The State of the Union-
She’d always had a parallel life; somewhere to slip into, away from her public face. And as the young doctor, sent as a last resort because her majesty’s surgeon was on holiday, fumbled awkwardly for words and elongated his sentences with niceties to soften the blow, she escaped into that place far away from the palace and into another space and time.
The words had seemed formal enough when they were delivered-after all, she had to be talked to in a particular way, and the young doctor who’d been called in as an emergency when the Queen had collapsed, knew he was out of place. He thought that if he remained completely distant then he was doing his job properly, but his patient was distant anyway.
She came back into the room from her parallel universe when she heard the word ‘cancer’. The clock ticked on the wall as if it was the largest clock in the palace. She’d heard the word once, because he only said it once-after all if it was said more than once then he might have been thought of as patronising; giving news to an old woman. Once the word had been enunciated, and he began to stumble over the phrases about treatment, she slipped back into her alternate life.
The sun shone on the wall around the castle, highlighting the streaks of red shooting through the stone. Jasmine punctuated the air and she was alone, completely alone. It was a feeling like flying. The light sandals made her feel like she was walking on air and she glided over the cobbles. To be completely alone on the island for half an hour was something which many people appreciated on the island, breaking away from their friends or families for a walk to take in the sights alone. They would slip along the backstreets of the old town and relish the chance to be nobody’s husband or father for a while. And when they met up with their families, their smiles would be brighter.
For Elizabeth, she could remember the feeling when she’d accidentally given her entourage the slip-well it was almost accidental. The war had just ended and people were in an unusually jovial mood.
And there he was-standing at the base of the wall as she walked round the corner. It was a meeting quite unlike any she was used to. The ones which were part of her very public life involved a certain amount of etiquette depending on how public she had to be.
With Costas, it was more of a crash course in being ordinary. She literally crashed into him as she rounded the corner and her life changed, taking on another dimension.
He fell backwards onto the path and spat out some expletives in his language. But when he stood up, brushing the ground from his trousers, Elizabeth didn’t get the feeling that he was apologizing to her as a regal figure and member of the royal family, but as a woman who he just happened to bump into. He didn’t know the woman who was the daughter of the King of England-or at least he didn’t let on.
He didn’t know that his island which had been unified with Greece almost ninety years prior to his meeting with the beautiful young English girl, would send shock waves down another country’s security a couple of decades later. And he didn’t think that as he shook her elegant hand that he was shaking the hand of somebody betrothed to the nephew of King Constantine-his own namesake.
‘Do you like Corfu? Do you think you will come back?’ And she would come back. A couple of times in her official visits and many times in her parallel life.
‘Here we are.’ They were standing outside a small ouzeri. The wooden sign was partially covered by a hanging basket.
‘Gerani’ he said.
‘Oh is that the name of the restaurant?’
‘No gerani-geraniums. They’re so lovely don’t you think?’
‘Yes they are lovely’, she lied. Elizabeth didn’t have quite the same love of flowers as her companion.
‘The tavern is called Araxovoli.’ He opened the door and nobody looked up to see who was entering. It was as if she was already in her own parallel universe where she was calling the shots.
‘What does it mean? The name of the tavern.’ Of course her schooling had included ancient Greek but there were obviously gaps in her knowledge.
‘It is a word which means the place where the boats stay.’
‘I thought that was limani.’
‘Yes, limani is port.’
‘Is there another word?’
‘How do you say the word…like a parking space in the harbour?’
They dined on calamari and ouzo. She’s never shared ouzo with Philip. He’d embraced her own background and traditions and his own had fallen into the background. They would be getting married soon. He hadn’t asked her, but he had been primed for the position over the last years.
They talked for at least an hour before they were found. She’d had many conversations in her life, but she had rarely talked to anyone. There was warmth in his eyes and an ease in his speech. Elizabeth wondered what could happen if she were an ordinary girl with this ordinary boy sitting in Corfu Town on a very unordinary day. Even if she were ordinary she would still feel regal. She was on an island which had a regal past. The names of the towns sounded majestic: Kassiopi, Sidari, Lefkimi. If she were ordinary, she would have walked Costa down to Pontikonissi, the small gleaming white church jutting out into the sea and she would maybe have stolen a kiss from him. But she would do that later in her parallel universe.
The problem was that they were away for just too long. A lot could have happened in that time. When the entourage arrived, there was the minimum fuss and the suited gentlemen whisked Elizabeth off with a professional diplomacy unseen in other countries. Philip hadn’t given up his Greek Royal title yet, nor his Orthodox faith, and things would be too messy if people found out. It was better to make it as smooth as possible to avoid any hitches. The powers that be had been working solidly for almost ten years to ensure a smooth passage of Philip into the British monarchy.
Elizabeth waited in her quarters in silence. Philip would join her later after the interview. She needed his support, but after the interview; the interview she needed to do alone. He had been a wonderful father and grandfather. He had been a wonderful companion and she worried about how he would cope on his own. They had spent their lifetime together-happy times.
The vases were arranged in perfect symmetry behind her. Maybe it was her imagination that the lighting was softer. But then again, she knew what the interview was for. It was her formal resignation. She’d been with her country through the worst of times, but now she needed to be on her own.
The interviewer sat down and shook the Queen’s hand. Elizabeth was so glad that she had managed to come; she liked her easy tone and friendly disposition. The cameras hadn’t started rolling and they chatted informally about their families.
‘And what’s on your itinerary for the next year? You’ll obviously find some time for travelling for pleasure. Is there anywhere you want to go?’ The interviewer hadn’t mentioned the illness, although it was written in her script.
‘I’ll probably spend some time in Corfu or Kerkira as Philip calls it. That’s the Greek name.
There was a man there who I once knew. He was called Costa or Costaki.’ The interviewer didn’t know where to look, or what to say. In her whole professional life, she’d never encountered such a situation.
‘He was a lovely man. Lovely eyes. I think I’ll go to see him.’
The interviewer’s heart was racing. Should she cancel the interview?
‘Your majesty. Would you like to postpone the interview? If you’re not up to it?’
The Queen had a calm expression on her face. She didn’t hear the interviewer’s concerned words. She was back in the Araxovoli Ouzeri and Costas had placed his hand on hers. She blushed and took a sip of her ouzo. The sun had started to go down in the sky and they were alone.