When they were both relaxed in the leather seats he leaned forward to speak to the driver. "Stop at the Vienna Cafe on the way out of the city so we can get some coffee, then head to the airport." Chavdar squeezed June's arm. "Would you like a cappuccino before we set off? I have to stay awake on the flight to finish some work."
     "No thanks. I am more in need of a nap than caffeine. I like falling asleep on planes."
     "Would you like a Valium to relax?"
     "You have Valium?"
     "Yes. They are like sleeping pills. Relaxation pills."
     "I know what they are."
     "I take them when I have too much work on my mind and can't fall asleep. They are harmless. Sold over the counter."
     Claire had taken Valium. That was reason enough to refuse, but June had not been sleeping in the new apartment. Most nights she would sit by the window for hours on end alone, listening to the howling of wild dogs and the wailing of car alarms. "I have slept with her. Okay, I have." When Chavdar was with her, June still did not sleep, but went over and over the absurd events that led to this strange man being beside her in bed, and why it was that she allowed him to continue to come. Other nights it was a cat in heat in the courtyard or a child crying upstairs. I have slept with her. Okay I have. I have. I have. Hail hitting the balcony and a rat scuttling through the crawl space, her mother clapping in the audience and Ethan gunning his Mustang's motor below her dormitory window. She was so, so tired.
     June squeezed Chavdar's hand. "Yes, please. I do want one."
     Generous as ever, he gave her two.


     The crescent shaped bay in Mykonos was dotted with brightly colored fishing boats. Whitewashed houses were stacked on top of one another, climbing the hill that rose from the sea. It was not tourist season, but the weather was unseasonably warm and the outdoor cafes were packed with beautiful Greeks away from the mainland for a weekend holiday. The women wore expensive sunglasses, and their hair was pulled back severely, making their elegant necks seem even longer, their bone structure even more regal. In loose linen suits and three-hundred-dollar sandals, they sat, drinking frappés with men who sipped ouzo and seemed to grow tanner and more gorgeous by the second.
     While Chavdar checked them into their hotel, June removed her shoes and walked down to the small stretch of sandy beach. Fishermen were dumping barrels of shiny, silver fish out of their boats into troughs. Seaweed circulated in dark green patches in the otherwise clear water. June walked out to the edge of the beach, sat on a rock, and dangled her feet into the water. Attached to the rocks, just below the surface of the sea, June saw a reddish-orange starfish. She waded into the water, lifting her skirt, to get a closer look.
     June had never seen a starfish before, and as she approached, it seemed to her that the strange animal was raising one of its fat, triangular arms to wave at her. She laughed out loud and bent down. The laugh died in her mouth. The starfish was sawing off its own arm against a sharp piece of the rocks. Slowly, back and forth, the animal twisted its body, pushing and pulling. The rock was like a dull razor, and soon the arm broke free. The wave carried the chubby red tentacle toward June, and she scrambled out of the water, cutting her own foot open in her haste. Her blood was the same color as the starfish arm.
     "I saw a starfish trying to kill itself," she said to Chavdar when she joined him in the hotel lobby. The porter had just arrived to take their bags up to the room.
     "What?"
     "I said, I saw a starfish trying to kill itself."
     "Why are you talking that way?"
     "I don't know."
     "Why are you limping?"
     "I cut my foot. I cut my foot open when I saw the starfish trying to kill itself." She grabbed her foot, took off her shoe, and showed the two men the bottom of her foot. "See?"
     Chavdar made a face and took her elbow. "I think you need to lie down."
     The porter shook his head. "It wasn't killing itself, miss. Don't worry. They just do that."
     "It's normal?" asked June.
     "It's nature," answered the porter. As June was limping away, the porter leaned toward Chavdar and whispered, "I'll send up a doctor."


     The first few days in Mykonos passed pleasurably. Each afternoon came and went in a haze of fragrant floral aromas and distant laughter. June was at home, giddy, dizzy, feeling as if she had stepped out of Bulgaria into the Malibu beach print hanging on the wall of an Istanbul hotel. Out of stench into perfume, from pain into paradise. From one man to another. She had vague twinges of regret but the exhaustion was like amnesia. She slept twelve hours a day.
     In the evenings, June and Chavdar would feast on seafood past midnight in the Greek taverns. They picked at enormous salads, overflowing with oily brown-skinned olives, sweet red peppers, and slices of feta cheese. They finger-fed each other from decorative platters of shellfish and toasted each other with bottle after bottle of wine.
     After dinner, when the ouzo started to flow and the bands started to play, June would twirl onto the dance floor with the Greek women, and beckon to Chavdar. Sometimes he joined her and sometimes he watched. While the women swayed and swirled their arms and fingers to the music, the men would kneel around the edge of the dance floor, clapping their hands rhythmically to the song, paying homage to the dancers in an ancient tradition. When June grew clumsy, as she always did now at the end of the night, Chavdar would scoop her into his arms and carry her away. Sometimes she did not wake up, and he would caress her lifeless body and put her to bed.
     One night at an outdoor beach cafe, their waiter, a young handsome island boy, picked a handful of wildflowers from the courtyard. He took them to June, who was on the dance floor. June slipped the largest and most exotic flower behind her ear, and then continued to dance sleepily, the bouquet dangling from her right hand. The boy smiled at her, and she thanked him by blowing him a kiss. He blushed as if falling in love. Chavdar appreciated the sight of June drenched in flowers. While she was dancing with her eyes half-closed, he rose and walked toward the kitchen. June didn't even notice he was gone.
     Chavdar found the waiter in the back, taking a pail of seafood shells to the garbage. The Greek boy looked up and smiled at Chavdar for a split second before the fist came crashing down into his face, again and again and again.
     Back at the table, June saw a light splattering of red droplets across Chavdar's jaw. "What do you-" She stopped in mid-sentence while reaching out for his face.
     "What?"
     June covered her mouth with her hand and looked down.
     "What's wrong?"
     "Nothing."
     "What is it, what do I have?"
     "Something. Something on your cheek."
     Chavdar touched one deep red speck. "Seafood sauce," he said, gesturing to the fried calamari platter on the table.
     "Seafood sauce?" she asked, unsure.
     "Of course."
     "Of course," she repeated, and reached out to dab the boy's blood off Chavdar's jaw with her light blue napkin. She needed to believe him, but her hand shook violently.
     Chavdar grabbed it and squeezed, harder and harder, until the shaking stopped.


     Alone in their hotel room, Chavdar would turn the radio to traditional Greek music, and June would dance just for him. Drinking scotch and smoking cigars he sat and watched, sometimes clapping slowly to the beat like the Greeks, while she spun and sang and sometimes tripped over herself. After she shed her summer dresses and jewelry, she would continue to dance, closing her eyes and hugging herself. "Keep dancing," Chavdar would whisper, when she began to look tired. His face was hidden in the shadows. "Don't stop until I tell you to. Don't stop until I'm ready for you. Come here. But don't stop."
     She would dance toward him, swinging her hips back and forth like a belly dancer. He often liked to grab her around the small of the waist and use one hand to tilt her torso back. Then he would pour a thin, cold trail of scotch down between her breasts. As he began to lick her from the belly button upward, he would murmur against her stomach, "Don't stop moving. Keep moving. Keep dancing until I tell you to get in the bed."
     Though it was June, it did not look like June, because she no longer wore her big, eager, and easy smile. Instead she looked entranced, drugged, on the verge of falling. When she began bumping into the table, or strangely giggling at the floor, Chavdar would stand up and pull her into the bed.
     When he had finished with her, he would become tender again. In these quiet moments before the sun came up, June could forget the way Chavdar looked when he was displeased. She would slip out the package of Valium he had given her, and take two or three, depending on how much she'd had to drink. In the mind-numbing comfort of the tranquilizers, she could forget the way his voice became accusing and condescending within seconds. The Valium made her forget where her husband was, and with who, as well as the words Yankee Mafia bitch and I slapped my mom so goddamn hard. It was a pleasant retreat, and she went there often. Far back inside this safe place, she closed her eyes and hummed old Abba songs from when she and her sister were girls. "Dancing Queen" drowned out the ringing of Chavdar's cell phone. She sang just loud enough to fill her own ears; "Feel the beat of the tambourine, oh yeaahhhh." This way, she did not have to hear his conversations with the agency-the ones that made her sick with an indescribable fear. She did not have to remember the light spray of blood splashed across his handsome, cruel jaw.
     It was in this early morning state somewhere between waking and dreaming that June felt attached to Chavdar, grateful for his fingers tickling along her spine, flattered by his lust and lavish generosity. In the last moments before she succumbed to the sedatives, she felt a lovely contentment. Sofia seemed as far away as Los Angeles, Ethan less necessary to her than Chavdar, and James a figment of her imagination. It was easy to imagine that there was no reason at all for sadness. After all, every mother dies and divorce is common. She snuggled deeper into the cool sheets, imagining a brighter future. In Mykonos, that future was only as far away as the sunny afternoon awakening, and would consist of only more dancing, drinking, and drowning herself as pleasantly as possible.

     Downstairs the Greek music started to play as the family who ran the hotel began preparing for the breakfast crowd. Though the ocean was too cool for swimming, people would be getting up for walks along the shore. Kids would search for seashells and stomp on balls of seaweed. If they were alert, they might see a fourlegged fire-colored starfish on the rocks, just starting to regrow its missing flesh.
     The bed undulated beneath her like waves, and June thought with awe and horror about the reddish-orange starfish. It wrenched its own arm from its body, little by little, until the severed piece was free and floating away, dead. It floated through a pool of June's blood.
     Dishes clanked downstairs, and the smell of baking bread permeated the room. Chavdar snored beside her, his heavy, hairy leg stretched across her pelvis. She was pinned, but she didn't dare move. Staring at the ceiling, June recognized her own approach to sleep by the drugged and incoherent repetition in her mind of swimming ocean images. A sea star was self-destructing but not dying, performing the amputation of its arm over and over. June lay perfectly still. Her green, half-closed eyes slowly traversed the ceiling, where she saw scarves floating in water, arms floating, the color red streaming from the cut on her foot, the color red streaming from the nose of a young and beautiful boy. It's nature, the porter had said. Barely awake, June contemplated the merits of evisceration while life went on in the kitchen below. She couldn't believe it was already a new day, and couldn't help wishing it were ending instead of starting. Ending and ending and ending. It was a comfortable thought to carry her away.

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