The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Installment #9: Sweetness

Hades reclined against the ancient barrel, stretching his legs out in front of him, uncoiling them to relieve the stiffness that he had suddenly become aware of after having sat with them in the same folded position for several hours. The moon had made its progress across the sky, and he felt the warmth of the sun approaching. He could also see the sky begin to lighten, ever so slightly, to the east. I was laughing, joyfully but without much gusto. My eyelids were drooping and my motions slowed as my limbs became almost too heavy to lift. He watched me as I smiled at his story about a foolish husband and wife, leaning my head back against my barrel, my legs stretched out as well, my feet nearly touching his at the center of the distance between us. He was smiling as well, though he was not overcome with lethargy as I was. I was not accustomed to being awake all night, while it was his pattern to sleep while the sun was up on earth and roam when it was down. I had never experienced this euphoric fatigue before, and was rather enjoying it.

“So…” I began, losing track of my words before they escaped my lips, “so… they actually killed themselves… to find out how they would die?” I giggled a bit as I finished the question, the absurdity of it amusing far more than it would have if I had not been drunk with weariness.

“Yes,” he said, chuckling himself, “they wanted to see the Moirae, to find out how they would die, and how their loved ones would die. They knew that the Moirae resided in the underworld, so they supposed the only way to see them would be to kill themselves. They told me, when I heard their case, that when they did it they actually expected that I would send them back, because it was not their time. They assumed that in killing themselves they were not fulfilling their actual destiny, and would have to be sent back to live out the remainder of their lives… they thought it was impossible for them to determine their own death, and so if they remained in the underworld they would be going against their own fate…”

“They expected you to send them back?” I slurred, starting to laugh again.

“Yes, they really did. I just looked at them, and said, ‘No. No, I cannot send you back. You have died on earth, you have entered the underworld, you are dead!’ They looked at me with anger and said, ‘But we have killed ourselves! We defied fate! Will this not upset the natural order?’ I said to them, ‘I have fields full of souls who sent themselves here! Why are you any different?’ ‘Because we only wanted to see the Moirae,’ said the wife. ‘We knew that the only way to get here was to die, so that’s how we came. We didn’t intend to actually die.’ I stared at them for a very long time, still not believing that even a brace of humans could be so utterly idiotic, so completely brainless, so devoid of all sense. I was amazed at their stupidity.”

I was laughing so hard now that I was hunched over, unable to breathe, my sides aching. I was laughing so hard that not a sound came out of my mouth; there was no air left in my lungs. Hades laughed too, plucking another grape from the vine I’d grown for us and tossing it into his mouth.

“What did you do with them?” I asked when I finally regained my breath.

“Well, I could not send them back to earth, of course,” he said, his voice calming. “It is my job to make sure that the laws of the living and dead are followed. However, as stupid as they were I took pity on them. I let them see the Moirae, as they had wished to. This appeased them somewhat, and after they spoke with the Moirae they seemed more at peace, and became quiet and faded like the other spirits. They did not come to plead their case again, so I suppose they got what they wanted.”

We sat for a moment in silence, both wondering for a moment what had become of them in the fields. Then the image of their confused faces appeared once again before me, and I burst out laughing again, falling over on my side, half of my face in the grass and soil. “They just came to see the Moirae…” I murmured through my laughter, “they didn’t think they would actually die.” I was lying on the ground now, shaking with the last of my exhausted giggles as they left my body. “How did they do it?” I mumbled.

“What?” he asked, not understanding me.

I turned my face aside so that my lips were not in the earth and tried to speak more clearly. “How did they do it? How did they kill themselves?”

“They drank poison and went to bed,” he replied. “They thought they would wake in the morning, as if from a dream, and know they had traveled to the underworld and back. Fools. No mortals travel ‘back’ from the underworld.”

I looked up at him, though I could hardly keep my eyes open. He was much more beautiful now than when he had first entered my grove, stiff and guarded. Now his dark curls fell loosely around his face as he laughed, his white teeth gleamed inside his open smile. His blue eyes danced with mirth and the air seemed to shimmer around him, as the last of the moonlight filtered through the canopy of leaves above us.

Hades played with a piece of grass beside him, winding it around his finger as he watched me, my eyes closing again, this time completely. He heard my heartbeat slow and my breathing take on a peaceful rhythm, and knew I was truly asleep this time. I lay on the ground before him, stretched out in the rising twilight. He smiled, amazed at what had happened in just a few short hours. We had sat in my grove all night, talking about his world and mine. I had showed him how I could grow things, and strange plants of every kind were now scattered among us, out of place in the grove and near each other like awkward party guests. He did not demonstrate his powers for me. Instead, he told me about his world, his home, his subjects. He told me what the spirits looked like, and how they wafted silently over their fields with empty looks on their faces, as if they thought nothing, desired nothing, and only existed for the sake of existing. He told me about the dancing blue women and how they had delighted him when he first came to his palace. He told me about Hypnos and Thanatos, and, at my urging, a great deal about the Moirae. He said that they were female ancients, as everyone knew, but that they were not hunched and ugly like old women as was popularly thought.

“They are actually quite beautiful,” he had said, “But very daunting. They are so powerful, so dignified, that their beauty does not give one pleasure, but is instead rather frightening. It wrings my nerves dry to speak with them.”

“ ‘Wrings your nerves dry?’” I had repeated in amazement, “You? The God of the Underworld? But you are their King!” At these words his eyes became frightened and he cast me a rebuking look.

“You cannot say such things!” he had whispered, “They have access to all things. I am not their king. They dwell in the underworld, yes, but they are not my subjects. They are sovereign to themselves.”

I had been shocked to learn that he, the king of an entire realm, and the realm of the dead at that, was afraid of anyone at all, let alone beings whom I had always thought to be three old crones sharing a single feeble eye.

He had told me their names, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, and had described each of their faculties. Clotho, the spinner, spun the thread of life. Lachesis, the allotter, measured it, and Atropos, the merciless, cut it.

Hades recounted our conversation as he watched me sleep for a moment, wondering if he should let me rest, or if he should wake me. He knew that he could not stay here much longer, in any event. Besides it being odd and disrespectful to watch me sleep, he could not stand to be on earth when the sun was up. It did not harm him, but it was unbearably bright. Already its rays were turning the sky to a shade of pale rose, and his eyes began to burn. He decided he would have to wake me.

“Persephone,” he said softly, trying not to startle me. I did not respond. I was so tired that I had sunken to the lowest depths of sleep. He felt guilty to rouse me, but could not leave me alone outside and unconscious, on principle more than actual concern. “Persephone,” he said more loudly. I still did not wake. He looked down at the bunch of grapes lying beside him, then executed the first intentionally impolite act of his existence. He picked up a grape and tossed it at me, watching it ricochet off my cheek and bounce into the dust. I started awake, momentarily confused, but certain I had only been out for a moment.

“Wha- Did I fall asleep? The sky is lighter… did you throw something at me?”

Hades smiled guiltily and threw another grape at me, then popped one into his mouth. I smiled and cursed him mildly.

“You incorrigible imp. Rude peasant! Three-horned satyr!”

He laughed at me insults and I lowered my head to my hand, still overcome with weariness. “I wanted to wake you so you could go home to your own bed,” he said, “I cannot stay. The sun is already too strong for me. It burns my eyes and heats my skin.”

“But I want to hear more about the Moirae,” I said, knowing that there were other reasons I did not want him to leave. Hades’ expression became slightly deflated, though in my fatigue I did not see it.

“I can meet you here tomorrow night,” he said, “if you wish to know more. For now you must sleep, and I must go.”

“You would venture above again, just to explain the Moirae to a minor goddess?” I asked, surprised at his immediate offer.

“Yes,” he said, and left it at that.

“Thank you…” I said, still barely coherent. “I will look for you tomorrow night… thank you again for speaking with me… for telling me… things…” I yawned and involuntarily began to lie down again.

“Persephone,” he said, startling me from my descent again.

“Ugh,” I said, straining for consciousness. “Thank you. I apologize for my rudeness, but I think I should…”

“I think you should too,” he said, rising. “I will see you tomorrow night.”

As the first ray of sunlight broke over the meadow, he disappeared. I transported myself back home as quickly as I could, amazed that I could still find my own home, as muddled as my mind was. I crept into the door, though I knew that by now my mother would have already left for the day, and collapsed into my bed. My last thought before I slipped into unconsciousness, though it was forgotten in an instant, was infused with sweetness.

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