Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guest blog: Jane Bow - 'Cally's Way'

'Cally’s Way' interweaves the story of 25-year old Cally with that of her grandmother Callisto, who was a runner in the Cretan Resistance during World War II. This excerpt comes from the World War II story.


            Frogs are gossiping in a stone cistern beside a vegetable patch outside the village of Myrthios. Crouched under some olive trees off the path that cuts across the mountainside, Callisto holds her breath. Around her, sharp-shaped olive leaves are whispering in the darkness. Her eyes dart between the trees and the low stone walls that terrace this Cretan mountainside, and the great spiny aloe ghosts, searching for an outline, a movement, the grey glint of a rifle. Her ears are tuned to pick up even the scratch of a beetle. Her run up behind the village of Sellia, nestled on the next mountain, then down into the valley and up again through this olive grove has taken too long, but there is no wind tonight, at least. Down at the far end of the bay, the rocky outcropping known as the Dragon’s Head lies sleeping under a tipped crescent moon.
            One of the trees, its ancient trunk crooked into a right angle, has the silhouette shape of a beard below the moon smile. Above it, she picks out stars for the nose, eyes: Zeus.
            Please, please, great god, I know I’m not supposed to talk to you. The priest says that appealing to you will take me straight to Hell but the way I see it you have been here the longest so please, great Zeus, will you help the people of Agalini tonight?
            Two mountains farther down the coast, parents and grandparents will be moving quickly now on the news she has passed to the next runner. She thinks of them shaking their children awake, packing yesterday’s bread, some sheep’s cheese, and whatever clothing they can carry, the women binding their babies to their breasts, the men hoisting toddlers onto their shoulders for the trek up into the safety of the wild mountain heights.
            Please make them hurry.
            A new sound, faint, rhythmic, tattoos the air behind the frogs. Callisto slides down behind the Zeus tree. The frog-talk stops.
            Boots, more than one set, crunching. Six German soldiers come down the path toward her. They must have come through the Kourtaliotis Gorge, the opening in the mountains behind this part of the south coast, where she is headed now.
            They are so close now she tastes the dust they are raising, smells the acrid metal of their guns. The Nazis think the village of Myrthios is friendly, but Uncle’s resistance network has friends there, and Callisto knows that up its cluster of alleys people will be lying rigid in their beds, praying that the stomping does not stop. She presses her cheek against the Zeus tree’s rough bark, closes her eyes, and prays not to move.
            The boots beat the path, impressing upon even the ground that they own it, that they have a God-given right to drop out of the sky, take this island, and murder all those who would stand against them. If only she had a weapon or a bottle filled with kerosene, like the little boys in Agalini. They must have heard about the boys north of the gorge who had filled three bottles with gasoline siphoned out of a German Jeep. The next time a Nazi drove into their village the boys had lit a rag tucked into one of the bottles, then rolled all three of them under his vehicle. Waiting around the corner, giggling into their hands, they had had no idea that the bottles, exploding, would turn the jeep into a bomb, tearing the bodies of both the officer and his driver into fragments and tossing them into the air. Those boys are still in hiding, on the run, heroes. This must be why some of Agalini’s little boys have followed their lead, tossing their bottle of kerosene through the front door of the house the Nazis had commandeered, aiming for the hearth while the soldiers relaxed over dinner. No one has turned in the little Agalini boys either. And that was why tonight news had reached Uncle Vasilios that tomorrow the Nazis will deliver retribution to Agalini.
            Callisto had come home from the sheep pasture to hear voices rising in the storeroom off the courtyard. Someone must be sent, tonight, to warn the villagers.
            She opened the storeroom door.
            “Go inside, girl.”
            “I could run to Agalini, Uncle.”
            “You!” A jet of anger, frightening. Only a month had passed since Georgios had made the mistake of scrambling up the cliff, not wanting to drop down below the path, out of sight, because there were Allied soldiers down there, hidden in a cave by the river.
            Callisto stood her ground.
            “I can run, Uncle. Out in the pastures I have been practicing both speed and distance and I am faster than any boy you will find. Just ask the local sheep thieves.”
            “A girl running alone? Absolutely not.”
            The other men’s faces stayed blank in the candlelight, not to intrude.
            “In the middle of the night in the mountains, who will see me? I can do this, Uncle. Please, let me make my parents proud.”
            And there was no one else.
            The last of the soldiers disappears around the side of the mountain. Bile burns in the back of Callisto’s throat. She looks up at the Zeus tree.
            Please, if you let the people of Agalini make it into the safety of the mountains in time, I promise I will honour you forever, whatever Father Nikolaos says.
            The frogs start up again and after awhile, seeing, hearing, sensing nothing more, Callisto climbs back onto the path. Can she run safely now, across this mountainside and the next, through sleeping Mariou[1]  and Asomatos, to the gorge? Geratti lies hidden up behind the mountain  on its other side. Her eyes scan the moonlit path ahead, the mountainside, ears straining beyond the frogs and the saw of the grasses against her legs.
            Less than a minute later she stops again. The mountainside is nearly vertical below her here. She slithers down, a prickly bush grazing her shins, rocks sharp under her palms. She finds purchase for her feet. Her heartbeat must surely be shaking the ground. Something has moved, ahead about fifty metres to her left, just above where the path curves around a hip of the mountain.
            Could the Nazi patrol have posted a sentry here? She lies still.
.           No boots come.
            She cannot spend the rest of her life plastered to the side of this mountain. Less than four hours remain before daylight. Cross the path, climb into the rocky outcroppings above it, centimetre by centimetre, higher and higher, that’s what she must do.
            There is no further movement ahead but she now can make out a lump of solid space in the scrub above the road.
            Sentries smoke, move, chat if there are more than one.
            She pushes herself higher up the mountainside, scraping arms and legs, stopping after every move, her heartbeat drowning out every other sound until the thin ribbon of path gleams empty below her in the moonlight. Standing, she sprints, rock to bush to rock, until she is directly above what turns out to be two men hiding in a nest of bushes.
            “Trust no one!” How many times has Uncle Vasilios warned her? Geratti is small and closely knit, but even the closest neighbour down the road can become a collaborator. Still, she can see even from here, from the awkward way they move, that though the two men below her are foreigners, they are not Nazis.
            A few weeks after the German invasion, British ships evacuated thousands of Allied troops from Crete. Stories spread from tavérnas to kitchens across the island about the starving, injured soldiers who marched up over seven-thousand-foot mountains to the remote south-coast village of Chora Sfakion, and about the Cretans’ shallow boats that plied back and forth in silence through the night, carrying fifty men at a time to the ships lying offshore. But only those who made it to the beach in time, and whose names were registered, were allowed to debark. Constant flight, hiding in the mountains that form the spine of the island, and begging for food and shelter have become the life of the men left behind, and those who escaped from the Nazi prison compound on the north shore.
            One of the men below her is lying down, his leg splinted with sticks. The other’s head keeps turning, like an owl. She picks up a pebble, launches it. Cannot help grinning as it strikes its mark. The owl-man jerks around, moonlight whitening his anxiety as his pistol scans the steepness above him. The man lying down does not move. She searches the landscape for danger.
            “Friend.” She puts a hand up to feel her mother’s red silk scarf around her neck and lets the moon smile on her. “I am your friend.”
            How she loves English, the sound of her mother’s voice reading or speaking it to her, using words like “psychology” and “archeology” that connect to the world she knows, and others like “darling,” and “whippersnapper,” and “lickety-split” that open whole new landscapes. Picking her way down the mountainside, she squats beside the men.
            Both are dressed in torn wool pants and Cretan shirts. She smells sweat and fear and the broken man’s fever.
            “I will take you home to my uncle.” She nods toward the gorge. “Over there.”
            “Near Preveli?” She hears hope. The monastery at Preveli is tucked away high on the seaward side of a mountain overlooking the coast, at the far end of the valley below the Kourtaliotis Gorge. A month ago, believing British soldiers were hiding in the valley, the Germans surrounded it and launched the attack from Myrthios. Finding no one, they set up a guard post, but still, three nights ago many dozens of soldiers were taken off Limni Beach, a hidden cove below Preveli.
            “I’m sorry, you have missed the rescue.”      
            “Oh.” Bleak disappointment. The soldier looks down at his broken friend.
            “My aunt and uncle will help you though.” Callisto nods toward the fallen man. “Make him better, maybe find you a boat. You wait.” She can run to Geratti in two hours. “I will bring my uncle before dawn.”
            “Efcharistó. Thank you.” The soldier takes her hand, shakes it. “I am Robert MacIntyre, from Scotland. This is Jack. He’s in rough shape, I’m afraid.” His voice has a soft rolling quality. His hand feels warm, dry. “Why is your English so good?”
            Callisto smiles.
            “My mother comes from there.” She tries to see his face in the darkness but there is only the moon glitter in his eyes and the fine line of his jaw. And now a new, melting kind of fear blooms somewhere in the middle of her. Her hair is a mass of tangles, her knees are scraped. The front of her dress is covered in dirt.
            What must she look like to him?


Jane Bow grew up in Canada, the United States, Spain, England and Czechoslovakia. Her novels looks at historical incidents through the perspective of love. Cally’s Way, Jane’s third novel, was published this spring. Set in Crete, it interweaves the story of 25-year old Cally with the World War II story of her grandmother Callisto, exploring the relationships between sex and love, and the effect history’s horrors have on our identity, whether we know about them or not. Jane’s first novel, Dead And Living, was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award, and selected for a university course in 2002. In The Oak Island Affair, Jane’s main character has to learn to see beyond the barriers of reason in order to arrive at a solution to the real, international, 218-year old, multi-million-dollar treasure hunt on Canada’s Oak Island. The Oak Island Affair was a 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist. Through The Rapids, a short history of Peterborough, Ontario written by Jane was published in 2001. She has also had short stories, a play and non-fiction published in Canadian magazines and newspapers. 

No comments: