She swept the red plastic broom
across green linoleum squares. They each had a happy yellow daisy in the
When the balls of dust had been
pushed into the little red plastic dustpan, Eva filled her yellow bucket in the
bathtub. It didn't fit so good in the sink.
She filled it good and hot with
suds. Then she mopped the floor with a rag mop. It was made of cotton shreds
from an old frayed dress that she'd torn up for the task.
When the floor sparkled, she pulled
out the old vacuum. It was heavy and hard to move, but it was what she had and
she liked the extension. She could push it back into the dusty spaces and clean
all the cobwebs out.
She didn't want a speck of dirt
showing when her Joe came home.
His bed was already made with clean
fresh sheets. She'd used the fabric softener he liked. Her boy was coming home.
Most young men wouldn't want to come
home to their mama's house when they came home from the sea. But her Joe did.
He'd bound up the little rickety
stairs three steps at a time. Throw open the door and give her a hug. She'd
breathe in and smell the salt in his hair.
Then she'd make him his favorite
dinner of spaghetti with a little yellow mustard in the red sauce.
When he got home.
Now she waited. Apartment sparkling
and fresh. Pot of water on the stove, ready to get boiling when her boy walked
in the door.
She stood in her little living room.
She didn't want to mess anything up. So she made herself a cup of tea and went
out onto the narrow balcony.
She had a view of Mount Parnassus
through a crack between the buildings. It was a sliver of green past the bricks
and the cement. It was pretty, but she had her own green here in little
pots—herbs and flowers—and vines hung down from the balcony above. She had a
little purple plastic feeder with seeds for the sparrows. It was almost empty.
She'd have to fill it again. She also had a little glass nectar feeder for the
hummingbirds. Joe had bought it for her in a market far away.
She sat on her balcony and listened
to the sounds of the City. Cars on their way home from work, honking their
horns to say here I am. Sirens calling out that someone was hurt, but help was
coming. A million voices all chattering the end of the day, yelling hello and
She heard footsteps pounding up the
stairs and her heart caught like a blue-green hummingbird, but the steps went
on by. They went to someone else's door.
She swallowed some tea, going cool
in her hands.
Waited for her boy to come home.
Then the sun set. Then the one or
two stars that could push their way down past the City's lights came out. Then
the phone rang, and she knew. Heavy steps that had been so light, knot in her
throat as she picked up the phone and heard what the man on the other end had
When they told her, she did not
Her heart squeezed tight, like a
hand had reached in. A calloused hand that squeezed her heart like a stone.
White acid flashed through her gut. The whole world pulsed white and then red.
A roar of rising wind in her ears. Screaming clouds that tore her apart.
She would not fall.
She swayed in her own hurricane's
That's how she knew it was true. Her
Kore, her little baby, her sweet duckling had disappeared. Gone in an instant.
Demeter yelled at the Sirens, she
didn't know what. Questions scraped and rattled around her empty
belly—"Kore? Kore, where is Kore? My fragile Kore? My sweet?" But her
throat was too tight to shape even that much sense. Purple sparks crackled around
her. The sky above cracked with sudden thunder. But not lightning. That was her
When he was her husband. Before Hera
stole him away. Much good he did her.
She swayed on the blows of sudden
words. Unexpected, long feared. She held one wrist. Wrapped her fingers around
the bone bracelet of her other daughter, her first daughter. She'd failed her
too. Demeter swallowed the knot in her throat until it went into her belly. She
focused on purple rage. It would keep her warm as all around needle-sharp rain fell
from the sky.
She said, "Where is my
One of the Sirens lay in the green,
green grass. There was a white mark where Demeter had struck her. She did not
remember striking her. The Siren whispered, "My Lady, she ran toward the
river. I only looked away for a minute, and then she wasn't there." She
pointed. "You can see where she ran."
Demeter could see. A trail of
posies. Flowers always sprang up wherever her daughter stepped—she was so
pretty and soft and mild. The only good thing she ever got from Zeus. Her
beautiful sweet girl.
She looked at the Sirens, useless
stupid lumps. She should have set all the birds in the sky to watch her
daughter. They could have attacked the gods with their claws. She should have
set wild wolves, but they always made her little Kore nervous. No, she'd used
these pathetic useless nymphs, who mewled up at her with their frightened faces
She pushed the knot in her stomach
down as it rose into her throat and threatened to knock her down. She said,
"Find my daughter."
A Siren stuttered, the mark on her
face not fading. It would never fade. She said, "My lady, we do not know
where to look." She looked down at herself, "On our own we will be
too slow. Please my Lady, let us beg horses from your brother Poseidon, so we
White serpent fears slithered down
Demeter's spine, but she pushed them down too. Unbidden memories of hooves and
running and, no, she would not think on it. The only emotion she could afford
was rage. Let the white in her heart be cold. Rain falling from the sky and
scouring flesh. She said slowly, precisely, "I trust my brother least of
all. No." And from some purple cold place Demeter found such a smile that
the Sirens shrank back with little bleats of terror, and she said, "We
will not beg horses from my brother. Instead I will give you what I should have
done from the beginning." Sparks crackled from her fingers and the wind
cracked the sky.
The Sirens shrieked and cried, but
Demeter's heart must be ice, cold as the slashing hail that beat the earth.
Lest she fail her daughter. Demeter buried thoughts of darkness and unheard
screams. She made herself watch as flesh melted and the Sirens changed.
Their faces she left, for they would
need to ask questions. Their eyes she transmuted into eagle's eyes, so that
they could look far, find her sweet Kore. The wail of the wind crying out,
"Where is Kore?" She gave them such far-seeing eyes, wide and
unblinking, like owls, so they could see in the night. She melted them,
reshaped them with gray wings for the breaking in her heart, and black feathers
for the color the sky would now be. Demeter said, "Find Kore."
The Sirens rose into the sky on
their new-made wings. They spiraled into the sky. Spread out in nine directions
for nine sisters.
Demeter stood in her sacred grove
and stared at her daughter's flower footprints, battered in the muddy pools.
Now that she was alone, as much as a
goddess of Nature could ever be alone, she fell to her knees like a tree before
the wind. All around her, trees were ripped from their roots and flew on angry
wind hands until slammed into the earth. Her knees skidded on the frozen ground
and she pushed the knot in her belly out.
Threw up her fear and pain and
flowers on the ground. They froze as they fell.
Her feet ached from standing all
day. Sometimes she thought she should get a job in a shop where she could talk
to people, or a factory where there were regular breaks. But she'd had her job
for almost twenty years now.
Got it when Joe was just a baby.
When Ames left and she'd sat in their little apartment staring at a white pile
of bills and the rent come due. Super rattling round the door.
Little Joe gurgling and how was she
to pay for someone to care for him on top of their bills. And how could she
leave him alone all the hours in the day.
Sat staring at her bills and the
gone-over, ratted-up newspaper. Back before there were all these Internet cafés
and job boards. Roll the Dice. Monsters. Yahoos. When it was a woman at a
Formica table with a red pen and a newspaper scavenged from the garbage at the
café down the street.
Then she found it. A nice quiet job
that was far away from crowds. Where she could prop Joe up in a bassinet or sit
him in a chair. Watch him out of the corner of her eye until he got old enough
She vacuumed books at the City
It seemed sad sometimes. All those
books no one ever read. Someone put a lot of love into those pages. They'd
spent hours and years of their lives. Now their children sat on gray-green
metal shelves in tiny rooms with names like Mesopotamia or Section VIII.
So lonely and forgotten. Even with
HEPA-filtered air conditioning and special anti-mold thisits and thatsits,
their tops were covered in dust.
Every weekday, she came in. Put up
her little yellow sign. Pulled out the special vacuum, with its special filters
that she didn't use because they weren't really good enough for the books.
Instead, she'd tie a piece of
cheesecloth over the long black bristles of the hose. Pull down a handful of
books, run the vacuum along the top and sides, then put them back again to
gather new dust. Sometimes, she'd look at the titles. Sometimes she'd open a
pretty one made of leather and colorful paper. But mostly she vacuumed.
When Joe was a baby, she'd started
in the basement with 000. As a toddler, he'd run her ragged through 200.
Tossing books on the floor and chewing on edges. But it was good for a boy to
eat a little dirt. But she worried someone would notice the little bite marks
on the covers. By the time she made it to 500, he was old enough to stay home
by himself, but still, sometimes after school he'd come and sit at one of the
tables at the end of the row and do his homework. He was a good boy, her Joe.
Sometimes, he'd pull something she'd vacuumed down and look through it. He was
a smart boy, her Joe.
By the time she got to 600,
Library'd decided it wanted the books listed in the shiny new computers
downstairs with their glowing green screens and waiting cursors. Since she was
pulling all the books down anyway, they gave her a brown computer with an acid
green monitor, a little wand, a box, and a stack of stickers.
So that was her day. She'd pull down
handfuls of books. She'd vacuum the top and the sides. She'd slap on stickers.
Two-finger type in each book's number. The computer didn't want names, only
numbers. She'd run the wand over the lines on each book's sticker until the
light on the box beeped. Then she'd put the books back where'd they'd wait.
Now the chair at the end of the row
was empty. Her Joe gone off to sea so he could look at all the things he'd read
about when he'd wandered back to 300 or climbed into the high stacks to read
ahead in 900.
She hadn't made it that far yet—800
was slow going. Books all sorts of sizes and hard to hold in her hand.
Today, it was Wednesday, Wodan's
Day. So after work she stopped at the farmers' market on the way home. She
walked past the mural of the All Father strapped to his tree with the hanging
horses that looked like so much market meat, the ones Joe had always said
looked cool. She walked past the shrine to Demeter that Joe said looked like
Eva couldn't see it. It didn't
matter. Today she was alone. She touched the foot of the statue, because
Demeter was a mother too.
She went by stalls full of fennel
and almonds and honey and lampreys and bread and everything anyone could want.
Maenads selling homemade wine. Fresh fish caught by Selkies, who wore their
sealskins as thick full coats that they wouldn't take off, even on a hot summer
Today was cold and rainy. Eva wished
she had a warm fur coat that'd slick the rain drops off like butter on a hot
skillet. But she didn't. She had a coat Joe found for her at a thrift store. It
was yellow with daisies on it and if the weatherproof on it wasn't so good, it
Daisies needed rain.
She bought food that Joe would like.
Because maybe today would be the day that Joe came home. At the docks, they
said there was nothing to worry about. Ships popped off the edge of the world
all the time, only to pop up again someplace unexpected. Happened all the time.
Generally everyone came back rich as Croesus and with stories to tell.
The ones that came back.
Plenty to worry about, with the ship
long overdue from its run, and the creditors howling for blood, and newspapers,
the kind you see in the market checkout line, showing pictures of sea monsters
and shipwrecks and Davy Jones's locker.
Great big ship too. Joe had been so
proud and happy to get himself a berth. He'd say, "Mama, it's one hundred
and fifty cubits long and forty cubits wide, and they only take the best, one
hundred and fifty of us to sail down the Sea of Reeds and into the world
Clear as a bell the day he left. Not
a cloud in the sky. Not that she'd seen it. She'd been at work vacuuming books.
She knew it would embarrass Joe to have his mama standing at the dock crying as
So she kissed him goodbye in the
morning. Told him to write and wear a sweater and left before she could cry on
him. Blew her nose on cheesecloth instead and not very many books got logged
and dusted at all.
Been raining for months now.
Drizzling and pouring and squalling. Not that she could hear it in the library.
But she heard it sure enough at home in her little narrow bed, listening to the
sky falling down. Pulled her heavy wool army blanket up high.
Joe'd given it to her for her
fortieth. Bought it for her at a surplus store. Then glued on daisies from the
craft store down the road.
She pulled the blanket over her
head, hot and musty, and curled onto her side. Let the water leak out of her
eyes as outside the sky fell down.
She covered herself in a dark cloak.
She hid her bright hair. She walked like darkness on the deep. She wandered
where the winds blew her.
She could not stop. All around her
the winds wailed her daughter's name.
She was not sweet Demeter. Not soft
Demeter. Not Demeter, bringer of gifts. She was Demeter Erinys. In her hands,
she held torches. Fire burned from her hands. Where she stepped the earth
cracked. Spilled fire onto the land. Where she walked hail and snow fell.
She did not stop. She could not
stop. She did not eat. She did not drink. She walked over the water, the raging
waves slapped by her wind. She beat the water, beat on her brother's water. She
let him feel her rage.
She beat the land. She cracked
mountains with her steps. She leveled forests with her walking.
She wandered. A timeless darkness of
wind and fire and rage.
She kept the rage up as long as she
could. Let the world see her anger, but the fear like creeping serpents slid up
Found her when she came to the City
at the edge of the world where the earth was covered in stone and hearts were
stone too. The City where the past and the future met and bore this bastard
child that oozed factory smoke from its shoreline sores.
She kept her cloak over her face.
The people did not know her. She walked down the City's streets. The people,
they turned away from her as she whispered to them, her voice shattered glass
from her screams. She asked them, "Have you seen Kore?"
They edged away from her.
She asked, "Have you seen my
They waited at street corners where
the lights told them to stop and go and pretended not to hear her. When the
lights said green, they crossed the street and never glanced at her at all.
It rained on her. It rained on them.
They held their umbrellas high and rushed by her like she was invisible. But
she was not, for all that the fires on her hands had burned low, she was not.
She was there. Standing there.
Weeping burning tears in the freezing rain.
She swayed against a stone building.
It did not yield to her. It was not like her home of trees in the sacred wood
where she lived with her daughter. With Kore.
The cold serpents of fear slipped up
her spine and into her mind. Stole her motion. Stole her heat. Brought her to
her knees. She worried at the bone bracelet on her wrist. All that was left of
her other daughter. Her first daughter. She'd failed her too, the day she was
The white serpents coiled in her
mind. They flickered tongues of failure and not good enough, not hard enough,
not strong enough, weak, useless, pathetic, feeble, dismal dreaming wretch.
They slid through her flickering memories. They reminded her that she'd picked
flowers once too. That she'd smiled at her brother sea as the waves lapped upon
the shore. That she hadn't run fast enough, hard enough, strong enough. They
hissed into her eyes and ears. They showed her sweet Kore in the dark, her
voice ripped apart by screams and torn.
Demeter thought she might have
screamed then. She would have torn down the stone buildings. Would have tossed
them into the hateful relentless sea, if her screams hadn't given out with the
wind. Fallen now into sour snow, red-brown and burning. Would have closed her eyes
and let the serpents have her, eat her heart, if Hekate hadn't found her there.
Hekate of the crossroads. Demeter
opened her eyes and saw her, dressed in power and decision. Hekate held soft
light in her hands. She touched Demeter's face tenderly. Held water to her
lips, like the sea-born daughter that Demeter had buried in the cold ground,
never spoken her name. Gone like Kore was gone.
Demeter found herself sobbing dry
heaving sobs as Hekate held her like a mother. Like Demeter's own mother never
would. Not for her a mother's hand. Kronos had swallowed Demeter down like a
Hekate held Demeter in her arms and
rocked her back and forth. Sang a lullaby. The same song that Demeter sang to
her little Kore when she was scared. When she was frightened. She frightened so
easily. She was so soft.
The serpents tightened their coils.
They showed her visions of Kore. No mother to hold her and keep her safe.
"Shh . . . " said Hekate.
"Shhh. . . . " Smoothed back Demeter's tangled hair. Rocked her
softly. She whispered, "I heard your daughter's cry, but I didn't see who
it was. I came to find you. To tell you what I know." Then smiling, with
soft green eyes, she reached into Demeter and pulled the serpents out and
dropped them to the ground.
She said, "Here, let me help
you." She put words to deeds and helped Demeter to her feet.
Eva kneaded the bread in her hands.
The smell of the salty dough filled her nose and mouth. She pushed and she
Dough won't rise if you don't work
She didn't look at the yellow
curtains sprigged with holly on the windows.
She didn't look at the cream-colored
tiles with their honey-colored swirls. She'd always called them her honey
bunches. She'd kept them wiped and clean and told Joe they were what kept her
baby so sweet.
She didn't look at the yellowish
cream-colored paint mottling the walls. She'd sponged it on herself. She'd done
the careful ivy vines across the white cabinets. She'd mottled them with
wildflower posies. She'd painted lots of artless daisies and shy violets and
brassy sunflowers. Eva didn't like proud flowers. She liked her flowers wild
and all around. Each leaf and petal carefully pounced into the wall with a
stencil brush when she and Ames had moved in.
Not that he'd helped much. Made a
few dabs and told her he was no good at this sort of thing. That her flowers
were better. Got that look in his eye and soon enough they were making flowers
in the tight bed in the curtained back room. Then later, less and less. Until
he wasn't pouncing here at all anymore.
Her forever-and-a-day hubby was long
gone now. Younger, prettier faces had beckoned, but the ivy and flowers
The frozen-in-time rabbits peeked
out from behind still vines and silent pansies under the bright fluorescent
She'd called her baby, her Joe, her
silly dilly rabbit when he was just a boy. Eyes wide as saucepans in his
serious face. He'd run around the room to see where all she'd hidden them for
him. The lower rabbits were a little worn from where tiny fingers had just had
to keep on reaching to touch. The higher ones, too, for that matter.
He'd always insisted that the red
robin in the corner was her. Even though she couldn't sing a note, he'd always
blink at her and turn on the little transistor radio, and ask her to sing along
with him. He always asked for silly songs for a bright sunny room. Then he'd
run after the dust motes, caught them in his hands, calling out, "Watch
me, mama, watch me."
Her silly dilly rabbit.
She didn't look at any of it. She
kept her head down and pushed on the dough. Salt and flour. Tears hot on her
cheeks, but she didn't wipe at them. Let them burn out of her glue-tacky eyes
and down her hot cheeks to splash on the old wooden board and onto her honey
She pulled and pushed on the dough
on the wooden board in the bright cheery kitchen and didn't even notice as the
weak winter sun streamed its dusty motes on in.
Hekate brought her soup and water.
Hekate glared at the man at the counter and told him that he should be glad
that a goddess had come to his shop.
She brought what the crossroads
always brought. Choices. Calmly spooned soup into Demeter and told her to stop
running already and stand still and think.
Demeter ate her soup and thought.
The sun was hidden now, but it hadn't been hidden when her Kore was taken. She
said that and Hekate smiled.
Hekate put her in a shiny plastic
box of a car. They drove cars here. Some people. Hekate did.
She took Demeter across the city.
Made the stone-hearted men and women make way for her. Took her up to the
temple of Helios. Then stood back. Crossroads don't do the work for you. They
just make the way.
Demeter looked Helios over. Zeus'
son. It was in his burning eyes, angry to be bothered, as he washed and waxed
his chariot. As he sniffed at her smell, at the smell of her wanderings. It was
there in the curl of his lip as he looked at the scratches in her flesh from
where she had clawed herself. It was there in his jaw that would go where it
He was the sun, and he knew it.
But she was the earth, and his light
would never shine again unless she willed it. She smiled such a smile as had
him put aside his sponges and buckets. She said, "Helios! Show me respect,
god to goddess. I'm here about my sweet young seedling, renowned for her
beauty, I turn to you as one who ranges over all the earth and sea."
Clenched her hands and let him see the ice of her heart, rage gone into dull,
cold snow. "Have you seen Kore and who took her?"
Helios stared at her, like a man
looks at a distasteful awkward thing. He shook the soap suds off his hands. He
said, very carefully, as if she were some monstrous horror that must be
placated with soft sweet words—like his father there too—"Daughter of Rhea
with the beautiful hair, Queen Demeter! Of course I'll tell you, because I
really respect you and I feel sorry for you, really, I do." He smiled with
his lips, but the lie was in his eyes. He said, "While you've been
grieving for your child, the one with the delicate ankles, I went and talked to
dad about it, and cloud-gatherer Zeus himself takes responsibility."
Demeter stared at Helios. Stared at
the sun, which they said would make your eyes go blind, but her eyes kept
seeing. Her ears kept hearing.
He said, "I saw Hades grab
Kore, while he was driving his chariot." Helios stopped and patted his own
golden chariot. Demeter stared at him. She did not trust her words. Even that
brother too then could not be trusted. If she'd known it then, while they grew
in their father's stomach, she'd have killed all her brothers.
Helios took her silence for
something else. He said, "Since there's nothing much any of us can do
about it, what's done is done." He smiled like it meant something. Like
her silence meant something else. He said, "I urge you, goddess. Stop your
loud cries of lamentation. You should not have anger without bounds, all in
vain. Lighten up." He dared to twinkle at her. "Let the sun shine.
Hades is a pretty good as a son-in-law. He's got half the earth and all its
Demeter nodded slowly. She looked at
Hekate of the crossroads, but Hekate did not tell her what to do. She simply
hugged her in the embrace of directions and waited.
Everything that lay upon the land
was Demeter's, but what lay below, that belonged to her brother Hades. Just as
what lay beneath the sea belonged to her other brother. Just as the empty,
vapid sky belonged to her youngest brother, her once-husband, Zeus.
Demeter nodded. She said nothing. She made her slow way from the home of
Helios. Away from the home of the gods.
The sky did not howl with wind. She
was done with that. Now it was time to show the gods what still winter could
She stood on the sidewalk in the
rain holding a child's plastic umbrella covered in ducks. It always seemed
cheery and she liked to watch people through the plastic as they walked down
Today she stood dully at attention
next to the bus stop sign. There was no shelter—just a metal post in the cement
and a white metal sign with numbers on it.
The same people stood at this stop
every day, but she didn't talk to them. Although, in the past, the man in the
green cardigan always said hello, and she said hello, and she'd smiled looking
down at the cracks in the cement. But not now.
Today she stared with eyes straight
ahead. Watched beads of rain hit the clear plastic of her umbrella and roll
down in a steady stream. The blue eyes on one of the ducks had worn off. She
stared past it, her own eyes as empty.
Then her bus arrived. She closed her
umbrella and spent a moment drenched in the rain as she stepped up onto the
black plastic tread. She flashed her bus pass, but the bus driver hardly cared.
She was a regular on his route. He was more interested in watching the
teenagers that jostled and shoved their way on after her.
She went to the middle of the bus
where there would be better luck getting seats. None there now, but she knew
that in a few stops half the bus would get off for the connection to the 185.
She stood in the narrow center of
the bus, holding onto a metal bar. Her feet ached from her day.
They reached the transfer point and
people rushed off. She slid into the seat where she always sat.
She sat with her knees up against
the hard blue plastic seat in front of her, her feet dangling down into space.
It felt good to put her feet up after standing all day, and the bus driver
would yell at her if she put her feet on another chair. As he should. It
wouldn't be right.
Joe always thought it was funny to
see her with her legs like that.
She sat in the hard plastic seat and
stared out the window as the bus passed cars and buildings. Rain washed the
grime and the graffiti from the windows. John loves Alcmene. Rodrigo is a
troll. Squiggle, squiggle this.
Joe always loved to read the
graffiti, even though she told him not to. He thought it was funny. Would make
up stories about John and Alcmene. Rodrigo the troll under the Copper Bay
Bridge. The secrets behind squiggle, squiggle.
She traced the squiggles with a
finger. They didn't tell her anything. No matter how many times she ran her
fingers along their lines.
A man's voice behind her said,
"Um . . . hello."
She looked up. It was the man in the
green cardigan. He said, "I think you missed your stop. Don't you normally
get off at 5th?" He smiled at her.
She couldn't smile back. She wanted
to cry because she'd missed her bus stop, because the walls of the bus felt
like they were closing in. She didn't and they weren't. She pulled the cord and
got off the bus. Opened her umbrella and walked down the hill toward her
At least it was downhill.
She walked slowly and carefully down
the roads. Left Hekate at the crossroads of the City. Walked unknown among the
people. She walked out from the City along the long curving peninsula that
wrapped out and around like an upraised arm. She walked until she came around
the far side and stared back at the City across the bay.
All around, people were walking.
They did not know her. They did not
recognize her. That was good, because she was waiting, the still winter rain
gentle on her face. She looked old.
She looked like an old, old woman,
so worn out and wrinkled that no man could ever love her. A woman whose
children had gone.
The serpents did not plague her now.
She let them curl around her arms. Let them lick her face. Lick the bone
bracelet of the daughter who'd gone into the earth. Both daughters had gone
into the earth.
She sat by a well that had been
sacred to her once and let them lick at her face. Twin serpents to remind her.
A girl said, "Excuse me."
Demeter looked up. Four girls stood
smiling at her. They looked like goddesses, although in their eyes she saw that
they didn't know how beautiful they were. She saw their names. She saw
Kallithoê, who was the eldest and took everything very seriously. She saw
Kallidikê, who wore Death Metal shirts and worried about stepping on ants. She
saw Kleisidikê, who worried about the spots on her chin and the weight of her
thighs and everything in between. She saw lovely little Dêmô, who was as tender
as a spring vine climbing up a wall.
She looked and she saw the soft
sweet green rush of their hearts.
Death Metal Kallidikê smiled at her.
She said, "Are you okay?"
Lovely little Dêmô hopped on one
foot and she said, "How did you get out here? Do you have a home."
She hopped on the other foot. "You should come to the palace! We've got
rooms full of women way older than you."
"Shhh . . . " said Death
Metal Kallidikê, but there was no anger in her shh, only sisterly exasperation.
Demeter wondered what it must be like to have a sister to shush, who shushed
like that. She and Hera had never been that close. Demeter caressed her
serpents as Death Metal Kallidikê said, "Our parents are always ready to
help people find shelter and food,
"And work," piped lovely
little Dêmô. "But you didn't say. How did you get here?"
Serious Kallithoê ruffled lovely
little Dêmô's hair.
Demeter looked at the girls,
clustered together so beautiful even on this cold winter's day. She wanted to
give them a winter's gift. She'd been a gift giver once. She said, "My
name is Doso. I'm from Crete, but I was abducted by pirates."
Lovely little Dêmô said,
"Really!" and hopped forward.
Demeter nodded slowly. Let the
serpents settle in a pool in her lap. She said, "They traveled all over
the seas, until they landed in the harbor of Thorikos. There, the women of the
town boarded the boat and they beat up the pirates with rolling pins."
Lovely little Dêmô laughed,
Demeter nodded. "After they
freed me, I set out over the mainland, until I came here. I do not know where
here is, but . . . I beg you, if you know the name of a family that has
children to be looked after, I have experience with sickly children and I want
to work honestly."
Worried Kleisidikê was wondering if
they should do a background check on the old woman with the unlikely story, but
lovely little Dêmô hopped on one foot and Death Metal Kallidikê said,
"There isn't a single family in this town that would turn you away,
looking as you do." Straightened her shoulders and said very firmly,
glancing at worried Kleisidikê, "But you should come to our palace. We
have a little baby brother who isn't well and if you help our mother with him,
she will reward you."
"Really, really, really,
well," said lovely little Dêmô. She waved her hands in the air.
"Then it is settled," said
Demeter, and the girls filled their jars with sweet well water that was sacred
to her still. They set out, looking magnificent, although they did not know it.
She followed them to the house of their parents.
She saw their mother, Metaneira,
sitting with her son in her lap, weak and small, tender seedling born in this
still winter, poor baby. Demeter stood in the door, and although she was
cloaked and veiled, for a moment, the light that she hid crept out and filled
Metaneira stood up. She wanted to
give Demeter her chair, but Demeter could not. It was too beautiful.
She sat down on a stool and would
have been quiet in her sorrow.
But lovely little Dêmô jumped around
the room like a cricket. She had a rolling pin in her hand and she was
threatening pirates with it. Demeter smiled. She did not know from where, but a
laugh hopped up her throat.
She asked Metaneira for some water.
Metaneira gave it. Metaneira said,
"We humans endure the gifts the gods give us, even when we are grieving
over what has to be. The yoke has been placed on our neck. But now that you
have come here, there will be as many things that they give to you as they give
to me. My daughters have said that you have experience with sickly
children." Metaneira brushed the blanket that held her child. "Can
you help with my son? He was born to this world of winter, and I want only that
he reach a happy age."
Demeter nodded. She said, "I
know an antidote more powerful than any other." She took the child to her
fragrant bosom, in her immortal hands and through her veil, she smiled at
The cold serpents curled around her
legs as a lick of warmth crept through the room.
Eva didn't go to church much. Or
temple. Or synagogue. Or all the other words for place to pray and ask for
Not that she didn't need things, but
she didn't like to ask. Seemed pushy. Like the gods didn't have enough to do.
And generally, it was better to stay out of their way.
Now she went to them all. Every god
of the sea that she could think of.
She sat in the pews at the Greek
White-Bearded Poseidon's temple for hours. Hands folded up and eyes squeezed
shut. Thinking, hoping praying wishing dreaming. Please, please, please.
She went to the Egyptian
Serpent-Eyed Amathaunta's temple for hours more. Amathaunta was a mother. She
might, somewhere in her cold serpent heart, understand.
Went trembling to the Norse Aegir's
temple, him always so surly and cruel. Offered to pour him a glass of ale every
day for a year and a day. Every day for ten years. Every day for the rest of
her life, if he'd roll her son home in the arms of his nieces and daughters,
the undines. If he'd send Joe on home.
Then just in case, please, just in
case, she gave two coins in Charon's box. To pay for her son's ride to the next
world if he'd gone that way.
She lived in the palace of
Metaneira. Each night, she anointed the baby, Dêmophôn, with ambrosia. She
breathed sweet breath on him, soft as a zephyr, as outside the still winter
At night, she blanketed him in the
holy fire from her hands as if he were a smoldering log. She hung her bracelet
of bone over his crib and let it spin for him to watch. His young eyes blinked
and learned to see.
He grew like a daemon. Like a tree
in spring. Sap flowing through his veins.
His parents and his sisters didn't
know what she was doing, but they marveled at him.
But worried Kleisidikê fussed about
this stranger. There were stories about witches who fatted children for their
supper. She worried at her mother, until Metaneira growled at her and put up a
device with which to see and watch. She saw Demeter put Dêmophôn in the fire.
Demeter could hear her scream from
across the palace. Metaneira ran into the room. She cried out,
Demeter heard her. She carefully put
Dêmophôn on the ground and let the fire out. She sighed, "I swear by the
Styx"—and how it made her grimace to swear by the river that kept her from
her daughter, but swear she did. "Immortal and ageless for all days would
I have made your little boy."
Metaneira snatched up Dêmophôn and
Demeter sighed. "Because he has
sat in my lap, he will have unwilting honor in my eyes. He cannot avoid death
or the fates, but for my care, he will meet them strongly." She pushed
back her robe and let Metaneira see her face. Let her see her light and know
her true name.
Demeter had hidden it so long, she'd
almost forgotten it. She said, "Please build me a temple. I need to wait,
and I would like to wait here awhile."
She smiled at Metaneira and went to
the well that had been sacred to her once and was sacred to her still. She
watched the people rush from the City. They knew her for a goddess now. They
built her a temple. They prayed for warm weather. They prayed for sunny skies.
They prayed for bountiful harvests. They prayed for an end to winter.
Demeter smiled at them and went
inside. She went into the temple and waited with garlands in her hair.
Outside, seeds did not sprout.
Farmers ploughed fields with oxen and tractors in vain. Hunger swept the land.
The gods in their city, they were hungry too. There was no sacrificial meat for
offerings. There was no grain for burning.
Even Zeus noticed. He sent Iris,
beautiful color-swept Iris, to summon Demeter. He had her say, "Come here
Demeter smiled, and she obeyed Zeus,
the son of Kronos, in her fashion. She ran the space between sky and earth like
a girl. She smiled a terrible smile and went to her temple in the City. The
little temple that sat in the midst of crumbling stained buildings that once
were mighty. She called out, "Zeus, the one who has unwilting knowledge
Zeus sent other gods. Blessed
beautiful gods. One by one they came with beautiful gifts. She stared at them
as they made their offerings. Cheap plastic and toys. She said, "I will
never to go to fragrant Olympus and I will never send up the harvest of the
earth until I see my daughter."
She said this to messengers. She
said this to the gods sent by Zeus.
She felt it the moment that Zeus
gave in. Not that he met with her, but she felt it when he sent Hermes down
into the earth. She heard his swift steps. She heard the vehicle's roar as
Hermes sped away.
Demeter went out of her temple. She
went to her sacred grove. She ran like a maenad through the mountains. She
could hear the car returning. She could feel its passenger speeding toward her.
She came to her grove and saw her.
She reached out and held her little girl in her arms. She reached out and
breathed in spring, and all around, the earth sighed.
She was vacuuming. Though why she
worked in her dreams she didn't know, but was like that a lot. All day in front
of green shelves full of books. All night vacuuming books while turtles crawled
under her ladder. Didn't they know that was bad luck? So she was always having
to climb down from her ladder and move them somewhere safe.
A sandbox on the sea, and the waves
were crashing. Behind her the shelves stood and pretended they didn't mind the
sea spray, not a bit.
But the turtles just kept crawling
back to the ladder and she had to keep getting down. She was never going to get
to 900. Never find out where Joe had gone.
She wished she could skip ahead, but
she couldn't. She had to follow one set of books on the other. If she skipped
some books they might think she was never coming. They might fling themselves
to the floor and bend their spines.
She couldn't be responsible for
that. So she moved the turtles and dusted the books every night, the sea at her
Sometimes she'd hear a noise, but
when she turned, she didn't see no one. Just the sea. Just the turtles. She'd
go back to vacuuming.
Then she felt a hand on her shoulder
and a voice that said, "Don't turn around, Mama."
She stared at the books, frightened.
It was Joe's voice. She said, "Why not?"
"Because I'm not really here,
and when you see that, you'll forget again," said the voice. The hand felt
heavy on her shoulder. Warm. She could feel Joe's class ring through the thin
cotton of her dress. She wanted so bad to turn around. But she didn't. Because
then she'd lose what little she had.
She whispered, "You dead,
"'Fraid so, Mama." Both
hands on her shoulders now. He said, "The Eye of Horus went down in a
sudden storm. But I wanted you to know that I'm good where I am. I hear you
crying to yourself every night and I just wanted you know that." The hands
squeezed her shoulders. "I had a whole speech practiced, Mama, but I can't
remember it now."
Which was her Joe all over.
Then he picked her up, thumbs under
her arms, and turned around with her. Bare feet in the sand and the sea in
front of her. The sand felt warm and soft.
She sat down on the beach. She could
feel the warmth of the sun through her thin dress. The soft sand on her ankles
as she sat with her legs stretched out. She sat on the beach with Joe's hand on
her shoulder, and the little green turtles crawled in random patterns on the
In the morning, she woke up before
her alarm even peeped.
She looked at her room with its
handmade curtains. She pushed aside the heavy wool army blanket that Joe'd
bought her at the surplus store and glued on daisies from the craft store down
the road. It was getting too warm to use.
She walked barefoot into her kitchen
with its pretty yellow curtains.
She cut herself a slice of bread
with her bread knife in long leisurely strokes. She dipped it in olive oil with
It tasted good.
She walked barefoot onto her balcony
and listened to the City waking up in the growing morning light.
She decided that today she would
look for a Job in a shop or a factory, and leave the books to some other poor
mother. To be chewed and dusted by someone else.
Went outside to the little park down
the way. Fed ducks pieces of stale bitter bread. They ate it up in greedy
quacks. She braided daisies into a chain that she put around her neck. Leaned
back on the grass and breathed in. Breathed out.