Under the Ruins of the Old World | John Oliver Hodges

From Fethiye we took a bus to Olympos, where I met Surpi in the ruins of the old world. He and I sort of got together, which was a sore spot for Sophie. I wanted to stay and get to know him, but Sophie wears the pants in all this. She always goes on about how selfish I am. There was a year in high school where we didn’t even speak. She said I was psychotic for boys. She was jealous of the attention I gave Barry Bartoluci. Now it was Surpi she was bothered by. She didn’t want a repeat. My theory is that because Sophie was an only child, she’s more sensitive about that stuff. The only way she knows how to express her sense of loss is by depriving others of strong relationships.

From Olympos we rode the ferry to Rhodes. We arrived before lunch and were walking out of the station with our backpacks when this guy came out of a purple minivan. Sophie walked on to the tourist office to use the courtesy phone, looking into where we might stay the night, but I talked to the guy. He was about short and unshaven, in his mid-sixties and had what I’ve heard called a bulbous nose. Then Sophie came back and I took her aside and was like, let’s try him—I had his card and all—and I thought he was cool. So he took us up in his minivan and drove us to his place at the edge of the ancient city. It looked like his mother’s house, you know, like he inherited it. A small courtyard in the garden with some tables gave it a homey look. It was a two-storey with a scraggly overgrown orchard of some type behind it, a bunch of antiques inside the house everywhere you looked, familyish stuff. The furniture and pictures on the wall were all very old.

“Sit down at the table, girls,” he said. “You want some Ouzo?”

We sat. He poured his own tall glass and poured us some. It was pretty obvious that he drank the stuff all day.

He shows us an upstairs room. We said we’d take it, even though the toilet was in the shower stall.

“You girls wanna go to the market?” he said.

Hell yes we wanted to go to the market. Sophie had on these tight stretch pants, and Rassas, that was the guy’s name, kept complimenting her body. “You have a really nice figure,” he said as we got back in the minivan. Sophie rode shotgun, and Rassas looked over at her bust and said, “Holy Mama, very nice.”

“God, this guy’s a smarm,” Sophie said to me privately when we were at the market.

“No, no, he’s just complimenting you,” I said.

Sophie was skeptical, but at the market Rassas knew everyone, and that sort of warmed her up to him because Sophie is a total social hound, an etiquette expert and a foodie. Rassas was like try this, try this, reaching out and packing us up with stuff. Tons of different types of grapes, cheeses, cucumbers, all different types of tomatoes. He was just taking it, not paying for any of it, stuffing the stuff in our bags. We stopped and talked for awhile with this guy who sold goats, and the guy said all this stuff about modern times, how now all the kids in Rhodes have cell phones and people lock their doors. All the islands used to be self-sufficient, he said, but now because of globalization the islands had lost their integrity and were becoming more and more like “anyplace” which was a word he really seemed to despise. Rassas packed us up with nuts and honey and tons of sweets.

Then back at the place we ate some of the stuff, this great goat cheese stuff, and some grapefruit and olives to gear us up for checking out the city, which was a lot of fun. We walked around looking at stuff and then came back and washed our great food and prepared it and laid it out for everyone, all the other roomers, in the communal kitchen. There was a couple from Latvia. They lived on a goat farm. They were like oh, you’re from Florida, are you okay from the hurricane and all? I felt bad because I was like what country are you from? Where is that? I had no clue in my mind where Latvia was, but they knew all about my part of the world.

Then there was this guy from Israel with long hair, and he had a girlfriend from East Asia. They were on vacation from art school in Prague. He was very soft spoken. The girl was studying public art, and was sort of hippyish and quiet, and they were on a low budget and doing a great job at it, I thought. We had a bunch of wine. It was a beautiful spread.

Eating the food outside in the courtyard, getting acquainted and all that, and drinking the great wine and everything, I thought back on Olympos, and sort of wished we had stayed. Not that I didn’t like this new thing happening, but it seemed like we’d just started getting into the folks in Olympos, and getting a sense for the place. I’d wanted to stay, but Sophie wanted to keep moving, so that’s what we did.

The Latvian guy, when he met the Israeli guy, was like, “What the fuck are you guys doing to the Palestinians?”

The Israeli guy, the way he talked was so soft that you could tell he wouldn’t hurt anyone. He said, “Me, I grew up on a dairy farm. I’m a student. I have nothing to do with it. I don’t hate Palestinians. The kids in Israel get in trouble if they don’t carry guns around with them. I was on the outskirts.”

The Latvian guy’s name was Sven, and he said, “You can make excuses for anything.”

I was thinking shit, think of the life on the street in Israel and ease up on him. They were all about twenty-one or twenty-two. We were twenty-five.

Israel and Southeast Asia go back to their room or whatever, and we sat out there partying with the Latvians. A Canadian came by and we talked to him. His name was Gary and Gary was a grocery store clerk. Gary was with a bunch of Australians. Like us, they had all been in Turkey. Like us, they had checked out Fethiye, so we talked about Fethiye.

They were all very interesting to talk to, I thought, especially the Latvians who were Nordic, from the high country, stocky, pasty, and blond. Earlier that day they had done laundry where they’d met a bunch of Russians. As it got dark, we were still out there in the courtyard, and Sven shouted, “Mr. Rassas, Mr. Rassas! Come out to the bar with us. Meet the Russians and drink vodka!”

So Rassas drove us to this Russian lady’s bar, and Rassas danced with her. The Latvians thought they would be comped, but weren’t because of me, is what I think. “Stupid American,” I heard the Russian lady say to Rassas. It was all that Star Wars crap, all of the eighties cold war bullshit I’d been spouting. The Russian lady must’ve lived the prime of her life—she was 40ish—during the Reagan era when Reagan was making a lot of strides with Gorbachev. And here I was talking shit about superpower versus superpower, you know? I mean, she came from an era where the superpowers were pitted against each other to the point that inevitably one would destroy the other. All that intense competition. I was naïve. I’d gleaned a few things through the Latvians, but I must’ve seemed like a real bastard. I talked about the fall of the Berlin Wall to her as if I had been there, and all about how Russia had taken a lot of sucker punches. I was drunk, and sort of missing Olympos and the time that I might be spending with Surpi, whose eyes were saggy and brown, yes, but he was loveable all the same. He had whispered “I love you,” in my ear. On another night we walked up to this place called the Burning Mountain. It’s got an endless reservoir of natural gas below it, so all these flames gush out of the rocks. Surpi laid out this rug sort of thing and we made out between the stars and ruins of the old world. Later Surpi told me that the Gods had watched us make love. It was romantic bigtime stupid, but there was always the chance that I was pregnant. If I was, I thought, this child would be a child of stars and ruins.

We revelers walked home, lots of gambling joints everywhere, a kind of weird rustic sort of party scene going on, and I kept thinking of that “stupid American” stuff. I knew she was right, but the more I thought about it, the “American” part didn’t even seem to matter. I was just stupid, that was all there was to it, but what was cool, anyway, after that woman said that, was that Rassas danced with her. Maybe I’m self-centered to think that it was about me as to why she made us pay for our drinks, but we were drinking vodka like mad. Even though Rassas was part of it all, his presence wasn’t enough to make us into princes and thieves. Had I not been so easy in talking my ignorance, however, who knew?

Sven, on the way back, was being like a frat boy, drunk as fuck, across the line like Jim Morrison drunk. These Nordic people were just balls to the walls wasted. His wife had to sort of drag him home. It was really funny.

And we went to sleep. Next day Sophie said the place had bed bugs and we had to leave. Squirrelly Sophie. If she’d had bedbugs that would be scabies, right? She’d have to get medication. So we packed up and went to the beach and Sophie went topless. I felt too weird to do that, but I was impressed with Sophie. Huge breasts freak me out, on the whole, but Sophie pulls it off. After she came up out of the water I told her she looked like Aphrodite being born. That made her happy, and I walked up the beach with her so that she could show them off while they were still wet, the saltwater droplets sparkling in the sunlight.

Later that day we got back on the ferry and went over to Mykonos Island, and got a place there, and next morning saw a Band-Aid commercial during breakfast. We couldn’t understand it, but it was like one of those medicated Band-Aids that has medicine attached. The gist of the commercial was that they were like magic healing Band-Aids, and it was like this guy with his lover, she like scratched him on the back and put a Band-Aid on his back, and then he goes home to his wife and she has a Band-Aid also. The TV was on in the breakfast room, and there were families, and they had pastries and jellies and stuff laid out, but in the town square we argued.

“You didn’t come to my dad’s funeral and I’m really upset about that,” Sophie said. It came up because I was saying how if we had stayed in Olympos a little longer I could have gotten to know Surpi better, and who knew but that maybe Surpi was Mr. Right.

“Sorry sorry sorry sorry,” I said.

“Fuck you. I’m sore about it.”

“Sophie, I talked to you about it. I gave you the opportunity to tell me to be there, but you said go take your exam, don’t worry about it.”

“Well, you should’ve read through that. I needed you and you should’ve been there.”

“Sorry, I’m really sorry. I don’t know how I could ever make that up to you. I wish you would have told me to come.”

“Goddamnit, you should’ve known. It’s a big deal that my dad died. You should’ve felt that. My dad was convalescing for months. You should have known.”

I felt terrible, of course, plus ignorant, and self-absorbed like she says, and I felt bad, sad because even in that situation, where her dad was dying, she wasn’t able to get through to me. She was right that I should have read through the smokescreen and all, but I was afraid, or, I don’t know, who knows, I won’t try to pass my flaws off on abstractions. The truth is I should have known better and taken responsibility and dropped everything and flown to Texas to be at her side.

She was emotional, but then was like shit, let me gain my composure. She wiped her tears away and smiled, and said she’d worked it out, but it wasn’t worked out. We’d tempered it down to a reasonable level. We ate lunch, not exactly talking but saying a little tidbit here and there. Then we get on the ferry to Athens, and Sophie disappears. I go looking for her, looking everywhere, above ships and down, looking like I’m totally lost, deck to deck. I looked like I was looking for someone, and these two girls, kind of chubby and voluptuous and from Iowa were like, “Hey, are you lost?” “Yes.” And they were like, “Hey, come sit down with us.” Cherice and Kristy, they were really cool. We talked about how annoying it was that there had been a Starbucks in Mykonos, and an Applebee’s.

We sat there for awhile until finally Sophie showed up and I gathered from what she said that she’d been off on a pout session. That really stunk because I’d been genuinely worried. I asked her please not to do that shit anymore. We hung out with Cherice and Kristy at the next island, and then we’re in Athens, and we found a fancy hotel that had billowy curtains that looked down upon a scenic square. We spent the night, but then there was a parade going on down there in the morning. A patriotic thing. Some people came out of the church and there was a military presence. We watched a lot of it from the balcony, then went out and ran into the cashier from Canada—Gary. By that time we were on the third or fourth day with the Iowa girls. It was cool to pawn them off on Gary.

We tooled about just looking at stuff. Sophie has a family history with jewelry. Her dad was a diamond dealer. Midwestern Jewish jewelry people. She met him, her biological dad, when she was twenty. He’s her real dad, but I think she felt more daughterish with her other dad, Robert who died of throat cancer. I’d seen them together before, when Robert was healthy, and the two of them qualified for all the clichés about peas and carrots and pods and whatnot. They were really really close.

But Athens. The ruins are all kind of below the city and we walked around looking at stuff. Real touristy. We’re like window shopping, looking around and we go into some place and are looking at stuff and we asked about this charm symbol thing that was everywhere. It’s two bees, face to face, and there’s usually like a dangly love drop thing attached to it. The lady told us it was a symbol of the Queen of Minos, and it meant that two people doing things together could get more done.

“Oh cool,” I said.

Sophie was less into the mythology, but I was more superstitious. The Queen of Minos ruled people. There was a Minotaur involved, a bullheaded, manbodied creature. As I understood it, the queen would send a virile young buck into a maze where the Minotaur was. It was a test of strength. If he came out unscathed he was more powerful, but if he got blocked in he was eaten by the Minotaur. I guess it was a matriarchal society, because if the young buck survived, the Queen of Minos would have him brought to the castle where if he didn’t make love to her they would chop his head off and put it on display in the market where everybody could see it.

Anyway, our plan was to make our way up through Italy, and then fly home from Madrid. I guess I kept bitching about Surpi. Finally Sophie gave in and said, sure, okay, let’s backtrack and waste our vacation time so that you can piss away our friendship with a little more gusto. She wanted me to feel awful, and I granted her her wish. Sophie was not working with me like the friendly helper bee. When we’d first started out, all was gold, we had so much fun, but what it finally boiled down to was that we were about sick of each other. I wanted to get back to Turkey quick as possible, to see Surpi, to start back up with him and see where our togetherness would lead us, but Sophie says, “No, as long as we’re making asses of ourselves, I think we should stop in to see Rassas.”

“Really? I thought you hated that guy?”

“No, I like him, I think he’s really cool. He’s cute, too.”

“What?” I couldn’t believe she was saying this. I said, “What about the bedbugs?”

“I’m sure Rassas will give me a different room,” Sophie said.

“Well, that’s you for you. One thing one moment and the exact opposite the next moment.”

“I like hairy men,” Sophie said. “Maybe that’s because my dad was hairy, I don’t know.”

“Your dad? You mean, Robert? What are you saying?”

“Oh, are you going to go act like you care anything about me and my dad all of a sudden?”

“No, I’m just wondering why you’re talking about Rassas’s hair and then making a connection to Robert. It’s fucking weird if you ask me.”

“I won’t even tell you what I think is weird,” Sophie said, but we made it back to Rassas’s place, and Rassas, of course, was thrilled to see us. He filled us up with Ouzo and took us to the market again in his purple minivan, and all the while Sophie was like all over him, laughing at every word he said, and patting him on the back and telling him that he should come to America to visit her and just generally acting like a total fool. She was doing her best to upset me, and having some success at it, especially since I was freaked out by the fact that the Latvian guy, Sven, still had a room at Rassas’s place, and he was sharing it with the Israeli guy’s girlfriend now, the East Asian art student. All the others had gone home, except for Gary from Canada who, like us, apparently couldn’t get enough of Rassas, so stopped back in for a second round.

It was just really upsetting is all. I knew that the Latvian guy was married. We had hung out with him and his wife and they were a great couple. I had also thought that the Israeli guy loved his girlfriend. I had thought that each pair was a solid entity. I had thought that they were madly in love with each other, traversing the world, real earth stompers. I remembered the Israeli guy talking about how he and his girl had been together for three years, and he was so proud of her, I could tell. The way he looked at her was like with love and admiration in his eyes. It made me jealous. The longest relationship I had ever been in was like three months, tops. I didn’t know what happened after we left, and I didn’t ask questions. At least Gary from Canada was there. Gary’s trustworthy neutrality helped me feel at ease.

Only that night we had another feast out in the courtyard, and long-faced bald Gary starts in on how he “boned” Kristy and Cherise from Iowa, and he called them corn-fed farm girls, which really grated my nerves. Gary was drunk, confessing stuff and bragging, but anybody who says, “I told her to moo and she did it for me while I boned her,” in any context, deserves to be written off the face of the earth. So much for Gary. I was getting really sloshed, irresponsibly so, and Rassas, to entertain us, danced all crazy and everybody joined in and the next thing I know I’m passing out next to some bushes. I woke up a few hours later and puked, and then curled back up and was woken up later by the Latvian’s girlfriend, or, I should say, the Israeli guy’s ex-girlfriend, the hippyish East Asian art student. In my heart I guess I was mad at her for crossing over, but it was really weird to open my eyes and see her face, you know, staring down at me with its round nostrils, it bright all out and sunny. I didn’t know how much time had gone by, but she’s begging me to get up and follow her quick, so I oblige. I don’t even have my shoes on. What the hell happened to my shoes, I’m thinking, but the Asian seems so panic stricken that I just forgot about my shoes and followed after her, not even knowing her name after all the time I had spoken to her—how embarrassing is that?

I chased her to the back of the house on down a grass decline and over a creek sort of thing and up a hill, thinking surely my eyes were about to behold some gruesome sight. I was scared. I pictured Sophie hacked up, her naked body splayed out in a clearing. It was inexplicable really, but the Asian girl was all in a tizzy over some horror she saw is what it seemed like. I was revolted, confused, headachy. I wanted to run the other way. Why was I following her? It was unreasonable, but alas we arrived at a small building made of mortared stones, a padlock on its wood door. That didn’t stop my Asian friend. She just skirted to the side of the building and climbed the stones and stuck her head into an opening. I watched her pink Converse sneakers flip out sideways at the end of her bronze calves, then slide through. “Come, come,” she said, so I did as she had done. I could barely fit, but I slithered on down to the dirt floor and got to my feet and saw her squatting by a nest. “Hurry!” she said. I settled down onto my knees beside her in front of these weird-ass-looking birds who flapped their jaws toward the ceiling. In my mind I was like, you made me come all this way for this? Why you little bitch, but it was weird. The birds were kind of human-looking. They looked like little old men with wrinkly naked bodies and wrinkles in their foreheads—and didn’t most birds lay only three or four eggs or so? Whatever kind of bird had laid these eggs had laid fifteen or more, and at least half of them were already hatched and others were hatching as we watched. Even stranger was that the birds were not making peep sounds at all. They were just flapping their jaws, their beaks I guess I should say, in silence. I looked toward the window, half expecting the mother to drop in and attack us. Then I looked around the room and was surprised to find that nothing was in it but for this nest filled with birds and, at the moment, us.

Those birds, man, they creeped me out. Their bodies begged for worms, I saw their hearts pounding through their thin bald skins, and their stomachs were sucking in and expanding hungrily like feed me, feed me, please, but all the while their old-man eyes flipped about, and looked full of intelligence, and it seemed to me that maybe that’s why the birds weren’t peeping, because their smarts ruled the day. Somehow they knew that by asking for something important they would be denied it. I thought briefly of my child of stars and ruins. As of yet, I still had not had my period.

I looked at the Asian. I said, “Thanks for showing me. I’m going back now.” I got up to leave, but the girl caught my wrist and pulled me back. Then she did something that still bothers me when I think of it. She picked up a bird and stuffed it in her mouth.

That was it for me. I scraped back through the hole in the rocks and tore out of there and ran all the way back to Rassas’s. When I got to Sophie and my’s room, Sophie wasn’t there. I went to Rassas’s room and knocked and Sophie opened, fully dressed and ready for travel. She looked me up and down, saw the hard-breathing disheveled woman that I was, barefooted with sweaty hair all in my face and all, and smiled as if I was so beneath her that she didn’t even know why she had ever put up with me in the first place. Talk about smug. I think maybe that that’s Sophie’s major talent—condescension.

When her stepdad died, I did what I could to be supportive. She wanted me to come to his funeral in California, and I wanted to go, I really did, but I had a final exam coming up in Native American Art History. It was bad timing. Robert had fallen ill suddenly of throat cancer, right after Thanksgiving. The man had lost his wife, Sophie’s mother, to breast cancer a couple of years before. His life had been so sad since then, and all this death was happening all at once for Sophie, but she quit her job and flew to the cancer center in Dallas to be with him. She was with him when he died, and when they shipped the body back to California, she was in the same plane that he was on. Then there I was, going, “I have this exam, but if you need me to come I’ll come.” She wanted me to drop everything and just come, but there was nothing to be done now about it. Why couldn’t she see that? I just wished she would forget all that stuff and move on.

Rassas drove us to the port and we rode the high-speed hydrofoil over to Turkey. By the time we made it to the main bus station in Fethiye, and boarded the bus to Olympos, my feet were blackened and felt raw. I’d looked for my shoes in Rhodes, but no luck, and we didn’t have time to buy a new pair before the ferry left. This gave Sophie great pleasure. All the while as we retraced our steps she acted so smug, smiling and approving all of a sudden of my interest and faith in Surpi. It made me mad. Sophie just agreed with every nice thing I said about him to where it seemed like she was humoring me. I felt sick. I questioned my heart. I mean, what did I expect from this? Did I think Surpi and I might grow to be madly connected and in love? Did I think Surpi and I might discover a love that annihilates all interests but the interests we held for each other? When I thought of such a love I saw a heart floating in the sky, a huge pulsing red blob with all these roads connected to it, so many highways and bridges. The heart was cluttered up crazy with dangling pathways and cloverleaves. I saw the clutter all falling away, leaving a single road that, when I followed it with my eye, led to Surpi’s opened mouth. I saw blood rolling down the road, entering the mouth of Surpi.

Perhaps I was letting the whole idea of “romance” get the better of me. I still had that brass trinket of the two bees that had all to do about the Queen of Minos. I had put the damn thing on a cheap necklace that I bought on our return trip through Rhodes, and it rested against my breastbone. I may have thought, not on the surface necessarily, but inside the dark of my person, that the little drop of honey, the golden love drop that was falling from between the two bees, was all about what would happen when I met back up with Surpi. Surpi would return to America with me, and we would have a baby and get along famously and be happy. In my mind I pictured Surpi pacing his little room up in the tree house where he lived, so sad because I’d let him get his fill of me, that’s the thing. I had sated his desires so that he didn’t have his mind on what he was doing when he let me go. Once I was gone, I imagined, reality hit him like a grand piano fallen from a rooftop, all that exploding disjointed music mocking his broken body and heart. If he was to ever see me again, the piano would lift, its splinters and keys coming back together, time rewound, wow! This is what I carried inside me in anticipation of our reunion, this image of myself as a giver of miracles. But I wasn’t sure. I was afraid that it all was a foolish dream, as Sophie wanted me to believe. According to Sophie I was too selfish to have a lasting relationship.

The bus trip was five hours long, and even though we’d seen the great scenery before, we still marveled over its beauty. The waters all along the Turkish coast are so inviting, so invigorating—just looking at them makes you wish you were a mermaid. It’s the color, partly, that sense of depth and richness below its shimmery surface, plus the stillness of it all. That’s where the word turquoise comes from, those cool-ass Turkish coastal waters.

But we get into Olympos, and as the minivan drove us to the camp, my heart raced crazy with excitement. I couldn’t wait to see Surpi. We would start out slow. I would not reveal my feelings to him, but we would look at each other knowingly. So we made it to the reception window and Sophie rang the bell and I was sure that in a few seconds Surpi would appear, his button-up shirt buttoned way down—but it was his uncle, and there was all this hair bursting like tainted snow out of his shirt. “Oh hey, I remember you guys,” the old man said. “Welcome back to Olympos, girls.”

“We couldn’t get enough of that old shrine to Hephastus,” Sophie said, and checked my expression. She then looked down at my feet, and snorted. After the customary small talk, Sophie said, “So where’s your nephew?”

“Surpi? Oh, well, he is not here at the moment.”

Surpi’s uncle took us to our tree house then, and along the way told us stuff we already knew about Olympos, like that the flames on the Burning Mountain were used as a navigational reference in ancient times, and that in the first century BC Olympos was invaded by Sicilian pirates. I guess the pirates came in and slaughtered everybody and made a settlement of the place. The pirates probably made slaves of the women, but our tree house was the same one we’d slept in before. As we fell asleep I wanted to tell Sophie about what had happened to me back in Rhodes, how the Asian girl—I could remember her name now, it was Monica—had stuffed one of those freaky-ass birds in her mouth as if she intended to eat it. I knew what Sophie would do, though. I knew all the things she would say about this mystery, so spared myself that particular humiliation. The whole thing, to me, was such a puzzle.

In the morning we ate apples and granola and settled in, and we slipped into our bikinis and sunhats and made down to the river beach where we laid out below the ruins of Olympos. We were sitting on the bank together, looking out at the water when we heard laughter, and looked over to see Surpi strutting down the mountain path, shirtless with a backpack on. I figured he’d just seen me and that that was why he was so happy, that he’d spent the whole night on the Burning Mountain praying for my return, and then here I was—wow! I was about to stand up, thinking I would strike a slightly sexy pose for him, but then I see he’s got a woman with him. His joyous burst was because of her. A glimpse was all I needed. I turned back and hunched over and looked at the water and just hoped Sophie would not take this opportunity to screw me in the ass.

“Hey, is that you?” Sophie said.

The turquoise water condensed into an oval, blurry around its edges. I would have been perfectly fine had the oval grown fangs, reached out and yanked me down into it.

I was forced to stand up and meet the girl. I shook her hand. She was a lot prettier than me. I pretended that our coming back here had nothing to do with Surpi. After shaking the girl’s hand—she had blond dreadlocks and was from Venice Beach—I gave Sophie a look that said  Please don’t reveal what ought to be shared privately between us. 

I expected Sophie to destroy me now. I had it coming. I was toast, but she said, “A bomb went off in Madrid,” which was total bullshit. She said, “Some terrorists were caught, but they’re still searching for the others. Fifteen people died in the explosion and right now Spain is a dangerous place. I think our lives are more important than a visit to Spain. Spain ain’t going anywhere. You will always be able to see Spain. Who needs Spain? I sure don’t need Spain. Do you need Spain?” Sophie went on to say that she missed the hell out of our little tree house. As Sophie talked on like that, my admiration for her growing and growing, I noticed the rug sort of thing that Surpi had rolled out for me up on the Burning Mountain that night. It was tucked into the elastic contraption attached to the side of his backpack.

Sophie was always right. I had simply wanted to be right for a change. I had wanted to prove that I was not too selfish for love, that I was not so guilty as she kept trying to make me feel for not being with her during her grief over her stepdad’s cancer situation. All my bullcrap was about proving Sophie wrong, and proving to her that I could have a lasting relationship with a guy. In truth I was still the self-centered small-minded brat I had been while we were growing up in Key Largo.

So I wrote Surpi off. Falling asleep that night I thought back on the ignorant Asian girl who stuffed the bird into her mouth. It was her right, of course, to do what she wanted, but it bugged me, and who knew what she’d done after I left her alone in there. It was just the weirdest thing, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be related to the possibilities of my womb. In my mind I saw her stuffing the old-man birds into her mouth, one after the other, eating them until all that remained was the nest.

John Oliver Hodges lives in New York City, and is the author of War of the Crazies, a novella about commune life in upstate New York, and The Love Box, a collection of short stories. His short stories have appeared in Swink, American Short Fiction, Washington Square and about 50 other journals. He teaches writing at Montclair State University and the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

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