Neil Grimmett

She looked into the murk — thick and granular — and wondered if it was to be taken into her mouth. Her lips parted and she began to lift the small white cup; it would teach him to leave her alone if it made her ill. It was bad enough to have been expected to come in here on her own, without then being abandoned to the stares and whispers of this men-only club.

"You do not drink that," a man’s voice said in accented English. "You leave the grounds as they upset the stomach. Please, allow me to get you another." He gave a signal to the girl behind the counter and pulled up a chair.

Helen recognized him from the night before. He’d been drinking at the bar in the Bridge restaurant when they arrived straight away he’d noticed Scott's jacket. "Good cloth," he said, squeezing the sleeve between his thick, stained fingers: "I own a coat just like it." He’d turned and looked at the people with him as if challenging before continuing. "I brought it back from New York. I have traveled around the world," he assured them. "Many times." Kostas, the owner of the place, had hurried them away and into the tiny eating area. A few tourists were already there, clustered together and talking between tables. "Bloody hell," Scott had muttered instantly and looked trapped. Luckily the food had been excellent and Kostas and his son, Yiannis, had attached themselves to Scott. Helen had warmed to Kostas who seemed to be wise with a kind face and he’d helped her get Scott away after only one extra drink at the bar. "Honeymoon, hey,” he said, smiling, “who wants to drink with old men on his honeymoon?"

"Where is your husband: surely not still in bed?" he asked, as two cups of sweet thick coffee arrived. She saw the usual look in his eyes that avoided hers, perhaps dwelling on a possible answer to the question always asked when the two of them were placed together: the suggestion that Scott was not hers by any normally accepted right; and that something needed to be explained.

"He’s following," she said, echoing Scott's last words. She glanced at the door again.

"Is this your first visit to Cyprus?"

She said it was and that they’d picked the village in hopes of getting to know the true island. She noticed he appeared tired and unkempt this morning and guessed he had continued to drink long after they’d left and probably, judging by his eyes, did so every night.

"This is the real Cyprus," he said, "but there is nothing to do here. You must get a car and go sightseeing. You will be able to visit the monasteries. Though you must of course, cover your legs." He looked at her bare legs, inch by inch until he reached her tight shorts.

“Let me do something special for you,” he said, grabbing her first cup of empty coffee. “I will read the grounds. Some of us are gifted in this way: some do bones; some entrails.” He swirled the sediment-heavy mass and smiled, at first. Then he frowned and appeared genuinely shocked. He looked into her eyes sadly and sighed, then tried to smile. “Of course, we people of culture do not take this sort of thing seriously, do we?”

Scott, she thought, where the bloody hell are you now?

"I must go," he said. "Today, I am going to help gather the olives for my sisters. Picking olives, drinking red wine and breaking bread in the open. Simple ancient pleasures that carry deeper meanings; ones that are still vital to life: I think you understand."

He stood and bowed to her just as Scott appeared and before she could tell him she didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. "A fine shirt," he said and was gone.

"What happened to you?" she asked Scott.

He raised a finger to the girl to order his drink as if he had been doing it all his life.

"I ran into Yiannis from the Bridge last night. They've invited us to a bottle of champagne on the house tonight to celebrate our marriage."

The girl carried coffee to Scott. Helen saw she was already captivated by him.

"I thought we’d agreed to move around and try different places. To stay anonymous and private."

"I reckon that bloke has got the eye for you," Scott said, gesturing at the back of the man, now chattering his way down through the village, past the crowded tables outside other tavernas, football, and hunting clubs.

"Very funny, Scott." She felt herself begin to blush, but was pleased that he might be slightly jealous.

Scott tapped a cigarette from the box of Craven A sold everywhere. "Too young or posh," he’d said to her, "to remember when these were sold in England." He had been chain-smoking since their arrival: pleased she recognized that each fresh packet came without any message of death and joking that the lucky black cat emblem was all anyone needed in this world.*

They took delivery of the hire car and drove into the nearby hills. She clung to his hand as they walked across the dam. Although they had travelled only a few miles from the village the landscape was wild and desolate. The the reservoir seemed insignificant as a tear, Helen thought, glistening for its moment, before bursting, a smear or stain to be mocked or pitied.

"Scott," she said, "you do love me and are glad we got married?"

"Of course. You know that," he said. "Yiannis told me that they used to mine copper a little way from here. A sloping shaft that goes down for two thousand feet. Can you imagine how deep that is? And what some people have to do just to survive and make a living?"

Helen had noticed that Scott was fascinated by a side of other’s lives she’d not considered. Often, he read her a piece from one of his magazines about unfortunates working hundreds of hours a week for a pittance with shortened life expectancy thrown in for a bonus. And then expect her to join in with some act of atonement or sacrifice for their own fortune. “No wine tonight with the meal.” or, “We’ll go without meat for a month.” As if such empty, but of course, charming gestures meant anything.

She felt his grip tighten and was being pulled along.

"Let's go and find it," he said.

"Mightn't it be dangerous, full of gas or collapsing?"

He made a noise of contempt and frustration as if she understood nothing of the real world. They finished crossing the dam in silence. A plaque marked the end, stating the triumph of the government's battle against draught and how thirst was now a thing of the past. Someone had placed a couple of bullet holes through the message and left it, Helen decided, as a warning to doubters. A sloping track led away from the road and up into the hills. They had only made a few feet when the first of the hornets attacked, blocking the path in a complex geometric pattern. Scott pulled her on. The next message was shorter and enforced by more guards. From ahead came the roar of the angry swarm.

"I’m going to say something to Yiannis about this," he said as the buzzing allowed them to slow down. “He told me it was easy, and safe." "Do you always want or need to believe what everyone tells you?" She felt him slip away from her side and wished they’d stayed in the apartment drinking wine and making love. Why mines, artificial lakes and concrete dams, she wanted to ask. They should have been looking at ancient ruins and natural beauty, romantic and mythological images they could carry home as symbols of their love.


The champagne was served with dignity and grace, which made her words from the afternoon's argument stick in her throat. Afterward, they left the few other tourists and went to join the owner and locals for a drink. Three generations of the family worked the bar and kitchen — she felt them vying for Scott's attention and wondered what they wanted. She clung to his arm but was left behind when he went to see the special pit used for cooking whole lambs. Glad she hadn’t been invited, she'd had too many brandy sours to risk the acrid remains of any sacrifice. The man from last night and this morning had appeared and knew he was going to speak to her.

"Did you enjoy the monastery?" he asked.

"We did not manage it today," she replied, "maybe tomorrow."

A loud burst of laughter came from the kitchen as if in response. One of the children rushed into the bar to grab a bottle of brandy — Helen saw the cunning look on the child’s face as she turned without meeting her gaze. There was more laughter and then a cheer as something smashed.

"Do we pay here?" A timid, English voice asked her. A couple that had sat near to them earlier stood under one of the archways, waiting to leave. Helen saw they felt uncomfortable and had picked her as their best chance. She wanted to ask how the hell should she know; but the man, without looking away from her, called out in Greek for Kostas. He came out, followed by his son and Scott. They all looked flushed and guilty about something.

The village slept as they walked home, shutters closed to the freezing night air. The masses of bougainvillea had been drained of colour and were shadows now that whispered to her of thorns and blood; the abandoned minaret towered above them like a finger touching the lips of any reply.

"We'll not be getting much sleep tonight," Scott said, as soon as they were indoors. "It's the start of their shooting season. Ten thousand hunters and all their dogs on this little patch. It’s going to sound like another invasion come dawn."

He was asleep and breathing heavily by the time she got into bed. She looked at his beautiful body and wanted to touch and arouse him. Instead she let the back of her hand brush the mosquito net and made a list of the things she had been desperate to talk about and must not forget.


The first shots did not wake them. They'd been awake for what felt like hours: since the arrival of pick-up trucks with crates of yowling dogs. The cafe had opened at 3am to give the hunters a gathering place — each left with wheels screeching and horns blasting. Now the firing had started.

"What can they be shooting at?" Helen asked. "It sounds like a cowboy film out there."

"Hare and partridge," Scott said, "wild game, not like all that tame and reared stuff back home."

"I hate blood sports. Killing for fun."

Later that day, as they travelled across the island to visit the large monastery marked high in the hills on their tourist map, the hunters were everywhere. They wore head-to-toe camouflage and carried guns, dead animals. Birds hung from their belts. No matter where she looked, Helen saw another line of stalking men. Even the scraps of land left over from the motorway had two or three figures oblivious to anything but the ground in front of them.

Then they took to the roads. Truck loads of them roaring around with guns raised and yelling as they passed one another. Helen suddenly noticed the hares: they’d been placed on the front of the vehicles, tied or wired to look as alive as possible, displayed and ridiculed in their death. Strings of birds hung from windows and roll bars. Men held them at arm's length and made their wings tremble.

"I’m going to complain about this when we get home," Helen said, "they should warn tourists about this sort of thing. Can you believe how sick these people are?"

"I think they are just trying to keep the game cool," Scott said. “Prevent it getting fly-blown in the heat. They’re shooting for the pot as well as the sport."

She was furious and knew that she was hunching her shoulders and making herself look ugly again. It didn't matter: he was her husband and whatever the reasons he should be sensitive enough to understand her feelings. They did not speak again until the coolness of the monastery embraced them. In its carved and jeweled silence, with the walled icons of a truth step after step before them, Helen knew they would work out once they got home. There was some strangeness outside, left over from an ancient world that had made humans the playthings and lovers of gods. She held Scott close in the little room that had belonged to the martyr and saint the place was named after. "It’s so calm and peaceful here," she whispered.

He read the legend on the wall. "They impaled him in Nicosia. Can you imagine that: wriggling on a pin until you die?"

Outside, they looked from the edge of the monastery down into the landscape below. A bronze statue of a bearded, gun-carrying archbishop towered behind them: its shadow hiding theirs and stretching out of sight like a shroud laid over the forgotten graves and remains of unknown martyrs.


They ate at a fish restaurant that night. The owner and his wife had originally come from England and as the place filled up they were introduced to other people that had made Cyprus their home. One couple invited them out for a trip on their boat.

"We'll take you over to Egypt and show you the Nile and the pyramids," the woman said: "So romantic for honeymooners." She held Helen's plump arm. "You are lovely," she said, keeping her eyes on Scott, "and a very lucky lady."

As they drove home Scott was angry. "You can't shake off these people," he said: "all coming together like old reclaimed building bricks that are desperate to construct something safe and recognizable."

"They were only trying to be nice," Helen said. "I'm looking forward to it."

He swung the car into the Bridge car park. "I need a proper drink," he said.

Their lovemaking was rough and strenuous but left her far away from feeling anything except for a worry about how she looked. He’d made her climb on top and sit astride backwards and insisted on keeping the light on. She’d felt the ripples of movement across her thighs and arse with each thrust and felt his hands opening her wide as he came. She was still bending over, her hair brushing his feet as he pulled roughly out and said,"I'm going shooting with Yiannis in the morning. He's asked me along to watch. It'll be early and I’ll be back in time for the trip. It is a great honor to be asked — don't mind, do you ?"

She had let him leave without saying a word. Now she lay awake listening to the distant shots. Each felt as though it entered her and was fired by Scott. If only they had not come to this place and were back home in their flat. Just the two of them as they had been at the start. She thought of their meeting. How he had singled her out, as if drawn to her. No one else had been able to get close. An electric charge, he said, that surrounded them and repelled intruders. She’d witnessed it and heard its static blocking advice and warnings from her family and few friends. Now all she could hear was gunfire and, somewhere behind it, a squeal of death.


At 10am she’d gone to the car and got as far as placing the key in the ignition. At 11 she walked down through the square toward the track that ran behind their apartment and off into the hills. It was too late to worry about making the cruise now but other concerns were driving her on. What if there had been an accident? Scott had said how dangerous and unorganized their shooting appeared. Or what if there was something darker hiding behind the invitation. She had realized early on that she was going to have to guard Scott against his vulnerability: that perhaps it would be the most important and enduring part of their relationship and now at the first test she’d failed him. All sorts of ideas filled her head as she moved into the desiccated and crumbling hills searching for any sign of movement. Soon the track became the bed of a dried river full of boulders and decaying logs forcing her to watch each step and hear only the hollowness echoing below.

"So, you have come to visit us," someone called out.

A gate leaned open in the high fence along the track. Inside was the man from the restaurant.

"I was just taking a walk," she said.

"Some of these trees are over a thousand years old," he said, gesturing with his arm and stepping aside to let her enter the olive grove. "Can you imagine that? Or think of all the people they have fed?"

Helen thought the trees were hideous and deformed and the greed of each century had left nothing now but scars and bones to pick over.

He started to shake a smaller tree's branches close to where she stood. The ground underneath was covered with thin, stained, white sheets. Olives began to fall like the droplets of an approaching storm. He stopped and picked up a handful.

"Please, try some," he said.

She looked at the olives and tried to find one that was free of contamination, but could not. He handed her a bottle filled with red, cloudy wine.

"And a drink of our own wine." He crouched on the edge of the sheet and watched as she swallowed the bitter mouthfuls.

"And so your young husband has joined in the slaughter," he said.

Helen looked at him, trying to be unbothered by his words.

"I saw him out with them earlier." He made it sound like an accusation.

"He was asked to go," she said, sitting next to him. "Being polite is Scott's way."

"What a place we live," he said: "cut in half by war. A forced exchange of populations. History buried under hotels and car parks. The goddess of love emerging from the sea and every man wanting to feel the glue of drying blood on his skin."

He took the wine from her and let it jet into his mouth as if trying to dowse a fire. "I will tell you my story," he said — "one that is known to all the villagers — but never before by a tourist.

"Once, when I was a long way away, I became ill, in my mind and body. I had taken too much of the bad things this world can offer. I lay in my bed surrounded by so-called friends and yet alone. Then at the very end when I understood all the mistakes I had made, they came for me. Two beautiful angels. They took me up and carried me out of the building and into the chariot that stood waiting outside, gleaming and golden amongst the garbage. We flew on an amazing journey with sights beyond description. Finally, we landed at the tiny monastery of Agios Georgios where a room had been prepared and nuns attended me until I was cured. Now I am alive again. I have had to promise that I will stay here and help people as I was helped."

He looked at her sadly. "Do you know why I am telling you this?" He asked.

Helen decided the man was mad or at least drunk. She guessed he’d probably never been off the island and these fantasies were all he knew. She felt more embarrassed than afraid; then angry that once again this type of person had latched onto her for support. She got to her feet and started to walk away. The loud thump of a gun going off made her stop and look through the tangle of branches in its direction. She thought she could see two shapes, low and stooping as they rushed toward something writhing on the ground. But the sun was too bright and the distance too great to be certain.

Neil Grimmett, English by birth, lives in Madrid, Spain. His stories have appeared in the UK in London Magazine, Panurge, Iron, Stand, and others; in France's Paris Transcontinental, Canada's Grain, Australia's Quadrant, South Africa's New Contrast, and Singapore's Literary Quarterly Review. In the USA he has been published in Fiction, The Yale Review, DoubleTake and The Southern Review. On line his work has appeared in Tatlin’s Tower, Web Del Sol, In Posse Review, and others. He has a story in the anthology England Calling. His novel The Bestowing Sun was published in early 2004 by Flame Books (www.flamebooks.com). He is a member of the United States branch of PEN.


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