Tertsa

by Bruce Holland Rogers

During our visit to Crete we stopped by the home of our old friend Nemos in Tertsa. His wife told us that he was visiting the graves of his parents. We drank coffee while we waited, and when Nemos arrived we ate a little something and sipped raki that Nemos himself had distilled. We talked pleasantly of old times, and it wasn’t until we stood to go that Nemos spoke of his parents.

When the old couple were too feeble to care for themselves, Nemos and his wife had brought them down from the mountain and into their home, not dreaming of any trouble. The couple had been pious and respected all their lives, but taking them away from the village of their birth seemed to have been a mistake. Nemos could not remember a time when they had ever raised their voices at one another, but now in their son’s house they warred constantly. Whether the window should be open, how strong to make the coffee, whether the bed should be made with the pillows on top of the coverlet or underneath—all manner of trivia were matters for loud and bitter contention all day long. Even with the door of his office shut, Nemos would hear their voices at the back of the house. He found it hard to concentrate on the medical articles he was editing. But what could he do? His sister and brothers were all unsuitable as care givers. He resigned himself to his fate.

There came an afternoon when his wife was out on some errand and Nemos went into the kitchen to make his lunch. Much nearer to his parents’ room, he could hear not only their voices, but their words. The subject of their disagreement was, as always, something of no consequence, and Nemos was shocked to hear his father refer to his mother with a coarse word. Yes, his mother answered, I am a whore. I lay with every man I wanted while you tended the grapes. She began to name them. Six names. A dozen. Then Nemos heard his father begin to shout the names of village women he claimed to have had in the vineyard. They went at this, shouting names back and forth, recounting the intimate attributes of their supposed lovers, saying names that Nemos had not heard for years, going house by house through all the nearby families, falling silent only after Nemos, embarrassed at the thought that they might come discover him, had crept back to his office. He could not believe any part of their confessions had been true, but after that day and for several years until his father died and his mother followed a month after, there was peace in his house.