Ariadne shook her head and returned the photo face down. She moved on, around a tight corner and down a step into an oddly-angled addition to the house, a whitewashed, earthen-floored kitchen. Emerging from her uncle’s dim lair, she blinked in the afternoon light streaming through open window and door to blaze off white walls and shimmer over the black-clad figure at the table. The village woman who came in to cook sat slicing eggplant for a casserole.
“Kali spera, Kyria Kousoula.”
The knife paused as she raised a brown face netted with fine lines, giving Ariadne a considering look. “You look better. That’s good, Demetrios can stop fussing like an old hen.”
“It’s you I have to thank for the chicken broth and that wonderful herb tea, Kyria. Where is my uncle?”
A shrug as the woman rose heavily from her chair, scraping peelings into a bowl and carrying them to a pail by the door. “Took that American with him, up looking for a missing goat.” She gestured past the doorway and dirt yard, toward the steep ravine running up into the mountains. As she leaned over with a grunt to dump the peelings into the pail, an odd amulet swung free from the loose folds of her bodice, a carved blue stone bead and a small embroidered bag.
Kyrias Kousoulas heaved upright, stuffed the amulet beneath her blouse, and straightened a silver chain and crucifix displayed outside it. She turned her back on Ariadne’s curious glance, busying herself with the supper preparations.
Ariadne cleared her throat. “Is there a place to bathe?”
“Pitcher and basin in your room not good enough?” She didn’t turn from the paraffin stove. “Out back. He put up that silly shelter out there, soap and towels and all.”
Ariadne stepped cautiously over the threshold to the back yard, steadying herself against the house as she closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun-flooded warmth. She blinked, ears ringing. Frowning, she glanced over the packed dirt yard, the clutter of pails and sacking, a broken wood staff and bundled straw. A few hens pecked over the litter, but the others were nestled closely in the shade of their coop, unusual during the day. The flowering limbs of the orange and lemon trees on the edge of the ravine were empty. Silent. Where were the birds?
She rubbed her forehead, and the ringing subsided. She made her way across the yard, through the sweet scents of the orchard to a vine-covered trellis.
Afternoon sun warmed the rocky spot, enclosed on three sides by wooden lattice and the fresh green of sprouting vines. The fourth side was a steep rock face. A black plastic pipe snaked down over the cut, a rusty, leaking valve grafted on the end with wire and electrical tape.
Ariadne smiled and twisted the stiff valve handle to a surprising gush of clear water. Her smile broadened as she threw off sandals and nightgown, stepping onto a naturally curved stone basin and letting the flow cascade over her. It was warm from the sunbaked black piping. She scrubbed gratefully with soap and a rough sea-sponge until the shower began to cool. Sinking beneath the stream to sit in the shallow basin overflowing back to the ravine, she gasped as the water turned mountain-chill. She closed her eyes and raised her face into the bracing flood. When she finally closed the valve and climbed out, her body tingled, blood singing.
She slapped drops from her skin, wrung out her hair, and straightened to twist it into a thick knot on her head. She paused, caught by her reflection in a cracked mirror suspended from a coat hanger, firm curves of breasts and hips tawny against the green vines.
Ariadne hastily groped for a towel. Avoiding the mirror, she wrapped the towel around herself. She walked slowly back to the house, breathing deeply of the warm, blossom-scented air.
A pungent tomato and garlic sauce bubbled on the kitchen stove, but Kyrias Kousoulas was gone. Ariadne crossed the room to the wooden table, where a bundle of fresh greens had been tossed down. Wild asparagus. She touched the slender soft buds Uncle Demetrios had always favored.
She could still see him, all those years ago, climbing ahead of her up a narrow ravine beside a rain-swollen stream, pushing through thorn thickets to find the new asparagus shoots and tearing his trousers to get the last one: “But I can’t resist it! This one is the best, Kri-Kri, just look at it. Tender youthful perfection, the most sublime Platonic ideal of a sprout. Now this is beauty. We will eat it tonight and be strong and beautiful, too.” His white teeth flashing beneath the pirate mustache.
Ariadne smiled, then and now, eyes stinging as she pulled the towel snug and turned from the table.
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