“I can’t tell if I’m depressed or if this is the happiest day of my life,” she said. She was wearing a Tang t-shirt, running shorts, and her veil.
He’d started stealing things when he was eight years old. Underwear from his aunt’s dresser. A dead lighter off the floor of his friend’s dad’s car. His second cousin’s motorcycle. His favorite part was not feeling guilty later, the way thieves did in books. The time with the underwear was when he first realized that no one could see what was going on inside his head.
The stack of checks was growing.
“We’d better cash those a-sap,” he said. “On the way to the airport tomorrow.”
She shucked another card. “Who’s Dave-dog and Diane?”
“Friends of our parents.”
“They didn’t give anything.”
“No thank-you note for them, then.”
This made her laugh.
“What are you looking forward to most?” he asked. They’d been meeting in secret for six weeks. When he’d proposed a post-ceremony getaway he was only half-joking, and when she agreed without a hint of a smile, he saw how his desperate surge of feeling toward his brother’s fiancée, and her need to escape, made a perfect couple. Sometimes life reminded you how little you had; how easy it would be to start fresh someplace else.
“Not having to worry. You?”
“The chicks, of course.”
“Ha. Will you miss anything?” The card in her hand said With This Card, I Thee Congratulate. She plucked the hundred-dollar bill from inside and tossed the card into the recycling bin.
“I focus on what I have.” He gave her a look and she blushed.
“Fall color,” she said. “Deep-dish.”
He put his arm around her. “This is a no-guilt zone. Guilt is a form of egotism. You’re not really feeling bad, are you?”
“Only when I think of you guys’ mother.”
They flew to Greece the next day. She was adamant about being near the ocean. “It’s important to have a view of the water,” she said. “That’s what makes it a real escape.”
He had stolen her, too. His brother would be furious. Heartbroken, even. Exactly what he deserved.
* * *
They sat on the concrete patio, steps from the beach. The chairs were plastic. His was cracked along the back so it rocked when it wasn’t supposed to. They were at a hotel on Leoforos Poseidonos. Poseidon Avenue. The hotel was called Hotel Poseidon. The patio umbrellas were blue with white tridents.
“You sure a marriage can be annulled if you don’t consummate it?” she asked. The sea was a blue plate with nothing on it. “Is that really a thing?”
“I checked with the Ohio State Bar.”
“It’s just funny, you know? All that sex he and I had before the wedding, and now—”
“Sex and bruises, Sheri. Sex and a broken wrist.”
“You don’t have to remind me.”
A middle-aged topless woman and a man in a yellow Speedo walked past on the beach. They were darkly tan, impervious to the July sun. She had a scar running vertically up her abdomen. It gleamed.
“No heirlooms from your family—it still surprises me,” he said. “Rings, porcelain dolls, silver—nothing?”
“The Moldonados aren’t big on capital-T things. ‘Who needs a lotta junk crappin’ up the place,’ Daddy used to say.”
“We have my great-great-grandpa’s cufflinks. My mom turned them into necklaces for the two girls instead of giving it to me or Harris. Isn’t that messed up? And there’s the rocking chair.”
The couple entered the water. She strode in to her knees and threw her arms out; he took a running start and dove into a small wave. He did a steady crawl without looking back. She caught up quickly.
“Whose rocking chair? I haven’t heard about any rocking chair,” she asked.
“My great-to-the-fourth-power-grandmother’s, built of scraps from the family church in Krakow after it was burned in the war. She sang to her kids in that chair, and her first daughter, my great-to-the-third-grandma, used it during labor to speed things up, and my great-great-grandma was born on the floor in front of it. They say her blood’s soaked into the varnish on the legs.”
“They brought it over on the boat in eighteen-eighty-something and all the women in my family have had it since, rocked their babies in it.”
“I bet Polish lullabies are beautiful.”
“Probably. I don’t remember my mom singing. She must’ve, though.”
“Imagine if you could sit in that creaky chair, baptized with the blood of all those family members, and sing the same song from the old country. And the babies would get all that old knowledge transferred to them in utero.”
He leaned back in his chair and the plastic shivered dangerously. “Now I wish I knew what song it was.”
The couple from the water returned to their towels and began to do push-ups. The woman’s breasts dangled like figs, brushing the towel every time she lowered herself. She said something to the man and they both collapsed, laughing.
He and Sherina shared a smile and laughed, too.
Sherina pointed to a stand of pale trees at the end of the beach.
“Lila and I used to think eucalyptus trees were called ‘you-could-lick-this-trees,” she said. “She said they tasted sweet and I pretended they did, too.”
“I hardly talked when I was little because Harris told me my voice box was really a box that only held a certain amount of words. I was worried I’d use them up if I talked too much.”
“Harry’s jealous of you. Was.”
“Don’t call him that.”
“Sorry. I forgot.”
There was an eyelash on her cheek. Was it better to ignore it or to touch her face and remove it? What would his brother have done? Neither. He would not have noticed in the first place.
“You ever just tear off a corner of notebook paper and suck on it because you’re bored? You ever do that?” she asked.
“No.” He reached for her cheek and she flinched, then relaxed and let him carry away the lash. He showed it to her on his fingertip.
She blew it away. “That’s what eucalyptus tree bark tasted like. Notebook paper. It wasn’t sweet at all. She was fucking with me.”
He traced a soft line down her cheek. “Let’s go inside for a bit.”
* * *
Afterwards, they were hungry. The taverna was one of a string of cafes along the sea, all with their tired warped tables and mismatched chairs under tattered awnings that the owners rushed out to collapse when a storm came. It was the only place open at 2 p.m. When the old proprietor, sitting in a doorway and fanning herself, saw them, she sat up straight. She must have been used to being the only mid-day insomniac in a town of siesta-takers. She motioned for them to sit and disappeared into the building. A few minutes later she emerged carrying a plate of grilled fish and a carafe of pink wine stopped with a cork.
“We have this,” she said in English, placing the items right in the center of the table so it wouldn’t rock.
“It’s perfect,” he said, feeling generous. “Thank you.” The fish was whole, the skin peeled open between the head and tail to expose the sizzling white flesh. It rested on a piece of foil spattered with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. This, here, was the culmination of human achievement.
Sherina plucked out the wine cork and began to drop it on the table over and over, trying to bounce it so it landed on end. She was in a punchy mood. On the way over she’d pointed to every drooping hammock and shouted, “Cheshire Cat!”
He used his fingers on the fish and sheared off a flaky bite. “My god. Back home they’d smother this in cream sauce and ruin it.” He touched each of the grill marks on the fish’s side and counted. “Lucky seven.”
“Isn’t eight supposed to be the lucky number here?”
“Causes for luck travel with you. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s where you come from,” he said.
“Ahoy! Some in our situation would say the opposite, matey.”
He fed her a bite, sucked oil and pepper from his thumb and forefinger. “So it’s true. You are the serious one.” He poured the wine from its sweating carafe into two glass tumblers, clinked them together, and took a long sip from his before handing the other glass to her.
She held the pink liquid up against the backdrop of green sea. A drop of water slid past her wrist toward the crook of her arm. “They must have realized by now.” She pressed her arm against her side. “You think they’re looking for us? That they’ll call the police?”
He picked up the cork and dropped it from what seemed far too close to the table. It bounced and landed upright. “Everyone knows about him. It’s for the best and if they can’t admit that—well.”
She pinched a bite of fish. “He had this habit of saying, ‘I don’t disagree with you,’ then go on and start a fight.”
A mangy dog came trotting up to the table. She saw it and yelped, dropping the hunk of fish on the ground. She jumped out of her chair and ran behind another table, putting it between her and the dog. The dog, panting hard and wagging its tail, vacuumed the fish and followed her.
“Stop it! Get it away!” Her face was naked fear.
“Relax. He’s just hungry.”
Her voice quivered. “I don’t like dogs.”
Upon hearing the emotion in her voice, the dog gamely made his way around the table toward her. It was missing its left eye. She ran around the table, which the dog took as a sign that she wanted to play.
“Get it away! Get it away.”
He whistled to the dog and held a bite of fish out near the ground, keeping one eye on Sherina. “Here, killer-killer-killer.” The dog jogged over, took the fish, and licked his palm.
“You’re a hungry mongrel, eh?” he said. The dog cocked his head and wagged.
He scraped the rest of the fish onto the plate and threw the skin as far as he could. It landed in the road. The dog trotted after it.
“He’s occupied now. Come finish your wine.”
She was watching the dog, her hands gripping the sides of the chair in front of her as if ready to throw it. When the dog lay down in the road to devour its treat, she edged back toward the table.
“It’s just a mutt. What’s so scary?”
She drank with a wobbly hand that steadied as she finished the glass. “I just always have been.”
“Come on. Have some mental fortitude.”
“I don’t want to fight,” she said, and the strength in her voice startled him.
The woman of the taverna had come outside. He waved and called for the check and let his eyes fall on the dog, happily chewing the last of the fish skin. The mutt had forgotten them. Its tail scraped absently over the cobblestones. That dog didn’t care about its view of the sea.
He turned back for more wine and saw her sobbing silently in her rickety chair. It jerked in an absurd imitation of a cherished rocker, an irreplaceable family heirloom.
Kelly Luce’s story collection, Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail (A Strange Object), won the 2013 Foreword Review’s Editors Choice Prize in Fiction. Her work has appeared in O Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Salon, Electric Literature, The Southern Review, and other magazines. She’s the editorial assistant for the O. Henry Prize anthology. Her debut novel, Pull Me Under, is forthcoming from FSG. She hails from Illinois and lives in Santa Cruz, California.