‘Helen of Troy,’ she said between mouthfuls, adding, dismissively, ‘Well that’s just a play on words. Hellene just means Greek. The Greek of Troy. That’s all. An insult to all Greeks.’
He nodded, chewing as he listened. The sun dappled through the leaves and across their laps. The smell of freshly cut wood. A flask of coffee, opened, steam rising from the narrow mouth.
‘I thought I’d come and feed you up,’ she told him, ‘But I’m eating most of it.
‘He shrugged, gave a little smile. ‘I’m not hungry.’
She looked up at the trees; ‘You’ll need to stay strong, if you’re cutting these down.’
‘I’m not cutting them down, just trimming them.’
Then she said, ‘Ghent told me you’re an heroin addict? So I thought, maybe that’s why you’re not eating.’
‘Opium,’ he corrected. ‘And I might come off it.’
She smiled. ‘No you won’t.’
Then she said, ‘But try and eat more food, the work will give you an appetite.’
He nodded; ate slowly, in silence.
She continued to eat quickly, and with pleasure, saying ‘And the face that launched a thousand ships? Huh! Maybe seventeen ships,’ she was on a roll, ‘And Odysseus? He wasn’t even Greek!’ She shook her head vehemently as if to underline this statement. ‘And he wasn’t even called Odysseus. He was just a Phoenician. A chancer. On the make, like they all are.’
She nodded to herself at this memory, then sitting up straighter to tug the broad belt wrapped tightly around her waist. The leather was butter-soft between her fingers as she straightened the buckle and then sat back against the tree. Her legs were slender and curved and tan, her toes grubby in old sandals.
‘You’re nuts,’ he told her, ‘That must have been thirty five hundred years ago. Are you always making up mad stuff like that?’
She furrowed her brow, ‘Thirty five hundred years ago? Nearer five thousand.’ She licked butter from a fingertip, then looked up slyly through her long hair and smiled, saying, ‘Yeah, I make stuff up. All the time.’
‘Well,’ he said, and stood, brushed the crumbs from his t-shirt, clipped on his tool belt, said, ‘I have to get back to what I’m doing,’ and looked up at the trees.
She nodded, twisted closed the lid of the flask, packed away the remains of picnic in a small wicker basket, fastened the straps and prepared to leave him. Then she looked up to where he’d already climbed, shading her eyes; he was twenty feet above the ground, deep into the branches.
‘You haven’t listened, have you?’ she shouted up.
‘You haven’t listened!’