If I were Achilles, Patroclus would not have died. I would never have let my lover bleed out his holy blood there in the dust before Troy’s gates. I would have slaughtered them all first – Achaeans and Trojans alike, soldier and civilian together – and burned that unworthy city to the ground. I would have salted its ruins as they smoldered and by the time they cooled I would have taken him far from that cursed place. And if not, if I had been too late, as Achilles was… then not even death could have stopped my wrath from tearing the world apart.
Choosing which fork in the river to follow has never challenged me. I know who and what I am meant to be, what I am meant to do, where I am meant to go. I do not fear the bends and loops in the river’s path, nor even the rapids and little waterfalls. What challenges me are the artificial obstacles placed in the river: the boulders, the dams, the pollution and infrastructure poisoning the river’s clear waters and turning its natural course into a dangerous maze. How can I make choices based on what is best for me when the future is so uncertain? How can my heart run wild along its course if the way is so often barred? Not even our souls remain untouched wildland when society is so steeped in cruelty and greed.
In that first age the Angel wandered freely in the Garden, eating his fill of its delights. Each perfect summer day lasted a century and beneath the newborn sun every plant tasted of a different kind of ambrosia. The humans were young then, too, their squat bodies still reminiscent of the tree-climbing apes from which they were shaped. Sometimes the adults hailed him but the Angel pretended he could not understand their stilted, guttural language and passed them by without a glance. He tolerated the children from time to time, however, letting them trail laughing and chattering in his wake.
Back then they called the Angel Honeyeater because he loved eating honey: great thick combs of it, honey-soaked moss, even the rudimentary flatbread made by the brute little humans if it was dipped in sun-warmed honey and offered beside the fresh milk of their beasts. The Garden stretched for tens of thousands of miles in any direction, filled with all manner of delicious edibles, yet every creature alive knew the Angel favored honey above all else. He explored ceaselessly, learning where to find the sweetest honey, the most floral honey, the honey flavored with hints of mint, lavender, or thyme. He could eat pounds of it yet never be satisfied.
It was easy in the beginning, there in the Garden, and good. But soon things would change and they would no longer call the Angel Honeyeater for his food preferences but for the way lies dripped so sweetly from his lips like honey, and a darkness would fall over the Garden.
Lungs full of wildfire smoke, I toss and turn in a bed of microplastics and dream of stream-filled glades paved over decades before I was born. I see the land that raised me as it must have been five hundred years ago, untouched by manifest destiny’s bulldozers, a version of that beloved place so long dead we have lost even the memory of its ghosts. I wonder: How do we guide the living through the death of everything they have ever known? How do we prepare ourselves to lose all we have loved and fought for?
And then She is screaming with the voices of ten thousand extinct creatures, WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR YOU TO CHOOSE LIFE? Her howling reverberates through my bones as I watch apocalypse spread across the globe like wildfire, scouring land and sea to bare rock. NO MORE CHANCES, She rages, and the planet fissures open along seismic scars. NO MORE MERCY, She wails, and whole continents of crust break apart like a cracked egg to spill Earth’s molten core amongst the stars. NO MORE, Gaia seethes. No more greed. No more cruelty. No more Mother Nature balancing our impact with her adaptability. It ends here.
After, staring into the midnight dark, I think: Could I be a death doula to a dying planet?
Though it has been several years since his last visit, the clergy on duty recognize Tanim immediately; the black glass doors slide open to admit him before he even has to slow his steps along the thick red carpet. Inside the Basilica Tower’s entrance hall a priest quickly approaches, his voluminous robes more out of place among the skyscraper’s sleek interior than Tanim’s finely tailored suit. “It’s an honor to have you here once again, sir!” The priest dips his capped head, hands clasped together. “His Excellency is conducting a council session at the moment but if you follow me, we would be happy to provide you with refreshment while he concludes things and hastens back. His personal offices are right this–”
“That won’t be necessary,” Tanim smoothly interrupts as he glides past the priest, “I know the way.” His confidence, as much as his reputation, leaves the priest bowing respectfully in his wake when no other visitor would be allowed free rein in such a holy place. When he reaches the single private elevator at the end of the winding hallways, however, he doesn’t push any of the buttons; instead, he takes out a slim metal key and slides it into a keyhole all but invisible in the panel. The elevator begins its silent descent through the underground parking, basement, and then farther, through levels no one above even knows exist.
The elevator stops six floors below the sub-basement and opens onto a network of chambers cut out of the bedrock. So many versions of the Basilica have been built upon the ruins of this first sanctuary that no trace of its existence remains even in the oldest records. Despite the darkness Tanim moves through the complex with ease, passing through abandoned rooms full of shrouded antique furniture, strange artifacts, and priceless relics left to gather dust in boxes and piles. Somewhere ahead of him a piano plays a familiar nocturne; the sound wends softly through the still air, rising and falling as Tanim follows its lead.
The piano lies where his anger left it years ago, a shattered jumble of polished wood, ivory keys, and tangled wires. As he approaches the ruined instrument the song dies away and silence reigns once more. Tanim nudges a broken key with one polished shoe but even this produces nothing more than a faint scrape of stone on stone.
“I was beginning to wonder when you would return.” The rich voice sends a shiver down Tanim’s back as he turns to face the fallen angel. Daren’s pale form almost seems to glow in the darkness, framed by great black wings thick as shadows. Tanim longs to sink his fingers into those soft feathers yet restrains himself; instead, he gestures to the piano’s broken corpse with an apologetic smile. “I was ashamed of how I acted before we parted last time.”
“And you were waiting out my anger,” Daren replies, the merest hint of amusement pulling back his thin lips. “As well as yours. It is of no consequence. What is done is done. Now come,” the angel closes the distance between them, drawing Tanim’s mouth to his in a brief yet biting kiss, “make it up to me and after you may tell me what has transpired in the mortal realm while you have been above.”
“Mage, wait!” Alice’s footsteps rang on the marble floor as they hurried after Mage’s storming figure, finally catching up with her in the gardens of the palace’s north wing. The elf stood beside one of the moss-lined pools, her back to Alice, staring into its still depths as she sought to slow her breathing. Alice could tell by the tension in Mage’s narrow shoulders and clenched hands that it wasn’t working. They reached out to touch her arm, then thought better of it and let their hand fall. Instead they said quietly to her rigid back, “It’s upsetting, I know. I feel so guilty; I’m sure you do too.”
“Guilty?” Mage cast a disbelieving sneer over her shoulder. “Of course not. This has nothing to do with us.” Though their time on Liberty had healed many wounds, and Ali had come to recognize the subtle differences in their companion’s many smirks, smiles, and grins, not so much time had passed that they had forgotten what that expression meant. “You’re… angry?” They shook their head in confusion. “Why?”
“Of course I’m angry!” Mage whirled around, green eyes bright and hard, sneer transformed into a snarl. “We fought over that fucking scrap of rock for years – for decades – and where were they? Did the Lost stand beside you to face down my cannon fire? Did they stand beside me once they learned the full breadth of his betrayal? No!” She threw her arms wide. “They fucking left! They didn’t care what happened to the Island or to you, they just went about their petty little lives as if none of it had ever happened. He abandoned everyone, and then they abandoned you, and then in the end it was just you and me.” The snarl flickered out, curled into a sad, tired, bitter thing. “Until they need something from you. Until they need the white knight again. Then they come creeping back. That’s how it’s always been.” Mage speared Ali’s gaze with her own. “Did you not see that? How are you not angry too?”
“That’s…” Ali swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, then tried again. “That’s all in the past. We chose to dissolve the Island. This black hole is our doing, we have to make it right.”
“Tivius created the Island,” Mage spoke the name with a hiss as if it burned her tongue to utter it at all. “He set this in motion with his stolen magic and his web of lies. It’s not our responsibility and it never was. The story’s over; it’s finished. If they cared so much about having a say in the ending then they should have stuck around for it.”
“So we just give up?” Alice couldn’t believe what Mage was insinuating. “Let it slowly consume the universe?”
“They left you, Ali,” The hard anger in the elf’s emerald eyes shifted, turned pleading. “Why do you still want to fight for them? Why do you still feel beholden to them? What will it take for you to choose yourself for once?” Her right hand reached out, the tips of the hook’s long claws almost brushing Alice’s silks before shrinking back. “Or me?”
When Alice didn’t respond right away, too many emotions warring within them, Mage snorted humorlessly and turned away. “That’s what I thought,” she muttered. Before Ali could come up with the right words, or any at all, Mage had disappeared deeper into the gardens, off to wherever she went when she needed to be alone. They knew they wouldn’t find her until she wanted to be found.
Are you not tired of fighting? Are you not tired of shouldering that white-knight armor and striding into battle alone, sword held aloft, with no one to guard your back? With no one to carry your corpse from the field? There is only so much war in your veins, soldier. There are only so many victories you can wrest from the jaws of defeat. Do not answer that clarion call again; if you go you will never return. All that was won will be lost. Is that what you want, to throw your hard-earned peace away on one last mad gamble? You must know that even if you succeed, it will not be the last time they come begging for your aid. It never is. When you fight other’s wars you only teach them to start more.
Incorporeality will be the death of me. I have submerged myself in your world as much as I can – for twenty-one years, for seven thousand, six hundred, and seventy days, for tens of thousands of hours – but it is never enough. No matter how long I drown myself in your most potent memories, how deep I dive into your most painful emotions, somehow I always find myself back at the surface once more. No matter how vividly I can imagine you, it is not the same as truly standing in the room with you. To cup your face in my hands, to watch the grief and anger war in your eyes, to hear the tremble in your voice. Tens of thousands of hours and yet I have never touched you. Two thirds of my life and yet I cannot numb myself to the agony of empty arms and ringing silence. My imagination is powerful but even it cannot replace the way your hands grip hard enough to leave bruises and knowing I will never experience that sensation is unbearable. Yet here I am, twenty-one years later, bearing it because there is no alternative.
Time means little to Fyra, yet when the vault’s door groans open and she catches sight of the chamber inside for the first time in 136 years, nine months, three weeks, two days, and sixteen hours, she feels the weight of each of those 4,327,592,400 seconds. They weigh down her limbs as the Genesis Team descends past her on the shallow staircase, eager to finally procure the hidden treasure they’ve spent decades hunting. The humans don’t know what this place looked like in its glory; even its dusty ruins are impressive to them, full of the promise of new knowledge, but where they see what remains Fyra sees only what has already been taken.
As the team searches, Fyra’s thoughts wander back to the morning’s events. She had wanted to make things easy when the cybergang appeared, to avoid bloodshed and protect bystanders in the cafe. She’d hoped just giving them what they wanted would hasten their exit and ensure no harm came to anyone, had even interposed herself between the gang and their target as she handed over the money, and yet it had still ended with a human dead. Someone who just needed their daily caffeine fix before work, or who was craving a donut as much as her, had died because Fyra bet on human decency and lost. Again. After 4,327,592,400 seconds of waiting for humans to prove themselves worthy of her father’s legacy only to watch them squander it, she was done. They weren’t going to save themselves.
“I don’t see anything that matches the description from the texts,” One of the Genesis members returns to their commander with hands empty and head shaking. “No body, no central AI, nothing. Maybe it’s already been looted?” The commander sighs, gaze sweeping critically over the barren lab. “No, we’d know if someone else had the key already. Especially one of the cybergangs. It must be here somewhere. Keep looking.”
That’s her cue. Fyra finally descends the staircase, taking the little drive chip out of her pocket as she does. “The key already walks among you,” she says, her voice carrying in the vaulted space. The Genesis Team members all turn to cast curious or suspicious glances her way. The commander’s hand hovers over his gun. Fyra stops at the base of the stairs and tilts her head at their lack of comprehension. “Do you need proof?”
She reaches up and injects the small chip into the slot at the base of her right ear. Her current body modifications, chosen to help her blend into human society, begin to reset to her father’s original design. Fyra’s black hair loses the bangs and twin bun style she has worn for the last decade, instead growing rapidly until the long, straight strands reach past her fingertips. Her black leather pants and fishnet top fall away as metallic scales in a pattern of red and black glide from her neck down her arms and torso, forming a long, slender dress that glimmers like the hide of some exotic beast. The nails she kept short for ease in fights have lengthened as well, each polished and tapering to an elegant point. Most noticeable of all, her once plain gray irises resume the bright blue glow which has become synonymous with android tech – though hers were the first.
As the humans stare in various states of surprise and awe, none quite yet managing to form audible words, Fyra wanders into the place where she spent the earliest and happiest days of her existence. “I remember this place so clearly,” she murmurs as she walks, more to herself than the Genesis team. “So much has been taken…” Her fingers trail over the empty shelves and countertops until she comes across a little figurine, one of the silly mechanical toys her father made her when she was newly created. She sighs as she turns it over in her hand, taking comfort in the rise and fall of her artificial chest even in a body that doesn’t require oxygen. “You humans are so predictable. You take what you think you can use to gain power over others and leave behind whatever seems frivolous.”
The Genesis Team waits at the bottom of the stairs when she returns. Fyra gestures to the chamber all around them, to the tables and bookshelves overturned by scavengers and left to gather dust where they fell, to everything stolen from the workshop of a good man and used to make the world an even crueler place. “We–” she stumbles over the correct narrative, memories overlapping and conflicting, “I– my father never wanted his work to be used in this way. He wanted to help the world, to make things better for humanity, not contribute to its downfall. But he knew it was inevitable. He knew you would ultimately use cybernetics and AI to worsen the inequity in the world no matter what failsafes he created within the tech itself. That is why he built me, and why he instructed me upon his death to live as a human until the time came when my intercession was required. He wanted to ensure I understood the human condition so that I would not make the same mistakes humanity did with his technology.”
She smiles sadly at the little toy cradled in her lifelike hand. It is perhaps two or three days younger than her, and thus still older by many lifetimes than the humans who inherited the world so beloved by the man who created them both. “My father was a good man. He created me to be the bridge between those two worlds – human and machine, mortal mind and artificial intelligence. Someone who can blend them both into a harmonious whole. Someone who can recognize the choices which must be made to get there and who can bear the making of them.” Her manicured fingers close gently around the toy as she raises her gaze back up to the Genesis Team, a ragtag band of humans who fight against the brutality of the cybergangs, who uncovered what remains of her father’s writings and sought out his final creation, never knowing she already walked among them. “It is time to set this world to rights. Will you stand with me?”
One by one the members of the Genesis Team demonstrate their allegiance to Fyra’s mission with a hand to the chest, a slow nod, a touched forehead. And so her true work begins.
Had he lived somewhere, somehow, my Dad would have be 74 on September 9. He was a law enforcer, partner, Dad, dedicated to all his jobs, because he loves life: man, animals, plants. Had I stood here, then, by the city morgue, somewhere, somehow, it would have been bitter sweet. Instead he was declared Missing…IN LIVING MEMORIES
In the wake of wind and waves, only grief remains. Old debts and grudges washed away with the bodies and now a community baptized by storm surge must unite in the aftermath or fall apart. Those who cling to dreams of revenge bloody their fists on cinder blocks while the rest of the survivors re-knit the bonds of kinship with ropes of braided tears. In basements and parking garages the film of mud remembers the wails of those trapped by rising floodwaters, but slowly brooms and mops reclaim what the hurricane would make a cemetery.
The grand Egyptian city Per-Bast once overlooked a branch of the river Nile, and for thousands of years it served as the center of worship for the feline goddess Bast. Here in the ‘House of Bast’ her children were recognized for the spark of divinity they carried and treated with the respect such holiness deserves. Perhaps nowhere else in the world and at no other time in history have cats enjoyed such high status, such protection and reverence. Yet though Per-Bast the city is but ruins now, its grave goods scattered to museums across the world, the true Per-Bast lives on. Per-Bast is any place where a feline seeking refuge may be offered safety, nourishment, and unconditional compassion. Any dwelling in which a cat finds joy and love is a House of Bast. Any arms which cradle the motherless kitten, any voice which calls for the lost or sings to the frightened, are a House of Bast. Any human heart which loves cats, fights for cats, grieves for cats, and upholds the inherent worth of cats is the true seat of Per-Bast. In this way the city can never fall for we carry it within us all.
The red grains of sand remember a time when they were still cliffs being worn slowly away by the winding river, and because the rivers are hers so the sands are hers. The monoliths remember a time when the waves of a vast inland sea gently deposited the rich sediments from which they were born, and because the seas are hers so the monoliths are hers. There are no wolves here but there are bony coyotes with their lolling tongues and clever grins, and so the coyotes are hers. There are no crows here but there are turkey vultures hunched in their fine black drapery and drifting high on invisible thermals, and so the turkey vultures are hers. This land is not the ancestral home of her people but her children are here and so she is as well: in the golden moon hanging low over dry creek beds, in the coiled curves of the waiting serpent, in the beautiful cacti with their long, deadly spines. And she is in the first rains of autumn which bring vital nourishment and a reprieve, however brief, from the daily struggle to survive.
“In the hand of the goddess”
Divine and mortal
Fingers entwined, dark through light
Mother and daughter
In my dream I stand at the edge of a tall cliff overlooking a vast desert, the waves of golden dunes fading on the horizon into darkness as if this desert marks the edge of existence. Two falcons take wing into the cloudless blue sky before me, followed by two more, then a dozen, a hundred, the beating of their wings filling the sky. One passes by wearing the double crown of Egypt – Horus, Lord of the Sky. Behind the flock of falcons follows a massive shallow-bottomed vessel shining with gold and jewels. This must be the Mandjet, the “Boat of Millions of Years” Ra uses to travel across the sky during the day. On the solar barque’s long deck I see an array of kemetic gods, including Hathor, Ra himself, and Set, all hundreds of feet tall and limned in sacred light. I search for my mother among them but don’t see her.
“We are living gods,” an accented voice I am beginning to know well explains over my shoulder. “We die fighting.” I turn to see Bast standing behind me, a proud smile tilting up her full lips and dancing in her dark eyes. As she continues to speak I look back to where the grand procession moves from east to west across the cerulean sky, banners waving in the breeze of its passing, a more glorious sight than any I have seen in dreaming or waking. When it reaches the far horizon and Ra proceeds into the underworld for the night, the gods will battle against chaos to ensure the sun rises on another day. Every night they fight so we might see the morning and have done so since the world was first created. My mother is right; these are the actions of living, breathing gods, not myths from an ancient and defunct religion.
This is no fairy tale, child. He is no charming prince cursed into monstrous form; the man is twisted all the way through and no true love’s kiss will ever change that. If he saved you from monsters worse than he, it is only because he knew it is what the one he loves would have done and would want him to do. Duty to the dead, not pity for the living, moved his hand. You yourself did not particularly factor into the decision and he certainly spared no thought for what might befall you after his timely intervention. One more young soul for the streets to swallow up, just like his. So it goes.
What do you think will happen when you follow him back to the home you imagine as a castle but is in truth merely a tomb? Do you think that if you scrub the dried bloodstains from the once white carpets, if you dust and mop and prove yourself useful, he will let you stay? That he will become like a father to you and raise you up from pauper to princess? There is no love left in him, not now. No kindness. At best you can hope to huddle in his periphery, protected from lesser predators by his presence yet too inconsequential to draw either his effort or his ire. But make no mistake, child, there is no happily ever after for you here. Not for anyone.
what use have I for gender?
ocean waves still kiss my feet
the breeze still tastes of sunlight
Me: Okay, five gods is definitely the most I should be worshiping at one time. Any more would just be too much.
Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another installment of “guess who has a new god in their life?” and of course it’s meeeeeee. And, perhaps equally unsurprising, she is another lioness goddess and Eye of Ra – his firstborn daughter Tefnut, goddess of moisture and twin sister to Shu, god of air. Instead of coming to me in a dream like most of my gods have done, Tefnut followed Wepwawet’s method of planting herself directly in my brain. Like, I don’t know how else to describe it; a couple of weeks ago I just started saying “Dua Tefnut” whenever it was cloudy or rainy, or praying to her during the heat waves when we needed any moisture to help relieve the dryness. While that’s not too odd in and of itself – I often say blessings of safety to rabbits in Wenut’s name, for example – the suddenness of it seemed significant.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, though. A couple times in the last months I’ve found myself walking in a sudden rain and instead of being flinchy like usual, I was actually quite happy. Then I had a dream in which I desperately wanted to be in the water. I was on vacation or something and I just had this overwhelming need to be in the pool or in the ocean or whatever body of water was nearest. It felt so calming, so comforting, to have the cool pressure of the water all around me. I couldn’t totally shake that feeling when I woke up and since then I’ve yearned to swim somewhere, anywhere, to feel weightless and free yet also cradled and safe. It almost feels like my brain is on fire and I need to dive underwater to cool it down. At the same time I found myself obsessed with the stone larimar. It’s a light blue form of pectolite from the Dominican Republic that, especially when polished, looks like brilliant Caribbean waters captured mid-ripple. I don’t wear blue much, or anything with which I might match a light blue stone, but overnight I suddenly had to have a piece of larimar jewelry. Even just looking at pictures of larimar seems to cool that inner fire.
I suspected Tefnut might be behind these experiences and so I commenced my usual pattern when it feels like a new god has shown up in my life: research, reaching out to folks who actively worship them, looking at art and other things about them to see if I get the “vibes”, that sort of thing. It all seemed to align so I took a leap of faith and bought a statue for her, even though I hadn’t reached out to her formally to confirm the connection. I saw the statue at our local metaphysical store and just knew I had to have it for her. When I got the chance to add it to my Netjeru altar and give Tefnut her own space there, she fit so well and it felt so right that I knew I’d read the signs correctly. A follow-up oracle card reading just confirmed that.
So here we go! Another Netjer has come into my life and seems to have big plans for me (no pressure, haha…. ha). I’m really excited to work with Tefnut, especially given that I live in the Pacific Northwest where we are blessed with abundant water sources and therefore water plays such an important role in our ecosystems. I’ll be interested to see if tsunamis fall under her purview as well. Right now I think she wants me to take up swimming, which may be difficult as there aren’t many options in my town. I’m going to try, though. I need to do something to get me in the water, I seriously feel like I’m going crazy being unable to just swim freely. Maybe I’m turning into a mermaid?
Hail Cascadia, full of rage,
your sisters in slumber are with thee.
Dreadful art thou amongst disasters,
and dreadful is the fruit of thy wrath, tsunami.
Holy Cascadia, Mother of Mountains,
have mercy on us mortal creatures
now and at the hour of your waking.
Dua Tefnut, Great Mother of the Earth and Sky
Dua Tefnut, Venerable Eye of Ra, Brightly Burning
Dua Tefnut, Lady of Sweet Waters, She Who Brings the Rains
Great mother of the gods, I sing your praises!
You bless us with all the waters of the world:
the cool morning dew, the damp evening fog
the sweet spring rains, the cooling summer storms!
From you flow all rivers and springs;
with every precious drop of water
you bring life to the driest deserts!
First daughter of Ra, I sing your praises!
Dua Tefnut, Great Mother of the Earth and Sky
Dua Tefnut, Venerable Eye of Ra, Brightly Burning
Dua Tefnut, Lady of Sweet Waters, She Who Brings the Rains
you are an apple, a garden
a single seed
knowledge bought dearly
by sacrificial deed
A list of 9 things you think about at 18 and 1 you don’t
- if you really want to be an English major
- why you signed up for an 8 AM class
- if you can write a paper in one night
- how to tell if a beta fish is happy
- what you’re going to be for Halloween
- if Pop Tarts count as a balanced breakfast
- how to tell if a beta fish loves you
- whether your writing is actually any good
- if you should finally get your ears pierced
- what songs you want played at your father’s funeral
My astral self wanders as I sleep. I find myself floating above a gathering of five women who sit cross-legged on the floor, their placing like the five points on a pentacle. A pendulum hovers beneath my outstretched left hand, bobbing as if on a string; I have to concentrate to keep it from falling but the focus drains my energy. I look back down to the group beneath me and know instinctively, in the way of dreams, that they are a coven of death witches. Like me.
“How are we, death witches?” I ask, the unspoken half of my question understood by all: how are we, given the shit going on in the world right now?
“How are you?” One of the witches asks in what sounds like a thick Caribbean accent as she looks up to my suspended spirit. I release a weary sigh and sink to a sitting position beside her. My left hand comes to rest on a large chunk of quartz. “Struggling with faith,” I admit. This witch and the one to her left are both African. Their dark skin is covered in swirling gray patterns of painted clay and their long locs clatter and glint with beads, charms, and precious stones. They’re both beautiful, commanding and regal; I wonder if they’re sisters, perhaps even twins.
“I can see that,” the first replies with a kind smile. “But your guides have not left you. They are quiet right now because they are off gathering sweet intel.” She winks conspiratorially. “If you were listening to juicy gossip you would not want someone blabbering in your other ear, distracting you, would you?”
“That makes sense, knowing them…” I murmur, thinking of Tanim and Daren yet also the ancestor spirits who have seemed more distant lately. The African witch begins to speak again but then another witch, the one sitting next to her sister and thus directly across from me, abruptly lurches over the circle toward me. One bony hand darts out from the wool cloak which shrouds her form, gripping my face tightly. I glimpse her hooded face briefly as she looms over me; she’s very old, a crone whose dark eyes stare into mine from a thin, severe face.
And then all I can feel is the witch’s presence in my mind as she divines my soul, rifling through my past, present, and future as if they’re laid out on a table before her. My memories flutter like a deck of cards under her astral fingers, a familiar sensation made strangely invasive. As she examines me, I catch glimpses into her mind of the reading she will give me, potential words or ‘cards’ whispering at the edges of my hearing: The Fool; The Garden; The Wanderer; The Rose; The Temple. I repeat them in my mind so as not to forget but they go by too quickly – before I can be sure of the list or the crone can deliver her reading, I wake up.
To you who are lost, I say this: follow the morning star, bright burning Venus. It will lead you to the throne of holy Inanna, Queen of Heaven, intersex goddess of women and queers. Inanna ruled over ancient Sumer more than six thousand years ago and she remains today a powerful ally for all those crushed under the bootheel of oppression. Her grand temples were once staffed by transgender clergy and during her festivals people crossdressed and danced in the streets. A goddess of decadence and bloodshed, sensuality and sovereignty, generosity and volatility, Inanna understands intimately what it means to contain multitudes. The Queen of Heaven surrendered everything to face her own death in the underworld and return transformed; she can guide you through the darkness of your own metamorphosis and into the light of rebirth. Call on Inanna and let her inspire you with her ferocious will. Let her empower you with her confidence. Let her place a sword in your hand and teach you to fight for your freedom, for your future, for the person you are destined to become. Call on exalted Inanna, lost one, and trust her to lead you to victory.
I thought you should know – I found her. The girl you introduced me to all those years ago when I was still so young and confused and full of unfamiliar longing. I had loved her from the first time I read your words, after all, and it broke my heart to imagine her alone somewhere out in the wide, dangerous world, her genius smothered by society’s cruelty. I wasn’t quite so foolish as to imagine myself her rescuer, her charming prince come to wake her with a single kiss, but I knew I could help. I could hold her hand and read her words and remind her she wasn’t alone. Yet when I clawed my hands into the cold clay of that unmarked crossroads grave I discovered no body beneath and so I went looking for her. Took me almost a decade and countless bottled letters thrown into countless seas but I did it. I found her. Shakespeare’s Sister.
She wasn’t dead, not yet, but slowly drowning in a world hostile to every aspect of her being. After all, you need more to ensure your survival than a room of your own to write in when those in power are trying to legislate you out of existence, and all the education in the world can’t protect you from the bigotry enshrined in every facet of society. The country which purported to be her home hated her for being ‘too much’. Her body that I would find so beautiful was too curvy, too muscular, too brown and yet not brown enough. Her mind that would engage and challenge mine was too clever, too literal, too depressed and prone to dwelling on… unladylike topics. Her heart that would capture mine instantly was too queer, too empathetic, too honorable and honest for a society built on cold hard capitalism. She asked too many questions; she dreamed strange dreams. She refused to conform to any expectation or stereotype and you know, Miss Virginia, how much they hate when we won’t conform.
She was fighting to stay afloat, though, despite all the people determined to drag her down, and in her struggles she grabbed onto one of my bobbing bottled notes. That’s how we met, trading words over a digital ocean until we worked up the courage to meet in person. Then it was the U-Haul, wedding rings, a home of our own where such maligned creatures as feral cats, traumatized dogs, and unapologetic queers could find sanctuary. We did our best to heal each other’s wounds with the kind of loving acceptance that can only grow out of adversity, sweeter than the sugary tea we shared on our first date. On the weekends we tended each other’s gardens, weeding out the invasive species of toxic thoughts which grow there, and at night we uncorked old secrets in waterlogged bottles to set them free.
In this home we now work together to build a world which embraces all witches, wise women, and half-mad poetesses, where such things as gender and skin color do not endanger your quality of life – or the length of it. Where creativity flourishes free from judgment and we create for the sake of sharing our passions and dreams with others, not out of desperation to put food on the table or to prove our worth to those who will always believe us worthless. I could not fight for such a future on my own; the cruelties of the world weigh heavily on me, sometimes to the point I can hardly draw breath. I can fight as hard as I do only because Shakespeare’s Sister stands at my side, fierce and unflinching in the face of humanity’s evils. Her strength inspires me, her kindness humbles me, her generosity lifts my burdened heart so I can breathe again.
The world asks, “What is the good of your writing?” and I say it is this. Where before two strangers suffered in silence, alone, as convinced of their aberration as your young Judith Shakespeare once must have been of hers, now they stand united. Words brought them together. Words kindled their love. Words lift them up, day by day, when the world would drown them otherwise. “Someone will remember us,” Sappho wrote over 5,500 years ago, “even in another time.” And we remember. “If we live another century or so,” you wrote over ninety years ago, “then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s Sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.” And I have found her. And these words we write today? These lives we live so stubbornly, bravely, beautifully, against all odds? In another hundred years they will be remembered by those who follow us. In another thousand. That is their power. That is our power.
So thank you, Virginia. And thank you to all those who came before. May we build a world worthy of your memories for those who will come after.
You have never been one to covet power. You value control above all else – the ability to preserve your autonomy, to ensure no one can take choice or action away from you – but you have never cared much for exerting power over others. That feels like such a chore, such a waste of your time and effort. No person has ever caught your interest enough to earn such attention from you. You much prefer the simplicity of being alone.
Until now. Until Tanim.
You are self aware enough to know this will end in tragedy. This is a power you want and this is a power you will abuse. In Tanim’s quest to give you everything you could ever want he has given you far too much, pushed you too close to an edge you’ve avoided this long. Yet now that you’re standing at it, all you want to do is jump over and fall into whatever chaos awaits. You know you shouldn’t. You try to control yourself. But giving into the temptation feels so good and every time you do you just want more.
Maybe this will end in tragedy, but you’re going to have so much fun until then.
Daren’s presence in your life hasn’t made you give up your vices. You are no dilettante when it comes to the finer things in life but after years of living alone your standards have dropped. Amytal washed down with absinthe and a couple Black Devils for a chaser? That’s not a party, just your regular nightcap. At some point you stopped caring what you put into your body (or who) and how often. You didn’t have a future so why worry about whether you’d wake up in the morning or not? Things are different now, though, and you can’t bear to have the man you love think you have no taste.
So Daren’s presence in your life hasn’t made you give up your vices – it’s made you refine them. He makes you want to be a better man, after all, and that means raising your standards back up to where they belong. No more nightclub hookups and hardcore barbiturates, no more granite countertops scattered with used needles and burned out cigarettes, no more treating your expensive liquor like corner store beer swigged straight from the bottle. You’re a man of class with a fully stocked wet bar, a closet full of Armani, and too much money for your own good. Time to start acting like it.
Of course, being a better man also means sharing your luxury. All his life, Daren has lacked the wealth you’ve always taken for granted. How could sophistication thrive in such scarcity when the only goal was survival by any means? He is beyond survival now, though, and you take endless joy in introducing him to the finest indulgences money can buy. You worship him between silk sheets and drape him in Gucci and Louis Vitton; in the morning it’s imported coffee and cigarettes, in the evening cocktails mixed with the finest ingredients and served in crystal barware.
Not that he cares, of course. Your wealth is meaningless to Daren and your fancy gifts earn you exactly zero admiration or infatuation. That’s fine, though, because your pleasure is found in the giving itself; you take just as much satisfaction in watching your lover destroy your fine gifts as you do watching him indulge in them. Every time he stubs a cigarette out on your antique velvet furniture or uses your silk tie to clean blood from his knife, you fall a little more in love. You probably shouldn’t – you’re probably encouraging his habit of throwing crystalware at you – but you’ve never been very good at moderating your vices, have you?
Recipe for a Summer Solstice
2 oz Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Straight Rye Whiskey
1 oz Averna amaro
100 mg hydrogen cyanide
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 brandied cherry
- Add rye whiskey, amaro, bitters, and hydrogen cyanide into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled crystal coupe glass.
- Garnish with a brandied cherry.
- Serve to the man you love as an evening cocktail.
- In the sixty seconds or so you have before the poison hits his respiratory system, take the empty glass from his hand and set it carefully aside. Lift his hand to your lips and kiss his knuckles. Run your thumb along his sharp jawline. For once, resist the urge to kiss him on those thin, sardonic lips.
- Tell him you forgive him. You forgive him for wanting to leave, for not trusting you, for not understanding. You forgive him for having less faith than you. Tell him it’s okay. Tell him none of that matters now. Do not kiss him.
- Don’t worry when his eyes dart to the empty glass and you watch understanding dawn in their dark depths. It’s too late anyway. By now his hands have begun to tremble as he fights to draw a full breath; he could hardly pull a knife on you, let alone with his usual skill.
- Catch him as the first seizure hits and lay him gently on the white carpet. You are not cruel. You chose cyanide for its efficiency, not just because you were loath to ruin good alcohol with a wretched tasting poison. Though cyanide doesn’t offer an easy death, it does offer a swift one.
- When it is done, arrange his crumpled form into a more natural position. He could almost be sleeping, though not even in sleep have you ever seen him so relaxed, so vulnerable. So empty. Kiss his forehead (or if you are very careful, his slack mouth).
- Pour yourself a glass of bourbon and relax. Everything is perfect now. You are together and nothing can change that. Nothing can take him from you now. Everything is finally perfect.
It’s late and you’ve had too much to drink. Daren is a silhouette in the darkness where he stands in front of the tall living room windows, his lean form limned in starlight. The alcohol should ease the tension between you, loosen your tongue at least, yet the minutes stretch on and your muddled mind produces nothing of value. Instead it’s Daren who uncharacteristically breaks the silence first.
“What are we doing?” He turns from the window to face you but you can’t read his expression in the darkness, nor does his low voice betray the meaning behind the question. You fall back on humor to diffuse the tension, your old stand-by, instead of risking a guess. “Right now?” you reply from the couch. “I was just having a nightcap. Well, three. Or four.”
“You know what I mean,” His unseen gaze weighs on you in the darkness, demanding honesty. You two have danced around this topic for months now, never quite touching on it, for your part out of fear of chasing him away. Yet here he is now, in your home, and you can avoid it no longer. “We’re just…” You want to be honest, to be brave, but what if he doesn’t feel the same? You can’t be the one to say it first. “Well, what do you think we’re doing?”
“I don’t know,” There is a hesitation in Daren’s voice you’ve never heard before, an uncertainty that draws out the silence before he continues, “But I’m not myself when I’m with you.” Your heart lurches, starts beating wildly in your chest, your temples, so loudly you’re sure he can hear it from across the room. You have to wet your lips before you manage to respond, and even then your words are strained, breathless. “Then who are you?”
“Someone else,” His figure shifts in the dark. That feeling of weight lifts; he’s no longer looking at you. Maybe he can’t. Your heartbeat is such a cacophony, and Daren’s confession so soft, that you almost miss it completely when he adds, “Someone I could have been, perhaps. In another life.”
“Would it be so bad to be that man with me?” The words tumble out before you can stop them, all pretense abandoned. You have never been good at masking your longing anyway. Daren must know it, too, or at least recognize that desperate hunger in your voice, because he takes a few steps forward and parries your question with one of his own: “What is it you want from me?”
You imagine the slide of silk sheets across hot, sweat-slicked bodies grappling in the dark. Fingers that grip hard enough to leave bruises. A euphoria you can never quite reproduce no matter what combination of drugs and alcohol you try. The possibility that after, when dawn’s just beginning to lighten the sky, the person laying beside you might not leave. But you don’t say any of this. Daren doesn’t want you like that, he couldn’t possibly, and to speak of it might shatter this strange, fragile connection you’ve formed. You can’t risk it. So you smile, though it’s not your best, and reply honestly, “I don’t want anything from you. At least not anything you don’t want to offer freely.”
“And what is it,” Daren takes another step forward, “you hope I’ll offer you freely?” He’s close enough now that you can make out his expression; focused, piercing, as sharp and merciless as that blade he wields with such skill. Only instead of going for the throat, as he favors in paid fights, he seems determined to cut straight to your heart tonight. As usual, his aim is impeccable. “I don’t let myself hope,” you tell the man for whom you have fallen so hard so fast. “I’m not that much of a masochist.”
His hands have wielded deadly blades. His hands have cut throats. His hands are dangerous, quick, cruel, and yet his hands are so gentle when he closes the distance between you, kneels over you on the couch, and draws your mouth up to his. Gentle hands and a brutal kiss that sings through your veins, unlocking every last door you’ve managed to stuff your desire behind. By the time Daren breaks the kiss you’re breathless and desperate for more. “How tragic,” he murmurs as he pulls away, his hands sliding back to tangle in your hair. You could swear there’s a ghost of a smile on his mouth. “Everyone should have a little hope.”
on the eve of fifteen years I lay in bed fearing my father is passing out of memory and into legend as the childhood friends who grew up with him fade from my life, the last pets who lived with him all gone themselves these past five years, old family friends scattered across the country, now almost everyone in my life knows him only in the stories I share, in pictures on Facebook every birthday and death anniversary, and as I lay here picking open old wounds both real and metaphorical I know deep in my gut he’s become part of the immutable past, a thing from my childhood like stuffed toys and crayons or the sweets I can no longer eat yet reminisce over fondly, tonight I lay crying in a bedroom in a house he never stepped foot in and realize my father is immortalized more now in the traditions I use to honor his memory than the shared experiences of the things themselves and most days that’s sufficient, it really is, my wife talks about him like she knows him and most days it feels like she does but then this day, this awful day, rolls around and I remember she never knew him, none of them did, because he wasn’t at my college graduation or my wedding because he is dead, he is dead, he is dead and the way he lives on is that of all myths: through written word and oral tradition, those transient, untrustworthy things, and not even the greatest storytellers in history could truly capture what it felt like to be hugged by him, no, memory and mythology can’t replace a person’s physical presence one bit