Everyone knows the Big Six. Brothers. Sisters. Falsely imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. Their mom busted them out with help from the littlest.
So, yes. When her daughter is taken, Demeter is already no stranger to dank, dark places.
Everyone knows that little boys are made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
It’s a lesser-known fact that little girls are made of sugar and spice, and flowers, and Tommy guns.
Demeter is not worried.
The boys hold grudges enough to bludgeon the world into submission. The girls hold grudges too, though they are more subtle. Do not mention Pyrrhos. Demeter sees your Tantalus and raises you an Aithon.
Everyone thinks that the boys run the Big Six; that the Olympian mafia belongs to Zeus.
It’s more of a figurehead-type position, says Demeter to a reporter, idly studying her perfectly manicured nails. He’s basically just a patsy.
Zeus is furious when the article is run. Demeter laughs and laughs; anger like this conceived Persephone.
Hera tells her that she mustn’t goad him so and Hestia hums by the fireplace.
Demeter hikes up her skirt and steals a motorbike. She laughs and she doesn’t wear a helmet; she leaves flowers and smog in her wake. She goes to the docks, where Poseidon has most of his dealings.
She knows that his goons watch her; dressed in white with ivory boots laced up to the middle of her thighs.
“Shouldn’t you be out looking for your kid?” asks Poseidon.
“She can handle herself,” says Demeter and she sits astride Poseidon’s lap; foolish big brother, bamboozled by a pretty face. “She is her mother’s daughter.”
Poseidon lets out a low whistle. “Poor Hades.”
So that’s where Persephone is.
Demeter does not bestow favours easily. Zeus and Poseidon and Hades know this, best of all. She is no quicker to anger than they are but it is unseemly, they say.
She sits on Zeus’ desk and swings her feet back and forth. She is not sullen. She lifts her chin and looks from one to the other. She could suffocate them with springtime blooms, she could smother them with bay leaves and hemlock and asphodel and pitch black roses. She could upset this uneasy alliance of six with a click of her fingers and funeral wreaths and stifling, choking lilies.
Askalophos, they can overlook. No one likes a snitch. Askalabos took his life in his hands when he made a mockery of Demeter’s thirst. He had it coming. Anyone would have done the same.
Kolontas, they cannot forgive. Oh, he probably deserved to die but arson is petty and an entire city block perished with her incandescence.
Demeter smiles. She looks from one to the other. They take a step back.
There is a bar. The muses sing there, sometimes, on open mic night and it seems desperately unfair. Kleio and Calliope conspire in the corners and Calliope knows a little bit about Hades and the absurdity of love, when her sweet boy never returned.
Hestia likes flaming sambuca and Hera drinks champagne and Demeter’s drink of choice tonight is a mojito, fragrant and tart, and, come to think of it, no one has seen Minthe for days and days.
It is probably not wise, for all these queens of this underworld to be in the same public place but they are so much more than gangsters’ molls. They are the power behind the thrones. Persephone passes by and exchanges a smile with her mother.
The men do well to look at their pints, the dartboard, the pool tables; at anywhere but their womenfolk, who would reign over the world if it was worth ruling.
Demeter dreams in a kaleidoscope of colour and when she wakes up, the ground is white and the people are starving.
She has been underestimated. She is not a sentimental woman. She does not weep like women weep.
Zeus tells her to undo it. She has never liked being told what to do. She likes the snow. It is a clean slate. Underneath, there is a riot, dampened by the white fall.
The people are starving, though. She is sorry about that. They are not all Aithon. They do not all deserve it.
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. She chides Zeus and pats his cheek condescendingly. She knows the role he played in her daughter’s disappearance.
The fact that Persephone is his daughter too is meaningless.
She has been underestimated. Her wrath is not hysterical; she does not turn spurning lovers to trees. Her anger is cold; it is the ice that strangles the whole world. It is the ice that seeps down through the soil and turns tree roots to spun glass.
She whispers her apologies to the evergreens; they do not want to be deciduous but their leaves and needles are sloughing off and they are disconsolate and inconsolable.
Hestia keeps the fire in. She understands what Demeter must do.
She plays poker with her sisters and her nieces. They trade secrets and power. They laugh at their brothers and their nephews, who are so certain that they rule the world while bending over backwards to keep their goddesses happy.
Demeter knows the secret of power. It is the top button of Zeus’ shirt. It is the rough denim of Poseidon’s damp jeans. It is the whites of Hades’ eyes. It is every winter, the harsh and the mild, and her brothers do not trust her because she is stronger than even they know. She has priests and priestesses, attendants and personal assistants.
She smiles and it is enough to put fear in the hearts of her enemies. Snow falls soft and silent and Persephone is secreted in one of Hades’ clubs and there is, somehow, laughter in the air and the knife-sharp sounds of ice-skates and the soft flumph of snowballs and the long-suffering sighs of her evergreens.
There is a blade in her thigh-high boots and her brothers cross their legs when she walks past.
Hestia keeps the fire in. Hera laughs just to see Zeus flinch. Demeter holds her chin up and dreams of peonies, sage and acorns.
They are so much more than gangsters’ molls.