Thursday, 4 October 2018

That Summer In Greece

by Susan Tepper

At the foot of Mount-something-or-other, while the rest of the tour group was checking out the historic ruins, I bought a rug.  A white squishy animal rug called Flokati.  My travel companion, Patti, had a few things to say: Now you’re going to drag that dead animal all over Greece.  Also reminding me that we still had Portugal on our itinerary.  I can remember sighing inwardly, thinking it was going to be a very long month.  Patti was the substitute.  We weren’t really compatible.  My roommate had punted last minute, and Patti just happened to be available.

The next day, with the rug squished under my arm, I hit the Plaka area to buy a box and ship the rug home.  I dragged around in the hot sun thinking that Patti was right, it would be miserable carting the rug from city to city, airport to airport. 

Finally, among all the food stalls and craft shops and souvenir stands, I happened upon a men’s clothing store.  I looked in the window.  It looked dignified.  I went in and right away was approached by a dark handsome man in a pristine suit, white shirt and tie.  I explained I needed to buy a box to ship the rug home.  He was extremely polite and had a nice smile.  Dug out a big box from beneath the counter and insisted on packing the rug himself.  He refused to accept the drachmas I extended.  Then said if I gave him the address he would be happy to ship it for me.

Wow!  I was pretty stunned.  People had been really nice to us in Greece— but this was extremely nice! 

After he was finished carefully packing my Flokati in layers of tissue paper, he asked if I would have dinner with him.  I felt a moment’s hesitation.  He was a bit older than my twenty years, but nothing too significant.  Around thirty, was my guess.  But then I could hear Patti’s voice saying I was prudish around men.  I didn’t feel I was prudish.  Then I thought: what the heck!  Explaining to him that I had a travel companion.  No problem.  He would bring along a friend.

Back at the hotel, surprisingly, Patti was less than overjoyed about this double-date. When the time came for them to meet us in the lobby, she told me to go down alone and check out the friend.  I thought she was being kind of picky since she wasn’t the most attractive woman on the planet and didn’t even have a boyfriend back home. 

Stepping out of the elevator, I saw the man from the shop and I waved.  He waved back, smiling, coming toward me from the front desk.  Then I noticed the friend walking beside him.  A man of about seventy!  I knew Patti would freak.  I shook hands with both men and then told them I would be right back.  I went around the bend to the house phones and called her.  She told me to forget it, she wasn’t coming.  She told me to go myself.  I thought a moment, and feeling suddenly un-prudish, and rather worldly, returned to them and made an excuse for Patti.  Said she had a terrible headache.  They didn’t seem to mind and we left the hotel. 

I assumed we would walk to one of the many lovely restaurants in the area.  But, no.  They had a car parked outside.  I got in the front seat next to the old guy.  The younger man sat in the back.  We headed out.  He said we were going to a very swank restaurant, that I would enjoy it very much.

While we drove, they wanted to know all about my American life.  Did I own a car?  Of course.  Did I travel frequently?  Yes.  Alone?   That made me laugh.  Did I live in my own flat?  Yes, but we call them apartments in the states, I told them.  Each new thing I revealed seemed to fill these men with wonder.

We drove a long time.  Out of Athens, to Piraeus.  Where the seafood was the best they told me.  Finally we arrived.  It was dark by then.  The restaurant, of granite and glass, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea.  Impressive.  I also took in the fact that there was nothing else around.  Just the restaurant, and a lot of open fields and of course the sea.

Right away we were ushered to a table.  The place was crowded.  Tablecloths of light pink linen, as were the napkins.  A band played contemporary American music.  Couples crowded the dance floor.  We ordered drinks.  I ordered a Coke.  They made a joke about that.  We read the menus and ordered dinner.  I chose shrimp cocktail and steak.  The younger man asked me to dance.  It was crowded on the dance floor.  The band was doing a Beatles ballad.  Right away he pulled me close.  Too close.  His arm like a vise on my back.  I tried to wiggle away but he held me in an iron grip.  I started sweating.  I felt scared. 

When the music stopped we returned to the table.  His smile gone.  He looked angry.  My shrimp cocktail had arrived while we were on the dance floor.  Rather than the red sauce I was used to, it came with a pink sauce that nauseated me.  I thought to myself:  How will I eat this awful pink sauce that I knew was made with mayonnaise.  A condiment I despised. 

I excused myself and went to the ladies room.  I felt panicked.  Thankfully there was a pay phone on the wall.  I dropped in a bunch of coins.  But we were so far out of Athens, when the operator came on she spoke no English.  I hung up feeling more panicked.  Then it hit me: the band!  They had been singing Beatles songs and other American tunes.

Leaving the ladies room, I snuck behind a partition wall in the band area and signaled to them.  A few of the band members came over to me.  “Please help me,” I said.  They spoke no English.  Not a word.  Only knew the songs in English.  I was really scared then.   It seemed there was nobody in the whole place who spoke English.  Who would help me?

On my way back to the table, I covertly approached a few other diners.  They were polite but didn’t understand English.  I went back to the table and suffered through the meal.  I asked the waiter for some water but he didn’t understand either.   A few more times the younger man pulled me onto the dance floor.  Doing his bump and grind.  I began to feel an extraordinary terror moving into me. 

Back at the car, when I tried getting in the front seat, the younger man pushed me into the rear, climbing in next to me, pushing his body hard against mine.  The old guy alone up front.  He turned on the radio.  Greek music at full volume. The younger guy pushing me down and throwing himself on top of me.

I fought him with all my strength and will.  He’d pinned me to the seat.  When I struggled up a moment, I could see the black ocean outside the car window.  All during this torture, the old guy up front drove singing along to the radio.

I wasn’t raped.  He could easily have raped me.  He violently kissed and groped me, tore at my clothes.  But didn’t rape me.  I’ll never to this day understand why.  He frightened me more than I’ve ever been frightened in my life, before or since.  This went on for a couple of hours.  The whole long drive back to Athens.  Straight back to my hotel. Where I sort of fell out of the car when the door was opened by hotel staff— me half dressed, with no shoes.  The doormen, who recognized me, looked stunned.  My knees wouldn’t function, I was incapable of walking.  I crawled, dragging myself up the marble steps to the brass doors.

All during that ride I can remember thinking: He’s going to rape me and kill me.  Throw my body into the sea.  And my mother will never know what became of me.  That was the part that filled me with the most sadness.  I cried over that.  My mother would never know what became of her daughter while vacationing in Greece.

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"That Summer In Greece" was first published in Pure Slush.

More about Susan Tepper and her widely published work can be found at

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