Celebrating the Unpopular Arts


“Do you have anti-bacterial soap?”

“Sure. I got some from Bath and Body Works. Good stuff. Help yourself.”

Delilah watched Nikos get up and walk into the bathroom. She had never admired a body as much as she admired his. She loved to watch him prowl around her apartment, especially when the sun filtered through her Venetian blinds, painting his body like a tiger.

Nikos finished; he roamed back into the bedroom. It was Sunday morning, and neither of them had to work. He, however, had to leave. It was his father’s fiftieth birthday, and Nikos had to go to the party. Delilah didn’t get along with his family, so she was exempt from these sorts of engagements.

“Do you have to leave now?” she said.

He smiled. “My, you’re petulant. Here I thought you never actually missed me when I was away.”

“Well, I miss parts of you …”

“Slut. I’ll be back before dark. Kiss me.”

He pulled on jeans and a shirt, and was gone. Delilah felt the indentation on his pillow.


“Use a napkin, dear. Don’t get crumbs on the deck.”

Nikos smiled and did what his mother said. His father chuckled and wiped his mouth deliberately with the square of paper. Nikos watched as his mother unconsciously placed a coaster under his beer bottle. He picked it up, took a swig, and put it down on the table, right next to the coaster. She grimaced.

“You vex me, darling,” she said.

Nikos stopped counting people at the party when he reached seventy. His father’s restaurant supply business afforded him the opportunity to meet many people, and he liked to, as he put it, “network.” Delilah always said she hated people using nouns as verbs. Nikos agreed with her on that point.

“Your father is looking well, isn’t he, Nikos?” his mother said. She always said that whenever Nikos visited. His father did look much younger than fifty, to the extent that people sometimes mistook him for Nikos’s brother, but Nikos wasn’t sure if his mother was trying to convince him of something else.

“Are you flossing?” his mother said. Something else she always asked. Nikos barely even heard her anymore.

“I ran into Celia at the market. She looks very nice. She’s pregnant again. When are you going to give me grandchildren? You can’t be too careful with children these days, Nikos. Celia says she has those, what do they call them, rubber corners, I suppose, to keep the children from hurting themselves on sharp edges. I wish we had those for you kids. How is Delilah? She’s not here. I do wish you would bring her more often.”

“Delilah is fine, Mom. You know she’s not good with our family.”

“How does she expect to fit in? How do you expect to marry her and bring her over for Christmas dinner? Will she leave the house when we visit our grandchildren?”

“Your dessert is uncovered. The flies will get to it.”

“Dear me. You’re so observant.”


“Take your shoes off before you come in.”

Delilah obediently followed the direction. Caesar would have ordered the pope to take his shoes off if the pontiff had shown up at his door. She padded into his apartment, feeling the shag carpet engulf her toes. She plopped down on a beanbag chair. From somewhere in the back she heard heavy guitar.


“Please. Cinderella.”

Delilah stifled a laugh. “Where’s Leon?” she asked.

“Seattle. His mom’s sick.”

“Shit. That sucks. Why aren’t you there?”

“Couldn’t get off work today. I’m heading up there tomorrow.”

“God, what a depressing way to start what I’m sure will be a fruitful conversation. Leon’s mom’s sick. Sick sick, or just sick?”

Caesar’s face crinkled. “Real sick. Call the priest, bring the sheet, unplug the machine. She’s such a nice lady. Only one in his family he still talks to.”

“Because of –?”

“Yeah. Want a drink? I’m having juice, but we have iced tea.”

“Sure.” Delilah looked at her feet while Caesar was in the kitchen. Nikos always paid for the pedicures. He liked her feet to be pampered.

Caesar handed her a glass of tea. “Feet,” he said.


“I heard a guy the other day at the bar say that you can tell everything about a woman from her feet. Like, he said, like a woman has perfectly formed feet, even if they’re deformed. You know?”

Delilah smiled. Caesar heard such interesting things at his job. She heard very little from her co-workers. “So, feet?” she prompted.

“Sure. A woman’s foot, feet, are … part of her sexualism. Is that a word?”

“Fuck it. Why not?”

“Your second toe is longer than your big toe. That means you have a very active sex drive. Or something like that.”

“Nikos will be happy to hear.”

“But you always have such a nice pedicure. That means you’re scared of sex.”

“Nikos pays for them. What does that say?”

“But you allow him to do it. All I’m saying, all this guy was saying, is that you can learn a lot from feet. A pinkie toe that is hooked inward means that you have more smarts than is good for you. That’s what he said.”

“Just women’s feet?”

“I guess. Are you and Nikos happy?”

“Where’d that come from?”

“He pays for your pedicures. Does he have a fetish? I only ask because you brought it up, and it seemed, I don’t know, a tad askew.”

“Sure. As happy as anyone. Are you and Leon?”

“Leon’s in Seattle. That’s an unfair question.”

“Nikos is at his father’s birthday party, so it’s just as unfair to ask me. Don’t you think?”


“Do you remember falling off the swing when you were young? You split your lip. Blood everywhere. I almost died of fright.”

Melisande laughed nervously as she spoke. Nikos nodded. “As I recall, you ran to Mom screaming like the little girl you are. Shit, it wasn’t anything. I didn’t even feel it.”

“How was I to know? I was just, like, eight. It was scary.”

Nikos hugged his sister impulsively. She didn’t recoil, simply remained stiff in his arms. He released her and smiled. “Thought I’d try.”

“Mmmm. I’m going to talk to Mom.”

She stood and walked inside, where his mother was entertaining some women from church. Nikos watched her until his father cut across his field of vision. His father was on his fourth or fifth bottle of beer and showed no signs of slowing. He drank once a year, on his birthday, so his mother indulged it. His father weaved among the crowd, accepting thanks and telling off-color jokes. Nikos stood and went over to him before he could offend someone. His father allowed himself to be steered to a bench.

“Fifty!” his father bellowed, drawing the amused stares of several guests. “Fuck.” His father swore rarely, and only if he was very angry or had been drinking. Nikos was glad it was the latter. “Nicky boy, how the hell are you? How the hell old are you now?”

“You know I’m twenty-six, Papa. You know it better than Mom does.”

“Shit, boy, you’re older than I was when you were born. When are you and that biblical harridan going to start pumping out kids?”

“Delilah doesn’t want kids yet, Papa. We’ve discussed this before, as you well know.”

His father leaned in closely. “Fuck, boy, your mother’s a fine woman. Did I ever tell you how we met?”

“You’ve told everyone you’ve ever met how you met.”

“But, damn, it’s a good story. How much have you had to drink?”

“Not as much as you.”

“I love my business, Nicky. I want to give it to you, but you don’t want it. Meli is even less inclined. Don’t you want to be rich? I’m a rich man, Nicky, and all of it’s going to you when I’m gone. Well, whatever your mother and Meli don’t get. Shit, Nicky, I love you so much.”

Nikos hated when his father became maudlin. “Papa, this is a good day. Don’t talk about such shit.”

“We got new napkin sanitizers. Shit, they’re so sweet. And a stainless-steel cleaner that would shine your brain if you wanted it to. That’s a stupid analogy, isn’t it? Fuck, I think I’ve had too much to drink. But let me tell you, Nicky, I love the business. Why don’t you?”

“My own life, remember, Papa?”

His mother strolled out onto the deck, saw Nikos and her husband, smiled because both of them were in such capable hands, and went back inside. Nikos began to sweat. It was only June, but Portland was experiencing a heat wave. It had reached the low nineties the day before and was likely to do so again. He looked back at his father, who was smiling.

“Goddamn, she’s a fine woman. Don’t you love the way she checks on us? Don’t you love the way her hair still shines like a raven’s feathers in the sunlight? Beer makes me a poet, boy. Go ahead, give me a theme, and I shall compose for you.”

“Jesus, Papa, not poetry. Your poetry is so shitty.”

His father’s face twisted sadly, but he managed a wry grin. “Fuck, boy, you wouldn’t –”

He slipped sideways on the bench, then his head snapped upward. Nikos watched in horror as his eyes widened in pain, tears trickling from the corners. Then he slumped even further down in the seat before tumbling onto the deck. Nikos sprang up and knelt beside him. His father’s eyes were still wide open, but all the life had left them. Nikos stared and felt something like a fist reach into his gut and twist.


“Do you use Pledge on this?”

“Of course. What else?”

“How the hell did we get onto what you use on your wooden furniture?”

“The beauty of conversation, my dear, is that it leads to strange and wondrous places. Like Lemon Pledge. I’m never out of the stuff. Leon goes, ‘What the fuck, man, just wipe it down with a paper towel.’ Will these queers never understand?”

“I’m with you. You ever let it go so long there’s this, like, thick layer of dust on everything, just so you can, you know, check out the beautiful swipe through it when you go at it with a rag? What a feeling.”

“Now you’re going all Flashdance on me, dear.”

Delilah laughed out loud. “Shit, it’s just cleaning. But, sure, why not, what a fucking feeling. What the hell was in that tea?”

Caesar patted his coffee table. “It’s not just cleaning. It’s surgery, it’s worship. I mean, clean surfaces are what separate us from the animals.”

Delilah shivered. “I still think there was something in that tea.”

Caesar ran his fingers through his dirty blond hair. “I should be going to work. I have to be there in,” he checked his watch, “forty minutes. It’s quite a long walk.”

“God, what’s Leon going to do, if, you know, about his mother?”

“What’s he going to do? What am I going to do? I love that woman.”

Delilah stared off into the distance. “Family comes at you so strangely, don’t you think? From every angle. You don’t even see it sometimes, but then …”

“When are you going to deal with Nikos’s family?”

“Don’t you have to go to work?”

“Fuck you. I’m forcing you to have a ‘moment.’ Don’t you hate it when some crappy song comes on the radio, like ‘Come Sail Away,’ and you’re singing along at the top of your lungs and all feels right with the world? You can’t hide in moments like that, dear. There’s no Styx here to save you.”

“Only Cinderella.”

“Leave them out of it. Do you love Nikos?”

Delilah’s cell phone rang. She smirked at Caesar and dug it out of her purse. He held her arm briefly as she extracted it, but then released her. She looked at the screen. “Speak of the devil,” she said, and answered it. “Hi, neighbor. What’s up?”


“He was so healthy. Never sick. I mean, never. It was eerie. And then this. Makes no sense.”

Delilah reached out and stroked Nikos’s hair. It was thick, lush, beautiful. She never wanted to take her hand away.

“Embolism. One of those words you never realize has any power. It’s a funny word — cute, not like disembowel, emasculate, cancer. Those are words you fear. Not embolism.”

Delilah hated hospitals. She wanted to be far away from this one, far away from her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s dead father. Nikos loved his father, she knew that, but that didn’t mean she wanted to comfort him now. She looked around. Nikos’s mother and sister were nowhere in sight. They had said hello to her, but then left her and Nikos alone. Where his father was, she had no idea.

“I’m not sad,” he said quietly, “because he’s dead. He lived, I guess, like he wanted to. His way. You know? It’s not that he’s dead, it’s because …”

Tears flicked down his cheeks. Delilah continued to stroke his hair, as if it was the most important thing in the world.

“He left us behind. Papa always kept us together. Mom, Meli, me — we were a unit, we needed his guidance. I guess. Mom, I think, she’ll be fine. I guess we all will. Meli has Jason, I have you, Mom has … friends. But. He was the paterfamilias, you know? Life was a big adventure for him, and he always took us along. Now I have a feeling he’s off on another big adventure, and we’re not there to share it with him.”

Nikos stood up, breaking his connection with Delilah. She kept quiet. She had never lost anyone close to her. She had no idea what to say.

“My father’s fingernails were filthy. Under them. He had worked for so long in a respectable business, worked so hard to build it up, that I forgot how much manual labor he used to do. And even now, he works in the garden, on the weekends, always out there, always planting, building … Filthy. What does it mean?”

“About what?”

“Do you want to get married?”


“Have you ever felt … dirty, no matter what you did? Not Lady Macbeth dirty, not anything like that … just … unclean? My father, he was, I mean, the cleanest man I knew. Everything about him. It was life-life, it was … I don’t know.”


“‘Yes’? As in …”

“There is nothing I’d like more. You stupid and glorious man.”

Nikos sighed. “Can you imagine … waking up next to me for the rest of your life? Imagine the disappointment?”

Delilah laughed. “I said ‘yes,’ Nikos. Don’t make me change my mind.”

“I’m not going to tell my mom and Meli yet. I don’t think they’re ready for it. But I am going to go find them. Things to talk about, you know.”

“Sure. I’m just going to wash my hands.”


[Hey, it’s Caesar the bartender from a few stories ago! Good to see him!

I like this story, but as short as it is, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it? I hope you like it, too, despite its rather elliptical nature. I’m not going to try to explain it – fiction is for the readers to work through! I do like it, though – it’s heavy on the dialogue, and I remember at the time that I was trying to do some things with dialogue, and I don’t know if I succeeded. The previous one had none, so I went the opposite way. I hope it works for you.

No, I don’t know why there’s a Greek family in this and in the story about the college professor and Rudolf Habsburg, his wife is Greek. It’s just a coincidence!

And “Come Sail Away” is awesome. Caesar is crazy.

Next week: More old friends? We shall see!]

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