When I woke up, I was dead.
I remember being chased.
Aristaeus was drunk; I'm certain. I don't mean to excuse him for his behavior, but who else chases after a bride on her wedding day besides the groom? I could hear him behind me, gaining on me with every stride until his breath was hot on my neck. I tripped.
And then I fell.
I shouted, and I remember thinking now surely someone will notice this foolish lout before anything too grave becomes of me. But no one came.
Then there were snakes.
A whole nest of snakes. When the fans of the first serpent stung my skin, it felt like nothing more than a bee sting. But they kept coming after me, sinking their teeth into my ankles, my feet...
And I went to sleep.
I don't remember anything after that.
And when I woke up, I was dead.
First, I only saw blackness. There was something heavy pressed over my eyes-- I reached up to brush whatever it was away. Two silver drachmae, inscribed with the owl and olive branch of Athena. And there was the river, glimmering, illuminated hazily as milt rose above its surface.
And, like everyone does when they come that way, I paid the ferryman.
Being dead is strange.
The underworld is quiet and murky. Even Cerberus' three heads growl in silence as they guard the gates. The stillness and silence fill every corner, more unsettling than any noise you might imagine.
I thought I wouldn't feel anything, but I did.
It came to me like pinpricks at first, as tiny as the serpent-bites than killed me. Bubbling up from my extremities until it hit me at my very fiber, like a leaden weight.
Dull and throbbing one moment, raw and livid the next. All I could do was think of my husband whom I had left on our wedding day, and the emptiness where he should have been.
Dead people shouldn't be able to have hearts.
Hearts are part of a physical form.
Our bodies don't follow us to the underworld.
They stay in the ground, decaying slowly until all recognizable traces of the people we were are wiped from the earth and all that is left are chalk-white bones that yellow and splinted into dust.
But my heart was still swollen with sadness. They say that death is only painful for those left behind, but oh, how I ached for him, to smell his skin and feel his breath on my eyelashes. To hear his voice, his golden voice that scaled heights and plunged to the deepest depths. My beloved.
I wondered about him...whether his heart was beating enough for both of us.
Whether that was the reason the core of me felt so hollow and yet so full all at once.
I couldn't stop missing him.
I tried. I tried so many things. I tried to banish him from my memory. It was as if his face was burned deep into my soul, so deep that to scour it away would be to scour away layers of my self. I would have cried and cried, but tears are not part of this existence.
So I couldn't leave the mortal world behind.
When you walk at the seashore, with one foot in the surf and one in the sand, so I walked, but with one foot in death and one in life, too aware of what I missed to let it go.
Feeling the pain of a heart I did not have. I wanted to say, "I miss you," but I could not.
And so much it would have meant, to be able to say those words. If only I could have told him one last thing. One goodbye. One word of love. If only I could have told him that I waited for him, here, that I would be here when he came.
So I went to the king of this world.
He is as quiet as the world he commands, bright and dark all at the same time. Everything and nothing.
He said, "someone who loves you has come very far."
He had! He knew! Whatever was pulling at me, that same longing had drawn him away from the realm of the living.
"May I see him?" I asked. The heart I didn't have skipped a beat.
I did not expect him to say yes. There are rules, in the land of the dead, and they are not bent easily, or death would not be such a mystery.
I will let him stay," said the King,
but I knew there had to be a condition.
"On one condition."
And that it would be nigh impossible to fulfill. Painful, even. Maybe even more painful than what I felt already.
"Lead him to the gates of the underworld. And don't look back."
Was that all? It seemed so simple, and the emptiness was filled with a rush, a swell of joy! I went to the appointed place, certain that my husband would follow, if the King were true to his word.
I wanted to trust him.
And for the first steps, I did. I could imagine my sweet Orpheus fitting his footsteps into mine, only paces behind me. And oh, but when were reached those gates, and I could be with him again!
But the further I walked, the more I wondered.
What if the King had lied? How did I know if my husband were truly there. I looked to the gates, and it seemed at if they were infinitely distant, as if the space between my feet and their promise had increased exponentially between the time I took my first step and now.
Surely a glance could not hurt.
The anticipation, the doubt, the worry, the words that had not been said, all came rushing to the fore like a flood.
And I saw him looking back at me. Not following me, but turned away, glancing over his shoulder, his feet pointed toward the land of the living and not the land of the dead. And I saw in his face reflected every emotion, every uncertainty, and now anguish piled atop all those other things that a dead person should not feel.
I was all alone.
He had vanished, and I was back in the world of dead souls. And I did not know if I had lost my chance, or if I had been cheated, but I knew that what I wished for was never to be.
So I went to the man on the hill.
He bore the weight of his boulder patiently, as he pushed it up the ever-increasing incline. I could see the strain in his muscles, even from so far away. He seemed so close to the top, so near his goal. Only a few more paces...but I already knew the end that was inevitable.
"How do you do it?" I asked. "How, when you know it is only going to fall again?"
One more push. One more strain. His strength gave out. The boulder came hurtling downward, toppling the man, crushing his bones and leaving his entrails half-exposed in a pool of blood. The scene was far more unnerving, more visceral than any mortal death I had ever witnessed.
But then he climbed to his feet. He brushed himself off, healed, a new man.
He picked up his rock, and said, "Hope."
"Hope," said Sisyphus.
So I hope.
This entry was written for therealljidol Week 18: Adored