Santorini

The ferry pulled into the harbor at dawn, and they watched the sun rise behind the cliffs. The craggy bluffs of Santorini towered over them, exposing layers of black, white, and gray earth, all streaked with dark red, as if sprinkled with powdered blood.

She outlined the harbor with her eyes. When he told her he would bring her here, she bought a book about the island. So she knew, as she looked out at the sea, that the island used to be round, that she was not overlooking a body of water but a submerged volcanic crater, flooded centuries ago by a catastrophic eruption.

What are you thinking? he asked.

About the earthquake, she said.

He was looking at her hand. You have a tan line, he said.

She glanced down at her ring finger, at the thin white line, just a shade paler than her hands, a tiny sliver of skin that hadn’t seen the sunlight for nearly a decade, now newly exposed.

She hadn’t taken off the ring until they were on the ferry. She was afraid she’d bump into her husband, or someone else she knew, before she could get to the airport. So she’d worn it on the flight to Athens, as she’d worn it for the nine years of her marriage, through every fight, through every restraining order. She’d worn it when he broke her fingers in the door of his Mercedes, when he’d burned her palm with a lit cigar.

But last night, on the ferry, as she watched the sleeping face of her rescuer, she slipped the ring off. Later, in the washroom, when she pulled back her hair, she saw a fading yellow bruise on her left cheek. She watched her hands in the mirror, thinking that, ringless, they looked strong, independent, like someone else’s hands.

*

The volcanic sand was rich, black, blisteringly hot. As she lowered her body to the sand, she felt its heat through the thick terrycloth.

She smiled up at him when he lay his towel next to hers. He smiled back. What are you thinking? he asked.

She was thinking about the big earthquake, the one that caused the eruption that destroyed Santorini. She’d read that the frequent quakes often set off volcanoes — but the islanders never moved; it was just a part of life. Yet after this particular quake, all of the inhabitants suddenly decided to pack up and leave. As if they knew something.

Nothing, she said. She leaned back onto her towel, head turned toward him. She would be safe with him, he had promised; her husband wouldn’t find her here. He would set her up with a place to stay and visit every few weeks. His own wife and kids would never know.

She turned her face to the sun and closed her eyes, the heat burning into her eyelids. She thought of the islanders. She recognized their knowledge, the necessity of fracturing your own life before it shuddered and came apart underneath your feet.

*

In bed the next morning, as she ran her hand along his sunburned bicep, she thought of her husband’s arm, the faded scar from a distant car accident, the heart-shaped birthmark on his thigh. She was now with a man who didn’t have any of these markings, an unfamiliar body with a history of its own.

They took a tourist boat to Nea Kameni, a small, flattish island nestled in the crook of Santorini’s bent arm. Its surface was dry and parched, and sulfuric fumes rose above the island’s sharp, rocky surface. The lava had taken away everything in its path — and yet, she noticed, they passed occasional buds of life sprouting from its layers: spots of green grass, a fig tree.

*

The next afternoon, when she walked into their room, he was on the phone. I have another week of meetings here, he said. Nothing I can do.

He saw her then and held up a finger, asking her to wait. Look, I’ve got someone at the door. I’ll call later. He hung up. Then he came over and put his arms around her. I have to check in every once in a while. He pulled back and looked at her. What do you want to do tonight? Dinner, dancing?

They ate outdoors, overlooking silvery waves under a full moon. Afterward, a nightclub, a loud glittering place where he swung her in his arms. He drank too much, and she helped him to bed.

After she heard his breathing deepen, she left the room. She walked back to the club and let a man buy her a drink. He was taller than her husband but shorter than her lover. She could see the moon in his eyes when they left the club and walked to the beach. He spoke accented English, but they didn’t talk much. As she pulled off his shirt, she scanned his shoulders, his arms, his chest, looking for scars or birthmarks, landmarks to guide her. She found nothing. She closed her eyes.

*

When he was in the shower, she found the return airline and ferry tickets, his cash. He had let her hold onto her own passport.

But she had to wait two days, until finally he went downstairs alone, to the pay phone in the lobby where he’d begun calling his wife. She took the tickets and his cash, and left through the hotel’s back exit.

In the taxi, she looked at her hands. The tan line on her ring finger had browned over, blended in.

She stood on the top deck. As the ferry passed through the harbor, over the sunken land, she dropped his airline ticket into the water. Then she turned and looked up at the cliffs, once the hidden underbelly of the island, layers of earth shaken apart and now exposed, as perhaps they were meant to be.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Bayou Magazine.

Midge Raymond’s short story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Originally published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2009, a new edition was released in 2011 by Press 53. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, Bellingham Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

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