|Allen, R. A.
|Baker, J. D.
|Bartlett, Daniel C.
|Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Centorbi, David Calogero
|Crist, Kenneth James
|Davis, Michael D.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dillon, John J.
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Fagan, Brian Peter
|Fortier, M. L.
|Greenberg, KJ Hannah
|Holt, M. J.
|Irwin, Daniel S.
|Karl, Frank S.
|Larsen, Ted R.
|Le Due, Richard
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|Mannone, John C.
|Myers, Beverle Graves
|Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
|Owen, Deidre J.
|Reddick, Niles M.
|Reutter, G. Emil
|Ross, Gary Earl
|Rowland, C. A.
|Sesling, Zvi E.
|Slota, Richelle Lee
|Smith, Elena E.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
|Turner, Lamont A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|Williams, E. E.
|Williams, K. A.
|Zumpe, Lee Clark
A QUALITY GUY
On New Year’s Eve they let off fireworks under the
Acropolis just as church bells tolled for midnight. I was on the top terrace of the Phaedra
Hotel opposite, with Spiros and the others drinking some strong old wine we’d been
offered at a shop down the road. The owner must have found a few mouldy boxes in his cellar
and was selling cheap to anyone who’d take them away. In the middle of explosions
of colour and sound Spiros turned to me and said: “You really must get rid of that
mad bitch Johnny; she’s just using you.” I smiled and thought how many times
I’d tried to and how she always came back, then when the display was over, we grabbed
our instruments and bundled downstairs into the freezing, gunpowder night. I had my fleece-lined
jacket on, zipped up to the neck and we began to play. The narrow streets seemed almost
too small to contain the euphoria that swelled along them and soon, as if by magic, there
was Maria in front of me asking for money. She nipped into a shop for crisps and a can
of Fanta then disappeared through the crowds. She’s mental, I thought. But anyway,
I looked down and saw that my case was now filling fast with notes and coins.
street musicians’ network tended to look after its own.
I hung out with the Syrian in Piraeus for about four months in his basement flat at the
foot of an enormous hill near the sea. In contrast to Athens, my new neighbourhood was
pleasantly quiet. It reminded me a little of the 18th district of Paris with
its sloping streets and jumbles of steps climbing in all directions. The Syrian had a name
that no one could pronounce. On his bedroom wall was a curious map of the Middle East with
the Kurdish state outlined – an ancient country at variance with more recent political
configurations. He’d come to Greece against the wishes of his family, in pursuit
of a girl who, once returned to home soil, quickly dumped him. Now disowned on all sides
and receiving not a cent from back there, he drifted tall, dark and saturnine
through the fractured limbo of Piraeus, earning survival money by busking. He was a genuine
student of the classical guitar though, and spent all day at his practice, which seemed
to annoy everyone else in the building.
My room contained some abandoned
hi-fi equipment, a number of paint tins and a writing desk but it lacked a bed. I slept
on a broken sofa with a blanket draped over me. The small window bore words scrawled in
indelible felt tip: You born and swim in trabbles,
it declared: a parting message from the previous occupant. But I was determined not to
be miserable at the dawn of this new century. Spring was slowly edging into summer and
the patio flags were strewn with large lemon-green leaves from some exotic tree that seemed
to shed its leaves regardless of seasons.
day I climbed the steps leading up from the coastal
road which skirted the hill, turning eventually to view a vast expanse of concrete. Far
in the distance and just vaguely discernible without binoculars, the Acropolis was a miniscule
silhouette. That’s where I used to live, I thought, and now we live here. After a
few days I found a job as a waiter in one of the restaurants high up near the main church.
In my breaks I’d smoke a cigarette in the park and watch Gypsy women hanging laundry
over bushes and branches or just debating round their prams. Returning home, I’d
usually pick up a couple of beers from the kiosk opposite then go inside and scribble down
thoughts and poem fragments or practise my repertoire on the bouzouki, a battered instrument
bought for next to nothing a year ago in a shop that had been about to close down. There
was a chance they might let me play in the restaurant, come summer, just a little, if they
thought I was any good.
Out of the blue there was
a knock on the door and Maria had come to live with us. I searched the cupboards for another
blanket and told her she could sleep on the floor. The Syrian didn’t seem to mind
but after three weeks he opened a small Perspex cover in the hall and removed something
from a socket so she couldn’t take any more extended hot baths. I don’t remember
ever having sex there although I suppose we must have done. When I went to work,
she’d often accompany me up the hill as far as the park and pass the time drinking
fizzy orange juice at the upper kiosk and chatting to the bored owner.
One afternoon I woke up with a nasty hangover. I’d spent
the previous night with my old friends in Athens; on the writing desk stood an empty Ouzo
bottle, loose change and some worry beads. Maria looked up at me intently from under dark
curls. Stretched out on the blanket, she’d folded my fleece-lined windjammer into
the shape of a pillow. I had no idea where the beads had come from or why Maria was scrutinising
“Five in the morning,” she said. “I was worried.”
need to be,” I said.
“Why did you have
to go off drinking with that bunch of idiots? You’re much better than them –
listen, you’re a quality guy. You even write poetry. I love you … I love this
jacket as well because it belongs to you. Forget them and start occupying with me.”
Maria surprised me often but I’d never heard her say such
things. I smiled weakly, shuffled off to the bathroom, then said I was going
out for a breath of air. At the corner store I bought a plastic bottle of
mineral water, gulped at it, then took off in an odd direction. The jaded evening
sun hung low over the sea as if not sure where to go. A restless impulse carried me inland
for hours. I crossed bridges, streams, parks and squares until eventually it began to grow
dusk. Sitting down in a small park completely lost I spotted a wine shop across the road,
went inside and had my bottle filled from one of several old pine barrels before returning
to the same bench. Some kids nearby were playing ball, kicking up grit and shouting and
swearing noisily. I contemplated the bottle then sipped. The cheap Retsina
looked the colour of urine and had an acid edge. I lit a cigarette then took
another sip as the stars came out and the warm glow of Maria’s words began to
expand in my stomach.
John Short lives in Liverpool, England and is
active on the local poetry scene. His poems and stories are now widely published.
A previous contributor to Yellow Mama, he’s appeared most recently in Hobo Camp Review,
Abergavenny Small Press, Chester Poets Anthology 2021 and StepAway Magazine. He’s
published four books – one of stories and three of poetry, the latest being Those
Ghosts (Beaten Track 2021).
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