Sunday, 21 August 2011
'A Pig in the Roses' - new excerpt
By the time he returned to the tenement in Kollytos in the afternoon, Kleitias was humming a familiar song under his breath. His last customer had, like himself, performed at the theatre on the slopes of the Akropolis, mostly in the chorus at comedies, and music they had both practised came readily to mind. Kleitias shifted his barbering equipment to the other hand and let himself in, still humming.
Above him the sound of velvet, seamless chattering came from Melitta’s room, her voice like a stream of small clouds driven by a summer wind. Now and again came the lower, more insistent sound of a man’s voice.
Kleitias listened. ‘Not Aristarkhos’, he said to himself. ‘Younger, much younger. She’d better be careful. Aristarkhos is a jealous man.’ He reached for a piece of bread and dipped it into an oil jar. Munching, he sat in the doorway of his room, straining to listen. Now that he was in his middle years, or a little past them, this sort of curiosity was becoming a habit.
Melitta began to speak faster than ever, her tone becoming quieter but more urgent. The man’s voice became louder, and Kleitias could make out words: ‘Not before... What did I... Tell me, or I... ‘ Then Melitta, high, piercing: ‘I know nothing, nothing at all. I heard nothing. Take your hands off me, boy!’
A scream followed, and a crash. Kleitias was on his feet and in the courtyard. ‘Melitta!’ From the street outside came a shout of pain and the sound of panicked limping.
She came out and stared down at him, her eyes wide, her clothing dishevelled. From her tumble of hair a few small ornaments fell into the courtyard and Kleitias picked them up. Melitta clambered down the stairs and grabbed him with both arms like a small child being helped down from a tree.
The grey-haired barber eased her arms free and looked at her like an uncle. ‘What was going on?’
‘I don’t know. I wish I did. I might have hit him harder.’ She forced a smile. ‘Don’t worry, Kleitias. Normally you’d pay to get this close, but today it’s free. For you at least. One shout from you and he was through the window.’
‘Who was it?’
She sniffed. ‘Polystratos, the young man from Aristarkhos’ party.’
‘That boy was asleep most of the evening.’
‘He must have been drinking unmixed from the wine jar, even before he came. Then he woke up with a sore head in the morning and started pestering me. I got rid of him, but he must have found out where I live. Sometimes they do. I’ve never had to hit one before, but at least it was a cheap pot. He’ll still be picking bits out of his hair.’
Kleitias handed her the hair ornaments. ‘Don’t forget these.’
Melitta took them and turned towards the stairs. ‘Tonight I shall have a headache, I think. Aristarkhos will have to sleep with his wife. It’ll be a change for him.’
All details of the book are here, on my blog: http://www.peteralanorchard.net/2010/01/pig-in-roses.html
Peter Alan Orchard