For ten euro, you’ll rest easy aboard Posidonia, the smoothest ship in all of Schisma. Happily we’ll sail to Kalydon, just twenty minutes across the sea, and through the main gate of the island we’ll walk past a field of wildflowers, maybe pause for a picture by the old fort. If you wish to hear of the Ottoman rule, I am the woman for you. I’ll tell you how during the revolt of 1878, Cretan revolutionaries took everything in the name of Christ but couldn’t touch Kalydon. You will learn the best of history from me, Anna. A perfect host, my facts lined up like so many pencils on a table.
But—and you must promise here not to tell my secret—if you can spare just a little more, say, twenty euro, we’ll throw away this Kalydon business and call it what it is: Spinalonga, the last leper colony to close in all of Europe. The main gate is for tourists with cameras swinging from sunburned necks. You look too smart for that, so for just twenty-five euro we’ll enter Dante’s Gate, the very tunnel the lepers were forced to shuffle through. Can you imagine this? After the curse from God and years of living hidden in caves, they are brought to the island, no idea of what’s next. What would you think? Of course death! You are almost Greek, yes? I swear it, you think like one of us. But instead of death the government stuffed them full of bread, even made their pockets fat with social security.
It wasn’t so bad. Everyone here will sing you the same song: Spinalonga rang out during the day with classical music—you know, Mozart and the like. At night they gathered at the theater for the latest George Tzavellas pictures. And don’t think Aphrodite forgot about the people. My own great-grandfather met his bride there. They even had children. No worry: children are pure, close to God. Most of them never caught the curse.
Look how I tell you too much, and without even a down payment! I ask only thirty euro for the real story, the one you won’t hear on these docks, in our restaurants. Sure, you can save your money now and sip your wine later, happy in knowing so little. Go. The sunset is like a painting, and not everyone needs the truth. Believe me, I know.
My great-grandfather didn’t want to know. Stavros was his name. This means cross—religious, not angry. My family was at the time living in Heraklion, the biggest city in Crete. His father ran a kafeneion before coffee was sold on every corner. They did well, but just when Stavros was set for his duty in the Merchant Marines, the doctors took one look at the patches on his back and they knew.
And that’s enough of the story, friend. Thank you so much for listening, but Anna has to move on. What’s this? I say, forty euro is most generous! Come this way—we mustn’t let the others hear. Stavros wept into his palms that night. He was one of the first taken, you know? In the early morning, the sun barely awake, men came wearing gloves made for melting steel and shoved him into the back of a truck. This is the only picture of him that I’ve seen. A sad, scared boy—barely a man at eighteen—one hand raised in goodbye.
Already I tell you too much. Even with your most generous contribution, I am supposed to spread Spinalonga’s praise. They had it good! So much culture! But the truth that poisons us all is that it was a prison. Everyone on this lying island knows it. Night after night, the people of Schisma sit at the taverna and stare at Spinalonga. From this distance it looks like any other island—beautiful, green—and for a moment we can pretend that we never knew someone sentenced to death. Our business, of course, is selling happiness, but when you go and see the crumbling homes and desecrated graves, each unmarked, something inside you grows heavy, your stomach full of stones.
Tell me: could you speak this story over and over without spilling some truth?
Better still, how could you put a price on such a thing?
Prix Fixe Dating Menu,
(choice of two)
Coffee @ Obviously Christian Coffee Shop
Slurp a fishbowl of Arabic coffee. Mumford & Sons, the music so loud you can only nod at one another, smile in frustration. He points to the ceiling—he means the music—so fake liking the band because his fingers tap out a rhythmic Morse code on his knee. Watch him untangle his skinny-jeaned legs to drop a dollar into the donation box, the crucifix barely a watermark on its façade.
Walk around Lake Ella
Pretend you like nature, walking, the thick invisibility of pollen. Fake fitness. Pause to pull your ankle to your ass, feel the stiff burn of your quadricep. Dodge loose toddlers, joggers, the angry Muscovy ducks. Graze hands, awkward at first, but kind enough to sink your weight into as you laugh off the scrape of accidental touch.
Dog Park w/Glory Hole
Try to say witty things about dogs. Fail, quips bland as notes about the weather. Tell him you heard about a glory hole sting. Yes, at this very park. Take the dare. Discover it for yourself, the cutout perversion in the last stall in the men’s room. Feel first a flash of sadness at the desperation that drives a man, second curiosity at what kind of tool cuts metal so smoothly that a cock is safe in there.
(choice of one)
Sharon Jones @ The Moon
Use a curling iron for the first time since prom, leave two distinct burns on your neck like retro hickeys. Remember the hickey you got after skipping prom and going right to a hotel room. Steal make-up ideas from a website you’re embarrassed to name, redo the eyeliner three times, decide you’ll never look like a cat. Buttress cleavage like a Dali painting. Grind your hips into fingers draped at your waist, the room filled with the sounds of Soul, but never stop scanning for people you like better than your date.
Gun Show @ The Fairgrounds
Go for the same reason you once paid to see pig races. Take mental notes. Cringe at children cradling handguns, at the size of artillery for sale. Worry that he’s a Republican. Wonder if a taxi will come all the way out here and devise a lie. On the way out, buy a bumper sticker that reads, REPUBLICANS: WORKING LIKE CRAZY TO SUPPORT THE LAZY. Know that your friends will find it ironic though it was sold in earnest. Find the same bumper sticker a year later when you pack up your apartment and move to another red state.
Horse Exhibition @ Red Hills
Note the differences between Northern and Southern money. Count white pick-up trucks in the lot. Thirty-nine. Search desperately for a beer tent. Instead, sip sweet tea from Styrofoam, dig your nails into it to spell out “Help Me.” Ask questions about horses. Don’t listen to the answers. Fantasize about stealing a horse, making the jump to the saddle in a graceful stride, and ride until you cross the Mason-Dixon. Realize how tall horses are, how limited your skills.
(choice of one)
Craft Beers @ Proof
Show off your hoppy knowledge of microbrews, their ABVs so high you buzz two pints in. Talk movies but reach an impasse when he doesn’t know who Paul Thomas Anderson is. Out of boredom and, more honestly, loneliness, end with sex in the parking lot, your knees bruising as they knock against the unused safety belts in the backseat.
Beers & Shots @ Poor Paul’s
Order cheap whiskey and spin the wheel to win fake money. Celebrate the win by tossing the cash into the air, watch him scramble to grab it, annoyed by your recklessness. Play pool. Win the first one with a smooth run from the break to the eight, but see his scowl and throw the next two games to make the night easier. Feel your stomach buckle when he asks, meanly, “How could you miss that shot?” End by excusing yourself to use the restroom and walking alone into the warm, palm-treed night.
Guinness & Jameson’s @ Finnegan’s
Bring sunglasses. Fight for elbowroom with meatheads and sorority sisters. Drain the shelves of Irish, drive home with one clamped palm over your left eye, his warm hand steady on your thigh. At your apartment, pull out a map and with the room spinning, plop a finger down. Announce your adventurous spirit. Wake up on your hardwood, body stiff as iron, your date long gone. Slip on a used condom on your way to your shower, where dizzy you worry that this is the sum of it all.