The International Writers Magazine: Lotus Land
Requiem for a Hero - Tiresias
“Elas, Elas!” yells a workman in black, attempting to lead a donkey with wooden planks tied across its back and panniers on either side full of terracotta bricks. With a long stick another man prods the dumb beast that at this juncture seems more intelligent than its human tormentors. The load is too wide to get through the gate.
A heated discussion begins between the two men that quickly builds to a raging argument between them and the woman hanging out of her second storey window. Her cries are shrill, portentous. Her arms flail about frantically, this action, it appears, serving only to fan the fires of dispute. Obscenities and accompanying gestures fly up at her. Hisses. To these she responds by hurling down a potted geranium that explodes at the feet of the workers. The donkey brays.
“You see, Steven,” Kapetano explains, “now they want to bring the donkey in through the break in the wall where the woman has her garden. She foresees its destruction.”
“To which she violently objects.”
“Yes, of course. Not to kid you, this war could go on all day. Forever, even. So, my friend, how long you stay?"
"Magalee, yes? Dollars to a donut, she soon has you by the short and curly."
"Yeah, right! But not just Magalee. Chania as well.”
“The Old Port, like a home for you, no? Come I make you some java.”
Sitting on low benches in the cool of The Stone and Thread, we sip our coffee. A Cohen tape unwinds in the background. When A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes plays, I give Kapetano the word on David Montgomery.
“Like a hero to you, Montgomery, no? Also like a father.”
I nod, then get into a little of Montgomery’s history to satisfy Kapetano’s curiosity, including the narratives of his experiences in Crete. Abridged versions.
“No doubt about it, my friend, they operate in this town, these secret men. Akrotiri is the listening post for Europe. Also there is the NATO base.”
“Real enough, I’m sure, in the scheme of things. But how can someone like me be certain about what happened to someone like him? According to Magalee’s father, who has obvious connections in the big world, Montgomery was reported as killed in Prague. Maybe he’s just dead to a point, if you see what I’m getting at. Don’t these spook agencies have a way of keeping the truth hidden?”
“From when I was a kid with knees only as high as a cicada, I learn this truth. From Omiros, who tells us about Odysseus, a guy with many disguises, more than you can poke sticks at. It is the oldest story that shows us how to escape death, and death also has many faces, many forms, many as scary as hell. A great hero, Odysseus, but full of bullshit stories about how he is a great hero. Other heroes, also. Telemachus, he goes to Nestor who tells stories about the war, and Menelaus, who also tells stories, how he wrestles with the Old Man from the Sea to learn the truth.”
“Yes, Proteus. This old bugger has many disguises. Creatures, trees.”
“A shape shifter.”
“Whatever you understand. Maybe this is Montgomery. Maybe he plays Odysseus who tells big lies to those dumb enough to listen, and maybe is full of bullshit about what happens to him in Crete.”
Kapetano raises an interesting point, though at bottom I accept what Magalee hypothesizes about Montgomery’s fate—a loose cannon, he had been eliminated by his own people. After kicking this theory about and a few others as well, I leave Kapetano to his Homer.
Theotokopoulou leads me up to Zambeliou, where, stopping briefly outside the shop by The Minoan Café, I spy Magalee busy about the loom. On our way there earlier, when I asked Magalee what lies on the other side of the curtain, and if Montgomery had ever been there, she brushed her lips across my cheek and answered, "There is no mystery, mon cher Steven Spire. No one here plays Penelope, certainly not I. It leads from the tourist shop into the workroom where is located the loom.”
No mystery, only hers.
The Old Port beckons: I make my way around the harbour, and out along the mole to Faros, the old Venetian lighthouse. Here the sea attempts to wash away a mentor's memory. The sky is clear, the sun intense, and the wind stirring: the day refuses to be anything but beautiful.
A sleek red yacht (Ogygia Or Bust out of the New York City Yacht Club) exits the harbour. Crewmembers wave, and I wave back. The wine-dark sea they seek today is a brilliant aqua blue.
From Mandraki’s high bastion wall, boys hurl stones down on the remains of a caique, the emblematic eye from the prow in particular. Suddenly, fighter jets thunder overhead banking to the east; they disappear like Icarian phantoms, and reappear minutes later, having broken through the line where seas and skies defy the laws of nations, ominous winged creatures forever pursuing bogies, forever awe inspiring, deafening and terrifying, at peace only with shadows fixed below their bellies and the air stilled under their wings.
At the Pan Pub & Bacchus Bar, I order a drink and watch a group of Russian sailors sit in jovial contemplation of their lotus land surroundings.
"Hey, malaka!" New York Nick yells as he swaggers over from the sailors. "Got something here can cheer you up. Honey sweet.”
“Another day perhaps.”
Aeolian harps, footwear, ikons, divinities, hats, and leather goods: Skridlof Lane, where a sea of vacationers swirls about me as I stop to plan my route home.
“Cheap tourist!” the man at Pera Leather Bags shouts. “You insult me!”
“I was told to barter,” the cheap tourist tells me. We part ways at the top of Halidon, he crossing over to the Cretabank, his windbreaker and baggy shorts billowing all about him, and I not sure how I got there waiting for the lights to change.
A girl stepping off a bus asks: “Where’s Circe’s disco?” Her voice is like a song amidst the noise from those chomping loudly on gyro pitas nearby.
“Old Port,” I tell her.
She smiles. The tip of her little beak of a nose wiggles slightly. She wears a string of white flowers in her hair, and around her small waist a belt embedded with blue polished stones.
“That way?” she asks, pointing, and all heads turn, mine included.
“No, that’s south,” I say, getting up and pointing across the street. “Go through the park, follow Halidon to The Old Port.”
“You’ve been sweet. Thank you.”
“Circe’s doesn’t open till late at night, but then you can dance till dawn.”
“I’m just to meet someone there.”
She waves from the other side, her fingers fluttering in the dappled light.
Green lights lead me into an area of Chania dominated by flower shops. In a dusty yard, labourers occupy themselves cutting, polishing, and stacking slabs of marble. I follow along a high white wall.
By the gate, some blind beggar addresses me. I have no idea what his words mean, but I place a couple of coins into his extended hand. He points with a long bony finger as though he understands perfectly why I have come so far out of my way.
Following cats and black clad granddames, I make my way down the main thoroughfare of a city built of white marble. All along I read names, dates, and ages at the time of death. Housed in headstones behind sliding glass doors, flames of remembered love flicker among ikons and photographs. Flowers are everywhere, some alive to beauty, some dead and rotting in overstuffed receptacles along with crushed water containers and empty cigarette packs. Among the plane trees, pigeons flutter from limb to limb.
In a stand of cypress trees I sit a while, watching a worker move piles of gravel. A new grave is being built. He rolls back and forth, all sweat and Sisyphean determination, pushing his loaded wheelbarrow ahead of him, dragging it back empty behind him.
An old woman shuffles along to a tap, splashes water into her plastic bottle, and shuffles back. The front of her dress is soaked, which makes me resentful, not about her devotion, just about things one cannot control.
I leave her to her flowers and observances, and wander back along another path toward the exit. At the end of the row stands a monument with anchors carved on its headstone: Captain Shaw, born in Canada, died in Australia, married to a Cretan girl who died in London. What journeys we make to end up residents of the oldest, most enduring city on earth.
And then I spot them, a little above eye level on the adjacent monument: three skulls on a glassed-in shelf. Faithful reminders of life in the land of the dead.
Before heading to the gate, I give Montgomery his epitaph: I want for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free. No, that would be grave robbing. More befitting the man I knew: What is a life?
“Kalo taxidi,” the beggar says from out of the shadow. This I understand: Have a good trip.
Outside on the street, I am swamped by a band of noisy, frolicking school kids as they pour out through the gate of another walled enclosure.
Over frappé in the Chania Market, I peruse the Herald Tribune. From close by, John Wayne’s garbled voice grabs my attention: “…a dark day for ...garble, garble… -ertonville if we don’t round up them rustlers before…garble…-set.” Just what I need, another hero I cannot comprehend playing out a theme as old as time, this one out of the Far West of a miniature television across the aisle on the top of a butcher’s counter.
The market is cruciform. The main gate gives on to the busiest intersection of Chania, and here I exit. Sirens wail in the distance. I head to the Cyclops Tavern for a bowl of lamb stew.
“Hear about Montgomery?” I ask Emma Leigh when she stops at my table.
“Fate. We all face it,” she answers.
I leave it at that. Our conversation then turns to Saturday night at The Minoan Café. Before she leaves, I agree to read something.
“Nothing too dark.”
“Yeah, right. How’s ‘I’m the tongue in the cheek of compassion’ sound? From a poem called Persona I’m near to completing.”
“Sounds fine, Steven, but no dirges. Agreed?”
While eating the lamb stew I catch the evening news. Montgomery's death is not reported. Not like the many that are. But I feel okay.
Later I wander into The Socratic Bar, David Montgomery’s favourite hangout. The place seems unusually quiet for this time of the evening. No Magalee in black. In fact, no Magalee serving at all. I ask Manolis what he makes of all these sailors about the Old Port.
"I tell you what I make of these sailors,” Manolis says, backing into the storeroom.
“Americans disguised as Russians. Again it is politics!"
When he returns with a bottle of vodka, I mention Montgomery and his fate, throwing out hooks like eternal verities, redemption, beauty and truth, hoping Manolis will lead me through some philosophical rationalization of life and death to some higher plane of understanding, and succeed now where he failed before.
No such luck.
"Sex and death," says a boozy metaphysician with a strange accent, whose bushy eyebrows seem to be dusting off the bust of Socrates that sits at the end of the counter, they are that large. "What else is there?"
I shrug. He offers to buy me a drink.
“Manolis, any Irish whiskey?”
“Today I get some. After three months waiting.”
Later still, the day over, the odyssey ended, I finally arrive at something akin to understanding: heroes like Montgomery don’t die, they endure forever in memoriam.
© Reed Stirling Feb 2013
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Reed Stirling lives in Cowichan Bay, BC, and writes when not painting landscapes, or travelling, or taking coffee at Bo’s, a local café where physics and metaphysics clash daily. Recent work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Nashwaak Review, The Valley Voice, Senior Living, Island Writer, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Out Of The Warm Land II and III, StepAway Magazine, The Eloquent Atheist, PaperPlates, and The Danforth Review.