The Wildness Inside
She could see a deepened shadow on her front porch and knew it was her father. It was impossible that anyone but him could be sitting in his place on his porch. Lydia took a quick breath before turning from the street toward the house.
Though the house swam in front of her eyes she saw the light burning from the living room window on the left side of the porch. She paused after a few steps as her sight adjusted to the darker shadows approaching the house. She could see the window’s light faintly glinting on her father’s hair.
“Can I walk up these steps?” There were five of them leading to the porch. “Can I make it?” Her legs were rubber and were disobedient to her numbed brain which tried to instruct them on how to walk and to climb stairs.
“Oh the hell with it!” Her voice was barely audible in her own ears. “I’m drunk. I might as well walk like it….” She leaned her upper body forward and pushed herself up the stairs on wobbly but determined legs.
“Hello Papa,” she breathed, trying to pull herself erect. “Can I sit down on the porch?”
“Sit, my daughter,” her father said in English.
She felt a cold spot of dread in her stomach, and stood for a moment fighting it down. What is this feeling? she wondered dimly. Was it something in her father’s voice, or his posture? She couldn’t see the direction of his eyes. She weaved her way to the wicker love seat diagonal to her father on the porch. Just a passing wave of nausea, surely. She couldn’t get sick, not in front of him. The shame would be unbearable.
“What is troubling you, girl?”
“Nothing.” She slumped into her seat. “Nothing. I’m just tired.”
“If something is bothering you I want to know about it.” Light from the living room window now rimmed his head, its wiry gray curls. She imagined she could see his lips move as he spoke but his eyes were still shadowed. “Where have you been tonight?”
“I went to the Elks’ Club after work.”
“They’re with George for the weekend.”
“You know it’s after one o’clock.”
“Papa… it’s Friday night. I needed to unwind, to talk to some friends. I work hard all week. You know I do.” She could not see her mother, but Lydia knew that she sat there in the chair right inside the window. She was only a few feet from Lydia and her father. Mama could hear the conversation from inside the house, but Lydia’s father had chosen to speak English instead of Greek so that Mama would not understand. She was utterly silent, but Lydia knew that her mother sensed the meaning behind his words.
“What could be giving you so much pain that you have to drink every night to forget?”
“Papa you know what I’ve gone through,” she sighed. Her head felt full of fur and wanted to loll backwards on the chair’s rim. It was so hard to think, or speak. Damn him, why does he have to cross-examine me like this, and at one thirty on a Saturday morning? She couldn’t talk to him about it. She couldn’t rehearse again with her father all the twists and turns that caused her second marriage to fail.
She had met Delos and some other friends at the club. Yes, she had enjoyed several drinks. She had loved the dancing and the singing. She had savored her own outrageousness, her flirtations, the saltiness of everyone’s jokes and laughter including her own.
She wasn’t sure what to do with this wildness in her. Since her second divorce, though, she increasingly yearned to give vent to it. Her two husbands, both Greek, had battled with the wildness in themselves, and in her. All they had known to do was try to break her spirit. She struggled inside as she had struggled all her life: whether to buffet herself into a proper daughter and wife, or to become who she really was. Everyone, she knew, battled with this. To her mind, though, the Greeks had a greater struggle in this than anyone. It was a mythic struggle, and had been carried on among family, friends, and acquaintances of hers to both heroic and pathetic extremes.
Delos was different. It was evident to Lydia he had ceased this struggle and had a zest for life. He encouraged her, brought her own zest and playfulness out of her. She felt good and comfortable with him. Delos had a cheerful insouciance and a keen wit which she enjoyed, but he also would listen to her. He listened to her – without interrupting – for as long as she kept talking, about her life, her problems, her hopes, or anything else. He listened to her. How could Papa understand?
“I really don’t think I can tell you any more, Papa. I’m so tired. Could I please just go to bed?”
“You may not.” He stood up, covering the living room window and its light. He moved toward Lydia and sat down beside her on the wicker seat. She noted the bulge in his right pocket, but remembered the icy dread in her stomach only when she saw her father’s eyes.
“You are a rebellious child, Lydia.” He spoke with no change in his voice, but she could now see his eyes and was chilled to the heart. “Your rebellion has caused both of your marriages to fail because you stood against both of your husbands. Your mother and I stood by and watched as you refused to bend your impetuous spirit. I will not stand by passively and allow you to be a drunkard. This will end now.”
She watched her father, outlined now in the light. His black eyes looked at her. At sixty-six the sun-browned skin of his arms had begun to sag and gather into wrinkles, but the power swelled under that skin in his arms and hands – the power of a physical prodigy, employed during his twenties as a bodyguard for King Constantine. Lydia had been born in America, but grew up among picture images of her father in his regalia, his left hand loose at his side, his right hand full of purpose, clutching the grip of the saber that hung from his waist. He was a man who had mastered himself, his body and his mind. He had been trained to channel an intensity of strength into his hands that was capable of snapping the neck of an attacker, which he had done, with a supple flick of his wrists. Lydia watched her father’s hand slide into the bulge of his pocket and felt her eyes grow wide and her spine prickle into an arch. In a swift shadowed motion the revolver was at her temple. She felt the cool circle of the barrel above her ear, which vibrated with the deep metallic click of the hammer. Her jaw dropped open and her mouth turned to ash. She tasted vomit at the bottom of her throat and it seemed to stick there, as her heart pounded in her neck.
“You haven’t forgotten your brother Spiro, have you my daughter?” Her father’s words whispered into her ear. “It is too soon to forget him. He died only five years ago. Physically. He had died much earlier in the hearts of his mother and father. He brought shame to our family and broke his mother’s heart. He was a libertine, unrepentant, and even though I tried to bring him up and tame the wildness in him, I wasn’t able to bend his will. He died, Lydia, because he refused to turn from the road that leads to death. They showed me his brain, Lydia, and his liver. Do you know what the brain and liver of your brother looked like? Shall I describe them?”
Lydia’s body spasmed. “Papa… please….”
“Before I see you do that, my daughter, before you bring us shame and inflict such another wound on your mother, I would kill you myself. I would spare you that pain as well. Sooner to die rather than later. I will not watch you do this and prolong the pain. I will kill you instead. Do you believe me?”
“Y-yes….” she rasped tightly, almost unable to breathe.
"Will you turn from this road my daughter? Tell me now. You know I will do it.”
She did know. She was certain that she dangled now, at this moment, over the abyss. Her head felt light. Spots gathered at the edge of her vision and she struggled not to faint. She searched for a word.
“Will you turn from this road?”
“I… I’ve tried so hard. I’ve done all I can do. Please Papa, don’t hurt me. I don’t want to die. Please….” She despised herself for saying it. Somewhere, in the corner of her mind that watched, she despised herself for allowing him to reduce her once again into a frightened child.
She jumped at the sound of the metallic click. When she realized, as her eyes gradually regained focus, that her father had put his revolver away and had moved back to his chair opposite her, her body fell into a violent trembling. She did not look at him. She carefully stood up and walked inside. She did not look at her mother either but walked straight to the hall bathroom where she was sick for several minutes.
Lydia was in her bed, empty, staring, when her mother came into the room. She brought a cup of valerian tea and two aspirin and set them on Lydia’s bedside table. Lydia looked at her mother and tried to read her expression – a curious slight smile, but tender.
“Thank you Mama,” she said in Greek. Her hand still trembled as it held the cup, but she managed a sip. Her eyes began to sting. “Mama, I won’t be like Spiro. You must believe me. Spiro had… some kind of sickness inside. I don’t have that. I have a mind of my own. Can’t Papa see? I’m Lydia, not him.” She wept into a handful of tissues her mother gave her, but only for a moment. She was empty of tears. She sighed deeply and looked into her mother’s eyes.
“Mama, why do they want us to be afraid? That’s what he wanted. I know he was capable of killing me. But he saw I was terrified and that was enough. I begged him for my life. He had his way.”
“He is your father.”
“My husbands were the same. Michael and George wanted me to fear them. I really believe I loved them, each of them, in the beginning. But they killed my love with fear. Why do they want us to fear?”
“Maybe they are afraid of us?”
“What?” Lydia searched her mother’s face. A twinkle in the eye, a slight deepening of the smile. But her expression was unchanged, inscrutable to her. Her mother reached into her apron pocket and handed Lydia a holy picture – the Blessed Virgin and Child.
“Pray, my daughter.” She stroked Lydia’s hair. Lydia watched the deep brown of her eyes. Her mother stroked her hair, then got up and left the room.
About the author:
Davis Horner has been a staff features writer for The Edge, Creative Loafing, The Point, and other publications. He published poetry and short stories long ago in regional and national literary journals - Spirit, Mid-American Review, Chariton Review, Kenyon Review, and others. He recently has had stories appear in Scrutiny, Furious Gazelle, and Foliate Oak. He lives in Greenville SC with his wife and two cats. His wife and one of the cats are internationally famous. He is not.
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