When I was a child, I spoke as a child and I played with childish things. I looked into a glass, but brightly, and dazzled my gaze. I filled my eyes with light and spun until I fell into the damp morning kissed clover. I laughed like the breezy willow. I cried like the settling dew.
Every day was lazy summer hot and drowsy summer long in our little house of trees and ferns by the wide slow river. Every morning, Mother would hug me awake and tell me that I was her sweet little Kore and that she loved me. She'd braid my hair and send me to play pretend in her fields with the handmaidens that she chose for me. Every evening, when Helios set, Mother would hug me mistletoe tight and tell me that she would keep me safe.
At play in the fields, I'd pretend to be a flower and turn my face to follow the sun. Beautiful golden haired, sky eyed Helios. I'd drink in his hot, bright light and imagine that he shone just for me. I'd dream that someday he would look down and see how beautiful I was and reform his wandering ways. That he'd put aside that silly Laurel's crown and wear my flowers instead. That he'd kiss me. I pretended such sweet scented flower dreams.
At play in the forests, I'd pretend to be a brave warrior like my half sisters, Selene and Athena. I'd wave my golden stick sword and save the frog maidens from the dead tree dragon. I'd climb rocks and jump logs and I never cried when I skinned my knees.
Alone in the thickets, I'd pretend to be the Queen of the Witches. I'd dance and spin and laugh. I'd mix plum blossoms and mud and mint to make potions and sweet mud pies. I'd make flowers grow and weave chains of daisies and mazes of red rose walls.
I was always laughing and running with bare feet over veridian sharp blades of grass under brooding cerulean azure skies.
Colors like green or blue were too common for Mother. Her grasses and trees were always viridian or sage or pine or verde. Her skies were always the most perfect cerulean deepening to azure. Sometimes, Mother would paint clouds. Her lambs, she'd call them.
Her little lamb, she'd call me, in my white chiton, my hair braided with ribbons.
Every morning, I'd jump away from my bed to avoid the monster that lived under it. Its long reaching arms, with tufts of straggly red and brown fur, trying to grab me. Trying to drag me down below. I'd run out into the viridian, cerulean world that seemed to have no horizon, only sky above and grass below.
When Mother frowned, I'd hide under my bed and hold myself small, while she bruised her sky and scattered her lambs with growling wolf storms. I think the monster that lived beneath the bed was scared of Mother, because when she snapped and I hid, it never tried to eat me. Instead, we'd huddle side by side, until the world went bright again and I`d crawl out and we'd be as we were before.
Once, I hooked my legs over a branch in a spreading oak and hung upside down. I looked up at the grass sky. I looked down at the clouds below. Mother was talking to Father. They were separated by then. Father lived with his other wives and other children.
I remember the rough bark cutting into skin. I remember that I was worried that they'd look up. That talking would turn to wind and black clouds and thunder. I remember Father said, "She's like a little flower with fragile roots."
Mother crackled and my tree swayed in her wind and she said a horrible thing. She said, "Yes."
I stopped climbing trees after that.
Instead, I wandered with the handmaidens Mother chose for me and pretended and grew and waited like a lump of a seed in Helios' light.
But everything changes.
That summer day, I stood on the wide river bank and tried to see my own reflection in the muddy water. Then hooves thundering like Mother's moods. One heartbeat. Then hard arms lifting me. Two heartbeats. Then I was standing in a golden chariot and the earth opened up and ate us. Three heartbeats.
I had often imagined Helios romantically swooping down from Father's sky in his golden chariot, with his golden horses, declaring his undying love and carrying me off to his golden palace on golden Olympus.
This man was not Helios and this was not remotely romantic. My arms were already blooming throbbing bruises from where this stranger had grabbed me. His arm cabled around my waist, holding me still. This man was not slender golden laughing sunshine. He was big and broad and white and black and unsmiling and all of a sudden, I felt just how small and vulnerable a thing it is to be a woman. I tried to pretend that I was tall Athena with a great big sword. Hi-ya. I tried to pretend that I was Mother and that I'd smite him. Zap. But I couldn't. I was a small barefoot girl in a thin linen dress. I didn't even have a knife. I wondered what I was going to do, grow daisies in his hair?
He looked dead.
His skin was...once, there was a tree that stood outside of Mother's window. One day, Mother grew angry and she ripped it in two. That tree wasn't viridian any more. It lost its leaves. Its bark went smooth and cold and white. His skin was white like that.
His hair was...once, when I was little, I found myself in a dark wood, where I had lost the true way. Helios drove his chariot gone and there was no sun or moon or stars in that dense thicket. Everything was just darkness and every rustling sound was a snake that wanted to bite me or a monster that wanted to eat me. This man's thicket hair and brush beard and consuming eyes were black like that.
We drove down long winding tunnels. The only light came from his golden chariot. Dead light. Cold light. Everything was shadows and flicker crawling on my skin. I gripped the edge of his chariot, cutting my fingers. We drove down and down. We came to a vast dark river, clothed in green glowing mist. He didn't even stop; we just drove across. The water was so cold that it burned where it splashed my cheek.
It jolted me and I said, "Take me back." My voice was trembling and pathetic and weak, like a wilted flower.
He gripped me tighter. I could hear my heart pounding, and like a seed in my throat, it choked me.
We came to a great black iron gate set in a vast black iron wall and a three headed dog, the size of a fully grown bull, every tooth larger than my hand, leaped against the chariot and growled and snarled. The chariot swayed with the force of the monster's attack. Its hot foul breath tainted the air like that deer that I found rotting and blank eyed in my favorite meadow. When I was a child, I was always running. I couldn't run now. My way was blocked.
He turned to me and said, "Do not worry, he will not hurt you." As if the three headed dog was the biggest of my worries, and he made this little hand gesture and he said, "No Cerberus. Down boy. That is a good boy, down," and the giant monstrous dog sat down and started to pant and slobber from all three heads.
At that moment, the seed in my throat dissolved into a fire in my stomach, burning in my veins. I pulled out of his grip, looked up at his dead white face, his black eyes and said, "Take me back."
My abductor didn't notice. He was too busy scratching his dog's middle head. Then he glanced at me and said, "Follow me. I have something to show you," and he started to walk towards the iron gate.
I remember that I was hot and I was cold and I was tired. I sat down on the floor of the chariot and I said, "No. I'm not your dog."
He looked down at me and grimaced and said, "No, he's too heavy to carry," and I felt the fire burn out and I was cold again. I was all alone with this strange man and his monstrous pet. There was nothing to do but participate in my own abduction. I stood up and walked in front of him, as if this were my house, and I said, "Well, are you coming?"
He pulled his white lips back from his white teeth in the midst of that black beard and reached out to the gate. It swung open at his touch. He led me inside into a vast echoing palace.
Every door was made of hammered metal or carved stone and every door swung open as the man approached. As we entered each room, lights would glow softly from the walls. As we left, the lights would dim.
We went through a great hall. The ceiling was so high, I couldn't see it. There was an immense black stone table down the middle of the room. I touched the smooth cool stone as we passed it. Brushed my fingers over carved images of skeletons and the dying.
We went through white marble rooms and black tile rooms and rooms of granite and time. As we walked, I felt patterns in the floor, arcs of circles. Lines. Images so dim, I could only faintly feel them against the calluses on my toes.
We came to a long hall painted with frescos of men and women. I recognized Father's smiling face and roving eyes, a thunder bolt clutched in his right hand. I saw a painting of Mother, her face wreathed in black clouds, holding a basket of fruit. Helios and Selene pulling back their bows to fire, as a woman that I didn't know stood by weeping. Athena at her loom, weaving the pattern of a spider's web. At the end of the hall, there was a painting of a black eyed man holding a bronze sickle. Its curving blade glistened red and wet, while behind him, the sky was falling sunset rain. My kidnapper had the same dark eyes.
We went down a curving stairwell that opened into a vast treasure chamber. There were heaps of cups and crowns and coins. Gold and silver and jewels and bones. Skulls heaped full of emeralds. Bony fingers covered in ruby rings. Fans of ribs stringed with glittering diamonds.
We walked up a set of black marble stairs to a white marble table. On the table was a black metal helm, a small ring of black wires and a large opaque crystal. We stood there in this cold treasure room, watching our breath congeal, listening to the echo of our heartbeats, staring at each other.
I held his eyes; because every moment that we stood there was another moment of life. I pretended my last words. I was certain that soon my bones would be spread to hold sapphires and silver chains.
My kidnapper looked down at me with those dark woods eyes and said, "I am Hades. I rule the under earth and the dead." He looked away from me and I held my breath. He said, "Be my Queen and all that I have, all that you see will be yours."
My legs felt weak as if I had run a race. I remember being relieved that this was only about desire, like in a story and I was a princess.
I said, "No. Take me back."
He stepped towards me and said, "Be my Queen and rule at my side."
I felt all the howling wolf clouds in the world whirling in my eyes. "You don't even know my name." I said, "You don't know me."
He just kept hungry looking at me and said, "True. What is your name?"
It felt free to be this angry, like leaping, like pretend, only hotter. My hands clenched into fists and I said, "No, I won't tell you. Now take me back."
He said, "You cannot keep secrets from the god of the dead." But I just shook my head. We stared at each other for another eternity. He broke first and said, "Follow me."
I still said nothing.
He said, "You are still smaller than my dog."
I could feel the fire curdling in my belly. I sighed it out ashes and I followed him up the stairs.
Up flights and exhausting steps into a round room at the top of a tower. A bedroom. His bedroom judging by the vast black bed of black stone, decorated with yet more carvings of dead people. We stood in that room by that bed and I was once again aware of just how much larger he was than I. He took up the entire door and wide and tall and looking at me with his burning darkness eyes.
Cold, white acid mixed with that fiery knot in my stomach. I said, "I won't give in. You'll have to fight me."
"No," he said, and he shut the door in my face, which was a good thing, but after all of the handmaiden's stories, not what I expected.
I knew that if Hades had been Helios, I'd have been all ravished by now. If Hades had been Helios, I'd have wanted him to ravish me. I spent precious minutes contemplating the odd prettiness of the word ravish in my head. Letting it echo against my imagined bones piled high with silver and sapphires.
Finally, I forced myself to move. I opened the window and in the distance, I saw the glowing river.
I decided to pretend that I was a brave warrior. I pretended that I was Athena as I knotted the sheets on the bed into a rope. I pretended that I was nimble Selene as I climbed the vertigo way down. I imagined myself, dressed in shiny golden armor, beating Hades in single combat with my golden sword of light, as I walked back to the river, that eerie glowing river.
There was a dock, but no boats. I was worried that Hades would come after me. I decided that it was better not to stop. That warriors rush in. So, I waded into that cold, cold river. I had only imagined cold before. My skin went numb, clenched into itself. I could barely feel my arms and legs. I started to swim. It went on forever. The water felt heavy and thick. I was so very tired and I could feel myself slowing down.
"So, if ya don't mind my askin' young miss," said this cheerful voice, "why are you swimmin' in the river of woe?" I glanced up. There was an old man with a long white beard poling a little boat next to me.
"Leaving." I said and I swallowed a mouthful of river. It tasted harsh and leaden. I tried to cough and not sink.
The old man pushed the boat forward, "Well, that's real interesting. Don't think you'll make it though. You got some ways to go." He poled a bit, "Plus, the river ain't exactly empty. There are things that live down at the bottom that it's best not to meet." He poled a long lazy push, "If you've got the coin, I'll save you."
I ignored him and swam for a couple more minutes, hours, whatever. It was so very cold and I wanted to sink. From a distance, I heard the old man say, "Don't suppose you'd like me to save you now, cause I will if you want, or you can drown? It's up to you."
I rolled onto my back to float and glare at him. He smiled at me. "No, coin." I said.
"Eh, I'm thinking Lord Hades'll spot you a coin, if you want. So, what do you want?" said the old man.
I floated in the cold heavy water. "Boat," I said and I felt the old man use a hook and his pole to grab me and pull me in.
I coughed and shivered at the bottom of the boat. The old man smiled at me. He had glowing yellow eyes. He started poling his way back. He said, "I'd offer you a blanket, but most my passengers don't need such, what with being dead and all." I ignored him, and in the space of a few minutes, we were back on shore.
The old man, Charon, took me to the stables by the palace and there was Hades, with straw in his curling black hair, sleeping next to that enormous dog of his. He opened his eyes. He said nothing. He just handed me his cloak and I was freezing, so I took it. Then I sneezed on him and that was good. He flipped Charon a coin, who bit it, smiled and ambled off.
Hades took my hand in his furnace hot grip. Heat radiated off of him as he led me back to his room. He didn't say anything, but these tiny wisps of servants came to make the bed. They didn't seem strong enough to hold up cherry blossoms. My teeth chattered as I offered to help them, but they just ghostly smiled at me.
When they were done, Hades thanked them, went to the window and locked it. He said, "You can try to escape tomorrow. Tonight, get some rest." He handed me some blankets and then he shut door in my face again. I stood there huddled in his cloak that smelled of dog and horse and him. I crawled into his fresh made bed of black stone and black sheets and skeletons. No monster would dare live under such a bed. I was asleep in moments.
At some point, I think the room decided that I should wake up, because the lights came on. There was a little tray of red fruit on a little black table. I tried to open the window with the fruit knife.
I was still struggling when Hades came into the room. He just stood there and with the River of Woe clumping my hair and my skin feeling greasy disgusting and my blood shot eyes, I actually tried to stab him with that pathetic little knife. But at the last second, I saw myself standing in a pool of his red, red blood and I jerked back. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the hard stone floor, glaring up at him.
"Are you done?" he said. He didn't seem to care that I'd almost scratched him with a dull knife.
"For now," I said. He offered me his hand, which, I ignored. I pushed myself up from the smooth stone floor. I carefully put the dull knife down on the table and I walked out of the room. My hair like tangling vines, blossoming bruises, my head held high.
We went down to the stables. "I don't suppose you're taking me home?" I said. He just looked at me. "I didn't think so," I said.
We drove across the most desolate empty nothing full of fields of musky waxy flowers that did not belong to me.
We came to a yellow field of wheat grass. The trees were red and yellow and brown, like a painting a child does, when they do not know that trees have to be green. The leaves were even falling off the trees. Pale shades of people wandered listlessly in the grass. When I looked up, the sky was not a sky. It was white glowing mist and there was this even faint light on everything. I had no shadow. Hades stepped into the whispering grass.
I followed Hades into that long yellow grass. Hades said, "These are the Elysian fields." He waved at the people, the trees, the grass. "Be my Queen and wander through your fields with the souls of the good."
I looked around at this strange, colorful place. I said, "The grass is dead. The trees are asleep. Mother could do it better." And I could have bitten my tongue. I hadn't wanted to share anything with him. Least of all Mother.
"So, show me. Show the deserving dead what paradise should look like." And he just looked at me and I looked at him.
I knelt down and picked up a bit of dirt. Felt the dry, sleeping soil fall through my fingers. Breathed in the dry air with its hint of electricity and burning leaves. I kissed a spent wheat shaft. Let it know who it was dealing with. Then I pricked my finger on my brooch. Made a small gesture with my hand and watched as the green burned away from me. I felt my own power of forever green and forever blossoming trees. Forever. Blossoming. I sighed and looked at the red and yellow and brown leaves hidden in the lush green grass.
Hades said, "It is beautiful." He bent down and picked a red poppy. It shivered at his breath and left a trail of yellow pollen on his nose and cheek like a streak of sunlight on a marble floor.
I turned away. "It's still not right." I held out my arms. The light was so even and weird and pale. "Growing things need the sun." Forever blossoming me looked at this king of dark spaces. "I need the sun. Let me go."
He brushed the poppy against his lips and shook his head. "Be my Queen and make it spring here."
The shades were skipping in the meadow that I had made. They seemed happy, which was nice for them. Whatever. I said, "No, they've lived their lives." And I wanted to be as far away as I could from this dark king and his dark eyes and pale subjects. I wanted the uncertain cerulean sky. I wanted, well, one choice wasn't much of a choice.
We walked through the blossoming woods. Through my forever flowering trees. White cherry blossoms idly drifted. We walked out of my spring, through a breath of summer and white down gently floated. We walked into more red and yellow and brown trees. Leaves softly fell and crunched beneath our feet. It was getting dark. We walked into something new.
It was like the breath of twilight after Helios sets. The trees were bare of leaves. Like that lightening struck tree, like skeletons, like Hades, white shadows. The earth was covered with a soft blanket that melted away under my bare feet. If cold has a smell, then this placed smelled cold. And crisp and clean and new. We came to a cross roads, two paths that met at a river and a bridge. The bridge was curved like a dark half moon. The river was black and crusted with white ice. Almost transparent shades stood on the river banks. Then one of them stepped into the water and it just dissolved into nothing. It was horrible. Beautiful. I didn't want to ask anything, express any interest. "What are they doing?" I said.
Hades said, "They are going into the river Lethe to forget. To wash away memory and be reborn into the next life. The ones at the bank are not yet ready to forget."
I looked away from him to the waiting souls. "So, the dead don't stay dead?"
"Death is just one of my subjects." He said, "No one has to stay who is ready to go."
I said, "So, even the dead go free and the only prisoner here is me." And that was that.
We went back to his palace. He took me to my room, where, wonder of wonders, a hot bath steamed. I thanked the waiting servant wisps, who flushed a little bit. I sank into the hot water. Washed woe from my skin and hair. Baked warm into my bones. It was hard to put on my chiton, but I had nothing else that I could wear.
Eventually, the door opened and the light went out in my room. The hallway flashed its lights at me and the door wiggled, beckoningly. I followed the room lights until I came to the hall of paintings.
Hades was staring at the painting of the dark man with the sickle.
We stood there in silence. I wasn't even certain if he knew that I was there. Then he said, "Springtime, I should let you go, but I cannot. Will not." He sighed, "Springtime, my food is the food of the dead. If you eat it, then you will have to stay. So, I will ask, do you need to eat?"
I looked at him looking at the picture and, for whatever reason, I didn't lie, "No." I said. "I don't need food. I need light. Warmth."
"Ah," He said. He still hadn't looked at me.
We stood there in long silence.
Finally, I said, "Who is the man in the picture?"
"My father." Hades turned to me, "But he is long dead and did not linger here." He grimaced and I realized that he was trying to smile, but his face did not know how. His dark woods eyes were smiling though and he said, "Would you like to come not eat with me at a banquet?"
At that moment, I wanted to smile, just to show him the way it was done, but I didn't, couldn't. I said, "I think I can find the time." We walked away from that picture. He did not offer me his hand. I did not offer him mine. I felt heat flickering off of him as we walked in silence over the long lines and patterns in the cool stone floor.
We came to the great hall and the massive black iron doors swung open onto babbling chaos. The room was full of crowding, loud people. Black and white and red and green and winged and gilled. People. Things. I saw a red dragon talking with a yellow griffin. A sand colored sphinx chatting with a coil of green cobras.
Hades and I stood there in the door and that chaotic whirl grew still and in a jerking motion, everyone bowed to the king of this place.
We walked into the room and the crowd melted away from our path. I could feel their gaze. Seeing every detail, my chiton stained with woe, my bare feet on the floor, my damp hair in a messy corn fat braid. I wanted the earth to swallow me, except it already had. "Who are they? I said.
Hades looked down at me, pulled out a heavy stone chair near the end of the great table, so that I could sit, and said, "Petitioners. They want things that only the dead will give."
Hades sat down and began to eat. I sat there with my empty plate, not looking at the crowds staring at me.
Hades picked up a plum, held the dark ripe fruit in his cold looking white hand and carefully cut a seam into its flesh. Then he squeezed the plum over my empty plate. The juice dripped into the shape of a daisy with four petals. Like a picture a child would draw, except that we were not children. This time, I did smile at him and he grimaced a smile back before biting into his plum.
He talked to me about the people in the room. Their countries. Their customs. Their languages. What they wanted and why. I tried not to ask questions, but I could not, would not, stop myself. I traced the flower of dark juice on my white plate. It was smooth and sticky. I smelled its heavy perfume on my fingers. I thought about wiping my fingers on Hades' tunic, but I didn't.
After the banquet, he walked me back to my, his, room. He stood at the door and he said, "Springtime, will you marry me?"
I said, "No, darkness, I won't," and I ducked inside his room and closed the door. I leaned against the cold metal and closed my eyes for a long time.
When the palace grew quiet, I crept down to the treasure room and took Hades' helm and put it on my head. As the stories go, I disappeared from view. It was heavy and it did not fit me. I had to hold it on with both hands. I walked to the river of woe and waited for Charon to pull into the dock with his load of new dead. They walked towards the palace. I stepped onto the boat and waited.
Charon chewed on a bit of yellow straw. He said, "It makes an old man feel good when a pretty young woman such as yourself makes an effort to keep him company. Course, you'd be prettier without the helmet. Must be getting heavy about now."
I took off the helmet. "How did you know?"
Charon chewed a bit more on his straw and said, "Well, Eureka, it's like this, you don't weigh much, but you displace more than nothing." He picked up the pole and stepped out of the boat, "Want company on your walk back? I'm not as young as I will be, you could even offer an old man your arm."
Sometimes, it seems that all that you can do is laugh. So, I took his frail withered arm in mine, and we walked back to the palace, but I left the helmet in the boat. It was heavy.
And that formed the pattern of my days, like the patterns in the floors that I'd trace with my fingers and toes. Paths within circles. Going into the center and then out again.
Every day, Hades would carry out the never ending steps of ruling the world under the earth. Hearing petitions. Tending to his kingdom. Judging the good, the bad, the indifferent. It troubled him to have me there when he balanced justice. So, of course, I made sure to be there. But then, every day was filled with following this king of strange places half seen in the dim light. I would resolve to avoid him, to not look at him, to not speak. Every day, I failed. I would walk and talk with Hades. We would play fetch with Cerberus until it seemed to my eyes that Cerberus was just a dog. I let my hair out of my braid and it spiraled into curls like spreading roots. I grew pale and thin in the dark, like a tree in the winter wood.
Every evening, there was a banquet and I would sit, not eating, and the people would watch me. They would press towards me asking for my help, these lost and damned and exiled. The ones so lost to hope that they came to the dead for help. Every evening, Hades would say, "Springtime, will you marry me?" and I would say, "No, darkness. I will not."
Every night, I made my escape. I wandered the cross roads and the paths of the dead. Down yellow brick roads and black glass paths and white bone trails. Some nights, I would just go to the frozen river in the dark wood and I would sit in the dim quiet. Some nights, I would find Hades already sitting there. We would sit in the still cold dark, not speaking, until we walked back to his palace together.
One night in my wanderings, I came to a long high rusted iron wall. I followed it until I came to a gate, which I opened and walked through stifling smoke and pitch nightmare. Gouts of red flame flickered black oil. Damned souls trudged through their torments, whispering tales of their own evil. The air was full of whispers, how Mothers frightened children with their names. The air was full of sighs, "Sorry," and, "Not sorry."
Among the damned, I saw three women, dressed in red, snapping the doomed with scorpion flails.
One of them turned to me and said, "Look sisters, it's the flower." They all turned. Flickered from crone to maiden and spoke, I could hardly tell them apart. "Maybe. She's here to spread. Sweetness. And light." They circled around me. "Maybe she's wondering about her father." A pumpkin pregnant mother touched my cheek with a flail tip. "He killed his father you know." A magnolia pale girl's hand across my shoulders. "Who killed his father." An apple faced crone whispered in my ear. "The sky's blood crying out on the earth." Three identical curving withered lips. "Crying for vengeance." They each mimed a single tear. "Crying." Three magnolia maidens leaned forward. "Do flowers cry?"
And for some reason, I laughed and said, "Yes. They do." And I reached out and I cut my finger on a stinging scorpion tip. Dropped a splash of blood onto the darkly earth and let out the ropes of roses. Bursting up and twisting and bloom and die and pull. The rusted iron gate creaked and then crashed to the ground. I said, "And that's how flowers weep."
A magnolia maiden checked a point in the air and said, "Pretty please." Three girls skipped away from me. "Come again." An apple crone waved a claw like hand. "Our door will always be open to you." Three pumpkin Mothers smiled. "We'll hurt the boys and make them cry." And then they were gone into the smoke.
I whistled a tuneless air as I walked back to the palace. Walked to where Hades waited, sitting on a stone by his black iron gate. I looked into his lost woods eyes full of the hidden smile that his face couldn't quite show. I wondered what was I going to do, grow daisies in his hair? I said, "I broke Tartarus."
"I heard." And he handed me a rust red rose. That day, he didn't even have to touch the gate. It swung open as I approached. He said, "I will be hearing petitions today. Would you like to join me?"
And as always, I said, "Yes."
We went into Hades' vast throne room. My dining table chair was waiting for me next to Hades throne. I sat down and breathed in the perfume of my wild red rose. Felt the tiny thorns delicately prick at my skin.
The bronze doors opened and in flooded the line of want. The petitioners spoke and Hades listened. Then, as he always did, Hades would ask my opinion, would ask why. We'd whisper and argue. Somehow, I always ended up leaning towards him, almost touching, but not. Then I'd lean back into my stone chair. Brush the soft petals of my rose against my lips. Feel the biting thorns on my fingers.
That day, the last petitioner was a young sailor, a Phoenician, who had served Pharaoh in Egypt. As his ship reached harbor, the perfect clear blue sky went black and the wind howled and the ship snapped in two. This young sailor, not yet eighteen, wanted Hades to send a dream to his mother. He wanted to tell her that he loved her. He wanted to say goodbye. As I listened, I heard could hear the howling wind. As Hades' held me in his kingdom, Mother was tearing hers apart searching for me. I saw the knowledge of it in Hades lost woods eyes and even so, he could not, would not let me go. And in that seedling part of me, sending out pale roots in the dark, I did not want him to.
And so the days and the nights went. Hades carrying out his endless duties to the dead. My endless patterns of escape.
But everything changes.
That dark dim day, he brought me to a little room overlooking a garden of black and white stones. There was no banquet. No crowds. Just the two of us.
He didn't say anything. He just looked at me. Played with his food. Didn't really eat.
Then, the words tumbled out like water after a thaw. He apologized. He said that he didn't expect my forgiveness. Merely that this was what I was owed. He gave me that black wire ring made with his mother's hair, as a remembrance of my time in the dark. He was sending me back to my mother. So I stood at the crossroads with all the directions imaginable open to me.
I picked up a pomegranate that was once a flower. I held that fruit in my hand, a collection of seeds. I took the fruit knife and cut potential open. Looked at the glistening white rind. Mother would say that the seeds were the color of incarnadine.
I decided that they were red.
I picked out six seeds and I ate them. Hades just looked at me, his lost eyes were hot and wet. "Idiot." I said and I kissed my idiot. Wiped my fingers into the rough wool of his tunic. Breathed in the smell of his heat. Exhale. Inhale. Tumbled into him as I gave him the taste of pomegranate from my flowering lips.
Finally, I sighed and said, "You know that I have to leave. The world is dying. It needs the spring. And I couldn't become the me that I want to be if I didn't do what's right."
He nodded and I laughed. "Don't be so solemn, lord of the dead. I'll come back. When the world has had its spring and summer, when I have seen my mother, then I can have fall and winter too."
He said, "When you return, Charon will ferry you to me. The doors will open at your touch. The lights will come on when you come into the room. And when, you leave, the lights will go out again."
You'd never guess it, but of the two of us, Hades really is the poet. I kissed him and spoke soft sweet words of one syllable. And then my darkness kissed me goodbye.
So, I got up and cut off a lock of my wild curling hair and gave it to him, as a remembrance of me, and I left.
I went back to my mother, who waited anxiously under the blue sky, who gathered me up in her arms and we cried.
Then I did the hardest thing that I have ever done. I told her that I wasn't going to stay. That in six months, that for half of every year, I was going to go back into the dark earth. Mother crackled with wind and lightening. I kissed her cheek. I put my arm around her. I realized that I was taller than my mother, but somehow I'd never seen it.
We went back to the tiny house of my childhood. She called me her little Kore and I smiled when she told me that it was time to sleep. I made her tea and we talked into the night and it was good.
When my eyes grew heavy, I went to lie down on my little child's bed. In the darkness of my little child's room, I reached down and waited for that reaching, grasping hand. I lay in the shadows, holding its hand, so small, in mine. Then, I pulled the monster from beneath the bed up under the blanket with me. Its fur was soft and its heart was beating very fast. "Shhh" I said, and I held it until we went to sleep.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child and I played with childish things. When I became a woman, I spoke as a woman and I put away the things of childhood. I looked into a glass, but darkly, and I saw myself, face to face.