48.1 - Winter 2019

Page 23

*** When, weeks later, Leete is the one to travel, his wife the one home alone, she too has a visitor, a man needing rest before facing the mountain pass. Ana follows the rules of guesting. She welcomes him inside. Hangs his weapons. Lets him stoke the fire. Grinds and brews coffee. All of it makes her uneasy, the man waiting and watching the whole time. Without raki, she must offer the guest something else. While he warms himself at the stove, Ana claws around the sitting room, searching for something. A bit of silk thread, a spare button, anything. Last month, just before she left to see her sister, she had found, in the riverbed behind the house, a small statue—half owl, half woman. She had been tempted to bring it inside, but left the statue among the smooth stones, where it seemed to belong. Though Ana does not reprimand herself for the decision, she wonders if taking the figurine, offering it to the man, might have saved her from the discomfort to come. But then, groping beneath the couch, she finds a halfdrunk bottle of raki. She looks to the cobwebbed rafters, utters a prayer of gratitude. How hungrily the guest looks at her, Ana the meal on offer. But now—the raki. The guest smiles as she pours their drinks. He must stop drinking first, and he must know the rules for he looks at her in preemptive triumph. But what he doesn’t know is that Ana will drink the guest dumb. He will be so mortified he will leave before the night is out. What the man thinks is his strength is in fact hers. After three glasses, the guest fixes his eyes on Ana’s collarbone as though it is the Polar Star, a marker for his destination. After six, his voice thickens, an ice-slowed brook. Suddenly, a current of hooting, deep and insistent, floods the room. “You keep owls?” he asks. “They’ve been known to alight in these parts. A symbol of luck,” she says, though she knows no such thing. “Have you ever seen an owl eat?” 14 | PHOEBE 48.1