Hot Tin Roof: Village Dogs

Hot Tin Roof
Hot Tin Roof is a program to showcase current literary work produced in Iowa City. The series is organized and juried by representatives of three Iowa City-based cultural advocacy organizations: The Englert Theatre, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and Little Village magazine.
By Elena Bruess

Today, we are going to watch Judas explode.


According to some reports, the Greek economy shrank by 23% between 2008 and 2013. All the popular economists stood around and scratched their chins. A world record. No one’s ever seen those numbers. Last November, the unemployment rate stood at an outstanding 28%. The homeless count went through the roof, and then off the roof as suicides littered the streets. The health care system almost shut down while black tar heroin became the new currency. Every week, protests erupted like fire in the major cities as aggressive measures were taken by the European Union. The people pleaded like dogs from the cracked and crowded sidewalks. Winter was coming, but all the coats were burned up.


Located between city of Kalamata and the Mediterranean beaches, the village of Astis sits biding its own time and baking in its own grime. Layered in dust and dirt, the streets are barely enough to allow any people through, let alone any traffic. Its small smudged white homes reflect the coarse sun and wrap every ounce of the town in never-ending and angry heat. Hardly ever found on a common map, Astis used to profit from the cozy and heartwarming nature that small towns bring, but that soon died. The people sat in their plastic white chairs and watched as life dried up and old strays started to fight in the empty streets.


Astis used to have a train station that attracted some visitation from bored relatives and curious tourists looking for authentic Greece, but it closed when the repeatedly stolen tracks became too much of a hassle to replace. The mayor of Kalamata, Kostas Parastotos, told the people in several brief conferences that it was really for the best. During the last meeting, the villagers crowded around the podium and held Parastotos’ gaze with narrowed eyes. Starting off with a stumble and a cough, he gained speed with talks of that damn economy. Now our money can go to those in need, he said. A little later, two old dogs stole his meeting notes and the villagers left to take their afternoon naps.


The neighbor boys across the street are from Canada. I don’t know Greek very well so this is exciting for me. The youngest is called Michaelis and the older is Demitris. Demitris is nicer, but he’s fat and just watches consecutive seasons of Charmed. Michaelis is only a year younger than me and resembles a child Antonio Banderas. The first time we meet, he gives me a mischievous smile and says he knows this village inside and out. He tells me he steals from the Albanians next door. What do you steal? I ask. Anything you want, girl, he returns, giving me an almost wink. How about a DVD player? I say. He looks shocked. Maybe, he mutters, and then we go play soccer in his dirt backyard while his dog chases flies.


On the night before Easter, the villagers of Astis light hundreds of candles and parade through the streets. It is a tradition in almost every part of Greece. Apparently, the celebration in Athens is incredible. Somehow no one burns anything down while thousands of Greeks hold hands and sing at the top of their lungs. Astis isn’t much different. I light my candle and hold hands with my yaya while listening to the chorus of hymns. My mother starts to cry a bit. I want to believe it’s because she hasn’t seen a Greek Easter for almost 20 years, but as we pass two crumbling houses, I begin to guess otherwise. Every so often, she reminds me to hold my candle still. Don’t drop it. Just don’t drop it.



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Stuffed with straw and grass, the Judas hangs from a long pole in the middle of Astis’ soccer field. It is draped in a black cloak and a very clumsy face has been drawn on with brown paint. Two village men are down the field, holding several boxes and cords that stretch to the dummy betrayer. Everyone crowds around, standing by the old fence or sitting on their cars and trucks. A neighbor is handing out lamb on a stick while some cunning teens are selling water bottles for a Euro each. I am not prepared when the Judas explodes. There is no count down or chant. There is no song or announcer. The Judas merely rips apart suddenly. It erupts into a ball of fire and for a brief moment, I can feel the heat all over. Moving around me in smooth waves and fading into the air. Eyes closed, I am frozen for a moment. A single second in time when everything is gone and stopped, and I am alone in the debris of Judas. I imagine the heat never ends, but builds and builds until it suffocates everything. That surrounds us, leaving behind only ash and dust. But the fire of the explosion fades and the world rushes back into place. As the voices return, I peak at the field. The Judas is gone. All that is left are blackened fragments and burned up fabrics. My yaya looks over at me with watery eyes. He will burn every year, she says, until we say stop.


Some say that the Greek villages were most impacted by the failing economy. The cities make louder noises, but the towns fall apart in silence.

The neighbor’s dog ran away during the night. It dug a hole in the dirt and broke through the wooden fence, took off down the road in search for smells. For days the villagers look. Finally, it is Michaelis who finds him, painted in the mud just off the side of the highway.

What’d you expect, someone says, it’s just a damn dog.

Originally from the middle-of-no-where Iowa, Elena Bruess is currently studying creative writing and International Relations as a junior at The University of Iowa.

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