Vignettes of Greece – VI

The 15 meter sailboat (small by Greece standards) tugs quietly on the rope lines, rocking slowly against fat bumpers on the jetty. Its hull gleams brilliant white under an early Sunday sky cobalt blue as only a Greek sky can be blue. There’s no clinking or creaking – everything is tied fast, lines taut, the thick stainless steel mast barely swaying, the navy foresail snugged tight in its wrapper.

Out of the shadows behind the cabin, a man’s voice murmurs something in American-accented French as a thin dark-haired woman wearing tight navy shorts and a striped sailor’s t-shirt steps from the deck onto the concrete dock in Aghia Marina. She lands gracefully on her bare feet and chortles deep in her throat. She scans the harbor and the dock, whistles, then bends forward at the waist, her hands behind her back. A low-slung black stray with pointed ears emerges from behind a wrecked rowboat and stops about three meters away with his nose in the air. The woman extends her right hand. The long nails on her fingers and toes flash crimson under the punishing sun. She’s holding some torn croissants and tosses morsels in his direction. He inhales them one after another. Each one lands closer to where she stands. All the while, she’s smiling and mouthing sweet words in French, calling him pet and darling, inquiring about his health as she inches backwards towards the yacht. She hunkers down and reaches back with her left hand as she calls out softly to the  man lounging on deck to pass her more food. Inducement, she said. Jack, as she called him, picks up a fat sausage from a plate on the table by his elbow, leans forward and presses it into her palm. Tearing the meat into pieces, she coaxes and teases until the animal is tonguing fragments from the concrete half a meter away.

Hands empty again, she straightens and wipes the grease from her fingers onto the side of her calf, stroking her leg and calling out softly. The cur creeps forward on his belly, craning his wedge-shaped snout upwards, snaking out his broad pink tongue to lap at her flesh. The woman squeezes her eyes shut and clenches her fists, lips open to the sea breeze. When the licking stops she opens her eyes, reaches back her arm and snaps her fingers. The dog cringes at the sound but Jack moves slowly, this time handing her a piece of ham. She holds onto it and the dog nibbles around the borders of her nails. She begins to scratch behind his ears, talking as if to a child. “Do you want to come with me, Precious? Do you want to play?” He dips his chest onto his forepaws but doesn’t wag his tail. She scruffs her fingers through his fur.

A crewman sticks his head out of the hatch and begins to climb onto the deck, whistling. Jack snaps a command and the man backs down the stairs. “Esme!” Jack’s whisper is harsh. The woman kneels down beside the dog now, her arm around his neck.

“Quoi?” She speaks without turning her head, her carmine mouth close to the dog’s.

“Stop screwing around with that mutt,” Jack says roughly in French, gesturing with the back of his hand. “He’s filthy.”

“Pah.” Esme hugs the dog around the neck, stroking his back and down his legs, but he angles his hindquarters away. Still speaking softly, she takes his face in her hands and draws his snout along her inner thigh, pressing her other leg against his side. The dog whines and pushes against her as she murmurs in French, then opens her legs and playfully pulls him in. He pushes too, tongue lolling. “Good boy. Good boy,” she says, stroking his chest.

Jack calls out “Esme!” and presses a button beside the wheel. The sailboat’s motor turns over with a muted grumble. The crewman reappears and begins to untie the mainsail. “It’s time to go.”

Esme has the dog on his back, tickling and stroking along his belly as he keens and curls under her hands, his paws clawing empty air. She stands abruptly and brushes her palms hard along the side seams of her shorts. “Pas assez,” she says aloud, backing away as the dog twists to his feet in a rush and dances in a confused circle around the dock, panting. Without taking her eyes from the dog, she reaches for Jack’s hand and he guides her onto the deck. Jack and the crewman work the lines free of the mooring and the boat draws away from the pier. Esme is on her knees by the railing, fastening the rope to its clips. That done, she stands and begins to wave her arms above her head from side to side calling, “Au revoir, mon petit. Au revoir.”

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