Greek Unorthodox

SJ was in the kitchen when Renee walked in the door after work, wearing a skirt that was too tight and shoes that looked like they belonged to a private school girl. Spots of jam were dotted all over her body – Sunday high teas at her second job always made her hands sticky for days after her shift. Renee felt like a kid who had got into something their parents had warned them not to touch.
     Still in her muddy footy shorts, SJ threw her chest on to their kitchen bench top, back curved, sighing dramatically.
    ‘Today was hell. Some chick tackled me and I went down straight away. I swear I couldn’t breathe for, like, half an hour!’
     Renee flung her backpack on to the cracked wood of their dining room table. The varnish had long since scraped away, eaten by a blanket of candle wax and spilled Carlton Draughts. She fell into a vinyl chair, sorting through the mail everyone had neglected all week. She didn’t look up from the bills as she spoke.
    ‘Damn, man. It’s always something new every time you come home from Endeavour. I can’t wait until the day you give up and I won’t have to stress about having to call your mum to tell her you finally got properly destroyed and died at a game.’
SJ snorted, running her fingertips through her short hair.
    ‘Nah, Mum wouldn’t even worry. As long as I left her money to pay for her Netflix account, she’d be sweet.’
The girls laughed in the way girls laugh at jokes that have a bit too much truth to them. Renee thought of SJ’s mum, remembering the times she’d go to her friend’s house after school when they were teenagers. She had always thought Jo was the cool parent – forever offering them weed when they were old enough to know what a bong was, and relaxed enough to be fun because she didn’t work. She was the opposite of Renee’s own mother. It wasn’t until Jo’s boyfriend, the truckie who made and sold speed to the other drivers to keep them awake, trashed their rental house and threatened to kill Jo, that Renee realised she’d had the better mum. Renee changed the subject.
    ‘I assume you’re not allowed at Alex’s grandma’s funeral? Your DISGUSTING, FILTHY lesbian ways might disgrace the family and all that?’ Renee emphasised her words, using the phrases Alex had told them her mother had once handpicked to describe the relationship she and SJ shared.
SJ smiled at her friend who was still slumped in the vinyl chair, showing off her signature cheeky teeth-revealing grin,
    ‘You know it, mate! Those people hate me more than Mum hates being sober!’

     After crawling through the 10am traffic – not peak hour bad, but bad enough to make Renee’s fingers tap repeatedly on the steering wheel when they were stopped at the lights – they found a park in a two-hour zone, about 500 metres from Burnley Station. People who lived in the side-street were mostly at work by now, save for those men in suits who were still on the Lilydale line when Renee had class at 11:30, always getting on at Richmond, and getting off at Parliament. She turned the car key, killing the ignition. The voices on the radio remained, a distant background hum. Both girls fell back in their seats. They had left the house an hour and a half before the service. Alex, in her anxious state, had insisted upon it the night before.
    ‘How are you feeling now we’re here, dude?’
     Renee looked at her housemate. She always thought Alex was a gorgeous Greek dream-child. Big eyes and a bigger nose, skin that tanned when they sat outside drinking in their blow-up Kmart pool in the summer, hair that would be black satin if she didn’t dye it Marge Simpson blue.
    ‘I really need a ciggy, but if Eleni smells it on me, she’ll kill me for making things even more shithouse.’
     Alex had lived with Renee for a year, and it showed in the way she unconsciously adopted Renee’s vocabulary. Aussie slang never sounded right coming out of Alex’s mouth – her private school education had taught her to enunciate everything, making her sentences sound rehearsed.
    ‘What’s it gonna be like in there?’ asked Renee. ‘Do you reckon your parents will be civil with me? Maybe they’ll all just know I’m an atheist, and I’ll catch fire as I enter the church.’ She was only half joking. The God thing was a constant source of entertainment between the two friends.
     It was the first time Renee would be meeting Alex’s parents. She’d heard about them since Alex had left her childhood home (unmarried, one of the great Greek Girl Sins) and moved in to the share house that Renee and SJ shared. Before walking out the door for good, Alex had written a note that detailed her sexuality, leaving it under her mother’s pillow. It was a confession that carried no surprise, but in putting it in words, made everything harder for her Greek Orthodox parents to ignore.
    ‘I don’t even know. They’ll probably look at you weird but pretend to like you. That’s pretty much the way they’ve always dealt with me, anyway!’ Alex threw up her hands in mock elation, her voice getting louder at the end of her sentences.
Renee chuckled, both at the joke and at the ridiculousness of attending the funeral of a woman who had despised her friend for not trying properly with all the nice Greek boys, for breaking her mother’s heart, for not being able to just hold it in.
    ‘Fuck it,’ said Alex, pulling down the sun visor to look at her reflection in the tiny mirror, ‘I can’t sit here any longer. Let’s just fucking go.’

     When they walked into the church, Alex paid $6 so she and Renee could light candles for her grandmother. Each thin wax wand sat boldly, stakes in sand, a melting memorial. The light of the end of winter that makes way for spring streamed through the stained glass, illuminating the dust particles that hung in the air. The ancient Greeks sat in pews, slouched backs bent against hardened wood, judging like Gods. The men and women gawked at Renee, the only white girl there, all blonde hair and blue eyes. If Alex was a Greek dream, Renee was an Aryan poster child.
     Renee was taken aback that the entire service was in Greek, but then wondered why she had been surprised. She listened to the opening chanting, focussing on the beauty of the sound rather than the stress that came with a lack of understanding. She watched Alex, held up like a scarecrow between her mother and her sister in the front row, the place reserved for the family members closest to the dead. They stood and sat down multiple times, following prayers lead by the antique priest. Alex was always seconds behind her family, the horse in the race that kept falling behind.
     Everything was gorgeous in the Greek temple, but nothing made any sense. Renee thought of her own grandmother, formerly a devout Catholic, who had gone to mass every Saturday night until her daughter had been taken from her too young, the victim of a cancerous gallbladder that couldn’t be prayed away. Before she knew she had given up on God, Renee had offered to take her Grandma to the 7pm service one night, feeling the guilt that Irish grandparents place on their grandchildren without even trying. The old woman forced a smile,
    ‘Oh no, sweets, I think I’d rather stay home with the telly tonight.’

     When the funeral proceedings were over, and the body was carried out by sons who still had thick, dark heads of hair despite being in their sixties, Renee solemnly stalked up to Alex and her family, feeling sentenced without committing a crime. Alex stood next to her father. They looked scarily alike. Alex had inherited his eyebrows, bushy and untameable – Greek features she resented having to maintain. Her eyes, all black except for a sliver of caramel brown iris, had been genetically stolen from her father, copied and pasted on to her face.
     The two girls hugged, Renee embracing her friend tightly in lieu of having to whisper some bullshit condolence. Alex looked at Renee with guilt.
    ‘Look, I know it’s a shit time to bring it up, but I thought I should tell you sooner rather than later.’
She searched her friend’s face, looking for a sign to continue. Renee nodded cautiously.
    ‘So, you know how Mum and Dad have that unit that needs to be rented out? Well, they’ve asked if SJ and I want to move in there.’
Renee detected the fear in Alex’s voice and a tone that gave away how terrified she was at her friend judging her actions. It was obvious she’d already taken her folks up on the offer. Renee decided to be optimistic.
    ‘Well, rent will be cheap, hey? That sounds good, buddy.’
     Renee stood silent for a few moments, observing Alex with her family. Her friend ran her fingers back and forth over the chain around her neck, a half-smile on her face. Her father lead the conversation, talking with his hands in the same way Alex always did.

Originally published in Under A Shared Moon – an anthology by RMIT University.

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