Johnny America




It is a dark over­cast night. The wind blows on the cliffs. Thir­ty mile an hour gusts that whip down the cob­ble­stone pas­sage­way send­ing the lamps clink­ing back and forth. Cast­ing dark shad­ows against the white walls. I am hold­ing tight­ly on­to Claire as we are head­ing down the pas­sage­way to a restau­rant in town. We round a cor­ner and be­low one of the lights we see a man lift­ing a sack over the wall. It is ob­long. About the length of a body. He lets the sack go. It tum­bles down the hill. Off the cliff. Swal­lowed up by the dark­ness. We don’t hear the splash when it hits the wa­ter be­cause the wind is howl­ing like a mad woman. We turn around and rush back to the ho­tel be­fore the man can see us though I know ex­act­ly who he is.

I lock the door be­hind us. Clair sits down on the bed. The shut­ters rat­tle. The wind whis­tles through the cracks in the win­dow and door. “What do you think that is all about?” she asks me.

“I think that was a body he was toss­ing over the wall.”

“Oh, come on, Ralph, you’re crazy,” says Claire who nev­er be­lieves me no mat­ter what I say. “It was trash or an old rug.”

We de­cide to go out to din­ner but in the oth­er di­rec­tion up­hill where the wall is high­er. Pro­tects us from the wind. To Pe­ga­sus. A tav­er­na with a mod­est fare. It seems that every­one else in the ho­tels on the cliff have the same idea so we have to sit out­side on the pa­tio and though we are pro­tect­ed from the wind, it is still cold. A French cou­ple sits next to us ar­gu­ing. Fi­nal­ly the woman turns to us and says, “This re­al­ly stinks.”

The wait­er comes up. “We have a ta­ble open in­side. The four of you will have to sit to­geth­er. I hope you don’t mind.”

We head in­side. Sit down. The French cou­ple tell us that they own an art gallery in Fi­ra. Not a tourist gallery. Not beach art. The re­al stuff. They talk like Amer­i­cans. Un­like the French in Paris. The man’s name is Jacque, the woman, Gre­ta. I’m from Al­sace, she says.

I tell them about the man who threw the body over the cliff. Iden­ti­fy him.

“You mean the same Nikos Pap­pas who owns the Gold Ex­change on De­ci­gala Street.”

“Yes, the same one.”

Clair wears the gold leaf neck­lace and ear­ring set we pur­chased from Nikos and his wife, Micky.

“That is a beau­ti­ful piece,” says Greta.

“I think so,” says Clair. “It’s a copy of an orig­i­nal neck­lace found at an arche­o­log­i­cal dig in Turkey. Re­put­ed to be worn by He­len of Troy.”

“If there ever was a He­len of Troy,” says Jacque, laughing.

“If there was, she must’ve looked like Micky Pap­pas,” I say.

Clair shoots a dirty glance at me since the mo­ment I laid eyes on that woman I have been ex­tolling her beau­ty. Clas­sic Greek looks. Olive com­plex­ion. Dark, mys­te­ri­ous eyes. An enig­mat­ic smile play­ing on her lips. A clas­sic fig­ure. Nar­row waist. Pear-shaped breasts. Long, ta­per­ing legs. The thought of her wrapped up in a sack and thrown off the cliff like a piece of garbage is too much for me. I ex­press this feel­ing to Jacque and Greta.

“Stop be­ing such an id­iot,” in­tones Clair. “That was not Micky Pap­pas. That was garbage. An old rug. An old lamp. The world is not that dramatic.”

“Still, you should re­port it to the po­lice,” says Jacque. “At the very least, you could get old Nikos for littering.”

The wind is still blow­ing when we get back to the ho­tel. It rat­tles every­thing as if we are a few feet away from a rail­road track and a freight train is rum­bling through. I want to make love to Claire but she re­fus­es. She is an­gry at me. First for sug­gest­ing that poor Nikos mur­dered his wife. Then for ex­tolling Micky.

“You think she is pret­ti­er than I,” she says, sit­ting down on the bed. She un­but­tons her blouse. Un­snaps her bra. Her breasts fall out. They are small, del­i­cate like the rest of her. A beau­ty mark be­low her left nip­ple. I think she looks per­fect. A woman in her late for­ties. Per­fect body. Wavy brunette hair, a few streaks of gray that give her a dis­tin­guished look. She’s been through a lot. We were poor for awhile. Lived in an apart­ment above a restau­rant that smelled of Chi­nese food. Then we did well. We start­ed a fam­i­ly. Two girls. One is in col­lege. The oth­er died of SIDS. She blames her­self. She blames me. She’s un­hap­py. Things didn’t work out the way she ex­pect­ed and I don’t know what to do. I look at her now. To me, the knowl­edge of where she is com­ing from, the phys­i­cal beau­ty like a leaf turn­ing bril­liant­ly red be­fore it falls, makes her a hun­dred times more de­sir­able than Micky Pappas.

I tell Claire this. I sit down be­side her and cup her breast. “You’re so full of crap,” she says, push­ing my hand away. She takes off the rest of her clothes and climbs in her pa­ja­mas. Loose fit­ting pants and shirt. Pol­ka-dot pat­tern. That makes her look like a man.

“All you are is horny,” she says, climb­ing in bed. “You don’t care who you sleep with. I’m just a body to you.”

She turns her back to the wall.

“That’s not true. You know that I love you.”

“Oh, and how do you prove it?” I know what is re­al­ly both­er­ing her. Not on­ly the loss of Sarah, but af­ter watch­ing her grieve for two years, I couldn’t stand it any­more. I had an af­fair. She found out. She told me to stop. I did. She didn’t leave me be­cause damned if she was go­ing to raise Ellen alone. But she wasn’t ex­act­ly the most friend­ly per­son in the world af­ter this, even though it’s been more than 17 years and I haven’t strayed since that time. But I know what she’s think­ing with Micky.

“I don’t know what you mean. Prove it? How can I prove it?”

She doesn’t an­swer me. So I reach over and touch her shoul­der. She turns around slow­ly. She’s cry­ing. I brush the tears away. I kiss her. She re­turns my kiss­es. I un­but­ton her man’s pa­ja­ma top. Knead her small, per­fect breasts gen­tly. She kiss­es me more pas­sion­ate­ly. I pull down the pa­ja­ma bot­tom. And af­ter awhile I’m in­side her mov­ing in and out slow­ly. She wraps her legs around my back. I push in as far as I can go. I know this is not what she means when she asked me to prove it but it’s the clos­est I can get.

When we fin­ish mak­ing love the first time, we try again. This time I come in from be­hind and I can tell Claire en­joys it by the way she thrash­es around. I thrash around. We are like two fish out of wa­ter. The wind howls and whoosh­es. Rat­tles the win­dow. Blows through the cracks un­der the door. Then it stops about the same time we stop. We look out the win­dow. The moon is float­ing along a bank of sil­ver-lined clouds. The light from the moon re­flects against the sea. Sil­ver light that sparkles like di­a­monds. Un­der­neath that wa­ter, I think, Micky Pap­pas is float­ing, her arms and legs out­spread. Maybe she’s in a gos­samer gown that floats be­hind her body as she sinks deep­er in the darkness.

Filed under Fiction on April 1st, 2011

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