By the middle of August, the stream of cars from Ankara and Istanbul, Bursa and Balıkesir moving west across the Marmara Peninsula begins to thin. The sun doesn’t feel as warm as July’s, and the afternoon winds cool and churn the sea. Yet there remains a sweetness: the figs have ripened into syrupy white balls and most of the gardens in villages like İlhanköy have grown studded with tomatoes. Venture to the village centers and you’ll encounter lounging men with glasses of tea before them and children caught up in the last throes of summer before the discipline of school days once again sets in. On one of these mornings Dilek Savcı stumbled and fell on the main road as she was carrying back to her parents’ neat, white house a basket of plums she’d purchased from Aunt Melahat. They were known to be the sweetest in İlhanköy.

The fruit went splashing everywhere. Two rolled beneath Ahmet the Shepherd’s tractor, parked as usual on the side of the road, and the rest caromed and settled obstinately. Spilled things have minds of their own. Dilek was not yet thirty, but her face, hardened by misfortune and divorce, suggested otherwise. It was not an unpleasant face—many of the villagers, in fact, thought it beautiful—but it was weary of the world and most things in it. She gathered the plums she could and stood up. Her mother would patch her bleeding knee, and her father would ask, with his usual morning meanness, what had taken her so long. Aunt Melahat’s place, with its impressive garden and groves of plum and fig, was just down the road. She told him she’d fallen. Her whole life, it occurred to her, she’d been falling. Divorced the April prior—and with nothing to show for it save the wedding day gifts of gold Atatürks she’d put away—she’d come from Istanbul to summer with her parents and, as she put it, “get my life back in order.”

Dilek’s husband, not two weeks after the wedding, had shown himself to be a cruel man. Instead of coming home after work, he lingered at the Beyoğlu pubs with old friends, losing money on the ponies and generally reverting to the idiot he’d been prior to meeting Dilek. Most nights he came home late, falling in a drunken heap on the couch after complaining that the apartment smelled like burnt fish and onions. If she cooked for him and left a plate on the kitchen counter, he never touched it. If she hadn’t cooked, he complained in bitter, jarring notes. Some mornings, especially on the weekends, he atoned for his behavior, but like many men his atoning increased his dislike for her. His name was Gökhan, and after a year it became clear to Dilek that he wanted a mother instead of a wife. And even though Dilek’s girlfriends had told her that many Turkish men were like that, she’d chosen not to believe them. Every bride, of course, thinks her man will be different, sweeter as husbands and more flexible. But with a ring on his finger, Gökhan grew to hate her more than before and often wondered aloud why he’d married her in the first place. Divorce grew inevitable, and at last became Dilek’s solace from anger and disappointment. She left everything to him except the gold, spent two weeks with her sister in Sinop, then took a bus south to the Marmara Peninsula the second week of June to stay with her parents.

Many marriages end in disarray. Death comes. The money runs out. Children grow tall and despise their parents, but Dilek’s had ended suddenly, pitifully, and her father had taken it the worst because he’d believed in Gökhan. He’d liked him. They’d bonded over rakı and fish one night at a restaurant in Eminönü near the Bosphorus in Istanbul. To Dilek this morning in İlhanköy, however, that was all a distant memory. Her knee burned, and her mother was a long time in coming up with a Band-Aid. Most of the plums were bruised. Her father was not in a good mood: there hadn’t been running water at the house since six the previous evening, an inconvenience he inexplicably blamed on the incompetence of the local villagers, folks with whom he’d never gotten along. “They look poor and act poor and are content to live basically in shacks. But don’t let that fool you. They’ve got millions of liras tied up in olive trees. And their damn water’s free.” (The Turkish government subsidized the year-round villagers with free water “for agricultural purposes.”) He continued. “Their olives are swimming in it while I can’t even take a shower.”

His daughter’s presence was unfortunate to Mr. Savcı. He loved her, but secretly thought her troubles with Gökhan were of her own doing, and even though the divorce had been finalized by a magistrate in Istanbul, he still believed they’d eventually work things out and get back together. He liked Gökhan, thought him a rugged, red-blooded fellow who worked hard and played hard. “So he drinks a little. A Turkish man should drink a few glasses of rakı and relax after work. I don’t see any harm in that. Atatürk drank. Would you divorce him because of it?”

“Gökhan’s not Atatürk, Father. Atatürk created a nation. Gökhan sits around in his father’s rug shop all day and counts the receipts. Let’s not compare the two.”

It was just after 10:30, and Dilek’s mother was in the kitchen preparing their usual Turkish breakfast: menemen (a moist omelet with peppers and tomatoes), white cheese, black olives, toasted bread, and apricot jam. The work was made difficult owing to the lack of water, and the dishes were piling up. Mr. Savcı disliked an untidy house. His hovering presence in the kitchen annoyed his wife. “Why don’t you go outside and do something, Mehmet? Take a look at the newspaper or walk down to Koza’s shop. We’re running low on salt. And tea.”

In three weeks the Savcıs would return to their apartment in Istanbul, a nice one on a tree-lined street on the city’s Asian side. He was a retired accountant, but he had friends in the city he could meet for coffee and endless afternoon games of Rummikub. He liked the idea of summering in the village more than actually doing it, and by August usually became terribly bored. That season the fishing had been rotten and the weather a mix of humidity and wind. He was anxious to go home, but home would mean Dilek would be there too, a divorced woman with few prospects for a life apart from his own. He dreaded the mess the two women would make in the bathroom. His daughter would have nothing to do, he knew, except discover some way to fall again.

Mehmet turned toward Dilek during breakfast, and she knew that the dreaded lecture was coming, one he had delayed for two months. “You’ll have to do something, you know. You can’t just sit around the apartment all day doing nothing. Most of life is about figuring things out, and I haven’t seen you do much figuring down here. I don’t wanna sound mean about it”—a phrase commonly used by the mean—“but you have to find some direction. You gave up on Gökhan, but you can’t give up on everything.” The words stung Dilek. They weren’t true, but she didn’t feel like having a scene that morning with her father. “After all, you’re not dumb, you have a college degree, and there are jobs—at least for people who don’t mind working.”

Dilek swirled the eggs about her plate. The peppers tasted sour to her, and her mother—owing to the water hassle—had neglected to peel the tomatoes. The skin of one had nestled between two of her molars, and she constantly was trying to remove it with her tongue. Minor inconveniences afflict the afflicted. Mehmet was anxious for a reply. “What do you wish to do with your life? I think you should make amends with Gökhan and start over—a fresh start—but I suppose that’s out of the question.”

A defiance was growing in Dilek. She wanted to cast herself to her father in a way he wouldn’t expect. He was, after all, a man accustomed to the finality of numbers and rules. “What if I just stay here? There’s nothing in Istanbul for me, nothing I want there. I can take care of this place. I know my way around.” His daughter’s unexpected shift unnerved Mehmet. He didn’t like surprises. He really didn’t like anything beyond his scope of control, a scope that was actually rather narrow.

“The winter here will eat you alive. We don’t heat the house. We don’t contact the villagers. We don’t live here in winter.” And with that most obvious pronouncement Mehmet Savcı put down his glass of tea and left the table. “I’m going to the marina to see about a boat.” Dilek looked at her mother, who was busy stacking dirty plates upon dirty plates. The water still hadn’t returned.

Selin Savcı sympathized. All one had to do was look at the crumbs her husband had left on the breakfast table alongside a few smears of jam and two rings of tea. For a man particular about neatness, he wasn’t always so neat himself. Men were difficult creatures and often neglected to see beyond their own wants. “But in this your father’s right. You have to do something. And staying here’s not really an option.” The nearest supermarket, a Migros, was six miles away, and Dilek would have no car. “Summer’s one thing, but winter’s another matter altogether. It’s hard enough when the weather’s warm.”

“I just don’t want to be around him,” Dilek said. “And in Istanbul I’ll have to be around him. He doesn’t even like me.”

“Dilek, he doesn’t even like me, and we’ve been married thirty-five years.”

Any notion of a marriage that lasted—be it distant or difficult—irked Dilek. She went to her room to change. The sea was calm that morning, the calmest it had been in days, and she wanted to take the kayak out to a spot called The Devil’s Den, a spit of ragged rocks that extended a half-mile out. There she could think. There she could be alone and decide what to do. Doing. Like the word marriage, it made her miserable. Why does one, she thought, have to do anything? Unlike her parents, she had a bent toward Islam, which in times of personal distress sometimes turned into a fervor. God doesn’t care if we’re successful or married or rich or smoke. (She secretly smoked—a habit for which her father would’ve scolded her because she was a girl. He didn’t seem to mind that Gökhan smoked.)

Dilek was a good kayaker, and it being a windless day she had no trouble getting out to the Den. She was able to wedge the slim craft between two rocks, then climb atop the lower one to sunbathe. To think. There was really no use in doing anything. That’s the point of living, she told herself: being. In the distance she could see the daily ferryboat heading to the port at Bandırma, and as it curled toward her, she could see the faces of the passengers. Women and men, old and young. Children. A baby in a stroller. A lone teenager smoking on the uppermost deck. Nothing seemed to bother them. They knew no misery, these people. They knew the movement of the sea and the sunshine in their hair. The forces that propelled them were unknown to them. They were lucky. It was late summer—late summer for everyone—and the sea was warm. There were no waves. I can swim to them, Dilek thought. I can swim to them and be one of them. I can be another one or I can go away forever. I can do something. She dove.

CARL BOON is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Adroit Journal. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University.