Leave | The New Engagement

Leave

By Ioannis Pappos
Leave story art

Souvli (pop. 1500), Central Greece, October 1982

 

My last day at Souvli the thunderstorm brought me to life. Water gushed down the roof, pounding my raki-soaked brain in this refrigerator I shared with my brother, a corridor with two narrow beds and a strip of tiles between us. Yawning and shivering, I reached for the pack of Marlboros on our bed stand. Pressed around, but fingered no smokes. Raised the empty thing above my head and saw the 500-drachma bill I’d 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!”

I sat on the edge of my bed to get my brain straight. Pushed 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 arms and neck filled the mirror at the back of our door. Tried to fix my hair, which was harder than my fucking dick; I looked like a Viking clown. Blonder than wheat, I was the first to burn on the crops. 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 me once during basic training, those forty days of drill, of skipping rope like a girl and waking up at four in the morning. The army can kill you. Soldiers will 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 willing to clean the johns, and I did, the stink not worse than our dung back home. ‘Αντερεγαμησου!—Gofuckyourself!’ I mumbled at the Sergeant.

He gave me a week’s detention. I wanted to break his neck for trashing my father, but then I’ve wanted to break my father’s drunken neck since I can remember. At Souvli, being a drunk was being a man. We grew up to drink. It was expected, required. You didn’t even have to grow up, like my brother, not sixteen yet, blacked out, practically naked with mucus all over his face, snuffling away. I stood up, leaned over and slapped him. “Get up, malaka! Where’s my money, you piece of shit?” Half-chocking, Dimitris clogged to the wall. Slim, skinny as a stick, he looked nothing like us. I pulled down my briefs and my thick bucked out ready to fire its morning piss all over the little prick’s 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. “Punk!” I yelled, and picked up his blanket from the floor to cover his ass so pneumonia wouldn’t kill him.

There was no sign of life in 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. I hobbled to the kitchen and threw a scorched pan under the faucet and then on the stove. But there were no matches around. Too lazy to go back for my lighter, or too worried I’d beat my brother again, I tore off the cover of a TV guide rotting on the table, rolled it into a pole, and lit it from the Virgin’s oil, which was flanked by the prime minister and Yasser Arafat. As soon as the stove started burning, I threw Victoria Principal into the sink. She gave the room a glow, before she curved herself into a rat black texture. Then the kitchen turned into a disco again from the sky behind the curtains. Clouds so low, you couldn’t tell if it was day or night. The heat 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 to piss off my father, 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. Everything was crazy fucked up with him. He’d slur things he knew shit about, lash out at buyers, cops, women, anyone… then break a chair or a window and finally, thank God, pass out.

After a few Nescafé sips my father’s truck jerked into a stop at the yard. Betting that the smell of the burnt pot would make him go nuts, anything could, I poured whatever left into the sink and hid the dish in a cupboard. Sat on the kitchen table and, instinctively, held my brother’s Superman mug close to my chest as a shield.

A reek of vomit and tsipouro filled the space. Baila’s hands, sore and cut, massive, the hands that beat me straight the day I left for the army, clenched on three packs of Marlboros. We had not seen each other for forty days. We kept still, avoiding eye contact. When he finally fixed on me, I remembered how much we looked alike. He was also fair but grey ash blond and wrinkled, all muscle, too. I could just see him at the tavern, 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, took over. A respected drunk at last, Bailas now held some might in the local government’s office, and with EU subsidies pouring in, he felt entitled to non stop drinking.

He pointed at Dimitris’ mess, the empty retsina and Coca-Cola bottles on the table. “Is that what they teach you at the camp? Retsinococacola?”

I had to throw a decoy of sorts, distract his anger, but, strangely, and for the first time really, a blow of change flew in my lungs. “I’m Air Force,” I said. “And I learned how to mix retsina with Cola from you.”

Πούστη.”— “faggot”—he said and made to move. “Faggot.”

I stood up without shaking. Another first. “One more time,” I whispered. I knew he was going to slap me. I clenched my fists. 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, I felt even stronger. I thought that Tula, the sexy blonde I got hammered with the night before, would become my girl. I knew of her, but we only met hours ago at that disco-dive where soldiers got destroyed in Volos. I was with Tasos, my buddy from the camp, but he left early. Tula drank and danced with me. Well, she was dancing, I was just moving my legs. She was this loud and beautiful girl. Said she liked my moves on the floor. We didn’t kiss or make out until dawn, when they kicked us out. I said I’d walk her to Kartali, where she said she lived, because Ermou Street was....Ermou Street. She laughed, said I did not need to, I shouldn’t worry about her. But it was still coming down, so I gave her my windbreaker. Outside the disco, I tried to kiss her. “Only in the middle of the rain,” she said.

I reached the phone outside my father’s bedroom and, quietly, I called Tasos to score a lift to Volos and hung out with my Tula again. I told him she was it. “Let’s go find her, Tool,” is all Tasos said.

Half an hour later, he raised hell in the front yard on his 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 Tasos to quiet down through the kitchen window, but… I threw my jacket on and rushed out.

“Jump on, already!” Tasos yelled full of joy; always, even in the camp, for no reason, stupid, if you ask me. Then of course the MT even in the mud-spattered rims was shining new. No second-hand there, no sir. I had to pause and take it in. His bike was the dream. “Get on, Tool! The girl’s beautiful,” he said over the running engine. Tell me’bout it. “And if some pimples picks her up before we get there, I’ll do you instead.”

Took me another second to register Tasos in a rider’s jacket. I was not used to him in regular clothes, we met in our uniforms. He looked a bit funny, too young to be riding a brand new bike, but he was still handsome, maybe even more, if that was possible. “I’ll fuck you first,” I said and straddled on. I belted around his waist and locked my soles on the foot-pegs. We roared and spread filth all over Bailas’s truck. Soon Souvli was behind us.

The air was clear. I let my head back and my nostrils filled with oxygen, giving me a sweet Tula headache. You're surrounded by regulars and soldiers at the disco. Youve 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, 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! Tighter! Grab tighter,” Tasos yelled, as we were about to snake through a school of mud holes. We had taken 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 spare their tires from heat and earthquake cracks, the cracks that broke my ass on the back of the bike. It was no man’s land, but everybody’s land; grafittied factories, hooliganed trainstops, and quarries that doubled as drive-in brothels for Larissa punks at nights. Tasos zigzaged through washed down rocks and once again I shut my eyes. When I opened them, a show had began. White stones sparkled after the rain, and greens jumped out of fallen walls. Gypsy women’s silk frocks swept the mud as they sat on white plastic chairs breastfeeding their infants. We slalomed the street ponds raising walls of water. Kids threw stones at us, and dogs chased us. At the perfect moment, Tasos raised his hand and gave the guard at the entrance of our camp the μούτζα, the finger. I tried to do the same. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” Tasos shouted amused. “Put your hands around my waist! Malaka! Grab my waist!”

We locked the MT outside Seychelles. Tasos was smiling, always. That’s when it hit me that asking him for a lift was probably a mistake. Tula would see right through my no-wheels snag. Plus, Tasos was the stud, so she’d go for him anyway. Then again, those forty nights we bunk-bedded, Tasos was solid. He covered up for the smaller guy and even spoke up for me once. I ended up talking to him about the shithole called Souvli, and Bailas’ belt. It just so happened that Tasos was not that different. His father never got it together after he did time for stealing soccer bets, and his mother raised him with this rich creep who showered Tasos with gifts but hit on every single one of his girlfriends. Maybe the handsome would take the high road if we were both into the same girl. Whatever, it was too late. We checked our hair at the bike’s mirror and walked in.

We found you seated on the sofa by some dark mirrors stirring your drink with its umbrella. I looked away, I had to, you were my Farah Fawcett. Barflies cursed at the PAOK-AEK game on the TV at the bar. From the corner of my eye I caught the lowlife with the hearing aid that delivered the meats at our kitchens giving us a look. He talked for hours with our Sergeant (yes, the motherfucker who got a boner by making our lives hell), and I knew that I would come to regret this night. But I had a whole week of leave ahead of me, which seemed like a year, so, fuck the butcher, the Sergeant, and the army too.

“Hi, ” you said, chewing your gum.

“You remember my army bud, Tasos?”

“Airforce,” Tasos threw. I gave him the what-the-fuck.

You watched Tasos like you had forgotten meeting him the night before, or how good he looked. You handshaked. Then no one spoke, which was weird. Finally Tasos asked if we were ready for Screwdrivers. You had a drink in front of you, but sure. He walked to the bar just as a waitress approached, a Tula look alike but without your class. When you pointed at the bar, she rolled her eyes and left.

So there we were. “Αντε, καλο χειμωνα!—Come on, happy winter!”—the classic cheer, but something wasn’t clicking. The three of us, this two-on-one, was not taking off. To start with I sucked at banters. You picked up on that and got in the driver’s seat before Tasos could hijack us to his stupid bike brag. You complained about the storm, the humidity on your hair, and about how for some reason you couldn’t leave your home. You went on about the prime minister and PAOK’s coach on TV while the whole time you focused on me, “Don’t you agree Vagos?” your big eyes telling me to pay attention, to pass the test.

Raki shots arrived. “Dance with me,” you said. “Only if Tasos claps on his knees, ” I responded. You winked at the dj and a zeibekiko came up. I did a shot, then another, and started my moves under Loizos’ tune. It was a solo dance. Tasos clapped bended on one knee, encouraging me, giving me right to boast, and I did it until your laugh gave me permission to get silly. I picked up a chair and tried the glass on my head. You dug “my funk,” you said, and my pendant that “snaked from shoulder to nipple.” You looked happy. Then, swear God, you told Tasos to fetch your brand of cigarettes all the way from the docks. You said that casually like asking him for another drink. He froze. He studied me, telling me how hard I was suddenly fucking him. But within seconds he found the ridiculous request funny, a boot camp joke that he’d be rewarded for down the road. He even threw a cool why-not shrug which made my knee shake. I was scared to be alone with you, but Tasos was already walking.

“Too pretty. He’d ruin our night. Whatever you do, don’t bore me,” you said back at the sofa. A yellow Chiclets box appeared. You were already chewing, but popped another. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept reading and rereading your name at your gold bracelet: T-u-l-a. You pointed at my palm, its lines, talked about life length and a sharp turn, and two pieces of gum on my hand; you were a magician. The MT coughed outside; starting and dying, starting and dying. This made no sense, it was a new bike. Maybe Tasos was Morse-coding me F-U, F-U like we did at the camp. In my panic I saw myself running out, chasing him for a lift back, anywhere, but your eyes got warmer. You let a quick laugh. “Oh, just relax will you? I like you. You wear a corduroy jacket. You have green eyes, like my brother’s. A German face.”

Shockingly, “I got no money,” escaped from my mouth.

You took your time. “Drinks are on me as long as we disco-dance,” you said. Tasos drove off. “More shots,” you shouted to the waitress who was resting with her elbows on the bar. She pretended she didn’t hear you, but you were oblivious to stuff like that. “Have you been to Saloniki?” you asked me.

“Yes! For my army papers.”

“Have you been to Athens?”

“Twice. To see my mother.”

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

“You need to grow up!” you fired back. To the waitress: “My change!” But Springfield was blasting in the empty room, and the waitress made an I-can’t-hear-you gesture.

The dj adds some extra beat, and you begin to dirty dance me. The floor is open. For a solid guy, apparently, I have moves. I crack you up. I am confused and drunk on your sweet perfumed sweat, soaked deep into your fur scurf that you wrap around my neck. Take my fucking wallet. I don’t care. Steal my money. Choke me, kill me, just fuck me first you thief. Flashes of me slapping Dimitri make me lose my rhythm, but a zeibe-disco comes up, so I swing flying above a stool, which makes you giggle, and me hard. I lean in and lick your skin, I’m practically raiding as you mount the sofa to escape. You wear no underwear and your skirt bares your shaved loosened spot on my face. You try to pull down the cloth always laughing, my cue to march on, you cover your pussy, my pussy, so I strap my hands around your ass to lock you on the sofa. I can hear the barflies clapping on, and I want to get you wet, lick you and drink you in and out and every way. You slap my face, which turns my dick olivewood and I have to fuck you right then and there because I’m gonna cum no matter what in my fucking pants. Then you slap me again harder, and I lose my first shots. “Stop!” you yell, and I do because I’m loving this, you, so fucking much.

You pulled yourself together and glimpsed at the barflies like expecting them to tell you what to do next. I didn’t give a fuck about those losers. They were the ones calling you the go-to-lay for film crews from Athens, 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 fur stores that you modeled for in Larissa. These guys didn’t get you, they didn’t deserve you, although you probably had fucked every singleone of them, but that was what I liked about you: you were all out. You were the fuck-you-and-what-you-think-of-me daredevil in this quicksand. You were who you were. And I wanted to do something to settle everything, and give you your respect. So I grabbed the ashtray from the table and held it above my head like a crown, slowly, replaying you getting crowned Miss Thessaly at that disco beauty pageant in Larissa, the crown that earned you the right to speak your mind to all the valley goons. I saw a flash in your eyes as you weighed on this, on me. And then your husky laugh was back, and the tension was over. With the ashtray balanced on my chest, I slouched next to you on the sofa relieved, and the bar went back to watching the game.

The dj pointed at me. You're in the army now / Oh, oh you're in the army / now. All smug, I turned sideways but you were no longer there. Don’t know why, I looked back at the bar and saw the meat guy sign-talking our way, his index finger tapping on his watch. You were behind me by the bathroom door. You looked at him calmly, reassuringly. Then you gave me an air kiss.

Maybe out of guilt for stealing my cash the night before, or maybe because you liked me, you kept buying, until—drunk, hungry and horny—we threw ourselves into your Fiat. I needed to eat something before your pussy, so how about the gyros kiosk on the highway. No, you had different plans. “One more stop before souvlaki,” you said while your face wondered if you had said the right thing, But you didn’t change you mind. You cranked up Marinela on the radio, singing along. I joined and we both laughed. “Maybe you do need food,” you said softly, and I fell in love.

Right where the Velestino road cuts through the gas station with the caged wolves, you found an opening into the fields. I had seen that dirt path before but never paid any attention, taking it as someone’s access to the crops. Your sharp right made the wolves growl. We were in the middle of the black now, the only rattled light was the Fiat struggling in the mud. I almost opened the door to push. “Sit tight!” you called, and I got instantly hard again. I cracked the window to ease things some, but it was too cold and I rolled it back up. We didn’t need to hide farther, I could have fucked you right there in the car.

“The hells’re we going?”

“I said, one more stop before gyro.”

Behind the bushes and the dead sunflowers, a low brick house appeared. A shack with no windows but a small opening above the door, letting out a spot into the dark. “Get this,” I muttered.

We joined the cars parked around the shed. An old man seated on a tub at the lot was half asleep under his coat. 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 pay? Don’t be a bad drunk.”

“Fuck it,” I whispered and scratched my crotch, a habit stronger than my drinking. Stumbling out of the car, thunder and lightning made my spine and knee bite. The storm was coming back.

You walked past the old man, who suddenly was standing by the door. I followed you and he followed us in a puke-green room. David Bowie shouted on a speaker above a bead curtain that hid a second room where some kind of commotion was underway, like a security alarm was off, or 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 this big Macedonian I’ve seen it all face.

“Oh, I brought a friend…” you tried to play things down, 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… Still, the old man kept reading me.

“How about I just take you out in the fields and—”

“Shut up, Vagos!”

The man fixed two shots on a makeshift ticket-booth next to some poker chips. “To our new friend then,” he cheered warily. There was something fishy going on, but Greek Scotch was in front of me, and I was drunk. So I did both shots, ‘With Gasoline’ filling 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.

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!” Your lips ordered 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, the screams, 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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