It was impossible for my father to keep still. He crossed his legs, left foot over the right one, then the other way round. His fingers tapped against the arm of the armchair he was sitting in as if typing out an urgent message. He squinted at me, then said through thin lips, ‘No work today, Son?’
I went on playing Minecraft, building my house, weapons, traps and torches, shields to help me survive, fingers working at the keyboard like busy spiders spinning threads. I didn’t glance up at him. I knew he was itching to tell me off. After three tumblers of ouzo and a half a kilo jug of wine he had with his supper, he was set for an argument, as usual.
‘Done everything,’ I said.
‘Already?’ He sneered. ‘Quick as a flash, eh?’
I eyed him. He gazed out the window. The light post across the street made his eyes look glassy.
‘You know, I was talking to Thanasis, the neighbor – you’re in the same class with his son, aren’t you? Well, he told me that Gerasimos studies for five hours every day.’ He slurred.
‘He’s a nerd,’ I said.
‘He’s a hard working lad, I say. Wants to become a doctor.’
‘I don’t care. I can’t reach his marks. 15 out of 20 is my limit.’
‘Who says that?’ My father goggled at me. ‘We don’t pay all these tutors who come to our house for you to get a miserly 15. You won’t get into University with a 15!’
Damn! I landed a tight fist against the sofa cushion. Because of this stupid mob, damned creeper, which exploded near me, I lost loads of damned life points. And it destroyed my wall of blocks. And I have to answer to this old man barking over my head. ‘I will. I will. I don’t aim high, Dad. I don’t want to become a doctor. I won’t be pestered because I know my limits.’
At this father rose up, staggered to his feet and came closer. He shot me a murderous look and said, ‘Are you a coward, Son?’ His breath stank of alcohol. ‘Only cowards give up so easily.’ Things were getting bad, I could tell.
‘Dad,’ I said, looking up at him. ‘Leave me alone! I’ll…’ And it was then that his right hand landed stiff on my right cheek, making it pulse with stinging pain. I blinked again and again until my tears dried away.
Dad touched his forehead, as if testing it for a temperature, tottered back and shuffled to his bedroom. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m doing this for you. I’m sure you’re better than Gerasimos. I know you can make it.’ His voice boomed in the corridor.
I looked at the laptop screen. Damn! I’d just fallen off a cliff, underestimated the height. Lost all my health points now. I’d have to respawn and look for my lost equipment. Damn!
The Wedding Picture
‘Oh, I do, I do! It fits me fine but… I can’t afford it, I’m afraid. Another time.’ Yiota told the village peddler, Mr. Giorgos, on the phone, letting out a throaty ‘Bye’.
Dina was sitting at the sofa, her Geography schoolbook on her lap, staring at her parents’ wedding photo hanging on the living room wall. Opposite her the setting sun illuminated the balcony door. Black and white, the outline of the newlyweds blurred, as if penciled by kids, ruler-stiff bodies, the constipated smile of Gioconda on both faces. She liked the dress, the flowery lace along the neckline and the hem of the sleeves and the skirt. It was champagne-white, rather than paper-white and starched, like cardboard. Yiota had told her that it wasn’t actually her real wedding dress, or Dina’s dad’s own trouser suit. ‘No money for such luxuries’, she’d said. They were both the result of the photographer’s artistic endeavours. Common practice those days – the late 60s. Like arranged marriages. The kind they had.
‘Never seen him before our wedding day,’ Yiota would tell her best friend. ‘We smelt each other like sniffing dogs on our first night together. I would’ve taken a better pick,’ she’d say.
Yiota pattered out through the balcony door and leaned against the rails after hearing a car rev – for the umpteenth time that afternoon. ‘Ohi. Not him,’ she whispered. Then the phone rang. Yiota leapt across the room and picked it up. ‘Right,’ she said and clanked the receiver on its cradle as if dropping a steamy-hot casserole lid. ‘Your dad won’t be coming to dinner. Going out with friends,’ she mumbled. Hardly had she slumped down in the armchair, when she sprang up and dashed to the phone again. With firm fingers she dialed, took a deep breath and said, ‘Ne, Giorgo, I’m taking the dress. Bring it over tomorrow morning, when hubby is at work, you know…’ She let out a fake, girlish giggle and hung up.
Dina glanced over at the wedding picture. Whitish dress against blackish suit, a bouquet of bright red roses in the bride’s grip. Added by the photographer, of course. A cluster of scarlet blooms against the smudgy space between the couple she’d never noticed before.
‘Would you rather we went inside, darling?’ I ask Yianni, seeing him raise the collar of his shirt against the nightly October breeze. I take a swig from my cup of Greek coffee and wince at the bitterness of it. Could never get used to the way he drinks it.
‘No, no. It’s fine, honey. I like your balcony. The view over to the playground is nice.’ He pinches at the bushy basil I keep in an earthenware pot on the iron table and sniffs noisily. Then he rolls it with his fingers into a small ball and flicks it back into the pot. Just a slight stir of the leaves is enough to release their sweet smell in the air, redolent of open, sunny fields.
I look at the rose bush in another, bigger pot to our left. Leaves dry, brownish, the petals withered and limp, like wet, crepe paper flowers.
Yianni follows my glance and says in a scientific tone, ‘Roses need plenty of soil and light; they need a garden. Can’t live in a pot on a Northern balcony like this.’ I think they can, with proper care. Or it might be so for specific kinds of roses, I’m not sure about it. He frowns at the crinkled leaves scattered on the floor and the smudges of liquid iron feed that have turned the white tiles brown. ‘That’s why I don’t have any flowers or plants on my own balcony. Neat and clean in all weathers. And I don’t intend to have any, really.’ Hs sips at his coffee, then smacks his lips in gratification.
I stand up and shove with my right foot a dead rosebud under the table, go to the rectangular wooden planter and bend over to smell the tall, leafy stems of mint I planted there last summer. One single seedling and now it’s turned into a large, sprawling plant which has taken over everything else that’s in there, the carnations, the pansies, the chrysanthemums.
I turn to Yianni with a grin and start plucking at the mint behind my back. I throw the dead plants over the balcony and onto the empty street.
Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and two kids. She holds a BA (Hons) in Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her stories have appeared in print and online in several literary magazines. Her first short story collection entitled ‘Black Greek Coffee’ is available from Amazon.
All work is the rightful property of the author and is distributed with their permission