After several visits to the tennis courts, I fall in love with the new girl from Greece.
I don’t think it’s love at first; I don’t immediately want to kiss her or anything. It’s just the slow way she goes about things. It’s her dark hair and eyes, and her accent – a fusion of Greek and Yorkshire. We start smoking cigarettes – and then it’s her funny technique of holding the cigarette with her little and ring fingers that makes me fall.
When I ask her – in a stupid, stuttering way – if I can kiss her, she does so immediately and without fuss, as if I’ve asked her for a light and she’s obliging this simple request. She keeps her eyes wide open throughout. No blinking. I’m guessing no blinking as I’m opening and closing my own like a maniac and I cannot say for sure.
She tells me about the Minoans. She was born on Crete, a sliver of an island south of the mainland. The Minoans had a great civilization long before any other in Europe; long before the Greeks and Romans, and all the others that came after. I listen to her with my full attention and I kiss her and I touch her hair and I imagine her in some enormous palace with a flowing dress and with gold necklaces and bracelets spilling from her neck and wrists. Even as I am doing all these things, she speaks with an absolute authority that is amazing to me. Nothing disturbs her. Even when I nudge my fingers into the warmth of her underwear, she continues without skipping a beat, looking beyond me, beyond the crumbling concrete of the tennis courts, to who knows where.
She talks of the ruins of Knossos, the snake goddesses, the saffron trade, and the language of the Minoans that no one understands. She speaks as if she knew them personally. They just disappeared. A whole culture blown away in the wind. She does this thing with one hand like she’s trying to untie a knot in the air. I follow its movement because it seems to mean something; perhaps she is the snake goddess, untangling the serpent from around her wrist before its sacrifice. Before she bites into it. Perhaps it is the disease that she doesn’t talk about. I follow its trace in the air.
The last thing she ever tells me is the meaning of her name: Laura, from the laurel flower. The name is ancient Roman. We are at the tennis courts smoking cigarettes and the wind is sweeping rubbish in circles. Laurel leaves were tied, she says, to the heads of returning victors – a crown displaying their successes in battle and conquest. It is a beautiful name, she says and I agree, though I’m more concerned now by the withdrawn and sullen look in her face, the way she is slowing down further. I say her name out loud: Laura Pontikaki. I say it three times in a row while she lights me a cigarette from hers, the quick suck and puff before she puts it in my mouth. She holds the cigarette there for a second and looks at me. She is the snake goddess. She is one of the three ruling sisters. She wears a wreath that floats inches from her scalp.
Before she goes, she places one finger on my lips. This is our last touch. I feel it still, the slight pressure of her finger. Also her eyes. How wide they were. Sparkling with flecks of amber-gold. I remember thinking she doesn’t belong here in these tennis courts with crisp packets swirling around in the wind; she doesn’t belong in this little Yorkshire town with its grey light and low clouds.
And she didn’t. Not for very much longer.
Photo By: Raul Lieberwirth