Michelle Donahue


Michelle Donahue is a current MFA candidate in Creative Writing & Environment at Iowa State where she was the managing editor of Flyway. Her work has appeared in Hobart, Whiskey Island, Front Porch Journal, and others.


We’re barreling down a dark mountain road. The engine of our dust-painted Dodge is smoking and leaking gas. At any minute we could explode.

“I fixed it,” Manos says as he takes his hands off the wheel to adjust his cap. “This time, I fixed it.” He’s been saying this about the Dodge for days. He’s less than four decades old and Greece hasn’t stolen his optimism yet.

We’re driving from his small farm and I’m inside, pushed against the car’s right door, which sometimes doesn’t lock, but seems to be hanging in there tonight. We’re all hanging in there. Me: just barely. Jael is sandwiched between Manos and me. She’s Danish and like me, is also stuck in her mid twenties, also trying to eke out an existence as an adult. We are the only farm help here. It’s strange how I’ve found myself covered in Greek farm dirt and so far from home, so far from my plans I once made with my now ex-boyfriend Alex. I’d been dreaming of croissants in the shadow of the Eiffel tower, and instead I’m here, squeezed in this rickety Dodge. There really are only two seats in Manos’ truck and the back is full of farm equipment: dented shovels, a rusted hoe, splintered plastic crates, a watering can with a hole.

“You all right, Jael and . . .” Manos pauses. I had hoped after last night he would remember my name. “Eleanor?” he says, finally. He taps the tune to “Eleanor Rigby” against the wheel, its beat an echo that blends with the rattling door and tires as they skid down the mountain.

Without Alex and the prospect of seeing him, my future has become unknown. And the smallness of this, my life and my sadness, makes me feel all the emptier. All the more shallow to feel so broken.

“We’re good, Man,” I say. Manos goes by Man because he says it’s real cool.

“Bravo, bravo.” He claps his hands together, letting the wheel roam free. The nonchalant arc of his tender smile mirrors the lower curve of the steering wheel.

The sun is setting and it’s almost dark. It gets a dark I’ve only seen here in Bozika. It’s as if the one hundred residents have made darkness their secret and stored it here in these mountains in the Peloponnese. The only light comes from past the sea, from Corinth, which looks farther than the stars tonight. I can’t even see the lights of Kiato, the closest city, though they must be looming somewhere below us, out of sight. I wonder what else lies beneath us, this village and the sea.

It’s already too black for me to see where the narrow dirt road ends and the mountain cliff begins. We stayed at the farm too late. It’s too easy to let time loose because the farm doesn’t belong to the world I know. Among the overgrown tomato plants is a metal face, almost five feet long. It lays flat on the ground, one of Manos’ discarded artworks. Weedy flowers grow into the open mouth and empty eye sockets, as if the face were possessed by wildflowers. There’s an abandoned jeep, painted lime green with thick pumpkin vines creeping up the sides, and there’s a breaking metal shed with handmade metal chairs inside. There’s more discarded items than crops at Manos’ farm, as if the ground were growing deserted art. I first fell in love with Alex because he was a British businessman who loved art. He was a photographer by hobby only. I loved that contradiction, the practical and the creative.

We stayed too long on Manos’ farm because we were feeding the three wild pigs, their hair turning blue in the setting light. We stayed too long because the water was off and it took Manos ages to figure out how to turn it back on. He doesn’t know how to work the system because he steals or, as he says, borrows water from the large farms encircling his. The farms with acres of chalky grapes ready to be dried for raisins or pressed for wine. Manos borrows the grapes too. He always says, “The fruits are for the people.” He frequently stops on the side of the road and scoops grapes into his large hands. He believes in the earth and its unwillingness to be owned.

Manos rolls down the window and it yells in protest. He whips out a cigarette and smokes. Everyone here is a proud chain smoker. I don’t like smoke, but while traveling I can tolerate it. Today, I crave it. Manos turns off the headlights.

“I like to drive in the dark,” he says. “It’s good practice.”

Practice for what, I don’t know. Practice how to live on the edge. How to almost fly off it.


Most nights, after we return from the farm, Jael and I help with Manos’ taverna. Bozika is small, but people come. Usually, the same people. An old man with wrinkles gullied into his skin and his granddaughter in pink. The daughter always asks for Alethea, Manos’ daughter, but she’s no longer here. Two young men always come. They escaped from Bulgaria, I think, though they speak no English, only Greek. I communicate with them through smiles and broad gesticulations. I know one Greek word: yamas. Cheers.

“Yamas,” Jael and I say as we toast to each other, late at night, after the taverna customers leave. Manos squeezes fresh orange juice for us and we pour in the vodka, or if we’re feeling authentic, ouzo. If Jael and I were real Greeks we’d drink ouzo straight, or else with cold water that turns it cloudy. Sometimes Jael does this, but I don’t like that anise taste. Manos drinks cloudy ouzo and orange-vodka, one in each hand.

In the dark, we trade secrets.

Manos says, “My wife left because her mother hated me. Because we never had money. Because I was too lazy.” He smokes, shoots some ouzo, takes a sip of his orange juice, those rough, tender hands twisting a paper napkin to shreds. “I don’t know.” His strong jaw quivers.

“I left Copenhagen because it was just too clean,” Jael says. She says Copenhagen like the word is a cannon; she spits out the syllables with her tough, Danish accent. She is a grad-student in Thessaloniki and studies modern Macedonian history. The Greeks call Macedonia FYROM, said like fear-um, which stands for Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia. Jael has told me why countless times, but I can’t remember the specifics. It’s a debate of ancient blood and history, I think. I’m not used to living in countries with such long pasts. My mind can’t understand them. My own past is enough to worry about.

“Why did you leave?” Jael asks.

There are easy answers to this question. I had a job teaching English in Istanbul. I studied in England and fell in love with Europe and wished to return. Other answers are more difficult. I fell in love with Alex in England. I thought he’d be here but we both keep getting stuck in the wrong places. We both need to move, but can’t seem to move together.

“Los Angeles got boring,” I say.


I roll down my window and stick my head out. The darkness is thick now and Manos still hasn’t flipped on the car lights. I know it should be fear I feel. But I think this country doesn’t abide by the same rules. Instead, I feel excitement. I feel excited to feel something other than sadness.

Jael leans toward me, maybe because she wants some fresh air or maybe Manos smells bad. We’re all covered in dirt and pig food. There’s rabbit crap and tomato dust under my nails. I’ve grown accustomed to the smell now.

“You two are way close,” Manos says. He puts a lot of emphasis on the “way” as if suggesting something a little less innocent. And it’s true, Jael and I are close. We sleep in the same bed because that’s all Manos has. And we sleep in very little because of the summer heat. And before sleep every night, we sift through Manos’ old magazines from when he used to work for Greek Playboy. Before he was a farmer, he was a metallurgist in Athens and built kinky sets for the photo shoots. He always calls himself the “Iron Man” and then winks.

Manos would like it if Jael and I were more than just friends. And though she’s attractive and maybe if we were both drunk and desperate enough we might make out, nothing serious will ever happen. Not even when we’re bent over a Playboy magazine. It’s too cliché. Though we don’t want to look at Playboy, we can’t stop staring. The hard breasts are horrifying but also alluring, like a car crash on the side of a freeway.

“The car is just small, Man,” Jael says.

He laughs. “This car is a fucking piece of shit.” He laughs again. “But we love her!” He kisses the steering wheel several times. His eyes stare at anything but the road. Trees darken off the mountain edge.

“Driving with no lights is good practice,” he says again.

Jael and I stare out the window and we try to remember the last bits of Bozika’s beauty before the dark steals it. The olive trees bend into shadows and a goat bleats somewhere in that crying darkness.

Manos says, “It’s so stupid. Driving with no lights.” He taps his fingers on the dashboard. “If another car going the other way is stupid too and has no lights then-” He smacks his hands together. “Boom, nothing.” He takes a sharp left and then looks for his pack of cigarettes. “Stupid, so stupid.” He holds out his cigarette and Jael flicks the lighter for him. He inhales and looks at us. “Good practice though.”

Jael and I share a look. Put like this, we can’t deny the danger here, and yet, we still can’t gather the required fear. I inhale the secondhand smoke. One night, Jael told me she left Copenhagen because she felt no one there would break the rules with her.

“I jaywalked and people looked at me like a murderer,” she said. “I can’t live like that.”

I understand. I think we travel because we can no longer live at home. We can no longer convince our bodies to be still, to exist within that routine.

Jael lights her cigarette and takes a drag.

“Bravo, bravo,” Manos slurs. He slides a look at me and cocks his eyebrow. He’s got beautiful, dark eyes.

“Okay?” His mind searches. “Eleanor Rigby?”

I say, “Okay, Man.”

It’s fully dark now and I can’t tell how close we are to the taverna. It isn’t far from his farm, but the roads are so narrow that Manos is always stopping, backing up side roads and shooting forward another direction so he can take the correct turns. I have no idea where we are.

Jael leans into me and says, in a whisper, “How’d things go last night?” She means with Alex. I have no phone here, but Manos let me use his computer to talk to Alex. I’ve been avoiding this question all day, but now that I’m stuck here, with half my body pressed against Jael, there’s no avoiding it. I have nowhere to go. I’ve known her for only three weeks, but I’m closer to her than to anyone.

“We broke up,” I say, though I feel she’s already sensed this. Three years and we break up digitally, his voice a chasm of static. The split happened gradually and all at once like the darkness that has now fully settled upon us.

“Sorry,” she says.

And there’s nothing to say to this. I could say nothing to Alex. I sat in front of the blank computer screen repeating, “I love you,” until even that became meaningless.

Last night, after I finished talking to Alex, I wandered through Manos’ house, while I tried to find the bathroom in the dark. I kept running into all of his twisted steel chairs and metal art. I couldn’t really concentrate because I was crying too hard. A sharp metal edge snagged my bare leg and the blood dripped warmth onto my skin.

Then I ran into Manos, literally ran into him, and though I couldn’t really see him through the Bozika darkness, I could tell he was crying too. Crying has a sound to it, even when it’s silent. Like the sound of bone marrow. I thought of Manos’ wife, who left him six months ago. She took his kids too: a daughter and a son, both younger than five. I began to understand how something like that could linger. I imagined Manos alone, feeding the chickens and wild turkeys, chalking the tomatoes with volcanic dust, preparing moussaka and souvlaki. When Jael and I leave and there are no volunteers, I imagined him craving conversation.

“Okay?” Manos paused, his voice soft in the dark. “Eleanor Rigby?”



We listened to each other’s breaths. I imagined his chest rising and falling. I saw him more vividly than I would if there had been light, as if suddenly he had been presented to me, human and solid. He flipped on the small bathroom light, so the darkness flickered enough to cast heavy shadows on us. My lungs expanding upon my inhale. I felt as if the air should lift me up. I could become a balloon, untethered to this ground. I exhale, a rough collapse.

We stood, both crying in the half-darkness. He was too close to me, wearing nothing but boxers, his dick hanging half out because it really was that enormous. And then, it was even larger.


It was good practice, I think. How to live on the edge, how to fly off it. I look out the car window and over the cliff’s rim. Everything is black.

“I can’t see. I’m lost,” Manos says.

I think he’s joking, but then who knows. I certainly don’t know where I am anymore.

Manos says, “I need drinks to see!” He pulls out a double bottle of Alfa beer from underneath his seat.

“Man.” Jael says. For a second, there might be real concern in her voice.

“It’s good practice,” he says, as he pops the top with his teeth and takes a swig. He passes it to Jael and she drinks. She passes it to me and I down a third in one gulp.

“Bravo, bravo!” Manos says. He pulls out another beer.

He’s driving faster now. The left tires skid on the dirt road.

“Jael, Eleanor Rigby, are you scared?” He’s smiling with his soggy cigarette in his lips. “I can slow down.” His hands grip the steering wheel, his foot remains firm-pressed on the gas. He pops open the second beer.

Jael takes a sip of beer and is still and silent for a moment. Then, she looks at me. It isn’t alarm I see in her eyes. Maybe this is what she lives on, the adventure and adrenaline. Maybe we both crave to break the rules. To toe the edge if only so we can see what’s past it.

“Should I go slower?” Manos asks.

I look outside the car, at the sky, at the secret darkness and imagine careening off the edge. I close my eyes and smell the sugar of grapes and the salt of the ocean so far below.

“Yamas,” I say. Cheers. “Go faster.”

In 2011, I spent a few weeks working on this gorgeous little farm in Bozika, Greece. The whole time I was there I kept thinking, there are so many stories here. After taking a car ride similar to the one in "Bozika," I knew I had to write a story where that dark, dangerous ride served as the focal point. Emotionally this piece is pure fiction, but a lot of the details—of Bozika, its beautiful darkness, and the wild and wonderful farm and taverna I found there—is true. Mostly.