Milliways, End of the Universe; several minutes past three in the morning. A fingernail moon reflects off the gently rippling lake. One can almost hear the grasshopper holding his breath in the grass. Beyond, the universe explodes--but quietly.
On the window sill, the moonlight spills through satin curtains into a dark room. Melpomene lies on a small cabin bed, body cramped into a crescent. Perfectly still fists lie curled by her hips. Eyelids flutter, and lips are parted slightly.
In her dream, she is standing in front of a tall silver-backed mirror, in a long hall to which there appears to be no end. On her left stands her mother and on her right the river nymph Lethe.
She knows that they are not there to help her.
Alone in her reflection, she stares at the dark-rimmed eyes she knows to be her own. But they are hollow—as the eyes of one without believers. She feels herself drifting back to the beginning place, the gentle tug at her heart to go back to the shapeless shadows.
They swirl around her, caressing her face and whispering. Voices deceptively beautiful. She pulls away from them, and stumbles, in the dim light of one dusty bulb. She reaches out a hand, and one long-fingered hand comes down on her shoulder.
And then she is falling in the mirror—tumbling like
Lying in bed—or rather, thrashing in it—arms wrapped tightly around him as if to keep the pleasure from escaping.
She moans, and his name escapes her lips. Akheloios. A bead of sweat falls from the edge of her temple as he moves, rocking with the arch of her hips. He whispers sweet words of adoration to her and she is convinced, in the reaching of her climax, that they mean something.
He looks down at her, and smiles, in one golden moment. His grin is triumphant, gorgeous. What she first fell in love with, standing one dark night by the river. He reaches down and pushes a damp lock of hair from her eyes.
The next morning, he is gone again. He leaves behind the key to the front door and the
Standing in the grocery for the first time in a long time, staring blankly at the ranks of unfamiliar vegetables before her. Too many choices, and she has not eaten for pleasure in years. But now, for some reason she does not understand, she has decided to come and buy sweet foods—to stop relying on the eternal hunger that keeps her alive and eat.
“Is there something I can help you with, ma’am?”
She whirls, and snaps instinctively at a gangly boy wearing a tag that reads
After a moment of narrowed eyes and quiet bitterness, she feels rather than sees him walk away—and tries to ignore a sudden stab of unreasonable hurt.
Waking up in the middle of the night, shaking—such a familiar scene it blurs together with a thousand others. She stands, quickly, with the white cotton sheets wrapped around her waist, and goes to the window.
She looks out on the city in silence as the neon lights fade in and out on her glowing cheeks.
Turning to tell him something that strikes her as funny—he looks back at her, beaming. He kisses her laughing mouth, and she reaches around his neck to kiss him back for a moment. Then, abruptly—she shoves his chest back.
“The light’s green, Steve. Watch the road.”
But this comes too late—the cement truck is rolling, rolling. His head shattering through the windshield, shuddering still. Later, she stands quietly on the shoulder of the road as the inspector murmurs about her miraculous survival, and stares at the broken glass lying stark and brilliant against the asphalt.
She closes her eyes, but behind them she still sees his laughing face, and his eyes never open again. Then she opens them. Turns, and swears to forget mortal men—it is not worth the trouble.
Back from the mirror, she stumbles again into the dim room.
“Please,” she says, only partly knowing why.
Lethe shakes her head, putting a silent finger to her lips. Then the nymph is gone, and black winged horses gallop across a sanguine sky, setting the world on fire.