As Simple as Water

Catherine McNamara


Vassili K and Marj B are embracing at an Athens train station (it is Monastiraki) when Vassili feels Marj's legs fold under her and sees her eyes roll back and the woman he has made love to in a hotel room far above and with whom he argued (he knows he was being unjust) falls in a dead faint at his feet as the airport train rolls in on screaming rails.

A woman in a suit rushes out of the unclasped doors and loosens Marj's scarf and tight jeans (he sees her white belly) and checks her airways, laying her in a recovery position on the stone slabs of the train station floor.

A minute ago, Marj's tongue had been enwrapping his own, and her eyes with their long grey curlicues had spoken of wanting while his had (Marj said) been wearing their dark shields, which was what she called his retracting each time before her uncomfortable fading away on public transport, taxis and planes.

Vassili thinks now Marj will miss her plane and what will he do with her. Vassili's day is lined up, as hers was too in another country a short flight away, and now she is lying on the station floor with a woman crouched at her side.

The seams of the woman's skirt stretch over her hips and Vassili who has been making love to Marj most of the night (except when she wept in a corner of the bed and he waited) wonders about the pelvic cavern of all women which is filled with jostling organs and squelching tubes and lengthy orifices like vivid botanical sections drawn into slithering life. He wonders whether this woman too has mauve toenails within her brown boots.

"Who is she?" The wide woman turns back and asks. Marj's small suitcase stands by the station wall.

"I don't know. I saw her fall." Vassili who had not known these words would come from his mouth stares at Marj's pearly face on the ground and another train releases startled passengers who funnel away until he and the crouching woman and Marj's body are all but alone.

The doctor comes out and he has black hair with dandruff captured in its roots. Vassili feels a charge of sadness to think of the doctor raising Marj's wrist and laying it by her side, lifting her eyelids and shocking each pupil with a flashlight. Vassili still has Marj's saliva in his mouth and some (she is a vigorous kisser) has dried on his cheek and neck.

"We're doing preliminary tests," the doctor says. "She may have simply hit her head or it could be some pre-existing condition. Or even the early stages of pregnancy. I'm sorry, but we would prefer to keep your wife here overnight."

"I see." Vassili's heart is in stiff points under his skin, barred in his rib cage.

The young doctor with dirty hair stands there, looking at the language on Vassili's face. Then he turns back to his patient, slouching up the hall with its seam of lights.

Vassili walks outside up a concrete path and he calls his wife who would just be opening the shop on the island, and his son who has an anthropology exam in the afternoon. There had been a way to loving Marj as there is a way to loving all women, but in Marj's case it was a silken rope, a water snake with a ribboning tail, and at dawn they had been clasped at the hotel window (Marj's cheeks were dry) staring out over the flushed city and now Marj is in a bed under lights and Vassili is walking, walking.