An excerpt from Robert Cabot’s new novel, The Isle of Kherîa.
I, Joel Brewster, here on this far side of my world. A mournful return to these islands of Greece. My son, my Andréas, came with me as far as Athens from our quiet life in Canada, our Twinflower Farm. We were taken to Aidan’s grave by his daughter Persephóni, and her daughter, Mélantha. We stood there, the four of us, silently, then moved away together. We walked up Aidan’s street, past his rough blue door, the one window shuttered, and on to a kapheneíon for coffee and baklavá.
Andréas insisted I come here without them to this Khería, this island, the village where Aidan, my friend of a saddest past, was drowned in a storming sea.
Drowned? His choice? His despair? For Greece, for his life, for me? I, had I failed him?
My private path, Andréas knew—I must find my way alone.
Twinflower Farm, our home. This cabin, we built it, she and I. My dearest Silda, she’s there, that shelf above our cookstove, a simple stoneware cookie-jar urn.Warm, safe, always there. When I’m back from chores—the milking, the mucking out, the garlic-braiding, the oil change for our 1931 Ford tractor, the farm’s books to update, a horse to shoe, potatoes to wheelbarrow to the root cellar, fruit trees to prune—she’s waiting there for me. Chores that never end, blessedly never end. From my bed here in our cabin’s loft I look across the room—she’s there in the last flicker of embers through a crack in the stove top. When dawn finds its way through the stained-glass window—we’d found it in a junk yard—it wakens her ever so lovingly. You others, often you drop in—a friendly call. My son Andréas too, back from college, living behind the barn in a yurt. A report on farm affairs, a loaf of bread just out of the communal oven, a bowl of yogurt. Excuses, friends, I know, you’re here to check on Joel. He seems so solitary, obsessed. He’d dropped all interests. No lectures, no more ventures into citizen diplomacy, no articles to write, no mixing with neighbors, the farm’s apprentices, even us. Only his chores and his Silda there above the stove.
Soto voce, —“Will he never let her go, let her return to the earth?” Then to me, —“She is gone, Joel, at peace, death has taken her, it is time, six, seven years, time to let her go.”
Death? Of course, of course, I’m no stranger to the word. So many. Parents, friends, colleagues, fellow soldiers, foes—I know. But Silda? No. It’s been years you say? No matter, I cannot let her go. No, she must not go, nor I. This work—flowers, fruit, vegetables, honey, eggs, milk—Casilda’s joy, it’s also mine.
Here, I have something to show you, here beside Casilda on the shelf. This stone heart with a fossil starfish on one side, warm red, smooth, her special gift to me so long ago. She found it, a girl on a Dorset beach.
And here, this watch fob. A bronze coin of ancient Greece, thick leather to frame it, copper rivets. Aidan, my oldest, my dearest friend, he found the coin near the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods of his Greece. He made this, he gave it to me long ago. I keep it there too, beside Casilda. Aidan, however different we may be, what- ever his despair, he is my other partner. I cannot let him go.
—“Yes yes, Joel, you showed us often before.” And they mutter, I do hear well when I choose, —“A worry, his grip, he’s losing it, right enough.”
It is time to bring in the cows. I’ll go now. No, I’ll leave the meetings, those decisions, all that I’ll leave to you, my friends. Thank you for the visit, friends. Be well.
Losing it. The easy way, why not? And the doctors always said, the family genes can show up any time.
Alder branches, roots, rocks, mud, sod—a beaver dam to pull apart. This grapnel anchor from our skiff, set it well into the center of their dam. A line to our ancient tractor. There, that did the job, a rush of water through the gap, a corner of our hayfield reclaimed. I’ll just keep at it—every few days, I guess—till our beavers get the message, relocate well upstream.
A drink of water, a munch on a bit of peppery water- cress from the brook, a rest in the shade of the tractor. A cry, a figure waving from the far side of the field, is that Andréas? He’s coming toward me. Andréas, tall and skinny, loping across the stubble, his ponytail swinging.
A letter, special delivery, urgent. Dog-eared, grubby, twice stamped Return to Sender, its earliest postmark nine weeks ago. It’s from Persephóni.
My father…swimming off Khería, late afternoon, a meltémi… drowned…the funeral…
Drowned. I dig my fingers into the earth. A beaver slaps his tail against the dwindling surface of his pond. A jolt searing deep in my skull—a silent scream. I turn my face in the moss, a wave washes the mud bank. The crumpled envelope, the postmark Athéna, Greece—I must leave, I must go, I must know.
Come with me, Andréas, please do come.
Goodbye, my Silda, I’ll be away for a time. Wait for me, my dear. And here, I’ll take my fossiled heart, the ancient coin too.
Andréas, my only child, glowing with his twenty years, there in that kapheneíon after our visit to Aidan’s grave. On his right, Persephóni, a handsome woman, striking, a braid of white hair to crown her head. On his left, Mélantha, a girl, a young woman of a luminous Grecian beauty.
He was right, he should stay with them, I must go on alone.
Photo—Turquoise Seascape from Shutterstock