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A Catch For Marizza
By Vasilis Afxentiou
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Rated "G" by the Author.
Mythology based on the Cabeiri, group of minor deities of Greek origin.
About 4300 words
A Catch For Marizza
An aged fisherman had been the first to see the treasure trove.
Fishermen had been the first to explore the island's ragged coast thoroughly. The seasoned anglers, with a week's supply of edibles consisting of olives, goat's cheese, dried figs, crusty bread and fresh water, could sail between alcoves while still daylight. Long ago the island's mayor had sent a fleet of them to search out the rumoured treasure.
It was a bad day to set sail. Andreas was risking it anyway, for Marizza. "It's the only way," he said rubbing his hands to warm them. "It's my duty to help."
He looked out to the sea. He extended an arm and brushed gently the hull of his vessel, almost as one would caress an old devoted dog. He did not answer the many questions in his head. Instead he squeezed his lips together, and tried to remain cool. What he saw was highly dangerous. Behind the guise of calm, Andreas Karras was uneasy. For the first time, the thought echoed in his brain, he had planned in fact to raid the sacred trove.
Daylight was in the asking, though it was well after dawn. Sea and sky glared at each other with dark, wet and windy bursts. Clouds grazed black, restless waters, then convoluted into ominous resolutions of the Apocalypse. Andreas prodded his eyes away. He took a last look around him. Only a fool would plunge into that, he thought. Abandoned, secured but empty boats, pulled far away from the swelling white froth, lay on the grey gust-swept beach.
Ares was among them. A little more than a skiff. Boasted an extra yard and a half over the rest, and a deeper wedge-shaped belly. The bottom of its floor had been covered across with thick planks from walnut wood to make for sound footing. He felt proud of the old sloop. No fewer than thirty years had passed since his father--a stern turbulent man--crafted the little ship with his own two hands, before even Andreas had taken his first breath of life.
Those days, even though the devil bar his way, his father would row out, net or angle his catch, and row back to sell the fruit of the sea.
"I don't approve of cowards," he had said then. "To be prudent, yes. The ancients teach moderation, it applies to virtue as well. Steal but don't get cought. " Andreas, troubled, tugged at his chin searching for propriety in this answer. Today, the little ship of his had a modern engine. It was called a motor-boat, no longer a row-boat. Two years at trade school in Saloniki taught Andreas enough to adeptly remove the engine from an abandoned and rusting Opel, refurbish it, and provide his formerly lumbering boat with new spirit and surety. It took him out and brought him back soundly and swiftly as the tide.
Here, he was in his element. His boat was practically an extension of himself. Sitting at the prow, Andreas felt the power at his back. At several instances he wanted to accuse his father; condemn him savagely for all he was about to do. The old man had left them only with the bills from the taverna. But instead he only nodded at and stroked the craft.
He slowly drew his hand away and fondled his ear. "Our only problem," he said, looking at and addressing the vessel as though it was a true companion, "is that all involved in previous conspiracies never returned." Half of them had been discovered, in the sea, fish-eaten. "To join the lot will be easy, little mate." His voice was level with the groaning, squeaking boats. He wore the lanky, sinewy look of a monk in fast, but Andreas' eyes held no dreamy vision. They were clear and bright. For nearly all his life Andreas maintained his body, wit, and reason at peak. "Why Marizza?" he finally whispered. "I will not be goaded by fear alone. Other than virtue and valour there is the middle road. There is common sense, my father."
It numbed and provoked him that his father could--years after his death--pull this snare of dominance upon him from the past.
"I am your father. You will honour and heed me."
"You can't be," Andreas said out loud. The timbre of his own cry shocked him. "My father is dead."
"I am alive," the call said. "Alive as you are. I will be alive as long as you are, and more, my son, because now I cannot die."
Andreas blotted the perspiration from his chilled face. "You are only a voice inside me."
"Nothing of the kind, my father."
"What is believable and what is not, be not so assured. Truths can kill as sure as lies, as the fish-eaten corpses know."
"You are an illusion."
"All the more. An illusion is not there to undergo death. You must work with illusions, dear boy, to cheat Charon from this impending death."
Andreas rubbed his stinging eyes. The vapors from the rotting cannabis sprouts that grew near the wet shore from the bird droppings made his nostril itch just then. The vapors were infiltrating the austere logic, the stern discipline of a sanity and judgement, he had been bequeathed from the thinkers of this land. But the drift of the narcotic was sweet and comforting, the very warm blanket of solace, and such hope. He felt no longer alone. "You may be me, my father. But not above me."
"I am the delusion of your hope. Without me death is not a chimera. It is certain, inescapable, final. You need me to bridle the terror reality loosens. To skirt the panic death floods. And do what you must: Steal from gods."
"How can you claim to be me when you are not at all like me," Andreas said quickly and with a low voice. "You are gone. I must fear death above life. Fear is a godly tool. It makes mortals go beyond themselves--into Olympian terrain. I will marry old prudence with mortal fear, father. I need not shame us both today."
"Ah, Andreas!" Marizza had said. "I will come with you to the Cabeiri."
"You've been spying on me," he had said two Sundays ago after church, the smile on his face waning.
Marizza was the school teacher for the island, and she was also Andreas's sister. She was the more studious one in the family. He knew well the craft of boats, how to build them, care for them, he had the talent of fishing as his father did and could outfish any other in the seaside village. But Marizza, poor Marizza, wanted to marry Kosta, the mayor's younger son, and that was above their level. The mayor asked a fortune for a dowery. And Marizza, she had this afliction. She could not see his smile diminish. "The past week you had restless nights," she said putting the heavy glasses on. "You spoke of many things in your sleep."
Marizza's sight was very bad. So bad, that she had to wear glasses with very thick and specially made lenses. Some of the more misbehaved children smirked and snickered at her fat eyes and, he heard them, called her fish-eyes. The lenses could not show her otherwise than an oggling, puffed-eyed creature. Although without them, Andreas thought, the few times he had seen her, that she was quite pretty, even attractve with a lost sort of gaze that made you want to come closer and take her hand and guide her.
He believed it would have been preferable for his sister if the children had slapped her. Greater than anything she distressed to be ridiculed about her bad vision. He could not recount how her expression marred when they said this (normally she achieved to make a tenet of self-composure), but that time her look revealed regret sorrow misgiving and other discouraging sensitivities that he could not truly name. Her eyes started blinking, and to him she obscurely uttered, "The Mayor's son considers himself above all. But he can't understand. He has never understood."
Nevertheless, she had always worn the glasses. She was as good as blind not having them on. The searching eyes behind the glasses and the sensibility and knowledge she carried were what attracted Kosta. No one in the village equaled her in these two things. And all respected her for that.
To this day Andreas did not doubt that he might have skirted the danger, if he had had the wisdom to see his sister's deepset loneliness, and love for her brother. How is it, he asked himself at a later time, that we have a nearly inexhaustible incompetence to enlighten ourselves, to snub fact staring us in the eye and blazon it fantasy? He pretended to himself that the children and Kosta were his sister's perpetual anxieties, the ones she regard greater than all else. Or rather, he thought they were the unique ones.
Andreas now sized up the white caps bopping not too distantly from where he stood. It will be a bouncy ride, he concluded. Nobody will be out there to see him or interfere. So it was as well. His own sensations and ideas were not shared by many of the islanders. Despite his discipline in the sea he too made blunders. He was entering the reality of alien grounds. So much proper it would have been to appreciate a simple folk he had lived closer to almost all his life. He thought he knew them. He lived as an islander, and he thought that his own appreciation of the islander life must not be any different. They grasped splendour and grace as he did. Beauty too. Decidedly when fishing over the billows they loved, the smell of salty wash in the cool air, the Agean sky, the jumping of the bluefish, and all around, the silver-white gulls careening in the wind crying and singing to each other secrets and tragedies they have seen. Doubtlessly, his islanders embraced life fervently, moreso than polished mankind, lived more fully humane, animate, timely. There were moments in the sea, or on the shores by the clean bubbly surf, when Andreas sensed life as it should be: innocent, uncomplicated and alone with the Universe. How sardonic, he thought, that he had to execute such severe an errand, that he had to intimidate dead gods--but gods still--to fight rushing waves to find and test his challenge to ancient ways that never quite eclipsed in all that was wild, feral and untamed of the world. How distant, how trivial the dare seemed. What was divine insight polished by man's retellings next to the boundless, vast, magic charm of the world that once was? He uncovered within himself an intense determination to continue living as wholly as he could. He seized delight in most deeds he fulfilled, in erecting a sail and in watching stars fall ripping the night sky open white; found wisdom in mending nets and splendor in soothing, remedying, temporarily, a woman's unhealing wound; delight even he found in gathering soft fresh walnuts, that blackened his hands with their sap, atop the giant tree behind the house.
"But why not start with an easier plan," Marizza said later that Sunday. "More fishing, for example? More dependable, and less than half the risk. Easier on yourself, and me, too--if that's the right word."
Marizza had certainly done her homework, Anreas thought. But that, of course, was why she was the teacher, and not he.
"There's very little to gain--when you allow for the extra danger and the long term problems." Andreas listened as though he had an economist across from him, analysing and preparing a study on logistics. "Instead of the Cabeiri treasure, we can use the abandoned salmon facilities up river. Further upstream, there is the reputed gold flakes that are released from the peak of Mt. Feggari..."
Logical, thought Andreas; but he was sure that it would come to nothing. The Mayor was the lord of the island; he would not be interested in lesser venture.
"Besides," Marizza continued, "the treasure is not ours. It belongs to another. It is a divine, a major scandal. It's more than two thousand years since it was placed aside, but we still do not know for what purpose--and the Great Cabeiri is as big a mystery as ever. That's why I want to come too. All this makes it difficult for just one mortal to handle. There is the other also. I know the archaic incantations that placate gods."
He put a strong back into it and the bulky vessel shifted over the laid slip-logs towards the incoming breakers. He checked it at the brink of the water, checked the tightness of the propeller and ran his weathered fingers over the cotter pin that held it to the shaft. Satisfied, he put a grunting shoulder to the stern and the boat clieved the pounding sea. Next he dragged the logs away from the surf then scooted and jumped in the boat. He undid the tie-rope and pushed an oar against the sandy sea-bottom. The concrete jetty to his right still kept the full force of the swells from reaching him. Soon enough he'd leave even this harborage asunder.
He could not remember the last time he had seen Marizza be so relieved--and so tired--at the end of a discussion. He had had a brutal, throbbing toothache, but his intentions for this morning had been staunchly decided upon that Sunday. No wine in the taverna with the others in the evening, no meat but vegetables and fruit, not even a woman before he got back from his charge. He meant to be strong and to be prepared enough to contest gods.
"No, Marizza." His voice had a finality that he himself did not know what to make of it.
Determined he heaved at the crank. The engine jumped to a roaring start. He looked over his shoulder just in case, but the beach remained deserted. The southeast wind would blow the noise and nose of the boat into the open sea and not to the village behind.*
Out in the open waters, he turned his head every so often to get his baring. What had been the shore and the concrete jetty a short while ago, now melded into a single coastline maybe two kilometers into the distance. At this point he turned east. The wind howled by him while the boat pitched and rolled with the new course.
Half hour went by. Andeeas now ventured a turn directly into the wind. The boat lifted and splashed down, lifted again and plummeted onto an oncoming wave. He dripped and shivered. More spray and sea came over the edge of the labouring craft, but it pushed stubornly through the jagged waters.
He had made progress. He estimated an eighth of the island's perimetry had been circumnavigated. He saw the raw beaches to his right that were strewn with dark gray pebbles and water-honed bolders. This was the marker. Soon he would see the narrow drip of the Fall. Below, lay his destination. After that there was only the journey back. The weather will not help, he considered. He had to be quick.
The currents drove him back. The wind pushed too, as though to keep him from reaching Hanging Fall. The year had so many calm days to choose from, but in calm days the sea filled with fishing boats, even here were the waters ran deep and wild. This was a part of the island that was least fertile. The wind and the salt and the pumace from long gone volcanoes had turned it to barren and empty wasteland. The islanders called it "Moon". It did not differ much from the baren and silver mistress of the sky. Vacant of life and a mystery to man, Andreas reflected, the very same mystery to the denizens of powerful rituals long passed.
Yet, this niche of the world had not completely let go. Did not altogether abandon the hold on the arcane in history. Here the Cabeiri once reigned, and by way of the Cabeiri Olympia was made pregnant. From this island issued forth the turn of an epoch. Its significance was lost to most and to time, but Andreas somehow knew that the Great Queen and mother to Alexander was not an ungrateful Queen. This island had been rewarded by her. The reward was sacred; he knew this too. And he knew where it lay.
The clouds now turned the day into twilight. They pressed on the sea, and sea and sky looked as one. The wind gave way to a drift. A thick black-grey mist covered the watery spans. It poured into the boat from all sides and snaked every which way. The stuff became indistinguishable from all that was arround it. No land was visible now. No sea. Andreas could hardly make out his feet which where planted on the boat's floor. The mist trailed and whirled, convoluted up his legs and drifted off like torn webs and shorn lamb wool taken by the breeze's passing.
With the absence of the wind, the waters only rocked, did not pounce on him. But nothing was visible beyond the boat's stern, and that even disappeared at times. He leaned over, choked the motor to a stop, and flipped a switch. A tiny red and green light flicked on. For some reason he felt better, because the turn of silence and the thickening of vapors had stirred in him what the passing of eons stilled. The two little sparks of light, one to his left and the other to his right kept him in the present; reminded him that all else was his imagination--and old yarns.
The silence was absolute but for the lapping of water on his oars and the boat's sides. He listened for the splash of the Fall. He rubbed his temples as he looked into the dark pit of where the sea should be. He was turning impatient and ill at ease. Meanwhile, the thickening haze comsumed more of the sound, sight, and the residual breeze.
He rowed at right angles to the riples of the wan current, and hoped that he was moving parallel to the shore he could not see. A splatter next to him started him.
"A fish," he said and comforted hearing his own voice.
He rowed and softly chanted into the gloom.
Marizza. She will have the richest dowery on the island, maybe the country, he revelled. Why didn't I do it sooner? The troves must be there, buried below the Fall, as his father had told him. The pool at the bottom of the Hanging Fall. I could have soothed her pain. Poor Marizza. I let her grieve and anguish, and all the time I knew. Old Lores of the Cabeiri haunting and protecting .
"Legends and myths, Cabeiri, hah. They have been dead for two thousand years and their enchantments, too."
He rowed now hushed. His ears pricked for the spattering of the Fall, but he heard only his father's words.
"It is buried," his father had whispered, short of breath, "beneath the fine sand of the pool's shallow waters. It killed twenty, already--twenty, drunk with greed and ignoble schemes for its use. The treasure is bewitched, and all fear it now," he had gasped. "The seeker of it must first pacify the guardian Cabeiri. Cry out his intentions openly and truly. They know. They are charitable, but moreso, ruthless." His father, with this, had closed his eyes for ever.
"The good Mayor, Mr. Cabeiri," he cried out. Why not, it's only lip service, he decided and he wanted to get it off his chest as well, "He wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants a bride for his son in flesh and blood and in money also. Because heartbroken Marizza is half-blind the old goat prods the soft Kosta to ask for more each time. A pharisee he is--over and over--the glutton Mayor!" he yelled and a rumble sounded in the far distance, or he thought he heard one. His temperance was accosted now; the momentum of indignant anger choked him with its impetus. "Wealth you can lose, but Marizza has knowledge, Mr. Cabeiri, and wisdom that comes from a rich heart. These you cannot lose. Not rob either. Kosta is smart and knows this. And he too knows that behind those thick spectacles hides the most beautiful girl on the island. But he doesn't want to go against--the old mizer! And yet he does not want to forfeit the goodness he found in Marizza."
He heard the splashing of a fish. And another. The water frothed and boiled now. It splattered around him with coruscating silver leaps. He could no longer push his oars in the crowded waters and drew them in.
"If only I had my nets...I would fill the boat," he said regretfully. But nets and treasure together would sink the small skiff. He picked up an oar and smacked down hard on the riotous sea. Again. Again. His arms heaved and smashed over and over. They are hefty, well-fed ones, he surmised from the rich splashes. He feared that the oar would crack and break. The water seethed and churned. Never had he seen so much fish. Of all places in this baren gulf where the Fall's fresh water emptied.
Arms hurting, he gathered all the fish he killed. There were many. Truly huge bulls. They must have come from the shore near the pool. "So you go there to drink the fresh water and eat fresh-water tid-bits," he spoke as he gathered. It is the place the frogs and salamanders the islanders find in the fish's bellies come from.
The catch was what a good day's work would have yielded, and heavy. All without hooks or nets. Just with a single oar! "Yet, no sign of the fall. Only mists."
Andreas decided now to row to shore. His weary shoulders protested as he pulled on the oars and not use the motor as it would have drowned any sound of the fall.
They would never believe him. He did not believe it. The boat was ladened with well fed fish. But he believed his hurting arms. He rowed now with all the strength remaining in his muscles, for the catch was a singularly good portend of greater things to come.
"Fish and treasure, treasure and fish," he repeated over and over as he paddled harder then ever before.
The grinding under the hull startled him Even more so the familiar, but unexpected venue. He rubbed his salt stained eyes. The fog must have thined out while he had been busy at the oars because he could now see the other boats and the neat pile of clip-logs as he had piled them at his outset.
He jumped off, pulled the boat in more, and plopped on the wet sand. He felt utterly worn out and altogether confused.
"Where did I lose my bearing?" he asked sqeezing his stinging eyes. "How could I have rowed twelve kilometers in the opposite direction, and not be aware?"
But he could not have done either. He would not be on the beach right now if he did. Because the shore was always to his right. Unless he had circumnavigated the entire island. He shook his head riddled.
He was too spent to try to puzzle it out. No, he didn't believe the Cabeiri had anything to do with it. He only felt sad at Marizza's fate, and disappointed in himself. The mists had all but cleared up and the surf rolled lazily next to him. No matter, he consoled the fish will bring in a good price. He picked one, squated over the water and commenced cleaning it so as Marizza could cook it for their dinner that evening.
"It was not worth the fight, my father. All was invention. Strange fabrications, but fibs, father."
He sliced through the fish's belly and dumped the innards out.
"True as the twelve Olympians. Ah, my country you are a fountain of myths." He laughed with the remaining energy he had.
Amid gut and bile strange reflections emminated and cought his eye. He threw water on them with his hand. He washed the entrails again and again. They were bloated and hard. Cutting through with his knife, he blinked twice and rubbed his eyes to clear them. Three--no five small blue stones fell out. They glittered back at him.
He cut open a second fish--two green twinkles blinked back.
Another fish produced six transparent brilliants or diamonds. He couldn't tell.
Another,a few blood-red pistils, rubies...a giant perl, tiny gold nuggets...
He had cut ten fish and in each there was a quaint-sized treasure. At least twenty more great fish lingered still on the boat's flooring, and already a small fortune filled the palm of his hand.
He rose and was about to cast off to the same spot, when he thought better.
There is not much more I wish to tell of that charmed morning. I had plunged into the cold sea, into the realm of myth and legend, into the ballads and fables underlying the order of the everyday and the commonplace.
The Cabeiri had been charitable to me, more than generous in my time of need. There could have been frogs and salamanders in the fish bellies.
When there is need, I tell myself, I will go back then only. The secret was un-greed . But for now, along with Marizza, let's make Andreas happy and prepare for a grateful and memorable second wedding.
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