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’re dizzy with it.
Hera Next Door doesn’t wear white everyday. 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.