I am leaving him, and it feels cruel. He’s spent most of the day packing my things away, has reached the last room, the sitting room and goes to find another box to fill. I tensely wait for his return, feeling insecure, wondering if he still loves me. The thought is as sharp as any physical pain. But as I’m the one that’s leaving maybe I shouldn’t be so selfish.
He returns carrying a cardboard box and roll of tape, his slender shoulders dejected. His once lustrous dark hair is lank. His expression blank. We can’t talk anymore so I can only guess what he’s hiding.
‘It isn’t good to block your true feelings.’ I remember once saying when he was clearly angry, and had hardly spoken all day.
‘Don’t worry I’m not,’ he replied as he zipped around duster in hand, obsessively cleaning the house.
‘I don’t mind if you’re pissed off about something, we can talk and work it out.’
‘It’s nothing, honestly! Not worth thinking about.’ He even polished the mirrors.
‘Is it something I’ve done then?’ I said, unable to hide my anxiety.
‘No, no of course not!’
‘What is it then?’
‘It … it’s just something I’d rather not talk about.’ He paused and flashed me an impish grin, ‘I’m just here loving you, and that’s enough for me!’ I smiled back, relieved. I understood that when he was self-absorbed I had to accept it. He would tell me in his own time.
He drops the cardboard box onto the table. His eyes are stormy and his lips tight. He starts to wrap our mementoes in that meticulous way of his, smoothing the paper round the precious nothings we collected over the years. As he packs them in the box I doubt he realises this won’t take the feelings away and I wonder what he’ll do with those; they are too powerful to bury. I long to help, to share with him how it is for me, afraid he blames me for what’s happened. I’m feeling uneasy again and can’t bear the thought that he might reject me. I want my feelings to resound in his heart as they once did, especially because I am about to leave him forever.
‘Does time really exist?’ He once asked as I lay in his arms.
‘The determined physicist becomes a philosopher!’ I replied and laughed. He kissed me gently, and brushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear.
‘Really though,’ he said, ‘sometimes when we’re together like this it feels like we’re in a place that has no time!’
It’s hopeless. I turn and gaze out of the window trying to ignore the surge of emotion that cuts through me. The garden is the same as ever striking and alive, still dripping from the rain; the sun’s rays fragment in the puddles as birds snatch insects from the mud. The home we have made together with its rambling rooms, cosy sofas and open fireplaces has everything we need to start a family, which was our intention. He is my husband of twelve years and now our marriage is over. I would like to share the responsibility between us, but I have to admit it’s not his fault it’s mine. I steel myself and search for the inner resilience I’ve relied on before. The advice often given by my late mother readily comes to mind.
‘There’s no sense brooding on what you can’t change my dear,’ she used to say. ‘Take my advice and look to the future. There are always new horizons waiting to be explored.’ He used to find her optimism shallow and I now see what he meant. She wouldn’t have understood the feelings I have for him, or that I need time. I’m paralised with fear at the prospect of being without him and also hindered by something I need to remember. Something important.
He walks over to the wall and takes down a photograph of the two of us holding an unbelievably large pear, bitten into twice; we are smiling into each other’s eyes sharing a secret. It was taken many years ago during the first of several holidays we spent together on the island of Crete. He hesitates and gently touches the image. I shiver as though he’s stroking me. He quickly pulls the newspaper over it, creating even folds at each end, then pushes it into the box. He withdraws his hand as though burnt and pauses. His face crumples. My insides tighten. This is not a memory he or I can easily discard. The pear was a gift given on one of the most wonderful days of our lives.
For the holiday we hired a Honda 250 to tour the island, cruising the winding roads as smooth as a snake in the grass, pausing at the little villages, renting rooms and enjoying the delicious salads, tzasiki and fresh fish. He was passionate about motorbikes and we were young, not minding the intermittent rain or wind that whipped our faces and when the sun appeared we felt like saplings absorbing its warmth. We were on the other side of the Island when he suggested that we visit the ancient Minoan palace and city of Knossos, so we left at dawn when the roads were empty. As we rode up the steep mountains and through the narrow passes, coasting round the corners, leaning with the bike on the turn, we intruded upon a valley, which was covered in a sea of wild spring flowers. It took our breath away; we had to stop. For miles all we could see was a sway of teeming colours, sweet smelling thyme, fragrant purple dittany, and wanton red poppies bobbing in the breeze. We left the bike behind, feeling wanton too, and wandered down a trail carpeted with tiny blue flowers. He knelt and tilted one of their velvety heads, his large hands gently holding the delicate petals, sensitivity apparent in the contours of his face as he invited me to breath in its perfume.
‘I think we’ve trespassed into a secret garden of the gods,’ he said and laughed. ‘Or at the very least a haunt for Socrates!’
‘Oh really, do you think?’ I said, knowing that I was being teased because even though neither of us believed in any god, I still trusted the validity of mystical experiences. ‘Well maybe they’ll discover our intrusion,’ I said, ‘and throw you out but not me. This valley is clearly not meant for rationalists!’ I laughed and kissed him before he could reply.
‘Just let them try!’ He said as he surfaced for breath, and pulled me down into the thyme.
Our lovemaking was natural, and we were innocents in the lap of discovery; it was as though everything was new and fresh, as if experienced for the first time. The love we had gave something wonderful to us, and he agreed that it couldn’t really be explained with words, it had to be experienced. It was akin to the state of mind Socrates defined as an eternal ‘sea of beauty’. I therefore foolishly assumed that we were protected and it would last.
We continued on our way riding towards Knossos when the rain began to pelt down and soaked us, so we stopped at a little village for shelter but found everything closed; we didn’t know it was a public holiday. A stooped old woman dressed in black appeared as if from nowhere and beckoned to us inviting us into her café, even though it was shut. As we entered the warmth we saw that the room was filled with local farmers sat around tables playing cards and dominoes, and they all looked up. Although it was well before midday the air was full of smoke and the tables littered with glasses of beer and wine. I shuffled with embarrassment, feeling conspicuous. But the wrinkly grey-haired men had kind faces.
‘Kalimera,’ my other half greeted them and smiled.
‘Kalimera,’ ‘kalimera,’ they replied his easy manner drawing them out and one of the men shook his hand and asked if we would like a drink.
‘Efharistoomay,’ he replied for both of us, not really understanding what he had accepted. The room became animated as if they were deciding something and then a friendly sun-baked farmer on a nearby table gave us each a small glass of colourless liquid to drink. The café went quiet and their expectant faces turned our way, eyebrows raised. We didn’t know what it was but it smelt lethal, and it would be impolite not to drink it. He gulped his back first and his face froze with shock then went red but he held his composure. I took the plunge and nearly choked as the path from my throat to stomach roared in protest, it was like an explosion of fire, but there’s no doubt that it did warm me up. The men burst into guffaws of glee and they slapped us on the back. We were had, but we took it in good humour.
‘Posso kanay afto?’ We asked but they wouldn’t let us pay, they said that the drinks were on them.
The wizened woman reappeared as we were leaving the café and waved us over to her. She carried a basket full of sumptuous pears that were as big as melons and it seemed to me they were precious to her because they were so unusual; they were her treasures. She picked up the choicest pear and placed it in my hands like an offering or an apology. I felt a wave of recognition flow between us, as if we were something other than strangers. She too refused payment.
‘Mega froota, efharisto.’ I said attempting to thank her and she responded with wise smiling eyes.
As we rode up the hill of Kephala the breeze blew the clouds away and we arrived at Knossos in the sun. We decided to take a series of photographs as we shared the pear, each bite in a different part of the palace, against the backdrop of crumbling walls and colouful frescoes; bulls, dolphins, kings, and serving women carrying platters of fruit, images linking us with the traditions of the past. I can still taste the succulent sweetness of the pear, feel the juice dripping down my chin, and remember our exuberance as we wandered through the city, drawn to its history. Other tourists amused by our antics offered to take the pictures for us. The pear was a symbol of our bond; it was a gift of generosity from a stranger and a link to something unusual, a connection with the life-tide, an experience nothing could take away, we believed. Thinking about it makes me sad, the happy times gone forever.
‘Isn’t it the poet’s lament,’ I wish I could say, ‘that all love must end sooner or later?’ so he could reply, ‘no, it doesn’t have to be like this!’
‘Why!’ He shouts instead and slams his fist into the box, knocking it over. He collapses onto his knees, covers his face with his hands, and sobs with heaving shoulders. His grief hurts like a thousand fragments blasting inside my head. I crouch beside him in despair; if only he could see me or I could fold my arms around him. Instead the compelling urgency to leave irritatingly prods me again and I frantically search for the courage I need. But there is something I must remember first; only I still don’t know what it is.
He retrieves the photograph from the box, tears the wrapping off, and gazes for a long time at that near perfect moment between us. Our faces are radiant as we hold the pear. I can see the ruins of Knossos behind us, the green hills in the distance and the plaque, which describes the city’s destruction, close by. It was built in a secure location high up, several miles inland and over two thousand years ago a terrifying tidal wave, an immense wall of water, crashed over the hills and down the valley. It surged along the streets, into people’s homes, through the palace, and destroyed them.
I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. My world shifts like in a dream. The picture becomes real and I am in it. A wave is hurtling towards me. I want to turn away but can’t. A vice like grip compels me to face it. It speeds closer. I can almost smell the wake of death in its aftermath. I am terrified. The wave is virtually upon me. It transforms into a lorry. I’m in my car. The lorry is overtaking charging at me; there’s nowhere to go. I whack the brakes. Screeching blasts in my ears. Pain courses through my limbs and neck. Bile burns my throat. Then numbness.
I died instantly. The recollection leaves me shocked. Is this what I need to remember? My death, sudden and dramatic, a similar fate to that of the people of Knossos. I wasn’t ready, they weren’t ready. Many of the inhabitants were drowned and the city decimated; transformed into a tomb. How can anyone be prepared for such cruelty? When he was given news of my death he sat for a whole day and night without moving. Our friends and family stayed with him but couldn’t help. Finally his grief exploded and he smashed all the mirrors in the house. The doctor sedated him.
He and I often felt humbled by the vulnerability of existence; the vital force, of which I have been robbed, destroyed by something beyond my control. I’m beginning to understand that I linger because I’m burdened with unfulfilled dreams, finding it impossible to abandon him, unable to make the journey onwards because it means leaving him behind.
I gaze into his warm brown eyes, hoping that somewhere inside he can sense my presence. Tears remain on his eyelashes like dewdrops on a web and I wish I could brush them away. He looks my way and smiles as if he can see me. A sensation of warmth washes through me. And then I know, but of course! This is what I need to understand and I’m sure he’s had the same thought: once experienced the life-tide remains. Isn’t that the point, what the wise Greek woman knew? Sweet succulent flavours may be fleeting but the treasure is ours for the keeping, it isn’t consumed or lost, the essence will always be within us. He returns the photograph to its place on the wall.
As I leave I don’t look back. I think of us together in the Greek mountain valley filled with a sea of wild spring flowers, knowing that if I can hold the beauty of that memory within me, I will find my peace.