The floor was glossy and smooth, polished wood. The walls were white. The el-shaped room I stepped into was bright and empty, just a beige phone on a shelf.
There were sliding glass doors. I stepped through them onto reddish tiles, a rooftop garden edged with a low wall of white stucco, holding bushy green ferns. A metal railing overlooked the quiet leafy lane below.
We have just come from the airport. I have never been here before, in this apartment, in this country. Everything is going to be all right here. Everything will be much easier. It’s warm and sunny here. There are flowers. I saw them from the taxi.
There is a real kitchen here with yellow linoleum, a tall fridge, a stove, counters and cupboards and a sink by the window. Already, so much more than we had in New York. And we didn’t grow into this, the way I imagined we would in New York. No, we just switched countries and now we have all this.
Natvar has an idea of how we could get couches. We can’t just buy furniture. There is no money. But there will be. Everything is going to be all right now. Natvar said.
We buy some heavy white cotton fabric, the kind people here shade their verandahs with. I saw these stretched blue canvas shields all throught he city as we drove.
Natvar buys the fabric in white and has the man who usually makes the shades make four over-large, over-stuffed rectangular cushions, hard as rocks.
We place the cushions on two matching wooden boxes that have come our way. We push each couch against a wall so that they are at right angles to each other, near the sliding glass doors, facing the front door. They look gloriously white and expensive. A coup.
People must think we are rich, at ease, successful, busy, international. This is who we must be.
At a concert one night at the Acropolis our host for the evening introduces us to a chic woman my age who says she works for Vogue.
“That’s what you should be like,” Natvar says later. “Why can’t you be like that? You could get a job writing for Vogue,” and I imagine myself with a real job, a profession, an actual assignment. I imagine myself that confident woman in her short black dress and heels.
I have the dress, a perfect short black dress, expensive, bought at Bloomingdales on my mother’s credit card that we will never pay. I can almost imagine myself that woman, but no one has given me that job, and that’s the part I cannot imagine. It’s as if she comes from a world I have never been able to figure out how to access.
But Natvar has told me this is the person I should be and I know I could almost be that person. Maybe I am jut not trying hard enough. I must work harder, make this happen, correct what is lacking.
I am in New York a few months later for two weeks. I call the offices of Vogue. I say I am a journalist living in Athens, that I’d like to write for them. I’m told to come in at a certain time and I meet a woman, sit across from her in a small office. I stride in with a smile and a firm handshake. I have some ideas what I could write about and the person behind the desk agrees and tells me to send her whatever I complete.
But I can go no further. I return to Athens, to the apartment where I am on some kind of track I can’t get off of. I can prove that I tried. I had the appointment at Vogue just like the chic woman at the Acropolis would have done. But it has not turned me into her.
No, I must clean. I must fill any empty moment with endeavor, a job, a chore, an assignment, a duty, or else I am not doing my part. And there are days at a time when things go quite smoothly, and other days when Natvar criticizes me so harshly, building a case, layer by layer at the dinner table while the others listen, building the case that I am emotionally damaged, lazy, heartless.