Photo via Miss Shari/Flickr

That night, the whole village watching, Stavros Stavros finally proved his manhood: on the dance floor. With the pomp of the traditional syrtos that suggested respite before battle, the resting of the soul, he rejected the pappas’s interference, his mother’s control, his father’s weakness. When he felt like showing off, he showed off. During one of the counterclockwise dances, he vaguely felt Dina next to him, linked by nothing more than a white handkerchief. He saw her only through the haze of warm wine and public attention. Him, Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, in front of all of the bachelors, in front of all of his brothers. The way it should be. They had to wait for his every step, his every flourish, before they could move a foot. A toe, even, because any premature moves would trip the next person. Pappas, feigning intoxication, did not lead any dances, but Stavros Stavros did not care if he did not get the priest’s blessing. Pappas refused to lie, even with his feet, but what did that matter when Stavros Stavros was leaving in just a few days?

Stavros Stavros was fat and full at the end of the night. He had ruled the village, his family, and it made him feel virile. All he needed now was to deflower a virgin.

Everyone knew it was a man’s right to unmake a woman. Everyone knew it was their right to see proof of the unmaking. It was customary for the groom’s parents to drape the white sheets of a newly consummated couple against the house, the copper crop visible from way down the road. In the history of the village, few women had ever failed to bleed (a cripple, a slut, a rape victim) and that was because women were pure, women were pious, women were chaste, and, when they weren’t, women were shrewd enough to cover up their bloodlessness. Even their boyfriends, who panted themselves into premarital sex with their soon-to-be brides, were always satisfied when the warm rusty liquid bubbled up on the night of the wedding. Concerned with shame and self-preservation, these women knew to tuck pouches of sow’s blood inside themselves. Dina, who hadn’t been from the island in years, knew nothing and did nothing. She just lay there beneath her grunting, fat, full husband.

—From an excerpt of “Let Me Explain You”, Annie Liontas’s acclaimed debut novel about a tumultuous Greek-American family in the diner business, featured at Guernica.

Read the excerpt