The Temple | Pushing the Wave

The Temple

Story, 25 January 2023
by L.A. Davenport

From the collection Dear Lucifer and Other Stories

Two Greek temples to Hera in Paestum
Two Greek temples to Hera in Paestum, Italy, by Oliver-Bonjoch, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Ben lifted his eyes and squinted at the ocean-blue sky. Sunlight baked the hard, unyielding grass and ancient carved stone. Ripples rose from the ground, swimming the nearby trees and pomegranate shrubs in a sea of relentless heat.

Ben peered at the group. The guide was still explaining what they were looking at, but Ben wasn’t really listening any more.

– Temple…Greek…Doric columns…open-air altar…decorated frieze…Hera…550 BC, the guide said in his heavy Italian accent.

The air ricocheted with the clicking and sawing of insects, and Ben heard his heartbeat pounding in his ears. The material of his shirt was hot and his armpits were damp. His mouth was sticky and the dust coated his tongue.

He remembered the shop by the entrance to the archeological site and wished he had bought a bottle of water. Actually, he wished he had decided to go to the beach instead of coming on this tour. At least he could have dived into the water every now and then. Here, there was just burned grass and hot stones.

The guide, who was sensibly wearing a cap with a piece of material hanging down over his neck, started to move away, and the other members of the group, also struggling in the heat, slowly followed him. The grass crunched beneath their feet as they trudged away.

The guide’s voice became lost in the rising air. Ben lifted himself from the steps of the temple, wiping the pale dust from his hands and inspecting the red indentations left by the sharp stones where he had been leaning.

– Have you been to Italy before?

Ben jumped and a headache instantly rose through his skull. He stared at a woman standing just a few feet away. He wasn’t sure whether he had seen her before, but there was something familiar about her.

– Er, yes. Are you on the tour?

– No, I am in the shop.

Her accent was soft, not quite Italian. She pointed towards the entrance with a lazy arc of her arm.

– I go for walks around the site when it is quiet. It is very quiet today.

Ben looked at her again, noticing her soft dark curls, loosely tied up, and her large, dark eyes. She placed her hands on her hips and smiled. Shorts. She was wearing shorts. She had tanned, long legs and canvas trainers. And a striped t-shirt. Pretty? Handsome? No, she was much more than that. She was graceful, glowing, almost divine, despite her t-shirt and shorts.

But Ben seemed hardly able to take her in. He had spent the whole morning turning down his brain to processing only primary sensations: sharp, soft; hot, cold; bright, dark. He sighed.

– Do you like Paestum, she asked.

– Yes. It’s very nice. It’s a bit too warm for me today. But the temples…

He swung his arm around, looking at the ancient buildings again. No, not again; for the first time.

– The temples are really beautiful.

He smiled at her.

– Did you see the painted tombs, she asked. And the…

She frowned and looked away. – Tuffatore? What is the English? Yes, that’s it, diver. Did you see the diver?

– Yes. He looked so real. He made me want to jump in the sea.

Ben’s throat hurt as he tried to swallow.

– Do you want to swim, now? With me?

Ben frowned.

– It would be cooler, no? You are uncomfortable in the heat.

He was embarrassed and tried to hide the growing damp patches under his arms.

– We are used to it here.

She smiled and then gazed towards the rippling trees.

– I love the quiet here.

Ben listened to the insects and…nothing. He glanced over at the receding tour group. He could vaguely pick out the guide’s flat drone through the rising air and the clicking and sawing of the insects. He was a little guilty. They would be finished soon, and he didn’t want to appear ungrateful.

He glanced back at the woman, who was watching him with faint amusement.

– Where would we swim, he asked.

– In the sea. It’s really close by, actually. It’s just over there.

She smiled and pointed over the trees.

– Do you want to come?

– But, the tour…We have a bus…How would I get back?

– Don’t worry, I have a car. I can drive you back to your hotel later.

Ben looked at the ancient stones, but could already the sense the cool saltwater on his skin. He smiled.

– I don’t know your name.

– Some call me Angelia. And you are Ben.

She thrust out her hand, slim and tanned, with long, plain nails. Her hand was cool, almost cold to the touch. As he took her hand, something flowed through him, like electricity.

– How do you…how do you know my name?

She smiled conspiratorially and held tight onto his hand.

– I’ve been waiting for you.

He stared into her eyes, unable to tear away from her gaze.

– Come, let’s swim.

She turned and pulled him towards the trees.

He looked back at the disappearing group in a daze. He couldn’t remember, couldn’t think. Now there was only the heat of the sun and the cool of the coming sea. And the electricity flowing through him from her cool hand.

He tried to focus on her shorts and tanned legs, her strong back and slim arm reaching back to him, her fingers entwined in his, unbreakably bound to him, glowing through him.

A branch hit him in the face, the leaves sharp on his skin. He closed his eyes and had a flashback to the hotel swimming pool, to the square outside the church, to the morning market, to the beach, to the shaded branches by the restaurant where he had eaten on the first night…

He opened his eyes and stared, his heart pounding. She had been in all of those places. She had everywhere, in every shadow, in every glance, in every face. She had been calling to him, waiting for him.

He stared down at her long, slim hand, unbreakably bound in his, and then up at her strong back, as she pulled him on and on.

– Come, or the tide will go out.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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The Temple | Pushing the Wave