FEATURED ARTIST – Alexis Millena
STORY by Jason Costa
My best friend in the first grade was Peter Papidakis. We didn’t have much in common, really, other than the fact that we were both Greek and the only boys in our class with brown eyes. At the time, my parents both worked low paying jobs and we didn’t have much money. We couldn’t afford after-school care, so every day after class Peter and I would walk to his house. We’d spend a few hours hanging out there until my mom got off work and could pick me up.
Peter’s family came from Crete, a particularly proud island in Greece with very traditional values. His mother Angela was a stay at home mom and seemed to always be occupied in the kitchen. Savory smells would fill the house all afternoon, but much to my dismay, I’d always get picked up before dinner was ready. Like a scavenger, I would sometimes hover in the kitchen when Angela would bake dessert, hoping for a stray crumb.
Peter’s father Basil, on the other hand, worked early hours at an office job and would usually be asleep when we arrived from school. Though I am certain he spoke English, I never heard him utter a word of it. Interactions with him were limited to disapproving looks and mumbled Greek curses, usually because we were playing too loud and woke him up.
I was always a bit envious of Peter’s vast collection of action figures and I would usually convince him to spend the afternoon playing G.I. Joe. However, one fateful afternoon, at my urging, we decided to play a different game. I’d show him mine if he’d show me his. There really wasn’t much to it.
Unfortunately, Angela picked that particular day to share the desserts she had been baking most of the afternoon. As I heard footsteps coming down the hall I scrambled to pull my pants up. Peter wasn’t so quick. He was still zipping up his pants when Angela walked in with two perfectly formed pieces of pastry in hand. As she walked through the door, her proud, sticky sweet smile vanished.
“Peter, what is this? What are you doing?!” she screamed as she dropped the plate of baklava onto the floor. The crash unleashed a flurry of pastry flakes and honey-dipped walnuts that scattered across the room. Peter started to stutter an excuse, but he wasn’t able to get out more than a word or two. Angela grabbed his arm and pulled him away from me. “I’m waking your father.”
Angela marched Peter down the hall and into the master bedroom where Basil was napping. The door slammed behind her and I just sat there frozen, wondering what would happen next. I looked over at the plate of baklava – my erstwhile treat had turned into a sticky and unappetizing mess. A minute later Angela came back and sternly instructed me to sit in the living room while she called my mother at work.
Terrified, I sat on the couch. I could hear Basil down the hall yelling at Peter in Greek. I couldn’t comprehend a word of it, but I knew full well the intended meaning. I listened while Angela explained to my mother what she had discovered. The salacious description of her discovery made it plainly obvious how great a sin I had committed. After she hung up, she came into the living room and told me I was to be picked up early today, then went back to the kitchen and cried.
Rather than delicious smells, the house was now filled with Basil’s screamed condemnations, interrupted by unintelligible pleas from Peter, and Angela’s intermittent sobs. Then suddenly, Basil’s voice disappeared. The next thing I heard made me shoot up in my seat – a loud crack that I will never forget. Peter had told me stories about his dad “giving him the belt” before. Now I could hear Peter clearly. He was pleading, crying, screaming that it was my idea. Another crack. And another. And another.
Peter’s pleas for clemency didn’t have the desired effect. As he piled the blame squarely at my feet, I felt a pit in my stomach as I assumed I would be next. Peter had tattled on me. I couldn’t blame him really, and I knew it would only be a few minutes before it was my turn. Then another crack. And another.
After what seemed like an eternity, Basil emerged dragging Peter down the hall. Feeling terrible I hoped to lock eyes with Peter, but he was flung into his room and Basil slammed the door behind him. He paused for a second, and turned to look at me with piercing rage in his eyes. Trembling, I stared at my feet, unable to look him in the face. I wanted to apologize to him, but was too scared to open my mouth and, frankly, I didn’t know what to say. A moment later he turned back to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
Time seemed to have a life of its own while I waited for my mother to arrive. Minutes seemed like hours. When my mother finally opened the front door, she came in, and without saying a word to me, proceeded into the kitchen with Angela where I could hear them talking in hushed voices. Another excruciating minute later she came into the living room.
“Time to go, Jason,” she said. Her voice betrayed no emotion whatsoever. It was devoid of anger, but also tenderness.
I leapt off the couch and out the door, rushing to the passenger seat of the Pontiac idling outside. My mom got in and turned to look at me. “I’m so sorry, mom. We were just playing and…”
She cut me off. “JC, people have different opinions about right and wrong. When you get older it will be up to you to figure that out. Basil and Angela don’t share my opinion on some things.” She smiled as I stared back wide-eyed. “Now, how about we go get some ice cream?”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
San Diego native Alexis Millena utilizes predominantly inks and watercolors. His content consists of figure studies and deep sea creatures. He plays piano and cello in a string ensemble, composes short songs of melodic prose, and is The Unofficial Photographer. Though the interests are varied, there is an ever present desire for self expression despite the jack of all trades, master of none dilemma.
You can see more of his work and follow him on his blog, youtookmypicture.tumblr.com
Jason Costa’s previous story, I’m From Salt Lake City, UT: Over the next five hours, all I could think about was New York and this deviant group that I was about to join. Then suddenly, what was horror over the woman’s comment gave way to burgeoning excitement. So what if NYU was all faggots and pot smokers? Would that be such a terrible thing? If I had felt so alienated before, wasn’t it a good thing that I was going to be around people with similar interests? By the time the in-flight movie was over, all I could think about was how much fun I was going to have.
Alexis Millena was a previous Featured Artist for William Keck’s story, I’m From Santee, CA: My grandmother handed me a jar of her secret salsa, the salsa whose recipe was known only to her, the secret salsa that everyone in my family calls “Peter Pan,” named so partly because my grandmother’s name is Petra, but everyone calls her Peter or Pete or Petey. But mostly it’s called “Peter Pan” because, after my grandmother oven-roasts her home-grown chilies, filling her house with a choking and agonizing cloud of capsaicin, she grinds those chilies up, adds her secret ingredients, and then pours the resulting scorching concoction into empty Peter Pan peanut butter jars that she saves throughout the year just for the occasion.
I’m From Guayaquil, Guayas, Ecuador: It was clear from the moment she opened the door and entered the room that one bed, my bed, was empty. It was also clear from the abrupt interruption of our panting and the sudden movement under the covers that there was an extra person in Andrés’ bed. She approached slowly, partly because she was still getting used to the darkness in the room and partly because she was afraid to face what she suspected was going on.