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This morning when Walter tumbled off a beribboned donkey halfway up the steep cobblestone path from the port to Fira he was embarrassed. But the accident has worked to his advantage—instead of being nagged by Vicky to join her on the guided tour of the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, he has been allowed to rest in a chair.
Not far from where Walter sits, a tour guide is expounding on the excavations at Akritori. Walter is usually bored by lectures, especially lectures about art or history, but this man sounds like the aristocratic Earl of Grantham on Downton Abbey and since the Earl is Walter’s favorite character (Walter having similarly endured wayward daughters and a domineering mother and a manipulative wife), Walter finds himself paying attention.
The guide is discussing the frescos archeologists uncovered under volcanic ash: “One of the frescos depicts women gathering saffron by hand from crocus flowers much as it is still picked today.”
Last night Walter had spat out his forkful of fish in saffron sauce and declared it inedible.
“Scholars speculate that these frescos depict religious rites. Then again, perhaps the owner of the frescos was a saffron merchant and these his advertisements.”
The tourists chuckle.
“We know little about the Minoans,” the guide continues. “For example, the beautiful lady in this fresco could be a priestess or a princess or even a lady of the evening.”
What fool can’t tell the difference between a priestess and a prostitute?
Walter limps across the room to judge for himself.
She is a beauty.
Thick black hair ripples like a river down her back to her slim waist. Her fringed skirt bells as she walks, the end of her belt dangles above her firm round rump, a spot of excitement blooms on her white cheek, the faintest of smiles parts her lips. She reaches out to her lover, and though her hand is missing, Walter feels it beckoning.
The air around him vibrates.
Her gold hoop earring glints. Ornaments on her skirt tinkle.
He hears buzzing.
She calls to him.
Her lips will be as sweet as honey; her breasts full and heavy; her skin rich with the warm, musky, sun-kissed scent of saffron.
“There you are,” Vicky says. “The bus is leaving in ten minutes. Do you need to use the bathroom?
Walter’s head throbs. He cannot leave her. Suddenly, across the room, he sees her lovely face tucked under a man’s hairy arm.
She is on the cover of a book?
The museum gift shop!
Vicky hovers behind him, checking her watch and muttering. She rolls her eyes when she sees his purchase.
“You don’t even like art,” she says.
At lunch, with his lady in his lap, he orders dishes flavored with saffron.
Vicky reminds him that he dislikes the flavor.
“Aren’t you always pushing me to try new things?” he says.
The throbbing in his head does not diminish his appetite. He sops up the last traces of orange sauce with bread and then crams the soaked bread in his mouth, craving her tongue, her nipples, her sex.
That afternoon while Vicky wanders among the shops in Oia on the rim of a volcano high above the blue Aegean Sea, Walter shields his eyes from the painful glare of the sun and takes his lady on a hunt for saffron. The bottle they choose sets him back four hundred dollars but its rich earthy smell is the perfume of paradise.
Unfortunately, when they return to their hotel, Vicky finds the receipt in his pocket. She calls him a fool. Then she calls his doctor. While she discusses the possibility of a concussion or even, God forbid, a brain tumor, Walter locks himself and his lady in the bathroom’s cool darkness.
With trembling hands he crushes the blood red strands of saffron into crimson dust on the vanity. The dust leaves a glowing trail as he scrapes it into a glass of water. Crimson streams dance and whirl until it seems the glass has captured melted joy.
The room smells like a garden.
“For you,” he says, raising his glass. He wishes he knew poetry.
An electric taste fills his mouth. Sweet and hot. Her tongue on his.
His pants pool around his ankles. His hands tangle in her thick black hair.
There is pounding on the bathroom door.
“Walter, unlock the door! Doctor Warren says we have to get you to a hospital!”
He touches himself. His hand is her hand.
“Don’t make me call the hotel staff!”
Walter’s head feels as if it were splitting open, but in that saffron haze, that radiant glow, that bright yellow fog of pleasure, he is the happiest he has ever been.
Laurie has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her prose has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Foliate Oak and The Drum, among other literary magazines. She also writes for children. She lives on the north shore of Boston and enjoys walking on the beach or working in her garden while imagining peculiar fates for her characters.