Cover image for Evening would find me
Evening would find me
Estill, Katie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Princeton, NJ : Ontario Review Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
171 pages ; 22 cm
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In Katie Estill's beautifully written and riveting first novel, the young American protagonist, Sylvia, grieving over the death of her mother, flees to Greece to begin a new life. In Athens, in a vividly described cityscape, she meets a seductive Greek couple, the painter Ari and his beautiful, though schizophrenic young wife, Althea. Sylvia and Ari eventually become lovers. For Sylvia, the affair brings one revelation after another and draws her into a relationship with her lover's wife, whom she alternatively resents, loves, and attempts to protect. In a powerful and haunting climax, the three become irrevocably bound together in death and in life. Evening Would Find Me is both a love story and a portrait of the artist as a young woman.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Estill's first novel is a Greek tragedy with modern sensibilities. Greek artist Aristotle Melas is married to a beautiful and rich madwoman, Althea. The couple meet Sylvia Harris, an American traveling in Greece to recover from the long illness and death of her mother. Sylvia isn't afraid of Althea's obvious eccentricities, and the husband and wife are drawn to Sylvia because of her quiet acceptance. After a later chance encounter, Ari and Sylvia begin an affair, loving at Althea's expense. Sylvia simultaneously wishes for Althea's recovery and for her disappearance. Althea is in and out of a sanitarium, where she occasionally lapses into a catatonic state. But she isn't so deranged as to be unaware of the love affair. The three people develop a singular symbiotic relationship. When Althea's wealthy father arranges her release because of pregnancy, the lovers confront the conflict between desire and duty. Estill also evokes Greek culture, customs, and landscapes in this story of passion and madness. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Greek islands provide a gorgeous setting for this m‚nage-…-trois intrigue, a first novel in which the love story develops obliquely, but is suffused with poetically described scenery. Mourning the death of her mother, Sylvia Harris, a young woman from Ohio, escapes to Athens to find a new life, wipe out painful memories of her clouded family past and flee the social chaos of America in the 1960s and 1970s. The Athenian world she enters, however, is no less tumultuous. Sylvia meets Aristedes Melas, a gifted painter, and Althea, his exquisitely beautiful but schizophrenic wife. Inexplicably drawn to this passionate, complicated couple, Sylvia becomes Ari's lover and Althea's confidante and protector, emotionally intimate with both husband and wife. She discovers that Althea is Ari's muse, the free spirit that he captures in his most renowned works, shown in Athens's National Gallery. Althea's uninhibited energy is at the heart of her beauty; it is what draws Ari, Sylvia and many other admirers, but this childlike intensity also provoked frequent psychotic breaks that edge her toward self-destruction. The Greek drama quickly descends into tragedy, but along the way, the wanderings of this troubled, sensuous threesome take readers to the marble lions of Delos and the harbor of Mykonos, where Sylvia and Ari make love for the first time; to the black-garbed old women of Kalavrita; and to the beach resorts of the Corinthian Gulf, where Althea dives nude into the night sea. At times graceful, at other times blunt-edged, the voice of this novel is somewhat uneven, but has all the right elements are in place to produce an engrossing story--a seductive setting, attractive characters and a dramatic love affair. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One It began with a woman. An arbor, dappled light falling like coins to the ground. I wasn't the only one to look. A couple of Greeks leaned forward at her approach. Young men were always hanging around the National Garden in Athens, strolling through that green place hoping to meet someone. I had rebuffed them so many times they were taking a dislike to me.     The woman advanced toward the small clearing shaded by plane trees. I sat on a park bench beside a pond where swans glided across the surface, smoothly as in a dream. I had come to Greece after my mother died. I had just finished college in Ohio when she fell sick. I watched her recede from life and all I could do was be there for her. It had been an awful passage of time and after she died my own country left a bad taste in my mouth.     The young woman walked through the grape arbor at a slower than normal pace, and I noticed the way her light summer dress rustled over her knees, and when the sunlight fell behind her the fabric showed her body, the long fawn legs, the graceful awkwardness. She had the look of a goddess; I'm not sure which one, but one that had no armor or strategy.     When she reached the end of the grape arbor she stood within its leafy arch, then walked straight over to me.     The remains of my lunch lay on a paper bag on my lap. A chunk of bread from the bakery on Skoufa Street, cheese, an orange. I looked up at her. Her hair was the color of honey spilling from a jar and done up in a braid at the back of her head, lighter blond wisps falling to her neck. Her skin was pale and her eyes shimmered with intensity, like someone whose vices were wearing her down. Then her gaze settled upon me sitting there with a piece of bread half raised to my lips, and such a childlike innocence rose to the surface of her eyes that my first impression was dispelled, and I understood that she was lost. She had no idea where she was.     She stood over me and stared, and I felt I knew her somehow. A lank of that burnished hair fell across her throat. She reached out for my bread, and I allowed her to snatch it from my hand. Then she sat down beside me and began to eat with the singular concentration of the starved. There was nothing else in the world but this bread, which she broke into small pieces and placed in her mouth, not with ravenous speed but with complete immersion in the act.     I looked her over carefully. Her fingers were manicured, the nails polished to pale translucent pearls.     "Are you all right?" I asked in Greek.     When she didn't answer it occurred to me that she was deaf, or a foreigner like me. I repeated the question in English then. She noticed my voice at that point, for she turned to me and attempted to feed me by placing a crust of bread to my lips. I took her offering into my mouth, for I did not wish to disturb this person in the least. Her fingers smelled of nutmeg and vanilla bean. The bread in my mouth tasted of her hands.     "Are you lost?" I asked. In Greek the phrase can mean "have you lost the road?" and the words took on double meaning, as they so often do in Greek.     She just smiled and brushed the bread crumbs from her fingertips.     "We'll sit here for a while," I said. Someone would come for her, and if no one came I would take her with me to find a police officer. The decision pleased her well enough, because she took my hand and interlaced her long fingers with mine until our hands were knotted into a single firm ball. "Perhaps something will look familiar to you. You'll recognize something."     "Oh, you think it will come to me?"     "It might. What's your name?"     "What's yours? "     I said, "My name is Sylvia."     She ate more bread and then some cheese. She looked about the clearing, then pointed to the curved white neck of a swan swimming in the pond. "Ari is in there."     "Ari? This Ari is someone you know?"     She nodded and smiled. "Oh, yes, I know him," she said, looking at the swan. "I come here often, I know all his ways."     She held my hand and sat close to me and watched the swans. I felt the pulse of this strange girl's hand. The awkward closeness of her warm body. Slowly I became self-conscious, much too aware of myself, and my heart began to beat, high and rapidly, and maybe that accounts for my reaction to him when he came loping through the oleanders. He saw her and shouted "Althea--," a kind of anguish in his throat.     Blood rushed to my face, my body registering a feeling like embarrassment, but somehow different.     "Ari--"     "Panayia! Holy mother, what happened to you? I've been looking everywhere--"     "You know this person?"     "Oh, yes, I know him." She was beaming with pleasure. "He's my brother."     She raised our joined fingers like some trophy she had won. "Look, I've made a friend--"     He sat down and enfolded her in his arms. "I've been out of my mind--"     The woman, Althea, smiled and raised her lips to be kissed. He pressed her head to his shoulder and hugged her close. "Oh, you!" he chided her, but tenderly. "I turn my head one minute and you're gone! You rascal, where have you been?"     "Why, I've been here, talking to Sylvia."     I don't think he had actually seen me before. I had just been a vague figure beside the one he had been searching for. Now he looked, inclined his head in a fractional bow. He was very handsome, in the dark Greek way, but at the moment all I noticed was the way that fear had wearied him. Something passed over his eyes like a cloud, a vulnerability, the dark eyes softening. "Oh ..."     I said, "We were looking at the swans."     "Ach, the swans ..." He was still gathering it all in; he had found her and everything was all right. I raised my hand, and he carefully dislodged Althea's clenched fingers from mine. Once her fingers were freed they dove into his dark hair and around to clutch the back of his skull. She rocked against him back and forth.     "Thank you," he said.     "You don't have to thank me, I'm just a human being."     "Not everyone is." His face was leathery, prematurely lined by the elements--a confident masculine face that broke into a smile. "You have no idea what I've been thinking. The park is full of mallakes--"     I nodded. "Your sister is very beautiful."     He looked queasy then. For a moment he seemed to recoil and he closed his eyes. He held her head to his shoulder. His hands were large and spatulate, like a peasant's, sprouting coarse black hair. Flecks of paint crusted his fingernails. I found myself staring at his hands. I became aware of his hands as they protectively fingered Althea's bronze hair, then, slowly, every part of my body became aware of his hands. I couldn't stop looking at his hands. When I glanced at his face again, he was in control of himself. Just a twitch at the side of wide, masculine lips.     "She went into the public toilet," he said. "She must have gone out the back door. I waited, I called. Finally I went in. I took a blow to the head for you," he scolded Althea but he was chuckling. "From the sharp end of a widow's purse!" He gestured a deft smack to the side of his head in a way that was charming and made me laugh.     "Sylvia gave me bread and cheese."     "Hungry, pedi mou? You just ate breakfast an hour ago."     "She ate all the olives. You can smell them on her mouth."     "It's not polite to smell a woman's mouth you've never met before. Some might take offense."     He looked at me again, this time his eyes resting on my face as if it were a surprisingly cool and quiet place. He leaned forward and through the open neck of his white shirt I saw a chest matted with black hair.     He held Althea as he looked into my eyes. He broke our gaze first. I had made him flush.     He took his hand from Althea's back and extended it to me. "Aristides Melas."     "Sylvia Harris."     His eyes widened. "Then you're not Greek."     "No."     "You look Greek." He meant it as a compliment. "Your accent is good," he said, nodding approvingly. "You're not English or French; you must be--"     "American."     "Americanitha--" Then he smiled boyishly, a glint of sexual mischief in his eyes. "I should have known," he said in English. "They say the Americans have guts. That's what they say of the good ones. These Greeks shrink back from one like this," he said, looking down at Althea. "They would turn away--or worse--some mallaka would try--" He stopped then and smiled at me. "But you stayed with her."     Althea uncurled herself from his arms and stood up. "Pah may volta, Ari." Let's go for a walk.     "Pah may volta?" He raised his chin in the Greek gesture of no. "I'm taking you home."     "No, Ari," she said, pouting. "Let's feed the ducks or go to the museo." I blinked. It was as if she'd suddenly remembered who she was and exactly where they were. I looked to him for some explanation, but he only patted her hand.     "All right. We'll go for a walk, pedi mou." He stood slowly. "Thank you, Sylvia Harris."     He placed his arm around Althea's shoulder and they walked away, along the shoreline of the pond.     "So where are you taking me for lunch?"     "You just ate bread and cheese."     "But that's not a meal. Maybe it is for Sylvia, but not for me."     "For you it's just the beginning, a small mezé," he teased.     "Where will you take me--to Floca's?"     "Floca's?" He raised his hands and sighed. I imagined the two of them sitting at Floca's. He would certainly have his hands full. Floca's cafe--with its crowd of poets and intellectuals--she would probably cause a scene. Maybe he enjoyed scenes.     "Why not?" He laughed, stopped, turned back to me. "Will you come with us?"     "Me? No. Thank you."     "Come, Sylvia. It will be all right."     "Thanks." I gestured at the scraps on my lap. "That was lunch."     He nodded and smiled. "It's the olives. They make the meal."     "Ari, come on."     "All right, all right. To Floca's--"     They left me and I thought about him for the rest of the afternoon. I was at loose ends. I felt alone. I walked over to Syntagma Square, but I didn't want to pass by Floca's so I caught a bus to take me down Athena Street to the city marketplace. Standing room only, and hardly that, I swayed against the bodies of strangers as the bus trundled down the boulevard into the old part of town. * * *     I think my mother first knew she was going to die during a cocktail hour in winter. She raised her glass in a toast and said, "When I go, Sylvia, throw my ashes over the side of the ravine." "Jeezus, not the compost heap--" But it struck us funny, somehow. All those years of dragging leaves and grass clippings to the edge of the ravine.     Then after she died I couldn't part with her so I kept her ashes in the house, but there's no good place to keep your dead mother in the house, and finally I followed an irreverent impulse and stashed the box of her remains in a clothes hamper. There in the linen closet, inside the old wicker hamper that hadn't been used since I was young, she lay with a child's tiny pair of rubber swim flippers and mask, her cracked chartreuse eye pods used for sun-bathing, my old gingham two-piece and her mildewed rubber cap from the summers we used to rent cottages at Conneaut, and Madison, and Geneva-on-the-Lake. Maybe those had been our happiest years, so I didn't feel so bad about the clothes hamper.     Of course, eventually I did feel bad so I set off to bury her in the ravine. After I dug the hole I remembered she didn't want to be buried.     She'd been buried all her life. * * *     The bus trundled on to the marketplace on Athena Street. There was the egg man with his polished head, the bald egg man leaning over his stall. You have to learn to barter here. Tomatoes, zucchini, barrels of briny olives, the black greasy beauties from Náfplio or Kalamata, the best. Kilos of dark green, virgin olive oil, the scent of it so thick and dense you feel drunk with the smell of olives. Hanging sides of lamb, the peculiar scent of goat, rabbits, plump soup chickens. The tender fingerlings of bakaliáro, rainbow sardelles in the fish market where the smell of raw fish fills your lungs and you leave with a few fish scales stuck to your arm.     Oh, you'll pay for your greed, with bags so heavy the handles cut into your fingers before you reach Omonia Square. Last week during rush hour I saw a man run down by a bus on Omonia Square. He lay in the middle of Patission Boulevard, his limbs jerking like a wounded dog, while everyone in line at the bus stop piled onto the bus, shoving and jostling for position.     I waited for a traffic light. City buses careened around Omonia Square. There was something purely Greek about a bus ride in Athens. You never had a seat and you were never standing up so much as being held upright, belly to back. I once observed a woman stacked between two young men at the rear of a bus. The men moved against her and a glazed look came over her eyes as we passengers watched silently. When she got off the bus, she adjusted her skirt as she stepped out into the sun, shaking her hair back into place.     Nothing shocks the Greeks, they aren't puritans.     I stopped at a kiosk on the square and bought a newspaper. The Greek tabloids don't talk about sex, they talk about politics. Politics, the forbidden fruit was still a fresh taste on their tongues. I had arrived in Athens a year after the colonels' right-wing junta had fallen and talking politics was more exciting to them than having sex. They talked politics with passion and abandon, and many Greeks viewed this most recent oppression of their country as having been engineered by the Americans. I supposed they were right.     I was young. I had done well in academics, but near the end of my senior year in college I had been trying too hard and started to wonder what the point of it was. I was admitted to a graduate program with a very long and prestigious name around the time we discovered my mother was sick.     Still I intended to go to grad school, so I spent one summer waiting tables at a cocktail lounge across from a racetrack called Thistledown, socking my tips away and mingling with the sorts that hang out at racetracks and call it a life. A couple of FBI men drank there for a while, looking for Jimmy Hoffa, they said.     Autumn came and I stayed on. * * *     I buried my mother above the ground. That was how she wanted it. I scattered her remains across the snow. I didn't want to face what had become of her, so I forced myself to look. There on the snow lay the small nuggets of her charred bones. She had warned me it wouldn't be ash --what remains after the fire. She knew from her own parents. A wave of revulsion passed through me, then I was filled with recognition, and I wept.     It was strange and curious. From a distance the bits seemed white, but close up I saw they weren't white at all, but slate blue and gray--like tiny chips of flint on the snow. Some pieces of my mother were furled and striated like the bark of a tree, while others were rough and pocked like sandstone that has weathered unevenly.     When I arrived in Greece, there was nowhere else I wished to go. * * *     Athens is a street cafe, beneath striped awnings or the deep shade of plane trees, a conscious severing from activity, where even the simplest partaking becomes a ritual. My favorite cafe is set among the trees on the side of Lycabettus Hill. From there you can see the Acropolis, the Areopagus and the Pnyx, like ancient islands rising above today's city, and from this vantage point all the cacophony of human life--the buses, the horns, the voices of three million people--from here it is the sound of a great wind. Copyright © 2000 Katie Estill. All rights reserved.