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:: Test of Time by Vasilis Afxentiou ::

Arthur, there is another-no, no, it's too blunt. This has to come to light sooner or later- "Why not sooner than this?" he'll ask. I'm leaving, Arthur- "Where to this time, Victoria?" No good.

I woke up that morning and knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Evangelos. But because of my indecision I was swiftly loosing him. It had been a soft June morning, in '47, at the time the Marshall Plan had been implemented. After Arthur went to the office, I paced the floor like a caged lynx, my third cup of Maxwell-House in hand-coffee and cigarettes were the most bounteous among the staples the embassy rationed to its T.O.D. personnel and their dependents. I locked up, got in the battered Ford Town-Wagon I used on my digs and drove for Piraeus. I told myself to step on it. Glimpsing in the rear-view mirror I caught site of a white sliver of a sun emerging from behind Mount Hymittos, and two blue pits staring back at me. I fussed with a crow curl on my forehead, but gave up when a gust of hot breeze tumbled more down. Suddenly, ahead dozens of windows burst their glare, dazzling my way.

***

Victoria Hall wanted to break loose from her second marriage as well. She was an archaeologist, resilient in stamina but restless in her moods. She resided in a house near the University where se taught when she was not away digging up relics. She was in her mid-thirties then, had an eight-year-old son, Theodore, from her previous marriage. He lived with his father in Oregon. Her daughter, Sara, nine, lived with Arthur and her.

Victoria was tallish for her sex and her expeditions kept her lean. A speck of a mole spotted her above the left brow. Snugly fitting dresses, she had discovered young, did wonders for her shapely, fit figure. She carried herself with an air of confidence; when sitting she could always attract male glances by crossing her long, shapely legs. It was due to Arthur that she had been in Greece-that never-never land-for those two unforgettable years.

***

The little ship was ready to leave when I reached it. I ran to board. The boy there took my hand and helped me up the ribbed plank. Once on deck I drew in a breath. It was over. I climbed a narrow set of stairs to the upper deck. The roar of the engine smothered conversations, singing, and galloping children calling to their mothers. The passengers scuttled to sort their belongings near by and take seats for the two-hour journey over Argosaronicos. I leaned on the side rail and watched the seagulls snatch, break and swallow sardines when a sheet of sea drizzled on me, choking off their dumb squawks. My arms and shoulders shuddered at the wet slap.

`Dear Arthur,' I had begun the note, just before I left. `I must act soon or my mind will crumple. I ask of you to understand and not question my state, accept only that I can no longer continue our lives together. It is of no oversight of your own; simply it is how things sometimes come about. Victoria.'

I had been petrified at the time. What if—?

The seagulls drifted off, protesting to the termination of their regale, and as their cries ebbed I fell back into the shadow cast by the canvas above. I moved deeper into the shadow. I backed all the way to the bulwark, and pushed to retreat still further.

***

Victoria had first heard Evangelos' music over the portable radio. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. There was in it the power of a Beethoven, a dab of the grace of a Vivaldi, and the urgency of a Wagner. She would listen while she dusted off and pasted together pot-shards, or when dry grit from day-long excavations parched her throat bringing tears to her eyes. She would conjure up in her imagination the physiognomy that had the reserves of sensitivity capable to compose such hymns to restoration. "What was the man like?" she wondered.

Nann Elly Walker, the Ambassador's burly Texan wife, accommodated. "Why don 't you come and see, dear." She had popped out, during happy hour at her place. "He'll be here on Ed's birthday and, just maybe, he'll play that yawning piano we forgot in our living room."

***

The hours seemed like eons when Manaras Express finally advanced to the breakwater, maneuvered and docked by its stern to the quay. I gripped the richly painted balustrade and followed the queue to shore. We had used the hospice often enough as it was next to the water and afforded practical and private amenities for our escapes near the sea. Evangelos' cottage was a half hour's steep climb, isolated within mountain pine and thistle. The hospice room contained three straw chairs, a double bed drooping in the middle, and two square night-tables on either side with a storm lamp on each.

***

Victoria's lover, Evangelos, was talented and accomplished. It thrilled and mystified her that although one day she could boast of uncovering all the hews of his soul, the next he would be shrouded again, be the quintessence of a new enigma. Prosaic apparel, casual poise and an aloof stride contested an ascetic discipline and a question-less fidelity to his muse. Evangelos was a slight taller, but thinner with drawn, Byzantine eyes. His slender, fine fingers vaunted versatility upon the keyboard, the strings, and her sensitivities. His being wrought noise into the symmetry of music. It bestirred and fermented, glorified her, awakened and ennobled her by simple flicks of his delicate wrist. He was grace and force, surge and surrender, and, she believed, the timber she awaited for in her gray existence. He elevated Victoria's life to karma.

***

My face burned with the drying salt still on it. I had been nursing paranoia since morning when I had written the note. Now all of the Apocalypse threatened me. Four years of marriage epitomized by a few snippety phrases. I could not anticipate Arthur's full regard to the laconic vein. But could predict trying muscles on either side of the mouth, pressed lips, furrows creasing the eyes. Evangelos was quite the opposite.

***

Theodore had Victoria's sapphire eyes and his father's nose, mouth and strong chin. When he spent the summer with them she observed that her son had no problem picking up Modern Greek, or mingling with the boys in the neighborhood. He proved to be quick at soccer and an ace swimmer as he escorted her at the dig sites on the islands. He made friends easily enough, all of whom he wrote to well past summer and would send Christmas and Easter cards.

***

It had been Arthur's dark blue uniform (uniforms Evangelos could not understand) that flattered and flirted his blush that first attracted me. I had been reeling with passion those days, drunk with my gentleman and officer, and these priorities did not leave time enough for love. I would search for it later, I had promised myself, when the spell abated some.

***

Sara, unlike Theodore, would spend her free time improvising variations of her wardrobe. She would try on combination after combination of apparel, and rummage through Victoria's bijouterie to find and hang on her gangly self-matching earrings, necklaces, and an assortment of bracelets, rings and broaches. She would often talk to her room as though entertaining a mélange of dukes and duchesses, earls and counts. An empty room that to her was bursting with spangling royalty.

***

The creaking door started me. I went to it towel in hand. It was the breeze and no one else. Still, I nourished hope that Evangelos would be standing there. On occasion Evangelos tripped to Athens for his concerts or rehearsals with the orchestra. Whereas Athens, depleted and exhausted, fostered nostalgia of how things once were, the island of Aggistri personated creation undiluted, manifest. He composed brilliantly of a war-weary city on an island overwhelmed by light.

He strove to save that which men in boots had covered, trampled and abandoned. Anastasis he called it. Resurrection. Arthur, on the other hand, as naval attaché, had become engrossed in the finesse of diplomacy and absorbed in the details of his charge. He charmed me by his evolvement. I observed him unfold, illicit skillfully, and educe assertiveness and carping that only evoked more admiration. I too could boast devotion to my craft. The city was my citadel, the Academy facilities my turrets, and the ancient land of the Hellenes my realm of reign. The artifacts I unearthed, timeworn and hoary, thrummed of a phoenix, a rebirth that struggled tumultuously not to be passed over. Alongside Arthur opportunities emerged to dig and salve.

***

By certain media Victoria ensued the legal paper to engage in maiden digs bringing to light precious treasures at Samothrace, Aegina, Thera, and Orchomenos. Out of convivial companies at the University, happy hours at the Walkers and cocktail evenings amid the upper crust, her exposure grew and ripened into influential purviews.

Evangelos would compose upon her prizes, transposing his music to the splendor of her findings. Corroboration in A sharp, and she cheered along side of him. She listened to the music chant of renown and magnificence, in major and minor modes, and found no intimidation there. She could not compass any discord that alarmed her of usurpation. The motifs were tense but pastoral, sensitive, interlaced with sensibility and counterpoint. The flute reigned, the oboe complied and the tympani and orchestra filled and coalesced inflecting a dithyrambic cadence.

***

Arthur, Evangelos, his music, and my archaeology instituted the quartet of my haven. For two years this foursome prescribed and routed my future. I was the node, the juncture, of their convergence. I was the exigency of our intrigue.

Arthur presided over it all by some intrinsic prerogative availing him to grasp and control, barter and negotiate liabilities and benedictions. He ushered clout and pull to expedite my excavation permits and licenses. There was-back then-the time I aggrandized him as the cornerstone in the ascendancy, the mother wit that unfastened, released, revealed, and dispensed all in its proportion and rank.

But Evangelos with his exotic "Victor Mature" eyes was the afflatus. He complemented and augmented me. His music chaperoned the digs and accompanied the troves I expositioned. It was a natural marriage.

Arthur took delight in my delectation, and I could tell the magnitude of his joy through my own. The laughter in the eyes, the patent glow on his face, and his inherent shyness, so naively puerile, incarcerated me.

The gulls plummeted indolently into the calm water. A few just skidded their wingtips sketching on the sea's even surface. Some simply floated on the air currents behind the boat.

***

Aggistri's evening shadow cast upon the boat, a kind of giant who's hunched back emerged from the plane of the sea eclipsing a quadrant of sky. A Zephyr blew and comforted me in its coolness. The scent of iodine-not spice-was pervasive now. While the cacique cleaved through the inert span of sea, I looked at a solitary figure that went and sat at the edge of the receding wharf. Little-by-little the form thawed and blended into the grain of the landscape. And I, bit-by-bit, sifted once more the tesserae of my own life.

I had waited in the hospice turning Evangelos' words in my mind. The small room shrank compelling me to push on. I had lain down instead, parched and fevered and sapped.

Lest being wrong I had let half hour more pass. Then gathered my things, and despite my affliction, had boarded the boat back to Athens.

Now the sun crept over the rim of summits of a single broad mountain that was the island. From this vantage point I clearly saw Aggistri's full profile amidst other isles. A while later they all melded into the craggy fringe of the Peloponnesian.

***

"Arthur—" Victoria speculated about the coming night.

He would be stirring the martinis. There would be guests, the Walkers, perhaps even Sara and Theodore. He would ask what she had prepared in the order of snacks slighting her appeals.

"Arthur-" she imagined still another scenario.

He would turn and look, in his navy blue uniform, and she would see the emotions tangle on his face, lines from weariness, tired green eyes. In his hand the note.

***

I retrieved the sunglasses hanging down my neckline and put them on. That Friday night Anastasis inundated throughout the outer lobby of Concert Hall. Latecomers queued at the box office. The motif was intimately familiar to me.

"I will not be absent from my own premier," Evangelos had insisted, perturbed, a week before. "We can go together, Victoria-or I can go alone."

My attempt to shift his priorities for this one occasion had failed. I must have seemed to him to be nourishing a threat to his muse. I had not persuaded him to let another conduct his music nor spend that last weekend together on the island before the new digs at Delos took me away.

"Victoria-" I turned. The happy hour regulars waived from the ticket booth with tickets in hand. They were all happy I had made it. Arthur was among them. His uniform was a bit creased. He had come directly from the office, or gone to see how the kids were doing at their first day at camp. I fabricated the excuse of really being too exhausted from driving to the Thermopilae site and back to stay on.

"I'll go home, freshen up, and wait for you all there."

Arthur offered to go with me. "I'll manage," I said. I went up to him, gave him a kiss and exited.

As I drove home the radio continued Evangelos' Resurrection, broadcasting it live from Concert Hall. It said much to me. It was so subtle an ally: one that completely eluded me, one that Evangelos and Arthur do not know about to this day.

I crumpled the note that had been in my pocket and tossed it out the car window.

Now I knew where Evangelos' loyalties were, but a spark of vanity I call hope had compelled me to trip to the island that August morning.

So it came that I had chosen.

Once, in the solstice of my life, Victoria had promised me to search for love. In this pursuit, among the resurrection of a city and a score of treasure troves unearthed, we discover today, forty-eight years later, that Arthur alone has endured. He has remained the one truth, unscathed by the test of time.

 
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