The Arrival of Mitch and the Curse of the Smerna
The long awaited day of Mitch's arrival. Amarandi and I meet the Flying Dolphin and Mitch, looking very much like an American astronaut, steps into the sunshine. We take him to "The Hotel" for lunch and leave his gear at the room I had reserved for him. He gives us all the news from home which there is very little of, and a care package from my mother containing a few magazines, a pamphlet on improving your sex-life and best of all, an audio tape of my mother talking to us. Amarandi loves it and keeps talking back and asking my mother questions thinking she is on the phone. She falls asleep listening to it at nap-time. He also brought a copy of the USA Today Baseball Weekly, which I devour as soon as I get back to the house.
We plan to go diving at four but when he hasn't shown up by five I go alone. I swim down the coast and catch a few skaros and then return. Just as I come within sight of the village I catch sight of a very large smerna coming out of his hole. I circle around him and shoot from a safe distance, missing him by a mile. I feel like a cowardly fool. Somewhere inside I make the decision that I am going to catch this creature. It's not even a conscious decision but some animal hunting instinct that took over when I saw it in a vulnerable position. I could smell eel steaks sizzling in Katina's kitchen. I could see the look of respect as I walked through town with my giant catch. "Matheos the great fisherman!" they would chant as crowds lined the streets. Each fisherman would offer me his deepest thanks. That would be one less smerna to tear holes in their nets and eat their fish. Blinded by my impending glory I charge and fire at point blank range. I hit it. Uh, oh. Now what do I do?
First thing I do is swim to the surface and catch my breath. I had to have hit it in the head, but how badly was it wounded? I should go down and grasp the end of the spear and force it deeper, but what if he charges out and bites my hand off? I dive down and I jiggle the spear and it comes loose. I am trying to think about how I can remove the pile of stones piece by piece and get him out. I'm sure he is mortally wounded but I'm concerned about the aggressive nature of a giant, fatally injured, moray eel. For half an hour I carefully search for him. In the end I give up. Feeling very remorseful, I realized one thing for certain. I had used the wrong spear-tip, having been fishing for smaller fish I was using a trident. Had I been using my single tip with the metal flap that comes up after the spear has passed through the fish, I could have treated everyone at Katina's to eel dinner.
Not that everyone would eat eel. Most people are horrified and don't even want to talk about smerna. I tell a couple fishermen about my experience as I sit cleaning the other fish I had caught. They make a face and wave me away as if to say "Let's not speak of such unpleasant things." I think the idea that there are these blue snake-like creatures the size of small dinosaurs, with sharp teeth, swimming in the same waters as they do, makes them a bit uneasy. They'd rather not even think about it. If a fisherman climbs onto the dock with a giant grouper, he draws a crowd. With a smerna people avert their eyes. I think it's a form of denial, like when they say there are no sharks in Greece, even though there are sharks everywhere in the world. They go as far as to translate galeos (which is a type of shark) to "red snapper" on the menus in restaurants, like it is some kind of inside joke. No sharks here. Just six foot, man-eating, red snappers.
But I am depressed about shooting the smerna and worried that there is some curse that follows someone who kills one and does not eat it. What if this is the moment that changes my entire life and turns my joy-ride into a Greek tragedy?
We arrive at Katina's by nine and my octopus is grilling. I can smell it from down the street. We have several ouzos and the food starts coming. Niko the contractor sits with us for awhile but he has an engagement elsewhere. He drinks a few beers, some octopus, a fish or too, a couple more pieces of octopus, some fried eggplant and a bit of salad, and then leaves to have dinner in another village that is having a panagiri.
What happens next convinces me that indeed my life is in transition, probably due to the killing of the smerna. Mitch and I go to the bar and sit with James Crispy the artist, cousin Christina and her beautiful little friend. My friend Marina from Montreal sends us a couple shots of something green and we drink them down. From that moment I know I am no longer responsible for my actions, so anything goes. Mitch leaves and I stand up to say goodbye to anyone I know who is still in the bar. Maria and her husband Christos, the famous young artist, ask me to join them. Actually she asks me. He is stone sullen. She and I embark upon a long discussion of America as compared to Greece or from her point of view, why America is fucked up. Christos becomes bored and leaves, taking the baby, asleep in her stroller, with him. Maria asks me if I want another drink. I can see where this is leading so I decline. I just want water. When she finishes what must have been her last of many drinks I tell her I will walk her home, or half way. Of course we end up walking along the beach, and surprise of surprises, swimming naked.
I feel completely uncomfortable. I have let my macho instincts get me into this mess. I am shaking and my teeth are chattering as we swim around occasionally rubbing sensuously against each other underwater. I don't think it will come down to making love on the beach but I have a powerful desire to rub up against her warm body. I crave the sensation of new romance, but at the same time I flash on Amarandi and Andrea continuously. Maria definitely wants to take it a step further and several beyond. She tells me she had liked my smile from the moment she saw me. I admit I had been attracted to her as well. What were my first thoughts about her, she asks.
"I wanted to touch you," I tell her which sounds a little more innocent than what I had actually thought and it seemed I was about to get my wish.
"You can touch me now." she says. I reach over and touch her leg. She pulls herself close to me and the next thing I know we are caressing each other and holding each other close on the sand. As this goes on I feel my mind begin working at warp speed, thinking about Andrea, Amarandi, the smerna and what this all means. Before long I'm feeling as un-sensual as a man can feel while maintaining a hard-on.
"I want you to screw me." she says.
"I can't. I wouldn't feel right. I have a wife and a child." I tell her.
"I have a husband and three children," she counters.
"I shot a smerna," I tell her, hoping she'd understand
The words of Zorba flash in my head. "There is only one sin that God will not forgive and that is if a woman calls a man to her bed and he does not come. I know because a wise old Turk told me." I feel like a finely-tuned human disaster. I begin the process of extrication. She begins to get defensive.
"You think I am a whore."
"No. I think you are an artist and a beautiful sensual woman. I want to do it but I feel guilty enough about what has happened already." I tell her.
"But nothing has happened. We haven't even kissed!" She is right in a way. Though I wouldn't call our behavior innocent, we hadn't crossed any of the invisible lines that I told myself I wouldn't cross. We had just shown each other some tenderness, obviously something we weren't getting from our mates. So, why am I feeling like I felt when I was in the operating room during Andrea's cesarean? I am also getting that "Fatal Attraction" vibe as I begin to realize how drunk she actually is. My midnight swim was beginning to look like the loose thread that would unravel my entire life. The curse of the smerna.
We don't even kiss goodbye.
"We'll be friends," she says sadly as she walks down the dark street to her home at the Love Nest. Even her last words sound ominous to me.
I walk home and climb into bed, my body racing with adrenaline. I had no idea I was so uptight. Maybe I should have done it, just to go through with it and deal with the emotions. But what if it was habit-forming? I think about my friend Rocco who had built a small financial empire with his beautiful wife Anetta and their wonderful children. Now he was living in some piece of shit apartment in Trieste with the girl he had left Anetta for, trying to put his ruined life back together. I realize the momentary pleasure of having sex with another woman is not worth jeopardizing my relationship with Andrea and Amarandi, no matter how shaky that relationship seems to be.
Never again will I let myself to be put in such a position. Never again would I follow my baser instincts. I'll stop drinking. I'll spend all my free time playing with Amarandi. I'll be a loving husband to Andrea. I'll go back to America and work hard to make enough money to fix the bathroom. I'll join the Hellenic/American Association. I'll play golf. I will become responsible, once and for all.
It's too bad I didn't think about all of this on the beach with Maria. If I had known I would be making all these sacrifices I would have fucked her to make them worth it.