Swans Commentary » swans.com November 15, 2010  



Green Dogs On The Spianada


by Peter Byrne


A Story



"I felt a son of a bitch to have hit him and not killed him."
—Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa


(Swans - November 15, 2010)   It was a square, if you like, but crooked and nibbled on all sides by a medley of buildings. A bench on the grassy area in the center wasn't a place you would sit if you had another choice. Daylight had not quite come to Corfu. The view was toward the sea. Across the strait in Albania there were snow-veined mountains. The white at the top of the vertical grooves shone a faint pink with the first sign of the rising sun.

A ferryboat had its end open on to the quay, and trucks and cars pulled into it with a jerk. The dock, hardly fresh-minted, bore the disconcerting name of New Port. A knot of men stood where the vehicles stopped a moment and snorted before driving aboard. It was chilly and the men shifted from foot to foot and seemed to gabble only to increase their body heat. This was an illusion since they made even more noise in summer. Just outside the group, a man in a white cap and jacket crouched by a metal-covered box that rested on the pavement.

Despite the racket of motors and voices, he heard a whistle, cruelly sharp, from the far side of the square. He got to his feet wearily and slung the box over his shoulder by its strap.

"Papa," he said, with a pronunciation that was meant to be English. He looked toward the others with a pout and a resigned lift of his eyebrows. They lifted their shoulders in shrugs of sympathy. The whistle came again like a knifepoint. The man in white rounded his shoulders and in a semblance of hurry crossed the patch of grass with his hand steadying the box.

In the pointlessly large doorway of a hotel stood a barrel-chested figure of six-feet. Beneath flaking paint and a Canadian lumber jacket, the physical pretensions of building and man were still visible. His shoulders were bloated and his legs tapered down under him like the drumsticks on the chicken nobody wants at the butcher's. Beside him was a minute figure with cropped hair that on second glance proved to be a woman. She held a pith helmet against her stomach as if she thought it were something valuable.

The man in the white coat set down his box. With a wince, he put up his hand to fend off a third piercing whistle.

"You speak good Greek," he recited like a greeting.

"I haven't said a goddamn Cyrillic word yet, Spiridion," said the big man in the lumber jacket.

"No accent on the second syllable. You want the usual?"

"Yup, two of the best."

Reaching into his box the vendor took great care to keep a paper napkin between his dirty fingers and each dirty sausage roll. Both napkins and sausage rolls had spent the night in a shed full of carousing mice.

"I can't face one," said the woman in a nasal voice.

"Bunk," said the big man who was devouring his. "But eat it the right way, the New Port ferryman's way, one bite, another bite, and basta."

"One drachma," said the vendor. He frowned as the big man pushed her sausage roll into the woman's mouth, and repeated the one, two, basta business like a drill sergeant.

Having pocketed a coin, the vendor hurried back across the square, mumbling in English about tourists and in Corfu Greek about savages.

"Hell, he gone already," said the big man. "I wanted to talk Greek to him. I learned it bobsledding in Oak Park. A Cretan team insisted I captain them. We used to slide right down to Cicero like a cleaver, cutting up traffic cops."

"When does it get light here, Papa?" asked the woman through shreds of napkin and sausage roll.

"Starting now," he said, gazing over the strait with watery eyes. "One day we'll hunt Albanians in those mountains."

"Not today!" she said alarmed. "I had scarcely any sleep last night."

"I get up early, Daughter."

"Sure, it's because your eyelids are thin."

"That's it, both of them," he said dreamily.

"Where we going?" asked the woman, changing her tone.

"We're rendezvousing with Doc on the esplanade."

"He'll never make it with what he drank last night."

"Doc's a white hunter. He can take it."

"He took a snoot full, trying to beat you, seventy-two brandies."

"No, seventy-one. I drank seventy-two. His seventy-second was the one he couldn't get down and I spilt over his bald pate."

"Is he bringing the equipment?"

"Those are his orders." He pulled at her arm. "Let's move, Daughter, that sun is rising. I'll show you a shortcut through the old town."

It was brighter now. The big man passed with a rolling gait into an enclosed paved area crowded with buildings housing travel agencies and souvenir shops not yet open for the day's business. The little woman dressed like a boy and not young enough to be his daughter followed with quick short steps.

"Won't we get lost again in that maze?" she asked without conviction.

"With a tracker like me?" he laughed gruffly. "Did I ever tell you how I swam the Des Plaines River one moonless night with a copy of the Oak Park Beacon in my mouth?"

"Yes," she said faintly.

"The trick was not to get the editorial page wet. I dog paddled and afterwards whisked the drops off with my tail. The want ads at the back were doused, but that was all in the game. The news stories at the front were soggy too. But I made it. Ruined my teeth of course. See the crack in thish one...?"

They quickly lost their way. But the big man never hesitated to pass down the same narrow lane three and even four times.

"You see, Daughter, it's like Venice here and you recall how well I know Venice. The marble pavement is strictly Venetian. They floated it right down the Adriatic in gondolas, along with the arcades."

The woman pointed down and then up.

"This looks like asphalt, Papa, and there are no arcades right here."

"Don't pick nits. It doesn't become my little girl."

"Got you, Papa."

"They wanted to bring Harry's Bar along too, but Harry put his foot down."

He grunted seeing a way between the hard vertical edges of intersecting walls.

"What a place, all doges and dodges," he said, jabbing with his nose to point out the sky at the end of the lane they were moving along. "And a stray dog blight."

"What are we doing on the esplanade, Papa?"

"Safari naturally, Memsahib."

"In town?"

"Yessiree, right in little old Corfu town."

"I thought there was no game on the island except in the marshes and mountains."

"But Papa knows best, doesn't he?" The big man flapped his hand heavily on the little woman's head. "You see, Daughter, I've smelt my way around this town Comanche style. Just like I nosed over those Chicago suburbs as a nipper. It was a fine country over there then, full of mighty good Indians. No one can handle a cocktail shaker like a Redskin riding bareback. All that's changed now. It was time to move on. Every country has its hour, Daughter, and when it's finished, it's over. You have to pull up stakes and haul ass toward a new springtime. And I like this here country. I like the people, I like the drink."

"So do I, Papa, but we have to get up at dawn like this so as not to tread on the tourists, and the bars aren't open yet."

"It's an old Ionian tradition. Romans, Normans, Byzantines, Venetians, Turks, French, English, nobody could change it: They like sleeping late. Here, take a whiff of my flask. It's a real giant killer."

She took a draw and stretched her mouth to her ears.

"Ugh! What kind of varnish is that?"

"It's resinated ouzo, my formula. There's a little church behind the market where they do it up for me in the vestry. They've got a kind of shrine where they pray to my icon there. One of the priests with a degree in semantics swishes the juice around three times with his beard. Another nip?"

Her chin quivered no.

He took a cheek-swelling mouthful, paused till the breath he'd held gave out, and swallowed it down like a sink drain.

"You should always drink like that, Daughter. An Apache taught me at Oak Park High, best tap-dancer we ever had on the football eleven. Holding your breath takes the hex off, and the trout stream rush in the throat makes it plenty good medicine."

"Look, Papa, a rat!"

The animal was not at all frightened, only polite, or anyway indecisive whether to cross the lane before or after them.

"Holy Samuel Colt!" he cried, "and me without the Springfield. I'd like to pot him like this, see."

He extracted a newspaper from his pocket and rolled it tight.

"There, I fix him in the sights. But do I shoot? Hell no, watch. I keep him covered, aim at that rough patch just below his left foreleg socket. But I don't shoot. I get my eyes in his and work closer and closer."

"Be careful, Papa, they got diseases."

"Quiet, Daughter, this is man's work. You have to give him his chance, see? He's a fine animal and you want to kill him square. That's huntin'. You can't just blast away. Let him take a poke at you too. Otherwise you blush when time comes to sit down to table and carve him up."

"It's a rat for chrissake!"

"Fair is fair and game is game. Old Indians understand. So he gives me bubonic plague. I've been through all of that. Hell, I tumbled plenty rats on the West Side of Chicago, foxy old broad-chested bastards, full of the pox. You had to get right down on your hands and knees and wrestle them."

"You mean box them, don't you, Papa? Remember, you boxed."

"That's what I said, I spar-partnered my way right through Chi-town. The stuff I took! Feel here where my third rib should be."

"The rat's showing his teeth!"

"Tough is he? I'll show mine too. Jumpin' orangoutang, I'll bite his tail off."

"Leave him alone, Papa, he's getting mean. It's his town."

"The hell it is. I cleaned the Krauts out of this sea when I was a kid. It's my town. Ask the bartenders. Didn't I fight it out with the customs inspectors? They love me here. This big-noise rodent is just a Johnny-come-lately down from Venice. Watch this."

He put the rolled newspaper to his eye again.

"Always sight that back-combed spot heart-side. Then wait for him to charge. The trigger should rise under your finger like an anxious clit. You squeeze just when he scrunches up to spring."

"But, Papa, that's the Herald Trib you're sighting him with."

"I don't want him, Daughter. He's too small. Always wait for the big boys."

"Okay, but let's walk faster, he's following us."

"He's servile, ignore him. The tourists spoil them. I saw by his muzzle he was a Venetian runt, low bred. It's that Levantine blood."

"He moves quick with a glide. Is he a gondola rat?"

"Four centuries they spent here, setting up the tourist industry. You saw the arcades."

"The guidebook says those are French."

"Sure, if you have to be bookish, you can say Franco-Venetian. But that sort of thing ruins your prose rhythm. What happens to the steady drumbeat when all those run-together syllables trail across the page?"

"Great blurb, Papa. I'll note it."

"Think of this marble roadstead as a canal, and you could be in the Serenissima."

"Asphalt," she murmured. "You sure know your Adriatic, Papa, but let's walk faster and not wait for a boat."

"You think I'm scared of that squirt? He won't dare follow us out on the esplanade where it's shoot-out time with real game."

"What real game? You mean the big pigeons?"

"I'm a whiz of a wing-shot, but let them potbellies fly easy today, Daughter. I'm going after the green dogs of the Spianada. Ever hear of them critters?"

"Papa, no, that's not legal. They belong to somebody. Man's best friends, for cryin' out loud. The citizens love them and throw them bones. Besides, they aren't green."

"I love them too, Daughter, and they love me. That's why I want to clobber them fair. And they're green because I say so. That's what being a writer means. He picks the colors."

"Crikey, Papa, no! The police will get us again. Then they'll want to see your Nobel Prize Belt and you'll have that trouble with your pants."

"I didn't say it would be easy, Daughter, I said we're going to do it. We got to be men. Otherwise it's not worth dying."

"But dogs, Papa, just mutts!"

"You never heard of a canine tooth? Real stiletto. Dogs is vicious, even little ones. I remember as a boy sitting on a Pekinese in the Lake Forest El. I can't show you the scar now because we gotta keep our eyes peeled for Doc. I need my armory."

"Then let's get the action over with before the pet lovers wake up."

"Mama, mama, how many times have I told you that girls who can't hold their horses, end up in divorces?"

"Plenty of times, Papa, but this business rattles me: I really like dogs. They eat food out of cans like humans."

"Nerves is the true enemy of the hunter. Doc will be medicating his now in one of those bars. Just look at this terrain. I've hunted such country for tomcat, same smell as the west slope of the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin tracks. There's too much pavement. It's hell on the balls of your feet, way too open with no cover for your corns. We'll take some punishment this morning."

"There's Doc on that café terrace, airing his breath," said the little woman. She was lugubrious, apparently resigned to her fate.

"Combing the hair of the beast," said the big man, knuckle punching his bad knee and quickening his pace.

Doc was round-headed, hairless, with dead blue eyes and a bow tie, a typical retired white hunter. There was a small empty glass before him on the table.

The big man approached him from the rear and slapped his shoulder hard, cackling,


Doc gulped back down whatever had tried to rise in his throat. His accent was a Tynesider's who had spent fifty years in Los Angeles consorting with movie footmen and butlers. He had only the strength to raise his hand three inches and point across the Spianada.

"Transport's ready and waiting out there."

"Equipment greased and body-warmed?" asked the big man with a mean squint through his glasses. These he then adjusted, smoothening a frayed adhesive patch that held together one side of the frame.

Doc gave a barely perceptible nod, as if falling asleep.

"We got no native porters here, Papa."

"Don't be dumb. There're natives everywhere. You should have scraped some up in the discos. They always like me. Remember Droopy and M'Cola? Both of them wanted to come back to Oak Park and to live with my cats in the backyard."

The little woman was jumpy.

"Let's go out on the grass and do what we have to do before the parking attendants get in the way," she said.

"Now Daughter, be a good Memsahib and sit down here by Doc. We got to think logistics."

He himself sat down on the other side of the white hunter in an angle of the terrace wall. Half a century, with never a lapse of vigilance, he'd sat like that, ambush-proof, his back covered. It kept off drafts.

Once again he extracted his metal flask from its leather holster. The casing was an Austrian mortar shell that had not gone off in 1914 or since.

The empty chair at the table for four was on the seaward side and they all looked that way. The dirty green of the old fort was a poor match for the fresh blue of the day.

"What country!" said the big man. "I feel like swimming to Epirus."

He drank from his flask in his special way. To hear the gurgle made the white hunter sick. The little woman looked away so she wouldn't be shown again how to get the tilt of the flask just right.

"Who's the waiter on duty?" asked the man called Papa, licking his lips.

"The little guy," answered Doc, barely audible.

"Don't like him," said Papa. "He's got no grit. I invited him to go dynamiting crabs last year and he chickened out. He likes me though."

"I heard Big Spiri passed away," said the little woman.

The white hunter nodded twice, pursed his mouth and belched between tight lips.

Papa spoke.

"That makes me sad." Tears were indeed forming in his eyes. "I hope they mounted his head. There was one waiter who could wait. He had style, not mere technique. There's a difference, you know. Technique won't take you all the way to pay dirt. It's only a start. You stand there by the cash register, waiting, staring at your blank white tray. Nothin' comes. But you ride it out and have a quick Metaxa for yourself when the owner's wife goes for a leak."

"Maybe you should knock off work, swim, take a boat out, or go for a nap in the toilet, and then come back to it fresh. But you can't because there's no relief man. So you flex your calf muscles and dig your pumps into the floor. Life is good, but the floor is hard."

"Now the blank white tray is staring at you. You look away and rake your eyes over the whole pooped-out Spianada of an esplanade. It's an eyeful but you're still doing no business. That empty tray, those sore feet. Art you say to yourself, art. Then you sneak another Greek brandy."

"That does it. The tray looks different. You polish it a brisk thirty seconds with your bar rag. Everything is changing. A customer appears on the terrace. It's starting to happen. You move toward him like a feather on the breeze. His ass has scarcely hit the chair and you're beside him, hovering like a caring horsefly."

"He can't talk Greek, wants a beer. You send out the obedient-servant vibration. Of course you speak his language. He pretends not to understand you. But you rattle on all the same. Your touch is back. You're on your way. You're an artist again. Your left pump pinches, but that's part of the game."

"It doesn't stop there, naturally. You'll give him over-priced, imported beer, then short change. Will he notice? If so, you'll be ready with the cash he's got coming before a word leaves his mouth. That's art. And you work at it, off your own bat, simply because it's so damn tough and nobody's got the courage to do it today, because it's hard, hard, hard."

The woman sometimes called Mama had been thinking about other matters, principally dogs. Doc the white hunter had slept soundly. Now he came awake politely,

"Big Spiri died humpin' an English tourist, housewife from Andover. His heart went."

"Poor guy. It happened to me once," said Papa.

"He's dead," said the little woman, vexed.

"Hold it, Mama, I look at it this way," Papa's glint shone philosophic. "He was a good waiter and he knew how to die. That's what matters. Death's the great big bathroom scale that weighs up cajones. He did all a man could do."

"He could have stayed home with his wife," said the little woman.

Doc summed up,

"With all that tourist pussy there for the asking, how could a Greek refuse anything free?"

The little woman stood up. The tabletop came to just where it could have supported the full, elongated melons of her bronze bosom had she been an Ethiopian so endowed. But she was skimpily made and yellow as a plucked poussin. She put on her pith helmet.

"We'll get a parking ticket," she said.

"Order received, Miss Mama," said the big man. He tightened his Nobel Belt a notch, ground his teeth twice around clockwise, and set to flexing his neck muscles like a sword swallower contemplating action.

Then he got to his feet, reached out and lifted Doc up by the chin. The big man looked mean.

"Bull session's over. Operational procedure rundown begins. Synchronize left and right feet. Check over your terminology. Doc, you come around the Cistern and shoo the game toward the Old Fort."

"Cistern?" said Doc.

The little woman was in a hurry, and spoke quickly,

"He read in the tourist guide they call it that. He means the monument to Maitland."

Papa had all the time in the world,

"That's right, we gotta brief you Doc. That circular structure is the entrance to a large cistern."

"I get it, that's why they call it the Cistern," said Doc.

"Jesus, man, who's punch-drunk here, me or you? I'm giving you the gen. Did I ever tell you the difference between the gen, the true gen, and the real gen?"

"Leave it, Papa," said the little woman on the point of nervous tears, "it makes him think of gin."

"Okay, okay, but what kind of safari can I set up with material like you guys?"

Now he was going to cry.

"Don't upset yourself, Papa. You tell us what you'd do if we were all topnotch hard cases." Mama knew her man.

He perked up straightaway.

"Roger. Here's how I'd rig it. Doc scarecrows the quarry to the entrance of the Old Fort. At the ramp over the canal, we give him strong vocal support on his flanks. I mean we holler our heads off. In half a jiffy it's a stampede and they're running like sheep. When we've got enough for driving range practice, I order the drawbridge up. Let them howl now, they're in the bag. Then I call up my caddy, adjutant Mama. She brings the armor and it's all tee-shots and no lost balls from there in till the eighteenth hole."

"Wonderful, Papa," said the little woman, matter-of-fact.

"Of course," he grinned, "the row out there would sound like a hog-deballing ceremony in old Monterrey."

"Right, right, right," said Mama. "And so?"

"Well, childrin, you know me, Old Colonel Adaptable. Bowing to circumstances, inferior manpower, local chicken hearts, the morning coffee klatch, and the reality principle, I'm going to cut the operation to the bone."

Doc's head bobbed in the wake of the thread he'd long lost. Mama knew the crux was now and listened hard.

The big man felt he had an audience at last.

"Get this." He paused teasingly. "Doc rides herd pushing the bowsers into green cover and when they're all milling around in there, sniffing each other fore and aft, we go in with all the firepower we've got."

Mama looked at groggy Doc.

"Green cover," she interpreted, "means that little fenced in park."

"Elementary," said Papa. "For green cover read little fenced in park. Roger?"

Doc was galvanized or anyway thoroughly woken up by all this verbal cut and thrust. Papa came close and looked him straight in the eye. They'd bowled and ping-ponged and played the horses together, sweat beer and metabolized whiskey in a dozen campaigns. But only one man, not two, could take responsibility, make decisions, give orders. Papa, as always, did so now.

"And keep your breath off the breeze, or the mutts will all swim to Paxos."

The white hunter gave a fragile salute and rolled away like something on rubber wheels.

"Jambo, Doc," said Papa with a fateful nod.

Then the big man rested his arm heavily on the little woman's shoulder. They walked out over the garden-like esplanade toward what seemed to be a parking lot.

Papa stage-whispered in an angry hiss,

"That rummy Doc's writing a book about me!"

"Doc? Write! He doesn't know a ball from a point," said the little woman who was getting smaller as the arm on her shoulder bore down.

"So, he's putting it on tape." Papa didn't like disagreement. "But he can't get it right, tell it straight and true. That guy glows with thirst, not a gem-like flame. Imagine, a cashiered white hunter writing about me!"

"Papa, I hope you didn't ever tell him anything, well, true."

"Of course not. I kept my story out there on the playing fields, footwork, usin' the resin bag, curve balls, the usual locker room guff."

"He is rather old for sport, especially boxing."

"Christ Almighty, Daughter, it's only metaphor. Ain't you been readin' me all these years?" He gave that mean squint.

"Papa, you know better than that. I don't let anyone else's books into the house."

He liked her reply and smiled.

"No need to be so narrow. Dead guys are all right, in foreign languages. Sancho Panza's a good read. But not that fucker Thomas Mann. He called me a miniaturist. Me, a welterweight from as far back as kindergarten!"

"Never heard of him, Papa. He sounds anonymous like that Everyman. But Doc's a flyweight and getting skinnier."

"Can he even lift a pen? I told him to block those adjectives out with his forearms, then throw a series at them, and, and, and, three quick left jabs, everything drawn out and repeated, but no kowtowing to dictionaries. That's know-how. When he has to have a breather, he's to wiggle his mouthpiece as if he's thinking, then look up at the weather over the ring. A quick skyscape will always get him to the end of a round. On the stool in his corner, when the seconds rubbing him over like a roast for the oven, he ought to spiel about the beauty of just lasting, d-u-r-a-t-i-o-n, surviving, he should say, like an old broken-down teddy bear, or a fallen instep, or a six day cyclist's jockstrap or just about any other damn thing he can come up with."

"But did Doc take it all in?" She seemed to think not.

"Who knows? He rides a punch like all those Medicare bums. How do you spar with a senior citizen who sleeps with his eyes open? Last night he even pretended to snore when I told him I'd been a boy jockey back in the Windy City and learnt to speak horse lingo. I hand him material like that good for a whole chapter and he muffs it. I've got a good mind to K.O. the palooka. I'll take my driver to him the next time I tee up. He can't even keep the clubs oiled. If I see a speck of rust, I'll let him have it. I'll gut shoot him with my putter."

"Take it easy, Papa. You tell him about your Mum and Dad?"

"Hell, no. I never talk about being born, and don't you spill the beans either. Keep the beginning vague. It's more poetic." Papa's eyes moistened.

"You can't do that, Papa. A biography has to begin with you being born."

"Okay. I'm telling it how it is, aren't I? I was born in the ring at the Oak Park Y.M.C.A., with gloves on. Start from there."

"I'm not writing it, Papa."

"You sure? I saw you scribbling something."

"Papa, let me tell you what you ought to do. Make up a cover story for your Mum and Dad just as you did for the rest of your life. Throw it at them and they'll chew it over. That they get it all wrong won't matter. Keep it simple, like that your Mum made you wear spurs in your playpen..."

"That bitch excuse for a prayer meetin'..."

"Say that your Dad taught you the Morse code at two and you learnt to send messages by chattering your teeth."

"Him! Never mention that limp limb member of my family tree!"

"Don't cry, Papa."

"A father like that, me. It's easy for you to talk, Mama, you weren't born thanks to a refrigerator."

"I tell you it's nothing, Papa, and happens all the time now."

The big man turned his face away from her and toward Dimarhiou Square and the Palace. But he could see neither through his tears. Out came the terrible truth with a rumble from his barrel chest,

"My Dad, impotent as the end of an old garden hose."

They were both silent for a long minute. Then the little woman went on with her suggestions,

"You could say you were the first test tube baby, a miracle of science."

Papa had regained control, but his voice was weak and thin.

"I should admit I got my start as a melted ice cube of sperm? Me, just slush?"

"The hell with it, Papa. Come on. Let's kill a couple of dogs and get off this mushy island."

"Now you're talkin'. Indian file then."

He took his arm from her shoulder, straightened up and moved ahead with a springy step. When he reached the canvas-topped jeep, he began to circle it with his head down, sniffing. Then he looked up foxy.

"One of them lifted his leg on us."

He turned up his nose to the sky.

"I got his scent: a big spaniel...russet."

"We'll get him, Papa. Put the clubs on me."

His muscular arm extracted a full golf bag from the back of the jeep. The little woman backed into him, bumping his knees with the bones her buttocks might have encased had they not been mere sinew. He slung the strap of the bag over her head so that she could carry it en bandoulière. She had a problem with her pith helmet that ended up askew.

"Up and at them," he shoved her into motion and, quick for his girth, padded ahead out of the parking lot in the direction of the Old Fort.

The little woman had trouble keeping up. She ran and the clubs jangled. Papa stopped abruptly, turned, spread his legs, and threatened her with his fist.

"You'll scare the target."

They started again and she reached around to steady the clubs from underneath with her right arm. But it was too short. She tried her left arm over her right shoulder. But that arm was no longer than the other.

Papa stopped again, crouched low and shushed her, blowing his mouth round.

"I got a spore!"

The little woman caught up and now held the golf bag in front of her with both hands like a French horn. They were outside a tree-filled garden.

"Give me the niblick," said Papa, tense with decision. "The gate's like a fish trap. Once inside they're caught and have to dig in under the shrubbery and wait for the caretaker to show them the way out at closing time."

Mama was getting nervous and looked up and down the pavement guiltily.

"You take up a position here to cover my withdrawal." Papa's eyes flashed and his mid-western twang went clipped and military. He opened and closed the gate silently using both hands. The golf club hung from his mouth by its rubber grip.

The little woman filled the silent interval with hard listening. She turned her back to the gate, rested the golf bag, and looked out over the parked cars and what passed for a cricket pitch toward the arcades and the cafés of the Liston. An old man from the country passed on a sputtering Vespa with an open box of mandarins tied behind the seat.

Then, from the massed green of the garden, came a firm fat thwack.

The big man came out of the gate in a mist of sweat. He kicked backward spitefully with his heel into the metal and thrust the golf club at the little woman.

"Get him?" she asked.

"Not worth a swing," he said. "Yellow pooch, hyena bait, wanted to be friends."

"They all love you, Papa."

"Shiiit," he said, scuffing the bottom of his right moccasin along the pavement in anger. "Wipe the niblick dry before you stow it."

Big man and little woman moved forward in Indian file again. He loped now. She followed, with the clubs once more on her back, hurrying in jerks, like a kite on a string.

The traffic had grown thicker on the road they were following along the seaward side of the esplanade. Mama strained to hear what Papa was muttering to himself. His words came disjointed over his shoulder to her along with an angry spray of saliva. She managed to come abreast of him.

"Papa, remember your blood pressure!"

"You think death scares me? A man only dies once or twice or three times, depending on the reanimation facilities. Look how high the sun is and I haven't drawn blood yet. That's what scares me."

"What if your nerves snap again, Papa?"

He looked glassy-eyed at an outdoor café on the left, perched over the sea. It was boarded up for the winter season.

"Nerves? The game pouch is empty, Daughter, and our flight leaves this afternoon."

She reached up to put a calming hand on his shoulder, but her arm was still too short, and the clubs jangled more than ever.

"I want something big and hairy, and I want it now. That white lily-livered hunter better have sighted a real target or I'll take the number three wood to him!"

"Have a drink, Papa."

"Not thirsty," he said, sulking.

"Papa, just remember that you've been through worse than this. Think of that gopher shoot when you were three down and black night was falling."

"Kid stuff. Did I tell you about that?"

"Listen, Papa, I hear barking."

"You're right, Daughter, and it's a mighty big brute."

He cupped each ear with a hand and spread his legs Indian scout fashion.

"I hope Doc's all right," said the little woman.

"A white hunter can look after himself. Keep an eye out for spores."

"He's barking his muzzle off. So why do we have to find his turd?"

The big man put a leaden hand on her shoulder that stopped her short.

"We got to do this right, Mama. It ain't like a January sale at Marshall Field's. There's method. The quarry's got a method and we got a method. There are rules for him and for us. You don't use a number two iron like a billiard cue or tee up to kill squirrel. And he's not allowed to wag his tail and sit up on his hindquarters to beg for dog biscuit."

"All right, Papa. But the barking's getting louder. Let's find Doc."

"We got to figure it, Mama. This is Capodistrias's statue. If we follow the barking, we leave the Spianada."

"But Doc'll be with the barking."

"That's why I'm wetting my finger and throwing this leaf in the air. The wind says I'm right."

"If he dropped the roundup plan, Papa, I'm sure he had his reasons."

"He better have damn good ones."

"Papa, I think I understand. The dogs have turned on him. He's on the run."

"Hot damn!" said the big man, doing a fraction of a dance step. "A human target! It's the risk a hunter takes."

Mama was goggle-eyed,

"I swear they're driving him along the bay road, right out of Corfu town."

"Provided they keep him away from the Palace Hotel, they've got him between their teeth. I wish I was up there leading the pack. We'd cut him off." The big man gave his White Fang howl and made the few hairs on the back of his head bristle. "If he makes it to the hotel door, they've lost their supper."

"But, Papa, Doc's had a three-way bypass. He can't take much shake and stir."

One of those cop-out detours? A white hunter ought to be ashamed, satisfy honor and blow his brains out. Daughter, sometimes you talk as if you don't know what huntin' is all about. The pups have got their turn at bat. The shit Doc's getting into now is scary, but that's the way it has to be. He's taking a few snarls up the backside for all us hunters. And I'm telling it straight. I bet the old soak never run so fast. Hear them barking? Fine animals. I think they've turned him from the Palace Hotel. Now they should outflank him and push him onto the beach. By God, I don't think he can swim!"

Papa yapped like a rat terrier. He'd got his second wind. Mama trotted behind him, making no attempt to keep the clubs from jangling.

"Maybe we should call the police," she said.

The big man guffawed thunderously toward the sea.

"Mama, every hunter follows a code. Don't you remember when that big boa got my tracker Abdullah? I can hear him shouting still, 'Piga, B'wana, piga'. Always called me B'wana out of respect and for tips. Smart kid. But I hadn't learnt yet that piga meant 'to shoot.' It sounded like hog to me. Abdullah slid into that snake like he was oiled. Nice kid. Beautiful boa. B'wana piga and down the hatch."

"But this ain't Africa, Papa. Doc's born in Newcastle and has a condo with view of the Pacific." She was hugging the clubs against her chest now to gain speed.

"He's swallowing bitter medicine for us all. Nature's tooth can't be brushed nor its claw manicured."

"But I'm sure they're chompin' him."

"Only around the edges. A man's gotta take that."

Papa had enough of being disagreed with. He stopped short and the little woman hit him like a moth hitting a window. Down she went in a flutter. He let her pick herself and the golf bag up. She was biting her lip, angry.

"To give the quarry their part of the fun is the hunter's pride," announced Papa as if he were being handed the Nobel Prize again. "The pack has kept him out of the Palace Hotel Bar. Now if he's not so yellow as to run around the corner into the Archaeological Museum, their bicuspids are as good as into him."

Mama had the golf bag over her shoulder again and pushed ahead, attempting to outdistance the big man. But he'd slowed to a saunter, and hooked a hand over the rim of the bag to restrain her. She groaned, fearing, quite correctly, that African memories were going to be expanded or refined, either prospect filling her with dread.

"I say that the mutts are getting their own back, and that's the way it has to be. You think I ain't been through it? You remember that big case of hemorrhoids I had on Kilimanjaro? Talk about snow capped peaks. There I was, on my stomach in that bush hospital, pain radiating from the center of my being, as the poet said."

Papa could still not get past the word poet without a blush. This peculiarity was doubtless of some significance. But just now Mama's intellectual curiosity was blunted by her efforts simply not to hear. The blush was anyhow soon left behind as the big man's voice climbed toward a major statement.

"So much for the backside. Out front a red rash crept over my belly like a troop of ants. Sure they told me afterward that I'd eaten too many unsalted peanuts. You can't beat the sawbones for hindsight. But, Mama, what was I thinking, asshole ablaze, and the pimple heads rotting, swelling, bursting, and sloughing off in pus? The truth is I didn't have one single goddamn thought for a long time."

"Then it came to me after the fifth sleepless night of scratching front and back. It was as clear as that African morning. I'd turned into a crab louse. Hordes of them I'd squashed in the Kaiser's War. You've seen my Phthirus pubis decoration with red ribbon second class."

Why remember what Papa says, thought Mama, he'll always say it again.

"Hunted them down with system and cunning, I had. Suddenly now, alone with my pain, I was one of them, a bandaged, wounded louse. Perhaps the both of us, me and him, were out of our heads. But I was fated to relive the whole business from the beginning."

"First the two fingernails, smooth and sharp, caught me in the middle of the back like a surgical tweezers. Then escape, a frantic crippled crawl for cover in the pubic bush. Which was useless, of course, because those armed fingertips dug me out again as with a sharp garden spade. I lay in a panting heap, repeating, trying to make myself accept it: This big guy's broke your ass."

"Then, just before blacking out, came the illumination that I was being gouged for every single other hunter who ever took aim and fired. Afterwards, in good health again, no more a crab louse, I decided that my punishment had settled the bill. The next time I scratched I'd only be doing what had been done to me. They'd crushed me and I'd come through it. I was always going to be hit by one thing or another and I didn't -- did not, I mean -- care about that anymore. Since I still loved to kill things, I vowed then and there to chance it only when I had the upper hand, and plenty of heavy equipment and support. I'd been through the crab louse reincarnation -- they got a powder for it now -- and today Doc's turn has come."

"Papa, what are you talking about?" Mama was thoroughly upset. "Doc's not lying in a hospital with piles, dreaming he's a louse. I think he's being bitten up bad by those hounds, and we're responsible. You know what shipping bodies back is like, the red tape."

"I can face up to it, Mama. He wouldn't be the first comrade in arms I scooped up and carried home in my knapsack to present to his kext to nin. Remember that porter Wanderobo-Masai, I run over with the jeep? That guy was fascinated by reverse gears but he never understood them. All his wives wanted a chunk of him."

"This ain't Africa, Papa. Doc's lives in a non-Afro-American neighborhood in L.A. Imagine the headline, 'Nobel Pa feeds his Jeeves to fidos.'"

"They'd write that, Mama? Dirty uncreative newspaper hacks. I'll twist their typewriters up. I'll ink eradicate them. I'll ball them up like used carbon paper. I'll...."

"Let's just shoo the dogs off, Papa."

"Roger, Daughter, maybe it's time we moved our metal in. Give me my sand wedge."

"I don't see him along the bay," she said, attempting in vain to crane her stubby neck.

"I told you so. He went for the Museum. I bet they got him cornered in the entrance hall. It'll be yappy as the big pet shop in the sky when a fresh carcass comes to call."

"It's noisy all right and I hear a siren."

"That'll be the dogcatcher. Don't worry, Daughter, I'll have a word or two with him, double-talk about vivisection and saving innocent human lives."

"They don't cut them up with golf clubs, Papa."

"Okay, so I'm eccentric. Haven't I been talking about writing all my life as if it was a baseball game or a boxing match? That's worth something. Well, I vivisect with a set of Bobby Jones irons."

"I think you better let me do the talking, Papa. Your forte isn't explaining things but weeding out adjectives, and putting spaces where words should be. You go into your great man under the influence routine. Just slobber and squint like at Harry's Bar in acqua alta. If you feel mean, take a stroke at one of the smaller breeds when nobody's looking."

"You tellin' me what to do, Daughter?"

"Papa, think of the headline, 'Caught with cutie caddy clouting canines on cinky Corfu!'"

"You handle it, then. But I'll court-martial that foul ball Doc. We could have had fresh meat by now, clubbed our way through a couple of lords of the jungle, skinned out, washed the blood clean, and left the quarters sitting on the shower room bench ready for the deepfreeze."

"Another time, Papa, You're tired."

"I'm tired of that zombie white hunter. Why did he have to blow the operation to blazes on the last morning and get chased by the bowsers like a pussy cat, spooking the whole esplanade to smoldering Hades?"

"That's not the dogcatcher. It's the Greek cops."

"They're the same department down here, same hats. But you're the caddy. I'll shut up. You ask them in Greek which way to the golf course and we'll head for the airport."

"What's Greek for golf course?"

"It's the same as airport. You say it in English."

"Look, Papa. Doc's horizontal. They're going through his pockets."

"I told you, Daughter, dogs is mean. Now don't get involved. Give me a ball and we'll putt along here till we hear a jet engine."

"Are we leaving just like that, Papa?"

"What else? That's one used-up white hunter. Of course we'll avenge him. He has my word. You see, Mama, the cards we draw are the cards we have to play. No re-deals at the big table. You pick them up and play them. Doc drew a stuttering ticker. We're on the road to the airport, and we'll play that card fast."

"I want to cry, Papa."

"You do that while we putt along. Doc did have his points. He kept his mouth shut mostly and could almost out drink me. But we're golfin', remember?"

"Just think, we'll never smell his breath again...."

"Cut it out, Mama. We were blood brothers, but life goes on. Planes take off. How could I forget Doc? Think of his future life in fiction."

The little woman had lost her pith helmet. She gripped the clubs in front of her and hurried on as if she was alone with them, and nobody's Mama or Daughter or Memsahib.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/pbyrne140.html
Published November 15, 2010