By Richard Bleil
The room is not much bigger than the bed, with a closet, and meager furnishings. Outside the sun is bright. It’s also hot, with the musky after smell of sex.
They lay embracing one another. He stares off at the ceiling, seeing faces in the plaster, one arm around her shoulder with the other supporting his head, as she gently plays with the sweat beads on his chest. Eventually he moves the arm from behind his head, to further his embrace of her, as he gently kisses her forehead, tasting the salt of her damp skin. “Thank you,” he whispers.
She smiles. “For what?” she asks.
“Everything,” he answers sweetly in his thick accent. “For today, for last night, for agreeing to be my bride, for marrying me here in my old village.”
She smiles, and wraps her hand around his torso. She looks up, and kisses him. “You’re welcome,” she replies. She tries to think of the right words to tell him she feels the same, but they don’t quite come, and would ruin the moment if they did.
Eventually, he sighs deeply. “It needs to be done,” he says, and stirs to get out of bed.
“What?” she asks as she watches him.
“You’re in Greece now,” he answers while dressing. “This is an old, and very traditional cottage. It’s expected to hang the sheets outside the day after a wedding.”
She laughs. “But why?”
A sly smile crosses his lips. “Why, for the blood stain, of course.”
“It’s proof that you were a virgin on the wedding night; we need to display it proudly.”
Something instinctual makes her look at the sheet beneath her. “Um, you knew that I wasn’t a virgin,” she says with a smile. “So, what now?”
“I know,” he replies a little more somberly. “That’s why I need to catch a pigeon.”
“You mean…for it’s blood?!?” she say shocked.
“I’m afraid so,” he says.
“NO!” she replies.
“It’s too ingrained,” he says, “but I swear, you don’t have to watch, and it will die quickly. We cut the head off on the sheets, then hang the sheets out for public display.”
“Oh, that’s DISGUSTING!” she insists.
“I know,” he says with shame in his voice, “but it’s tradition. I’ll be back soon.”
It’s still early. The air is crisp and cold, and it’s still dark out. He walks onto the stone walkway, looking over the low stone wall, past the trees and at the ocean beyond the cottage as its wave slowly and steadily punish the stones at the water’s edge. Armed with bread for bait, and a net, he turns towards the little park. “I should have done this last night,” he thinks to himself, worried that he might be seen.
The bench is wet with the morning dew. He wipes it off and sits down. He opens the bread, and throws the bread crumbs. “Come on,” he says softly, making clicking noises with this lips. “I promise it won’t hurt much…”
He sits back, and stares at the bread crumbs, thinking of how vanity can lead to such cruelty. The importance placed on a woman’s virginity never made sense to him, especially considering the role of men in the society in stealing it. He had been with his new wife for several years, and her past never meant anything to him beyond that it molded her into the woman that he loves. He remembers when he first saw her, how immediately drawn to her he felt. Surely she had many men interested in her over the years. This didn’t matter to him; he only wanted to be her last.
He sits, staring at the bread. He wonders about the double standards in society, the “shame” women face, and the “pride” over the loss of something as insignificant as virginity. It never made sense to him, and the double standard aggravated him.
He crosses his legs, staring at the bread. He thinks about the words of the Church, and wonders about the inconsistency. How God gave humans these wonderful joyous organs, and yet somehow forbade their use. He considers how sexuality can be used as a weapon by which to hurt one another, and wonders if this is the true sin.
He uncrosses his legs and leans on his knees, staring at the bread. The thinks about…staring at the bread.
He looks up. “Where are the pigeons?” he thinks to himself. He stands up, and takes more bread crumbs. Without even looking down, he adds the to the bread crumbs that are already there, staring up at the trees.
He begins to walk, looking for pigeons. He looks around constantly, periodically grabbing a few more bread crumbs, throwing them down, and calling for the pigeons to no avail. Slowly he walks through the park.
He stops suddenly. He listens carefully, and realizes that there are no songbirds. He hears the rustling of winds through the trees, but usually the air is filled with the songs of birds calling out to their mates. He looks around, skywards, and sees no birds whatsoever.
The silence finds its way to the pit of his stomach. Fear grips him, as he begins walking along, looking for avian life. Looking carefully, and wandering aimlessly, he finds himself near the Tsipis fence. “Oh, crud,” he thinks. He always avoided this fence; the Tsipis dog has always hated him, and charges the fence every time he has been near it, except…except today. Ordinarily, he thinks that maybe they were out with the dog, but…
He begins walking the fence lines, and sees several warning signs of dogs, but no sign of dogs. He turns northward, towards the Leontios sheep farm.
He looks into the field, and sees no sheep, and no shepherd dog. He turns towards town.
The streets are narrow, with houses pressed right up against the cobblestone street. He peers into the windows where he can, and sees nobody.
“If this were some kind of disaster,” he thinks to himself, “there would be bodies, animal cadavers.”
He realizes how long he has been gone, and decides to head back to the room. The eery silence mocks him every step of the way. On the path he decides to knock on a door, but nobody answers, and there is no sound of stirring. He tries several more doors.
The shops up ahead should be open now. He stops at the little cafe for coffee, only to find it had never opened. Neither had the bakery, or grocery store.
At the gas station, he walks into the store, open every hour of every day. Sure enough, it’s unlocked. The shelves are stacked with drinks and snacks. The overcooked hot dogs continue to rotate, now looking zombified, dried, black, burnt. He walks to the back, calling out for service, and hears nothing.
“It’s so strange,” he says, entering the room. “There are no animals, no peop…”
Her absence is all too noticeable. He cries out her name, and begins frantically searching the house, calling for her.
The last sound in the town is his own voice, as he runs out of the house, shouting her name until his voice, too, simply disappears.