"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."
-Zora Neale Hurston
When Elektra is five years old, she sits at the foot of her mother's vanity and watches as Klytemnestra runs a golden comb through her coal-black hair. These early mornings spent with her mother will make up some of Elektra's first memories, and even when she can no longer look at Klytemnestra for the traces of her father's blood on her cheeks, she always remembers her mother like this: the one gleaming piece of a world she's not old enough to understand.
When she grows up, grows into a woman -- her hair as dark and heavy as Klytemnestra's, as dark as her mother's (but she refuses to call Klytemnestra that anymore) -- her mother is the one thing she refuses to understand.
But in her memory, Klytemnestra smiles as she looks at herself in the mirror, smiles brighter when her eyes meet Elektra's, and Elektra touches her mother's hair, reaching for the golden comb. She lets her mother run it through her own hair and closes her eyes and smiles.
When Elektra is seven years old, she steals into Klytemnestra's room one night. Now that her father is away, and her sister Iphigenia nowhere to be found, her mother does not smile as often, nor does she dress her dark hair with bright jewels. But she still sits by the bronze mirror and combs her hair.
When Elektra is seven years old, she sometimes steals into her mother's room at night, not because she's afraid but because she knows that her mother would not shed tears in front of her. She hears laughter and smiles and starts because her mother is not alone. She's with a man -- Aegisthus, she would learn his name later -- and she's smiling at the mirror again, but her eyes are fastened on the man behind her, leaning over her, his mouth moving over her hair, her cheeks, her neck, her chest, and Elektra screams. Her mother -- no, Klytemnestra -- pushes the man away and looks stricken. She calls to Elektra, moving away from the man, but he follows her, his hands lingering near her mother’s shoulders, and he runs his hands through her hair gently, and all Elektra can see are his calloused, sun-bronzed hands in her mother's beautiful, gleaming hair, and she turns away and runs out.
She scarcely remembers her father, but she knows that that man is not him. But she doesn't think of her poor, betrayed father as she runs through the halls and towards the men's quarters to hide. She thinks that her mother still has grace and smiles for him when she only looks sad and lost when she looks at Elektra these days.
But when Elektra is five, as she remembers, Klytemnestra has eyes only for her. Iphigenia is too old to let her mother arrange her curls or run combs through it. Iphigenia has women who do these things for her, but Klytemnestra always combs her own hair, and sometimes lets Elektra put jewels in it in clumsy arrangements, and when the maids reach towards her to fix it, she says, “Leave it be.” And she smiles at Elektra.
This is what Elektra never sees:
When Klytemnestra is fifteen years old, she meets Agamemnon for the first time. He’s covered in the blood of her first husband, and the first time he touches her is to snatch her baby from her arms. She cries and screams as she struggles with him, but once he has the baby, she composes herself. She doesn’t let herself depend on the mercy of this violent stranger, doesn’t throw herself at his feet to beg for her son’s life. She turns away and never, ever asks about the child again. Not when he takes her as his wife, not when he lets her have more power than Tantalus ever did in his household and his kingdom, and not in all the nights they spend in bed together.
But she never can feel his touch without thinking of how his fingers dug into her arms to make her let the child go.
Years later, when he tries to take Iphigenia from her, she does the one thing she told herself she never would: she begs. She supplicates herself before him, touching his knee and his beard, and she asks him to spare her daughter’s life.
The truth is, as much as she loved the baby, he was never going to be hers. Barely six months old, and his father rarely let Klytemnestra hold him, leaving his rearing to his trusted servants. “You’re too young for all this,” he would say to her. “Let this be. There will be enough time to know him yet.”
Iphigenia, though, was thoroughly hers, had not been away from her sight for a single day. She had poured all the love she could give -- love she refused to give to Agamemnon, no matter how much his regard for her compelled her – into Iphigenia, and was surprised to learn that she could still love with as much intensity a second child, then a third.
But Iphigenia was her first, in all the ways that mattered. Not least because she spent so many of her waking hours trying to keep herself from dwelling on her first child. She could not do that and live with Agamemnon in peace.
When her pleas fail to compel Agamemnon, Klytemnestra is glad, for the first time, that she did not debase herself in front of him when she first met him. In all their years together, when Agamemnon showed her kindness, devotion, and respect, in the years when she allowed herself to believe that her husband was truly in love with her, Klytemnestra’s only regret was that she did not ask Agamemnon to spare her child, wondering if things might have been different had she done so.
“Klytemnestra,” he says to her, “You’re the High Queen of Mycenae, do not demean yourself like this. You will be their queen in my absence, and they cannot see you like this.”
That he would reduce her to this, and then think unkindly of her because she fell at his feet brings her back to herself. She pulls herself back on her feet and meets his eyes, forcing him to turn away.
“Go back to Mycenae, this whole affair is too brutal for you.”
“You did not think of that when you killed my husband in front of me and, no doubt, did the same with my child.”
And there it is. Fifteen years together, and this is the first time she has given words to the thing that sits between them every moment of every day. And she wonders if he even remembers how they met, remembers that he did not wed her honorably with her father’s blessings, but won her by the sword.
He turns back towards her and she sees something like guilt pass across his features, and she knows that he has no regrets for what he did, but he regrets what he is about to do. This only makes her rage at him burn more brightly. She walks out into the field, leaving him behind.
This death, she stays to watch. Agamemnon’s men, nor the priests’ pleas could turn her away from Iphigenia’s steely gaze, nor from the blood spilled on the ground. She wants to see it so she can recall this image of his violence at any moment, instead of willfully trying to forget it, as she did with previous transgressions.
When it is over, Agamemnon comes to her and tries to explain. She does not acknowledge his presence, and leaves before the winds start blowing.
She does not let herself shed tears until she is back in Mycenae, and it’s not until she’s locked inside her chambers, screaming and tearing at herself that she realizes that she never did mourn her first child. Not when there was so much else to do, in the coming days. But for now, she has too much time on her hands.
When Elektra is eight years old, she still sits at the table with her mother alone to eat. She does not know where Iphigenia has gone, and Orestes is still too young to eat with them. Even as she holds on to her resentment towards her mother for neglecting her for those weeks after she came back from Aulis, she privately looks forward to these times, when she has Klytemnestra all to herself.
It has been easy to forget her mother’s transgression, now that she doesn’t see Aegisthus around the palace anymore, and her mother can sometimes be brought back to herself and would look at Elektra with a smile and shining eyes.
When the news comes that Agamemnon has arrived safely in Troy with his army, her mother locks herself in her chambers, and Elektra sits outside, waiting to be let back in.
The next morning, Aegisthus is back, and he sits at the table with them. The day after, Elektra finds herself eating in the kitchen, where the maids and cooks are happy to spoil her and dote on her. She misses when she had all of her mother’s attention, but she makes do with what she’s given.
As she grows older, she sometimes catches Klytemnestra and Aegisthus at the table, alone. The servants leave them be, and whisper harsh things about them, where Elektra catalogues every crime her mother is said to have committed. The foremost amongst them that it only took her less than a year to replace her honored father with this stranger who seems to have appeared out of nowhere.
This is what Elektra does not know:
Klytemnestra is fourteen years old when she first meets Aegisthus. Long before she has ever heard Agamemnon’s name, Aegisthus is the only bright spot in the lonely life she finds herself in at the Mycenaean court. Her husband is much older than she is, and he has no use for her company, other than such as is to be found at night.
She is confined to the women’s quarters, but at nine years old, Aegisthus is just young enough to be allowed inside. Her husband doesn’t yet trust her enough to allow her in court without his own company, and he is often away at battle. And this sentiment is reflected in the people who occupy the court, but she’s just exotic enough to capture Aegisthus’ interest, who spends much time around her. She learns more about Mycenae from Aegisthus, learns more of her husband even, than from anyone else.
When Agamemnon’s armies arrive, Aegisthus runs to warn her before he thinks to warn his brother, and sometimes, Klytemnestra wonders if things might have been different had Aegisthus chosen his brother over her at that moment.
When Agamemnon’s men come to get Klytemnestra from where she’s being kept with the other war prisoners for an audience with their king, Klytemnestra refuses to go with them and demands to be allowed access to her rooms so she may approach the king according to her station. When the guard refuses to relay her message to Agamemnon, she says, “If I am here as your king’s prisoner, he has no need for my cooperation for an audience. But if he’s requesting my company, then surely, it’s as the princess of Sparta, if not as Queen of Mycenae.”
The men return later to escort her to her rooms, where she takes her time to put herself back together. She does not let herself think of her son, and she has no particular need to keep herself from thinking of Tantalus, whom she barely knew, even after these two years of marriage. She knows only that she’s lost a powerful alliance in him, and that without him, she’s vulnerable. She knows not to expect help from her brothers or her father, whose armies have gone to Athens to bring Helen back from where Theseus took her. Agamemnon would have never dared enter Mycenae otherwise.
When she meets Agamemnon again, he is sitting on the throne of her dead husband, and the megaron seems to have been cleansed of the violence he committed before. Neither of them mentions their earlier meeting, and it’s almost as if they’re different people from the two who fought over a child’s life.
He stands up when he sees her, and comes to take her hand, which she snatches from him gently. He smiles, and says, “Daughter of Leda, you’re as lovely as they say.”
“I believe, you are thinking of my sister, Helen.”
“I know of Helen, but she could be no lovelier than you.”
She breathes out slowly, trying to keep herself calm and play his game. But the words that come out of her mouth are, “You did not summon me here to discuss the various merits of the women of Sparta.”
“No, he says,” dropping his smile and stepping away from her, “I did not.”
She says, “I would have you spare Prince Aegisthus.” This is the only thing she can ask for, now, when the only thing she would have asked for has already been snatched away.
“He is no longer a prince,” Agamemnon says.
“Good,” she says, “Then he is no threat to you and your rule over Mycenae. Take Mycenae, have all its wealth, but let Aegisthus go.”
“So he could come avenge his brother when he is older? No, I think not.”
“He is no threat to you. He has no armies, no wealth except what he would have gotten from his brother. And if he comes back, you will have no trouble dealing with him, not with your great armies and your greater power.”
Flattery pleases him, she can already tell. She knows the stories of the House of Peplos, House of Atreus, and of all the terrible things they have done to each other, murder has rarely been one of them. No, they prefer to leave each other alive so the extent of their vengeance can be fully appreciated. And there will be no one to appreciate Agamemnon’s handiwork here, if he kills Aegisthus.
“You have not asked me to spare you,” Agamemnon says.
“You will not kill me. My father’s armies are too powerful, my sister’s fame too great, my brothers’ strength too legendary. And you’re much too clever to make such powerful enemies.”
“And you’re much too clever to keep as a concubine, and I have no need for the ransom your father may provide.”
“The nobles in these parts were loyal to Tantalus, but you will find that the tribes further in still follow the older traditions of matrilineal inheritance. It will only strengthen your hold on your new city if you take the Queen of Mycenae as your wife.”
She knows he had considered this already, was planning on marrying her from the first, from the look on his face. But no doubt, he imagined it as an out he would give her, so she would always be grateful.
He composes himself quickly, smiles and says, “In that case, Queen of Mycenae, will you consent to being my wife?”
“Will you agree to let Aegisthus go unharmed?”
“You’re too clever,” he laughs, “Perhaps, too clever to take to wife, but I will marry you, Daughter of Leda. Tell Aegisthus to never show his face here again.”
When she leaves the megaron, she find Aegisthus and tells him to go, but he refuses to leave her behind. “Come with me,” he says, “I’ll protect you.”
She laughs, but the sound is bitter to her own ears, “Neither of us will make it past the guards. And he’ll kill me if he doesn’t see any use for me, and he’ll kill you, just to spite me. Aegisthus, this is the only way we would both survive. And you must survive.”
“So I can come back for you?” he ask, and she indulges him, “So you can come back for me.”
He takes her hands and touches his lips to them, and says, “I will. I will come back for you.”
She does not think she would ever see him again, but when Elektra is only three weeks old, he returns to her. Agamemnon is away negotiating treaties with neighboring cities, and she does not expect him back any time soon. He doted on Iphigenia because she was his first child. But Elektra is just another girl, when he would have preferred a boy to secure his rule. So he left as soon as the news came that it was a girl, not even staying to take his first look at the child when he came to bid Klytemnestra farewell in her chambers.
Aegisthus is a man grown now, taller than she is, and if he promised to protect her now, she would believe that he could. He takes her hands, and his eyes burn with the same awe with which he always looked at her, but there’s something else there now, something that she realizes she never could have placed when he was younger. She finds herself responding to it, but all she is able to say out loud is his name.
“I’ve come back for you,” he tells her, and all she can say in response is, “Yes, you have.”
She does not yet have the heart to tell him that she will not leave with him, not when Elektra is so little, and Klytemnestra unable to nurse her. Iphigenia, she knows, will follow her anywhere, but she needs the palace women to care for Elektra, and she cannot leave her behind for Agamemnon to take his anger out on.
But she lets herself live this lie for seven days while Aegisthus tells her of all his plans for them, of the tiny kingdom he has managed to secure for himself, of all the wealth he has accumulated, and she lets herself imagine a life away from this palace where she has been the unwilling bride of two very different men.
When she finally tells him that she cannot leave with him, he is angry with her, but she cannot explain to him how her whole life has become one pretend game after another, and how easily lying comes to her now. So she lets him go, and she knows that no one will ever look at her again with that mixture of awe and desire.
When Elektra is seven years old, she sits at the foot of her mother’s bed, and watches her father doting over Orestes, who is barely three days old. These moments spent with her parents in the aftermath of Orestes’ birth make up her clearest memory of her father for a very long time, where he only has eyes for his newborn son. But when she is seven, the only thing that matters is that Orestes is no longer there to steal her mother’s attention from her. She crawls into the bed, once Orestes is snatched up by her father, and her mother pulls her against her chest, wrapping her arms around her.
When her father leaves again, she misses not so much his presence as much as she misses her mother’s attention, now not so wholly hers. Iphigenia takes her by the hand, when she sneaks into her mother’s room these days, and leads her outside to play with her or to distract her with some other amusement.
When she grows older, she appoints herself Orestes’ protector, convinced that Klytemnestra means to harm him. When she is twelve years old, she starts sleeping in Orestes’ room, watching over him in all her waking hours. She holds him close and promises to protect him, and he is not yet old enough to fully understand her, but he clings to her, and she cannot help but cling back. But when she is seven, Elektra can barely stand the sight of Orestes, nestled always so closely to her mother’s heart.
When Elektra is nineteen years old, she sits at the steps of the palace, waiting for her father to come home. She is bursting with the kind of happiness she hasn’t felt since the days when she was far too young to understand all transgressions committed around her. The kind of happiness she only used to feel when rushing back into her mother’s chambers after a day spent away with tutors. If she is honest with herself, she does not remember her father at all. Even in her earliest memories, the ones filled with a doting mother, there is a stark absence of anyone other than her. But she attributes this to how taken she was with the lies her mother created around her.
When her father’s chariots arrive inside the city gates, Elektra joins her mother in welcoming him back, staying behind Klytemnestra, but present. The secrets she has held on to for so long burn with intensity to be let out, but she holds her tongue, letting Klytemnestra cast her net, just as the whole city seems to still when Klytemnestra takes command of her words, no one willing to contradict her.
Elektra follows her father and Klytemnestra inside the palace, inside the royal chambers, waiting outside for her to leave, or for her father to remember her and ask for her.
When Elektra is nineteen years old, she watches Klytemnestra strike her father with an axe, the blood pooling around him, staining the purple net Klytemnestra has thrown over him. She stifles her screams, holding her hand against her mouth to hold back the sobs. This is how she will always remember her father now: withering inside his trap, begging for mercy and forgiveness, and she will remember Klytemnestra as utterly merciless and unforgiving.
These are the things Elektra will never remember:
When Kassandra first sets foot inside Mycenae, she has to be dragged through the lion gates, shrieking and tearing at herself. Elektra’s instinct is to step away, and let the guards take a hold of her. But when Klytemnestra steps outside, she tells the men to let go of her, and takes a hold of her hands herself, whispering gentle words.
Kassandra cannot be older than Iphigenia, and there’s something in her that draws Klytemnestra in, and most of all, she sees herself in her, and wonders if this is how she would have ended up, if she had not had the powerful protection of her family behind her when Agamemnon took over Mycenae.
The truth is that Klytemnestra had every intention of killing Kassandra before Kassandra arrived at her doorstep, as aware of her impending death as Iphigenia had been, shrinking into herself but too proud to ask for mercy. Klytemnestra had begged for Iphigenia, but she knows that there’s no one left to plead on Kassandra’s behalf.
She knows the rumors, and the fear with which Kassandra looks at her, confirms them. Kassandra already sees the blood on her hands that she has yet to stain them with, sees Agamemnon dead at her feet. It is only after she decides that she will not kill Kassandra that it occurs to her that if there’s anyone alive in this world who might want her husband dead more than she does, it’s Kassandra.
But what Elektra sees is Klytemnestra weaving more webs of deceit, preparing another victim for her sacrifice.
So many of Elektra’s memories of her mother are centered around the days after she returned from Aulis, that in her memory, she sees her mother crying as often as she imagines her smiling, as if her mother could feel her own end coming. But the only time Elektra sees Klytemnestra crying is the day Helen visits Mycenae, after she returns from Troy.
When Klytemnestra is still in mourning for Iphigenia, she goes to Sparta to see Leda. But before she reaches the shores of her city, she receives the news that her mother has hanged herself. “She could not bear the shame Helen brought upon our house,” Tyndareus tells her, when she finally gets to Sparta. And though Klytemnestra never blames Helen for Iphigenia, this death she holds against her sister.
When she returns to Mycenae, she brings Helen’s daughter, Hermione, with her. Her father, she knows, is not long for this world, not with all his grief, and there is no one left at the palace in Sparta to look after Hermione. And in the days after Iphigenia, when Elektra would not let Klytemnestra near her, when Klytemnestra lets Elektra have Orestes, so she would not be alone, Hermione becomes her only comfort, and Hermione, in turn, clings to her with a gratefulness that humbles Klytemnestra. And on the rare occasion that she finds herself hating her sister, it is on Hermione’s behalf.
All these resentments linger and fester in Helen’s absence, but when Helen comes to Klytemnestra’s door, after being away for so long, all Klytemnestra can do is embrace her and weep, all her grievances forgotten.
Elektra stands in the megaron, and warps her arms around herself, and remembers when she was six year old, and Iphigenia was still with her, and how she would lead Elektra around by her hand, and let her cling to her. She remembers, too, when her mother’s arms would embrace her, so many years ago, but now she can’t help but step back when Klytemnestra reaches for her, inviting her towards them. And Klytemnestra’s hands might as well be covered with her father’s blood, still, the way Elektra stumbles away from her. She turns away and finds a loom to occupy herself with, and represses the wistful wish that her mother would come to her, the way she refuses to go to Klytemnestra, the way Helen has returned to her sister after so long, willing to explain all the transgressions away.
“She’s too much like me,” Klytemnestra says to Helen. “She’ll hold the resentment in until it bursts into violence, never voicing her grievances, never asking for explanations because that would be showing weakness.”
“And you would not tell her yourself, because that, too, would be showing weakness?”
“If I try now, she would only see it as more of what she thinks of as deceit. No, I fear it is too late for us.”
Elektra pretends not to hear any of it, and she wills herself to forget as she leaves the room.
When Elektra is seventeen years old, she sits at her own vanity table, and fingers the golden comb she stole from Klytemnestra’s room after the night she saw Aegisthus in her mother’s room. She no longer remembers what thoughts had crossed her mind when she took it, instead of asking her mother for it. She has never run it in her own hair, not since her mother used to do it for her, and the last time she remembers her mother using it in her own hair was before Aegisthus.
She is used to sneaking into Klytemnestra’s room these days, lifting one piece of information or another, but this is the first thing she took from her mother without her permission. She knows Klytemnestra has people who send her news of Troy, and eight years later, there’s no sign of the conflict ending.
She does not fear her own fate. For all of Klytemnestra’s transgressions, she does not think her capable of harming her, but she fears what would become of Orestes if her father never comes home, if Aegisthus sees him as a threat. So when she’s seventeen years old, she willingly severs herself from the only bond that has sustained her through the years. She writes to friends of her father, and finds a home for Orestes, away from Mycenae, and she sends him where no one but she can find him.
She expects Klytemnestra to be angry, at the very least, to pretend to care about Orestes, but all she sees in her eyes is relief. And just like that, Elektra is able to strengthen her resolve to see this through.
This is what Elektra cannot know:
When Klytemnestra is twenty-nine years old, she sleeps fitfully in her bed. Her pregnancy is too far advanced for her to find any comfort, but the vivid dreams she is plagued with contribute to her restlessness. The night Orestes is born, Klytemnestra dreams that she gives birth to a serpent. The serpent bites her, and Klytemnestra wakes up gasping and feels her birth pangs start. Her women come to her, and see her through the next two days, as she alternately falls asleep, feverish, and wakes up when it starts anew.
When Orestes finally comes into the world, she does not have a moment to hold him, not like she did with Elektra and Iphigenia. Agamemnon has him brought to the megaron, and she is relieved to be able to sleep.
The images from her dream persist and linger with her for weeks afterwards, and she finds it harder to love Orestes without reservations. She nurses him for a month before she is unable to, and is glad to pass him on to another woman.
It gets easier as he grows older, and she barely remembers the dreams that had so disturbed her, and easier still after Agamemnon leaves to gather his armies to bring Helen back and she has Orestes to herself. He has to learn to get used to her, too, in his father’s absence, but once he does, he clings to her during all hours of the day, and she has to laugh at the jealousy she sees in Elektra’s eyes. “I can have a dozen more children, Elektra,” she tells her, “But I will never love you any less.”
During these days, Elektra takes to stealing into her room at night, and when Klytemnestra catches her, she pulls her into bed with her, and lets her sleep there. And Elektra is content to make up the time with her mother she loses during the day to her brother.
Iphigenia is much too old to compete in these childish ploys for Klytemnestra’s affections, content to know that her mother loves her. She is not one to need physical manifestations of affection, but when they are at Aulis and Iphigenia knows her fate, she clings to Klytemnestra with both arms. She does not make a sound, but Klytemnestra can feel her tears soaking through her robes.
In the days after, when Klytemnestra mourns Iphigenia, she feels as if she has buried all of her children with her, the grief so wholly takes over any affection she could spare for Orestes or Elektra. But she smiles at Elektra to reassure her, when she can. And she is glad that Orestes is too young to notice the change in his mother.
When Aegisthus comes for her again, during this time, she has not the strength to send him away again, nor the desire to pretend loyalty to a husband like Agamemnon. And she is glad to have someone to talk to, to list all of her grievances against Agamemnon to someone who understands his crimes first hand. And Aegisthus, who had only desired to take her away from all of this, starts to want vengeance, too. She thinks she knew that Agamemnon would have to die at her hand for what he did to Iphigenia before she ever left Aulis, but it is not until Aegisthus that she can give voice to her thoughts.
She is almost happy, in the days after she comes to this conclusion, but still not fully herself. But she thinks that if Elektra keeps stealing into her room, forcing her to smile like her old self, it won’t be too long before she starts to feel like herself again.
When Elektra is twenty-one years old, she spends each waking moment of her life wishing death for Klytemnestra, but at nineteen, as she remembers, all she wanted was for her father to come home and bring her mother back to her.
When she is twenty-one, she sneaks into Klytemnestra’s room one night, knife in hand, and thinks that she does not need Orestes to put an end to this. But as she stands there, Klytemnestra turns in her sleep and opens her eyes, smiling when she sees her and says “Elektra” with so much feeling behind it that Elektra imagines she is five again and if she crawls into bed, her mother would wrap her up in her arms. She drops her knife, and it falls to the floor with a loud clatter, and Klytemnestra blinks, coming fully awake, her gaze hardening.
Elektra turns and rushes out of the room, not even pausing to pick up the knife. She never goes inside Klytemnestra’s room again, and Klytemnestra never mentions the knife she left behind.
But when she is twenty-six, she no longer has need for that knife because Orestes returns to her. He burns with the same vengeance that has fueled her for these last seven years, and she has made sure to have written to him about every crime, every transgression committed by Klytemnestra. They embrace each other by their father’s unmarked grave, and whisper words of their intentions in secret.
She burns with anticipation all day long, pacing the length of the megaron, and Klytemnestra watches her carefully, but does not say anything.
When the knock comes on their door that night, Elektra lets Klytemnestra deal with the servants, who tell them of suppliants asking for sanctuary, which Klytemnestra allows them.
When Orestes comes in, Elektra meets his gaze, and fears that Klytemnestra would recognize him. But Orestes bows low before Klytemnestra, keeping his eyes downcast and the cloak over his head.
But Klytemnestra says, “I know who you are, Orestes.”
Orestes stands up, and says “Then you must know why I am here.” Elektra watches as his fingers tighten on the sword at his side.
“You look just like your father. When Elektra sent you away, I was relieved to not have to look into his eyes staring back at me from your face. But, still, I prayed that you would not turn out like him.”
“If you want me to show mercy, Mother, you should not talk about my father, whom you struck down.”
“I do not ask for mercy,” Klytemnestra says, “Go ahead and strike, then. But do it while you look me in the eye, as I did your father. And not like a coward, as your father did to Iphigenia and to my husband before him.”
And Elektra knows that Orestes is not strong enough for this, didn’t grow up in the shadow of his mother’s strength, learning what he could from Klytemnestra.
When Orestes’ sword falters, Klytemnestra turns away, and suddenly Orestes finds the strength to strike, away from Klytemnestra’s exacting gaze, and the sword goes through her back.
Elektra gasps, covering her mouth with both her hands, as Klytemnestra stumbles, and before she knows it, she’s supporting Klytemnestra's weight, lowering her to the ground gently, tears running down her face.
“I wish you had done it,” Klytemnestra says, “You’re more like me than you want to admit.”
She takes in another ragged breath, blood sputtering out of her mouth, and says, “Finish it, Elektra.”
When Elektra is twenty six years old, she brings the sword down and strikes Klytemnestra in her chest – a hero’s death, because whatever Klytemnestra’s faults, lack of strength was never one of them. Orestes comes up behind her, but when he lays his hands on her in comfort, she screams and pushes his hands away.
Afterwards, she prepares her mother’s body for the funeral herself, running the golden comb she had stolen through the coal-black hair, lined with silver threads.
She feels the fury that’s consumed her for so much of her life leave her, as she dresses her mother’s hair with jewels. She is relieved to be laying Klytemnestra to rest, but she thinks that she’ll mourn her mother for the rest of her life.