Leathery skins

“Ugh, pesky tail. You make putting on bloomers unnecessarily difficult!”

“Any chance you want me helping with that one?”

“Wh…?! I, um, can do this by myself, thank you! What are you doing here!”

“This is the dressing room. Was going to grab my gloves before working on the roof, need to replace rooflights. Then I saw you struggling with your, underpants.”

Candice stays quiet, completely still, her tail awkwardly sticking out. She’s halfway through her maid uniform, still missing her lace headdress and tights. “…Please, look away. This is so embarrassing,” she not so much requests as whimpers. The impossible softness of her raspy voice reminds me of the bigger picture, of the fact I walked in on her changing and offered to… help with that. A great deep red broadcasts on my face and I swivel around like a weather vane at wind force 12. The sounds of fabric and frustration poke my ears from behind and it makes me want to turn around again.

Everything about Candice fascinates me – ever since I’ve started working here, I’ve been trying to sneak as many looks in as I could. Her sand-coloured skin, the pink nail polish on her claws, the way her red scales outline her face… This one time while I was cleaning windows, I saw her cleaning the master’s study, a waltz crooning from an old gramophone, and she kept doing these twirls, ‘pirhouettes’ I think the word is? The frills of her dress extended and her tail waving like a conductor’s baton in perfect sync to the fancy music, tip-toeing on her big scaley feet. She’s so… CUTE! I HATE IT!!!

“You can turn around again.” I do. “Sorry about that…”

“Nah, I should be saying sorry. I kept on staring at you like some fancy painting, after all.”

She covers her mouth with a hand, breaking eye contact. “I don’t mind.”

“WELL,” I pluck at my overalls. “Time for work. Good luck cleaning, I’ll be on the roof if you need me!”

“A word.”

Armand is calling; he always does this when it’s time for a break. Pristine young man he is, barely 18, doesn’t want me working too hard; there’s worse masters to work for. “Time for my break?” “Yes, actually,” his voice cracks and he coughs into his gloved hand real fast to try and cover it up. “But I also wanted to impart some advice.” I let out a heh, I’m one and a half times his age and served almost as many years, so for him to give me advice is cute. I hop off the roof and zip open my overalls – it is hot out. “So?” He hestitantly pats some sawdust off my arm and hands me a towel. “Just that you’ll have to look a lot less slovenly to win her over.” I freeze, zipping my clothes back up. “That obvious, huh? Isn’t against the rules, is it?” “Not really. I met my boyfriend here, too. The butler?” “You and Antoin? Huh. That’s nice, way to go.” He blushes and fidgets with his gloves. “Ahem. This is about you. Just wanted you to know that you should follow your heart but should also take a bath.” “You oughta give me less dirty tasks, then.” “No can do. You’re indispensible,” he brights a full-teethed ivory smile.

“She’s in the study right now. Stop walking around with your heart full of leads and talk to her. Good luck~.”

“Oh hello,” Candice beams with smiles, “are you finished with work already?”

“Nah, I’m here ‘cause Armand sent me on another task.”

“Armand…? Oh, the master of the house. You’re always so congenial with everyone! And… you’re always so nice to me. Even though I don’t fit in well with the other staff.” The motion she makes with her tail and how she clutches her duster is nothing short of a tragedy.

“What makes you say that?”

I know what did – I just wanted to hear her say it. But instead of the expected ‘I’m not human’, she makes an annoyed wave of a gesture – like a tsunami – at the scales on her neck and face.

I close the distance between us with a winter march. “Listen, Candice. I think, that’s really great.” She bats her tall eyelashes at me. “What is?” “I THINK YOUR TAIL AND OTHER STUFF IS CUTE.”

“My… other stuff…?”

I don’t know why I yelled that, I don’t know what to call this silence, I don’t know what to expect. I take a look at myself and Armand’s words ring through my head like nearby artillery, specifically the ‘less slovenly’ part. “I’m sorry. You’re so pretty and beautiful. Then I’m like this and I’m real sorry, Candice.” That’s all I can muster to utter.

I feel leathery hand stroke my cheek. “I would wipe your tears away, but I would poke out your eye.”

“Heh. Hehe. Ehehehe. Okay, that’s funny.”

“I think you’re very cute, too. I love how you look in overalls and that grime on your face is, well, it’s quite like make-up, isn’t it? You’re also very, strong, and, um, muscular. And I wouldn’t mind you helping me with my bloomers……..”

“Are you blushing?”

“A bit…” She shakes her head, retrieving her hand from my face. “It’s just. My skin is mostly scales and feels very leathery. Are you sure about this?” I take off a glove: my turn to stroke her cheek.

“You feel this hand? It’s rough and calloused so I think I can handle you. Besides… touching you is a risk I’d like to take.”

Candice suddenly drops her duster, because of heavily implied reasons.

 

Date

“So, what do you do for a living?”

Um,” you start. “I work from home.”  This is always a really embarrassing question. You don’t do much – enough to get by, but you don’t know how to make that sound interesting. You can talk for hours about what you’re interested in, but making yourself the topic of conversation isn’t one of your strong suits. Plus, your nervosity isn’t conducive to optimal dating parameters. Why did they have to be so hot, why did they have to wear a bartender outfit, yells the panic in your head. You already want out – why’d you choose the seat with the back to the door? Why even date at all, oh god oh god oh god

They raise an eyebrow, genuinely interested. “Really? Like web design or something? Oh, are you an artist? That’s so cool!” They make it obscenely obvious that you’re super bad at this so you throw some scalding hot, subpar-yet-too-expensive coffee down your gullet to ward off the anxiety, at least until after it’s over. “I, um, write user reviews. A lot of them. Fake ones. On websites. Sorry that’s not any of the things you said.” Their expression softens from inquisitiveness into a reassurance that they haven’t given up hope yet. “Someone’s gotta do it, right?” is their response and also a sign the conversation is diving headfirst into becoming unsalvagable. Two seconds… A brief smile. Five seconds… they check their phone real quick. Eight seconds… NO! You sit up straight, force a more enervating voice, and go “Haha yep, I’m the one to blame for all those 5-star ratings on stuff that isn’t 5 stars!” Somehow, they start laughing. Well, a chuckle. Still: nice job. “Oh yeah, you’re a real villain, for sure.”

“So, um, what do you do, then?” They’re stirring some sugar into their macchiato but don’t break eye-contact. “I guess I’m sort of an office clerk, a bureaucrat. Basically every problem ends up with me and I have to deal with it. Day in, day out, naive and starry-eyed folks claiming they could do things better come to my stage and I have to remind them that that isn’t how the world works.” “Oh, that sounds super tiresome. Still, it must be very important work.” They sigh, and you know that sigh: it’s the sigh people give when the validity of their complaint has been shoved aside. The end results can be as triumphant and progressive as can be, a shitty job is still a shitty job. “I guess,” the stirring continues, longer than centrifugal forces need to achieve maximum solution. You take another sad sip and give the café a quick scan: it’s nice and rustic. Looks like a cabin. The floor and tables are made of wood and the wallpaper has this neat, red brocade design. There are a few other patrons, who you hope are having an even less successful date than you are, and in this six-second break you take from making things more awkward for yourself, you overhear someone saying “oh that’s a fantastic hobby!”

HOBBIES. “What are some of your hobbies.” They look at you, finally stopping that awful stirring motion. “What?” “Sorry. I mean, what are some of your hobbies?” At this question, they light up. Oh thank god. “I’m interested in a lot of things, but mainly acting. I’m very interested in theatre and love writing plays and scripts. This is kind of dumb, but I kind of really love doing evil speeches when I’m in the shower. Oh, and I design costumes! I’m not wearing one now, but most of the outfits I own are super  colourful and lavish and provocative. I do a lot with all kinds of fabric. I sow and knit, too. It’s something to keep me from going crazy, you know?” You were barely able to nod along to the rapid pace with which that was delivered. “That’s so cool. Are you into cosplay?” “Sometimes, but I like making original designs more than just recreating stuff, you know. Do you have any hobbies?” “I like…cough, anime, video games, and memes.” Did you just say cough out loud? They didn’t catch on, though: “No kidding! I get most of my design inspiration from video games. Suikoden, Final Fantasy, their villains always have such fantastic outfits.” You nod along with a passion.

“Yeah yeah yeah, I love video games. Especially the ones with corny and quasi-deep plots. Evil kingdom invades the world, the church was bad all along, that sort of thing.” They smile, oh my god this is going sort of well isn’t it? “I like it when stuff is a bit more mythical, if that makes sense? Like the world has to go through some kind of trial for salvation and if humanity fails everything is reset.” “That sounds familiar.” “Haha, I’m sure. Eschatology is a common trope,” they shift a bit, lean forward, “and a source of inspiration for me.” A blush takes over your face, why did that sound so cool and attractive? You break eye-contact and notice the other patrons are gone and you can’t see any staff. Weird. The café’s wallpaper also appears to be pulsating but that’s probably just nerves.

“Inspiration? Like, you’re into mythology?” They chuckle again. “What? What’d I say?” “Nothing, it’s just funny. Nah, it’s not mythology, it’s more work-related. Even though it’s fiction, video games help me do my job.” “Huh. How’s that work?” “They chronicle exactly what not to do, is all. The hero always takes down the villain because it’s good versus evil, and good is, well, good, so they win. It’s a bit more complex in real life.” Abort. Abort. They’re a creep. Quickly finishing your coffee because this is not how normal people talk, you glance down to check where your bag is, then you can make a run for it. “Haha, I mean. Sure?” You look back up and he is not wearing the bartender outfit he was before. It’s, sleeves. He’s wearing two black, purple-glowing sleeves and the rest of his chest is bare. “Like the heroes, my clients expect that everything will go their way. I remind them that’s not how the world works.” He stands up, and immediately so do you. You turn around to rush out the door but, the door has gone. In its place there is a fog wall.

“Because to change the world, you have to go through me first!”

You slowly turn back again, scared but filled with determination. You can see a health bar floating above their head. Intense and heroic music begins to play out of nowhere. You’re about to finish this.

‘EMBODIMENT OF ESCHATOLOGY’

YOUR SUPER HOT DATE

 

 

Narcissus, that vampire

Oh, young Narcissus, with a face, a body, an idea, a fantasy, a suggestion, a concept, so beautiful and perfect, there was never any doubt that he wouldn’t be yours.

Had there ever been a boy that fluttered more hearts, turned more onlookers into a swan, abandoned together on a frozen lake with feet unsuited for ice and sorrow? Sighs of the birds pleaded for a smile, a caress, or a kiss, he embodied bliss and Narcissus just stood there. On the shore, on the black sands, being himself, being wanted, he did not want this. He refused to look into the lake, the perfect mirror. Narcissus turned around and the hopeless swans were content with the sight he gave them, the slight parting of his lips, as if that was what kissing him is like, a distant thing, a visuality. His eyes were hidden, his lips were full, his skin was dark, his profile was divine, and the way his shirt hugged his chest was exiled to the screams of heretics and the niches of apocrypha; scholars knew that descriptions would bring only delirium.

“We have to stop Narcissus.” That was the idea of a rather malcontented man whose husband had let his gaze wander down Narcissus. His eyes journeyed across his body for forty years and came back with treasure, knowledge, and a longing for more. “Please love me,” did he beg, gods how he begged for the love he assumed was his, but his spouse thought only of Narcissus, a fantasy he’d never let go, happier than his marriage. “I know of a way,” responded a conniver. His skin was pale, his posture unsure, but his wrath was certain. He, too, had seen Narcissus, and he, too, fell in love. But he fell into jealousy as well. What Narcissus has and rejects with frequency, he had never known. “I’m hot and tired,” he imagined Narcissus had said, and it infuriated him to no end. He would break the ice and ruin him. The spouse-lorn man told him to do what he had in mind but never to mention what that was. They, the lonely and the conniver and the dozen swans, were complicit in deicide, for they would remove the masterpiece that is Narcissus, spilling blood on a god’s canvas.

That’s when you were approached. The pale man knew you were new in town, because you hadn’t spoken of Narcissus even once. He was all everyone would talk about – on the marketplace, in the temples of gods not him, in the workshop where you had to wait an extra hour for the lovestruck smith to finish your sickle. “Meet with Narcissus,” he suggested. It was a good suggestion; maybe then you would have something to talk about and maybe then your life would become less lonely. He offered you something to drink and he toasted to new relationships. Then he gave you a stake.

Narcissus sat by the lakeside, bored and unavailable like always. The swans had managed to waddle their way closer to him but began slowing their step – perhaps the distance was exactly what they needed. His black hair shined brightly even in the dead of this moonless night. The mere outline, the very concept of him was enthralling enough to weaken and waver your suffocating intentions. “Are you Narcissus,” you called out, embarrassed. The swans craned their long necks; disgusted at your boldness, the outsider’s impolitic ignorance.

Your hands are quivering. He stands up, the atmosphere thickens as the heavens move farther away to make room for he. He turns around and time slows down. You rush at him, stake thrusting forward. You don’t close your eyes because you don’t know any better, and he stares into them. Intense, ungodly, red. You trip and fall into him, he accepts you with open arms. The impalement doesn’t seem to bother him too much – you missed his heart. He grabs your chin and makes you look at him more. His breath is a mist, your body is lead, he leans forward. Your lips part for his thumb, your neck cranes for his mouth. It hurts, it feels wonderful. Everything has led to this point.

Oh, young Narcissus, with his fingers in your mouth and his teeth in your neck, there was never any doubt that he wouldn’t be yours. But you are his.

Egg

An old lady, tiny and accessorised in beautiful ways, pulls her little cart into town. She visits once every month, selling all sorts of sundries and mysterious miscellany and unidentified uniquities. On it is a variety of products and produce, such as a taxonomy’s worth of medicinal herbs, five pieces of a honeycomb, the claws of a bear who, after a life of predation, consented to the removal of his awful nails, and a single egg. As luck and shoddy infrastructure may have it, the cart hits a bump, and the egg does tumble and begins to roll.

It rolls down the cobbled and hobbled street with speeds too incredible for any oviform that small. People leap out of its way in acrobatic antics, the scene perfectly hospitable inside a circus tent. Perhaps they do to preserve the neatness of their clothes or shoes, but this egg is special, its kinetics not only quantifiable with meters-per-second but emotional with purpose, and we all know fear is the progenitive to self-preservation. In its stampede, it crushes innumerous bacteria and viruses, a brutal end, even for these small things that only bring disease and do nothing but feast on the deceased. After all: their malignance and moral repugnance is not a choice but remains a necessity. For what and why? Why ask at all.

The egg continues, thereby orphaning many ants. Their parents had ventured from the stones they call home to collect fallen leaves or their weight in sugar, a valuable luxury for bugs. The young ones had no way of working through the pain and sorrow, their younger siblings still pupating, so they had no choice but to silently mourn and resign to a slow, sugarless death. The pupas themselves would come into existence in a home without family.

A stalwart beetle answered the panicked pleas of the microscopal and the insectoid alike – she is very strong and possesses a virtuous heart. Bravery courses through her body (as opposed to when bravery is confined to just the veins in those unlucky enough to be anything but an arthropod) and she tackles the barraging egg with her recognisable, battle-scarred horns. She catapults it high! What a hero! The bugs cheered (take my word for it that celebration is a thing bugs do) and she was given an extra sugar ration that day.

But back to the egg, now hanging in mid-air, one could call it gliding, its respectable and aerodynamic shape suggests a certain birdliness to it. But gravity trumps all, it keeps us grounded and it makes us existential. It is familiar in the sense we wouldn’t know WHAT to do would it decide to leave us for a greater pursuit beyond our reckoning. Also, what would happen to the egg if gravity simply decided: ‘no thank you’. I believe that’s when the story would end with the following three words: “So long, egg”. Call it ‘ending A’. Now, we press on to ending B.

SMASH !

The egg crashes against a wall two yards away. ‘Strong’ was not a descriptor chosen lightly – words are blood and blood flows freely through her body, hence this relative, bug-astonishing feat. The wall, lacking locomotion but sharing people’s disdain for being dirty, hesitantly opens his eyes. There is no yolk, white, shards, or other holistic components that make up ‘egg’ staining his skin. Instead of the amorphous, scatter-splatter we’d expect, there is a glowing white hole. White, yes, but not related to the egg white, or perhaps it is, but then a special magical quality specific to this egg. The hole, like any hole, has an entrance/exit and depth. It can contain, therefore it is a hole. The townsfolk who had previously ducked for cover are now gathering around this spacetime anomaly (newtonian and euclidean laws run this town, so this is definitely a weird thing).

The sound of physical struggle can be heard from inside this extradimensionality, oviexistentiality. Not a grunt, a cry, or the strained voice of exertion, but like something is being pushed out of soft, rubbery confines (my guess is that fluctuations like these would feel rubbery). Then, unceremoniously, like everything in life, fiction redirects our attention to the seconds of experience and existence we don’t spend a thought on, to the moments we keep missing,

a larger egg plops out.

The old lady, quite tired from running after the egg, gingerly picks up the new, bigger egg and places it on her cart. She turns to the crowd still processing what just transpired, money on her mind, and says in a sweet voice:

“Who would like to buy a very special egg?”

X and Y (Asking why)

X turns to Y, asking noncommittantly “What do you think is at the end of this path?” Y responds with ‘thpppppt’. By no means is that an acceptable, and it’s kind of rude when said unprompted like that (uttered? Spit? What is the operative verb even?). Y has trouble with conversations, but tries again: “Does it matter?” That’s a more philosophical retort than predicted, but coming from Y it’s more likely to be blunt and touching on nihilism, which, to be fair, is a school of philosophy, but Y is neither teacher not student in it. So X thinks, tilting head and shoulders. Thinking about something can be shown through an askew posture, X thinks, leaning a bit further still, because it helps Y understand: ‘because an answer isn’t ‘straight’forward!’ X returns to an upright position. “I think it does,” a firm retort. “Well, I hate that.”

During the course of this exchange, a rabbit had hopped in front of them. He wears a bangle on either arm and has got most of its body covered with a little vest, bright white, unlike his fur, a fiery orange but on the comfy side of fiery. Imagine and visualise the one known as ‘X’ walking into a victorian-style study: tyrian purple rugs, three walls alligned with bookcases way taller than the portable ladder next to them, maybe some taxidermy but maybe not depending on your disposition towards trophy animals, and a beautiful, expensive fireplace that glows a friendly sunset orange. That kind of orange.

He poses the journeying two a riddle. It’s a really corny one. Yeah, it’s that one, the one every game designer and their mother uses. Game design mom: “Four, two, then three legs. What? What?”. All the mysterious places such as ‘Temple’ and ‘Magic Palace’ and ‘Dad Basement’ use it as a tiny tastemaker, to invoke a tolerable atmosphere of delicate enigma. ‘Wow, that’s original,’ the one known as Y would say, but not right now.

“I’m sorry?” “What if the path doesn’t end. Then what?” “I guess we’ll never see what’s at the end.” “What is the point, then?” “I guess nothing. But it’s nice to be busy.” “Precisely!”

The rabbit has grown impatient, deeply wrought by the duo’s lack of manners. ‘Never have I, puzzlemaster Royland, been mistreated with such temerity!’, is what it would say, could rabbits talk in a way that makes sense to you and me. It only knew two things, however: how to look snazzy and how to prompt puzzles. It hops off, upset and offended. He’s going to microblog about this. Oh well!

X and Y continue their conversation as they move further down the path, unaffected by their own attention spans and a certain rabbit’s silent judgment. “Is being busy what you want?” Y unleashes a steady stream of questions that seem passive-aggressive and almost insulted but really aren’t. “Yes, actually. I want to know what I’m doing it for. Purpose, results, that kind of thing. What if my effort has been for nothing? That’d be a shame.” “No, you want preoccupation.” “Is there a difference?” “Yes, one asks ‘when will I be done?’ and the other ‘when will it stop?'” ‘What is this drilling’, X thinks, basically posing at this point. “I just want to know where I’m going.” Y has been leading the way, holding X’s hand so softly, so they are headed towards something.

A tortoise blocks the way. She is not very important but let’s take a closer look anyway. She looks great! She’s got a very wise air about her; having lived a hundred years, this cherished shell-pal must certainly know a lot. Ask her anything and she’ll search her memory banks for anything resembling an answer. Like a shoreline where she spends her days off, sand beach or maybe rocks, a salt-scented breeze ventilates and rejuvenates the nostrils and pores.

But neither X nor Y ask her a question, too busy chattering amongst themselves. The tortoise offers the dingy duo some wisdom instead, some useful facts in cups-to-go. “The answer to most riddles is ‘Man’,” says one cup, it tastes like herbal tea with a bit of sugar, and the other, “the sphynx committed suicide after Oedipus solved her riddle. I wish she could have been okay.” She performs a curtsy in a way only an old and wise reptile can and is slowly removed from the path.

“Where are we going, is what I want to know.” Y flutters indolently at this, and says “it still doesn’t matter” before landing on an important-looking statue. It sinks a bit, having apparently activated a switch, and the floor begins to rumble. X stands up and thanks the tortoise as she is taken down a statue-activated elevator. Her wisdoms are absolutely of no use but X will remember them for the out-of-placeness of it all, which is funny to lean into because a riddle-spewing rabbit isn’t unique enough to warrant a memory or two? Y takes the lead again and leads on, thankfully they are holding hands again.

“I hate that. Do you need constant confirmation you are not a ghost?”

“Y, I’m not sure what you mean, and I usually do.” Y humphs and hrms, opting for thought-grumbling instead of body language. “You don’t think about the seconds you spend.” “I just want to know what to expect, what’s what.” “Every second something is happening, but you don’t remember them. You are looking only at where you will go, not at how you are going.” “Which is where, again?” “A path can only be a path if it can end.” “Sure.” “You are preoccupied, aren’t you.” “Yeah, with a journey without a purpose.” “But isn’t that enough.”

Meanwhile, a mouse skitters past the two. He doesn’t believe he can make mistakes as long as he goes. His path is very linear, and in that regard alligns perfectly with Y, in the sense that he, too, believes it’s about the journey moreso than the destination. But he also believes in the importance of a path towards an end of something, which makes him more compatible with X’s way of life, but not a perfect replica, because he lacks direction. He is both X and Y and neither of them, should we decide to reduce the duo to their outlooks on life. Imagine the conversations they’d have could they engage in an interspecial chat. ‘My name is Amir. I am a talking mouse.’ ‘A talking mouse.’ ‘Wow, that’s kooky.’

X’s throat clears. “Why do you worry so much?” “I don’t want you to worry.” “Don’t worry about me, I just want to know.” “Knowing is great.” “I agree, that’s why I want to.” X feels Y slowly letting their hands return to their respective owner, the dangling of arms feels heavy and sad. “But does it have to be practical?” “Excuse me?” “Do you need to be justified?” “For what?” “For being. At all. Can’t you just do things because you want to?” That’s unexpectedly hedonistic of Y, X thinks, almost falling over, wondering if that was just a very teleological mouse that skittered past them. Before X can respond or nervously grab Y’s hand, Y says something: “We’re here.”

Y’s bedroom is gorgeous, very ornate and has all the right furniture. The rest of the house is unique and appropriate but not without its design quirks, such as puzzles, floor switches, and riddling animals. Y turns to X, smiling widely and brightly “Surprise!” X looks around to search the room for actual and tangible surprises, though his boyfriend takes up most of his vision (to absolutely no dismay). “Uh. What is? The surprise, I mean.” “There was a point to this after all!” “I mean, you’re the one who invited me over,” X grin is wry and snarky.

Y puffs his cheeks, “But what did you think about the journey? The mystery, the riddles.” “I’ve been to your house before. Listen, I love your weird riddle pets and how you have spread your wings and fly in order to perch on the statue to send your tortoise down to her terranium. I also know what we do here most of the time.” Y leans into a thought, one wing in his side and the other tickling his chin.”I guess I didn’t think about that.” X laughs, the kind of laugh that is a smiling body. “I can think of another journey we could go on,” he leans forwards, “some seconds to spend.”

X folds his hands into Y’s and pulls the boy in for a deep kiss, there might be tongue involved.

a poem about the wind

oh my god have you heard the news? a reliable source told me:

the wind has died. no not died down

she died of exhaustion

 

pushed herself too hard

because we built these beautiful mills and turbines for her

and kept building them

 

she thought it was so nice

when we gave her these different names (mistral in france, tramontana in italy)

you don’t name things you don’t want to forget

 

the evening news lists exactly three consequences, very bothersome

“pollination, birds, sustainable energy, all needed the wind”

(the weatherman is sad at home, mourning earnestly)

 

personally, i think it’s very rude to think,

without even mourning her just a little,

“how can we do without whom we killed”

Blood on marble – Commission for ‘Sibley’

1 – I must hurry. I must run.

2 – This settlement I have built is where I call home. It is where I rest, it is where I prepare, it is where I receive our guests. Our huts and wells blend in with the high hills and treacherous peaks of the Peloponnese as perfectly as ink drying on amphorae. Bustling in its simplicity, wrested free of reason and purpose; divine, man, and titan could share and sleep on the same straw beds. If only we hadn’t known the terrible wars that split us all into enemies of history. Perhaps even the hundred-armed hekatonkheires could sink as deeply into the mountain spring as I have, were it not that their size obsoletes them of comfort. I chuckle to myself, the hot waters draining my skin of wear and wound. I shake my leather flask, urging my handmaiden to pour more drink.  The decanter – never cracking because a god’s craft will never break – spills its content for my content. The fairest nymph of the Amnisodes tilts the ceramic with a grace her father never had possessed, which I tell her. She smiles, “Plato speaks only of the virtue of love between men. How high must his hubris reach, then, to never speak of the comfort between women?” “We have seen it from Olympus,” I assure her, she smiles more.

3 – “Have you even read his works?” Her voice echoes throughout the bathhouse. Against the pearly marble, only our dark skins are visible; you’d almost mistake our surroundings for a cloud. A fog of decency covers our bodies from prying eyes and writing hands, no oracle nor scribe could use us for their heinous visions or iniquitous fantasies. She splashes down next to me – “Hey!” – she sounds disappointed like always. Not in me, never in me, thankfully, but in my apathy towards the arts. “I haven’t. What man or men write, no matter how they twirl their brains over the things they can only give a name, what they think to know about a world they can’t influence, can’t possibly apply to us. We’re not like them, or I guess it’s better to say, they’re not like us.” She puffs her cheeks, I poke one of them out of habit. “But his reasoning is so sound! And the language we have bestowed, he puts to perfect use. We are subject to the same thoughts through the magic of words, after all, so to dismiss him by his nature rather than by what he has nurtured is as distant from virtue as Tartarus is to Olympus!” The hot water does much to mask it, but her red-flushed face has no other mythology to it than childish stubbornness. She is the scales to bring balance and justice, but cannot handle it when she is placed on either of the pans. It’s adorable. I laugh, upsetting her more, and kiss her forehead, which she finds even worse. “How he puts his logic to use is intrinsic to his mortal nature. Arrows require a bow for their direction. The same is with words;  hunt and talk are no more different than you want them to be.” She splashes more water into my face and shuts me up, but my mouth is open with a smile.

1 – Rocks cripple my feet, my tunic torn by branches. I can’t run fast enough.

2 – I signal for the chariot to stop. The six-horned deer rears, its gold skin reflecting sunrays filtering through the treetops. Beams of light, helpless against the splendour of my steed, bounce into the forest, as if Eos herself decided dawn would begin in this very verdure, falling on and highlighting a single grazing elk. Dead leaves lay in open graves of moss, and with careless feet, I wake them up as I descend. They scream once, reliving their demise once again, and the crumpling sound of this defilement alarms my hunt. Soldiers on the horizon, flee while you can; it has decided to bolt. My negligence costs defeat, and I complete that vile human transaction. Archery won’t save my face nor will it kill the game, it’s simply much too fast for any of my arrows. Were I to be any other godhead, I could simply demand its death right here and now. But my hunting tools aren’t blessed or enchanted; I don’t need divinity to achieve what I was destined to do – any mortal can wield my bow, wear my tunic, fletch an arrow on par with mine.

I begged my father to deny man the pleasure of honouring me, I demanded my sexuality to be locked away, all to focus on the hunt, all to acquiesce the demands of nature. Which, ironically, is a humiliation without equal, because nature is nothing. It has no face or form, no clear authority or pantheon. It shows itself through consequence alone. It cannot act on its own, and I only have mine actions to blame. Fate or the Fates, dependent on one’s disposition, they oblige nothing. They only confront you with your inadequate self. I punch the tree next to me, and my hand bleeds like a mortal.

3 – She takes my hand, lightly stroking the bandages with her own. Her amber eyes express a concern and my regret could split mountains and fill lakes – how could I dare to cause her worry? “What did you do?” She asks, disappointed. Not in me, never in me, thankfully, but in herself, that she couldn’t be there to stop it. I have been comfortable on her lap for hours while she’d been reading, now I roll my head away in shame. Underneath the olive tree she donated to Athens, in order to win the city’s favour. A silly rivalry between her and Poseidon, who offered them sea water to drink? Faced with the option between natural poison and a plant bearing food and life, they surprised all of the pantheon by not choosing for ‘death’, for once. Despite their tortured existence, mortals can be surprisingly lucid.

“I… puwmtsh a twee,” words muffled by her dress, a complete misuse of language is my reply; I don’t want to talk about it. “What?” She laughs with a snort, lovely as always, though she thinks otherwise. “I punched a treeeee…” Her finger, hard and calloused, circles my shaved head. “You get mad so easily. And you don’t know how to deal with your own bouts of anger. It’s a miracle most of your skin is left unscarred, though I don’t mind the ones you do have…” Her voice trailed off and I roll back up to see a red-flushed face, barely poking out from underneath her parchment scrolls.

“What are you reading, anyway?” “Oh! It’s poems.” “Bah. I never understood the arts. Actions speak louder than words, language only befuddles meaning and intent I find.” “Well, if all you need to convey is hunting, archery, and childbirth, sure. But you of all people should know the chaos of incomprehensibility! The frustration of not knowing how to know how you feel! And there is no experience more resonant, more connective than finding a word or phrase to act as quiver to contain those effervescent arrows of thoughts. As if the threads of fate bind you to the farthest celestial sphere.” “I like it when you get excited like that. I still don’t understand, though.” She exaggerates her thinking face, letting out a ‘hmm’ so deep it feels like judgment is being cast on me. I don’t wait for her verdict and begin to judge myself in her stead, again never letting go of the miniscule possibility I have wronged her (mental self-flagellation lets us repent in our own unique ways, ways that absolve us of action, that make the reality of consequence bearable).

“[That man is peer of the gods, who

face to face sits listening

to your sweet speech and lovely

             laughter.

 

It is this that rouses a tumult

in my breast. At mere sight of you

my voice falters, my tongue

is broken.

 

Straightway, a delicate fire runs in

my limbs; my eyes

are blinded and my ears

            thunder.

 

Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts

me down. I grow

paler than grass and lack little

            of dying]”

 

“…What?”

“Sappho! Poem of Jealousy*, that’s what it’s called.” “What’s it about?” “Um. Jealousy. It’s called the Poem of Jealousy.” “Really? I mean, I didn’t understand a word of it.” Thinking about language has never been your strong suit.” “Hey!” I puff my cheeks and she pokes them out of habit. “Just imagine, my huntress, the mortal emotion. To feel both its anger and its fear, combined to form a worsening. Thunder within one’s bosom, silence strikes the tongue as a bolt of Zeus’s wrath, a paralysis outside of the realm of natural philosophy; something more powerful than anatomy envelops, overwhelms you. Fire spreads across your body, you choke on the smoke of your own smouldering skin, your own thoughts and reason buried underneath Vesuvius. Water breaks out, torrential floods from the eyes, melancholy builds up in your throat, death suffers less than this, all because she’s with someone else.”

“Oh. So you and Paris.”

She pushes me off of her lap.

“I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. I—“

She soundlessly leaves.

I feel mortal; deathward.

1 – I trip and fall. I clutch the parchment in my hand.

2 – I never knew why the three of them cared so much about what the goddess of discord thought. It seemed too deliberate, “this golden apple, a prize for the most pulchritudinous,” I could see her angry smile failing to hide her intentions. Eris tossed the fruit at their feet, falsely promising knowledge and truth, inspiring later tales of fruit-based deception and betrayal. She sauntered off, leaving malice in her wake. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. My Athena. I had never thought of her as vain, I thought I made her feel the most beautiful every time we’d been together. Of course I can’t help but feel pity for myself, I just stood there and watched, I was paralysed. Perhaps she thought it was justice – it seemed only logical she’d be given the apple. I certainly wouldn’t disagree. Yet there was something ravenous about the scene: three goddesses, so far removed from their own godhead, just to claim an arbitrary title and an inedible fruit. They almost fought, but Aphrodite remembered just in time that Athena also governed war and glory in battle. A shame, I would have loved to see them get destroyed by my strong lover. Something I helped her become, mind you – our relationship flourished because I was her personal trainer for a while.

So they decided to bring it up to Zeus, who suddenly felt awkward picking favourites. He suggested a third party, a mere human, unaffected by deeper meaning, who would be “honest and fair”, that’s how he put it, but he meant ‘who would be superficial’. It repulsed me! Athena, judged by someone who didn’t, couldn’t know any better, who had no understanding, who hadn’t shared those laughing fits, tickling each other with paint brushes while designing her aegis, who didn’t bring her warm wine and candles late at night while she worked to bring justice to people who didn’t deserve it, who couldn’t even draw maps from memory of the rivers in her skin while she sleeps.

Yet all I did was stand there, lips quivering like a nervous bowman, as three goddesses desperately tried to win over one man’s eye. Hera kissed his neck and pressed herself against him, offering him a kingdom to span Europe and Asia. Athena, at his feet, more subservient, more erotic than I was ever privileged, tempted him with wisdom and skill in war – the very techniques I had taught her. Aphrodite, who looked as divine as beauty would allow, sucked on his lips and proffered a single woman as Paris’s bride. And the fool agreed. I feel a tumult inside of me. A terrifying, emotional chimera, particular to me that’ll never see mythology. The head, a roaring lion, is anger and outrage, my own bias be damned, the audacity he wouldn’t choose Athena. The body of a swan, sleek and flush like a gust of wind, a heavy sigh of relief leaving a trembling body, Icarus could have yet lived had I been there, soaring higher than his own pride on my breath alone. Its tail, not even an animal, but the thorny stem of a flowerless rose, pricking and bleeding me with regret and sadness, that she wouldn’t come to me. I would call her beautiful. All that Paris’s judgment has revealed, however, is that Athena takes the truth in my voice for granted. I flee. Back home. Our home.

3 – Welcome home. Um. How was your day?” “Don’t talk to me.” “Didn’t get what you wanted, huh?” Nothing. No response, not a word. The only reaction is a shiver running along her spine. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Let’s sit down and talk about this. About… Paris. I know. And I need to hear you tell me we’ll be okay.” “We won’t.” “Athena…?” “I came here to pick up my stuff and leave. There’s nothing you can do to change my mind.” “You can’t just decide that. What did I do wrong?” “More than you care to remember. You’ve hurt me, Artemis, but you won’t know what or when it happened. You’ve been clinging to us, holding onto one of Clotho’s threads, not realising it’s about to snap. So you pull yourself up, believing you can reach the top, never stopping to think that what you have in your hands is a single string. If you won’t let go, I will wrench it from your hands.”

1 – I break open the entrance, injuring my hand as I did before.

2 – And with that, she slams the door behind her. I suddenly understand Sappho’s poem, but not as words of jealousy. I feel it as loss; fire, thunder, water. I blaze through the forests, my first show of my divinity, ruining entire ecosystems using the anger only a goddess could comport. Thunder from my throat, striking my followers who have done nothing wrong; they endure it, for they have no choice but to, nobody is in a position to calm me down, nothing makes me okay. I now see what Athena meant. Then the water. The endless tears. None of the classical elements could help me cope with my own fault.

Time, the secret fifth element, however, does. Though Chronos has been dead for ages (ha!), he’s still helped me more than the rest of my dysfunctional family. Eventually, and after many apologies to my servants, I got back on track, what I was supposed to do. Which, honestly, isn’t that different from the ‘fire’ and ‘thunder’ portions of my emotional outburst. But feeling not as furious and conflicted and suffocated while doing it, I guess. It just happened; I realised I was better. No longer mortal. Whatever part of me had been made vulnerable and killable, became worthy of worship once again. Though I must confess, during that time, I found myself drawn to the arts. I even wrote some things, in the effort to sluice my own thoughts out of me, the poem as conduit for my chaos. Of course I wasn’t that good at writing, so I, hm, won’t spare a thought on them.

3 – “How is she?” “Listen, I appreciate the gesture, but she’s the last person she wants to see right now. She’s… been through a lot, and needs people she can     really trust.” “We were lovers. I can comfort her, Apollo.” “Can you?” His expression darkens, avoids making eye contact. His rhetorical question stings: the god of medicine and healing would know better. “I only told you because I guess you two have a history, and you deserve to know or something. You didn’t have to come here. You shouldn’t have come here.” “Who is it?” We both perk up, heads turning towards the bedroom door. There she is. A mess. Without thinking, I run up to her and embrace her. “Athena. I’m so sorry.” “Why are you here.” Not even a question, more like a death sentence. I back away, scared. “Um. Your brother told me.” “Apollo,” she scowls through and behind me, “we’ll talk later.” A ‘tch’ followed by footsteps and a door closing. “Athena, I heard about what Hephaestus did. I just, wanted to be there for you.” “DON’T say his name.” “Sorry.” “And you are not someone to provide me with succor. I will be fine without you, I have been fine without you. Stay away. Get out.”

I proceed to do so. As I leave, I hear an awful, defeated voice. “I am the goddess of justice. Then why was there no justice spared for me?” I stare at her backside for what feels hours, and they probably were. Some poet or philosopher will write a beautiful story about this. But it feels anything but beautiful. “You need to go.” It isn’t Athena’s voice, but her brother’s. Finally back after stepping out. “Okay. Um. Bye.”

∞ – My handmaid enters my bedchamber. I’m covered in furs and pelts, lavish and almost aristocratic. I turn around from my desk.“Did you want to take a bath together? I was writing, but I’ll make an exception tonight.” I chuckle. No smile answers mine. She slips me note, hesitant to speak. She leaves. Riddles have never been my strong suit, so I open the paper with presumably a hint on it. I burst from my chair, knocking over a ceramic decanter. It falls to the floor and shatters – what is made by gods will break by gods. I wish I could have been born Hermes just to have his speed. But no wind could carry me fast enough to my destination, to her house.

Blood on marble, sin on holy. There she is. Leaning on her shield, its pure gold now an imbrued red, and embracing her spear, holding it as firmly and intimately as she has never held me, while it impales her. I let the parchment in my hand fall on the silent floor and kneel down next to her. She is beautiful.

 

 

*Translation: William Carlos Williams (1958)

A small meteor storm is headed your way

There is a young man slouching his way over the sidewalks. His back is notably hunched and his eyes, could we see them, for they are covered by black bangs overdue for a haircut, are outlined with the eyeliner of life (the life in particular is a very self-destructive one): the eyebags. From this we could infer that he is having a bad day, received some bad news, perhaps his favourite TV-show took an unexpected narrative turn he’d rather it hadn’t, we could spend time and word count thinking of anything that would’ve given this a-postured adonis a negative emotional reaction, but the truth be told as it is written: he isn’t sad, bitter, somber, or lugubrious at all. Not quite the opposite, but he is feeling relaxed. He simply decided that nothing matters anymore and this apparently includes his physical demeanour. He is humming along to the buzzing in his unironed shirt’s chest pocket. His boss probably, or a coworker who has been instructed to by the selfsame boss, for employers are deceptive, mistrusting creatures, who would use unwilling thralls to investigate if you’re not feigning illness or do not actually meet the agreed-upon, acceptable conditions for missing work. Neither party (the second one is you, the reader!) will know, because the man simply keeps walking and keeps humming.

“Now nothing matters anymore, I can do whatever I want. Which is nothing. I want to fill time with my body as if it were a space, and nothing else. There is my existence I owe obligations to. There is nothing to be ashamed of doing or not doing, but I would like to exist minimally. That seems reasonable,” chuckles the young man underneath his dark bangs, obscuring his sight, the path to self-awareness of his own refreshingly simple naivety, and also the path he is currently lolling on, which we can assign as the direct cause of the physicality about to occur.

“UWAGH!!!!”

“You have bumped into me, you villain!! That is a direct challenge, you cannot refuse me or the pain I am about to deliver!!! Onto you!!!!” A loud voice and an aggressive stance fill the streets, glass is crackling as if frozen, cracks and fissures are forming in the stone, energy waves are forming underneath her feet. That isn’t what is happening at all, but given the mystery woman’s proclivity to flair and dramatique, it may as well be! Her sports jacket does suggest a certain assertivity, but she is also wearing a knee-length skirt, which disrupts, dispurposes the image we had so precociously built for her.

“Is that so? I do apologise — it is quite serious, I concede. If you believe your reasons just, I have no qualms to make,” smiles the young man back. He has no real attachments to his body, so gracefully he accepts his punishment, his relationship with pain is an odd one, there are times he has expressed desire for violent death, but only ironically, not true at all, all the while using the rhetorical device to uphold the surreptitiousness of his masochism. He is quite the unintentional elocutionist.

Her hand goes up, and her chop is about to CLONK! him in the head, technique and style are emanating from each microsecond of movement! But then a television broadcast interrupts this balanced exchange, they are standing in front of an electronics shop after all, and if you must know, the ‘UWAGH!!!!’ came not from either of them, but from a set displayed in the window, it coincidentally showed an episode of the series the man might have been upset about, which is very slapstick.

“This is a news broadcast. We are so sorry to take up some of your time. There is a small meteor storm headed your way. Sorry.”

“Well, that’s quite troubling, I would say that, had I not decided that nothing matters anymore.”

“Do you think so? There is so much we don’t know that is so lovely.”

“I’d rather it not be so covert, then.”

The girl moves her fist beneath her sturdy chin and begins to shake her head rapidly up and down, like an earthquake showing its understanding of concepts such as materialism and personal property and how detrimental they are to the human condition. But not vibrating at a sufficient Richter scale to make the nuance show up on the panicking geologist’s seismograph to suggest it also comprehends we still need conceptually bad things, simply because they offer the most direct solutions to our complicated struggles. And how can we blame her, for not knowing the exact condition of this young man’s psyche and ideology? They had only just met and their first interaction could very well have ended in manslaughter, we don’t know the girl’s strength, maybe neither does she, but she empathises with him, an empathy born of pity. She rather enjoys the world and its constant excitement, the yelling of everything happening on earth, the thrums of the universe and the echoes of life reverberate throughout her chubby frame, every moment she spends is great, every kiss she shares with her girlfriend is bliss, if only this young man could see that, too.

She looks up, literally and expression-wise, and implies for him to do so, too.

“Isn’t that just the loveliest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“Oh! I guess you’re right.”

VIGNETTES OF A THURSDAY EVENING

Thursday evening. Streetlights outside are flickering in a way that isn’t particularly interesting anymore. It was remarkable at first, how they turned the night on and off in that particular road you overlook from your window, you stood underneath one and had a friend take some pictures, one of them turned out really good and you’re using it as your profile picture, but now you’re just lamenting the poor state of governmental involvement in infrastructure or basic electrical maintenance. You mentioned something symbolical to her like, ‘of course gov’t wants to keep the darkness in our lives, keep us scared’ and she responded with ‘lol’ (why did she say that out loud). Not that the view is particularly instilling of fright and dismay, but you like to purport noncommittal lies like that, to comedic effect or just in general. Watching that lantern from your room is what you’ve resolved to doing tonight, under the guise of “there’s nothing better to do (yes there is but i just want to be uninvolved with my own life)”. But! You’re not feeling sardonically corny enough yet to draw parallels between those streetlights and your life.

Darkness will come, but not right now.

Thursday evening. You forgot how the view was from the roof terrace. And you kind of hate it? Financial stability is already a tough scale to keep in equilibrium – on one pan your income and on the other EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER BOUGHT AND WILL BUY WOW THAT’S A LOT OF STUFF – and this cool ass house location is not helping. Is there some black market vendor who sells readymade custom roofs, ‘Cool Roofsman’, maybe some of the people here is this mystery merchant of your destiny, but you don’t recognise any of them. That’s what you get for disappearing right after high school, you guess, but at least you managed to stay in touch with at least one other person, hence the fact you’re here. They’re younger than you. Look at those children, they’re probably afraid of all sorts of things just like you are. When they’re older, they’ll be strangers and alone, and completely in their own company. For some reason, you want to be there for them, help them through days, give them years to live, whisper them a song, make their summers alright, but it’s hard to do all that before the end of this mutual friend’s party. Also, you really need another drink because goddamn you’re not feeling comfortable here. Standing around with a drink in one hand is alright, but being left alone with your own thoughts at a party is, well, being left alone with your own thoughts. Cause for a distraction. Maybe one day you’ll be holding someone’s drink in your other hand, because they had to go to the bathroom real quick, and you’ll feel less like furniture, less like a flickering streetlight.

That’s how it will go, but not right now.

Thursday evening. You’re climbing to the top of a hill, the city is so far away now, you can see that the streetlights haven’t gone out yet, so you’re not running late, not that you’re running, you lazybones, but it’s getting late. You’re wearing a scarf and your glasses and a blue jacket you forgot you owned, and it actually looks really good on you? That’s surprising, but in a refreshing way, a way that makes you feel good, confident. You’re getting closer! The sound of a guitar, finally the years of learning the guitar paid off, it’s an Em7 chord, then a G, oh my god is this Wonderwall, is someone already playing Wonderwall, is this literally happening, ahahaha oh god, and you’re inside. Everyone’s waving at you, so does the guitarist, thank fuck he stopped, you hate his plaid pants, and then they’re all shouting your name. Glasses are raised, you get one of your own, and the joke that’s made is the best joke you’ve ever heard. There’s conversation, dancing to strange music, and conversations about strange music, maybe some other weird combination, too. Luke hands you his beer, “we’re celebrating all of it!,” and disappears into the bathroom. You smile, you’re on the roof, a roof of stars and moons above you, and then I came in, and we’re looking at each other, the streetlights are as far away as they could be, and we talk, it’s just magical, a conversation that is just back-and-forth incantations. We are wizards trying to one-up each other but that will never happen, and the magic will never stop. Still.

The quiet will come, But not right now.