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Blooming Through the Cracks, Reaching for the Sun

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When you sing the gods’ melody to your lover, a flower blooms in your palm, and that is how you know you’ve found your soulmate.

It’s a melody the world has forgotten over the years, as the seasons fall out of time and Hades and Persephone’s love turns like soured wine. By the time Orpheus is born, barely anyone sings it anymore. Gods and men alike stop believing in soulmates, in true love, in the hope of spring.

But Orpheus knows the song. He learned it in a half-dreamt memory of his mother the muse. Before she blew out of his life on a changing wind, she would hold him in her arms and sing him to sleep, swaying to the sound of her own voice. Singing, La la la la la la la…

After she leaves him with Hermes, the god of fables tells young Orpheus stories of all the gods’ great loves—Apollo’s passion for Hyacinthus creating the larkspur, purple-blue and shaped like a dozen little bells with delicate markings on the petals; Aphrodite’s desire for Adonis forming the anemone or poppy flower, as deep and red as the young man’s blood; and of course, Hades, king of the Underworld, whose love for Persephone created a marvelous, radiant flower, a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea's salt swell laughed for joy.

Orpheus tries to ask Persephone about it, one summer day when the goddess is high on wine. He never forgets the way her face twists into a contemptuous grimace. “That was in another life. That was in another world,” she growls. “Don’t talk to me about it again, kid. Just pour a sister another drink, why don’t you?”

He goes back to cleaning tables, humming the melody under his breath, dreaming of a way his song could take what’s broken and make it whole.

And then, one day: “Anybody got a match?”

Orpheus looks up, and suddenly he understands what Hermes meant, when Apollo and Aphrodite and Hades saw their soulmates for the first time. “Irreplaceable ecstasy,” Hermes had called the feeling. This small, dark-eyed girl in an oversized coat the color of dust, warming her hands over a candle, so full of quiet strength and self-sufficiency and aching loneliness—it was a joy just to watch her, just to be in her presence, and to dream of holding her in his arms.

Hermes sidles over to him. “Don’t come on too strong,” he warns his young ward, as if he can hear the thoughts drifting through Orpheus’ head, thoughts of true love and soulmates and the ever-present melody of the gods playing underneath.

He grabs a newspaper and folds it into a flower for the girl, not trusting himself to sing a soulmate flower into existence just yet.

But he does. She asks him to sing his song and he does, and after the echoing celestial voices fade away, a red flower—a carnation—blooms in his outstretched hand. He looks in his soulmate’s eyes and sees a vision of the world he dreams about: lying in a bed of flowers under a springtime sky, with Eurydice by his side.