The One Where You Agree To Something You Do Not Understand.
When they slaughter your brethren for food - because they were oh so hungry, you heard them moaning, and how could your master notice if only a few of his cattle were missing when he had all the lands to watch over? His watchful eye would falter, they reasoned, squinting from a chariot for hours on end and your vision will blur, unable to tell the difference between valley or village. It is this curse of the mortal assumption that brought these men to their knees in front of your guardian. He has dragged them from their shipwreck, their brown skin blistering from the intensity of his stare, from the scalding heat of the rope he has tangled them in.
This is to be an execution - the thought comes to your mind slow and heavy, and you chew your cud dispassionately as you watch these men begin to die in front of you. Helios has always had a cruel touch to the curve of his lips; a hardness to his radiant glory. He is cruel, merciless. He would have turned these men to ashes long ago if not for the whistle and smiling words of the god who you truly belong to.
Apollo has always had a flair for the dramatic, ever since he plucked at the strings of a lyre sitting by his crib, and he takes his time. A god has all of eternity, while a man has only a few - fragile fleeting moments clasped desperately in fingers borne of clay and dirt. And they will return to the land when he is done with them, you know this all too well. You may be divine, blessed blood running through your veins, but you are no stranger to death.
Should the gods want a feast and deem the offerings of mortals inadequate, your brethren are bred to quench their desire. Indeed, gods do not need to eat. Their hunger only stems from a lascivious need to imitate that which they rule over. A show of opulence, to wet their lips and stain them golden with ichor and laugh as those who do not worship them lose a year's crops to famine, as the unfaithful are capsized 'neath the waves or come home with empty nets, torn and ragged from the razor-sharp fins of Nereus' kin.
The carnal shrieks of a man are released to the sky and you flick your ears, displeased. You like your peace and quiet. This brutal show of violence disturbs the serenity of your home. You chew some more, this does not concern you. What has the world of man ever done for you other than slaughter your brothers and sisters - those whom they know are beloved of the gods they tremble before - and tear sinew from muscle in a perverse show of carnal exploitation? You do not care for their worthless lives, and the smell of their burning flesh fills your lungs with something foul and wicked.
It takes moments, it takes years, but when the last man has been suitably tortured and killed for his crimes there is nothing to indicate that they had ever lay sobbing on your island, begging for forgiveness, except for the lingering miasma of dirty smoke, of something unholy. You are ever chewing your cud; time is of no importance to you, but the fact that the smell still lingers makes you stamp your hooves. Those of your kin who remain are wont to do the same. No beast, hooved or bipedal, could revel in the primal stink of death.
Helios is gone as soon as the last man has been turned to ash. He will return in the morning to guard these lands again from his gleaming chariot, but he must tear the sun across the sky as is his duty. You know it gives him great pleasure to be held back from regular schedule - to confound astronomers, send them to the gallows for their miscalculations, is one of his most favoured past times.
Indeed, no beast loves death as much as the gods.
Apollo calls his cattle to him with a short, sharp whistle through his teeth. He does not raise his fingers to his lips - to imitate a common shepherd boy on his own blessed island would be as to shirk his own divinity. As one, all the cows stop chewing and amble over to him, eyes wide and waiting.
He rubs his hands on each's forehead and murmurs low and melodic. For Apollo, to speak is to sing. You do not know whether it is by choice or by gift that he does not say a word without a lilt to his tone, a whimsical tune blustering through the air whenever he approaches. All you know is that you listen with an eager ear whenever he deigns to speak to you - when he opens his mouth, it is as if you are suddenly parched and must drink from the pools that form from his voice, so dripping with life.
He does not apologise - it is not his fault that your brethren were torn asunder, limb from limb, to feed those ashen piles sullying his island, so he does not claim it is so. He tells you that your loss has been avenged. One immortal mother silently weeps, head bowed in reverence to the god who paid retribution to her son's killer. He presses a hand to her forehead and tells her that he knows her son cannot be replaced, but that he will be ever blessed, that his spirit will be eternally protected in the field of Elysium where few men tred, and the few who do are kind and just. She gently hums her assent and his back straightens.
Apollo strides forward with shallow steps; the cattle part before him without fear. He runs his hands along your backs and the god and his herd slowly walk together towards the cliff's edge. He leads you, but makes sure you do not lag behind; he stays half a step ahead of the herd until he is but five paces away from mortal oblivion. He turns to face you and your kin.
It is by some god-ordained fate that you are the closest to him. You are by no means the most devout, there are kin of yours much older and wiser who know how to truly worship and respect your master within the bindings of your wide-ribbed body, but you are his and you live to serve. He extends a hand, calling you to him without the need for words, and when you trot to meet him none follow. A true god makes his will known without even a sound.
He holds the sides of your narrow skull, cheeks snug between his palms, and leans over you to whisper something in your ear. And you will know these words ’til the end of the earth and beyond it, for it is your curse and your deliverance, your blessing and a scourge on what you are to be and what you have been.
Those men stole from me, he says, breath tickling the tiny hairs on your ear. It flicks instinctively, but he does not comment. And he tells you, low and clear, what you are to do for him. He kneels back down before you, and in the way that mortals do, you nod.
He nods back and stands.
And in one swift movement, he grips you by the horns and hurls you off the cliff and into the ocean below.
He does not acknowledge your fear, the braying of your screams as the ocean swallows you, horned and wide-ribbed, completely and utterly whole.
endless, we count on
0 is the time and space between sleeping and waking. it is lying half-conscious on an air mattress in a place far away; it is foreign, to be sure, but not necessarily across the ocean from home; it is staring at red numbers blinking 3:46 until the image burns into your retinas and you dream of red stars and planets accreting and crumbling again faster than you can perceive.
1 is the singularity of life; that it must end. some argue that taxes are also a constant thread in the weft of humanity, but our ancestors scoff. we cannot remember a time before capitalism was our prevalent master. we walk the road towards our destination, ever so often faltering, but the path was meant for us to falter. did we really ever have a choice? the gods sigh, no.
2 is the choice between a duality. up or down. left or right. north or south. east or west. black or white. him or her. we ignore the grey areas of morality and decision making as we stride towards an answer with a contrast that justice can permit. we grasp it fully with two fists and proclaim that this is the way we should live. heaven and hell, why can't we just stay here?
3 is the wine of storytellers. three wishes, three beautiful girls, three bold tasks for the hero, three golden apples, three unforgettable nights, three incandescent gowns, three brothers, three companions as the hero completes his quest. how it curves, the tale they spin; a silver tongue cannot buy bread. now we sell our stories by the roadside of the ether; too many lost to time.
4 is a nuclear powerhouse. they smile in family photos, suits iron-pressed and dresses only worn once. but is it not worth it for the sake of the illusion? this abridgement of their lives shows nothing but joy; it does not show the bruises beneath the indigo sash around her waist; it does not show the dog buried in the backyard. it will never show their youngest son's collection of pressed flowers.
5 is the bitten and torn remnants of a sane vanity. you stare into the mirror with shadowed eyes and a mouth that parts as if it needs to tell you something you don't know. yet. you used to love your fingers. now, you lick the blood off your digits. they will grow back. just give it time. it was satisfying in the moment, but now all you feel is the pain and regret of breaking the seal of your self-applied embargo.
6 is poverty. plain and simple. it does not need big words to explain how little their children are, how little food they have, how little they have at all. more children, more, more, just for the hope that one survives in this world that does not want us. you always feed the children first, they need it more than you do, but when they die because it still was not enough, what will you do then?
7 is another mythkeeper's spell. seven swan brothers, seven dwarves to protect the princess, seven deadly sins, seven heavenly virtues, seven, oh holy seven, over and over again til the word loses meaning. you find a bible in your bedside drawer - you didn't put it there - but you don't read it. holy words seem to have lost their effect on you after a lifetime of depravity.
8 is what we call forever. it doesn't exist, of course, but we foolishly promise the word to ourselves. i'll hate you forever. i'll love you forever. forever and always. everything will end; scientists have proven it. yet we still cling to this idea of forever and selfishly claw to keep its mystical powers for ourselves. no one has forever. not even the sun. and when we all die - because of ourselves, not divine intervention - it seems the sun won't take so long to swallow us whole.
9 is the uncertainty of the future. what comes now that we've left that which we know. the crags of our expectations look far too high to climb. but we must, lest we be impaled when gravity shifts against us. look up, they tell us. aim high. there's something beautiful waiting up there, just for you. they tell it to the next person, and the next. we were all too busy climbing to find that which was truly beautiful. you look up to the sky as you fall.
can you see the stars where you are?
Isla Silver is playing at the bar on 2nd Street, and no one is listening.
Well, nearly no one. When David Byrne isn’t staring blankly into his glass of whiskey, he’s staring blankly at her fingers, plucking and strumming to a long-practiced rhythm. Sometimes she thinks she’s forgotten, but her fingers always remember.
The soft buzz of conversation nearly drowns out the acoustic of her guitar; while some glance over occasionally, they always return to their drink and their one-night lovers; it seems alcohol eases every pain, dims the world to a point where it’s finally bearable.
Bars are safe havens while the wars bang on the walls outside.
She strums the last chord and the buzz of the bar continues without her. She supposes it doesn’t matter. Mr Pine will pay her $50 regardless. It’s a good deal for two hours of ambience. Or less – Mr Pine’s not always around to check whether she plays for one hundred and twenty minutes straight. God knows the customers aren’t paying attention.
Isla sometimes wishes she came here to escape instead of to work. She slings her guitar off her shoulders and leaves it by the side of the small stage. It’s barely half a metre off the ground; two steps and she’s walking on concrete again. It’s solid ground, or as solid as you can get it. Sinkholes have been appearing more frequently these days. Barely anyone watches the news these days, but the tired reporter warns citizens to stay inside their homes.
If the population of the bar is any indicator, they don’t seem bothered at all.
Isla’s sitting at the bar, but she hasn’t ordered anything. She’s staring off into space like David Byrne when the bartender slides her a drink. It’s a glass of orange juice.
She looks up.
The bartender shrugs. “Flynn told me you don’t drink.”
Isla takes the glass and sips. She prefers apple juice, but the tang is welcome against her dry palate. “I don’t.” She takes another sip and swivels slightly to face the bartender. “Thank you.”
“No worries,” she says. “It’s on the house. You play good.” She screws up her face and mutters something about having “shit grammar”, and Isla notices a tattoo of a flying beetle behind her ear as the older woman turns to grab a rag. Isla fingers the black ring on her middle finger.
The bartender leaves the rag on the counter and offers Isla a hand. “Dean. Nice to meet you.”
Isla takes her hand. It’s rough on the palms, where Isla’s are soft, and soft in the fingers where Isla’s steel strings have calloused her digits night after night.
“You new?” Isla sips her orange juice.
“Relatively. Got transferred from the bar over on 5th.” Dean’s wiping a glass dry and her brow furrows. “Hired new blood and I got shunted. It’s not so bad here though.” Her eyes meet Isla’s. “You?”
“Been playing four nights a week for about six months.” Isla’s finishes her juice. “Pretty sure as soon as they find someone prettier they’ll kick me out too. Maybe then people will actually watch her play.”
Dean smiles. “It’ll be a while til that happens, then.” She puts the glass under the counter and starts wiping dry another. It’s a monotonous rhythm, punctuated only by their conversation.
Isla gets paid tonight. Eight hundred dollars a fortnight. Whenever she has free time, she’s doing finances in her head. Two hundred towards rent, two hundred for groceries, set some money aside for Maia’s birthday – it’s in three days and she still hasn’t bought anything – leave the rest to collect interest in the bank. Maybe then Mama will be able to afford college for Maia when she couldn’t do it for Isla.
“You’re a million miles away, guitar girl.” Dean grabs another glass. “The night is young, what’re you thinking about?”
Isla looks past the fluorescent lights and into the empty street. Streetlights glow a dim yellow; it’s a jaundiced ghost town and everyone is hiding.
She sighs. “Why do we say the night is young when it seems so old?”
Dean shrugs and shelves another glass. “When was the last time you saw sky? Like, honest to god, real sky? The blue of our childhoods?” She shakes her head and her beetle tattoo slips in and out of view. “Guess the night is old cos it had to grow up.”
She’s right, Isla thinks. Even at night, there isn’t a sky anymore. No endless black, no studded galaxies. The clouds have turned grey, cumulus and smog mingling indeterminably.
“Aged sooner than it should’ve,” Isla says quietly. She doesn’t say it for Dean, though she knows she can hear. We’re all weeping for a lost childhood, for the kind of idealism we grew up wanting.
Isla raises her empty glass. “To youth. The night may be old, but we are young.”
Dean raises the glass she’s cleaning. “To a blue sky.”
Empty glasses for empty hopes, but across the world, in a town far away from the abandoned cityscapes, two men toast to the future.
The days are hot but the nights are cool where they are, and they lie on a patchwork blanket poked through with as many holes as there are stars. One has hair as light as harvest maize, and the other has freckles that smatter his face and arms like dirt.
“A sinkhole opened up next to the homestead last night,” says the freckled one. His name is Ezra.
The blond one – Niall – takes another swig of his beer. “You didn’t lose Fig did you?”
“No.” Fig is the homestead’s kelpie. He’s everything to Ezra.
They don’t need to talk to know that everything is slowly falling down around them. They don’t need to talk to know that it could’ve been the homestead that sunk last night.
They lie on their backs and stare upwards.
The sky is black and it is beautiful.
ophelia ; waiting for the curtain call
She could find herself, say, in Denmark near the ramparts of her fiancé’s great stone castle, the simple notion of a tragic heroine – let’s say a woman no longer quite so young who truly ought to have been married by now but her fiancé is still taken with his prepositions of youth and passion, in the boughs of a groaning willow tree on a cool autumn’s day when the wind is whistling through her hair and hiding everything from her vision in a sea of maize and ivory, hands dirt-stained in a way that suggests she is not used to the mundanity of peasantry but indulges in it as any high-born child feels obligated to (isn't she the same as the commoners? what sets them apart other than her rings and her obedient attendants and her satin bedsheets and the crown to be set upon her beloved's dark hair? doesn't she deserve this little bit of freedom?) and she thinks: isn't it odd that she can't hear the Church bells ringing from here, but why should she mind it - she's never been particularly faithful, no hardly devout, simply effortlessly good and pure (she knows it is true for they've always told her so, ever since childhood she's been good Ophelia, pure Ophelia, sweet Ophelia, young Ophelia - she is no longer as young as she was, dainty wrists and ankles starting to thicken and sag with the promise of age), let's say she's missing home - that there were always more trees at her estate - and that crouching in the crook of the willow's rough embrace of bark and woodchips perhaps she feels that she is younger, that she can be good Ophelia, pure Ophelia, sweet Ophelia, young Ophelia for a little bit longer, just as long as her feet don't touch stone and she drinks only from the river; she considers how life were to be if she became a nymph, apart from all this business of royalty and political hubub - she does not doubt that more than a few of her fiancé’s future advisors have daggers hidden well in the folds and layers of their lavish doublets - he has waited so long to wed her, he has no heir to avenge him if for any reason those bearded men drunk on decades worth of wine from his father's table decide that he is not fit to be king, and she cannot imagine being spared as Gertrude was: she is not cunning as she was, she has only the mere clarity of mind from being left alone with nothing but her hair and her hands for most of her life because women are nothing more than lips and wombs and her fiancé spends all his time sailing away from his duty and away from Denmark and away from her because what has love ever been good for when you never outgrew your adolescence? - testosterone has always been more trouble than it's worth, she thinks, and fantasises about playing chess with Gertude (can she truly call Gertrude her mother-in-law? it's something she's been deliberating over for far too long - after all, this engagement has been a rather drawn-out affair), the two of them perched in the boughs of this same willow, black and white checkered board balanced precariously on a protruding knot and Ophelia already knows that she will lose - Gertrude has been playing games with higher stakes for years; Ophelia is just a girl in the face of Gertrude's wizened veneer, a pawn to her queen, checkmate is what the elder will say, with no real malice or passion in the even tones of her voice because they both knew it would never end any differently, so Ophelia bows her head and smiles slightly because she is only good Ophelia, pure Ophelia, sweet Ophelia, young Ophelia - smart Ophelia has never been one of her titles (and neither has dumb Ophelia so she counts her lucky stars and hopes not to see them wink out one by one) - so here sits our Ophelia in the boughs of the very same willow that will one day kill her - (she will be called mad Ophelia, pathetic Ophelia, and women not so young will look at the portrait a man paints of her corpse and wonder if she is freer as she floats down the stream) - here we watch our dirt-soled Ophelia, free-haired Ophelia, gazing up at a fortress built of stone and waiting for her tragedy to begin.
so this is love
Ava looks at Elle and feels like something’s shaken loose in her chest. Like a box you’re not sure whether it’s empty or not – Schrodinger’s emotions. Is this what it’s like to fall out of love?
Elle doesn’t seem as radiant as she used to, Ava remarks quietly to herself. Perhaps she had been blinded by the sun that had made Elle’s silhouette smoulder at the edges, like a photograph put to a lighter. Elle is burning and Ava doesn’t know what water is. As much as Ava cares, she is cursed to be oil, to be alcohol, perfume – just another thing for Elle to burn through on the way to her end. Ava doesn’t know whether someone like Elle would burn into rebirth or simply crumble to ashes when all is done. Ava thinks Elle doesn’t even know she is burning.
There she goes, kissing all the pretty girls and dancing her fingers on the collars of only the finest boys. But when she comes back, Ava always lets her in. There’s something disarming about the way Elle looks sideways at her, like she’s sharing some big secret about the universe with Ava, and only the two of them know it. The way she waits at Ava’s doorstep, all jean-jacket and confidence, it’s impossible not to love her, isn’t it? But here they are, standing at the kitchen counter drinking orange juice. Ava looks at Elle again and finds something that wasn’t already there when she decided to start loving her. Perhaps, some sick part of Ava thought she could fix her.
Only after Ava tells Elle she wants to break up, only after Ava drives home in her mother’s blue Sedan, only after Ava closes the bathroom door and turns the showerhead on full, only then does Ava allow herself to cry.
i am empty; i am full
i am standing under the old castle on the cliff and when the cannons fire, i cry and i cry and i cry. i must have died in a war, i think, half lucid as my whole body shakes in the rain. (how did they fire if the fuses were wet?) my parents shove soggy bread down my throat in an attempt to stave the tears, to take my mind off of the sounds of gunfire and a thousand emotions from a thousand memories i cannot scramble to retrieve. it feels like lead in my gullet; i am foie gras pre-butchery, slender neck gagging and voiceless.
i hate the eyes that follow me as i make my way down to breakfast. taxidermy preserves some semblance of the natural, turning it twisted. i do not dream of being chased by foxes. the fox's eyes are not glassy, its fur is not matted or covered in dust. its mouth is not contorted, forever gaping as a glassy-eyed pheasant lies stiff in its jaws. the pampered skulls of a dozen poultry are trained on the back of my head, my hands, my stomach, as i hurry past them. i do not dream of foxes, but i fear the day i do.
we are walking sun-kissed streets and my mother buys a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and i laugh when she bites into it and spits it out; it is rotten and i laugh and prod at the blackened remains and i laugh because i am not hungry, no i am not hungry, i would never take a rotten chestnut and taste the disease coating the cavern of my mouth; i would never become such a primal creature, no, no, no; mother you have made the loftier mistake; i remain content and the emptiness in my stomach only grows.
he is a king.
he is a good king, in fact. kind. benevolent. magnanimous.
you stand by his side day after day; the seasons pass; the years pass; your hair grows grey and your gowns crease.
you give birth to a boy who is every bit his father’s son and there’s a sense that this is just hamartia isn’t it? this is bait, isn’t it?
you stand by the throne, six feet apart, and he does not kiss you. (his son calls your room a whorehouse.)
denmark is a lonely place for a queen.
you whisper poison in his ear when he falls asleep.
he awakes the next morning without fail.
for you are a wordless, powerless woman; your tongue lies dull and unused behind your lips; your teeth are a carapace; a prison.
come, listen to the poets, they will tell you how this goes.
a woman is never clever, only cunning.
1. the poets say you seduce his brother.
the poets are liars with mouths full of soot.
your king is a brute, empty words and sword at his hip.
claudius is weak, but this makes him useful. he is kind, but he cannot help longing for everything his brother has; everything he could never have.
you have snakes coiling around your veins when you clasp his hands; your tongue is forked and he is stone for you, and ambition blooms unsuppressed in the whites of his eyes.
you suppose you’ve given him a touch of your downfall smeared across his lips, but you don’t care.
this man will fall with the rest of them.
2. the poets know how this ends, and do you.
but you sip your wine in the gardens and wait for the moment when you can say to his corpse, “you should have loved me.”
“you should have adored me.”
the poison p o u r e d into an ear that would not listen, wrapping its tendrils around a mind that did not care to hear your lips move, however seldom.
you do not say goodbye.
his blood lives on.
but he is king now.
claudius pays you no mind.
he says he will marry you
and you are alone again.
denmark is a lonely place for a queen.
you sip your wine and invite your son to the wedding.
the hot wax burns your thumb and you are silent.
i dreamt of Christ as though he was mocking me for losing my faith
i dream sacrilegious.
Christ stands before his people,
before my people,
before people without faces,
i am omnipotent but sin has corroded my memory; why am i here?
there is a wound in my head where faith has left me and
there is a puncture in my lungs, a cracked rib, from breathing something other than holy righteousness, sacred flames.
i blow into his hands as he raises them;
the stigmata fester;
the faceless crowd opens a thousand hidden mouths and gospel comes pouring forth.
he makes some grand speech; i do not remember it.
words like saviour and father and love pepper his proclamations like dried blood on his crown of thorns.
(he no longer wears it
but his hair hangs thicker,
his brow cut sharper;
he has swallowed their cruelty and it has made him bitter.
but holy men cannot say unholy things;
he keeps talking, but his mouth never truly opens.)
two men stand by his side,
one kisses him and the other shakes his head.
i do not remember their clothes or how they spoke
but of the three of them,
the Nazareth-born scapegoat looked more human than all those men and faceless bodies combined.
Hera Down The Street
Hera Down The Street is angry.
You hear her screaming into the street for the fifth time this week. Profanities and curses against his name - words like shame and bastard and a half-broken how could you. (The whispered aftermath is worse. Not again.)
(The I trusted you never comes. She is not naive. She knows what he has done. She knows he will do it again.)
You hold still at the window, not facing it, but close enough to hear. You listen for the sound of something brittle smashing against the pavement. Glass, ceramic. But nothing comes. You sigh, chest aching for Hera Down The Street. It seems, at least from the lack of destruction, that tonight is not as bad as it could be.
You wait at the window for another moment. But all is silent.
You close the blinds and try to get rid of the sound of Hera Down The Street’s unbridled rage ringing in your ears.
The poor children, you think. They do not suffer from echoes, but the voices themselves.
(You have never heard Hera Down The Street’s husband yell. You know - everybody knows - that he is unfaithful; a philanderer; a cheating man of the worst repute. You have seen him come home in his Jaguar, radio blaring something awful, lipstick smeared across his cheek and red wine staining his once-white dress shirt. He laughs when he sees her running out to accuse him, to scream at him; he embraces her, holds her close - you are sure that she can smell another woman’s perfume on his chest - whispers something close to her ear, and all the fight slips off her shoulders at once. She grows strong with rage, and now without it, she is slumped, tired, weary. Hera Down The Street does not wear lipstick, and you see her plain lips sigh before her husband closes the door behind them.)
Hera Down The Street wears white every day. When taking the children to school, when screaming at the street, when her friends come over for coffee and a chat, and they all sit outside on the lawn in her perfect white deck chairs, always one chair too many. Her friends joke that she is preparing for her second wedding; to run away to a nunnery; to fall off the peak of a tall clock tower and die a martyr, only to haunt the church bell when it chimes. But you’d never be a virgin ghost, they giggle, I mean, look at all your lovely little ones!
Hera Down The Street, with her hair all pinned and immaculate, smiles with her plain, soft mouth, and murmurs something you cannot hear - her friends are much louder than she is. But you hear her friends’ polite laughter, unsure, cold, before conversation turns to something more trivial, as if they hadn’t just suggested Hera Down The Street throw herself off a building to get away from it all.
(Hera Down The Street stares into her perfect white teacup and notices that it has started to crack.)
Hera Down The Street keeps a garden in the front yard. You’ve read a book or two about the meanings of flowers, and you can’t help but notice that there isn’t a single bloom that doesn’t speak of fidelity.
Hera Down The Street starts gardening before dawn, to beat the morning sun. For the first time, you see her plain cheeks adorned with a smear of dirt, and her white dress is dusted with brown at the hem. She looks up, sees you watching her, and holds your gaze.
You duck your head and move away from the window. But you do not feel ashamed for looking.
(Later that day, when Hera Down The Street is hiding from the sun, you leave a pot of blue salvia on her doorstep. I’m thinking of you. You wonder if she will know what it means.)
(You do not see Hera Down The Street watching you from between the blinds as you walk back up the street. You do not see Hera Down The Street purse her lips and sigh. You do not see Hera Down The Street take the flowers inside and put them in her bedroom where her husband will not enter.)
One day, Hera Down The Street walks out of the house and knocks on your door.
“I need you to look after my children. Just for tonight,” she says. Hera Down The Street is utterly unapologetic, but you do not mind. You would do anything for her.
(“And my snake,” she adds, as an afterthought. She walks quickly back to the house to retrieve him. She tells you his name is Typhon. “He is quite harmless. Give him a blanket and he will sleep like the children.”)
Her seven children splay themselves around your house, and you give them your bed and the couch when night falls. You stand by the window, nursing a mug of hot tea, and watching for Hera Down The Street.
You expect to hear her screaming, but there is none. The silence is stifling, and you are worried.
You do not sleep.
The tea grows cold.
Hera Down The Street comes by the next morning.
You brace for bruises and lacerations, but there are none.
Hera Down The Street is smiling.
Hera Down The Street moves houses long before the divorce is finalised, and thus becomes Hera Next Door.
Hera Next Door wears red lipstick like warpaint. Hera Next Door wears leather jackets and a peacock feather in her hair. Hera Next Door owns two motorcycles, one with a sidecar so that Eris or one of the other children can ride with her. Hera Next Door lets her hair hang free.
Hera Next Door doesn’t invite the wives of her ex-husband’s friends to entertain for coffee. She lets the perfect white deck chairs fade and stain, lichen gathering at the hinges. Hera Next Door comes over to your house once a week on Sundays to watch a movie with the kids. (No matter how bad the film, she endures it with a steel will. She smiles at her children more often now.)
Hera Next Door uproots her garden, sets it ablaze, and starts from scratch on her new land. She lets it grow wild, ugly, untamed. Every so often, she introduces a new plant to her jungle and nurtures it as if it were a child. (The flowers always blossom under her maternal care.)
Hera Next Door always smells like roses. Yellow roses are her favourite; she keeps them in a vase on the window and crushes them to powder indiscriminately; she loves every part of them, and some part of you thinks they grow because they love her too. She makes the perfume herself - and spritzes her homemade concoctions on her wrists and at the curve of her neck. When Angelos and Hebe ask to smell, she rubs it on their tiny wrists too. They inhale the scent until they are dizzy with it.
Hera Next Door doesn’t wear white every day. She still wears it when the mood suits her, but when she does, it is never a dress. She will not dress like a sacrifice again, for she is the one who wields the knife.
(You buy her a whetting stone for her birthday and she kisses you on the cheek. The smell of yellow roses lingers in the air. You are dizzy with it.)
Hera Next Door doesn’t kiss anyone without telling them that it isn’t going to result in anything past this. She’s had enough heartbreak to last a lifetime. She will be a mother, but never again a wife.
You help Hera Next Door plant carnations in the garden, and she kisses you behind the hedge, grinning.