Friday, November 19, 2010

Robert Ready, "Day of the Doors"

Robert Ready

Day of the Doors

The New Acropolis Museum was on the list of doors to be hit, of course. Thus by the necessity of history and the choice of anarchy. Lina Dantos wasn't a heavy theoretician, but she'd done her own working it out. Pfister listened to her carefully to make fun of her politics kindly. Pete to his bookstore customers, he was Petros to her, her rock of sanity and satisfaction. She was holding Petros's Karagiozi in her lap. The three of them sat on Pfister’s Athens balcony, which had this unique view of the Parthenon and even the Erectheion.

The hunchback Karagiozi, a floppy cloth doll version of the shadow-puppet, was limp, until Lina parted her lips slightly, to do its crimped talking for it.

Dream pussy thinking, Karagiozi perked up to say. He kicked in his red shoes with their orange bows and stuck his leering chin whiskers out.

It's a crude term, I know, Pfister admitted to the doll on his lover’s lap.  Where’d you get it from?  From you, Lina made the doll say. 

Admitting anything to a Karagiozi was futile. Karagiozi was supposed to be a two-dimensional figure manipulated by sticks to cast its shadow on a screen. Pfister knew Karagiozi, and the doll was no real one.

Which part is crude? Lina asked him. The dream?

When he was in that drifting mood, she took him lightly but wanted him back quickly.

I mean, he said. The necessity of history. Crude doesn't begin to describe the notion.

Lina could count on Petros’s attention again, so she kept Karagiozi ventriloquizing the line of her strategic analysis. The New Acropolis Museum was on the list because it was the concrete realization of the necessity of history, of the chain of events, choices, luck, butterfly wing flap flopping all together right down to this unchangeable moment in modern Greek history.

But to Pfister the puppet Karagiozi was a centuries-old thief and liar.

Your group wrecks the front doors of the New Acropolis Museum. Pfister said it as if it were part of a set of irritating directions. Blow this, burn that, get some rest. He put one hand on her knee, the other on the green iron banister across his balcony, with the view up to the Erechtheion.

She laid the Karagiozi aside, though she had it say, So this isn't shadow theater, my darlings.  Pfister could make love to her again, he was sure, because the pill was still delivering blood down below.

When she sat outside with him like this, she was totally different, wrapped up in scarves and skirt, her astonishing Lina nakedness gone underground, yet another strategic move. In her secret life, she sympathized with political action now taken to the streets of Athens against the regime.

Her group’s latest crowded flyer lay crumpled inside on the bed, where they’d been reading it. A case of political impaction, corruption, defection from the people's needs, was the best he could translate. She told him the rest of the flyer was about dead-end jobs capped at eight hundred euros a month. It was about access to competitive higher education. It was about the network of corruption that ran Greece. The flyer’s boldest type was for human rights in Palestine. Under the title of the operation to come, the Day of the Doors.

It was all right enough, Pfister told her more than once, to be mostly wrong. Live long enough, that gets figured out for you.

Now she cupped his left knee in turn with her whole right hand, claiming him back to her from his gaze again, beyond the balcony, to the copy maidens on the Erechtheion porch.

One of them is winking at you again, right? She said she could read part of his mind for him. Small recompense that, after these dwindling years with him.

Nothing will be damaged, she said, and no people will be hurt. They're not vandals or Elgins.

Just the doors.

Glass war? Pfister said.

The sundown was turning the Acropolis into an orange candy fortress hill with a broken temple held up by cranes attached by invisible forces to stationary clouds. He had the self-protective knack of imagining what he was seeing. Halfway down, cyclopean boulders waited for one-eyed giants to implode the whole effort to reconstruct that one particular Periclean century twenty-five hundred years old. All in between—Alexander the Great to the Ottoman Porte—was just the interruption of history. The great tourist scam the country had going for it was that there was a connection between ancient legacy and modern reality. There was not. Irinye, Pfister’s one wife, had learned that at the cost of her life, and a lot of his.
Where'd you just go? Lina asked him. Don't leave me like that. I'm just a little South African farm girl afraid the regime is going to shit on the whole country again.

A little more pressure on his knee brought him back from sideways, the way he sometimes found himself drifting after he rose from Lina and had a sense of Irinye asking him to get her some air for her jail cell. The drift could last for minutes, longer minutes each time lately.

You get to the point, call it fifty-nine, Pfister said, you have to work to remember to double knot both shoe laces.

What were you thinking about just now?

I was just thinking about those young men this morning, he said, using his right thumb to point back over his shoulder at the morning.

The quick fib dropped limp between them. What they did when they went by us at the bus stop, he said.

Just to you, Lina said. Remember, you're the American, with the Great Plains Greek accent. I'm just an immigrant with the slight Capetown Greek accent.

He was grateful she didn't say she knew full well he was full of Irinye again, yet again. Maybe this long love started when he found that Lina too had her times circling around a dead planet.

Lina's family, long generations behind it of Cape of Good Hope vineyards, had to get out of South Africa in the 1990's, immigrate to the Peloponnese in some dream about their Greek ancestors. They had not been much welcomed as alien vintners. Lina got enough of an education at the Athens national university to get the customer relations job with OSE, Hellenic Railways Organization, the state-owned rail network. She despised both job and ministry, though she liked to ride the trains from Kalamata up to Thessaloniki and on up to Kastaneis. She always looked good, the way dark-eyed, fortyish Greek women who know how to dress look. She could pass for just such a woman, until Greek men picked up on the accent and began to tell her how good her Greek was.

Despite her inherited colonial dark side, she had what he most wanted to be around, though he distrusted why, a good dose of irrepressible, youthful, early middle-aged hopefulness. Hers was about some kind of forward motion in human history, a belief in political progress, if not altogether in the march of human rights. He liked all that in her. She said riding all those trains kept her moving forward. Haute couture bureaucrat state employee. Jean-jacketed and black-and-white head-scarfed or ski-masked street marcher against the state. He liked that, too, the shape-shifting willfulness of it, political action by political actress. Lina was his classicalista mistress.

Pfister feigned pointing an automatic weapon around his balcony space, just not ever at her. Tssizzitt. Tssizzitt. Tssizzitt. Is what they said.

They'd been at a bus stop that morning next to a flower dealer on Vas. Sophia, the grand boulevard with the embassies and the vista down to the Grand Bretagne Hotel, Nazi headquarters during the Occupation. Today was the Feast of the Epiphany. They were being tourists out to Hosias Loukas, the Monastery of Holy Luke.

Three young men went by them at the bus stop, saw him instantly for an American, air machine gunned him, tssizzitt, tssizzitt, shaking their forearms from the smart recoil of their weapons. The sound they could make with their mouths unnerved him. Pfister turned on them, took a step after them, and Lina got in front of him. The lead gunner among them wore an oversized black t-shirt appliquéd with a white circle A, the anarchy logo. His legs were bowed, and his hair bushed out half-red, half albinoed.

The too-old boys laughed spite at him, then pointed and yelled like noisy soccer fans across the boulevard, where the spray paint on the Spanish embassy metal walls said: Intifada Pantou No War Between Nations No Peace Between Classes.

See? she’d said, right in his face to calm him down. European style protest. Multilingual. You only speak American, even when you’re speaking Greek.

There was a time I could have straightened them out, he said, and felt like a fool for saying it. To double that effect, he said, At least one of them.

Now on his two-chair-small-umbrella-tabled balcony, he looked intently through the binoculars, to see if one of the five caryatids would wink at him. There was never a day went by, as long as he was home in his flat, that he didn't look at them magnified.

She was saying, Those boys have no idea what went on in that hotel in 1943. They just walk away from it ignorant. You and I had sex there fifty years later.

He shook his head. Are you kidding?

Yes, she said. Yes we did. One of our Athenian hotel nights and days back then. Remember? Old world elegance, in a suite. You sat me on the black Formica counter in the bedroom. It had white flecks. Fifteen years ago that was. You don’t remember, do you?  It was the very night after seeing, after I saw, Melina Mercouri in the hotel lobby, not long before she died. It got me excited. She always got me excited. Seeing her bust out there now on Ermou at the edge of the Plaka

—Across from the dreadful statue of Mother Greece and Byron—

—gets me excited. For you, she said.

She perked up Karagiozi again, used the snarky Turk's face to caress the crease lines in her Petros' pants.  We haven’t had a hotel night in a while, Karagiozi said.

Lina was generous to him that way, to his years beyond her. He felt that she meant to keep him in her life no matter how old he got to. Every sleek OSE official who travels the country for her country needs in her life an ex-pat American bibliophile with a cluttered boutique bookshop near Syntagma Square and a two-bedroom flat with a balcony to see the lit-up Parthenon, all night long. Her beloved Philhellene.

If she left him, it would take him years to let her go. It took years to let Irinye go only as far as she went.

You think, he said, there's a spirit of revolution abroad in the land, because of the street demonstrations against the Israeli invasion, the latest Israeli invasion.

The Turk puppet was alive again in her hands and voice, mocking him, wordless, furious.

Pfister said, I think what we saw at Luke's monastery today shows the opposite. A new xenophobia.

The widow, Lina said, how would you say in Greek, fat in her black? She did try to ditch your candle. It made me laugh. Another religious fanatic, that's all. She did not like your American unbaptized infidel candle in her holy sand.

Snooty South African social comment on Greek religious culture, he didn't say to her. Good for me, he didn't say to anyone except himself. Good for me, and now what's going to happen between us?

I paid my Euro for that candle, he said.  It would take a while to figure out what he should settle for himself in the whole scene remembering itself between the two of them. The prospect tired him.

She saw me. I had a secular right to stick my candle in her blessed sand before the statue of Luke on the Feast of the Epiphany. The original Luke was Christ's physician, for Christ's sake. Give a cultural tourist a break, widow lady.

Your point?

Your street protests suffer from being led by the infantile left.

That's it? That's a point?

Aided and abetted by the geriatric right, willy nilly. Totally deserving of one another. Protestors who determinedly film their street actions on the one side, ladies. Police who are not allowed to hit anyone on the other, gentlemen. And you, working both sides of the street. Answer me this, Bouboulina: Are the kids in the streets the only left your side has left?

He saw her wince at the name. Before she was Zorba's dying widow-lover, Bouboulina was a naval commander in the nineteenth-century War of Independence.

Answer me this. You scratch up the bullet-proof door of the New Acropolis Museum, doesn't that scotch the purpose of building it, to show the world Greece has all its marbles, so should have the Elgin rocks back?


Destroy, screw up for good. You never heard that in Capetown?

When Mandela, she began, because he was irritating her now—

Oh, Jesus, he said, the saints are marching in.

Went back, she was saying every word precisely, to Robbin Island for a huge ceremony. At one point, he went off by himself, picked up a shard of limestone—

The stuff he used to chip off the quarry walls that ruined his tear ducts, he said. He'd read the biography, sold it to a few customers when Mandela was king. A caryatid told Pfister he was going too far. He looked over his fence, agreeing with the Erechtheion on that. He could just as easily shut up.

—and  laid it on the ground, Lina said. Then others did the same, hundreds of shards and stones, making a pile you can still see in the quarry yard.

I know, he said. You believe that it's that way. One stone at a time. The snow flake that causes the avalanche. You believe you can count on that in the world.

When I'm as old as you are, she said, will I still be able to fuck as well as you do even though my political synapses are clogged by nostalgia for peace conferences and the spread of democratic institutions infected only by global injustice? She made Karagiozi handle some of that language as if he were barking.

Absolutely. It just takes a lot of practice. Let's go back inside. I'll show you one such practice that makes for perfect.

Have I told you today, she asked him, that sometimes I can't believe I fuck you? Actually want to sleep with you? You need to be told that once a day.

That's because you know what American exceptionalism offers you at the local level, the here and now.


The velvet lilt she could put into a simple query word. He breathed gratefully at the marble-copy caryatids holding up the entablature of the Erechtheion porch. They were grateful in turn that he had gotten out of the bad place with Lina. They were always on guard against him when that happened. They were on Lina's side. Soon the lights focusing on them would shut off and they could get some rest, standing there holding up things all night long. How was he to trust her that cracking or scratching the doors, even just as a symbolic act against the New Acropolis Museum as part of the new world order oppressing the Greek people, wouldn't shatter the five original caryatids housed on the second floor front area within? Then he listened to her again, as he'd been listening for years.

Really? she said. What does that really mean at my local level? She was laughing even as she asked. The circled "A" anarchist symbol on her own neatly fitting black t-shirt folded in and out a little between her breasts as she got more breath.

My exceptional American touch, he said.

She gave him that last word and stood up to take him and Karagiozi back inside. She balled up the flyer and looped it precisely into the wastebasket.  She sat the old hunchback bastard up on the Ottoman divan on the other side of the bedroom so he could watch and work on his next insult about whatever the hell they thought they were doing together anymore in this Greece in these times.

His high floor flat on Dionysiou Areopagitou, on the southwest edge of the Acropolis had an astonishing sightline to the Porch of the Caryatids on the Erechtheion. Or at least it did when you looked through the heavy Oberwerk 25x100 mm IF binoculars. He'd traded a Swiss historian of photography for them instead of a fee for finding an intact paper copy of the French Academy's 1839 announcement of Daguerre's new invention.

In that Epiphany evening, Pfister picked up the Oberwerk and looked. The binoculars made the distance nothing, as if one of the cast model caryatids wanted to stride, left leg first rustling her garment in long pleats starting at her waist, walk right off her job as a copy of a 2500 year old column.

If the real caryatids walked out of the new museum, he asked her, would you guys try to blow them? A guerrilla strike, then jump back on the Metro right there at the Acropolis station? Head back out the Polytechnic to report your successful commando operation against the female pillars of the whole Rotten State Structure?

She clapped her hands, once, twice, a dull thud of impatience at the half-baked global gloom that pissed out of him more than she thought funny.

Rotten State Structure, she said. I know them. I work for them.

There was something in her voice, something pleading and trying to warn him that he could have picked up, but he didn't. He saw in her face that she heard it herself.

Today's what, he asked. Monday?  When is the Day of the Doors, do you actually know?

His shop was in Syntagma, in a set of alcove stores off Plateia Syntagmatos itself near the intersection of Nikis and Mitropoleos. When he bought it, after his wife was taken from him, it was called Homer's Bibliotheque. But that wasn't what he meant, so first he changed it to Phemius Saved, after the singing bard whom Telemachus saved from Odysseus' slaughter in the hall. That was when books were like that to him. They saved the singing, so were worth saving again, passing on, binding even more from age to age. Then he thought that was more than a bookstore needed to shoulder, so he came up with The Unregarded Seer. That was explained for anyone who got it by the framed reproduction he had over his computer and his international bookseller brochures of the figure of the old diviner, from the east pediment of the temple of Zeus in the Museum of Olympia. The tensely reclining and draped prophet looks on with his hands up in dread at what he sees coming in the future, looking at what will happen first to the king, Oenomaus, in the chariot race with tricky Pelops, and second for the cursed generations of Pelops, like Agamemnon.

That’s the way it was, seeing was believing the awful to come. Still, he'd change the name of his shop again if he felt the need in a few years.

The Unregarded Seer had the usual stock of first editions, of European masters, historians, mapmakers, nineteenth-century philhellenes, post-colonels New Greece, and one unpopular shelf about Albanians under the Greek thumb. That shelf was his ongoing homage to his dead wife's lethal politics. But he had developed another specialty he was known for around the bibliophile world.

Pfister's shop did books on the history of photography, seventeenth-century Italian perspectival studies, books on satellite telescopes like the Hubble, books on cathedral glass, stereoscopy, microscopy, chromolithography, color and river blindness, scopophilia, on the Hudson River painters, on sextants, on telescopes and periscopes, on Claude Lorrain glasses, on movie innovations like 3-D, Cinerama, Cinemascope, and Imax, on surveillance and Enlightenment panopticons, on traffic lights, beacons, and shooting stars. Books on sextants.

The previous week he'd received a copy of the lavish Fair-Eyed Fashion: Franklin to Prada. His biggest sale had been for twelve grand: Edward Emerson Barnard, A Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way, two volumes, 1927. Another time he tracked down in Izmir and sold out of his store to an American poet laureate for a $2000 profit Theodore Fielding's 1822 large paper, visual documentary of the Lake District. Then there was the $4000 he got before he knew better for the first book on the newly invented television, Alfred Dinsdale, Television, London, 1926.

Then there was the stitched-together volume of three of Coleridge's 1796 The Watchman numbers, which he gave away to a Duke University literary scholar on the condition that the scholar ask no questions about how they ended up in his shop in the first place. Provenance, he had learned to say in this business, was a matter of Providence. He didn't worry about the occasional trading in uncertified book antiquities, because he didn't trade in them except on the rare occasion, and even then, he made sure they ended up in some honorable hands at little profit to himself. But mostly, his business catered to canny impulse buyer book junkies who'd drift through Syntagma and throw a hundred or two at some item from remnants of twentieth-century Levantine domestic libraries that had leather-bound presentation copies of books on optics, even one on great optician firms before the Second World War.

In order to get media coverage for their Tuesday post-Epiphany protest against the incursion into Gaza, the coalition burned the second giant gaudy Christmas tree in Syntagma Square, across from the Parliament building. Two weeks ago, the first one burned right down to the pavement, scattering holiday Athenians and holiday tourists. It cost retailers plenty. The government said the coalition was led by the communists. If so, neither communists nor state knew of the participation of the national train network, the OSE anarchists who made the trains run on time. Lina was a kind of fellow traveler with some of them.

It's like love, she said. When love comes along you get that train.

Just get off at the first stop before you get hurt, he said.

Later that week, he sat outdoors at a taverna drinking orangeade in the warming January sun, thinking about her, worrying again about her flirting with political dead-enders. Quick scaffolding was going up to undecorate the burnt corpse of the second tree, which steamed and dripped something he could smell in that same warming sun. He couldn't figure out why the tree had burned but its bells and balls had only singed and its lights had just quit without being destroyed. He was being eyed now and then by a table kitty-corner to his of three young men in leather jackets and a stylish girl in jeans and head scarf, from Iran, he figured. One of the young men took the dare and walked over to him.


Something Lina told him bolted into his memory. An aunt of hers in a suburb of Capetown had gone to the supermarket and found it leveled by a bomb. She'd written a sentence to Lina.  Now he wanted to say the whole sentence to the young man bearing down in his face.

Things have passed, he said in English.

Comment? Pardon? What?

Out of the hands, he said.

Tí káneis. American? The young man bored in on him, black curly hair and almost Roman good looks and caustic smile all holding together like the practiced arrogance it was. He shifted into Greek. Your new president, he will change this one-sided support of the regime that kills the children of Gaza?

Of the anarchists, Pfister said, switching to Greek too so that the young man would get the whole sentence for sure.

Ah, definitely American, the young man said in English.

His table mates, but not the woman, stood up and came over.

Pfister kept going. Into the hands of the communists.

Marchers were coming into view, with flags, drums, banners, and bullhorns. Their clatter was met by police car whines that twisted into siren howls. People outside the taverna stood to see the parade and the police, suddenly there out of nowhere in disciplined lines of riot gear. The decorations were going to come off, one by one, faster and faster, until the corpse of the tree could disappear from more Internet photos. This was the holy season in Athens, and these protests had already cost a billion in tourism.

So, you think we're communists. Call us a name and we'll have no meaning, is that it?

Who want nothing.

Comment? Pardon? We want social justice in our time. That starts right here, Mr. American. We are all Gazans. You know New York? You have visited there perhaps? You know the number of police emergency in New York is nine eleven? You know no person in the American media ever goes near that fact?

But filth and destruction, he told the three in their chorus, once in Greek, once not.  He had finished the sentence.  They turned from him into the screaming.

The second flameout Christmas tree was tottering, first right down their way, just slowly, dream-pacing itself, slanting into gravity, then twisting the Iranian girl's way. There was time, and he could still be fast for a good twenty yards or so, all he needed. He burst through their little ring around his table, dodged a quartet of police who were not interested right now in a tall upset American with neat grey hair. He got to her just as she looked from him to the falling Christmas tree and sat paralyzed. He had her by her slim wrist, but he might as well as have pulled on a locked car door handle. The tree stopped falling. It was suspending at a little angle that dwindled into a crack in the light as guy-lines on its other side were wrenched back by uniformed Tourist Police, Parliament clerks, store clowns, Albanians and communists alike. Thousands in the middle and the edges of Syntagma, Athenians, tourists, gypsies, protestors, police, waiters, hawkers all looked up and said the same long open vowel. He kept his hold on her wrist. The tree was totally straight again, and not one of the decorations had fallen from its black spectral skeleton. That was the miracle. The girl pulled her wrist from his grip and slapped him hard across the face with her small palm.

She screamed at him. Intifada pantou!  Kai epi ges eirene en anthropois eudokia.  She spat tiny spit at him and ran.

And good will toward men, he said.

Two days later, Lina was back from OSE stops in the Peloponnese. They were walking in the National Gardens on another warm January mid-day, looking for a bright place in the sun to sit and eat lunch. He was anxious to get back to his shop. She was on edge.  The Day of the Doors was soon, and things had indeed gone out of Karagiozi's hands, the like of hers, into more dangerous real hands and people whose sense of humor was not nuanced but righteous. Anything could go wrong, she said. He grunted, thinking about the customer he had on the hook for later that afternoon, a Turk with the money to buy the embossed seventeenth-century red Moroccan leather bound Ibn Khaldûn Muqaddimah. This one could pay the rent for a month.

They found a nice spot, concrete table for playing checkers, with concrete benches in the sun. They had their own little pond with goldfish lazing and starting. A couple of sculptures of Greek writers he probably had in his shop watched everything for new ideas. National Gardens feral cats pranced around, knowing these were the types who'd give them their garbage. Lina opened out two big blue cloth napkins and put meat pies and kidney beans and bread and white wine for them to share. They usually ate that way, either one of them just laying it out as if they'd consulted on a menu, which they never had to do. Unless they were in new restaurants, when they took turns ordering the wrong thing.

The Day of the Doors was to be an action limited in scope but hitting some twenty-five sites in the very early morning. He figured that when it happened and got reported, the media would make it look like one of those posters of multi-colored front doors. Rows of doors, some with hanging flower pots, others with shiny brass fixtures, like the doors of Dublin, or the doors of Amish country. Or there'd be institutional doors, the National Bank, the Polytechnic, the big department store doors like Fokas and Lambropoulos, the museums like Benaki, the stadium entrances like Karaiskaki, even Olympiako.

She showed him the leaflet. As ever in Greece, four languages: If the doors of perception were cleansed.

It's from Jim Morrison, she said. That got the rise out of him she looked for.

William Blake.


When I was young and in Paris and in love, he said, because he was a reckless fool.

Bastard, she said, suddenly losing her r's.

I wanted to leave a joint on Jim's grave in Père Lachaise cemetery.

So did you? In love with whom? Was that your wife? She'd been sick and tired of the ghost for a long time, but she was ashamed of her tone.

Oh, that was ugly, she said. I didn't mean that. Not that way.
Couldn’t find it.  That was before they put a marker on Jim’s grave.  The flyer is an important statement.  We are glad you are making it in the name of the revolution and all local action.
They both pulled back, time and again and now again, from the thing that had overwhelmed him.  And so it just sat there between them, like the worst of the cats.

Irinye died freakishly in Turkish custody in 1990 after being caught with copies of classified documents from 1915 stuffed in her briefcase. A terrible epileptic seizure that choked her, the autopsy said. One document was a diary she'd tracked down in Bodrum, in her Armenian grandmother's handwriting. The Turkish authorities finally gave it to Pfister in token commiseration of such a terrible thing happening.

It was his first old book. He couldn't read a word of it and didn't try to get it translated. On January 1, 2000, he sold it cheap to an unaffiliated Turkish scholar of genocide who ran a chic leather store in Kolonaki Square.

Frustrated, Lina got up from their lunch and went over to talk to a pleasant survivor cat crouched at the goldfish pool. Pfister, years of discipline in the matter, would need only a long minute to ball it up back inside him.

There had been nothing Pfister could do to quell Irinye's sense of outrage about the silence imposed in her family for two entire generations in the U.S., where survival was mixing in, letting all that go. Irinye became obsessed, and she was a genius researcher. Irinye Balakian and Peter Pfister had been cracker jack New York maritime lawyers, a team to reckon with. They had important Mediterranean, Indonesian, Cayman Islands, and Scandinavian shipping clients. A few times, in minor ways, even the people Lina called the Onasties.

It was another life, lived around the world. Irinye was buried in New Mexico, where her family had migrated in search of clean desert. They'd take care of all that. He'd deep-sixed sea law, but all that old life could come shooting up from underneath, anytime, like now, any wrong time at all. It was safer in Syntagma selling old books, staying out of politics forever, communing binocularly with the caryatids, loving Lina despite her refusal to let the world be, and not going anywhere.

Look, he said, over there, those three young men. Hello, that's weird, now, isn't it?

She turned up from distracting the cat. She stood up straighter and squinted at them.

The tssizzitt, tssizzitt air gunners, he said.

Yes. Yes they are. Look, they have flyers to give out.

The three young men in black seemed to see them and ignore them as if they didn't want to be seen looking at them.

Unbelievable, he said.


See that girl with them, the one in need of putting a dozen candy bars on her hips? Looks Iranian, right?

Yes, Lina said, she does.  She came back to the table. Want some more of this? I'm hungry. I said I'm sorry.

That little girl belted me the other day in Syntagma Square.


Slapped me across the face.

When he told her why, Lina looked up harder to find the girl, but she was gone. Two of the cats had had enough and jumped up in growls onto the concrete table. Pfister saw that each cat reversed the ratty brown and tan areas of the other. She yelled them away. Over pieces of gyro lamb he watched them fight like, well, cats.

He said that neither one of them was going to get a bite to eat that way. She said he was an American who no matter how hard he tried would never understand the culture. Something in her tone of voice wasn't all that humorous, was in fact kind of giving up a little more now than yesterday. It sounded to him more than cyclical. Pfister yearned for Lina but kept quiet.

He was asleep but he heard the glass shattering that far away as if in a tunnel. He dreamed the little puffing explosion tilted over his upright binoculars in the Athenian dawn light. He fought back to sleep, but she came in and got him awake. She was crying, and the caryatids didn't do a damn thing for him.

I am so sorry, she said.

They dodged and snuck through a maze of streets she created for him to get there. She led him this way and that out of her own street protest instincts, sometimes by the hand, sometimes just her voice when they got cut off by news trucks or bands of disorganized police stopping people from moving any way at all except away from them. He saw that the targets had all been small-fry, the littler banks, the big American fast food outlets, the stores of the lumpen retailers. There was the resinous smell of the black spray paint. In one gutter he kicked a spray paint can that had been relabeled with the circled anarchist A. He wondered about that. She pushed his back forcefully across the final alleyway, onto his street.

On the dawn of the Day of the Doors the infantile left had broken on through to the other side of The Unregarded Seer.

Whatever they had used blew the old plate glass window way into the shelves of books. Why the fire engines had to flood the rest of it was inexplicable. The firemen were gone now, to finish off a silver shop in order to save the KFC next door. It didn't register for him at first that his front door was wide open. For now, there was no police tape, no police, no soldiers, nobody preventing him taking in the dripping destruction of The Unregarded Seer. It made some sense, two hundred thousand euros worth of a stock of books such as had taken him almost twenty years to build up. It made its own sense, the attack on his little outpost of culture in the light of the world's refusal to get to a two-state solution.

Do you think they got to the doors of the museum? he asked the wilted Muqaddimah he picked up.

I am so sorry, she said. No, she said. It was always a smoke screen to force the issue onto the small business owners. Get to the local economy, not just the global interests.

You say that like yesterday's weather report. His fury was as sodden as his shop. On the far wall, the framed picture of the appalled prophet hung down by one corner. He pointed. Look. Stendhal, he said. Edition Gallimard. Complete.

He followed the smell, to the black spray paint on the unbroken glass door. Fuck May 1968 Act Now

What was this, he wanted her to tell him, some kind of low grade two-inch pipe explosive especially for a book shop?

Lina winced, looked around for something that had been saved.

The Pausanius looks okay, the five volumes of Pausanius, she said. Or some of it will be okay because it was packed in tight on the shelves.

He watched Lina from a long way away as she looked through the mess of his window display of many things ocular in the world of the seventeenth-century Levant. She said nothing about that but she said the books in the big locked built-in cases looked okay. She said the book he would never sell, a first edition of Trelawney, 1878, looked safe behind the glass door. Like her whole body, her voice could not stop shaking.

He stopped staring at her as if through binoculars and dropped the ruined Fair--Eyed Fashion: Franklin to Prada to his soggy floor.

Take me on a train, Pfister said. Take me on a train trip. What's a place in this country we can go to together on a train trip? It will be okay if there are stops in between. We can get out at those places, too.

I am so sorry, Petros, she said.

All this little time together, Pete Pfister said. You've had this OSE job. You've never asked me to go on the train with you.  I’ve never really done that.  It would be a good way for me to see the country. I've never really done that.

Robert Ready lives in New York City and teaches at Drew University.  His fiction has appeared in Antaeus, West Branch, Gargoyle, Mondo James Dean, Princeton Arts Review, RiverSedge, Water~Stone Review, and elsewhere.  His story, “Her Infinite Variety,” appeared in RECONFIGURATIONS, Volume 3, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/2009/11/robert-ready-her-infinite-variety.html

RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume 4 (2010): Emergence

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