Common Sense

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It began with the anemones - impossibly blue, perfect in their arrangement on the table, the rounded cobalt vase making a pleasant contrast against the brown-and-white check of the oilcloth covering the heavy table. Jim reached long fingers to stroke the container's round glossiness, its curve somehow reminding him of the woman who was even now bustling around, putting supper on that same table. It was she who had arranged the flowers which Jim had been absently admiring in their distorted late-afternoon reflection in the casement window. Beyond the reflection Jim could see the late-day bustle of Nea Philadelphia, the Athenians having wakened refreshed from their afternoon naps with errands to run, places to go, people to annoy. He smiled to himself.

The glass in the windows betrayed the age of the earthquake-damaged stone house, even more than the ornate wood-and-wrought-iron door downstairs, or the cool, intricate marble mosaic floors Jim spent so many hours studying for hidden meaning. Jim had been told that glass was a liquid, but one that runs more slowly than honey, so slowly, in fact, that the eye cannot see it, but only perceive the effect after, say, a hundred fifty years or so, when the view through the substance becomes warped. Jim had always liked the view through old glass (without particularly caring how it got that way): he spent most of his life seeing the world, if at all, through some kind of glass, and therefore hardly noticed the distortion, merely appreciating the slightly unusual quality of the presentation. He was never very visual, anyway, and his hearing was not good - for him, truly the sweetest music was inside his own head - so that he preferred his input tactile and olfactory. Perhaps it was for this reason that the vase of anemones pleased him so enormously - the intense shade of colour penetrated even his duller perception.

He ran the palms of his hands across the slick oilcloth, smoothing out a wrinkle as Susan set out their repast: a portion of gyros, fresh and piping hot from the rotisserie in the shop around the corner, with tzatziki, a mixture of creamy sheep's-milk yoghurt and grated cucumber giving off the strong smell of the third ingredient, garlic, a few rounds of pita and a salata horiatiki. As Susan reached across him to pour the wine, something golden and local - Jim had a few choice words to say about mavrodaphne, but though choice they were not kind - he caught her by the wrist, playfully, for the pleasure of rubbing his thumb in the hollow of her soft palm, saying nothing. Susan laughed, reclaimed her hand, and sat down on the side of the table across from the window, catercorner to him.

For a few minutes there was silence, broken only by the soft hum of the overhead fan stirring a couple of flies too stuporous in the summer heat to come trouble the feast. The two toasted wordlessly, savouring the light tartness of the wine and its contrast to the other flavours of the meal: the spicy meat, the cool tzatziki, the eye-watering bite of the salad's onion. Jim winked at Susan as he pursued a reluctant black olive around the plate, and rested bare feet on the solid base of the wooden table, a short man's accommodation to the height of table and chair.

Unlike the rest of the furniture in the house - bought sight-unseen from a dodgy character who had had so many used mattresses to sell they'd joked the furnishings came from a fire sale in a brothel - the table was a fine piece of workmanship, obviously handmade and a one-off. The broad base was like a small upturned rowboat, from which two inverted arches curved to support a trestle on which the separate slab of the table rested - when centred, it was so stable that it didn't rock at all, even when you leaned too hard on one side. It was polished, but not shiny. The grain of it felt good against the soles of Jim's feet, as he ate and listened to Susan telling about her trip to the shop - the comical lady she always spoke to in halting Greek, the 'evil' white cat with the black cap that always stared at her, the men in the tiny lumberyard across the street, who actually had a customer on the premises, no, a real, live customer, she'd seen it...

Suddenly Susan's animated face froze - Jim almost dropped his fork in shock, thinking he'd done or said something amiss. As he watched, her expression turned from one of surprise to apprehension, alarm, fear, horror. He looked on in concern and wonder.

'Honey, what's wrong?'

Susan stopped being frightened long enough to look puzzled - and then angry. 'What's WRONG? What are you...? A thought appeared to occur to her, and she glanced quickly under the table, holding to its sturdy ledge as if for support. She looked at him in mock-disgust, almost forgetting her own panic, as she said in slow command, 'Put. Your. Feet. On. The. Floor.'

Jim did so - and understood. Under the abrupt coldness of the marble, he felt it. Even on the first floor, he felt it...if his hearing had been more acute, he might have heard it, but as it was, he felt it...the deep-massage vibration, the subterranean shaking, that made the house feel as if it were sitting on top of the metro...if the City of Athens had suddenly decided to extend the metro out this far...Jim's eyes widened. He understood Susan's facial ballet now. He nodded at her.

'Oh, now I understand,' he said with a grin of discovery. 'It's just an earthquake.'

Susan's jaw dropped as she stared at him. 'You idiot...what do you mean, it's JUST AN EARTHQUAKE?'

Jim was beginning to process the enormity of his remark (slowly) when the tremor subsided, leaving only a faintly pleasant tingling in the soles of his feet, and an outraged expression on Susan's face.

His wife berated him for quite a while afterwards, only relenting when Jim offered the excuse that he was merely rather pleased that he had recognised the seismic event for what it was, having slept through the last tremor they had been in, up in Thrace. At this she threw up her hands in surrender and went upstairs to make the coffee.

Jim enjoyed the coffee - they stubbornly made German-style filter coffee - and refused a sweet, saying he'd had his baklava for the month, afterwards lying down on the patterned marble floor of the darkened room, putting his ear to it to feel the cold stone and listen for possible echoes of what he had not heard before. Susan lounged drowsily in the light that came in from the streetlamp through the open shutters, her feet tucked under her in the ratty green armchair, her long hair falling over her face, and nodded encouragement as Jim began to prattle on into the night, extemporising poetry on no particular subject.

'You know what, Susan?' he mused, lying with the soles of his feet, the palms of his hands, and his back pressed hard against the still-undeciphered mystery. 'I think...I think this house is a plane...or a time machine...or a starship...

'I think I can fly it to Jerusalem. Do you want to go to Jerusalem, Susan?'

Susan yawned. 'If you're going, of course I'm going. You can't cross the street by yourself.' She yawned again. 'Go ahead and fly us to Jerusalem...just wake me up when we get there.' And she fell asleep to Jim's low singing.

The Jerusalem skyline

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