“The bus stop is about twenty-five meters from the bank across the square. It is open from seven a.m. to eleven p.m.,” I read.
The guidebook was clear on this point. The village was not. I looked around the plaza, which was not unpretty, with flowers and bits of green poking up out of the cobbled paths. The only thing 25 meters from the bank was a leathery-looking man with a donkey and milky blind eyes selling cheap leather briefcases and backpacks. Anya glanced at me timidly. She was wearing too-tight black synthetic stretch pants and a blouse with sweat stains under the arms. It was at least ninety degrees. Her outfit irritated me.
“I’ll just ask someone,” Anya said.
“Whatever you want to do.” I snapped the guidebook shut.
Anya teetered off on platform sandals toward a knot of women in what looked to be black nuns’ habits. I fanned the bench with some newspaper, sat down, and tried not to freak out.
She’d been driving me nuts since we left San Francisco International Airport, what felt like sixty-eight hours ago but was actually closer to fourteen. How the hell did I get into this mess? What had started out as a little involuntary R & R courtesy of my nonrefundable honeymoon booking, Dr. Moron and meddlesome Molly had morphed into a bona fide Hellenic horror show.
I’d gotten a call from my sister Carda a week before we were set to leave for Corfu. In between crying jags and obsessing about Neil, I filled out my packing spreadsheet in Excel.
“Park? It’s Carda.”
“Hi,” I said. I was debating whether to bring 30 or 45 sunblock.
“I have to talk to you about something.”
“I know I’m going with you to Greece to help you get over the Neil thing and all, but I was wondering—”
“First of all, Cardamom, Neil and I aren’t a thing, and second, there’s nothing to get over. We’re married, and we have an apartment and a life and I’m sure once he gets this out of his system—” I sounded shrill and stopped myself abruptly. I’m a firm believer in the adage that showing weakness makes you more of a victim. Play your cards close to your vest and no one will know for sure what they’re dealing with.
“Okay. Sorry. Sheesh. I didn’t mean anything. Don’t be so oversensitive, Park.”
“Fine, I won’t be oversensitive. Look, I’m really busy packing. What do you want to ask me?”
Carda had been appointed my minder for the trip by unanimous family vote for the precise reason that her presence tended to infuriate me ever so slightly less than the other members of clan Glass. There was no point in trying to get out of it—once Leo and Sue took you up as a cause, they would picket, strike, rally, and protest until you came around. I suppose on some level I knew they had my best interests at heart. That, and the slim likelihood of their other children taking care of them in retirement if I went insane.
“Well, I got an e-mail from Jake a couple days ago. You know, the guy I met at Burning Man last year? He was still going out with this batik artist called Sonia then, but I guess they broke up, and he’s organizing a trip to the Lost Coast for a bunch of people. It’s, um, next week.”
“Uh-huh.” I fingered my pill case. Does one have to declare Class IV narcotics?
“So, what I wanted to tell you was, I gave my ticket to Anya Soberanes. She had vacation time saved up. Isn’t that awesome?”
I dropped the case. “No, Cardamom, it’s not awesome. It’s kind of crappy, actually. Are you telling me you’re not coming with me to Greece?”
“Well, Park, it’s like . . . you see . . . Jake and I, we have this amazing bond. Jake says we must have been friends in a former life. I checked with my astrologer, and she said a soul mate would reenter my life this year. I guess I thought you’d be happy for me for a change—”
“I barely know Anya! I’m not going to Greece with her!”
“You don’t have to yell at me!” Carda shouted.
“Tell me you didn’t promise Anya she could come with me.”
“I sort of transferred the ticket to her name already,” Carda mumbled.
“I said, we already put the ticket in her name.”
“Well, transfer it back. Or, better yet, forget you were ever coming. In fact, forget you ever knew me.”
“But, um, Anya already asked for the vacation time and got her passport from her safe-deposit box.”
“Well, I guess she’ll have to go somewhere else. Hey, I heard there’s a losers’ trip to the Lost Coast,” I said meanly.
Carda was silent. I could feel guilt creep up my neck.
“Fine,” she said finally, before I could apologize. “Then you tell her.”
“I’m not telling her. You tell her. You’re the one who gave the ticket away.”
There’s one thing about Carda: She may be flaky, but she’s almost as stubborn as I am. I tried to imagine recuperating in the company of earnest, overweight, terminally insecure, Spanish-soap-opera-watching Anya Soberanes and felt my chest muscles constrict.
“Okay, whatever. She can go,” I muttered.
“Oh, Park, I’m so glad! I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about with Anya.”
The last time Anya and I had a meaningful exchange was in 1979, when Danny Fischbein dunked her braid in green paint at the Campaign Against Apartheid meeting our parents had dragged us to. She cried so hard she hyperventilated. I had to coax her out from under the table with a slice of my mom’s veggie loaf.
“You’re the best sister and I love you.”
Thus, this is what my honeymoon had come to. Instead of having good athletic sex with Neil under a canopy of bougainvillea, I was shepherding around a vestal virgin with a faint mustache while my supposed husband raised barns in another hemisphere.
Anya came running back, looking, if possible, even sweatier. “Parker, the grandmothers told me to go to the next block. There’s another square there, where the bus stops.”
Grandmothers, huh? Funny, I thought they were nuns.
Sleep didn’t come that first night. I was prepared for it and had a couple of Halcions lined up along the nightstand, next to a cylinder of Greek bottled water and my favorite essential oil balm of lavender, marjoram, and Roman chamomile, which I’d rubbed on my temples per the instructions. At least the room was clean and nice. Actually, the villa was the best thing that had happened so far: a couple of minutes beyond town, on a twisty road canopied with olive trees that wound its way down to the beach. White and spartan and flanked by pungent flowers in magenta and red, with the requisite bright blue door, it was costing us fifteen dollars a night each. Anya had surprised me by laughing when our landlord, Mrs. Gianniotis, threw out a number as we stood with our suitcases in front of the charming house. Anya’s teeth had flashed, straight and very white. She’d wrapped her long ponytail around her fingers, laid her hand gently on the stout woman’s shoulder, and whispered a counteroffer. Apparently, she was good at it, because after she and Mrs. Gianniotis haggled and came to an agreement, Mrs. G. invited us to sit on the terrace and served us syrupy kumquat juice in shot glasses that said World Cup 1998.
I stared at the fissured ceiling, tossed in my narrow bed, and obsessed about Neil. We’d met at Molly’s wedding to Scott Ruben. Neil was somebody’s date and didn’t know anybody. I was Molly’s maid of honor and unfortunately knew a couple of the ushers a little too well.
“Excuse me,” I whispered to the blond guy in the excellent suit while the smoked-salmon tartlets were being passed. “I think your girlfriend needs some help. She lost part of her dress.” The woman in question was entertaining the bartenders with a close-up shot of her pneumatic breasts, which looked like two gigantic bellows poised to blow oxygen-rich air over a thirsty fire.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he answered without turning his head.
“Oh, goody.” I stood straight and tall and tried to still the staccato thrum of my heart while I sipped from the delicate champagne flute and channeled the poise of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy (may the woman rest in eternal peace, ad infinitum).
Finally, he turned around. He had one green eye and one blue, like those freakishly intelligent husky dogs that are always dragging their masters to safety from a burning building or nibbling on armed intruders. I immediately wanted to collar him and lash him to the foot of my antique cast-iron bed.
“Are you hitting on me?” he said.
“Do you have a problem with good?” His tone was arch.
I certainly didn’t later when he took me to his apartment, peeled off my Reem Acra bridesmaid’s dress, and licked me up and down till I was as damp and squirmy as a newborn kitten. I think what did me in was that he actually hung up the dress before he went down on me. It was at that moment I knew we were meant to open a joint bank account. We started looking for apartments together three weeks later.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re like every other couple, with our share of problems, our life-negating moments, our tendency to sublimate frustration into guerrilla-type warfare over things like improperly opened milk cartons or the smell of nail-polish remover at six a.m. But we always had a baseline sense of destiny, I think. A sense that we were not just two random atoms knocking about the universe, but rather two random atoms with some special little added neutron or something that drew us inexorably toward each other until we slammed together, complete. It was hard not to be smug; we were happy. We really were. Are. In fact, I don’t understand how Neil could have done this to us. I’m so worried about him. What if he’s sick? He could have a brain tumor, or a cerebral aneurysm, pressing on the part of his brain that loves me and abhors building barns in developmentally challenged countries. The part that loves our life. The part that rouses him from sleep each dawn and whispers in his ear how much he loves being an IP lawyer and being with me, his sort-of-wife, Parker Rosie Meadow Glass. He could be dying right now in a Uruguayan rain forest or a Ukrainian tundra, from a series of strokes so small, they can only be measured by what isn’t there after they’ve run their course, what essential pieces of his memories of us they’d obliterated as they hurtled through the microscopic tributaries of his brain.
Excerpted from Paging Aphrodite by Kim Green. Copyright © 2004 by Kim Green. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.