Posted on: February 27th, 2011 Dawn
by Cezarija Abartis
Tithonus told me he was the best speller in his academy at age ten. He could spell â€œironyâ€ and â€œcicada.â€ As a child, I was able to spell “hypotenuse,” “dementia,” “metamorphosis”; I would have out-spelled him. When we met he was as handsome as the sun. He wore a gossamer mantle over his broad shoulders, so that he seemed to have angelic wings. He was a Trojan prince, accustomed to command. His eyes radiated humor and confidence. Iâ€™ve always had a weakness for a good joke. This time the joke was on me.
“What do the gods want with mortals?” I asked. “Immortal porpoises,” he answered and clapped his hands in childish glee.
“Upsy-daisy,” he said and joined his hands into a step so I could climb onto my morning horse.
My thoughts of rigorous daylight melted.
When I was little, there were mice in my parentsâ€™ palace. Cats too. Mother told me a parable (she was afflicted with depression, which I am not). She explained that the mouse is an omnivore, and scurries out on its tiny feet to scavenge the rotten food left behind by other animals; no doubt it wishes it were a cat and had fresh food in its bowl when it wanted. The cat, in turn, wishes it could open the larder and choose the food itself. The human wishes he were a god. I asked Mother what the gods wish. She looked at me with her shining eyes and said, â€œTo die.â€
This is not a good story for a child. Thank the gods that I am a cheerful being not usually subject to melancholy. I was angry with Mother about her not giving me a beautiful white horse. I stamped my foot on a bug and heard it crunch beneath my sandal. Mother said I was heartless.
My darling Tithonus was angelic, if a little dopey. He told me to request eternal life for him, so he could be my immortal equal. â€œWe can stroll around Mount Olympus forever. Iâ€™ll be by your side.â€
The Council met to consider his request. They were reluctant; I begged for the potion, citing the precedents of Helen and Hercules, humans given immortality; the Council members exchanged glances, winked , smiled, and granted our request; I brought him the potion and he drank it. He took a knife and slashed his forearm. (Thatâ€™s how much my beloved trusted me!) Golden ichor seeped out, and his skin healed over as if it were liquid. He was transformed into an Immortal.
We traveled hand-in-hand over Italy and Greece and Asia Minor. We did this slowly so our eyes could take in everything. We saw beautiful temples built to the gods, bridges that were engineering marvels, and old people dying with boils and scabs, coughing blood. “Too bad about mortals,” I said.
“I was mortal once,” he said, with great pity.
We saw verdant gardens and dust-gray fields beset with drought; we saw ships sailing to explore new lands and armies amassed to invade countries. Sad, but that was not my lookout.
My darling and I were happy, eating ambrosia, drinking nectar, dancing to the music of the locals. He told me he once wanted to be a powerful warrior, but that he abandoned that dream when he met me. I told him that I had similar ambitions, but now I was content to walk by his side. Unlike the other Immortals, we did not want many children to intrude on our happiness, complete as it was. He was my alter ego, my perfect self. Oh, the light we made! One morning, I even forgot my responsibilities and stayed in bed, until I was awakened by the din outside asking for the day. I stretched and turned on my smooth, silk sheets until he nudged me toward my light duties.
And then my darling grew tired, coughed, slumped; moles and boils erupted on his fair skin. He became thin and frail, wheezed and crept on the floor, unable to stand upright. He would not die because he was immortal, but because we had not thought to ask for eternal youth, he got eternal age. After a century, his mind crumbled. He could still spell, but only simple words–”tired,” “old,” “sad.” There’s no outwitting the powers. I gave him another potion, and he is now an insect in this jar, droning and shrilling.
I have gained a heart. I do not like that.
Posted on: February 13th, 2011 The Excision
by Nicole M. Taylor
Sheila considered it an unexpected stroke of good luck. She had little reason, after all, to think that anyone would ever take an interest in her heart again.
“How ridiculous,” the magician told her, in response to this, “they aren’t exactly going begging, you know.” He said he was constantly amazed at how incompletely people understood the value of things. “Do you know what some would pay for baby teeth? And what to people do with them? Shut them up in drawers. Put them in scrapbooks!”
The magician worked at the Shop n’ Go in the bakery department, but that was just temporary. That’s where they met, in the bakery department. Sheila was staring into the plastic donut case, attempting to decide between an apple cruller and a lemon custard. She was clutching her shopping basket in her hands and her fingers were white and red from holding on so tightly and she realized that this was a terrible thing she was feeling. This awful urgency, as though some part of her world would fall away if she made the wrong choice.
“You look like a woman in need of some help,” the magician had said.
The operation was a simple one, as Sheila understood it. It was performed in his apartment (which was over the Save n’ Go) and she had to lie down in his bathtub, to ease clean-up afterwards. It was a little tight, her legs were smushed up into an inverted V in front of her. She had to unbutton her shirt, but the magician told her she could keep her bra on.
“Will it hurt?” she asked him as he drew on her chest with a black Sharpie. Little arrows and dashes, like a football play.
“Doesn’t it hurt now?” he said
There was no need for anesthesia. Sheila felt quite calm and clear headed and she watched the magician as he washed his hands, scrubbing carefully underneath his fingernails with a soft white scrub-brush.
“What was his name?” the magician asked as he knelt down beside her.
“Jackson,” Sheila answered.
It felt like going to the dentist. Sheila could feel pressure and industry moving through the bones and skin of her, but it was deadened. A thing she considered, rather than felt.
“It’s a pretty good heart,” the magician pronounced, holding it aloft. Little red droppets fell from it and pattered onto Sheila’s shirt. Distantly, she was annoyed. It was a white shirt. Those stains would not come out. “Look,” the magician said.
The heart was bigger than she had expected, and darker as well. Almost purple, rather than red. She could see the heavy black estuaries of veins that moved through it.
“It flutters,” the magician smiled as though he had never been so delighted by a thing.
“Yes,” Sheila said, “I remember that.”
The heart was slightly damaged. There was an aching fissure in one ventricle. The magician told her that it was slowly expanding and, eventually, her heart would have separated into its component parts, connected only by the toughest, most determined strands of tissue.
“But there are lots of people who’d pay for flaws like that,” the magician explained. “It’s like distressed jeans.”
Sheila wiped the blood off her chest with a ragged washcloth, but left the marker directions. She buttoned up her shirt and stared into the mirror to see how obvious her bloodstains were. They looked like polka dots.
The magician put the heart into a plastic bowl with a snap-on lid. He’d written something unreadable on one side with the Sharpie. He set it down in the refrigerator, in the crisper, which was otherwise empty.
The magician escorted her to the door. “How do you feel?”
Sheila thought about this for a moment. She looked down at her still, hollow chest and remembered a time when Jackson rested his head there. For the first time in so very long, she did not feel an immediate electric-shock spike of pain.
“A little cold,” she said. The magician nodded. He had told her that that was common. Just as well, Sheila liked sweaters anyway.
On the way home, she stopped by the market and bought an apple cruller. She ate it all as she walked and licked the gritty sugar from her fingers and palms in the cold sunshine.