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Short Story Prize

Kátharsis | Neilma Sidney Prize, first place

I drive the ATV south from the hotel to Jackie O’ Beach Club. Kosta is on the back with one arm around my waist and the other gripping his phone, filming for Instagram. I tell him to put his phone away a lot but this time I get it. I park suddenly.

‘Why are you stopping?’

‘Just to see. Like to look.’

‘It’s fucking incredible isn’t it?’

I agree with a hum, worried if I open my mouth I might spew all the tears welling up in my chest.

This is what my head says to me: Look at the caramel of your hills only gently borrowing from the sun. Look at the whites of your homes – your pupils. Look at the blue of your halo, the water that cups you, passes things to you. Look at your stones, beset by a god. Your skirt of olive branches, your unforgiving dust, your prickly pear perfection and the sky that has forged itself a new shade just for you, sweet Mykonos. I shake my head; holiday islands are curated to conjure this sap. My tummy disagrees.

‘Babes, lets go before the sun goes down.’

‘Alright, yulla get on.’

We park the ATV at the top of the hill knowing it lacks the power to drag us up later. Kosta and I are accidentally matching. Long black shorts, tight white singlets and Birkenstocks. His are khaki and mine, black. A singed twink on a scooter slaps Kosta’s arse as we walk down to the club. He turns back to smile and almost crashes. We don’t contain our laughter.

Our ‘Mykonos song’ is playing as we enter. It’s a Greek/English pop song about ‘feeling yourself’ that ensues a chorused ‘woo’ as soon as the punters recognise it. I tried to hate it at first but the more I was subjected to it the more I realised it was oddly progressive and made me dance. Kosta’s holiday boyfriend, Achilles, is working behind the bar. We tear through a group of shaved muscle-guys to say hi. He feigns surprise at our arrival and pushes his bare torso over the wet counter to give us two kisses each.

‘Mori-mou, what you do today?’

Kosta tells him we woke up late, went to the beach, had a gyro, had a nap, had a swim in the hotel pool and came here. He omits the part where he had an orgy with some guys from the neighbouring hotel.

‘Okay, ella, it’s time to drink.’

We down two shots of vodka and Achilles slides over some frozen cocktails called ‘Sea Breeze’. As we move through the crowd a tired clubber stops me. He introduces me to his too young boyfriend and the quivering little dog he is holding named Konrad.

‘Hai hai, why do you look so angry?’

He’s German. I manage a smile. ‘This is Kosta.’

He ignores Kosta. He’s fixated on me, eyes rolling all around their sockets, over my chest, my legs, my head. I guess GHB and probably a little coke.

‘And why are you so angry?’

‘Whaddaya mean?’

I make to move away and he grabs my wrist with more force than I thought he would be capable of. I spot his Rolex.

‘Where are you from?’

‘Australia.’

‘What? You don’t look-like from Australia.’

‘Where do I look-like from?’

I imitate him unconsciously. He’s laughing now, at his joke, pre-emptively.

‘You … you look-like from ISIS.’

I imagine drowning his dog in the club’s pool. I turn to Kosta but he hasn’t heard anything, he’s on the hunt. I wait for the German to compose himself.

‘ISIS isn’t a nation, man. And you should be careful who you say that type of stuff to.’

He pushes his head back, lips like a goldfish, offended.

‘What?’

His dumb accent.

‘You should be careful who you say that shit to because they might not react well and then violent things can happen.’

I know I sound stupid but I can’t articulate myself any better in this environment. The music is beating me, packing me into a tight box. The sun, although retiring, is having one last attempt at scalding us, scalding our intemperance. The tight-knit troop of dancers swish me around in their current.

‘Oh don’t be so angry.’

He offers me some G. I drop two mills into my melted cocktail and walk away.

Kosta pulls me close to him as we bop to the music.

‘You were doing some fucked-up shit in your sleep last night, bro.’

‘How?’

‘You were talking in tongues.’

I laugh. The G varnishing my gut, my head, I want to devour someone, nap, swim.

‘Yeah I talk in my sleep.’

‘I know, this time it was different though. You were tapping into something. It sounded like you were speaking an ancient language. Like Passion of the Christ-style, man. Made sense to you and to whoever was on the other end, just not to me. I was freaked-the-fuck out. Tried to record you but my phone was dead.’

‘I seriously can’t remember.’

By the time it dawns on me that I had woken up wet, in the middle of the night, with what I was convinced was seawater, Kosta is nose deep into a guy’s face, their hands racing over each other’s backs like crabs. I scan the crowd for the German. He’s alone, melting over a bench, barely visible through the net of skin and speedos and veins and sneakers. I make my way over to him.

‘Konrad, how you doin’ man? You got anymore G?’

He is too high to register that I’ve called him by his dog’s name. I prod him on the neck and he laughs and I swear I hear him mumble ‘Isis’. I put my hand down the pocket of his cargo shorts and pull out a bag of coke, maybe half a gram left. I go to the toilet, push past the queue and into a cubicle. An American bangs on the door.

‘Hey! Hey! You can’t do that!’

I empty the powder onto the cistern, roll up a five-euro note and snort the lot. It slashes into the back of my throat.

 

Mum is brushing the headstone with the palm of her hand, rearranging the plastic flowers. I smoke a cigarette and watch from a few headstones away. I’ve only been here a dozen times. It always feels like going to the Roads and Maritime Service – columns of strangers, angst. She whispers to the lawn. I can’t tell if she is mindful of the bite-size nonna mimicking Mum’s gravestone upkeep in the opposite aisle or me.

‘Your son is here Yianni. He has come to see you. Look at what a beautiful man we created, my love. Look, your splitting image. Actually, shorter and with a shittier temper. He’s going to Greece in a few months.’

‘It’s spitting image, Ma.’

She side-eyes me and smiles at the stone. She still calls him ‘my love’ after all this time. My father drowned saving me from a rip at Wattamolla beach when I was seven. He flung me onto some rocks and I watched him get sucked into the ocean. His relatives say I look very Greek, like him, but I reckon I look like Mum’s Lebanese side too.

‘Habibi, come say hi to your dad. You haven’t been here in so long, come, Rami.’

I shuffle over and stand directly in front of the stone. I try to imagine his skeleton down there. I try to imagine all the skeletons down there. My fists are clenched.

‘Hi Dad.’

Mum cries on cue. The baby-nonna, who is blatantly watching now, clasps her hands to her heart and whimpers.

In the car on the way home, Mum tells me Dad’s ancestors were olive farmers on an island called Tinos.

 

Kosta is dancing with some Israeli boys when I get back from the toilet. I recognise them from a few nights ago. He scolds me for not sharing the drugs. My shoulders are so limp I’m worried my hands are grazing the ground. I ask why they are moving so out of sync with the music and he says: ‘You’re cooked, bro, I’m dancing to the beat, everyone is. I look around but the tempo is way too slow for their hurried moves. I hear distant bass. Mostly I hear strings, a harp. Ethereal, long chords and a voice, several voices. Chanting. I think I’m on the floor. Kosta slaps me across the face.

‘What the fuck is wrong with you bro, you’re smacking out.’

The club’s music is back now. Kylie Minogue remix. I empty my pockets into Kosta’s communion receiving hands and tell him I’m going for a swim in the ocean.

A guy with snakes in his hair talks at me as I descend the stairs to the beach. I blink and the snakes are dreads. I shove past him. Past the guys in dinky singlets taking selfies, their faces contorting like demons against the plum sky. Past the faun selling shitty shell-jewellery. Past the adonis who asks my crotch if I’d like a drink. And I’m in the water. I don’t recall gradually entering. I’m just there, submerged. Standing on the ocean floor, breathing, not conventionally. I hear the harp and the voices again. Clearer. I understand them now. They are calling me. My dick is hard. I rip my shorts and undies off and swim toward the song. My body is an orb, a jellyfish pulsating through the ocean on an undercurrent. I swim for hours. Every now and then I glance at my arms, my legs, to make sure they are still there. The ocean changes from denim to dirt to midnight. The voices don’t stop calling.

‘Mum, you haven’t read my coffee cup in ages.’

‘You know, I haven’t actually read anyone’s in a long time.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. The last time I read the neighbour’s she had a car accident.’

We giggle.

‘She kind of deserved it.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘C’mon read it.’

‘Ya allah ya Rami, you’re not gonna let up are you?’

‘Nope.’

I take the last sip and flip the little cup over into the saucer to dry out. I grin at her like a happy-dork.

‘Don’t break them! Your Teta sent me these when your Uncle came back from Lebanon.’

They are porcelain with tiny gilded dancers holding hands around the rim.

‘They’re cute.’

‘You’re cute.’

‘Ok yulla read it.’

‘The grit hasn’t even dried yet! Give it a minute. When are you off to Greece?’

‘Next week.’

‘And you’re going with Kosta?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Please be careful Rami, please. I saw on the news the other day an Australian girl died on a yacht in the Greek Islands. Please be careful, the both of you.’

She reaches for my arm.

‘Ma. Stop. The girl was probably fucked on drugs and fell overboard or something. That’s not gonna happen to me.’

She winces.

‘Don’t you dare take drugs!’

‘You’re hilarious. I’m twenty-eight. You think I haven’t done drugs?’

She blocks her ears with her fingers and shakes her head before I finish the sentence. Black waves of hair wobble in front of her eyes.

‘Ma!’

She turns the cup over toward me. I stamp my thumb on the inside and lick off the dried coffee. She glances in and drops it to the tiled floor of the terrace attached to her kitchen; the cup splinters into a hundred ants crawling away from each other. Her complexion swiftly matches the greys in her eyebrows.

‘Mum, what the fuck?’

‘Rami, promise me you will be careful on this holiday. Promise me.’

She sounds parched. She folds her forehead into her hands.

I laugh. ‘You’re too much. You’re totally being dramatic so I freak out and don’t do anything out of line over there.’

‘I promise you I’m not.’

‘Alright then, what did you see? You’re such an over-reactor.’

I twist my head to look under her hands. Her eyes are fixated on the shards.

‘There was a lot of water. A lot. A big, big wave.’

‘Yeah …’

‘And … and there was a fish, with three eyes.’

I laugh. ‘Like in that Simpsons episode?’

She slaps me on my knee. Her face is concrete. The neighbour lets out his pigeons.

 

I’m swimming in a tunnel of stone now. Red marble. In the crevices I see faces that are pleased to see me. They wear my shark-fin nose, my parsley eyes, my thick brown curls tight on their heads. They urge me to plunge on, as do the deafening voices like eels spinning into my ears, wrapping their slick bodies tight around my brain. The tunnel becomes wider and darker until I break through the surface of the water into a cathedral of marble sopping with seawater, lit by the moon through a break at the top of its steeple. There is no sound now. And I have forgotten how to breathe. I clamber up some rocks. I close my eyes and breathe up through my legs, into my chest, my hands. I push the air from my mouth and eyes. I reach for my phantom phone against my thigh. I rub my head; slap my face, my tummy. I look around for somebody, something. On the other side of the chamber is a man that mimics the splendour of every particle to have negotiated the universe. He beams at me and I split in half. I wrap my arms around my body to hold it together. He calls me without moving his lips and the sound is molten gold poured into an abyss. I’m hard. I float to him across the pond like a statue. I see that he is in fact golden. His cock, hair, it’s all gold. He holds a large fork with an eyeball skewered on each prong. I come in the water. I climb out and stand before him. I try to speak but he is in control of everything I do now. He tells me I am wanted here. That I am home. He embraces me and my body dissipates.

 

 

Image: Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash

 

 

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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George Haddad is a doctoral candidate at the Writing and Society Centre, Western Sydney University. His debut novella Populate and Perish was the recipient of the 2016 Viva La Novella prize. He has written for Overland, The Lifted Brow, Seizure, Runway and un Magazine.

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