Story from Jim Meirose

Ex-Parthenon Girlyfished Gateboy: Donnie Jr.                

Eyes closed, hand pressed to a stone, this could be anywhere. Your yard, or halfway around the world. Anywhere. From the touch of a stone, can you tell where you are? Can you do it? You, sir? Or you, Ma’am? Can you tell, can you? Maybe from its cold or its hot or its in-between. Maybe from its flat of its curve or that—that tiny, fine, can’t be seen start of a crack you’d never of known of, had you not touched it. Pop. Don’t you feel more here and now, now that you’ve touched it? More present, aware? More alive, maybe—but, okay, now, we got to move on. Hands off, eyes open, stand straight. ‘op. How you feel?

They opened their eyes, as their tour guide suggested. And, yes, they still stood on the Acropolis; by the Parthenon; on the vacation of a lifetime.  
I feel great, yes.
Me too. I feel good.

Okay, yah yo wash—but, hey now. 
Pardon me?
Why great, now? asked the guide, and after a slight pause, he added, Tell me; how come? 
A moment’s hesitation—they glanced at each other—odd, this was odd, but, go with it.

It’s just that—to be here, now—is really great. It’s that simple, said the one.
And you? 
The same, said the other.
Come on, then. Let’s move. We’re right on time, let’s not waste it.
Okay. So, what’s next?
Hold it!

How come you asked that?
I, uh—I don’t know. Never mind.
Oh. Good. Okay. Come on, then.
As they began walking along beside the guide, they both thought, what’s with this guy? Oh, how lucky we’ve been, to been given a guide like this, from the big pool of guides at the Acropolis Walking Tour check-in desk, pop p’ ‘o’? Yah, yes. Look—he’s saying nothing. This whole thing’s going south. He’s off. God; they should have politely asked for a different guide when he came out to meet them, after they’d paid, and they saw his nametag; a large, roughly torn to a semi-square shape, scrap of manila envelope paper, pinned to his shirt, shouting out loudly, in sloppy hand lettering, I am Donnie Jr. Ex-Parthenon Girlyfished Gateboy. 

He stood smiling before them. Happy enough, but—so, well, the tag; yes, it seems off, but, no. No, no, no it is fine. They were far from home. Many things were different here, and, once the actual tour began, all would be fine—I mean the way he came up smiling. But, it had not gone that way. He turned toward the entrance to the Acropolis, and trudged along slowly, head down—saying nothing. As they began to encounter interesting structures, carvings, and more and more beauty with each step, the guide stayed head down, trudging, saying nothing. After finally stopping, and surprisingly swooning to them of the beauty of laying their hands on and experiencing a stone, he moved on, silent once more. They followed, awkwardly lost—when, would the—tour start? 

They did not want to make a scene, but—what the hell was wrong with this guy—
Hoke! he snapped sharply, startling them awake—so, wannyway, eh? Then, pointing down hard at the ground before their feet, he added, Anyway. Why’d the hell’s you want to come here, anybutt, young sir a’ s’ ‘ung, you too, madame? Buh hold it, uh, no. Don’t answer. I think—I think I know. Let me guess. I mean, I, right now, right here—stop here—see me looking down? As I look down, in the ground there’s your house where you felt you needed this vacation away from, I mean, ah ah, am I right? See there; I am right, you are on vacation, are you not? 

They looked around, but, held their tongues. They glimpsed others nearby, staring.
This was—terribly awkward. 
Uh, who? their guide asked sternly—what’s wrong? Are you, or aren’t you? I feel you are not. Are you not? I do feel you’re not. And if so, no’ not, by my Buck, I’ll be thwarted! Impolite to thwart the guide sirs. Very so im-mpolite. So; come on, and tell me. Are you here on vacation?

Uh, yes. 
That’s great! How’s it gone so far?
Very good. 

Good. Hey, you know, I bet—I bet you don’t really have a reason to be on vacation at all, do you? 

Here’s; vacation’s prob’ly something you just do once in a while, w’out ever stopping to think, why are we doing this—oh, sure, I get that fully; completely, and fully, y, ye yes, ess’, I get that real strong off you two, ‘ctually, but—I also do many things myself, for no good reason.  I think it’s a shame, that’s all a waste. An’ you know, a waste leads to much time spent doing many things for not just bad reasons, but no reasons at all—which is-so ‘uch worse! And, hey—you end up at things which you’d never do, if you just stopped dead right there, and asked, why am I about to do this, well, heck; that would be one thing. But, if you’re like me, you end up stuck at doing, because, when you wait until the only way to properly phrase the question would be, why am I doing this—meaning this thing you’re doing right now—it will be too late, because you’re already doing it. You know? What I know, what I mean—so, you know what I mean? Yes no, but—it’s a shame. Do ya’ think? Make sense, eh? Just a little mayb’ ‘ess, anyway?

They’d about had enough. Halfway through that mess, they’d stopped even listening. This was nonsense. The direct opposite of what that tour group ahead’s probably being told by their guide, like, The Acropolis was built from 437-432 BC, but its construction was abandoned during the Peloponnesian War, and never completed. Or, of that other group further ahead—that one—no doubt being told the ages of those walls, or these carvings, or those big blocky boulders. But not us, oh-h, oh no, no no; not us. And, further still, see that well-built pith helmeted guide animatedly telling her assigned group something no doubt like, the Acropolis of Athens was turned back over to the Greeks in 1822 during the Greek War of Independence—and all over all more and more good good stuff. But.

Not us.
Not us.
Why not us?
See him there. Silly and worthless, spewing his nonsense—like cumbana cumbama, how cumbana never completed, oh gee of, gee. Hey!
How come you two look like you do? 
They glare away. Bit lips. 

Come on. How come?
No! Enough! That’s that!
The guide jumped as they turned from him, heading fast back toward the slope, down to the tour signup desk. Get there fast, loudly complain! Pop, knack, ‘n turn, and half-run from him  fast---thank God, thank God.

Know that he’s following. 
Though they hope he’s not, actually; hope he’s stuck to that same spot back up the hill, screwed tight down int’ his ‘razy self, but, at the same time, they knew; felt him fast following; wanting to know why; how come how come how come, so, hurry up, hurry—not following and following simu-simltanealitee’s evil and wrong unnatural and impossible hic hic faster, pass—
No! Do not care! No!
Enough of this.

Fix this day; make it all go away. 
They picked up the pace, when they heard him pursuing them. He’s angry, confused. So angry, he’s started spooling out from himself faster ‘nd louder this time, calling loud toward them.
Hey! Hey! Hold up! Why’s the hell ‘nybody decent’s come here anymonk, anymore, ‘nnywaay, for Christ’s sake? 
Heads turned—they kept moving; it all went on.
Hey! Hey! This fancy oss-cropulous’s just like a big rubbly tumblejunk spew-down ‘s low hills all around. That’s all to see here. S’nots nee way wise impressive, gah gahh. Stupid to come! Ask me. For why, mean who’d the hell ‘nt t’ come here? 

Keep on. No one’s watching ‘r staring. Keep on.
Hey! he cried again. Wait! Who the hell, who the hell, mu God, like, lik’, like, this place’s no good, it’s crap! I got to tell you! It’s crap, like when I spat out my marbly white cottage cheese that time, without chewing at all, because I suddenly realized I wasn’t really hungry at all, there you go, there you are—down the rol o’ table looked just like this place! Just my common table, chunked over with white globs—rubbly boulder-globs attached ‘way from nothing—as this place’s seen from—any old distance. Even from space, as that’s also possible. Gee!

This is a very ugly place, actually, you know! he yelled at them.
No, no. Faster, fast—don’t listen, keep moving down faster, 
They came closer to actually running the last slope to the tour desk, but he’s right there behind, his footsteps grasped at them, but there’s the desk, there it is, and—thank God he  stopped shouting. Thank God he’s got no more—
Everyone all ‘round looked.

Why are you running from me? 
Say nothing. No. Just keep going. The end is in sight. 
Why are you running from me?
Shut up shut up n’ keep going, keep on, no no from no no no away, just keep on but—
A shriek tore the air.
They froze
Please do not walk away-y-y! Plea-a-a-se!
They turned. 

There he was; on his knees, hunched over, body heaving, exhausted. 
Why do you hate me so, he sobbed loudly.
My God.
I asked you, I asked you, I asked you—why.
Why do you hate me so?
They stepped back; stood mortified; no; countless eyes turned their way. They’re the center, the center for all the eyes, faces, tight lips, saying, What did you do to him? Why did you do it? But, nothing’s the answer, nothing. We did nothing. Do not stare—
But something’s been done to him—listen! Listen!
How come?
How come?

How come?
How come you did this to him?
A tall female guide, from the rightmost stunned group, had rushed to him, taken his arm, and whispered mildly into his face, something no doubt calming. See, but not hear. Seeing, not hearing; hearing, not seeing, or; not seeing and hearing both—deaf and dumb to it all.
Which is worse, God? 
Which, God, is worse?

They turned away, headed down the slope, eyes averted from all. No one is looking. Guilty of nothing. Nothing has happened. Right now’s all there is. The desk comes up finally, and so. They talked to the same man they’d paid coming in. They told him, they said, it was terrible. They told him, That guide is—just crazy. He’s no guide at all. Had us on edge the whole time. Why on earth do you use him? Why do you keep him on?

And on and on—the man listened thoughtfully. He nodded yes, understanding. His face soft, face round, nodding, so kindly, so serene. Flecks of flush here and there; a condition perhaps, but—probably not. 
He said to their eyes, softly, Sorry—then leaned a bit closer, speaking quietly.

My apologies. Of course, you’ll get a refund, but—the poor man. He’s a nephew of the owners. He’s not well. I—it’s hard to say, but he’s just maybe—got two weeks left, if that. But—he loves the place. Been a guide since a boy. We thought he could last almost to the end, but—every day, the side effects of the drugs keeping him going get worse. But hey. Never mind. Sorry. Here. Your money—here. 
As they took the money, he paused.
Eyes met.

Enjoy the rest of your vacation, he said. Athens is beautiful, this time of year. 
They turned and walked from the desk, hearing him.  

Athens is beautiful, this time of year. 
Beautiful, this time of year.
Athens, you know? You know? 
This time of year.

An hour later, they’re in their room. The world lay silent. Eyes closed, hands pressed; they could be anywhere. Their yard, or halfway around the world. Anywhere. The feel of the floor down here, under, and the air pressing in all around, and the silence, ask; can you tell where you are, sir? Can you, sir? Or you, Ma’am? Can you tell? Can you? Maybe from our cold or our hot or our—just remember—that tiny fine can’t be seen start of a crack you’d never—no no—expected was there, when just passing over, but—when slowed, stopped, stop; pay attention—can you feel it? Can you? Can you?

Can you feel it?
Great. But.
How come?