinny as a stick, my brother didn’t look like us. “You thief, you little cunt!”, I pulled down my briefs and my thick, less hard, bucked out ready to fire its morning piss all over Dimitris’ girl-pretty face, but pee-shyness or a change of heart, or the fact that it would follow us the rest of our lives, made me lose it and I slapped him again. Choking on puke he clogged to the wall. “Malaka!” I yelled again, and I picked up his blanket from the floor to cover his ass so pneumonia wouldn’t kill him.

I hobbled to the kitchen. There was no sign of life coming from the rest of the house; no screaming TV, no snoring from our father’s bedroom, so the old man had to be out drinking, still. Then again who knew if the bastard even survived the rain; roads flooded and boozers drowned in the plains all the time. A scorched pan under the tap looked clean enough, so I let the faucet fill it up and put on the stove, but there were no matches around. Too lazy to go back for my lighter, or too worried I’d beat up the lil thief again, I scratched off the cover of last year’s TV guide dying on the kitchen table and rolled up the DALLAS ranch in a stiff pole. I lit up Victoria Μουνίcipal from the Virgin’s oil, which was flanked by the new prime minister and Yasser Arafat. As soon as the stove started burning, I threw flaming Victoria into the sink. She gave the room a momentary glow, before she wrinkled and curved into herself forming a rat black texture. Then the kitchen turned back into a disco from the sky behind the curtains. Clouds hung so low, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night. Hemmed by mountains, the heat in Thessaly would crush you in the summer, but come fall, when water flooded down the plains, everything drowned. Γαμιέται ο Δίας, Zeus gettin’ it up the ass, a saying about nasty weather I picked up at the army as soon as I joined, forty days ago, after I dropped out of school mainly to piss off my father, Bailas, the cotton farmer whose life was drinking tsipouro, selling working-the-farms to kids “before the army gets them,” and beating his “faggot sons” with the belt. There was something crazy and fucked up with him. He’d slur things he knew shit about, lash out at field-hands, buyers, cops, women, anyone… then break a chair or a mirror or the window in his bedroom—a hole that froze us to death—and finally pass out.

 

A couple of Nescafé sips in and my father’s truck jerked into a stop at the yard. The smell of the burnt pot would make him go nuts, anything could, so I poured whatever left into the sink and hid the dish in a cupboard. Instinctively, I sat on the kitchen table with my feet on a chair and held my brother’s Superman mug close to my chest as a shield.

His stink, the reek of vomit and tsipouro from being up all night, filled the space. His hands, sore and cut, massive, the hands that beat me straight the day I left for the army, clenched on three packs of Marlboro. We had not seen each other for forty days. We kept still, avoiding eye contact. When I faced him, I was immediately reminded of how much we looked alike. He was also fair, but wrinkled with grey ash blonde hair. All muscle, too. I could just see him at the ταβερνα, weathering out the storm, trying to speak during the final rounds of tsipouro, yelling “I ain’t poor, you faggots! Never was! Just shortchanged by you right-wingers,” which was somewhat true, until the socialists, for the first time ever, won the elections a year before. A respected drunk at last, Bailas now held some might in the local government’s office, and with farm subsidies on the way, he felt entitled to more and sharper tsipouro.

“Is that what they teach you at the camp? Retsinococacola?” my father said, pointing at the retsina and Coca-Cola bottles on the table.

I had to throw a decoy of sorts, to distract his anger, but, strangely, for the first time really, a blow of change flew in my lungs. A sense of ending and beginning surged in me, as if my pointless basic training made a difference. “I report to the Air Force,” I said. And, carefully, “I learned how to mix retsina with Coca-Cola from you.”

Πούστη, faggot.”

“Faggot,” he said again and made to move.

The too familiar resentment swelled, and, fuck my headache, I stood up without shaking. Another first.

“One more time,” I whispered. I knew he was going to slap me, so I clenching my fists. Otherwise, I didn’t flinch.

A weird thing happened next. All he did was to slightly push me, barely touch me, and I landed back on the table. He threw a pack of cigarettes on my lap. “Smokes,” he said walking past me. And just like that he was gone.

 

When the storm died down, a spooky confidence kicked in. Swiftly and weirdly, I felt that Tula, the sexy blonde I got destroyed with the night before, would become my girl. We had met at a hole in the wall disco at the end of Ermou in Volos, where US sailors stop by, but no Uncle Sam was in sight. We spent the night drinking and dancing, she was dancing, I was just moving my legs, watching her, and before realizing it we were trapped in the disco because of the storm. She was gorgeous and noisy, she lied that she liked my moves on the floor. The five, six barflies stared at us, we were the only ones dancing, we had the floor. And yet we didn’t really touch or kiss till dawn when they kicked us out. I said I’d walk her all the way to Kartali, where she said she lived, because Ermou Street is… Ermou Street. Tula laughed, said I did not have to, but the rain was still coming down, so I gave her my Robe di Kappa. Stepping outside I tried to kiss her. “Only in the middle of the rain,” she said. And we did.

I reached for the phone outside my father’s bedroom and, as quietly as I could, I called Tasos, my army pal, to score a lift to Volos and hung out with my Tula again.

I told him she is it.

“Let’s go find her!” is all Tasos said.

Half an hour later, he was raising hell in our front yard on his Honda MT, the bike he wouldn’t shut his yap about at the camp. Worried that Bailas would wake up and fertilize us, I tried to wave to Tasos through the kitchen window to quiet down, but… I threw my jacket on and rushed out.

“Get on!” Tasos shouted all joy. His face had the same smile of success he permanently had at the camp, for no reason, just because—stupid, if you ask me—then of course his MT even in the storm, even under its mud-spattered rims was shining new, no second-hand there.

“Jump on, Tool! The girl’s beautiful.”

I had to pause and look; the MT was the dream. “Tell me’bout it,” I automatically murmured.

“If another pimples at the bar picks her up, I’ll fuck you instead,” Tasos joked over the running engine.

I had not seen Tasos in regular clothes before, only in uniform, so it took a second to register him in a rider’s jacket. He looked a bit funny, too young to be riding a brand new MT, still handsome though, maybe even more, if that was possible. “I’ll fuck you first,” I replied. He smiled benignly.

“Thought you were talking crap about the Honda, but no. This is the shit.” He gave me an are-you-done-yet look, and I straddled on. Locked my soles on the foot-pegs and belted my hands around his waist. We spread filth all over Bailas’s truck and vanished. As my head thrashed back, my mouth and nostrils took in the after-the-rain oxygen deep, yielding a sweet headache, instantly inviting me into a Tula fantasy.

You are at the disco surrounded by soldiers. You have gone all out, the hair, the perfume, the works. Sure, you are a hard sell when it comes to freebies, but for some reason you take a liking to us as we cross the disco, two army buds: Tasos, the good-looking rider, and Vagos, the Greek with the Swedish looks. We are the Dukes of fucking Hazzard.

“Clutch on me!” Tasos’ yell woke me up. “Tighter! Hold tighter,” he ordered me, as we snaked through a school of mud holes. We were on the back entry to Volos. A hidden route made of concrete that didn’t merge with the highway. A road that travelers didn’t know, and locals avoided to save their tires from the heat and the earthquake roadcracks, the very cracks killing my ass on the back seat of the bike. We were riding no man’s land, yet everybody’s land full of abandoned factories, hooligan raided train stops, and a quarry that turned into a drive-in fucking brothel for sleazepunks at nights. Tasos zigzaged through washed down rocks and, for a second, I shut my eyes. When I opened them again, a show had began. The white stones sparkled after the rain, the valley’s brightness was impossible. Greens jetted out of tortured walls, and gypsy women’s shining frocks swept the mud as they sat on white plastic chairs at crossroads, breastfeeding infants. We raised walls of water slaloming street ponds. Kids threw stones at us, their dogs chased us. Choreographed, at the perfect moment, Tasos raised his hand and gave the guard at the entrance of our camp a μούτζα, the finger. I tried to do the same. “What the hell do you think you’re doing! Put your hands around my waist!” Tasos shouted, amused though. “Malaka! Grab my waist!”

We locked the MT outside Seychelles smiling. That is when it hit home that asking Tasos for a lift perhaps was a mistake. Tula would see right through my no-wheels helplessness. Plus, Tasos was the stud, Tula would probably go for him anyway. Then again, those forty nights we bunk-bedded, Tasos was solid. He covered up for me and spoke up for the smaller guy, as much as one could. I found myself telling him about the shithole called Souvli, and Bailas’ belt. It just so happened that Tasos was not that different. His father never recovered after he did time for stealing from the soccer bets kiosk he worked at, and his mother raised him with this rich old man, a creepy dude who showered Tasos with gifts but hit on every single one of his girlfriends. Maybe that’s why my pal could be the kind of guy who would take the high road if he and his bud were into the same girl. Whatever, it was too late. We were there. At the bike’s mirror we saw our red faces and bike hair. Our bravado.  

Tula was seated exactly where I wished she’d be, alone by a mirrored coffee table at a safe distance from the barflies. She was stirring confidently her drink with its umbrella, and my heart began to race. She was a Farah-fucking-Fawcett. I looked elsewhere, I had to. The middle aged men at the bar were cursing at the PAOK-AEK game on the TV set above their heads. The one with the hearing aid delivered the meats at the army kitchens, and talked for hours with our Sergeant—yes, with the motherfucker who got a boner by making our lives hell. As we trooped towards Tula, the deaf butcher gave us a look, and I knew that I would come to regret this night out. But we had a whole week of leave ahead of us, which at the time felt a year, so, Fuck you butcher, Sergeant, and Fuck you army.

Hi, you said, chewing your gum.

You remember my army pal Tasos from last night?

“Airforce,” Tasos one-uped me. Your big green eyes rested on Tasos’ face like you had forgotten meeting him, or how good he looked. You two handshaked. Then no one spoke, which was awkward. Finally Tasos asked if we wanted Screwdrivers. You had a drink in front of you, but sure. Tasos walked to the bar just as a waitress approached, a Tula look alike but without your swank. You pointed at the bar. She rolled her eyes and left.

“Αντε, καλο χειμωνα! Come on, happy winter!”—the standard cheer—but something was off. This two-on-one thing wasn’t picking up nicely. To start with I sucked at small talk. But you got on the driver’s seat before Tasos could hijack us God knows where. You complained about the storm, about the humidity on your hair, and about how, for some reason, you could not leave home. You went on about the prime minister and Vougiouklaki and PAOK’s coach on the TV monitor at the bar. Believe it or not, you focused on me, counting my mhms and uh-huhs, your face telling me: pay attention, Vagos, pass the test!

You wanted to see me dancing, you said. Only if Tasos claps on his knees, I responded. You conspired with the dj and a zeibekiko came up. I did a raki shot, then another, and started my moves under Loizos’ acidic tune. It was a solo dance. Tasos’s clapped bended on one knee, encouraging me, protecting me, giving me right to boast, and I did it with dignity until you, your laugh, gave me permission to get silly. I picked up a chair, tried the glass on my head for a few seconds. You dug my funk, you said. You looked happy.

Then, swear to God, you asked Tasos to fetch your brand of cigarettes all the way from the περίπτερο at the docks in Volos. Casually, as if you were asking him for one more drink. We froze into three statues on the dance floor. Tasos studied me, telling me silently how hard I was fucking him. But within a second or so he acted like he found the ridiculous request amusing, he didn’t complain or try to postpone, taking it as boot camp, something that perhaps he’d be rewarded for when mission accomplished. He even threw a why-not shrug, and his coolness, his make-believe indifference made me realize that my knees were shaking: I was scared to be alone with you, but Tasos was already walking.

“He’d ruin our night,” you winked. “Whatever you do, don’t bore me!” Back at the sofa, a yellow Chiclets box appeared. You were already chewing, but you popped another—your hands worked like a magician. I tried not to look embarrassed, not to do anything, so I kept reading and rereading your name at your gold pendant: T-u-l-a. Still, I had to gain some ground. I pointed at your Chiclets, spread my palm and you made sure our hands touched as you let two pieces roll on my hand. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

The MT coughed outside, starting and dying, starting and dying. This made no sense, it was a new bike. In my panic, I smiled thinking of Tasos Morse-coding me fuck-you-Vagos or something. For a second I saw myself running out, chasing Tasos for a lift back, anywhere, but your eyes got warmer. You let a quick laugh. “Oh, just relax will you? I like you. You are in a corduroy jacket. You have green eyes, like my brother’s. A German face.”

Incredibly, “I got no money,” came out of my stupid mouth in my fright.

You considered this. “Drinks are on me as long as we disco-dance.”

Tasos drove off.

“Two vodka shots,” you shouted at the waitress who was now resting with her elbows on the bar. She took her time to turn, making sure we knew she was crossed. But you seemed oblivious to things like that. Have you been to Athens, you asked me. No. But I have been to Saloniki for my army papers, I responded. Your face said it’s not the same.

The shots arrived, and the waitress refused to leave, so you opened your purse. I spotted a bunch of Bic pens hooped together with a rubber, and a 500-drachma bill buried in there. When you realized I saw that, you bit your crayoned lip, and that was my bet with myself: I would fuck you, you thief, come hell and high water. So I switched to offense. “I only dance zeibekiko,” I said, adjusting my crotch.

“You need to grow up!” you fired back. Then, “My change!” to the waitress, who was already at the bar. Springfield was blasting in the empty disco, and the waitress made an I-can’t-hear-you gesture.

Take my fucking wallet. I don’t care. Steal my money any day of the week. Then I stand still as I remembered slapping Dimitri, small strobe lights in my brain. But a zeibe-disco hits us—the dj adds some beat—and you begin to dirty dance me. I smile. For a sturdy guy, I have moves. I crack you up. I am confused and happy. I am drunk on your sweet perfumed sweat, soaked deep into your fur scurf that you wrap around my neck. Choke me, kill me, just fuck me first you sexy crook. The floor is open, so I swing flying above a stool, which makes you giggle, and I get hard. I lean in again to lick your skin, I’m practically raiding you as your snigger turns into a husky laugh and you mount back on the sofa to escape me. Your mini skirt bares your perfectly shaved, loosened spot right on my face (you have no underwear on, which makes you my girl). Always laughing, you try to pull down the cloth, but it’s not long enough to cover your pussy, my pussy, as I strap your ass with my hands and lock your cheeks down on the sofa. I want to get you wet, lick you and drink you in and out and every way. The barflies clap away, cheering me. You slap my face, which turns my dick olivewood and I have to fuck you right there because I’m gonna cum no matter in my fucking pants. Then you slap me again, harder, and I shoot my first shots. “Stop!” you yell, and I do because I’m loving this, I think I’m loving you so fucking much.

Freed up, you pulled yourself together. My face burned from your fingers and lips, and so was yours. You glimpsed at the barflies, as if they’d give you your cue for your next move. Half cummed and antsy, I couldn’t care less about those losers. They were the fuckers who gossiped you were the go-to-lay for film crews driving from Athens to Salonika, always there, always hoping for the fuck that would land you on the screen, while you kept company to us, soldiers, got us drunk, got us off, got us to be generous, or tipped us how to break into the fur stores that you modeled for in Larissa. These guys didn’t get you, they didn’t deserve you, though you probably had fucked them all, but that was what I liked about you: you were all out. You were the fuck-you-and-what-you-think-of-me rebel girl in this quicksand. You were who you were. And I wanted to do something for myself because of you, for you, for us, to show them all. One move to settle everything, and give you respect. So I grabbed the ashtray from the coffee table and held it above my head like a crown, slowly, replaying you getting crowned Miss Thessaly at that disco in Larissa, at the beauty pageant that earned you the right to speak your mind to all these valley goons. There was a flash in your eyes as you weighed on me. And then your laugh was back. Any tension between us was over. I slouched next to you on the sofa relieved, with the ashtray on my chest. And the bar went back to drinking and watching the game.

The dj pointed at me. You're in the army now / Oh, oh you're in the army / now. My heart relaxed, and I turned to my left all smug, smiling, only to discover that you were no longer beside me. Instinctively, don’t know why, I looked back at the bar and saw the meat guy trying to sign-talk to you from across the disco, you were by the WC door. His index finger was tapping firmly on his watch. You looked at him calmly, reassuringly. Then you placed your finger playfully on your lips and gave me an air kiss.

You kept buying, maybe out of guilt for stealing my cash the night before, or maybe because you liked me, it was okay with me either way—by that point I was drunk, hungry and horny—, until we threw ourselves into your Yugo. I needed to eat something before I’d eat your pussy, so I hoped for a stop at the 24/7 gyros kiosk on the highway. You had different plans. “One more stop before souvlaki,” you said while your face wondered if you said the right thing, but you didn’t change you mind.  

Right where the Velestino road cuts through the gas station with the caged wolves, you found a dirt road that disappeared into the fields. I had seen it before but never paid any attention, always assuming it was some redneck’s access to the crops. Your sharp right made the wolves growl. We were in the middle of the black now, the plants pitch dark, the only rattled light from the Yugo as it struggled in the mud. I almost opened the door to push. “Sit tight!” you called on me, and I got instantly hard again. I cracked the window to ease things, some, but it was too cold out and I rolled it up again. We didn’t need to hide farther, we could have fucked right then and there in the car.

“The hells’re we going?”

“I said, one more stop before gyro.”

Some gunfire in the distance made dogs and wolves howl. Then I saw the low brick house hiding behind tree bushes and dead sunflowers. The shack, a stall with no windows but a small opening above the door, let out a bright spot into the night.

“Get this,” I muttered.

We joined a bunch of cars parked around the shed. An old man seated on a Sprite tub at the lot was half asleep under his coat used as a blanket. No one else in sight.

“I told you I ain’t paying,” I said. “Let’s just drive to the pit.”

“Who asked you to? Don’t be a bad drunk.”

Once again, I scratched my crotch, a habit stronger than my drinking. “Fuck it,” I whispered as I stumbled out of the Yugo. The wind hit my face, sobered me up. Thunder and lightning were turning the sky into a show again. The storm was coming back.

You walked past the old man, who magically was standing by the door now. I followed you and he followed us in the puke-green hut. Freddy Mercury shouted at a speaker above a bead curtain that veiled a second room where some kind of commotion was underway, like a security alarm was off, or a photo shoot with piercing flashing cameras. The smell of bleach made me quiver with rush and repulsion.

“What’s a Boy Scout doing here?” the old man said. He had a big Macedonian I’ve-seen-it-all face.

You tried to dismiss him—“Oh, I brought a friend…”— but he wasn’t buying. “Come on… he’s twenty one, and thick,” you said. I wasn’t sure what you were talking up: my age, size… The old man kept reading me.

I tried to whisper: “How about I just take you out in the fields and—”

“Shut up, Vagos!”

Calmly, the man fixed two shots on a makeshift ticket-booth next to some poker chips. “To our new friend then,” he cheered warily. I could tell there was something fishy going down, but Greek Scotch was in front of me, and I was (a) drunk. So I did both shots. ‘With Gasoline’ filled the stinking air.

“No names, and no one touches the bags,” the old man said seriously.

“What?”

 “Let’s see what shakes!” You jiggled and crossed the bead curtain to the back room.

I followed you. In the center there were three people naked on all fours with burlaps over their heads, facing each other like livestock eating from the same trough. People around them seemed to move forward or backward in slow motion, or not move at all, depending on the speed of the strobe, one second they were fucking the human animals and the next they were not, like everything was and wasn’t happening at once. Then you took out of your bag the bunch of Bic pens tied together with a rubber band and, in slow motion, rammed them in a single push a quarter of the way into one of the holes. “Fu— it!” I saw your lips ordering me. I caught myself undoing my fly, but fear and confusion kept me soft. With your pens halfway in, your reached over for a quick hand-job. Once hard and inside one of the bagged men, I started fucking. Bowie and the moaning and crying made me go harder and faster. I was steady now, going at it. I was part of the club; the lights, God was taking photos of us. Then the speed of the flashes slowed down again and I felt the beast I was pounding with a shivering sense of familiarity. I reached forward and pulled the bag off my father’s head.

 

Ioannis Pappos is a management consultant and writer from Pelio, Greece. He is a graduate of Stanford University and INSEAD Business School and has worked in both the U.S. and Europe. Ioannis contributes to magazines and newspapers. His first novel, Hotel Living, was a finalist for the Lambda and the Edmund White Debut Fiction awards. He lives in New York City.

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