The Flowers of Mount Olympus
In and around the cyclamen whose heart-shaped leaves grow and cling to the mountainside, my grandfather’s ghost sits as still and ancient as a lizard. He likes to watch the tourists below on the beach, Cypriots and tourists, the dogs with skeletal tails that hunt the shoreline for broken pieces of ice cream cones. He died not too far from the beach, a heart attack swift and shocking as he played a game of tennis. And then I was here, he tells me. Which isn’t too bad at all. He wears the suit that he was married in—a brown wool jacket and matching trousers. He doesn’t feel the heat. It’s like being in a dream, he says. I come early in the mornings to sit with him in a folding chair. He watches as I rub sunscreen on my arms. I didn’t wear that when I was alive. None of us did. People these days are peely-wally.
My grandfather was a Glaswegian-Italian. He came of age in a white city, a mixed-breed child who was too dark for Scotland. He learned how to carry a knife. He took his Scottish mother’s maiden name and abandoned his father’s, the vowels too many and too like the sun—bright and evocative of southern countries, rotundas emblazed with angels and bells ringing high over the Adriatic sea.
The grass cracks as he shifts to get a better view of a ship dragging along the horizon. Look, he points, I wonder where she’s headed.
He says the same thing every time he sees something in motion, a plane, a boat, a person jogging along the shore: I wonder where they’re headed. I want to ask him if he would like to leave this spot on the mountainside. If he too would like to be on a journey somewhere.
I wonder if I’m the only person who can see my grandfather, if there might be others who look towards Olympus and see a large man sitting above them, wrists on his knees. And if they do, do they wonder why he’s dressed so fine, in such warm sophistication, hat on his head. Do they wonder why he’s not like the other old men, naked except for a neon Speedo, what the tourists call budgie smugglers, placid and self-assured in the shallows, hands on their meaty hips.
My grandfather likes to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” a song he enjoyed performing at parties, whiskey in hand, his deep bass reassuring like all strong voices are. I close my eyes and listen to him sing and feel my bare skin swell with sunlight. I wonder too, if anyone else can hear him.
I bring him the newspaper sometimes so he can see what’s going on in the world that is no longer his. I turn the pages for him. He reads carefully and slowly. Doesn’t look good, does it, he says. No grandpa, I say. It’s pretty grim out there. Don’t be fooled, he says, in my time we were at war. I spent three years in a POW camp. I remember, I say. That must have been awful. He sighs and adjusts his glasses. It’s all part of the story now, he says.
I feel guilty when I eat in front of him, when I bring a takeout box of boiled eggs and grilled halloumi, fresh figs and little diamonds of tomatoes. I don’t use cutlery, I carry the wings of hot cheese to my mouth with my fingers, the salty water trailing down my arm. I wish I could give you a fig, I tell him. They’re really good this time of year.
He nods. I remember the fig tree your grandmother and I had in our garden, he says. We used to have them with every meal. She would snap off the stem and eat them raw.
My grandmother is on the beach in a t-shirt and pair of shorts the color of a baby blanket. Her hair is loose and it blows back with each gust of wind off the sea. She doesn’t know that my grandfather is here, that every morning he watches her as she lays her beach towel across the sand. First I sit with her for a while and we talk about the people we see. She points out how happy a child is, or how handsome a man’s profile is as he aims his arms sideways to volley a ball back to his companion.
I’m just going to take a walk to the cliffs, Grandma, I’ll say. She always nods in reply. I can see him, in the distance, watching us like Zeus. I wave and he waves back. Who are you waving to? She’ll ask sometimes. Grandpa, I say. And at this she laughs, I think she likes to pretend he is with us.
He is, I want to tell her, he’s there behind you. He never left. But I don’t. Instead, I climb up the scrubby grass and the bare rocks, his figure growing in size as I approach. The sun touches him in a way that won’t touch me, it goes through him, making me think of lightbulbs or icicles, things that hold so much and nothing at all.
It’s a lovely morning, he says. He’s looking down, as always, at her, and she to the sea, to the white crests of the waves and whatever lies beyond.
Aimée Keeble has her Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, the alma mater of her great uncle Alexander Trocchi. She lives in North Carolina and is working on her second novel.