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As If It Might Turn Out This Time

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1.

You all know how the old song goes. Don’t ask why, don’t ask how he could have come so close. Doubt singing in the back of his mind and drowning out the song he once sung, Orpheus is one step away from the world above when he turns to look back. Eurydice’s smile shatters, and tears well up in her eyes as she realizes what this means.

She goes back to Hadestown. Orpheus wanders the earth. Spring comes again.

 

2.

He turns around, and she isn’t there.

It was a trick all along. What a deluded fool he was, to think that Hades would just let her go. Because of what? Because of him? Who was he to think his music would do a thing to change the mind of a vicious, vindictive god? Hades had used him, baited him. And Orpheus, who could never see the world for the way it truly is, had taken the bait.

Persephone rages. She claws her way out of Hades’ grip and claims a throne in the world above, where the sun burns as hot as her anger. The harvest withers and dies in the drought. The earth burns like a bird on a spit in the sky, and nothing changes.

 

3.

He’s so sure, so careful. Even when he knows he’s walking on higher ground, he doesn’t turn around until he can see home, their makeshift cottage behind Hermes’ café along the railroad line. He lets out his breath all at once. “Eurydice,” he says, turning. “We did it—”

He turns around, only to see Eurydice fall to the ground with one last cry. A snake slithers away into the grass.

The Fates are cruel. Even Hades can be moved by a song, but the three spinners of destiny cannot be turned away from their set course.

Orpheus sinks to his knees and stares at the corpse of the woman for whom he went to hell and back. His palm closes around the flower in his hand and crushes its red petals in his fist.

 

4.

There is no condition. To please Persephone, Hades lets them go, and they walk hand in hand down the road, laughing in triumph.

Hades knows Orpheus’ priorities. They’re the same as his own—keep the woman he loves at his side at all costs. For all his talk of brotherhood, Orpheus would throw the workers of Hadestown to the hounds if it meant he and Eurydice could walk free. And that is exactly what happens.

Orpheus and Eurydice walk out of hell, and they don’t take a single glance back. Why should they? Help yourselves, to hell with the rest. That’s what everyone does when the chips are down.

 

5.

They succeed. Orpheus does not turn, and Eurydice follows him back into the land of the living.

The gods are stunned. Persephone weeps with joy; even Hades sheds a tear. Well, I’ll be damned, he thinks. The kid actually did it. And if a poor boy can have that much faith in the woman he loves, well, there’s no reason for Hades to doubt that Persephone will come back to him, in her own time. Spring comes early that year.

Orpheus and Eurydice are wed. Hades sends gold for the rings down the river, and Persephone lays the table with fruit from the vine. Hermes gives them a bed of feathers, and every promise Orpheus made, he keeps.

 

6.

Hades says no. “A contract is a contract, and she signed her life away. I’m sorry. I can’t let her go.”

And Orpheus says, “Then I’ll stay.”

A hush falls over the room. The gods and workers stare, dumbfounded, at the boy with the lyre.

“But there are going to be some changes around here,” he continues. “Before I sign that contract, we’re renegotiating our terms. All of us. Together.” He takes Eurydice’s hand and holds it high up. The workers fall in line behind him, and all eyes are now on Hades the king.

Anger starts to swell in Hades—Who the hell do you think you are? Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?—but Persephone stops him with a gentle touch to his arm. She presses her other hand to his chest, where the red flower of their love blooms once more, tucked in a pocket over Hades’ heart.

“You don’t need to make them slave to make your wheels and gears spin,” she says. “When we were young, it was love that spun the world.”

Hades stares at Orpheus. Then, he turns to look back at his wife, and he says, “Let’s bring the world back into tune.”