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MANHATTAN CHRONICLES
Fall 2012 Issue
GREEN EYES 
by A.G. Billig 

 

The author, A. G. BilligThe hard soles of his shoes were leaving marks in the cobblestone, melted down by the heat. The narrow asphalt strip went by the steep barren lakeside for a while, when suddenly it turned right and followed the highway, leaving behind a whitish dusty path. It was this path he chose daily as a short cut to his home. His shirt was glued to the skin of his chest and back because he hated wearing an under-vest. The man’s strides were heavy and rhythmic. He looked straight ahead, with a frowned set gaze. It might have been the daylight, as heavy as it was, making his wedding ring glow. He was tired. Tired from all the dust, tired from the scorching heat, tired with this forsaken place where he has been living for the past two years. He felt trapped.

He had settled down here right after being betrothed to Mary. He had met her at the movies. They were total strangers and yet, they had seats next to one another. The film was utter crap and he did not refrain from commenting and laughing out loud. She had told him to behave himself, otherwise she would have the usher throw him out. The man was puzzled. He was used to women performing a somersault to get into his good books. But not this one. Mary was all determination and self-confidence. A different female species he had to explore. At the end of the movie, he had made a short but irresistible apology that had put a smile on her face.

“Piece of cake,” he had said to himself, thinking that the war was won before any battle had taken place. He had pursued her to the bus station, extracting a phone number and the promise of a date.

It had not been love at first sight but still, it was love. He had fallen for her lively spirit, her wits, her ambition, and her openness. She fancied him for his good looks, his wonderful body, his passion. After a while, they were inseparable. They enjoyed climbing the mountains, taking long strolls in the park, eating ice cream, dancing and making love for hours and hours. To cut a long story short, they were happy.

So happy that, once the autumn came, they got married. A small wedding—just family and close friends, with no white, princess garment and no tuxedo. Actually, Mary had a stout figure and thought a mid-length, straight dress made of cream brocade would suit her best. As for him, he wanted to make her smile like the first time they had met. Thus, he adorned his best office suit with a pair of new Converse sneakers.

Right after the ceremony was over, the newlyweds packed their bags and moved to Mary’s hometown. He had just graduated from college and got a job as an engineer at the nearby nuclear power station. The man had grown up in a similar small town and, during his first year of marriage, he did not miss the life of the big city. Moreover, he loved his job and he loved getting back home every evening to his Mary, who was always greeting him with tender caresses and exquisite food. She had landed a job as a nurse in a state run dispensary and seemed to have forgotten her old ambitions. Right where the small town began, the path wound by some shabby cottages, inhabited by gypsies. Rumor said that they had come a long time ago, from a distant realm, travelling by water and by land. They were rarely seen on the streets, except for the Sunday fair, where they came to trade handmade copper kitchen utensils in different sizes for groceries, bread, meat and cotton. Once they had closed their deals, they simply vanished while the other merchants would sigh with relief. They were a bad omen, wise men said.

He knew it too, but mocked Mary whenever she begged him not to take the shortcut.

“This is rubbish! Childish stuff! What can they do to me? Come on, grow up! It’s the same thing as if you told me you still believed in Santa Claus!”

Nevertheless, whenever he passed by their yards, he would quicken his pace. The toothless old ladies, the big-bellied grey beards, and the naked children that he usually saw inside put awkwardness into his very soul. Only on this occasion, something was different. For the first time, he was seeing one of their young women. In fact, very young, barely out of her teens. A lithe creature with long, dark hair, perfect, white teeth like small pearls and a bright, green gaze that marked his heart. He kept on walking, without turning his head. Nevertheless, there she was, in front of his eyes, raising up her frail arms and hanging out the washing. He tried to banish her out of his mind. All of a sudden, he was getting superstitious.

She might cast a spell on me, he thought. He suddenly realized that he had never seen a young female gypsy. He remembered the talk he had heard once, while waiting in line at a store. Somebody had said that the power of these people lived within their women. The young ones, able to breed. They were so beautiful that all men who laid eyes upon them fell in love. In order to preserve their power and to avoid quarrels with the small-town inhabitants, the gypsy sage had forbidden them to be out in the open. Whoever trespassed the interdiction was heavily punished. How they were punished remained a mystery.

Mary overwhelmed him with her kindliness. She had cooked dinner but he was not hungry. He had spent long minutes in the shower, thinking about the young gypsy woman. He told his wife that he was feeling tired and went to bed.

He woke up, sweating in the middle of the night. Mary was asleep next to him. Same short, curly hair as when they met. Her cheeks had filled out though and her features seemed to have lost their edge. Her calm, steady breath soothed him. What on earth was going on in his mind? He got slowly out of bed.

He needed a cigarette. The air was fresher now. He would go out and have a puff. However, as soon as he went outside the house, his steps, as if suddenly granted with a life of their own, took him to the town’s outskirts where the gypsy cottages were. A dog, alerted to his

presence, started barking loudly. The yards were empty. He must have hallucinated earlier that day. The sun had been so strong.

“It is best to take the other road, even if it’s longer.        

Get a car, maybe,” he told himself.

He stood by this decision for about a week. He even took Mary to several secondhand car dealers in order to pick a car. They had the money but could not agree on the model. She wanted a family car, big and sound, in a dustproof color. Light grey would do. He would have chosen a more sporty vehicle, bright red or deep blue, since they were still very young and did not expect any children soon. They were both to put money into it and they had to agree. Mary, who always had her way, chose to postpone her decision knowing that, in the end, her husband would indulge her. In the meantime, he was growing restless, dissatisfied. He was taking the long road home but he barely touched his wife. In fact, it had been almost a month since they last made love. He still respected her. A lot. He was grateful for her love and devotion. Nevertheless, he had stopped lusting for her.He needed a change. Maybe they needed a change. Their love might have gotten a bit of fresh air if they moved somewhere else. Back to the big city, as a matter of fact. So, he started a frantic quest for a new job. But nothing popped up that suited his educational background and professional experience, as well as their financial expectations. So life went on just the same.

One day, again he decided to take the shortcut. He walked through the dust, past the gypsy cottages. And there she was! Sitting on a bench attached to a fence, playing with two small children. The red scarf that was covering her head made her eyes look even greener. Just one glance at her, made him feel alive. He came closer. He needed to touch her, to convince himself she was not a dream. The girl gave him a cocky, curious eye and pulled back a little.

“Well, if gentleman believe that any stranger can lay his hand on me, he is very, very wrong,” she said, in an uneducated yet mesmerizing voice.

“Don’t fret. I mean no harm or disrespect. I just want to make sure that you’re real and I’m not dreaming,” he answered in the gentlest manner he could.

“The gentleman makes fun of a simple, common gypsy girl,” she replied, casting her eyes down. The arrogance in her tone implied that she believed the opposite.

“Whenever a girl is so beautiful, I need to make sure that I’m not dreaming. Please, tell me, what’s your name?” He was speaking in a soft voice, as if she were a fairytale creature that he would not want to scare away.

“I’m Margaret, sir. But my folks call me Martha.”

“Margaret suits you better!” He felt like he was back in college, trying to lure in the girl he fancied.

“Do you know, Margaret, how happy you could make me if only you let me hold you in my arms?”

The girl looked at him in anger.

“Sir forgot the ring on his finger!”

“Damn this ring!” he burst out, snatching it off his hand. “You’re totally right, I forgot. Thank you for reminding me. I should have done this a long time ago!”

He was not lying. In fact, he was feeling so free as if, together with the ring, he had removed the burden he was carrying on his shoulders. The girl was hiding a smile in the corner of her lips. She knew she was beautiful. Besides, she was not to blame for this other woman’s inability to please him or her belief that, once he had put a jewel on her finger, he would stay for the rest of her life. She was just a plain and simple gypsy girl. But she knew her good looks would not last forever so she kept them. She also knew that men were hunters and needed to be lured all the time with new decoys. A woman needed to stay the same to make a man feel as secure as necessary, but must remember also to reinvent herself a little, day by day, so that he can discover her over and over again. Most importantly of all, play with mystery. Unveil it just a bit only to make it deeper.

From that day on, he took back the old way home but he said nothing to Mary. Deep down in his heart, he was hoping his feelings would pass and that he would manage to stay a respectable fellow. He thought that his forbidden love affair might reignite his passion for his

wife, as it happened to other men. Nevertheless, with each glance, touch, and kiss, Margaret took a stronger hold on him. She would meet him halfway and go down below the steep, barren, lakeside. They would hide under the long branches of a willow, the only tree left by the water. There, he would fill himself up with the taste of her lips, and the silk of her skin that smelled like grass and fire ashes. He would caress her soft curves, her flat belly, amazed by her little waist. In the evening, he would go back to his flat on the third floor, the very one he had

chosen months ago for being spacious and light, only to feel like a drowned man into a sea of tiny objects and big pieces of furniture. His odorant had developed in a bizarre way so that the man was able to sense each and every little smell. The more he inhaled Mary’s expensive perfume, the odor of synthetic soap, woman’s body and face lotions, the more he longed for the scent of grass and fresh water, for Margaret’s sweet faint sweat. Yet, he had a hard time seeing himself living with the gypsies. What if he persuaded his beloved to elope with him, to another city? Get a fresh start. He spent evenings in a row imagining and planning before daring to speak to her about it.

“I would never, ever, betray my people, do you hear?”Margaret screamed to his face. “Go away with you, turn into one of these pale, dead creatures, abide by some false rules we despise. Be cut off from the trees, the water, and the animals! Never!” He could never have imagined such a fierce look in her eyes and stayed there, defeated. This was it. Almost a curse of being half-living, whenever they were together, half-dead, as soon as he played the part of the respectable husband and engineer.

“They would find us and kill us both, anyways, if we eloped,” she added in a soothing voice. “Unless you decide to join us. I bet they would accept you. As tanned as you are now, you look a little bit like a gypsy!” she giggled.

“Margaret, you know I love you but I couldn’t possibly...”

“It’s all right my love, no worries. We’re good. At least, until my father decides to marry me.”

For the first time, he understood why men and women committed passion crimes. He would have been up for it as well if such horror happened. He took her into his arms, into a passionate embrace, and laid her down into the rich clover under the willow. As deepened into his thoughts as he was, he still noticed there was something wrong as soon as he returned home. Mary had puffy eyes and a swollen face. She, who always smiled and started talking about

everything the moment her husband set foot in, was now silent. Her lips, tightly pressed one another, turned into a thin line of indefinite color.

“Good evening,” he said, wearily thinking she was upset because he was too late, later than usual. “I’m sorry, I’ve got caught up in a million of things at the office. Piles of paper to sort out, this kind of stuff…”

“Stop!” she replied in a dry voice. “I know!” she added heading for the living room and sitting on the couch. The man followed her, puzzled. What on earth could she know?

“You were seen today. I mean, you two were seen. Now, I understand why you have been hiding this from me,” she added by pulling out of a pocket a rumpled piece of paper. “You turned it down, right?”

His head was spinning. It was perfectly true. A major company in the capital had offered him his dream job, yet, he did not take it. However, he had thrown this paper into the garbage bin a long time ago. Besides, nobody ever passed by that place, at the seaside.

“Who is she? Is she someone at work? Do I know her?”

“She is a gypsy…”

The words went out of his mouth by themselves, lightening up his heart. He was sorry for Mary, yet, he was relieved with telling the truth. For a second, the curse seemed to fade away. But to his astonishment, the woman’s face lit up.

“It’s a spell. She must have put a spell on you!” she said throwing her arms around him. “Today, when that kid’s mother told me about it, I knew that you were unable to act like this out of your own will. Now, I have the confirmation. We must go to church.”

“Mary, you don’t understand. I’m in love with her!”

“Of course, my darling you are. Because she made you believe so. She made you see her as a goddess while she may be as ugly as a toad. I shall talk to Father Thomas tomorrow morning, see what we must do.”

Her cheeks were red with excitement and she was determined to save him.

“Have it your way,” he answered, sure that no priest could change his heart and happy to see her cheering up.

The problem was solved for now, but what about the curse? Well, the curse continued working its magic. The next day, somebody, somehow heard the conversation between Mary and Father Thomas. It was a matter of days before the news crawled through the town, like a snake, reaching the respectable society members’ ears. They were watching him, willing to see repent and regret. Yet, he carried on, as before, with his life refusing to seek help from God. The only love potion Margaret had given him was her lips. He told Mary he should move out but she begged him to stay.

“This would be the supreme shame,” she argued. “I still believe you are under a spell and I feel like I haven’t done all that I can to cast it way. Think how it would make me look, being ditched for a gypsy. I could never get out of the house.”

A month passed by. People started avoiding him and eventually, he lost his job. Now, he had all the time in the world for Margaret. He let his hair and beard grow and started wearing colorful shirts. Eventually, Margaret gave birth to a baby boy. That day, he went to his apartment, while Mary was away, took a few things that he held dear and wrote a short note, asking her to forgive him.

“I must have been a gypsy all my life, only now I realize it. I wish you always stay true to who you are and I thank you for all your love and caring.”

Since that day, neither him nor Margaret were ever seen again. Even the gypsies packed their shawls, kettles, their hats and their mustaches, put the horses to the carts and moved out. They were the talk of the town for months. Some women stood by him: it must have been the curse. Give up a good life, to become a bum. Or maybe die, after all. Some people said the girl’s father must have killed him. Others swore that they had seen him in one of the carts, together with a very young woman who was feeding a baby at her breast. Others blamed him and his kindred: men go crazy whenever they see a skirt lifting up.

As for Mary, she packed her bags and moved back to the big city, for fear that the curse might harm her as well. She remarried an older, almost bald man of substance, and turned into a big lady.

  
This story is part of the collection Four Doors and Other Stories by A.G. Billig, recently released worldwide as an E-book by MP Publishing.