As soon as the featureless white airport doors slid open a small person shot through like a projectile. "Careful," yelled Rachel interceding and catching the culprit before he bowled his unwitting grandmother over.
"Remember she can't see you," she chided gently before kissing Walter on the cheek. "Here Marilla I think this one is yours," she said handing him over. Marilla took the wriggly boy into her arms and squeezed tight, "oof you've grown. Walter. You're too heavy for me now."
"Hello hello," greeted a laughing Gilbert taking the dark haired boy out of her arms. Walter lunged towards his beloved grandmother again, but Gilbert took a step back to avoid a collision. "Steady boy, she's not going anywhere."
Anne brought up the rear pushing the suitcase laden trolley, long legged Joy rolling her eyes and shorter Jem grinning on either side. Rachel murmured instructions to Marilla and she turned to greet them, "welcome to Athens," she said with wide open arms and they embraced each other warmly until yet another person tapped her on the shoulder. Marilla broke off their hug and turned in surprise, there was a familiar aroma but no, he said he couldn't. "Matthew?" she said enquiringly hoping against hope.
"It's me," said Matthew and he bestowed a kiss upon her forehead.
"Matthew!" she snuggled into his broad chest breathing in the smell of cut hay which no amount of showering would ever dislodge. "You said you were too busy to come, wrong time of year you said."
"Wanted to put you off the scent," he said smiling fondly. "Think I'd ever forget my little sister?" he stroked her hair. "Course I had to come, check you were alright out here, make sure Rachel was treating you right," he winked in her direction and she smiled back.
At the taxi rank Walter insisted on riding with Marilla so he and Matthew clambered into the back seat and Rachel sat in the front. Rachel pointed out all the sights along the way and they found themselves all standing outside a small hotel in the centre of the city. Knowing the family would most likely be jet lagged and exhausted they had booked a hotel for the night but nothing could induce them to stay longer. Still they had a happy family dinner at a Plaka taverna as the back lit Acropolis towered over all. Walter was a bit fussy about the food. Marilla cajoled him into eating some white bait and fries but he baulked at the octopus. "I don't blame him," shuddered Matthew watching with horror as Marilla forked another tentacle into her mouth, "all the more for me then brother," she grinned as she chewed.
The journey by ferry back to Lesbos was joyful but long. Rachel and Marilla were just happy to be out of polluted Athens; only the promise of meeting family at the airport could induce them to return to the bustling metropolis. After a slightly fraught plane trip, where Gilbert and Anne found it difficult to keep the boys entertained; it was a relief to have them on the boat, though they still had to keep an eye on the rambunctious Walter. Still they were in holiday mode now and the family were in good spirits looking forward to seeing where the happy couple lived and to meeting all their new friends. "It's ridiculous we haven't been before," said Anne apologetically as she scanned the horizon.
"I know but it just hasn't been possible has it?"
"No, what with one thing and another."
"So many missed chances, darling," said Marilla. "Well at least you're here now. I'm so looking forward to showing you around."
"That's Lesbos, that's home," announced Rachel eventually when the small sparkly island eventually came into view. Anne grasped Marilla's arm, it looked just beautiful and she said so. "Yes it is isn't it. I can recall the first time I saw it," said Marilla quietly.
"I bet you wish you could see it again," Anne tenderly kissed her on the cheek.
"Fiddlesticks!" said Marilla. "Don't you go pitying me, Anne Blythe, I'm just fine. After all I have wonderful memories. I'm just so relieved I came here before my accident."
"Now this is the pensione we rented for you," Rachel said as the taxis pulled up at a small house. "I hope it's satisfactory." Not only was their apartment too small, it had been decided that it was probably better for each family to have some time apart. "We'll pick you up in a couple of hours and go exploring, but you might need some time to settle in.
As the sun sank they could be seen walking in twos or threes around the town square. Rachel nodded at a few friends and explained to them all what buildings were what, pointing out the city hall, the church and their favourite restaurants. Naturally Agape was not on the list. "Look there's the jail, maybe we should leave you there," Jem teased Joy. Joy stuck her tongue out at him let go of her father's arm and jogged up to Marilla. "Can I walk with you please Grandma?" she asked.
"Of course you can darling," said Marilla noting how much taller Joy was by the angle of her arm.
"Here you go, Joy," said Anne relinquishing her hold on Marilla. "Just make sure you let her know where the curb is and any other obstacles.
"It's so nice to have you here with us, Joy darling," Marilla said patting her hand. "I hope you have a wonderful time. We thought tomorrow we might have a picnic on the beach, the water here is much warmer than at home. Sometimes we see dolphins you know."
"Mm hm," said Joy disbelievingly.
They pulled some tables together for their large group and sat in the plaza surrounded by beautiful old buildings. Jem and Walter were fussing but the adults paid them no mind, busy with catching up on their news. Large platters of fish, meat, dips, bread, salad were brought out to them and they all helped themselves. Anne prepared a plate for Marilla while Gilbert made up a small one for Walter. "Ya mas" they clinked glasses after the wine was poured. The young family were tired after their travels and still a bit jet lagged so it was not a late night, Walter was already falling asleep in Gilbert's lap when they bid each other a good night and promised to see each other for breakfast the next morning. "You'll probably be up before the sun," Rachel warned.
They spent the next few days sightseeing. The castles and monasteries Rachel and Marilla had missed the first time they came were well and truly explored. One afternoon Jem disappeared and they all panicked for half an hour until he was brought back by a guard. "I think I just got distracted," he explained. "And then you were gone." They visited the market where Marilla introduced them all to her good friend George. After a bumpy start he made sure Marilla was well treated and always saved his best produce for her. Their elderly neighbour Sofia had died the previous winter but her granddaughter Zoey still lived nearby and they enjoyed a lovely afternoon together. Laura came to say hello one night. They roared with laughter as she regaled them with stories of island life.
Marilla was alone for a moment one afternoon on the beach unsure where everyone had got to, but enjoying the feeling of the sun on her skin, the call of the gulls high up and the swish of the gentle waves as they met the shore.
Joy plonked down on her towel next to her grandmother. "Who's that?" asked Marilla.
"It's me Granny, Joy," she said.
"Lovely," Marilla reached out her arm and Joy leant into her side. "Isn't it funny all this time you've been here and we haven't had a moment for a chat have we? Where's everyone else?"
"The boys and Dad are throwing a ball in the water," said Joy. "Walter is in the shallows and keeps dropping it. Dad is close to him and Jem is further out." Marilla smiled. "Rachel an' Grandpa an' Mum have gone for a walk," Joy strained her eyes as she looked down the beach. "I think Mum is between them both I bet she's talking a mile a minute."
"Yes that sounds like your mother." Marilla laughed then said, "How are you Joy, is everything alright?" Joy had been a bit aloof all holiday, whether that was because she was growing up and apart from her family or whether there was something else going on, Marilla hadn't yet determined.
Joy was torn; she loved her family particularly this woman who had never even seen her. It was funny to think that Granny had been blind longer than Joy had been alive. Despite living thousands of miles apart the two were close. Though Joy seldom had a chance to talk to her directly, if she wrote she knew Rachel would be reading her words out loud at some point and telephone calls were expensive and usually carried out at Christmas or on birthdays with the family hovering over her shoulder. It was just nice to sit together and share the moment but eventually, "Granny," she said in a small voice.
"Mm," said Marilla noncommittally thinking something significant might be shared.
"Um you know boys." Marilla nodded. "Um well I don't think um, that is to say I don't think I..." Joy ran out of bravery.
"Joy," said Marilla gently. "What do you know about Rachel and I?"
"What?" This conversation was not going at all how Joy had rehearsed it. She had played around the with wording day after day but somehow it was harder to say the words out loud than it had been in the privacy of her mind.
"Rachel and I, darling. Do you know why we live together?"
"I dunno, I never thought about it." She hadn't either. All her life it had been Granny and Aunt Rachel, two ancient ladies who just happened to enjoy each other's company so much they lived together in Greece. Her few friends thought it sounded exotic but Joy never really noticed. It was her usual. But now that Granny mentioned it like that she looked up at her profile. As usual Granny looked straight ahead not meeting her in the eye. It was always a bit weird that bit. If you ever forgot her lack of eyesight that brought you back. Mum or Dad or even her annoying brothers would look straight back, in Jem's case usually with a tongue poked out or a finger up his disgusting nose; but Granny would look blankly forward, her eyes unreactive. "Why do you?" Down in the water Walter swore when he dropped the ball.
Marilla always believed Joy was a rather precocious child but sometimes she could be a bit dim. "Darling Rachel and I are in love." Marilla might not have seen the flash of panic in Joy's eyes but she felt her tense up against her flank at this pronouncement. Felt the panic rather than saw it.
Joy's world tilted on its axis. She was old enough to know the difference between love and in love. The girls at school were always talking about it and in the movies the difference was plain. Her grandmother, Granny, Mum's mum, this old blind lady was in love with another woman? In love she said, in love not that she loved Rachel but that she was in love with Rachel. Joy gulped, "do Mum and Dad know?"
"Yes darling they know. Your mother was at college when Rachel and I moved in together."
Marilla explained that she had always known Rachel but when her husband died and she found herself bereft, she invited Rachel to move in with her and Matthew, "for company at first," she said. It was not the whole story but it would do for now. Joy wondered momentarily what happened in their bed, but beat that thought down hard. They had just started the oh so embarrassing sex ed classes at school but that had all been about boys and girls, she was finding the classes hard going. There was little mention of fun, just the mechanics of baby making and that they may not do it.
Down the beach the tiny dark figures coalesced back into colour as they returned. Joy did not have much time. "I, I think I might be like you then, Granny. I think I like girls better. When did you know?"
Marilla sensing her urgency replied honestly, "I'm not sure. I had a couple of boyfriends along the way, but it never felt quite natural. When Rachel and I ... well it just felt right, and wonderful," she added. "Have you said anything to Mum and Dad?"
"No," panic surged through Joy again. Marilla hugged her tight. "Then for the time being it will be our secret. Though I suppose," she said thinking, "that we'll have to tell Rachel. I'm not much use at reading these days. Would that be okay darling? Do you mind if I let Rachel know? I will swear her to secrecy. When you are ready to tell your parents, I think it will be alright. You can always come here to us for a bit if you need."
Joy glanced back up at Marilla's bright blue eyes. Even if she couldn't use them to see she seemed pretty perceptive, "thank you Granny," she said and kissed Marilla on her lined cheek. She may have been old but it was comforting to have her around.
"It's my pleasure darling. I am honoured you chose me to confide in. That's rather special you know. Do you feel better now?"
"Er I guess." Joy was edging away and Marilla sensed that she had better leave it, especially as she could hear Anne's laughter in the distance.
"Are you having a good chat?" Anne called out to them.
"Yes, just getting to know each other a bit better," Marilla called back turning her head towards Anne's voice.
"I say," said Marilla when everyone was sitting together resting after their exertions. "How would it be if the children came to our place for a sleepover?"
"Can we Mum?" "Oh please." "Please." was the instant response said in unison. To Marilla their voices tumbled over each other.
"Are you sure?" Rachel looked a bit shocked at first but Anne noticed she relaxed soon enough, Rachel missed her own grandchildren.
"I don't see why not. We haven't had children at our house in forever. You two can have a night off, maybe go out on a dinner date if you like. I'm sure Matthew would like a break too. Mind you'll probably be sleeping on the couch or cushions on the floor you know," she said in warning.
The children didn't care about that, the prospect of a night away from their parents and with their beloved grandmother sounded enticing.
"Alright then, if you're sure you know what you're getting yourselves into," Anne said with a laugh. "We'll drop you all off and I'll come back later with pyjamas."
Later as they all sleepily sat around in their pjs, the salt and sand washed off and hair drying Jem asked Marilla a question. "Granny, do you miss being able to see?"
Marilla turned her sightless eyes in his direction and answered simply, "yes." They were all silent, even Walter held his breath. They had never actually asked her outright. They just knew they had a blind grandmother and had taken it for granted. Sensing more was required, Marilla continued as Rachel got up from her chair and went to sit on the arm of Marilla's placing her arm around her shoulders for support. "It's the little things I miss. Like clouds in the sky. It's funny I suppose but in my mind's eye I'm the same age as I was the last time I saw myself in the mirror. I probably look a bit different now?" she said smiling up at Rachel. "And I miss steam rising from my coffee cup in the morning and being able to read. I miss colours," she added warming to her theme. "So many things. I can remember them of course, but it's not the same. And of course I miss you all," she said tears welling. "I've never even seen any of you and that makes me sad." There was a silence at that and then little Walter was the first to get up and walk over. He tapped her on her knee and clambered up into her lap. "I love you Granny. I'll be your eyes." Marilla hugged him tight and and pulled herself together. "But I am so lucky in other ways my darlings. I have Rachel and I live on a beautiful island and I have such a wonderful family around me. I mustn't complain. But sometimes when I sleep I can see it's hard to wake up and find it was just a dream."
"Come now, bedtime," called Rachel breaking the spell. With Jem and Joy's help they arranged the cushions and spare pillows into a rudimentary bed of sorts and settled the children down.
"It's like camping," Walter said happily.
In their bed later Rachel held Marilla as she let herself weep. She hadn't wanted to bare her pain to the children, but Rachel knew. Appreciated what had been lost and how difficult the struggle towards acceptance had been. When they woke in the morning they found their bed had been invaded. The children lay in the middle and the women perched on the edges.
After breakfast Anne and Gilbert came to pick them up. The children were full of their adventure explaining about what had happened the night before and how they all wound up in the big bed. "I was cold." "I was uncomfortable." "I was lonely."
"Can you take them?" Anne said to Gilbert. "I just want a word in private."
Gilbert nodded and slung Walter up on to his shoulders and chivvied the older two out the door over their thanks yous and goodbyes.
"Marilla," Anne said as they sat down. "I found something curious at Green Gables that I hoped you might explain. She drew out an envelop from her coat and opened it. "It's this card. It looks hand drawn, it's a Oscar and you've written best actor award presented to Rachel. I just wondered why you'd drawn it and more to the point why you kept it all these years."
"Ah," said Marilla. "Um Rachel, you better come in here," she called out.
Rachel wandered in drying her hands on a tea towel, "yes?" she said then stopped when Anne waved the card at her. "Oh," she went pale and sat down abruptly.
"Do you want to tell her or should I?" Marilla said gently.
"You, you do it," stammered Rachel her confidence ebbing.
So Marilla did just that. Told Anne the whole story, about the abuse Thomas Lynde had meted out to Rachel all those years until Rachel had had enough. Anne wept then grimaced when the lamb hit his jaw, Rachel intervened at that point the visceral nature of the shockwave up her arm never to be forgotten. "The thing is Rachel has had to keep up an act of remorse ever since. I'm the only one who knows, hence the card." Marilla explained. "And now you do too."
Anne was shocked, Rachel was a murderer. Rachel the woman Marilla relied upon, the woman she loved. She was silent, unable to look either of them in the face.
"What you have to understand..." Marilla started.
But Anne held her hand up and said, "no."
Rachel got to her feet and took Marilla's and together they went out to the kitchen leaving Anne to her own thoughts. It had been a risk telling her and now they were worried.
It took a half an hour of contemplation before Anne joined them. She poured a cold coffee from the pot and sat down next to Rachel. "I think perhaps you did the right thing. I knew he was terrible, but you never went into details. Here, you have the card back, Rachel. It's yours." She swigged and grimaced at the cold coffee. "I'm proud of you."
The relief was palpable. Rachel hugged her and Marilla smiled.
It was only later when they got home and got their photos developed that Anne truly understood what they had there together. There was one photo taken on their last day. They had gotten up early and walked down to the fish market. The heady smell of fresh fish just in from the sea had the kids holding their noses in disgust. As the sun rose Gilbert had pulled his camera up and taken a quick snap of Rachel and Marilla. Hair trailed down their shoulders, bronzed limbs peeked out from under their dresses. Rachel had her arm around Marilla's shoulders and she had leant in to give Marilla a kiss on the cheek. Marilla was laughing, her bright blue unseeing eyes 'looking' straight at the camera. Bliss personified.
A/N I chose the image of dolphins to represent freedom unwittingly. It was Alinyaalethia who informed me of the Greek myth.
I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian pirates on a well-decked ship —a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:
"Madmen! what god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls."
So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: "Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way."
When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:
"Take courage, good...; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying Dionysus whom Cadmus' daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus."
Hail, child of fair-faced Semele! He who forgets you can in no wise order sweet song.