S I WAS COMING back from school that noon, it suddenly started showering and I got sopping wet. Afraid to take my usual way, under the lofty pines, I chose instead the unsheltered road that wound up in the village. Just as I reached the house, the sun came out again. I climbed up and over the high gate with its wet oleanders. In the orchard everything was serene, clean, fresh, bright green. The pear trees still had some of their blossoms; thick drops of rain, shiny like beads, hung from their branches. The last rainstorm of the year, I thought to myself. Then I saw Eleni. She was coming from the garden with a large white rose in her hand. She was walking towards me slowly, her hair crowned by the sunbeams, her perfectly round breasts jutting out from under her school uniform.
I had been looking for a pretext to take hold of them. Eleni, I inquired, why don’t you let me give you a few more roses! My father has planted some bright yellow ones behind that lilac bush. I only want your Geology notebook, she answered. I’ll give it back to you on Friday. She took it and said, as she was walking off: Thank you very much. On Friday her brother brought it back to me. He was a hirsute twelve-year-old kid, two heads taller than I was, with a deep, monotonic voice.
One noon I was sitting under a tree, reading. Next to me was a jug full of water. It was hot out and every so often I drank a little water, then sprinkled a bit on the ground as well. The soil had cracked into large, flat pieces which, when I poured water on them, would disintegrate, releasing a rich, sweet fragrance.
I heard steps on the gravel and when I looked up saw Eleni coming, decked out in a bizarre, multicolored, flowered dress. I’d like to borrow your Geology notebook again, she said, gazing at me with a distracted smile, at the same time dallying back and forth and reaching out to grasp the branch of the tree. I haven’t got it, I told her. Takis is going to bring it back to me later this afternoon. Come on over and we can read through it together. Eleni took hold of the branch, gripped it firmly with both hands, cut quite an enticing figure by nonchalantly and awkwardly stretching out her body. Then she jumped down, gave her head a shake, straightened her hair, sauntered off. Don’t expect me, she shouted back.
Later that afternoon I took my books and went out to the vineyard. The grapevine shoots had already begun to emit their familiar fragrance. A grapeseed by St. Marina’s Day, a grape by St. Elias’, as my grandmother used to say. This brought Eleni’s own two little grapeseeds to mind… And there she came, wearing a tight, khaki-colored shirt, a white blouse and no brassiere. How about if we ate a few figs? I asked, and escorted her to the edge of the vineyard. The first figs, the frakasannes as they were called, had ripened. They were as big as oranges, with beads of coagulated, coffee-colored honey dangling from their holes. I had Eleni sit down, brought her a few figs, then undid a button or two of her white blouse. Her right breast slipped out – a little less round than I had imagined, its nipple somewhat conical. I reached out as she leaned her entire body towards me. Frap! There was a noise near the fence. Her kid brother appeared, tall, rangy. Eleni hurriedly buttoned herself back up, opened a book, read. My legs were trembling. Her brother greeted us with a bow, bounded up the fig tree, began munching on the frakasannes. Eleni avoided looking at me, turned the pages of the book, every now and then smoothed out her skirt. After a while she got up and together we walked further on. We jumped down into a huge pit hidden amidst the grapevines. It had been dug during the Occupation as a cache for copperware and weapons. Again I endeavored to take hold of Eleni’s breast, but she drew back, because you get so carried away, she complained. Eleni gathered up her books, called her brother, left. Slowly he climbed down out of the tree, scrutinized me rather mysteriously, then walked off without saying good-bye, all the time munching on his frakasannes.
From the book Toothpaste with chlorophyll / Maritime hot baths, Stories by Elias Papadimitrakopoulos,Translated from the greek by John Taylor, Santa Maria, Asylum Arts, 1992.
Elias Papadimitrakopoulos, one of the most important Greek prose writers, was born in 1930 in Pyrgos (Eleia), Greece. He has published many collections of short stories among others Toothpaste with Chlorophyll, Maritime Hot Baths and The General Archivist. As a film and literary critic Papadimitrakopoulos is a regular contributor to several leading literary periodicals, and a selection of his criticism appeared in 1983: Parakimena. A second collection of articles appeared in 1987: Boustrophedon. He lives in Athens and, during the summer, on the island of Paros.
John Taylor’s first collection of short stories, The Presence of Things Past, was published in 1992 by Story Line Press. He writes about European literature for the Times Literary Supplement (London) and the San Francisco Chronicle. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1952, he has lived in France since 1977.