Up to now, I have only noted down decisions that are poor to extremely poor and/or seem to be defences against shame. The blaming pathology will have to wait until she levels out. I have not mentioned the video once this morning.
From the cafeteria, I can see down to the beach: her rectangular shelter is flapping in the dry wind, framed by the rendered arch to the cafe’s terrace. It is a faded, jungle-patterned sheet stretched between four bamboo sticks secured in the sand. It stands twelve inches above her face. In that face, by now, the teeth will be chattering in the heat. Only yards from her, the main knot of Greeks are setting up volleyball, laughing in short barks as if they are rationed or perhaps because it is still early. They were up very late. There he is again, pulling himself from the sea, and so I switch my eyes to the floor but no one can see me from there. I look down again to see him dragging his heels forcefully back through the sand to make the boundaries of the court, his leg muscles a joke: an art student’s dream.
In the corner of the cold cabinet, there is a doughnut with a panther-pink glaze and I know that it has been put out for her. An idiot among the metal saucers of tzatziki, the doughnut has a cold sweat on it. I should buy it and eat it, because if she sees it, she will be positive that they can get to her even in the Cyclades. I have told her that being positive is a danger sign; there’s always room for doubt in the mentally healthy. She becomes positive very easily since Burning Man. (The tendency has been there since the beginning.)
Athenians, in the main, are taut and deep brown and much taller than I imagined. From the shade in the cafe, I can get a good look at them down at the shore, but it’s already clear to me that this place exists for the best-looking people from the capital. I capture and hold on to a flash of small brown breasts. I get to admire the sheen on the torsos of these first weekenders from the mainland and feel that my eyes deal with them in fistfuls (NB: make a note of that). They are forever emerging from the sea after swimming back and forth to the scrubby little island called Dilpa, two hundred yards from our shore. They drink frappés up to midnight. They are into coolly communicating jokes to each other. Their real thing is to quip quickly and make an appreciative moan rather than laugh openly. The handyman in particular makes laughter seem idiotic. No doubt, these cats got their boots on.
When not swimming or having faraway parties at sunset with music (now they’re laughing), these people are limbering, ankle-deep in sand. The men are colossal and unperturbed by deep water or big insects like dragonflies or the extreme heat. My skin (Highland and Island) is much, much fairer, perhaps it’s not inaccurate to say finer, than theirs. Obviously, I have tried nudity, but now I am forced to wear shorts.
‘I know already that the handyman is the centre of everything round here’
He’s coming as I knew he would. I don’t look at the doughnut. I quickly choose some feta with oregano and olive oil, plus fried courgettes with dill and tzatziki. I pay him and he treats me impatiently; slams the till and runs back out to the game as I watch him leave me. There are more players now. The arch is filling up; a new arrival to the group. Not a child. Too hairy. A dwarf then. Whoever it is gets a hold of the handyman fondly enough to be family, but I can’t imagine this handyman is related to a dwarf. A stick-thin woman, a ‘salty-lookin’ battle’ with white-blonde hair, follows the handyman and hugs him and takes a moment to twirl his long curls with both hands then nips his cheeks. I can tell she likes to be heard and shouts out a rousing slogan (in what? French? Hebrew? Dutch?) that clearly ends in ‘Gigi’ and the handyman bows deeply, holding his hand palm out towards the dwarf. ‘Gigi’ must be a name for the dwarf. A pet name for the dwarf. Here come the dirty blondes, probably Swedes, probably brothers, and they join in with their preparations for the game, bouncing hard and high like Masai. This is not easy in sand. They have a caramel-to-toffee tan that brags ‘here for the season’, and are lithe, but definitely not Greek. I measure their dicks against the other volleyballers. It’s a matter of habituation: a few more days and I will not do this any more. I can talk my eyes out of it.
I know already that the handyman is the centre of everything round here, carrying armfuls of drainage pipes or sides of meat wrapped in light blue cloths and newspaper, watering basil and oregano that thrive in gasoline canisters painted red-gold and green, kept tight against the terrace walls. I have seen him perforate a basil leaf in a series of curves with the white shell of his nail then smell his fingers, then rub his fingers through his hair. Of course, I would prefer if he didn’t see me watching him. He keeps the rustic showers pristine with a comically small squeegee. I whistle when I go into a stall. He polishes everything he passes with the cloth that wraps the meat. Gigi cannot be his name, which is why I am happy to give him the nickname for now.
There is a party on this island that we are not yet part of. I hear it. It starts with one lonely ‘hide-beater’ and builds. Nothing so crass as a flyer, an invite or even evidence, though they have MTV and know who she is. Dilpa is where it’s at; a smaller, rougher island that I can see but they can swim to. One ferryman and a rowboat, who disappears after his daily crossing but, before he does, thinks nothing of stunning an octopus on the side of his boat (the sound, a meaty Hank) and firing the black ink in an arc so wide that sunbathers sit up.
But because we love each other so much, island life for us rapidly becomes isolated. When night comes, the real party heats up somewhere else while we sit in a ghost camp and I am encouraged to agree with her take on why we are so good for each other. I flow with her high while she explains how the timing of her album is exactly right; I wonder if she thinks that talking about how we are together constitutes our togetherness, as if she shut up about us we’d be repulsed by what we found us to be. If I try to locate the distant music, or look for clues as to where it might be coming from, she insists that I get closer to her, judge a melody, listen to repeats of verses (commitment is never admitting you’re bored). She insists I wait for her on her visits to the camp bathroom where I see him polishing the laundry troughs in his party clothes and I hear her sniff through the running of the taps. I set off back to the tent before she emerges from the stall saying, ‘I really can’t believe that I only want you.’ Later, I will suggest less kissing.
It can only get worse. In Athens a couple of Jacks (Americans) had shouted out to her on the street. On the ferry over from Paros she wanted to play zoot-not-zoot (a title I coined, but am really tired of). I know exactly which entries to The Zoot are real, which ones are fake. Yes, I bought the book. Learning jive was a blast but now she drags My Zoot Your Zither around as proof of our deep spiritual involvement. If anyone comes close to talking to us, she touches it as if to summon the spirit of jive to scare them away.
Sitting on deck, she sensed my retreat and asked, ‘Hey! You evil ’cos this canary such a fine dinner?’
‘Can we take a rest from it?’ I said, tilting my chin at the sun. At this, her scarf (mushrooms that look like body parts and weeping wounds but hey, it’s old and it’s French), her glasses, her cigarette, all quivered. I was rational for both of us and continued, telling her how this ferry was an old Japanese trawler doing the daily run between Paros to Antiparos since 1976. Mid-sentence, a stranger demanded she hi-five them and, when she had, she looked guiltily at me and laughed like a child once the stranger had passed.
‘Go on,’ she said.
I don’t go on for people who don’t give a fuck about what I’m saying.
She overdid everything for the rest of the ferry ride: told a staring passenger to fuck off, then pretended that she hadn’t looked for my approval. Overexcited, she asked for the bag and went to the bathroom. As we approached the modest grey-green hump of Antiparos on the trawler, she started jumping around, finally performing an exaggerated running man in a way that she thought was cute. Her lack of inhibition was definitely getting worse.
From the jetty, we took a wide dirt track right and curved on an incline through dunes and blowing a fanfare she said, ‘Now ain’t dat barrelhouse?’
She knew where I stood on that so I just said, ‘There’s no doubt this place is beautiful.’ There was a view down to a shallow bight of sand, with green waters punctuated by a smaller wild-looking island in what looked like a lagoon. We entered under the sign for the campsite and walked towards an unlit cabin with peeling turquoise paint which seemed to have office status. I looked through the windows and confirmed it: a wall calendar advertising ventilation ducting. I wondered how she would handle it here without the supplies. The prediction was a couple of days.
‘If only he knew that she was oiled up and nude under the sheet’
Gigi was the first Jack we saw and appeared from behind the cabin in cream cheesecloth. He was carrying a compact generator and smelled of sweat and oil and slightly foreign (pine?) cleaning fluid. The cheesecloth was wrapped and tucked into a short kilt and made his skin look black in the dusk. With his legs apart like a wrestler, feet turned out and hands on hips, he could have slipped off the side of an urn.
‘The Camping Antiparos?’
‘Isn’t this it?’ She pointed to the sign.
‘Are you the handyman?’ I was looking at the generator.
‘You need hat,’ he replied, very seriously.
‘No I don’t, thank you,’ she said.
‘What’s a hat?’ She shook her head slightly, looking to me.
‘Who’s the Greek here?’ I chuckled. I could still keep things nice and light when I wanted to.
I put my hand on my head and finally looked at his face. ‘I don’t need a hat, thank you,’ I said. I could not have been any clearer.
‘No hat!’ he declares, patting his crown while wagging his finger. ‘Hat!’
He pointed to a row of small bamboo enclosures (‘Huts!’ she cried, foolishly clapping her hands) that stood in a row along the edge of the campground. He went over and opened a rickety door constructed from odd lengths of old bamboo strapped together with binding. Inside was a six-foot-square corral. Behind these huts were the boundaries to the camp, live bamboo thickets hissing in the sunset breeze. I stared morosely at the hut floor and I half expected a miniature herd of bulls to come out, or a tiny marching band.
‘In here, you can sleep, two-fifty drachma.’
‘We have a tent.’
I swung the nylon pod round to my chest and patted its bulk. I know something about camping. I wasn’t carrying this from island to island for nothing. I didn’t say this, I hardly knew him. He shrugged. We understood each other.
Once the pegs were hammered into the iron earth, the tent was finally up and I heard the switch in the distance, from the lone drummer to the beat of party music. She began her routines but I was very distracted by the insistence of the beat and more distracted still by the noise of people. Every so often, many voices lilted in consensus and then I caught a Greek hooray for something none of them had expected. I looked around the campground and saw tents and hats but no people. She didn’t find this mysterious at all and kept singing into my face. I can’t listen and speak, it’s a thing I have. She drank the last of the ouzo then demanded the bag. I let her have it. It wasn’t all I had, but I didn’t give her everything because she is incapable of leaving so much as a salting. While she went to find the bathrooms, I noted the mg/kg ratio in the book.
It was no surprise that next morning started very one-legged. Let’s blame! My favourite game! Paros, then here. We missed ferries because we needed ‘supplies’. Arrived late because she took our ‘supplies’. Say, let’s blame in the thirty-degree heat!
‘Extreme blaming!’ I shouted, and I escaped the tent but not without passing through a fucking anemone of scarves to reach the air. Gigi arrived just at the point where I was, hammer in hand, trying to peel away a scarf that had plastered around my sweaty neck. From inside the sweltering tent, unaware of our visitor, she was whimpering, telling me that if we didn’t fucking arrive late to every fucking campsite we would know where the fucking shade was going to be for the fucking morning.
‘Call 911, we got a blamer!’ I said to him with a redneck spin on it. I’d also had a lot of ouzo. I smiled at him but he shook his head. I knelt in panic to pull out the pegs from the orange earth. He tutted with a finger over his lips as if it was best to keep quiet to prevent more damage. When I tried to continue, he put his dark brown hand over mine and kept it there while he squeezed his eyes tight to emphasize that something was not right. Then he forced me to notice, directing me by the chin and pointing to each tent, his eye, the peg in his hand. There were no pegs in any other tents and he proceeded to pull ours out in strong smooth movements. Calmly, he helped her from the tent and then removed our bags. With the tent emptied, he hooked two fingers around the strut, picked it up by its frame, and toyed with it to highlight its handiness. Then he placed it in an empty patch of shade.
When he left, of course we fucked, something about the heat of the tent and the inescapable stink of pine made it compulsory here. I told her the heat put me off kissing. She tried to kiss me (NB: from impulsivity to compulsivity).
Still in the cafeteria, I scan the beach again, scoring the shallow bay for Gigi. Instead, my eyes reach the shelter. I know she won’t come out because, when paranoid, she waits dumbly until I say something she wants to hear. Only this morning, I told her that a fresh start is always just around the corner but she called me a smug motherfucking yard-dog and said I was just as needy as her. Then, instead of lamenting the senseless gorging on the last of the blow from Piraeus (I pretended to scour some serious shitholes for that), she began acting as if it were her intention to be well and truly rid of it. The inevitability of failure sat grotesquely at the back of all this. I could see it, but she looked forward, talking the talk (NB: the newly abstinent adore hyperbole – This is the easiest!).
‘That dwarf ’s ass? It tighter than Plymouth Rock’
Without awareness, about mid-after-noon there could be a catastrophic failure of will. Up to then, there is the excruciating breakdown in decision-making (possible chapter titles: ‘Does it hurt to choose?’/‘Why it hurts to choose’/’Hey! Choosing Hurts!’). I have tried to explain that in some respects addicts want the regret. They long for the longing; are only satisfied when there is nowhere else to go. In fact, I could pitch that this is the crux of my book: the very key to HOW COCAINE CAN BREAK YOUR BRAIN is that regret is part of the addiction machine. I am on this. This summer is where I get to answer the endless fucking logic questions.
Back down at the beach, my tray balances a frappé, the glass is tall and packed with ice, and though she asked for coffee, I have a mint tea that will make her comedown less unstable. My feet are burning, but no one on the beach would know. I see Gigi dividing his glances fairly between the ball and her shelter. If only he knew that she was oiled up and nude under the sheet. A smart breeze lifts up the flap and I see the chocolate-dark corona around her nipple through the flap and my head swings to the Greeks and there he is again, looking, waiting. His colour matches hers.
I put the tray down beside the sheet.
‘He loffs you, you should offer yourself to him.’
She is looking for too long at the maths notebook and its ruffling pages. I won’t be able to rely on her natural discretion for much longer.
‘Psychiatrists do it with squares?’ she dares.
‘Do I look over your shoulder when you are writing songs?’
‘You couldn’t write a song.’
I flick a look at the pages to see what might have been sampled.
No need to panic. I find the paper I need, degraded decision-making in long-term cocaine users, from an up-and-coming Italian group.
I look over at the Greeks. I have what they want and I, like the North Wind, can get her out for them if I want to. So you wanna see the big star? I let my smile sit for a second.
‘Hey Chirp, quit catching cups and get from under the dreamers and see this.’
She stays silent but I know she can’t resist it.
‘Come on, peola, catch some rays.’
‘I thought you said no Zoot,’ she says.
I change tack because I need to find the party. I roll up the Italian paper, push it under the flap and speak through it: ‘Welcome to the Hellenic butt-nekkid volleyball competition where wigs are curly and asses are furry!’ I make the throaty sound that instantly suggests a distant but raucous crowd.
‘It’s volleyball,’ she says, ‘and nude guys. The prize is rice pudding. I’ve been here before.’
She won’t move.
‘What’s that, Ma’am? Yes, there is a dwarf on the team. Who is the dwarf? Ma’am, you just asked the question on everybody’s lips back home.’ I look to the Greeks. The dwarf just about kisses Gigi. The volleyballers cheer as if this was all they ever wanted to do.
‘Henry, can we do this later?’
‘But I need help with the rules. You are Greek, aren’t you?’ Can I feel a smile? I am nothing if not a persuader. I am at my very best as a persuader. ‘For instance, can a nigger hoof it?’
‘G man, you know that ain’t in the book.’
She’s in the game!
‘OK, Ma’am. Can a cat one-time it?’
‘One-time it with his head? Sure, or his hand or his foot. And one-time ain’t in the book either.’
‘Shheeeit. Buddy Ghee done did that with his dukes.’
‘That’s digging,’ she says.
‘I dig. Now what’s the rest o’ the rules to this piece o’ shit homo-erectus pussy-ass game?’
I have upped a gear, we’re nearly there. ‘Baby, his nuts nearly juss buss loose! The dwarf just nearly de-rocked his little self.’
She peeks out again. I pretend I have binoculars. ‘They near nuff went up his own ass! Damn! They gonna take some lickin’. His little pecker be all red an’ swellin’ up.’
‘Pecker is not in The Zoot’ she says. ‘I ain’t comin’ on that one.’
‘Gigi is breakin’ it up. Check it. Get your peola ass from under there.’
‘Gigi? Who the hell is Gigi?’ She pokes out her head and Gigi looks over.
‘Either him or the dwarf,’ I say.
‘I get it.’
‘This is about getting to the party.’
I must not blow it now. ‘You used to be my Barbecue. What has happened to you?’
She reaches out for her glasses, pale yellow, patterned like bamboo, but I rake them towards me to get her out in full view, saying in a shocked whisper, ‘I did not know dwarves did that!’
‘This sho’ better be a hummer. Boot me them cogs.’
I pull the glasses to my chest but she warns me, ‘Don’t play me no cut-rate Jack or you won’t see me this early black.’
Out of the shelter at last, she keeps her eyes closed until she’s put on the giant sunglasses. They don’t suit her. I’ll tell her later. I keep rolling. ‘I would give fews and two to film these cats. That dwarf ’s ass? It tighter than Plymouth Rock when he eats sand like that. Them is some fraughty issues.’
She wolf-whistles weakly and lifts her glasses. ‘Geez, I wish he could mend his drapes. Where his dry goods? I won’t be able to clock him in the dim for shame.’
Gigi looks and Gigi smiles. Gigi beckons – Come and play! – and I know he means her.
‘Gigi is gamin’ for the dwarf.’ She says it without any edge at all.
My heartbeat deepens in my chest.
‘You plum crazy? Gigi ain’t that way.’
‘That gate be swingin’,’ she says.
The sun pulses.
‘You killin’ me,’ I say.
I shade my eyes and I look again at the game.