READING,

[#4]
“The Dogs” by Petros Syrios.

Angelique 1

She had never been pretty, even as a child. Maybe her name, Angelique, had been a desiderative, such as the stormy Pacific Ocean, wishing her to become angelic. It certainly was not descriptive—no one had ever imagined an angel like Angelique. Never cute, never invited a caress or a sweet word from strangers or family. Short, stubby, cross-eyed, inarticulate and not really bright, with a voice that carried the timbre of heavy equipment and a stride to match it. She was the daughter of a shepherd, a drunkard who cowered in front of his wife, an enormously wide woman, coarse and efficient, who could milk a hundred goats on her own in one sitting. Always soiled, always sweaty, even in the dead of winter, she had given him four children, who should normally help with the sheep and goats, the cheese-making, the gathering of firewood, the slaying of chickens and rabbits, the rounding up of their six ferocious dogs. If only they had enough wits to do any of that on their own, without her telling them. Her name, Calliste, must also have been a desiderative, certainly was not descriptive because, even though a good and providing mother, she was shrewd, calculating, and not loath to cheating. Countless times she tried to score a good husband for Angelique, unabashedly knocking on doors, confronting young and not-so-young men in the village, offering up her daughter’s secret virtue, her virginity, as counterbalance to her apparent misfortunes. The goat and sheep corral, the hut that was their house, the stench that emanated from them, their dogs that roamed around the village every night, howling and barking, Angelique’s girth, heavy stride, and vacuous gaze, ensured that no one, not even a widower, would ever be found for her as a husband.

Angelique 2

Angelique would make the trip to the main square several times a day, lugging groceries, knocking on doors to peddle freshly slaughtered chickens and fresh cheese, asking if anyone would like a rabbit or eggs. No one on their own accord would talk to her. She would walk down the street addressing people in the houses at the top of her lungs—good morning neighbor, how are you today, before, unasked, she would burst into a narrative about the day of the family: we called the vet today to take a look at the little lambs, mummy milked the goats and started on the cheese, Nicholas (her brother) had to go to the doctor because he got a boil on his groin, she, herself, was just now going swimming, her first of the year, because after St Constantine’s Day, on the 21st May, when anyone would have started swimming, she was on her menses, and couldn’t swim.

One spring afternoon after Easter, Angelique, now in her early thirties, walked to the main square, as everyone in the village was sitting around having their coffee, drinks, their pre-dinner sweets—confections of sponge cake and ganache and buttercream with maraschino cherries and toasted sliced almonds—she pulled up her skirt and started shouting—villagers! are you going to find me a husband? I want a man! Do you understand? I want a MAN, I want a man to fuck me! Her voice carried through the village to the harbor and the nearby hills. I want a MAN! Do YOU UNDERSTAND? I WANT A MAN! Someone, somehow, pulled her away and brought her home. What happened next, no one ever found out—not that anyone cared. Did her mother hit her? Did her brother? Did anyone say anything at all? She continued to go up and down the street, always alone, always calling out at the top of her lungs—hello neighbors!

Everyone could stand the stench, because it was on the way out of the village. Everyone could stand the peddling of the rabbits, the eggs, the cheese, the virginity. What no one could stand was the barking and the growling of the dogs at night. Travelling in a pack, they took the same route at night that Angelique would take during the day, barking incessantly, goading other dogs to bark, disturbing everyone’s sleep, especially the sleep of the rich who would only come to this picturesque village in the summer, the ones who had bought up the old, dilapidated houses of the shipowners of other centuries. New money. People who bought their silver. They drove around in their Porches and Mercedes-Benzs and Audis, talked to no one from the village—much less to Angelique to whom no one ever spoke on their own accord.

Angelique 3

The Mercedes-Benz drove slowly on the road to the main square. Early July evening, just before the sun set, Angelique was going for a swim. The car rolled quietly by her, the side window lowered slowly, the voice of a woman—Angelique! She turned, startled but expectantly. She was being addressed without addressing someone first…excited, flustered, she leaned over, Yes? Good evening, she said, I am going to…she started to say. The driver, in her sixties, cut her off, immediately. You’ve got to do something about the dogs, she (almost) barked. They don’t let anyone sleep at night!

Angelique’s face dropped, turned ashen. We will, we will, she said, we will. I promise. I am sorry that they bother you.

I saw the same expectant face on my father, years later. It was the first visit to his surgeon after his cancer surgery, his diagnosis of a hideous neurodegenerative disease, his radiotherapy. He looked at me with the same expectant face, just like I imagine my face looked like when, as a child, I checked under the Christmas tree for a New Year’s present. The doctor said that he is hopeful, my father said, that I might not need chemo. Nine years later he asked me for a cyanide capsule.


Transcribed by Neni Panourgiá in Athens, July 2008.
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