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by Elaine Sutherland
Disclaimer: The characters Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures and are being used without permission. The characters of Erwin Rommel and Maria Callas belong to history. No attempt is being made to profit from their use. The historical details of this story are somewhat inaccurate, but not wildly so.(Callas was in Athens during the German occupation; Erwin Rommel was not.) There is lesbian sex described, I hope, with restraint. But if you are underaged or find lesbian sex distasteful, it's at the end, so you can easily skip it.
The violence in the story is limited to that done to Greek grammar. I have used the actual classical Greek letters, but since many computers lack a program containing Greek letters, I have duplicated the words with Roman letters. If your computer can read the Greek, ignore the other, since Greek was what I intended.
For the real Greek scholars out there, I pray you will forgive my liberties.
Serious (and friendly) commentary is invited.
Much has been made of the "discovery" of the so-called War Journals of Melinda Pappas, covering as they do, the war years of 1941 to 1945. Several things must be clarified. First they are not war journals per se, since they primarily treat the deciphering of historical artifacts, and chronicle the development of a personal relationship. Secondly, they were not actually 'discovered' since they were never lost. That is, they were always right there in the research library at the University of South Carolina, regularly handled and read by librarians, mythologists, and the odd graduate student. It was not until the wave of general WWII nostalgia accompanying the 50th anniversary of the British victory at El Alamein that the notebooks of Melinda Pappas, who had personally encountered the Desert Fox, became of interest. But readers looking for war reminiscences, will be sorely disappointed. For Melinda Pappas was first and foremost a linguist and scientist, and the war seems by and large to have raged around her, affecting her rather little. What follows here are her journal entries, beginning in March 1941 when, a year after the death of her father, she went uninvited to work with Janice Covington, and ending in 1945 when the two women returned from war torn Europe. The reader will be astonished at her concentration on, indeed, her obsession with ancient images, while the world of her own time was exploding all around her.
I wish to thank my graduate students for their tireless labor in transcribing Ms. Pappas' rather florid handwriting into this typescript. Field notes created in an era before the portable typewriter, and written down with a fountain pen into a hand held notebook, can be messy indeed. Fortunately, although the notebooks are battered, the information is orderly and highly legible.
March 15, 1941 (written in retrospect)
The day I met Janice Covington was the most violent day of my life.
When I left South Carolina, a year to the day after Daddy died, I did not know what to expect. Of course I expected heat and hardship in the Macedonian hills, (which is why I limited myself to only four suitcases and a make-up case), and I was warned moreover that Covington and her team were a little rough around the edges. So, I expected dirt and bad language, and even Janice's jodhpurs and gaiters were no surprise (They actually were rather becoming.). However, I did not expect the cigar or the whip.
And I did not expect the bullets.
The last thing I heard was "Is that any way to treat a lady?," and then all I knew was bullets, thousands of them. Cowering behind a crate, (where I completely ruined my silk stockings!), I heard them zinging all around me, from assorted pistols and from Janice's Gatling gun.. When we emerged from the tent, after Janice's single handed 'management' (as she later called it) of the situation, I was reeling. It was as if one of the bullets had actually struck home, destroying not me, but my whole understanding of the world heretofore. Everything that had seemed rational and real was beginning to fall away, and things that I had thought mythical and fantastic were about to become part of my new reality.
Hardly had Janice finished arguing with the " Frenchman," Jacques Serre (who turned out to be "Jack" from New Jersey) when the all-important stone tabula appeared in Smythe's hands. How thrilled I was to see it, and to be able to show Janice, as I had said, that I could translate "ancient writins" (sometimes my accent just jumps right out). I blush now recalling how I rushed in and corrected Janice's mistranslation of the tablet, realizing too late that she was deliberately trying to keep Smythe out of the cave.
But it was the cave itself which proved to be the crucible in which the metamorphosis took place. From the moment that we staggered to our feet after tumbling into the semi- darkness, I sensed a titanic struggle of mythical forces. When I saw the inscription on the wall,. "All ye who enter here, beware the wroth of Ares" a shiver ran through me. I knew I stood before something tremendous.
And then, chastened like a child and made to sit 'out of harm's way' , I found them.
I was amazed how intact they were. A cursory glance revealed that they were the chronicles that Janice had been looking for. For a moment I was caught up in the thrill of the discovery, piecing together the fragments I could understand. I could hear my voice rising in excitement as I read out loud. But then it all paled before what I saw next. Dear Lord. There it was, unmarred after all the centuries, still catching the light.
Janice, for all her strength, couldn't dislodge it, but as soon as I laid my hand on it, it came smoothly out of the wall.
Nothing can describe the jolt of recognition, of Rightness that shot through me when I took hold of it. I had dreamt so often, never knowing what it was, of it flashing at my hip. My dreaming eye had watched my hand flinging it in great deadly arcs and snatching it out of the air as if it belonged to my hand. I could not let go of it as it pulled me relentlessly through the dark corridors of the cave on and on until it slammed against its other half in Smythe's hand with such force that I was thrown to the ground. And then...And then....Xena seized me.
I don't know what else to call it. So must Saul of Tarsus have been enthralled on the road to Damascus, or Teresa of Alvila, or any of the others who were possessed by a spirit beyond their comprehension. The bruises on me were proof afterwards that I had fought, or rather that Xena had fought in me -- violently. But I cannot recall the individual actions, the leaps and somersaults and sword thrusts, that Janice described, for I had no will, and these were Xena's acts not mine.
But oh, I will never forget what it was to feel her power, her.....virility. It was like riding a whirlwind.
When it was over and I returned to myself, I knew that I had had a revelation. What had been revealed was that the world of the scrolls was as real as the ground I stood on. The Greek Gods were real. Ares, the God of War was real, and had confronted us.
Janice said that we defeated Ares, and entombed him once again under the "Eye of Hephaestus," and I believed her at the time. But later we both would discover that it was not so simple. The God of War is not put away. We would soon meet him again in another form.
We had some twenty scrolls in hand when we escaped from the cave and we hoped that we brought out most of them. For there would be no more from that source. The thunder of the dynamite at the cave entrance sounded the closing off of that avenue to the mythical past. But we had another, in the precious writings entrusted to Janice and to me, children in the bloodline of their main protagonists.
We left after we paid off the workers and then loaded Janice's truck by the last light in the western sky . My reeling mind could scarcely grasp all that had happened in a single day, between the rising and the setting of the sun. As we drove through the moonlit hills of Macedonia toward Athens, I knew that we were embarked on a marvelous undertaking, the unlocking of a great mystery, the commingling of the lives of our ancestors with the fantastical and the divine. I glanced over at Janice, driving at high speed with ferocious concentration and I knew that she felt the same excitement. It was the beginning of something wonderful.
March 18, 1941
We are safe in Athens. Safe as can be expected, considering the fighting going on throughout the Baltic states. It was fortunate that I have a relative here, Daddy's younger brother, Uncle Stavros the violinist who returned after college to Greece to play with the Athens Philharmonic. I had written him only a year earlier telling him of Daddy's death, but had not mentioned that I was coming since I had not known myself then that I would take such a big step. He was a little surprised to see us, but without a second thought he put us up in various parts of the funny old Athens building on Kallikrates Street which he partly owns. Janice has a sort of garage room in the back near where she can park the truck and I was given an alcove on third floor. Both spaces are so tiny that the field cot we have set up in each room pretty much fills it up. They are still better accommodations than a tent in the hills. We had planned to move on (although we were not quite sure where) but it has become clear that the fighting in the Balkans is edging ever closer and it would be it reckless to venture out on the roads again.
Janice speaks modern Greek of course, as well as Turkish and Lord knows what else. She seems to be able to talk to anyone we meet in whatever language is necessary, and she knows her way around this city very well. More importantly, she seems to have excellent connections in the black market for food and most other things we need, and even some things we don't need, such as those ghastly cigars. So we are safe for the moment from the war. The big question is: "What now?"
March 20, 1941
Janice and I had a long talk last night and we made some important decisions. We know that since the US has not entered the war, it is still possible for us to return to the States. But we have a crate of artifacts whose worth to the world is inestimable, and transporting it through a war zone and over an ocean crawling with U-boots, is out of the question. Bad enough to be in a theater of war with Mussolini's army in Albania and the front line only a few hundred miles away. We have decided that, come what may, Stavros Pappas' basement is still safer than the open roads and the open sea. We will keep the majority of scrolls in the crate in the basement and work on translating them one at a time. Janice seems confident that with network of her father's old friends -- 'Harry's pals' she calls them -- we will never starve (or run out of cigars!). I considered my own resources, which consist of Uncle Stavros and his rooms, and the two thousand American dollars in hundred dollar bills I have sewn into the lining of my red suit (the one with the skirt that Xena destroyed in her fight with Ares). I could see that Janice was relieved when I agreed that we should stay in Athens. She has her own reasons, but now so do I. Without the scrolls, I have no reason to return to South Carolina. A new life has begun for me here and I must see where it takes me.
Uncle Stavros, who seems quite taken with Janice (and with the cigars she keeps him supplied with) has also given us his old practice room on the top floor. It is even tinier than our sleeping spaces, especially with the work table which we have set up, but I looked out the window and, glory be!, there was the Acropolis looming over us. I can't think of a better inspiration to us than this symbol of Greek civilization.
March 23, 1941
We are working on the first scroll now. We chose it simply because it was the one that was most intact. The more delicate scrolls we will leave unopened until they can be examined in a laboratory environment. Even this one must be handled with extreme care. I found that my initial impression, that the scrolls would be easy to read, was mistaken. For one, they are not in classical Greek. The core of many Greek words is recognizable, but the endings are odd. It seems to be a mixture of Linear B (i.e. Mycenean), and a somewhat idiosyncratic classical Greek, peppered with terms which I do not recognize at all. The orthography is clear, although erratic, as if written in a hurry or in the absence of a flat writing surface, over a knee perhaps. And the parchment is stained. We will do a laboratory study later to determine what the stains are. Janice thinks it is mold, but to me it looks more like the gravy and spaghetti stains I used to get on my books from reading them during meals. Most interesting to me, however, are the notations written in the margins, in the same hand as the main text, but smaller. Here too, I can only make out a few words, but they are revealing: " agrion/agrion "wild" and aideomai/aideomai " with reverence." Are these descriptions of how the text is to be read? Perhaps ancient stage directions for or by the performing bard? Have we discovered a form of narrative midway between epic and theater? I am in constant awe.
March 25, 1941
I am getting to know Janice and she intimidates me less now. I think all that swaggering and tough talk is just to protect us from aggressive men. When we are alone, or with Stavros she is much gentler. She still has a curious habit, when she is making a point, of squinting and twirling her cigar in the corner of her mouth. She is something of a 'loose cannon' at times. But I have found that I have some influence on her and I have undertaken what I call "the civilizing of Janice." Yesterday, while we were working, I finally spoke up.
"Uhh, Janice? Could you do me a favor...please?"
"Hmm? What's that?"
"Could you...uhh not smoke while we are working?"
"Huh? Does it bother you?"
"Well, yes. It gets smoke on the scroll, but it also makes me not want to stand near you. You know, like when we read the scroll together." I could feel my voice trail off weakly.
"Oh," was all she said, but she has not smoked in the workroom again. I know she smokes with Stavros, down in the apartment, but I have not smelled it on her since. I am making progress.
The next thing will be her muddy boots.
March 28, 1941
It rained steadily all day while we worked in our aerie. As it thrummed on the roof, our little workroom seemed a cozy refuge, especially since Janice has stopped smoking when we are there together.
We have managed to translate and transcribe about half of the scroll entitled diameibomai/diameibomai, or as we loosely translated it, "The Price." We have deciphered enough of the text now to realize that it is far more than a simple narrative in the heroic form. There is a depth of characterization here which is unknown in the Homeric epics. We have only scratched the surface, but the scroll seems to contain both philosophical debate and personal dialog. Unheard of in the Greek epic form. What wonder have we found?
We ate a simple lunch of goat cheese and olives and continued working as we finished off the wine. In the afternoon in spite of the heavy rain it became warm. The room, lit as it was by a single table lamp, seemed to become dimmer and stuffier. Janice took off her jacket and stood over me while I pointed out certain oddities in the text. As a Southern lady, I tend to my appearance in any weather, but Janice has no such sense of decorum. As she took off the jacket I saw that all she was wearing was one of Uncle Stravos' Greek undershirts tucked into her jodhpurs. As she leaned over me to touch the scroll, I realized that she has curves of muscles in her arms and shoulders, like a well-formed boy. I guess I was a might flustered at the sight, because when she suddenly asked 'Can you date it yet?" I'm afraid I looked at her blankly for a moment and felt my face go warm before I answered.
"Uh, Well, it is clearly Archaic, since there is so much of the syllabic Linear B." I lowered my head so she would not see my blush. "That would make it Mycenean or Mycenean influenced. But there are many words in later classical Greek, so I would place it some time after Homer but before Pericles. A strange mixture. I am hoping to find out more from the uhh, content,.." My voice trailed off.
What is happening to me?
March 30, 1941
The power went out again in the building and our workroom is too dark to work in by daylight alone, so Janice and I used that as an excuse to take some time off. We did what I had been wanting to since the day we arrived in Athens: we walked up the Acropolis.
Janice has been there several times before, but I had not, so I was very excited as we walked up the steps and marched solemnly through the Propylaia to stand awestruck in front of the Parthenon. I remarked what a pity that Xena and Gabrielle lived too early to have seen the great building in its original glory. .
"Well, there were temples here before the fifth century. Most were destroyed by the Persians, but it is possible that Xena or Gabrielle saw some of them. We might even find that out, since one of the scrolls is called "Athens."
We continued walking through the columns of the Parthenon with Janice in the role of guide.
"There were two chambers in the original temple. Over there was the temple treasury and here, just about where are standing, there was the colossal statue of Athena Parthanos."
"I wonder what she looked like. Is there a record of that anyplace?"
"Yes, of sorts. Pausanias describes her as standing 'upright in an ankle length tunic, with a head of Medusa carved in ivory on her breast. She has a statue of Nike of some eight feet, and a spear in her hand and a shield at her feet and a snake beside the shield'"
"She must have been awesome."
"Yes." Janice took off her hat reverently and looked up into the empty air. But I knew what she was seeing. I too felt a majestic divine presence, more than I had ever felt in church, and had an overwhelming desire to pour a libation to the goddess. Oh my, I thought. Could this little Southern Methodist be turning into a heathen?
When we walked again to the front, to look up at the remnants of the frieze above the western portico Janice muttered "Some day the Elgin marbles will be back where they belong. That arrogant limey bastard, that desecrator of holy places should rot in Tartarus!" I looked her, surprised. I knew what she was referring to, Lord Elgin's removal of several large sections of the Panathenaic frieze in 1806. I had even seen them in the British museum, but I had not thought of it as desecration. But she was right, of course. The frieze was part of the Parthenon and the Parthenon was Greek. I replied that I had no idea that someone with a name like "Covington" could so easily condemn an English lord.
"Hell yes, she said, shoving her hands in her deep pockets as she turned on her heel. "My father was half English and half American, but the rest of my family is Greek. And Harry hated the British for plundering the Parthenon. As if they somehow had more claim on the frieze than the Athenians! And they called HIM a grave robber!"
That woman never ceases to amaze me.
"C'mere." Janice said suddenly, linking her arm through mine. "There is something I want to show you." She pulled me along to a building just north of the Parthenon. I recognized it from afar as the Erechtheion, the temple built as a shrine of a dozen ancient Greek cults. She didn't let go of my arm until we stood before the famous porch of the Karyatides.
"I knew I remembered it right. Look there, the Kore on the left. That's you." She pointed to one of the draped female figures supporting the roof.
"Well, I have to admit, there is some slight resemblance, but then, she looks like a lot of Greek women."
"No. Just imagine her in glasses and with a look of irritable concentration."
"Irritable concentration! I beg your pardon! Well, YOU look at the Kore right next to her. Looks just like you. No, really! Just imagine her with wild blond hair and jodhpurs instead of a chiton,...and smoking!"
"Year, I see what you mean. In that case, the resemblance is uncanny!" She squinted and twirled her little cigar in the side of her mouth..
April 6, 1941
The Luftwaffe has attacked Salonika with devastating results. The Italians who have been kept at bay in Albania, now have the Wehrmacht behind them and are bound to attack Athens again. Our first thought is always to protect the priceless ancient writings. We have buried the crate with all but three scrolls in the basement. If Athens falls, we can hope that they will be safe, even from fire, until they can be retrieved.....some day.
April 10, 1941
There has been a run on the shops and it is time for us too to be concerned with how we will hold out in the next months. I have told Janice about the $2,000 and although she is obviously loath to accept it, it is clear that we will have to live on it for the indefinite future. It was very touching to see her run her fingers through her hair and swear to return every penny when we got back to the states, but I assured her that for the time being, everything we both held was for our common household. So, with a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, we took the truck down into the shabbiest part of Piraeus to meet with Harry's Covington's old friend and fellow grave robber, Salomon (Sal) Moneus.
The man seemed thoroughly disreputable. His plumpness was no doubt an indication of his ability to procure food, even in wartime, but I would not trust him to tell me the time of day. He looked like too many men I had met before. But Janice took him aside and they spoke sotto voce as they paced back and forth together. They apparently struck some sort of bargain since shortly thereafter a porter returned with a wheelbarrow of items for Janice to approve. I looked at what we had purchased: ammunition for Janice's pistol, twenty gallons of gasoline, a crate of American spam, another crate of dried fish, a gallon drum of cooking oil and a small revolver. My eyes widened at the latter. Sal's eyes widened as he accepted my hundred dollar bill . I wondered how much we would receive back in Drachmas, but it appeared that Sal did not make change. Whatever we purchased that day would cost 100 American dollars..
April 22, 1941
We have made other discoveries in the scroll we are working on. One, that the narrator of the tale occasionally slips out of the omniscient voice. In contemporary writing, this would simply be bad writing. But in an ancient writing, it is revealing. It is a suggestion that the narrator is also one of the protagonists. If this is the case -- and this will require a great deal more research -- then the author of the scrolls, as well as their performing narrator, is none other than Gabrielle herself. My hand trembles with excitement at the possibility.
April 25, 1941
The radio reports have been ominous for days, but for the non-combatant there is nothing to do but flee----or wait.
Last night at supper Janice suddenly announced "I am Greek, too. I have guns. I should be helping to defend Athens."
Stavros laid his hand on her arm and said in his gentle way, "You are not a Greek citizen. This is not a battle that we can influence in the slightest, you with your little pistol and I with my violin. Greece is old. Many conquerors have stood here: Persians, Turks, and soon the Fascists. Greece will survive. You....You must keep its history."
April 27-29, 1941
Around 11 o'clock in the morning we were jolted out of our work by the sound of distant artillery and within a short time we heard the low rumble of tanks and the popping of small arms fire. The hour had come. We packed up our precious materials and our emergency kit, which we keep ready at all times, we went down to the cellar with Stavros and the only thing he cared about, his violin. We remained there the rest of the afternoon and throughout the night.
Stavros and Janice looked out at dawn and reported that the Italians had returned and there was street fighting as well as a tank waiting down at the end of our street. There were no bombs, so we moved up to the central room of the apartment, away from the windows. All day long we heard muffled shouts and gunshots, and we knew that Greeks were dying. Once or twice Janice buried her face in her hands and I heard her murmur, "The scrolls. The scrolls are the important thing. Protect the scrolls."
The second day it seemed to be over, at least in our part of the city. There was an eerie silence. We went up to the window of the fifth floor study and looked out over the city. Janice laid her hand on my shoulder and pointed upwards. We stood there for a long time without speaking, each with her own thoughts and we stared. A swastika flew over the Acropolis.
Janice took my arm and turned me away from the window. "Look, it's time to get serious about taking care of ourselves here. The war will not go away. I want you to carry this."
She laid the little revolver we had recently purchased on the table beside me. At first I recoiled. Me carry a firearm? No, ma'am. Guns were just not my way. But Janice would not even discuss it. She just loaded it in front of me without speaking, wrapped it in a old towel and slid it into my knapsack next to my notebooks and pencil case. When I reached for it to give it back, she took hold of my wrist, gently, but with an adamantine grip and said very quietly, "Just...leave...it...there. When the war is over, you can take it out again and give it back to me." I saw that it was not a matter for negotiation, and just nodded. Sometimes I feel overpowered by her will.
May 5, 1941
The fighting which had been going on intermittently in different parts of the city has finally been suppressed and the Germans have taken up occupation along with the Italians. The Germans were quick to set up an administration and to issue identification papers to everyone. With our American passports, Janice and I are at least temporarily safe. Our main concern is day to day survival, although for the time being we are not in any danger of deprivation. We have a small stock pile of dried food and sardines and even wine, and Janice goes out at intervals to "Harry's friends" for supplies. The cigars which she and Stavros had stored in quantity are turning out to be an excellent form of currency. People crumble them into cigarettes; one of Janice's small cigars will yield five cigarettes, and five cigarettes, I understand, will buy a small loaf of bread.
But for all the concern about our welfare, I confess that I have never been more content. My life has never had more purpose. We often work late into the night on the scroll. I pore over the individual words and phrases while Janice supplies context (for she knows some of the stories from other sources) and then transcribes the final texts into clean copy. We are well matched for the work. However, my vision is poor and when my eyes grow weary, around 11:00 PM, Janice reads out loud the passages we have translated that day, and we listen for flow and continuity. Her voice is resonant and even soothing when she is just reading and not barking at her workers.
May 10, 1941
We have finished translating "The Price." Ironically, it about war. It seems to be a treatise on the nature of good and evil, set out in the form of an argument between Xena and Gabrielle on the nature of the Horde. We are astonished at the philosophical complexity of this archaic tale. There are concepts here that one might expect to find in the Euthyphro or the Republic which came a century later.
It did not surprise me, however, that Janice sympathized completely with the position taken by Xena.
"The Horde was pure savagery," she concluded. "It made perfect military sense to declare 'total war' on them."
I begged to differ.
"I think Xena was much too hasty. Just think how many lives would have been saved if they had tried to negotiate first."
"You mean like Neville Chamberlain in Munich? Giving away half of Czechoslovakia?" She looked up through her eyebrows. "Mel, you have to realize that there is real evil in the world," she went on. While she spoke, she held a pencil close to her cheek and slowly twirled it. I could tell that she missed having a cigar in her hand to gesture with. "You can't always reason with it, or throw magnolia blossoms at it. Sometimes you just have to blow it away."
"Magnolia blossoms? Is that a derogatory reference to Southern gentility? Well, never mind. The point is, the world is not black and white, it's shades of gray. Most conflicts can be resolved by compromise and by seeing the other person's position. We are all human, after all. And most of us want the same things in life, food, safety, comfort.....love."
".....Lebensraum!" she added sarcastically to the list, waving the hand that should have been holding the cigar.
"Mel, you have led such a sheltered life that you just can't grasp the ruthlessness of human nature."
I reminded her that I have read about MANY ancient battles, IN THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGES, by the Persians, the Trojans, the Egyptians. I thought I knew a thing or two about military aggression and where it leads.
"It leads to EMPIRE! Bloody, big powerful empires! Might shouldn't make right, Mel, but most of the time it does."
"Well, the God of War is very attractive, but he is still the God of War, not of Wisdom. I would think twice before surrendering to him.
Oh Mel, you are such an idealist, You can read five ancient languages....."
"Okay, six. But you can't say shit in any of them! It's a warlord-eat-warlord world out there, and if Xena hadn't taken the hard line, they all would have been buzzard snacks the next day!"
I'm afraid I lost my temper a teeny bit. "Not just a minute, young lady. Don't you accuse me of naiveté! I know all about sh...., uh, defecation. But it seems to me on the other hand that you have spent far too much time digging in pits and graves and far too little time appreciating the higher achievements of human nature."
"What's that supposed to mean!?"
"Well,....uh." I was momentarily at a loss for an answer. What did I mean? I had sort of lost the thread of the argument. What did I want her to care about?
"Opera!?" She blinked as the non sequitur brought the argument to a screeching halt.
"Yes." I had taken a stand now and I would not relent.
"Opera," she repeated in a low voice, squinting her eyes at me. I could tell she was dying to have a cigar between her teeth. "Is this some test of loyalty?"
"No, uh, well yes, if you must see it that way. I want you to care about something refined for a change. I want you to take off those jodhpurs and boots......."
Her eyebrows crunched together.
"....and put on a dress and come with me to the opera."
She stood up, walked the two paces between us, put her hands on my shoulders and spoke to me as to a child or a profoundly retarded person.
"Mel. Dear. You have not been paying attention. We are at war. We have been invaded. The theaters are closed. There is no opera."
I answered her in exactly the same tone, putting my finger on the tip of her chin. "But there WILL be. And Stavros will play in the orchestra. And when there is, I want you to come with me."
"All right, all right! Opera it is. Under one condition." She smiled impishly. "Only if you repeat after me: "Scato,".... "Scheisse,".... "Khara,".... "Merde."
I repeated every single of those words dutifully trying to keep a straight face, but at the last word, we both broke out laughing.
It felt wonderful.
May 15, 1941
It was a beautiful Spring day today so we went up to the Acropolis again with a lunch of bread and sardines.
We sat facing each other on the bare rock of the sacred hill, I looking over to the Parthenon, she looking past me towards Athens.
"Stavros was right," Janice said, shielding her eyes from the bright Greek sun. "Wars come and go. Greece and her temples remain"
"Don't you feel her up here?" I asked. "Athena, I mean. All these temples to her."
"Yes, but looking at that," Janice nodded up at the German flag flying overhead, "I feel the presence of Ares too. We may have thought we locked him up, but we haven't."
"Well, of course Athena is a sort of god of war too. After all, she sprang "full panoplied" with helmet, breastplate and spear....." My voice trailed off when I realized Janice 's gaze had wandered and she was looking up at something over my head. Just then a shadow fell across us both and as I twisted around, I found myself staring at a shiny black leather holster embossed with a metal eagle and swastika. I scrambled to my feet. Janice remained sitting.
"Guten Tag, Herr General Rommel" she said cheerfully. My jaw dropped at multiple shocks.
Janice knew German?
Janice knew THIS German?
THIS was General Erwin Rommel?
Janice KNEW General Erwin Rommel?
The officer seemed momentarily as baffled as I was and answered. (I have tried to record his reply in correct German)
"Kennen wir uns, Fräulein?"
"Jawohl. Aus München, vor dem Krieg. Sie haben uns besucht. Mich und meinen Vater, Harry Covington."
"Covington? Ach so! Aber Sie....SIE sind die kleine Janice? Ach, nein!"
I watched as the bafflement gave way to astonished recognition and he held out his hand.
"Fräulein Covington! " They shook hands enthusiastically. Three soldiers stood with him, clearly of much lower ranks, and they stepped back discretely.
Janice and her uniformed friend continued their cheerful conversation, all the while grinning at each other and slapping each other on the arm, and I stood there feeling like a fifth wheel. Finally after they had been chatting for about TEN YEARS Janice took my arm and made a formal introduction. Herr General bowed from the waist, the way those Germans do and then kissed my hand!. Well, he didn't actually kiss it. He just sort of lightly touched my knuckles with his lips, but the effect was riveting. He was not very tall, but his uniform and his regal manner made him imposing. I felt like we had met before, but of course that was impossible.
He nodded at both of us and spoke again in German and Janice translated: "He said he has never seen two such beautiful blue-eyed Greeks before." I answered simply "Dankeschoen" but Janice elaborated, "Ach, Erwin. Das sagen Sie bestimmt jeder Frau in jedem Land, wo Sie hinkommen. Schoene Franzosinnen, Schoene Griechinnen, Schoene Aegyptinnen..."
"Ertappt!," he replied and they broke out in laughter again.
I was beginning to become annoyed with their little party and cleared my throat, when he took Janice's hand again and then mine.
He held my glance for what seemed like minutes, and then spoke in a cultured, heavily accented English. " A pity, we cannot speak longer. Two lovely ladies. But a soldier must ...be a soldier." He bowed again in teutonic formality and left with his cohorts.
As we walked down the hill I confronted Janice.
"I do believe you owe me some explanation. You never told me you spoke German or knew important German Generals."
'I never told you lots of things."
"Well, now would be a good time."
Dad and I lived for five years in Munich, in the twenties. That's where I met Rommel. I was only 15 and he was a dashing young military instructor and of course I was very impressed. More than impressed. I guess even a little smitten. He visited Dad again in Cairo in about 1931, but I was away at school in the states then and only know that both of them got very drunk and argued about politics. You know, the old warlord eat warlord vs. enlightened humanism argument that we keep having."
'Let me guess. Rommel took the hard line and Harry was the liberal."
"Yeah. But then Harry was a sort of live-and-let-live kind of guy. You could tell it from the company he kept."
May 20, 1941
The Fascists have allowed the theaters to reopen and have lifted the curfew so that it is possible to be out evenings as long as you carry identification.
Stavros is working legally again and is in rehearsal for, of all things, Tosca. I am so pleased.
Best of all, I can now collect on Janice's promise to go to the opera with me.
The first crisis was clothing. Janice protested vehemently that she had not worn anything but work clothes for ten years and owned nothing else. Stavros saved the situation by offering the simple -- and beautiful -- black dress that Aunt Helen used to wear to all his concerts before she died. He had kept it for sentimental reasons and there were actual tears in his eyes when he asked if Janice would allow him to see a beautiful woman wearing it again. She could not refuse a request like that and since we were on a roll, we got her to consent to a tiny bit of make-up and earrings as well. When I stepped back I was amazed at the transformation. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her only comment was , "I suppose this means I won't be able to bring my knapsack along."
"No. Absolutely no knapsack And no gun belt either."
June 1, 1941
We have seen the first performance of Tosca in the amphitheatre at Klafthmonos Square. It was odd to hear it sung in Greek rather than Italian, but of course the great arias are just as thrilling in any language. I think Janice enjoyed it too, but she kept staring at the soprano and then at the program and then at the stage again. I thought she was trying to understand what was happening, although it ought to have been was pretty obvious. The bass tries to rape the soprano and kills the tenor who loves the soprano and then later the soprano kills the bass and commits suicide. What was unclear?
When it was over I was just brimming over with enthusiasm for the singers. I waited for Janice to agree but she was strangely silent.
"What is the matter?"
"Well, you know I am Greek on my mother's side. But another thing I never told you....my mother's name was Kalogeropoulos."
"Yeah? What about it?"
"Didn't you read the singers' bios in the program? That's her real name. I think I even remember Harry talking about her. He referred to her as "that snotty little singer" I had no idea he was talking about her."
"Her who, for gosh sakes?"
"You mean the singer?"
"Yes, her. Maria Callas.
"Oh.....OH! Don't you think we should go and meet her? Since she is a relative, I mean?"
Na. Who'd want to? She's just a "snotty little singer." She'll never go anyplace. Nice voice though.
I was about to reply when I heard a deep male voice behind me.
"Guten Abend, meine Damen."
I spun around.
Erwin Rommel stood there in the full dress and decorated uniform of a General of the Wehrmacht.
I kept my composure. "Good evening General Rommel. What do you think of the opera?"
His gray eyes twinkled. "I think it is wonderful (vonderfol) and the soprano is really (uvular "r") fine. Don't you agree?"
"Why yes. In fact we have just established that she is Janice's cousin."
"Aber natürlich. A very gifted family."
"Well, I can't say we're close," Janice hedged. "Actually I never laid eyes on her before tonight, but she is damned good, isn't she?" she went on, but as the general listened his eyes kept returning to me. He interrupted Janice finally and said, "Perhaps you lovely ladies would join me after the opera for a quiet coffee."
"Oh, no, General Rommel. My uncle Stavros is quite ill and we dare not leave him alone too long." It was an outright lie, since Stavros was at that very moment in the orchestra pit, but courtesy made the officer accept it.
His eyes held mine. It intimidated me to have a man of such power show interest in me. It had kept many a chivalrous Southern suitor at arm's length back home in South Carolina, but this was a general of a conquering army. I lowered my eyes and did not look up again until the chimes rang for us to return for the second act of the opera—the act where the chief of police tortures the young artist to obtain the sexual surrender of Tosca. Suddenly my pleasure in the opera was gone.
June 3, 1941
The other shoe has fallen. His dinner invitation has arrived by messenger. Janice seems to think it is safe, but I point out that the invitation was for me alone, and she finally grasps the situation.
"What will you do? I think you can refuse him. It's not the Gestapo. He is an officer and a gentleman. At least he used to be."
So I hurriedly sent a scribbled note back with the same messenger, saying I was unwell. It was another blatant lie and I only hoped he would not take it as a serious insult. Could one say no to such a man?
I wondered what Xena would have done. If she were smart, she would have gotten on her horse and ridden towards Persia as fast as it would take her.
Against all reason, we have begun working on another scroll. We should of course be thinking of how we are ever going to get home. But the scrolls seem to us to transcend this war and take precedence before all other concerns.
Our criterion, as always, is what scroll seems most intact, and which will withstand handling in an uncontrolled environment. So the subject matter and chronology is for the moment irrelevant. But, interestingly, this scroll too treats the subject of internecine war. Not the great battles, but the care of the sick and wounded. It is called iatros/iatros or, "The Doctor."
This scroll has brought its own revelation. There is a section toward the end which is written in a wholly different hand. It is large, in bold strokes and written mostly in capital letters. We are puzzled by this "bold writer" and wonder why a second voice would be introduced so close to the end of a text.
June 9, 1941
It was a real struggle to work on this particular chronicle without my etymological dictionaries. They make it possible to begin with a known word and to extrapolate backwards or forwards to uncover what an unknown word might mean. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not. Last night it worked, as we deduced that two previously unrecognizable words probably meant "wept" and "breathed." Suddenly it all crystallized, and the whole section fell into place: The 'bold' text said:
"I held you. I breathed in your mouth. I wept for you. I cried, Don't leave me. Don't you leave me. Wake up! And praise be to the gods, you came back to me."
Given the context of the rest of the scroll, we have speculated -- tentatively , but with great excitement -- that the unknown writer may be Xena herself. Janice was so excited that she went down to the cellar and got a bottle of wine, and we celebrated. We even got a little tipsy.
And when Janice gets tipsy, I have discovered, she stops being the strong silent type and she talks.
Out of the blue she said, "You know, I dream about her. Xena, I mean."
"You do? What do you dream?"
"Oh, the things that happen in the scrolls, things that Harry told me, from other sources, and sometimes just crazy dream things from my own unconscious."
"That's understandable. You have been working on this project for so long, Xena must be very real to you."
"She didn't used to be. I mean I used to dream about finding the scrolls, but now, since the cave, I dream about her. I can hear her voice, see her face."
"What does she look like?"
"Uhh. Well, like you. Except she wears a lot less clothing."
"Well, of course she is wearing SOMETHING. Something well, warrior-like."
"Yeah. You know. Skimpy leather thingy, curvy metal things around her uh...breasts, a sword, a whip. Stuff like that."
"Skimpy leather, metal around her breasts, a whip....and my face. Janice, dear, I think you have been reading those naughty French novels before bedtime again."
"No, Mel. No naughty French novels. I just dream what I dream, and that's all there is to it. And what about your dreams? Do you dream about the scrolls?"
I thought for a moment. "I dream about the Greek gods. I wasn't much of a Southern Methodist anyway before we came, but now my Christianity seems to have faded and the Greek gods have become very real, at least to my unconscious. Why just the other night I dreamt I was up on the Acropolis trying to make a sacrifice to Athena. She took off her helmet and told me that I should not sacrifice to her, but to Ares, since this was his era..."
"Hmm. weird" was all she said.
"Yes, weird," I replied.
June 12, 1941
There was a ferocious thunderstorm yesterday evening that began and ended with a dazzling lightning display. Janice was out settling some (most likely highly illegal) business with Harry's friends and I hoped she would make it home before the storm hit. The light kept flickering so I stopped working and stood at the window wrapped in a blanket. I looked out at the blue-black evening sky. Massive black thunderclouds roiled overhead and then yellow sheet lightning began. With each lightning flash the thunderheads lit up yellow-orange from one side and the cumulus masses looked for an instant like colossal mythological figures frozen in theatrical gestures. One could easily imagine the ancient gods acting out their mythical quarrels in the skies over Greece. Then the yellow flashes became whiter, the thunderclaps more deafening until it seemed that their collective wrath was right overhead and the rain broke suddenly and violently. It fell straight down, crashing in thick sheets, erasing the spectacle overhead. No rain blew into the room so I continued to stand at the open window, as if my standing that close to the storm could bring Janice home all the sooner. I cursed myself for not asking where she was going. To Sal, probably. I could go look for her. But she had the truck. Piraeus was too far to walk. I stood rooted in frustration and indecision to the spot for the ten or so minutes the torrent lasted. Then, as abruptly as it had arrived, the storm moved away, and the pyrotechnics resumed.
The door flew open and Janice came in soaking wet. She threw off her clothes down to her underwear and she looked around for something to dry with. She was shivering so I stepped over to her and wrapped her with me in the blanket.
"While you are warming up, look out the window at the lightning; it's really beautiful."
Still wrapped in the blanket, we shuffled over the few steps together to the window. She stood in front of me, her head barely coming to my chin, until she stopped shivering. I began to feel warmth emanating upward from her. It smelled sweetly, of her skin and hair. It was comforting to hold her, and reassuring to us both that we were sheltered and safe.
"Look at the clouds. When the lightning flashes, doesn't it look like figures standing around on Mount Olympus?"
"Yeah, like the gods standing around while Zeus flies into a rage about something. As if they're all waiting for him to calm down." She was quiet for a moment, then added, "What do you suppose he is so furious about?"
"The Nazi barbaros, of course."
" Barbaros? What a pagan you have become, Mel."
"Hmmm. I suppose you're right. Do you think that's bad?"
"No, I don't think so. I like what you've become." She leaned back and pulled my arms closer around her. My forearms touched the bare skin of her midriff and what had been simple warmth and comfort became an amorous embrace. We stood there for a long moment while my heart pounded. I was feeling something I had never felt before and I did not know what to do. I had no experience in this, and no instruction. It was a decisive moment, I suppose, but it was a line I could not cross of my own volition. At the exact moment Janice turned around in my arms to face me, I stepped back from her, opened the blanket that had enclosed us and handed it to her.
"I guess you're all warm now," I stammered, and fled to the chair where I had been working before the storm.
"Uh, yes. All warm. I guess I'll just get into some dry clothes now." And she wrapped herself again in the blanket, picked up her wet clothes and hurried out of the workroom.
While my heart still pounded.
June 16, 1941
Janice has been coughing and I am worried. She claims it is simply "cigar withdrawal," but I think that is nonsense. She has had some kind of bronchial infection now for several days and she refuses to rest. There is too much to do, she says, although I tell her that the scrolls have waited 250 years already. Another week will not hurt. But she is afraid the war will stop us from working, or take the scrolls out of our hands in some way, and so we both work late into the night. And she feels responsible for both of us, and for Stavros as well, and disappears during much of each day to hunt down provisions.
June 17, 1941
Janice is worse and I am very anxious. She has trouble talking and complains of chest pains when she takes a deep breath. To get her to stay in bed, I have moved her cot up to the workroom on the top floor. Since there is now no space for the table, I put the lamp on the chair by the bed and sit on a cushion on the floor next to her and read out loud. She occasionally makes suggestions, but her voice is weak. I recognize this sickness now and it is serious. I have to take care of both of us, but in fact, I don't know what to do. I stare out at the Acropolis, and for the first time I feel that we are in danger.
June 18, 1941
I have finally acted, and am furious at myself that I have waited so long. I asked Stavros to check in on Janice every hour until I got back. Then I took the truck (which she had not let me drive before) and managed without hitting anything important to get down to Piraeus. It took hours to locate Sal. I had never dealt directly with him, and didn't know how to "handle" him the way Janice does. I just got straight to the point.
"Janice is very sick and it looks like pneumonia. I need penicillin."
He laughed out loud. "Why don't you ask for something easier, like an airplane!?"
"I'm serious, Sal. I want to buy penicillin. Janice said that you can get anything if you're offered enough money. I'm offering enough."
"Enough. My favorite kind of offer." He scratched his skin under his beard. "But I don't have it. There is precious little of it anywhere in Greece. And what there is, is controlled by the Wehrmacht.
"I bet you can get it. I told you, I'll pay whatever it costs."
.He began pacing, still scratching in his beard. Obviously, I was pushing him to his limit.
"I...I..don't know. I will do what I can. . I'll contact my best people and see what is possible. It will take a few hours and it will be very very expensive."
"I don't care."
I drove back to Kallikrates Street, got Janice to drink some more fluid and let her go back to sleep. At around 5 o'clock I drove again to Piraeus, talking out loud to the empty air. "If there is anyone out there, please listen to me. Janice is here because of you. She is bringing you back to the world. Please don't let the light go out of her eyes. I couldn't stand the darkness!"
Sal came to meet the truck before I even got out of it.
"I can't get it. Impossible. Even the hospitals don't have it. We can't even steal it. You'd have to be in the German High Command to get anywhere near it."
I leaned my elbows on the steering wheel and held my head in my hands. I felt powerless. The Nazis had what we so desperately needed. I had a vision of driving the truck full of Harry's friends through the front door of the German headquarters, all guns blazing. Total war in a microcosm -- and totally useless. I felt like sobbing.
Then I remembered smoldering gray eyes.
"Magnolia blossoms," I said out loud as I started the truck.
"Huh?" I thought I heard Sal say, as I drove away.
June 19, 1941
He said, "Nein, Nein! Es geht nicht! I cannot get it. I have no administrative authority here. I am a soldier, not a black marketer."
I had to convince him. I would not leave that room without convincing him.
"I know that. The world knows that. Even the Allies respect you as a great military leader. A leader who unfortunately has given his allegiance to a sputtering tyrant who is not worthy of it. But don't you feel any allegiance to old friends, at whose table you have sat. Don't you remember a pretty blond English-American girl who looked up to you, star struck. You were probably the first man she ever flirted with."
He turned away again. "Fräulein Pappas. Those are pleasant memories, but they are from another time. You are asking me to soil my hands with corruption."
"I am sorry to pollute your honor, General. But there is something more important than soldierly honor, and that is decency. That is honor without the uniform. You are an officer but also a man. I know you care about Harry and Janice Covington and......about me."
I stood in front of him and looked at him the same way he had looked at me that evening at the opera. I stood close enough to him to see the details of the Ritterkreuz which hung at his throat. My throat, which he was staring at, was bare. I wore a summer dress, not revealing or provocative, because I do not dress that way. But it showed enough to make unmistakable what was being offered: a young, attractive, blue-eyed Greek woman. My hand trembled as I reached out and touched his sleeve. The expression on his face told me he thought it was excitement, but in fact it was fear. Abject fear.
"You care so little for your own honor?"
"No, I care so much for the life of my friend."
He looked at me for a long moment, the officer wrestling with the man, I suppose.
Finally he turned and went to the telephone. He spoke German too quickly for me to follow, but it was clear that he was trying to contact some administrative authority. Then he turned back to me.
"You must allow me to make a few more telephone calls. I will have it sent to you. You will then return here with the driver who delivers it to you."
"You know that I will come back."
"I have not the slightest doubt. Just as you need have no doubt, when I obtain it, of the quality of the medicine.
I did not shake his hand as I left.
Within two hours a dark car pulled up in front of the building and a corporal brought a small package to the door. I said "Fünfzehn Minuten." He bowed at the waist. I have come to hate that bow.
Janice was motionless. Her breathing was shallow and raspy, I had to physically pull her up and slap her face to get her conscious enough to swallow the pills I feared that everything I was doing was useless, that it was all too late. I stayed with her for a quarter of an hour, washing her hot face, until she was sleeping quietly again.
Then I changed my clothes and returned with the driver to the General's quarters. .
June 20, 1941
I fulfilled my part of the bargain.
The worst part was his gentleness, for it prevented me from hating him. It would have been better for my peace of mind if I had had to clench my teeth and let him rape me. But it was consensual and after the first sharp pain, it took its course, and was not even unpleasant. For the body has a will of its own, and under his careful touch it responded. He gave me a base physical pleasure, but at the same time he took from me that first experience of arousal that I would have given to someone I loved.
There are situations where nothing is right or wrong, and everything is tainted.
Around midnight I got dressed again and he called his driver to take me home.
When I got there it was almost time to give Janice more of the antibiotic so I woke her again and got her to swallow two more pills. She was limp in my arms and there seemed to be no change. I held her against my chest and cried quietly into her hair, but she was too feverishly sick to do anything but lie against my shoulder. I laid her down again but stayed with her, as much out of my own need as for hers. I could not bear to be alone with the memory of his touch. Pulling over the cushion and taking off my shoes I made myself as comfortable as possible on the floor. I laid my head on a pillow on the mattress by her side, draped my arm over her legs and curled my fingers under her waist. I would have lain alongside of her if the cot had been wide enough.
I dreamt of the scroll we had been working on, and the words on the parchment became voices. I saw Gabrielle on a bed, and she had the face of Janice. And I dreamt of a voice, my own voice, saying in Greek "Men me apheneis!" -- "Don't leave me. Don't you leave me!"
The next morning I woke, every muscle in my body aching. Janice was still asleep, but she must have reached out for me during the night, for her fingers were tangled in my hair.
I moved my head and it woke her.
"Hello," she said weakly
"I am so glad you are here. I felt like I was suffocating in a dark hole some place. Then, when I felt you next to me, I stopped being afraid."
She moved her thumb feebly in a sort of caress. I covered her hand with mine and caressed it in return.
"How do you feel?"
"Oh, you mean 'Scato', 'Scheisse,' 'Khafa'....
"Oh! Please don't make me laugh. I can't take a deep enough breath."
"Does your chest still hurt?"
"Yes, a little, but my bladder hurts more and if I don't get to a toilet, I'm going to embarrass both of us."
I helped her down the hall to the WC. I practically had to carry her, and the effort exhausted her.
Back in her bed, she smiled drowsily at me as I washed her face and chest and gave her another dose of the precious pills.
She noticed my tears of relief and wiped them with her thumb, and then closed her eyes again still holding my hand.
After a few minutes her breathing became regular again and I thought she was asleep. I whispered, "I love you, Janice."
She squeezed my hand and brought it to the center of her chest over her heart.
June 25, 1941
Janice has been improving slowly, but steadily. The pills ran out after the fourth day, but her own resources are bringing her the rest of the way. Once I was sure she was out of mortal danger, I began work on our third scroll. I knew it would please her. I manage to translate some 80 - 100 lines each day, with gaps of course, and each evening I read to Janice what we have gotten. In contrast to the somber events and issues of the first two scrolls, the content of this scroll is absolutely delightful. We find ourselves laughing every evening at the alternating tenderness and bickering of the two characters. The Scroll carries the heading koinos hmeras/koinos emeras, which we have loosely translated as, "A Common Day."
I had great difficulty with a number of Greek nouns at the beginning, without which I could not trace the thread of the story. But Janice, always down to earth, finally figured out that these were "frying pan" and "eel" . Then we spent an entire morning on ceiros algos peiras/cheiros algos peiras, which Janice ultimately insisted had to mean "pinch interrogation." The story now has some continuity, at least up to that point. However we are both still baffled by ptera gramma/ptera gramma which seems to translate as "flying parchment" and hdonhs baqos/hedones bathos, which yields only the translation "hot tub." Since neither concept makes sense in a Greek context, we are somewhat at a standstill. Perhaps these are uniquely Macedonian artifacts which have simply never shown up in Aegean culture before.
June 27, 1941
We have moved Janice's bed back to the garage room and set up the table again. We are making some progress with the scroll "A Common Day." What we thought was "Cruel Running Ground Titan" we have corrected to "biggest, meanest giant to ever walk the earth" but are still puzzled by references to electricity. This, more than a century before Aristotle? Impossible! In addition, this scroll, while otherwise in excellent condition, is badly stained. My original speculation that it might be food, can now be upgraded to theory. The scroll also has a large piece torn from one of its edges . It is very carefully torn, and there appears to have been little or no writing on the missing piece. We do not know what to make of this artifact.
June 30, 1941
We have heard on the BBC broadcast (which we listen to covertly every night) that Rommel is having great military success at the head of his Afrika Corps, and is pushing the English slowly back toward Egypt. I am sorry to hear that the German tanks have such a strong general at their head, but I am also glad that he is there and not here. He is an honorable man, I suppose, but he is an agent of an evil force, and I gave myself to him. It is easier not to think about that if he is at the front far away from Athens. Janice has never asked me where I got the antibiotic pills, and may not even remember taking them. I do not want her to know --- ever.
July 1, 1941
Today we finished the scroll "A Common Day," and are filled with admiration for ........
July 2, 1941
I was interrupted writing the previous entry by Janice coming to my alcove last night. She had never come there late at night before and I was surprised. She sat down somewhat precariously on the edge of my wooden cot and said simply, "We have to talk."
I nodded, wide-eyed and caught off guard, and my heart began to pound again. It had been doing that alot.
"We love each other, don't we?" she asked. I nodded again slowly, wordlessly. Where was this going? Could she hear the pounding?
"Well, sisters and friends can also love each other. But I don't love you as a sister. I love you... as a lover." I continued nodding, hoping she would get to the point before I had the heart attack.
"Melinda," she took my hand. Her own hands were trembling. "Since we came to Athens I have wanted to hold you in my arms, to make love with you." I dropped the journal and laid my free hand on top of hers making a little pile of hands vibrating in terror. Janice went on. "I will understand if you refuse. I will die of despair, but I will understand." Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "Oh, please tell me you want me, too."
She was on her knees on the floor now, her face only a few inches from mine, her eyes glistening in the orange-yellow light of the kerosene lantern. I was paralyzed, I couldn't bring forth a single sound, but finally I freed one of my hand and touched her face. I pulled her head the last inches toward me and kissed her, my mouth already open. She leaned into me and I felt her tongue, my darling Janice's tongue caress my own. Her hands unbuttoned the top of my shirt, and pressed warmly against my chest and throat, feeling the pounding of my blood. I wanted to say "Yes, I do, yes," but I didn't want to break the kiss. I wanted to stay inside of Janice's mouth and keep her inside of me.
Finally she pulled away. Just inches from my face again, her lips shone in the lamplight from the wetness of our first kiss. She laughed a little soft laugh and said, "How do we do this? Where in this whole damned building is there a room where we can both lie down together?"
"Upstairs, in our workroom. We'd be near the scroll. I'd like that...wouldn't you?"
"Yes, that would be nice. It would take a little while, though. We would have to take the table down again, and bring the cot mattresses up. But it would be like a bower, wouldn't it? Without the trees and flowers, I mean."
"Uh hunh. A treeless bower, in sight of the Acropolis."
We kissed again, long passionate kisses, both of us kneeling on the floor. I think Janice would have been willing to make love right on the concrete, but I didn't want it to be frantic, with torn clothes, on the hard floor. I wanted our bower. She got up finally, pulled the thin mattress off the rickety cot and said, "Come up in 15 minutes."
It was late at night and no one was about in the building. I washed myself at the sink down the hall. It was a sort of wedding night, and I wanted it to be perfect. I put on a fresh shirt, the longest one I had, over my naked body and crept barefoot up to the 5th floor room.
Janice was sitting on the windowsill wrapped in a blanket. It was the same blanket we had had around us the night of the lightning storm. She held her hand out to me and we stood together under the bright moon and the temples of Athena on the Acropolis. Holding the blanket with one hand, she reached up with the other and laid it to the side of my face.
"I will never leave you, Melinda Pappas. Never. I will love you and protect you all the days of my life. And then I will love you in the afterlife."
I took both ends of the blanket and pulled her towards me, pressing her against me. I said softly into her ear, "I will never leave you, Janice Covington. I will love you and care for you in this world and in the next. Always."
We lay down on the bed she had made of the two mattresses and I felt her lovely weight lying the length of me. I had feared the night with Rommel would forever ruin such intimacy for me but it did not. I felt an almost unbearable joy holding and touching this woman in the blue gray moonlight. We had waited so long, let desire grow so urgent, that we both arrived quickly at the edge of climax. But we held it at bay, turning in each other's arms legs mouths, prolonging the ecstasy, not letting the wave break It broke finally for me when she slid down, parted my legs and put her mouth on me. I erupted at the first touch and for a moment I wept. It broke for her when she came back up to lie on me, pressing herself against my thigh and murmuring endearments. Then we rested and slept awhile, and began anew.
And what I did not know about love that night and could not guess, she taught me. Gentle touches and hard ones. All that hands and mouths and fingers and teeth can do to please when there is complete trust and all defenses down. I kept my eyes open, to see her every minute, to see her do everything. I let her do everything. And when I learned all the touches of love, I did them back to her while she whispered my name.
Towards dawn there was a sudden light shower, and we lay sticky in each other's arms until we fell asleep to the gentle hiss of Athenian rain.
July 5, 1941
We have begun work on the next scroll. It does not seem to have a title, but it begins with the shattering phrase en arce hn o logos/En arche en ho logos. Seven centuries before the Gospel of John! Once again our understanding of ancient literature is shaken. We are breathless with excitement to fathom this new mystery.