Kythira

Aaron carried a single red rose in his hand. The thorns bit lightly into his palm; he let them. He shared a part of himself with the flower. Red blood for a red bloom but, he didn’t let the thorns pierce deep enough to draw blood, just deep enough to remind him that they could.

The sand on the sidewalk covered more of the concrete with every step he took towards the beach. He’d get to the water, say his prayer and toss the rose as far as he could. He laughed at the thought. How silly was he to offer sacrifice to an ancient myth?

Legends told of a goddess borne of the sea on this island. Aaron didn’t really believe in the myths, but he’d spent a couple grand flying across the Atlantic just to offer the goddess of Kythira a rose in hopes she’d help him find the one thing he’d lost so many years earlier: love.

The beach was quiet, there were no children playing with balls or building sand castles. It was early; the sun was just rising up over the Mediterranean Sea. A few couples were sitting in the sand or walking along the water’s edge, but the only sound came from the waves. Aaron stopped at the edge of the sand and found a rock to sit on while he pondered how to phrase his prayer. He’d decided on the perfect sentence while staring across the wing of a 767: Bring me the love I need. As he sat on the rock, he wondered if a prayer was limited to just one sentence.

“Are you staring at me?”

Aaron blinked, his thoughts forgotten. Before him stood a woman who wouldn’t quite be old enough to drink in the States and she wore only a piece of string that almost passed for bikini bottoms. Her white-blonde hair hung in loose curls before her, obscuring what her bikini didn’t bother to cover. Her eyes were blue, sparkling and angry.

“You do speak English?” she asked. “Your shoes are American.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “No, I wasn’t looking at anything.”

“Well, you’re quite the charmer, aren’t you.” She flipped her hair back over her shoulder and turned to face the ocean. Aaron mostly succeeded in keeping his eyes above her shoulders. “It’s a beautiful sunrise today, just the right splash of clouds to bring out the shades of orange and purple.”

Beautiful was exactly what Aaron thought, but his gaze was not on the sun.

She sat beside him. “If I’m going to have to do all the talking, this isn’t going to be as interesting a conversation as I’d hoped.”

Aaron shook his head briskly, trying to focus. Talk to the pretty girl, his brain urged him. But his lips wouldn’t move, for fear any sounds that passed them would only be foolish stammers.

“I see a handsome man sitting on the rocks with a rose in his hand and looking at me and I get images from a classic romance novel in my mind. I get over here and I may as well be talking to the seagulls.”

Aaron looked away, so that she only sat in the corner of his vision. It was the only way he could not think only about her. “I’m just a little stunned. You’re beautiful.”

“Everyone here is beautiful,” she gestured to the tourists on the beach. “But you’re the only one here alone and the only one carrying a rose. I figured it meant for an interesting tale. Are you waiting for your one true love?” She piled the sarcasm on those last words.

“Kind of,” he said then chuckled. “It’s silly.”

She echoed his chuckle. “Well, then, share the joke. It doesn’t even have to be a good joke; just enough to make up for my walking the twenty paces from my blanket to these rocks.”

“I’m here to pray and offer this flower as a sacrifice by tossing it into the ocean.”

“You’ve a broken heart?” she asked; her voice laughed. She knew of the legends of the beach, perhaps she was a local. She spoke with a clear accent, but Aaron didn’t know accents to be able to tell where she came from.

Aaron turned to face her. “That’s funny to you?” He turned away again when he noticed she was leaning back on the rocks, with all of her hair behind her.

“Everyone has a broken heart,” she said. “Hearts don’t survive to adulthood intact. What makes your heart so special that you had to come all the way here to try to mend it?”

“I feel like I’ve tried everything,” he said. “I’ve been in one relationship after another since I left school. Two marriages, a dozen other shorter relationships. It’s never love like I remember with Laura.”

“Laura broke your heart?” She placed her hand on his knee. “Was Laura your one true love?”

“I broke her heart, and I wonder if she was.” Aaron took a deep breath, and stared at the sun’s reflection in the waves. “They say there is someone for everyone, and I left Laura when we got jobs after college. She went west, I went east. The breakup wasn’t exactly harlequin. I wanted her to follow me, but she’d gotten a once in a lifetime fellowship at Stanford. I said some things I can’t take back and she went off and found a new life, a husband, two point five kids. Two decades later, she’s all I think about.”

She patted his knee. It felt patronizing. He told himself it only felt patronizing. She said, “Those ‘theys’ that say there is someone for everyone, I don’t believe it. I’ve been with a hundred men this year alone and any one of them might have been a one true love, if I were looking for one true love.”

Aaron bit his tongue; when he was a young man, people just didn’t have that many lovers in a whole lifetime. Times change and they were in Greece where they had different values than in the States. Still, there was something like a challenge in the way she lilted her voice.  She was either testing his reaction or looking for another lover.  “Are you hitting on me?” he asked.

“You?” She laughed and pulled her hand off his knee. “I may get around, but I’m not looking for that today, sorry. You’re just a guy with a rose and a story. All I want from you is the story. I hope I didn’t lead you on,” she paused and licked her lips,” … too much.”

Unsure how to react to that, he restated his intent. “Well, I just came here to pray to a goddess I don’t really believe in for something I’m not sure is real.”

“Now, that’s funny. That’s so worth my walking over here.” She laughed “Did you come to pray for Laura to come back to you?”

“No,” Aaron said. He’d thought about it, but Laura had found her life and it didn’t need him. “I came to pray to find the love I need.”

“You assume love is a basic need.” She started drawing circles in the sand with her toes. Aaron watched as she drew a series of perfect concentric circles with her perfect toes.

“I’m not sure, I’m not even sure I believe in love at all,” he said. “But on the off chance it’s real and on the really off chance that there is a goddess out there with some power over it, I came here to offer this flower.”

“It’s cute that you say you don’t believe, but you are so desperately searching for love that you came across an ocean to offer a forgotten goddess gifts in the hopes that she will give you love.”

Her tone mocked him, but he wasn’t sure what she was mocking about him. “Are you saying I believe and am in denial or that I’m a fool?

“I’m saying,” she said, “you’ve seen too many movies where people are looking for love. I’m sure you’ve tried all the dating sites online and hit the bars around town, especially the music clubs ….” Her voice was almost sing-song.

“Yeah.” He nodded.

“Those places work for me, for what I’m after, but no one finds the love of their life that way. Well, almost no one.” She bumped her shoulder into his. “Where did you meet Laura?”

“School.”

“Specifics?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Art History, I guess. The MBA program required a minor in a non-business field. I always liked the arts, particularly the classic arts.”

“Nude statues of women?” She poked him in the ribs. “And, let me guess, Laura was actually studying Art as her major?”

“No, she was an MBA candidate too, but dropped out and switched to sociology. She’d always liked the arts too, but she was more a Monet, Van Gogh type.”

“How often do you go to the art museum or hang out at art shows?” she asked.

He didn’t. He didn’t like most modern art. Too much of it looked like little more than a sneeze from a Technicolor sinus infection. “Modern art isn’t to my tastes.”

“Not all modern art is Jackson Pollack. Instead of looking for love, look for art you enjoy. Invest your time in something you find fun for yourself.”

“You know something of art, I see.” He tried to sound casual as he asked, “Maybe I could buy you dinner and we could discuss it?”

“We are not looking for the same thing, sorry.” She turned to face him squarely, pulling her knees up to her chest. “So in your studies of nude statues, you’re familiar with ancient goddesses of love and chose this route to find love? Toss a flower in an ocean?”

He tried to turn to face her, and managed to keep his eyes locked on the bridge of her nose. He couldn’t look in her eyes, and didn’t want to look where he really wanted to look. “I said; it’s a long shot.”

She nodded. “I think you do believe in love and I’m not sure it matters if there really is a goddess or not. In the moment you bought the flower you believed. In the moment you throw the flower into the ocean, you’ll believe.” She grabbed both his shoulders and pulled him close, so close he could feel her breath on his lips. “I think it’s a good thing to believe in love but, do I think throwing a flower in an ocean will bring you love? No.” She pulled away before his will power reached its limits.

“You think it’s silly?” he asked.

“Yes, but in the sweetest possible way.” She reached over and stroked the petals of the rose. “You should do it. Toss your flower to the forgotten goddess. It will let you release your control over your search for love, so that you can focus on finding other ways to enjoy life.” She lifted her hand from the flower and stroked his chin. “It’s too bad you weren’t just looking for lust. I might have hit on you.”

He grasped her hand away from his chin and placed the flower in her palm, careful to avoid her skin with the thorns. “I think you’ve given me the seeds of thought I need. You’ve earned this.”

“A rose,” she whispered as she grasped it, “the classic symbol of love. Are you saying you love me?”

“I’m sure I would, if you gave me a chance. I got over Laura, more or less. I’d never recover from someone as beautiful as you.” He turned back to stare out over the waves. The sun seemed much higher and had lost its red hues. She’d reminded him what a foolish game it was to look for love. He’d join the museum when he got home and reinvest his time in himself. Perhaps he’d find a friend, someday.

“Perhaps,” she cooed. “You’ll find a friend and only in a friend can you find the lover you are looking for.”

“Did I say that out loud?” he asked, wondering if he was losing his mind. The whole trip just to toss a flower certainly had been a form of insanity.

“No,” she said. “Time for me to go.” As she stood, she sniffed the rose deeply and smiled at him. She walked slowly away until he called out, “Wait!”

Her feet stopped and she turned just her head back towards him. She brushed her hair aside with the rose so that he could see her face.

“I didn’t catch your name,” he said.

“I don’t remember you asking for it.” She smiled wryly then flipped her hair as she turned away and walked on. He wasn’t going to know her name. He wondered if he already did.

[Wil Ogden is a prolific writer without the benefit of prolific publication. While he has traveled the country working every job from Blacksmith to Fortune 500 consultant, he is currently living, with his family, in Nebraska doing railroad work. Previous publishing credits include “The Wishing Jar” by Pantros at TurnThePageMagazine.com and “Aurora’s Smile” (01/10) and “Heir to the Eighth” (01/11) in Bards And Sages Quarterly. He is just beginning to maintain a blog at pantros.com.]

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