When the first small green leaf unfolds quivering on the branch of a barren tree, a tall man with dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin stands in the mouth of a cave. Seeing the little leaf, he gives a shiver, and wraps his black cloak tighter around his shoulders.
Deep inside the cave, a girl with auburn hair and amber skin is packing a suitcase. She is humming softly under her breath, but not smiling. When a thin breeze whooshes down through the tunnels and touches her bare shoulders, she stops humming at once. But she does not stop folding light and airy dresses, every one sleeveless and soft as cloud, into her suitcase.
Everything dark, everything heavy, everything warm, she leaves behind.
The cave’s mouth yawns out onto an expanse of meadow grass that has been yellow and withered for months. When the mother steps out from the black lines of the forest trees, the grass springs up thick and plush and verdant wherever she sets her bare feet.
The man in the mouth of the cave stands tall and stares her down. He wears a crown of antlers and thorns, and the mother wears a crown of twigs and berries ripened to red perfection–the same shade of red as her daughter’s hair. The mother’s eyes are dappled green, the color of the poison river that flows through the Underworld, though she would no doubt compare them to the green of oak leaves in the summer. She clearly wishes that she could use those eyes to kill.
Then there is a breath of floral scent behind him, the whisper of a touch. He stands straighter in the presence of the girl, wondering if she will embrace him before she goes, but it is only the hem of her skirt kissing the hem of his cloak. It is more than he hoped for in this moment, but it still hurts, because hope has only just begun to bloom in him, and the sight of her running away from him feels like frost on a flower, creeping slowly toward the heart and killing as it goes.
The girl’s mother holds out sturdy brown arms, and the girl breathlessly runs into them, lodges there, and clings. The man turns his face away, not wishing to see how happy the girl is to leave him. But his ears are filled the sound of skirts rustling merrily as they turn to go.
At the edge of the forest she turns, as if she only just remembered she is a married woman now.
She did only just remember that she’s a married woman now. And it doesn’t seem right to leave your husband for half a year without saying a word to him.
“See you in the fall,” she calls to him across the distance. The bowing of his crowned head is the only indication that he has heard her.
The mother and the girl step out into the sunshine, and the king of the Underworld melts back into the shadows where he belongs. He will wait there until the air turns cold again.
As always, he is surrounded by spirits and shades, but having known her presence beside him, he feels more alone than ever.
I am so, so sorry for the trouble I’ve caused. It was foolish of me to go out alone. I walked until I couldn’t see our cozy little house anymore. I walked to the place where the trees cast deep shadows on the ground. The place you had always warned me about. And when I saw him standing there, as dark and ancient as one of the trees themselves, I should have run, but I didn’t. He looked so sad, and I wanted to know what was wrong. The grass died under his feet when he stepped toward me. He held out a hand to me and I took it… and when his fingers closed cold around mine, maybe I ought to have pulled away, but he smiled at me. It didn’t look like he had smiled in a long time, and the thought of being responsible for that smile made me feel so powerful, I didn’t suppose there was any harm in going with him … so I went.
When we stepped together into the dark mouth of that cave, I wasn’t scared at all. He held my hand all the way down into the earth, and showed me around his kingdom. Dark corners, grim gardens, poison rivers, streets without skies, peopled only by spirits. In its own dark way, I admit I found it beautiful.
The bed was beautiful too: made from the woven roots of mighty trees that had stood tall and proud in the forest above for centuries. He laid down first, Mother, as if he was very tired, as if he was showing me what to do, and I wish I could tell you that he tricked me into lying down beside him, but he didn’t. I’m sorry for the hurt and disappointment I know this knowledge must cause you. But I wanted to lie down with him, so I did.
When I woke up later, he was gone. It was dark, and I was hungry. There was a pomegranate on the bedside table, and with my own two hands I tore it in half, and with my own fingers I scooped out the seeds, placed them into my mouth one by one.
Hades flew into the chamber in the blackest of moods. When he saw what I was doing, he panicked and knocked the fruit from my hands; it flew across the room, splattering off a stony wall, and he grabbed my face in his hands and glared into my eyes and asked me “how many seeds did you eat, Persephone, how many seeds?”
“S-six,” I told him, tears leaping into my eyes. I didn’t understand; how could the man who had touched me so tenderly an hour ago be so angry now?
As it turns out, it wasn’t me he was angry at. Mother, he says that when we were finished, and he saw me sleeping there, roses blooming in my lips and cheeks, he was drunk with what had happened between us, and he knew he couldn’t let me go. So he took the pomegranate and placed it on the table and went away, hoping I’d wake up hungry, hoping I would fill my belly with the seeds of my imprisonment. But then, he told me, with shivers in his voice, he realized what he had done was wrong, so he ran back to my side, just in time to stop me from dooming myself for a full year instead of only half of one.
So you see, it isn’t just his fault. It’s mine too.
I am sorry. I would promise not to wander far again, but the damage is done, and I have to live with that. I have to live with him.
But only for half the year.
You would think that one season would be very like another, here under the ground. You would be wrong.
In the springtime, the walls begin to weep. In summer, the air grows thick and stale. If you had to breathe, you’d have trouble down here. I suppose it’s a good thing, then, that this is a kingdom of ghosts and a god. Ghosts and a god and an absent queen.
It wouldn’t be fair of me to say that I wish you were here. I do not wish you a year round of darkness and bleakness and cold earth. You belong in the sun; I always knew that. And yet … you have the most endearing quality of absorbing darkness, of negating shadows.
So it isn’t that I wish you were here. But the empty place beside me seems to grow, the longer that you are away. It seems to emanate coldness, taking on a deathlike presence of its own.
I know that when you return, you will take your place again, settle into it. You will swallow up the shadow that hounds me night and day, dispersing it with your light. Once again I will feel something like warmth, because you carry the sunlight home in your skin, and you allow me to touch you. You will do all this without ever knowing how much I craved it, because of course I am not sending you this letter. Your mother wouldn’t like it. You probably wouldn’t either. And it wouldn’t do to let you know that my very bones ache for you. I am the King of the Underworld. The shades of every man who ever lived tremble and pale before me. What would they say if they knew that the daughter of spring brought me to my knees?
And what would you say if you knew the true depth of my selfishness? That, having realized how wrong it was of me to carry you down beneath the earth, to tempt you with that cursed fruit … having come to the knowledge that you deserve days drenched in sunshine, if given that day to live over, I would do it again? That I would choose to damn you over and over, as long as I was damning you into my arms?
So, I do not wish that you were here, and I do not wish that I was there, and I do not wish that I had spared you my love. But as I said, my bones ache.
I hope you don’t think it’s strange, me writing to you like this. The truth is, I just don’t know where else to turn but to the goddess of love. You were of great help in the matter of settling the fight between my husband and my mother, and I would ask your help again. I don’t know how to love my new husband, and before I go back to the Underworld, I would like to know. I know your marriage to Hephaestus was arranged, but the two of you have been together now for years beyond counting, and neither of you has killed the other yet. If you have any advice on the matter of loving someone and hating them at the same time … well, I sorely need to hear it.
Women. You have ever been the more skilled with them. No, I will not use the word skill… that is giving you far too much credit. Getting a woman into bed never took skill on your part. If your golden good looks and rippling muscles weren’t enough inducement, there was also your crown to consider. And then the fact of your arrogant persistence, your utter and complete assurance that they would all eventually spread their legs and fall beneath you, and, like cities, like the world, they all did.
Sulking in your shadow as a child left me little room to grow, but I learned. Oh, yes, I learned from you. What not to do, mostly. And yet, for all those lessons, I have never quite managed to learn to walk a fine line.
We are not all like you, content to fight and rage with our wives while seeking pleasure elsewhere, and elsewhere, and elsewhere. For all your roared complaints, I believe you actually love your life, that you take joy even in your loveless marriage.
I cannot do the same.
Not that my marriage is loveless. I love her. Sometimes I believe that she might come to love me. But it is not enough, I fear. Not enough for all the long nights. Not enough for the long days, empty hours stretching out ahead of her. Eternity stretching out ahead of her, and all she will find at the end is me.
If I were more like you, brother, maybe I could content myself with half of her heart. But darkness is not so easily contented. Darkness is always looking for something to swallow whole.
This might be the first time in centuries that I have envied you your sunlight and lofty clouds.
Your Dutiful Brother,
I really think I might hate you.
Spring used to be my favorite time, but now you’ve ruined it for me. I can’t feel the sun on my skin without thinking of your lips. I can’t wander in the meadow without looking over at the edge of the woods, that place you stood, with the withered grass, the day you came to take me away. I keep hoping to see you there, blinking like an owl in the bright light. Unbelievable that I should conjure you up and try to invite you to the last place in the world that you belong, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
What am I missing, really? A pair of arms around me? If that was all I wanted, that wouldn’t be a problem; there’s no lack of handsome farmers with strong and sturdy hands. I could bat my eyes and take five lovers in a moment, but I don’t. I don’t even want to. It’s like being presented with a banquet and finding you only want bread, one specific kind of bread, and it’s not fancy, but it’s the only thing the cook didn’t prepare and it’s all you want and you think you’ll go crazy if you can’t taste it in your mouth again. I want to taste you in my mouth again.
This letter will not ever leave this room. I’m going to tear it up as soon as I finish it and use the tiny pieces as compost. I can’t believe I’m feeling these things for you, much less writing them down. It would break my mother’s heart even more if she knew. She cries so often now, her tears dripping down into the soil and leaving splotches on the flower petals, changing their color, mottling pinks and reds and oranges alike. She always pretends she’s crying because she’s been pricked by the thorns, but I’m not stupid. I know she’s thinking about the time when I have to go back to you under the ground.
I cry when I think about it, too. But not always out of sadness.
I really think I might love you.
If you want MY advice, and I’m assuming you do, since you took the trouble to send that letter all the way up to Olympus, you’re taking this whole marriage thing much too seriously.
I can see you rolling those black eyes of yours right now, but keep an open mind and hear your big brother out. Your situation sounds ideal to me. I might be biased, since I helped to arrange it, but what can I say? Sometimes good ideas strike me like lightning. Heh.
Think of it this way, little brother: yes, she has to leave you, but she always has to come back. You will never truly lose her, which is more than any other lover alive or dead can say. You think I use women and cast them aside, and, well, you’re right. But I have a large heart, and there is room in there for all the women – and men – I have ever loved, despite what my jealous wife believes. And when my time with them comes to an end, it does pain me. You will never the pain of an ending, Hades. Oh, yes, winter ends and turns into the spring I know you must dread, but that’s the nice thing about these seasons …. they always come back around. I rather enjoying watching the world go from grey to pink to orange to white, and back around again. You should try to enjoy it too, instead of being so gloomy all the time.
But I’m getting distracted. Here, Hades, you talk about the burden of eternity, but you and Persephone don’t have an eternity to worry about, you only have half of one. Isn’t that a comforting thought? Doesn’t that lighten your burden a little bit? In the autumn and the winter, you have a beautiful girl to warm your cold bed, and in the spring and summer, you’re free to do as you please, without the nagging of a wife breathing down your neck when it’s already too hot. Chin up, brother of mine. Loving something isn’t as painful as you make it out to be. Especially not if she loves you back … and brother, I think she does.
Your Loving Brother,
Sorry for not writing back sooner! I’ve been ever so busy, attending to my duties as the goddess of love and beauty. The mortals who pray to me seemed awfully desperate this year … more desperate than you, if that gives you any ease. I hope to put a smile on your face … you ought to smile more than you frown, if you want to avoid wrinkles! I would know … I keep a smile on my face at all times, however unfortunate my circumstances may be.
I’m afraid that my advice may not be all that you hope to hear. You may be a goddess, but you’re still a very young one, and innocent in spite of being a woman wedded and bedded. Yes, it’s true, my marriage was arranged. And yes, the arrangement was not always to my liking. Hephaestus is not my type. I’m not sure that he’s anyone’s type, to be honest. But I’m stuck with him. That doesn’t mean I have to accept mediocrity, however. A truly beautiful woman never does. My beauty is both my sword and my shield. With it, I won the very god of war to my cause, yet it prevents my husband from casting me out, because he knows his life would cease to mean anything without me in it.
I don’t suppose you could take a lover, even if you wanted to. In the Underworld there are only ghosts; their shadowy touch could hardly satisfy you. And on Earth there is your mother and her clinging arms and her watchful eyes, more watchful than ever now that it’s too late and the harm is done.
Hephaestus is not handsome. He is not a poet nor a bard. He is a smith, sooty and sweaty and inglorious. But his strong and calloused hands have held the golden hair back from my face and stroked tears away when I was crying. His voice is like stones clashing together, but he has only ever spoken kindly to me.
So, here is the best and most hypocritical advice that I could give to you … don’t see what your husband has done to you. Instead, see what he has done for you … and treasure your time apart at least as much as you treasure your time together.
I hope this letter finds you well. That you are happy. That the sunlight is soaking into your skin and that you taste honey and nectar on your tongue. That you are smiling and wearing living flowers in your hair instead of the crumbling dried roses I wove into your crown.
I would like to apologize for the pomegranate. Persephone, I have a reputation for cruelty, but only because people are afraid of entering my kingdom. Leaving that fruit for you to find was the only truly malicious thing I have ever done. I apologize for tricking you.
I apologize for the fact that, given the chance, I would trick you again.
Persephone, I missed you before I ever met you, and now that I have known the sweetness of your mouth, the fierceness of your heart, the curiosity of your eyes, the audacity of your touch, the music of your laughter, the way your flame-bright hair lights up the darkness of the Underworld … I miss you so much that the lack of you gnaws at the edges of my heart. Often when I grow weary of my duties, I leave my cold throne and walk up, up to the mouth of the cave where I watched you walk away in the spring. Often I sit there for hours at a time, foolishly hoping for an impossible glimpse of your face among the branches of the trees. It’s greedy of me, but I never said that I was selfless. I could not write to you if I were.
Months ago, I wrote you another letter, but did not have the courage to send it. I enclose it here, with the hopes that you will understand a little better what you are returning to, come the autumn. I hope you will understand that you are not my prisoner. If anything, I am your prisoner. You’re my queen, and I am yours to command. I have been from the moment I saw you in the woods that day. Anything that is within my power to give you, you shall have.
Take what you want, and do not be afraid.
Strange, how well those two words seem to fit together. Your letters did not find me well. I was crying alone at the edge of the forest when the owl brought them to my hands, but all my tears dried up when I opened them. Reading your words was the oddest sort of comfort. There is a sort of loneliness that only the two of us can know: the loneliness of longing for each other. You are as far away from me as ever, yet I feel more tightly bound to you. It’s as though I can hear your heart calling out to me from across the distance, and for the first time, I don’t feel guilty when my heart answers. No more locking these feelings away. I want to feel them all.
Here is my confession, written down where anyone could read it: I miss you too. Not just your inevitable arms. Not just your black eyes. Not just your hungry kiss. I long for the sight of your smile, rare as it is. When I saw you smile for the first time, it was like watching a winter sunset. Something wildly alive and drenched with breathtaking color in a world where everything else is drab and dead. Something that you hold your breath for, knowing you have to hurry and enjoy it while it lasts, but also knowing that it’s worth the waiting. Something happy that makes you sad. I think perhaps you know that feeling as well. But I confess this too: I don’t want you to be sad. Please stop being sad.
I cannot accept your apology for the pomegranate.
Given the chance, I would eat those seeds again.
As I write this, I am sitting in my mother’s garden, barefoot in the green of the grass. There are flowers in my hair, and dirt beneath my fingernails. It’s a lovely summer day, everything fragrant and alive and lovely, just as it should be. But as I raise my eyes to look up into the trees, I can see the edges of those green leaves beginning to ravel, ever so slightly, threads of brown creeping along, almost invisible, unless you know what to look for. I sniff the air and catch a hint of decay creeping just under the surface, a quiet edge of cold coming in on the evening air. And I smile, knowing what it means. Knowing that I will be with you again by the next turn of the moon.
Understand if I don’t run straight into your arms. Understand if I hold myself back at first. Know that I do want to be there. I am still learning what it means to be your wife, your queen.
It won’t be much longer, Hades. I am looking forward to seeing you again.
The flowers are dying, and I am learning what it means to come alive.
What do I say to the one who has broken the wheel upon which my life once turned? We were happy, you know. And we would have remained that way. They say that all children have to grow up eventually, but I don’t believe it. I know my daughter better than anyone, and she would have remained a child at heart all her life long, if you had not tainted her with your touch. Her whole life would have been springs and summers, if you had not dragged her down into the darkness and filled her head with spiderwebs and made her the queen of dead things.
Before you, my daughter had never even seen death. Did you know that? I managed to protect her for years. I managed to close her eyes to the horrors of the world. In our little world, there were no horrors. There was only love and joy, flowers and birdsong, health and harmony.
Did it please you to sully something so pure as my little girl? Did it give you some black joy to hide her in the shadows and force her mouth open, to sow the seeds of cold and dark and silence within her heart? She always tells me she ate willingly of that blood-red pomegranate, but I do not believe her. My little girl is a liar now, among other things. I still love her, but I know that she has changed, and not for the better. I hear that they have begun to call her Dread Persephone, that the shades in your kingdom all go in fear of her. My sweet daughter, who would never hurt a fly.
Every spring, I reap a bitter harvest from Persephone. Sitting under the sun with me puts the roses back in her cheeks, but the scent of lilies clings like funeral grief to her skin no matter how many rivers we swim through. There is dark earth beneath her fingernails that came from the deep places of the Underworld, and it never washes out. Sometimes when she’s sad, she touches plants and they wither.
That’s another thing, she never used to be sad. There are shadows beneath her eyes when she stands in the sunlight. I think the sadness, the shadows, entered her when you did. I will never forgive you for that. Not ever.
I’m sure that you don’t care. Persephone spins me little tales of your high regard for her, but if you do feel anything for her other than perverse desire, it is not any goodness in your shriveled soul that allows it: it is purely because of my daughter, and the light that still lives inside of her. It is by her grace alone that you know anything like love.
As long as you remember that, perhaps I will have no cause to leave my kingdom to burn yours down.
You might be laughing now, thinking yourself untouchable, there beneath the earth. But do not forget who controls the soil itself. Do not forget who could bury you in a shower of dark dirt if you give a reason.
For Persephone’s sake, do not give me a reason.
You never told me that there would be blood.
The first time he touched me, I was so afraid. When I awoke to the sticky imprint of the red on my thighs, I thought that I was dying.
As a child, I never knew the taste of meat. You fed me dandelions and ripe tomatoes and bread with honey. I imagine now that I must have been a wan, sickly child at times, though I remember being content. Now I eat meat rare and savory and when I am done I wipe the blood from my lips and cannot remember ever feeling so perfectly sated. You never told me that suffering could lead to such enjoyment.
I never knew how cold a winter could be. You kept me indoors, tucked away like a fragile treasure, close to the fire and wrapped in blankets and love. I never felt the bite of the cold like I do now, on the nights my husband chooses to keep his distance, or I choose to keep mine, rolling to the side in our massive bed. You would think that half a year apart would make us never want to put space between us, but lovers are all fools or so I’ve often heard. But never from you, who should have been the first to warn me.
There is so much you never told me, and I can’t understand why. Even now, after years of marriage, I still sometimes feel like a girl who has wandered unarmed into a cage with a beast. I had to learn how to navigate along the way, I had to forge my own weapons and hunt down happiness and tear into it with my teeth, all the time wondering, am I doing this right?
You should have given me something, mother.
You should have told me, at least, that there would be blood.
That first spring was hard.
I know that time was hard for you, too. We never speak of it now, which in itself says enough. I remember your diminished face when I returned, the quiet fury when you held me that night. But you would probably be surprised to hear that I felt a deep and abiding misery through the warm months, more than I ever let on.
Oh, it wasn’t all bad, of course. There were smiles, and laughter, and flowers and birdsong and most importantly, there was sunlight. But always I found myself looking over my shoulder for a face that was missing. Yours, dark and stern and quite unhandsome. You would have been unwelcome there, would probably have withered the grass where you trod, like the day you did when you took me away. But I kept looking for you, all the same. The more I looked for you and found you not there, the more I wanted you. My loneliness grew to an ache in my bones. I would sleep in the sun for hours, utterly defenseless. I would wander out into the woods alone … at dawn, at twilight, in the dead of the night with only the owls for guards. I would lie awake in my childhood bed, and whisper your name into the warm and mellow darkness, like a prayer, like a curse. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bless you or curse you then. All I knew was that I wanted you to come to me.
You never did.
One night I woke up crying harder than I ever have, harder even then the night when the pomegranate seeds upset my stomach. I woke up crying and my mother rushed into my room. I hardly noticed then, but I remember keenly now, that she had a kitchen knife in her hand, the moonlight glinting along its length. It ought to be a funny image, my mother, so plump and merry, holding a knife as though she meant to use it. It ought to be funny, but instead it makes me sad. When she saw that I was alone, the knife fell to the floor and she gathered me into her soft arms and held me close as she had done a hundred times before I was someone’s wife, someone’s queen. She felt just exactly the same. I was the one who was different.
“What’s wrong, my darling?” my mother asked me.
With one foot still in the land of sleep, I did not think to guard my words, to hold my tongue. “I miss him so much,” I sobbed into my mother’s shoulder.
I think in that moment, my mother must have felt like you were stealing me again. She tightened her grip on me until it almost hurt. And she didn’t let go for a long, long time. I felt like my tears were offending were, were hurting her, and so I tried to stop. Finally I managed it, and she left me alone… stooping to pick up the unused knife as she left.
She left me in darkness, and I tried my best to pretend that it was our darkness… soft and sacred and complete. But stars shone through my curtains and kept me awake, thinking of you, my husband.
Without you by my side, my sleep was troubled. Without you by my side, I was like a child afraid of the dark. But would I really wish you into the sunlit rooms of my childhood? Under the hot green rage in my mother’s eyes? No, I would not wish you into our gardens, into the kitchen, into the bed that is too small now even for the woman I have become.
But whenever I go there, I long for you. It feels like a punishment. I understand my true curse now. To loathe you all winter and long for you all summer. And to do it all over and over and over again, as long as the earth circles the sun. But right now, in this moment, penning this letter, all I feel for you is
It feels so sweet sometimes, to be the villain in your life story.
It was merely incidental, of course. It’s not as though I set out on my courtship of Persephone with you in mind. In fact, I never thought of you. Not once.
Would it grieve you to hear that? I’ve found I’m rather adept at causing grief. We can’t choose our talents, and we must make the best of what is given to us. So I here I sit in my dismal hell, laughing at your grief and your rage.
Perhaps you are right, Demeter. Perhaps my desire for Persephone is, at its heart, perverse. The shadows should not crave the light that has the power to banish them. The soil of the grave should not yearn for flowers to grow in it. And yet such things happen, all the time, whether they should or not. The mightiest animals are felled by the smallest. The frailest blooms last out the winter’s hardest freeze. And the soul that has dwelt only in nighttime can fall in love with a soul drenched with sunlight, and live together, and know a joy you could never dream of.
I know well that you love your precious daughter. You should know I love her too. If I were ever to send this letter, you would no longer be able to doubt it. But I will never send this letter, for it is none of your concern. You are determined to believe me a monster … who am I deny you that dark pleasure? I too know the fragrance of the bloom of hatred. It can be a sweet balm at times.
Am I cruel? A monster, as you called me when I took my bride? Perhaps I am. I do not care. I was a monster to begin with, and now I am a monster with a queen, and I sleep a little more soundly at night for that. Why should I care if I am the villain of your life story?
She is the hero of mine.
When last I left you, you asked me: “Persephone, are you truly happy with him?”
I was so vexed with your lack of trust in my words, the words I have told you over and over again, more time than I can count, I couldn’t even answer you. I turned my back and marched straight into my husband’s arms and kissed him hard when I knew you could see. I took my crown from his hands and placed it on my head just to spite you. Here is my real answer:
The first two weeks of autumn are always the warmest. We spend almost all of that time in bed. We take the time to learn each other all over again, leaving no freckle, no scar, no inch unexplored. For those first few weeks, it truly feels like coming home.
But we are silly creatures, and by midwinter we always let the cold creep back into our hearts. Who knows, maybe the cold never left. Maybe we are simply cold creatures. It wouldn’t surprise me if his heart was carved from ice, but I had always thought better of myself. I always thought that I was a creature of warmth and flowers and light.
But I fell in love with him. I fell in love with him. What does that say about me?
So, the cold comes, and no matter how close we curl together at night, he can still seem to be a million miles away from me, and I from him. I am still that silly girl, picking flowers and weaving them into garlands, creating solutions to nonexistent problems, seeing demons where there are none. Eventually, one or both of us picks up our letters, reads them, remembers ourselves, and rolls over. Our love is a perennial thing, it may not always be blooming, but it is always alive, and it always comes back, more beautiful than the year before.
Mother, you are not the first one to turn him into a villain. To make him the bad one in a story about moral ambiguity. The humans don’t understand him, either. They blame him for taking things away when really it was just time for those things to go.
Humans think that they’re afraid of death, but really they’re just afraid of things that they’ve never seen before. Having passed through fear and into love with him, I know that now. How horrible, the stranger who is going to love you, the sum of all men when you have never known a man at all before. It’s like feeling centuries of loneliness and desire all at once. A feeling so intense it could destroy you, but it builds you instead, shapes you into the person you were meant to be.
I have known such deep and abiding sadness since I came to live here, but so too have I known greater joy than I ever dreamed was possible. This love we’ve found is cold as steel at times, but just like steel, it is strong. Tempered with cold and fire, it has been tested, and proven true. And like steel, it is the weapon I wield to protect myself from anything and everything that would seek to threaten me because I am thought to be fragile. You cannot be fragile and survive the Underworld. You cannot be fragile and be in love. It is love that makes heroes, not war.
History may not remember these things as they really happened. People may not remember who I really am. They will say that Hades took me against my will. They will say that I cried and screamed for my mother. But I am not your tragedy and I am not your victim. I am the Queen of the Underworld. Spin your stories. Make your myths.
But never forget that I wield power over dead and living things alike.
But never forget that they call me Dread Persephone for a reason.
When the spring comes, and the first small green leaf unfolds trembling on the branch of a barren tree, a tall pale man and a girl with amber skin stand together, watching from the mouth of a cave. The girl shudders at the sight of the leaf, and the man wraps his flowing black cloak around both their shoulders and kisses the girl’s forehead with a tenderness born of pain. He never thought he would be the one comforting her when the snows began to melt. He never dreamed that sadness could make him this happy. But he isn’t one to question the way of things that come his way. He didn’t question the bad things. It would be absurd to question the good. Persephone wears her crown of bones and roses with pride and honor now, and rules as queen of the Underworld more fiercely than he ever dreamed of ruling as king. The shades all breathe a sigh of relief at her departure.
“Do you have to wait here for her?” he asks, an old question. “Could you not meet her somewhere in the forest?”
His queen smiles gently at his discomfort. “You know how much it means to her to come and get me.”
“How much she likes to shoot death glares at me, you mean.”
“Don’t take it too much to heart, my love,” she tells him. “After all, it’s you I’m coming back to.”
So this time, when her mother comes to take her away for the next six months, it is still like a knife in his chest, but perhaps it is not driven in so deeply as in prior years. And he can already sense the moment when he will be able to breathe in the scent of her again. He will spend some days in the mouth of the cave, watching as the buds of the flowers slowly begin to unfurl and show their colors. Instead he will hold an empty hand out into a beam of sunlight and imagine that hers is holding it.
He will smell the scent of the blooms on the air and close his eyes and feel a warm breeze on his skin and for just a moment, it will feel like she is kissing him.
As long as Persephone is in the world, loving him, he will never truly be alone again.
Emily Sholly is a twenty-four year-old writer from Knoxville, Tennessee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Spring Hill College. Her short story “Tim of Nowhere” was featured in The Opening Line literary ‘zine. She adores reading and writing, and hates arithmetic.