THE LAST HOUSE EXO 

Thursday 8 June 7 in the Evening

From the room next door, behind the rough yellow wall, I can hear them knocking.  The man with the snappers stands at the far side of the wall;  then the window looking out to the olive trees.  I pass the evening between my bed and the terrace.  Downstairs they are preparing for the party.  Men with boxes walk by, carrying mixed greens and bags of ice behind the terrace plants, bread loaves and baskets, tomato snails, mussels and sea biscuits, cherries and heads of lettuce.  Lila can’t stand touching in her belly-button.  She gets badly worked up if you put your finger there.  We had lunch together, salad and shrimp, small fried red fish and wine.  Everyone came to the table except for aunt Genía.

The men scratch their heads over their yellow crumpled invoices.  They don’t like the stairways and the length of the house.  They’d rather go all the way round the back to the courtyard and get their carts stuck in the gravel.  Pierró wakes up first thing in the morning to go fishing.  I hear the groan of the bed and come out my door.  He is sunburned like a China man;  he looks at me without turning away.  You go first Míno – go on ahead.  I know the house like the back of my hand.  We tiptoe quietly through the stairways and the corridors.

Mórfo and Mimosa threw the fish heads away to the cats.  They brought fold pastry and melon and more wine.  Everyone got up and left except for Lila, Pierró and myself.  Lila had seaweed round her ankle and wore a shirt cut in triangles.  She sucked on a piece of honey melon and she looked at Pierró.  Come Minúli, let’s go upstairs.  I didn’t want to leave and so I didn’t budge.  She kissed me six times on the cheek before I finally got up.

The men pass by with their carts full of cables and sawdust, scaffolds and bottles and canvas bags and bleeding lambs.  It’s been three days since Aunt Genía went into the kitchen.  She sits in the dark inside the second room and won’t let anyone in.  I visit her when it rains and the mice come out.  I cry on her lap and she sings her song to me.  My star my darling star.  I’d have my house under the water if I could.  Under the sea.

We go to Pierró’s place at the far end of the house to pick up knives and flippers.  We drink coffee in the kitchen and let ourselves out the Door of the Sneakers.  We go down the staircase, through the small gate.  Pierró dives for octopus, I feed the moray eels and laze around in seaweed.  We stay in the water until noon.  We come back dragging our feet on the staircase, fooling around, peeking behind the orchard at the ongoing bickers of the three Marías.  We make bird voices and throw rocks and sticks at them before we burst out laughing.

Chairs and tables march under my terrace, glasses clink, fish wag fishtails large as coat hangers through half-closed refrigerators, peacocks flap their wings in cages, a roll of red ribbon unreels to the floor.  These men are insects.  I can squash them whenever I want.  I can step on them or drown them in their blood and it won’t make a difference.  It is quiet this time of day.  The wind drops and the olive trees change colors.  Mórfo comes up to water the plants.  I splash around the terrace and eat the goodies she brings me.  When it gets dark I walk to the gardens.  Time passes.  I walk to the kitchen ledge and lean and whistle.  Aunt Genía wipes her hands on her apron.   My darling star, you who know everything and watch everyone and never say a thing.  You who were born to be a heartbreaker.  You can’t be touched by other people’s garbage.  Here dear – have a cookie.

The men rub their hands together and light cigarettes.  They are tense and restless.  They stand outside Jerry’s door, where the girls are sleeping.  They notice me.  They stare.  Some say hello.  Grandpa had to come all the way down to convince Lila to dance with the ribbon for the party.

These days I go to sleep as late as I feel like.  Jerry and the three Marías play cards, the others shout and watch TV.  No one has anything to tell me.  Sometimes it rains and the scratching starts under the stairways.  We take the powder from the kitchen and put it between the stairs.  The mice sniff the powder and drop to the floor.

Lila stretches on her chair:  Gosh, again, I am stuffed again.  A sweet sunny feeling washes over her body.  Pierró looks at me.  I know how she feels.  Come, Míno, go upstairs with Lila.  From behind the rough wall I can hear them knocking.  Empty dresses and black shirts go by, straw brooms and canvas and masks, a trawl line of dolls;  a tiger piglet bobs along nervously wearing a collar and a red bowtie.  We used to sneak upstairs after lunch and drink wine not long ago.  Lila and I.  Her black curls smelled of seaweed and fried potatoes.  We used to drink and play until it got dark.

When Lila walked through the vineyard the grapes were split in two said Grandpa.  The wine from one side tastes like pear, the one from the other like smoke and pine trees.  Jerry stood up and stared at Grandpa.

Pierró looks like the man with the snappers.  They hang in bunches and shine blue against the rough yellow wall.  They are knocking, still knocking.  My knees are trembling.  Aunt Genía cuts the pastry into small purses.  Black shame on those who’d call you an idiot.  Idiots aren’t handsome as gods.  Idiots don’t calm the wild beasts with a stroke of their hand.  My boy, my darling star.  Aunt Genía kneads and weeps and keeps the kitchen lights switched off.

When Lila comes to people’s doorways they gape at her.  When Lila holds a baby in her arms chairs hit the floor and glasses shatter on the tables.  Lila is scared of underwater cables and caterpillars.  There’s nothing in this world that Lila hates more than a mouse.

The tiger piglet has fear in his eyes.  We will play together and I’ll calm him down and teach him how to walk.  He is the most delightful creature I have ever met.  When Jerry threw his glass at Grandpa I fell upon him and cut an ear off his head.  They pulled me back soaked in his blood.  The terrace is dry now.  From behind the wall I can hear them knocking.  Lila lets out choked cries.  Pierró laughs and shushes her.  I want to play but my heart has sunk low.  In the sea, under the water, there is no such thing as scratching.  Men are afraid to be there.  Their ears and eyes turn blurry.  Lila used to put her hands over her belly-bottom.  Not there dear.  My darling boy.  Don’t put your tongue in there.

Saturday 12 June 12 Noon

J. Walker Evans entered the room in relief, with the indefinable hunch that he had finally reached the one place on earth where things cast no shadows.  This was a spark of a thought, barely present to him, and by professional habit he was quick to pick it up and try and will it into existence while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.  The implications of perpetual midday raced through his head, followed by potential forms of flora and fauna that would survive under such conditions, until he realized that three such forms were staring at him across the low room and, focusing abruptly, lost his hunch forever.

— I am Walker Evans.

The glow of a TV set was on the old man’s face.  He spoke in a firm voice looking to the left of J. Walker Evans.  From that point emerged a slightly accented, fluent translation of his words.

A young man in his late twenties, the fourth in the room, sat directly to the left of J. Walker Evans.  There was something vaguely Asian about him.

— Mr. Lambrakis – my grandfather – asks, would you like to sit down?  Would you like a glass of water?  You seem not well.

J. W. Evans instantly knew that he stood in the wrong side of the old man’s world:  beside everything that threatened his interests, passions, and alliances.  There was no kindness, no generosity to be expected from the old man.

— Mr. Evans – why are you investigating this tragedy?

— Two of our citizens were among the victims.

J. Walker Evans spoke 6 languages and had lived in twice as many countries.  His morality was grounded in situations.  He was a man of action, dedicated to his work, with admirable powers of abstraction.  He had a brilliant sense of humor.

Yet, faced with the old man, J. Walker Evans came off looking rather comical.

*

The statements went as expected.  J. W. Evans already felt better.  He gathered his notes prepared to take his leave.

The old man spoke again, louder and firmer than before.

— Mr. Evans, my grandfather wants to know if he can explain his feelings.

J. Walker Evans’ mental assessment of all things spoken and unspoken at the meeting did not contradict his theory of what had happened.

— Mr. Lambrakis feels deserted.  He feels fooled.

— I am sorry, Mr. Lambrakis.

— And so he will get to the point.

— …

— It was his older sister.  Eugenia Lambrakis.  She had made threats before.  She was 93.  She poisoned the food.

J. W. Evans kept writing in his notebook, no longer sure what exactly.

— It was rat poison.  In the – how do you call them? – pies.  Ravioli.  Dumplings.

— Rat poison.  In the dumplings.

J. Walker Evans was sunburned a ridiculous shade of pink.  He was in awe of the old man.  He was soft and grateful to him.  He did not want to leave.

— There are situations, Mr. Evans, where saying no to a treat is worse than disgrace.  Besides, our people eat in a rush.

— Mr. Lambrakis – why would your sister commit such a heinous act?

— She was an old crackpot.  Thought our family was cursed.  She saw decay and barrenness coming our way.  Her mind became unhinged.

— There are two people unaccounted for.  We’d like you to help us find them.  Your niece, Eléni, and your grandson, Minos.

— Eléni’s in the hospital.  She was operated two nights ago.  She knows nothing of this.

— Mr. Lambrakis, there is word that Mino was in the house before the party.

— And there are papers, Mr. Evans, closetfuls of papers, from the chief of police, and stamped certificates, and a gravestone down the hill carved with Míno’s drowning date, 5 June two years ago.  It is no good mixing your facts in the middle of our grief, sir.

— I apologize.  I thank you for your time.

J. W. Evans opened the door and the white light fell upon him.  He shielded his eyes too late, and turned blindly toward the middle of the room.

— Is it true that they were going to sell the house, sir?

— It doesn’t matter now, Mr. Evans.

J. Walker Evans walked out into the burning street amid a chorus of frantically howling dogs that paid him no attention.

*

A wind rose from nowhere and washed over the hills, scaring flocks of birds away from the olive groves.  It went through the vineyards, down one slope and up another, past hamlets and orchards, toward the village square.  The sky darkened and the air cooled.  The dogs stopped howling and ran.  By the time the wind was upon him the subterranean groan, impossibly deep, had engulfed the village from all directions.  Clouds of dust rose from sixty different spots across the mountain.  The ground started trembling.

Then it was gone.

J. Walker Evans drove down the mountain, swerving to avoid fallen rocks.  Half an hour of barren land lay between him and the house, at the foot of the olive groves.  Sharp and cool, his throbbing sunburn long forgotten, he tore through the receding curtains of the heat still processing the stunning information from his conversation with the old man, no longer recognizing the familiar swerve of the coastline, past two small groups of staggering people, as the road became muddy and the air started smelling of brine trees.  The magnitude of the disaster did not become clear to him until he almost drove into a fishing boat that had landed in the middle of the asphalt road, two hundred yards inland from its usual moorings.

The front of the house was exactly as he had left it.  Peacocks roamed among the parked police cars.  Orange tape was stuck to the wall.  He let himself into the front yard where the air was drunk with shaken branches and squashed bitter oranges.  He ran up the main staircase quickly, past fallen furniture, making the cicadas stop and start again in the inner gardens, until he noticed that there were no more things in the house.  The floor was covered in puddles of seaweed, small fish and broken wood.  He rushed up and down the staircases thinking that such houses were not built but willed into existence against the power of the heat, accidentally kicking into a throng of house-cats feasting on a pool, until he reached the atrium midway through the endless house, a door and five steps before the crime scene proper.  He reeled back with a silent cry, then hung his head in defeat.

The ruin of a yellow wall and a shattered tree framed a gaping, spectacular void – instead of the steps and the courtyard and the plants and the door and the cascading terraces – a view to the open sea.  The crumbling stucco of a boy carrying two bunches of blue fish was still painted on the yellow wall.  One quarter of the old gravel courtyard stood between him and the fresh, steaming drop.  There was no more house from that point forward.  No more staircases, tables covered in leftovers, clothes thrown to the floor;  no more signs of people running around desperately, no bolted doors, cracked windows and cut telephone lines;  no more crime scene.  Not a single body, dead or alive, to be seen.

A young man walked out of the olive trees.  He was quiet and abnormally beautiful.  He held a baby boar in his arms.  He walked up to the terrace where J. W. Evans was standing, kneeled, and set the boar free.  The small animal trotted away and jumped into the bushes.  The young man studied J. Walker Evans, and gestured, mutely, toward the void.  They stood side by side on the steaming new cliffedge, quietly looking at the shadow cast on the water by the ruined house, forty feet below.

Thursday 18 June 11 at Night

Lila’s Song

She’s a rock n’ roll statue with seaweed on her foot

She’s the eye of a leopard laughing at you

She’s a bitch she’s a goddess

She’ll dance and she’ll cry

Bangs the doors

Kicks the stones

She lives in the sky

I don’t care for nothing

I don’t care for knife

Drinks the air feasts on nothing

She tosses her hair

Please baby

Get rid of the knife

Please baby please

Blue silver fish leap in the shallow water

We watch the flying saucers and the icecream aeroplanes

Lights flicker on and off across the islands

Creatures transmit their stories through the phosphorescence

Men drink blue drinks

Great floodlights turn behind the sleeping ships

Ground control to number forty

Men dance with open hands

Light that’s not of the sun

It’s dark and we’re soaked to the bone

It’s dark and we’re covered in blood

There’s running in the stairs

There’s blue sirens flashing

Her breath running out

They’re coming to take her

Please baby please

She laughs and she bleeds

She laughs and kicks her legs

She kicks her legs on the bedstead

My heart sinks and hardens

I don’t care for nobody

Over and out number forty

I don’t care for nothing

Come here baby

Get out now

Get out of here

Monday 12 June 4 in the Afternoon

It is now our conviction that three separate crimes were committed in the 24 hours directly preceding the catastrophe in the North coast of the island.  Real estate, superstition and unrequited love are at the heart of these crimes.   Two are crimes of commission;  one of omission.  The tidal wave swept away all proof that they ever took place, including murder weapons and substances, 38 bodies, and 4 officers conducting the preliminary investigation.

First crime:  forgery, false and misleading testimony, obstruction of justice – motives unknown.  Constantine and Petros Lambrakis, 85 and 25, Eleni Manzanera, 22, and their extended family and community, fabricate and confidently support the death by drowning, two years ago, of Minos Lambrakis, 22, deaf-mute of a much younger mental age.  This goes on while Minos is alive, resident of the seaside complex, discreetly partaking in the daily life of the Lambrakis estate.

Second crime:  attempted murder.  Minos stabs Eleni – his second cousin – twice, with a diver’s knife, in the back.  He does this in deep confusion and under severe stress two days before the disaster, during a night stroll by the beach.  Eleni is 4 months pregnant.  The father of her child is Petros Lambrakis, Minos’ older brother.  Eleni undergoes successful treatment in the hospital where she is now recovering.

Third crime:  premeditated mass-murder.  Eugenia Lambrakis, sister of Constantine, around 95, possibly senile, heavily poisons the appetizers of Eleni’s sudden engagement party to Jerry Santana, a.k.a. Gerasimos Santamorinis, local construction magnate, third legal representative of the Lambrakis estate.  All 37 hosts and guests, including 2 British real-estate agents, the village mayor and the groom-to-be, are dead within the span of 15 minutes – roughly 9 hours before the disaster.  As soon as she ensures that her crime has been successfully carried out, the old woman commits suicide.  Petros, Eleni, Constantine and Minos are not at the party – the first two are in hospital, the third in his mountain house.  They are therefore not among the victims.  The whereabouts of Minos at the time of the murders cannot be established.

Both the presence and identity of Minos are now incontestable.  Yet as far as his family is concerned these facts do not contradict its story.  Minos’ alleged death by drowning is at no point called into question, while his sudden arrival at the disaster scene is received as a reasonable miracle, an acceptable outcome of this catastrophe that stands beyond all reason.  According to his family, Minos did not drown two years ago after all, but simply lost his way and wits and wandered about until he was returned to his people by this act of god.

The statute of limitations of these crimes has categorically expired in the island’s collective memory.  It is unlikely that they will ever be persecuted.  Their victims will at best be added to the heavy toll of the disaster.

Given the circumstances, we are bound to the version of the story provided to us by the surviving Lambrakises.

Friday 9 June 7 in the Morning

Seagulls and pigeons flutter about the squashed bitter oranges of the villa, over the upturned tables, the broken glasses and the lost shoes, and the fallen people;  seabirds flutter on the grass and the cliff path in front of a small gate, raising sand from the dunes and the stocky brine trees below the cascading slabs of granite and schist, crossing over chained, folded deck chairs and beach umbrellas, their bellies almost touching the Mediterranean.  Two pairs of shoes come out the Door of the Sneakers:  insomniac legs drive them forward to the long staircase:  one by one, in a dancing sequence, toes first, heels up, two pairs of shoes come out the rusty wicket in a hurry and continue, drunk but synchronized.

A young man looks at his brother.  He pulls a bunch of rusty keys out of his pocket and screams to the other at the top-of-his lungs, incoherently.  He makes a sly figure-eight and runs to the dunes in mad rabbit jumps, laughing, toppling beach fences and deck chairs, shaking a fist of rusty keys into the morning air, throwing his clothes to the bushes.

Pierró rushes after Míno but can’t catch up.  One hundred yards ahead already, lithe and unstoppable, Míno takes off his shorts still holding onto the ring of keys.  Vague voices come from behind him, calling him back, vague cries of marine poultry hover above him.  He is wading in the water stark naked.  Fish and drift seaweed surround him, slimy gilled creatures, shipwrecks, buried cities.  He will go as far out as he can.  Pierró stands on the seafront calling him back.  Breaking into waves and bigger waves, catching their foam from nostril to belly-button, Míno splashes his way forward, singing Lila’s song in his head.

Constantine Lambrakis, slowly falling asleep on sheets smelling of lavender, lets out small, lonely, raspy smoke snores.  Lila Manzanera is deeply asleep, injured and in love in her hospital bed;  the early morning sunrays fall softly on her ankles.  Genía Lambrakis is lying down, eyes open, her cheek on the damp earth of her brother’s villa;  black foam runs out of her wrinkled mouth.  Henry Coach and Barnaby Richards, real estate agents, lean their backs against an ancient olive tree, stunned and petrified.  A small disturbance breaks out in a mid-sea rift two hundred yards ahead of Míno, scaring shoals of silver snappers into the deep swell, away from the reefs.  Barnaby, a red spider crab, catches a sand worm and prepares to have it for breakfast.  Frank, a lonely seagull cruising the North island coast attacks the water and comes out holding Henry, an unlucky sardine.  Míno sings Lila’s song, holding tight onto the house keys.  He lunges forward in one move, hits the water locked into an L, and disappears under a breaker.  The seabed is quiet, dark, and cold.

Published in: Tales from the City, Stories from the Sea. (Athens: Periplous Editions 2006), 69-76