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May 20, 2024

The Two Wives of Ierokles Kastanidis

By Ioanna Papadopoulou

Every morning she woke up reminding herself the same three things. Androniki was dead, she was the new Mrs Kastanidi, and it was only a dream.

Fearing sleep, Danae got out of bed, carefully removing Ierokles's hand from her waist, put on her robe and walked through their small house to the nursery. She entered and approached the crib, holding her breath in dread. Would she see her daughter, Phaiste, in it? Or a different baby? She feared a boy, Fokas, would be sleeping there, as she dreamt each night.

She relaxed at her daughter's three-month-old face. She picked her up, sat in the rocking chair, took one breast out and slowly coaxed her baby to start sucking. Phaiste remained half asleep, but through pure instinct, her mouth opened and latched onto her mother's nipple. Danae began kicking the floor slightly to maintain a comfortable pace of movement. As her baby ate, she stared into space, reflecting on her recurring dream.

"Good morning." Her husband's voice snapped her out of her thoughts. Her heart fluttered at his sight, like it did each day she saw him since they first met.

"Hey, handsome," she said. "How did you sleep?"

He entered the nursery and approached them. He kissed Danae's lips and Phaiste's head. "Is she hungry?"

Danae looked at their baby and smiled. "Always, like her father."

Ierokles chuckled at her words. "I am going to get ready for work. Will you make me coffee?"

Danae nodded and coaxed her baby to unlatch, placing her back into the crib. She was a lucky woman. Phaiste was an easy baby, not fussing much over sleep or food. Why did she keep dreaming of a different child every night? Why a different woman's life?

In the kitchen, she added water in the briki, and placed it over her small gas stove. She added two teaspoons of coffee and then turned the gas on low heat. She watched as the coffee heated slowly and its surface started to tremble. Once the first foam started forming, she lifted the briki off the fire until the bubbles settled and then lowered it again. She waited until the foam formed, lifted it a second time and poured it into the cup.

She served a wrapped pastry alongside the coffee. Ierokles took a sip. Danae waited for his reaction, hanging from his lips and whatever praise or criticism might fall from them. He took a bite of her pastry. She was worried about it because it was a recipe from Pontos and nothing her own Thessalonian family ever ate.

"Good," he said. Her body warmed in relief, as if she had been given an extra moment of life and she smiled.

"I am glad you like it, my love." She wanted to ask if they were perfect, if they were as good as the ones he ate in Argyroupoli but she knew he didn't like talking of Pontos. She would be the same if she were forced to flee the place she grew up.

Danae often stressed over their different heritage. She tried to belong to her new Pontic family, but the other women in the neighbourhood didn't want her. Even though she was a native of Thessaloniki, she was a stranger in their newly formed neighbourhood.

She kept Ierokles company until he left for school. He managed to get a teaching post in Thessaloniki, branding him the pride of their small community, an example of how this strange city could become their new home. Danae always refrained from mentioning that her Thessalonian family was the reason Ierokles found the job. Without her father's help and connections, he would have no chance as a refugee. She didn't want to offend her husband though, so she remained quiet.

Danae cursed under her breath when she heard the knock on the door. There was only one person that visited when Ierokles was away. Calitsa, her only surviving sister-in-law, stood behind. "Good morning.

Calitsa didn't step inside. "It's afternoon, not morning, my dear."

Danae forced her lips to smile. "Good afternoon then, Calitsa," she corrected herself. "Would you like to come in?"

Her sister-in-law nodded. "Since I am invited, I don't want to offend you." She entered the room and removed her head scarf, putting it in her bag. Danae smiled as Calitsa examined her house. Her daily twice house cleaning meant her sister-in-law was forced to remain quiet. "Where is my niece?"

"Sleeping. Do you want to see her?"

"Only if I am allowed." Danae took a deep breath and avoided Calitsa's bait.

"Of course, you are. How could I deny you such a thing?" she said and led her to the nursery.

When they entered the room, Calitsa handed Danae her bag and approached the cot. She leaned in, her dark brown curls fell towards Phaiste and smiled. "Ah, she is so beautiful, our girl. Just like her poor lost brother. An angel."

"She is a good baby," Danae said, ignoring Calitsa's comment about Fokas. "Would you like to drink something? I could make you coffee and have some bougatsa ready if you are hungry?"

Calitsa moved away from the cot, the warmth of her face fading. She shook her head. "I don't like your local pastries, I am afraid." Danae thought that her city's signature pastry was famous in all of Greece and didn't need Calitsa's tastebuds' approval. "I am busy. I must make some more visits. I came to give this to my brother," she said and took her bag from Danae's hand and took out a small pouch. "They must have gotten mixed by accident with my stuff when I moved out." She walked out of the nursery and headed to the door.

"I can give it to Ierokles," Danae said and Calitsa slowly gave her the pouch.

"Be careful with it. It contains very precious objects," she said.

"I will," Danae promised. "Are you sure you can't stay for a coffee?" she asked as the other woman was ready to get out of the door.

"I am afraid not. I have important work," she said and exited. "I will come again soon, maybe with some of my cousins and friends. If you would invite us that is. You know how polite we are. We don't want to impose."

"My house is always open to all the family. Drop in, anytime you like."

Once the door closed, she grimaced and made a strangling gesture. "Stupid woman," she muttered. "You know how polite we are," she mocked Calitsa's words. She left the small pouch on the hall table, next to her keys.

Once the food was slow cooking, she checked on Phaiste, and, on her way back to the kitchen, her eyes fell on the pouch. She ought to leave it until Ierokles returned but she was overcome by a curiosity for its contents. She held it in her hands and felt the objects through the fabric, immediately understanding it contained jewellery. She put the latch on the door, ensuring Ierokles would need to call for her to enter the house and went into their bedroom to open it.

She emptied its contents on the bed, revealing, as she guessed, jewellery. She examined them carefully. A golden ring, a golden bracelet with a round holder attached with a chain, a pearl necklace, and another golden necklace. She held the golden bracelet and, using her nails, nudged the round holder open.

Inside it there were two pictures. One was of Ierokles and Androniki and the other was of Fokas. Ierokles's dead family. Androniki's soft features and Fokas's clear resemblance to Ierokles made her feel uneasy. As if she was on a trial but didn't know her crime.

Danae closed it and put the jewellery back into the pouch. She left it on the bed.

They were dead. Neither his dead wife, nor his dead son were her antagonists. Despite knowing that, she failed to stop feeling a stab of jealousy. They had died during the journey and a part of her husband had been buried with them, in a poor grave alongside so many others who died on their way to Greece.

Danae knew she was unfair and irrational. She had no right to demand answers from her husband. Of course, he still loved them. Of course, his relatives still loved their two lost members and were bitter at their unfair death. Of course, had Androniki survived, Ierokles would never have married her.

She knew she married a man with an existing -- albeit dead -- family.

But why did everyone compare her to that dead wife? Did they have to look at Phaiste and compare her to Fokas? Was it fair for her to be somehow blamed for replacing Androniki, when she had met Ierokles years after the other woman died?

She didn't speak their dialect, yes. She didn't know their dances and didn't know much about their culture, yes. But she loved Ierokles. Why couldn't that be enough?

Feeling trapped in the house, trapped in a friendless neighbourhood, she made her way to the nursery. Staring at her sweet girl's face soothed but failed to take the pain away.

"Danae?" Ierokles called and she stopped her pacing. The sound of the door closing, His steps as the floor creaked gave her enough warning to regather her composure. She smiled on her own and then walked out of to greet him.

The next morning her breast hurt and milk leaked. Androniki was dead. She was the Mrs Kastanidi and it was all a dream.

It was all a dream.

She went to the nursery and cared for her baby. Ierokles woke up, greeted her as he did each morning with a kiss and she prepared his coffee, his breakfast and kept him company until he had to leave for work. It was all as it was ought to be.

It was just a dream. A stupid dream, born out of paranoia and she let it get the best of her.

"Just a dream. Just a dream," she muttered to herself every so often as she cleaned her house and prepared the food.

"Just a dream, just a dream."

She distracted herself with cleaning. She was on her knees and arms, scrubbing the floor for the fifth time that day when she heard crying. She let out a groan when she got up as her stiff knees clicked as she started walking. "Coming, my love," she called as the baby cried. "Mommy is coming," she said and entered the nusrsey.

It was just a moment, just a passing thought, but the nursery she entered wasn't Phaiste's. She closed her eyes and shook her head. When she looked up, everything was familiar but the sound of crying had stopped. She approached carefully the crib and saw Phaiste sleeping peacefully, no sign she had ever woken up at all.

Puzzled and dizzy, Danae exited the room, forcing her eyes to stay on the crib. Afraid if she looked away, the next time her eyes landed on it, there would be a different crib with another's child inside.

"It's just a dream, Danae," she muttered to herself. "Androniki is dead, You are Mrs Kastanidi and it is simply a dream. It isn't real."

Unable to return to her cleaning, terrified to return to the nursery, Danae made her way to her bedroom. She lay on the bed and images flashed in her mind, of a different house. A different bedroom.

"Sleep," she whispered to herself. "Sleep."

When she woke up, she was on the bedroom floor. Her head hurt. She slowly opened her eyes and was greeted with the sight of a known bag, made of leather, and smelling of spices. Filled with mementos from a place she would never visit.

The bag was no secret. She moved it every day to clean under the bed but it wasn't the same. It was familiar, personal, and she stretched her hand to pull it out. She sat cross legged on the floor and, as if she had done it thousands of times, opened it.

At the top there was the pouch with the jewellery Calitsa had brought, alongside other clothes, books, saints' paintings, and pictures.

Ierokles's old home.

She caressed them with her fingertips, and a clutch took hold of her throat, making it hard to swallow. Her stomach clenched. Tears gathered in her eyes as she gazed at a small landscape sketch.

"Why am I crying?"

She had no answer. She put the pictures back into the bag. Beneath the first row of objects, she felt a soft fabric. It was dark blue, with fine gold threads. She took it out and stood, letting it unfold, revealing its true nature.

A coat. A beautifully divine coat, clearly made by talented and experienced hands. Danae had never owned anything like it. She walked to the bedroom mirror, holding it in front of her.

She gazed at its reflection but avoided her face. "It is perfect," she muttered and, without really thinking, she put it on. It fit her well even though it was a bit tight on the shoulders. She twirled around, admiring herself with the beautiful garment. Making the coat fly in the air around her body, the room changed for a moment. It was familiar but different, brighter. By the time she had turned around completely, and her eyes fell on her face, everything was as they ought to be.

She froze at the sight of her face. It wasn't her but also looked like her. How was that possible? She approached the mirror and touched the looking glass. The reflection obeyed. The mirror cool but as if it there was an extra layer between her skin and the material. She stepped back and watched herself in the coat, one made for a different woman.

Split in two, she felt it belonged to her but that she was also stealing it. Two thoughts existing in parallel simultaneously.

She was startled by the sound of crying. She placed the coat with care over the bed and headed to the nursery. Before the door, she hesitated, afraid of the room, but was relieved she entered into the room she had always known. She walked slowly towards the cot, fearing, like each morning, she would see a different child, not her own. She was relieved Phaiste was still who she knew her to be.

"Be quiet," Danae told Ierokles. "You will wake her."

"What did you do?" he snapped at her.

"What did I do?" Danae asked, unsure of what she could have done to upset her husband so terribly.

"Her things. They are everywhere. Why did you do that?"

Danae shook her head and walked to their bedroom. There were new objects things all over it, not hers. She felt a touch of familiarity, as if they had always been present in her life. "I didn't do this."

Her eyes stopped at her wardrobe. The beautiful blue coat was in a hanger, attached on its one door. "It pains me. You know the memories are too much," Ierokles told her. His voice trembled and when she tried to touch him, he pushed her away. "I told you. These terrible thoughts. The guilt."

"Ierokles, you need to believe me. I didn't do this."

He pushed her away. "You did this. Why?"

"I am telling you, I didn't," she tried to explain but her husband pressed his hands over his head, as if he wanted to block her voice.

"And how did you know?" he continued accusing. "Just like they were back home. Make this room so like the one we left behind?"

She didn't have answers his questions. "I didn't do this, Ierokles. I don't know how it happened."

Their eyes met and she melted at the pain she saw in his face. His dark eyes were lost and pained, as if he were somewhere else, in a different life. She felt such need to take him in her arms and rock him. She opened her arms to cuddle him and he pushed her away again. His eyes grew hard and -- was it hate she saw in them?

"I am going to my sister's. I want all these things gone when I come back."

"I didn't do this," she yelled at him. He slammed the door behind him and her whole body tensed at the sound, making her tremble and weep.

The noise woke Phaiste. Danae closed her ears to her demand for attention.

It was all just like the dream. "It's just a dream. Nothing else." she muttered and got up.

A week had passed since the incident but Ierokles hadn't forgiven her. Danae had tried to approach him, to be his wife but each time her efforts were rejected. Only when she was holding Phaiste, his behaviour softened towards her. Each day he ate at Calitsa's, abandoning their family.

She didn't recognize him. Why didn't he believe her, his wife?

Feeling deserted, she began cleaning the house three times a day, instead of two, afraid of dust gathering. At least, Ierokles's family and compatriots couldn't fault her that.

There was a knock on the door. She opened it slightly to find Calitsa standing. Before Danae had a chance to greet her, her sister-in-law pushed her way in and slammed the door. "You will wake my daughter," Danae snapped. Her eyes fixed on Calista's shoes, wet from the rain with mud all over them, destroying her thrice cleaned floor. Before she could ask her to remove them, Calitsa walked past her, into the bedroom.

"What are you doing?"

"What I should have done long ago," she answered. Danae followed her. Calitsa was on her knees, smearing more dirt over her house, and pulled Androniki's leather bag. "I am taking my sister's mementos."

Danae let the hissed description of Androniki go unremarked. "Fine. I don't care."

"And to give you a warning. If you ever, ever, upset my brother again, you will wish you were dead." Calitsa pushed Danae out of her way and stamped her way outside the house. She didn't care about Androniki's things. They weren't hers. All Danae cared about was her dirty floors.

They needed to be washed three times again, to be clean enough.

Danae heard Ierokles returning that night but he never came into bed. She stayed awake, waiting for the sound of his steps but their bedroom door never opened. Unable to sleep, she was trapped in their bedroom. She pulled the curtains open, letting the moonlight in and paced in circles, making purposeful noise, baiting her husband to face her. Her walking increased her edginess and she found herself fidgeting and in need of something to occupy herself with. Incapable to get her cleaning equipment, as she didn't want to be the one admitting defeat and chasing her husband, Danae tidied their wardrobes. She refolded each and every piece of clothing in her drawers, tiring herself but still unable to relax.

When she opened her wardrobe, the blue coat stood out.

She touched it, unable to resist its beauty. She ought to give it to Calitsa, the next day, didn't she? It would be better for her family if all traces of Androniki and Fokas vanished. But it was beautiful and she liked herself in it.

She pulled it towards herself and it fell off the hanger. Her fist tightened against the fabric as she supported its full weight and she brough it closer. She closed her eyes and felt the threads and soft material. With her eyes still closed, she wrapped it around her shoulders.

When she opened them again, she swirled around and she felt beautiful. She put one arm and then the other through the sleeves and hugged herself, as if the coat was hugging her. Her head fell back and the fabric caressed her skin, as if it was a touch of love. It was comfortable. It was warm.

She was beautiful in it.

She danced her way to bed and flopped on it, finally relaxed. She closed her eyes and, just as she drifted to sleep, she remembered she had packed the coat in the bag Calitsa had taken earlier.

The next morning, the young wife woke up, still wrapped in her blue coat. She stretched her body and took the coat off, hanging it back into the wardrobe. She walked out of the room, and unlike any other day, she passed the nursery door and went straight to the living room. Ierokles was sleeping on the couch.

Her heart swelled in love for her beautiful man. She walked slowly to him and went on her knees. Without any hesitation, she placed her hand over his shoulder, pressing it firmly against his soft and warm skin. She inhaled his smell, letting it fill her nostrils and then ran her hand down his body. She rested her head against his face, breathing him in. Not wanting to wake him and interrupt his rest, she went to the kitchen and began preparing his breakfast.

She was nearly finished when he walked into the kitchen. She smiled at him as he rubbed his eyes and sat at the table. "Good morning," she greeted him and served his coffee, hot and bubbly, in a small cup. "Would you like a boiled egg along with it? I can mix it with butter for you? I have a pie in the oven too but it might not be ready in time."

Ierokles, still sleepy, murmured his approval but as his wife took out eggs, he jumped up. "What did you just say?"

"That the pie will not be ready on time, my love."

"Not that," he stopped her.

"I asked if you wanted a boiled egg for breakfast, is that not ok?"

"Broken and mixed with butter? Why would you say that?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Why wouldn't I? Did I say something wrong?"

Ierokles sat back down at the table and shook his head. "No, I am sorry. I am not well. That would be lovely."

"Coming right up," she said and placed the eggs in a pot of water she had been heating up from before her husband woke up. She watched him from the corner of her eye as he took a sip and then froze. He took another, a look of surprise on his face, and then glanced at her. She met his eyes directly. "Is it good, Ierokles?" she asked.

He nodded. "It is ... perfect. Just the way I like it."

She only smiled at his praise. She used a spoon to take the eggs out of the water, into a towel, and rolled them to break their shell. Once they were clear, she put them in a bowl and put two spoons of butter on top, letting it melt, before taking a fork and breaking them apart and finally adding salt, pepper and some allspice. She turned and walked happily to her husband, handing him the bowl and fork.

He took a bite and his eyes grew wide again. "Good?" she asked him and he nodded, wolfing the rest of it down. After he finished and was dressed for work, she went on her toes and placed a kiss on his lips.

"Are you ok?" he asked her. "Are you not mad?"

"No," she said, kissing him again. "Never with a good and loving husband like you. Will you come home after work?"

He blushed slightly -- she imagined he was ashamed of his absence the last few days -- and nodded.

"I will miss you," she said and kissed him a third time.

He kissed her back, with passion and she met his lips with urge but the sound of crying interrupted them. He smiled against her lips. "Our daughter is scolding us."

She nodded and moved away from him. "Have a nice day at work." She stood watching him walk out of view while the baby cried. Once he was gone, she closed the door and made her way to the nursery.

She lifted the child in her arms and gazed at it. "Hush, now." She rocked Phaiste in her arms. "Hush now, little one." She sat on the rocking chair, lifting her blouse up, and letting the child breastfeed. She rocked her, avoiding her face, while a wave of love passed through her. Tears ran down her face because she wasn't nursing her son, but another woman's child.

She wept while the babe sucked. This body had birthed this girl. This body was hers so, by default, this was her daughter. Like so many of her friends and family, she had lost a child on the way to their new country. She remembered the morning she woke up to find his body cold and dead. She wept and screamed but nothing ever brought Fokas back.

"My son," she sobbed and held the baby tightly in her arms, wanting suddenly to suffocate it. But what good or justice would that be? She looked at Phaiste though her tears. Like her son, she had taken primarily after Ierokles. She couldn't hold that against the baby. It wouldn't be right.

Sensing her discomfort, the baby cried and unlatched from the nipple. She lifted her up, resting her against her shoulder, patting her back as she burped. "Oh, I suppose you know, don't you little one? But you will not remember, so it doesn't matter."

She rocked her, until Phaiste was asleep and back to her crib. Then, she went into the bedroom, examining the clothes, disapproving of their plainness, until she found ones she could tolerate wearing. She changed. Made her hair, wore make up, and prepared Phaiste's pram.

Once she was finished and the pie was out of the oven, she went back to the nursery, changed Phaiste and placed her into the pram. She returned to the bedroom, put on her blue coat, and watched her reflection on the mirror.

"You can do it. You just lost your way. Got delayed. But you found your way back to your husband."

She smiled and started pushing the pram through the corridor and out of the house, reminding herself the three things she would never forget. Danae was gone, locked away. She was the only Mrs Kastanidi and this was her life.

Article © Ioanna Papadopoulou . All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-01-31
Image(s) are public domain.
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