Fiction · 12/19/2012

Me and Eurydice

We’ll take long walks, me and Eurydice. Along the shore, watching the new souls shuffle into the grounds of the manor. They look like they’re squinting, even though this place is always overcast. The souls bump into things. With their first steps onto the gray shore, they waft like the smoke that streams from Charon’s cigarettes. He’s the captain of the ferry that brings them from across the water. His flannel shirt is dirty and flecked with cigarette ash. He looks bored and shrugs as if to tell me, it’s a living.

It gets easier, I want to tell the new souls, sometimes. But it doesn’t. Besides, the only one I speak to is Eurydice.

The last of Charon’s shipment stumble from the boat. I can tell that seeing the newly dead breaks Eurydice’s heart. She was one of them not long ago. She tugs on my hand for us to leave. Her skin feels like dense fog. I pull her away with my cold hands.

I see the manor up ahead, at the end of the long driveway at the top of the hill. With its high columns and three-car garage, the manor looks gaudy and out of place. Poking up, bone-white, from the grass. Some time ago, my husband tried to brighten up the grounds. He hired landscapers who planted shrubs and seedlings. Nothing new would grow. Then, he turned his attention to the manor. He hired designers, who installed skylights and gleaming marble countertops. He motioned to sink fixtures and new paintings, looking for my approval. I shrugged. Then, came the jewelry, like this flower pendant he gave me. A metal flower, flecked with jewels, in a place where nothing grows. I leave it with the other baubles in our bedroom.

Me and Eurydice walk up the lawn, away from the shore. She looks back. I don’t. I’ve stopped feeling the sadness that I know she still feels. Sometimes, people reach out for me or my husband, crying that there’s been some mistake. They don’t belong here. My husband will look away, embarrassed. I’m the one that listens and thinks, shouldn’t I feel something? I feel like a chunk of iron barely urged to life. The staff whispers things when they think I can’t hear. There goes the Iron Queen.

Past the manor, through the back garden. We avoid the other souls that mill around. When we get out far enough, the clouds overhead seem to thin. We reach the gates leading to the golf course of Elysium, where the lucky ones — barest flecks in the distance — stand on manicured rolling hills in the sun. Halfway through an infinite, perfect game. The fields of golden grass and white poplars stretch forever. No matter how long we walk, we can never get closer to the sunshine or the people. We’ve walked along the fence for a long time. Maybe days — it’s hard to tell. That’s the thing about the dead and gods. We never get tired.

Eurydice presses herself into the fence. She fits an arm through and spreads open her palm. The barest traces of light hit her skin and hair. Eurydice’s hair is the color of ripe wheat. Mine is the black of wet earth.

I take Eurydice’s hand again and lead her away.

She asks me what my husband’s like. I picture him pacing the manor. Head down, talking to himself. He’s always carrying papers. Maybe names of all of the people here. All of their deeds.

“My husband kidnapped me from my mother and trapped me here in this hell,” I say.

“My husband sang me to sleep every night. He would hold me and I would feel so loved I would cry,” she says.

“Men,” I say.

We don’t talk too much, but when she’s around, I’m not alone. We turn back in the direction of the manor. She starts a few words, but then stops, unsure of how to piece together her next sentence. She must feel like talking more today.

“Not that we were always happy,” she says.

There’s something telling in her tone. I half-turn towards her, but avoid her eyes. Scared that if I pay too much attention she’ll run off, like a wild animal. She stares at the dull grass. She’s talked about Orpheus before. A musician. I know the type.

“He’d get so upset before concerts,” she says. “Crying. Panic attacks. I was the only one that could talk him off a ledge. Everyone was there — for him. Because he was so gifted. Didn’t he know that? He’d freak out, screaming, what do you know about anything?

She pauses. I squeeze her hand, willing her strength. I can tell by the way she stops that there’s more she could say, but I don’t want to push.

“Later, he was always sorry,” she continues. “Holding me, telling me that he’d die if I was gone.”

“It’s hard when people need you so much,” I say. “And when you need them. It sets you up for pain.”

A long beat of silence passes. She’s shared something. I should too.

“You asked about my husband,” I say. “He’s suffocating. Always asking how I am. Buying me things. I don’t know if it’s guilt because he knows that I’m unhappy here. Or if he really loves me.”

I’m thankful that Eurydice doesn’t try to make me feel better, or say she’s sorry. She only smiles a little. We move on.

There were days that my husband told me he loved me. I don’t believe that he can love me any differently than you can love a caged bird. It’s all right, little bird, I remember telling Eurydice when she was fresh from Charon’s boat. She was sobbing. A mess. She died on her wedding day, still with flowers in her hair. But with what she just said, I wonder if there’s some small part of her that’s thankful to be away from Orpheus.

There are some things I know not to ask. Just like there are things I don’t tell. Like how my family felt once they found out I was gone. My mother was miserable at first. Then, she turned a corner. He’s rich, sweetheart! Think of how happy you’ll be. My father, so formal. The king of the underworld is not an unfitting mate for a daughter of Demeter. I was property changing hands.

That was a long time ago. The backs of my arms were the white of swan feathers. Now they look like ash. My family is happy when I can visit. Maybe just as happy when I leave.

A golf cart rounds the corner of the manor and heads for us. When it gets closer, I see that it’s Alecto, one my husband’s assistants. Her bright red lipstick is smeared. There are black tracks down her cheeks. She’s been crying. She hits the breaks and steps out. Her high heels sink into the grass. When she looks at Eurydice, a choked sob escapes her lips. I’m surprised. She has the empathy of a stomach flu. Now she’s upset? Eurydice step closer to my side, scared.

“Your husband wants to see you,” Alecto says to me.

“About?”

Alecto muffles another sob by pressing her fist to her lips.

“This woman’s husband is here to take her back,” Alecto says.

“Oh, how sweet,” I say. “Good luck to him.”

I mean to sound distant, mocking. But my panic is instant. If she leaves, I’ll have nothing. Maybe my husband is doing this on purpose. Mind games to remind me of who’s in control. As if I didn’t know.

“Please,” Alecto says. “I’ll drive you back to the manor.”

“Not without her,” I say, looking to Eurydice.

Alecto is hesitant, pained.

“Fine.”

She jumps back into the golf cart. In the small backseat, Eurydice and I sit close. She’s shaking. She looks like she could blow apart in the wind. I pull her hand into my lap, telling her everything will be alright. Alecto, still in tears, drops us off at the front door before speeding away.

On the front stoop, I gather strength. Eurydice teeters, nervous, next to me. We step inside. The foyer gleams of marble. A large staircase leads up to the second floor and the bedroom I share with my husband. His office is up ahead. Eurydice can’t go in there — it’s not allowed. I bring her into the bathroom by the front stairs and tell her to wait for me.

In the bathroom mirror are lines in my face that weren’t there what seems like yesterday. I tuck my hair behind my ears. I hate the panic that swells in me. My husband hasn’t made me feel anything but numb in forever. I hold in a deep breath. Before opening the double doors to his office, I set my face to look bored.

His office is huge, the walls lined with gilt-covered books. The after-stink of cigars lingers in the air, mingling with smells of old lacquer and old money. On one wall is an oil painting, which could be of a sunrise, but looks to me like a gray landscape swallowing the sun. My husband’s long, dark desk rests in front of a huge window overlooking the gardens. He sits in his high-backed leather chair looking over some papers. After we were married, he had a chair brought in for me, at his side. I don’t sit there. I won’t be a part of whatever judgments he passes.

“You rang?” I ask.

I cross the room, hiding my nerves behind cool eyes. When I sit in one of the chairs across from his desk, I feel my husband become suddenly shy. His graying beard is clipped close. He’s in the same dark suit he always wears. He folds his hands in his lap and offers me a small smile.

“How was your walk?” he asks.

“The same as it always is,” I say.

He must think that’s a good thing. He curves up his lips and lowers his gaze to his thumbnails.

“What’s this about a man coming to claim his wife?” I ask.

“Some son of Apollo,” he says. “Orpheus is his name.”

“Apollo, always diddling the mortals,” I say.

“The man’s been journeying through here, playing songs. He says he won’t leave this place without his bride. He even got to Alecto. She started crying.”

“What a hero,” I say. “This should be interesting.”

For an instant, his gray eyes meet mine. Then, he looks up and past me.

“Ah,” he says. “We’ve been expecting you.”

Still sitting, I turn. Orpheus is in the doorway. He looks so solid compared to the shades that wander here. His jeans are torn. A thin t-shirt clings to him, damp either from sweat or sea-spray. An acoustic guitar is slung around his back. He doesn’t look special. He’s really the guy that clung to Eurydice? I remember her words, not that we were always happy. I eye him, looking for clues. How did you damage her? What did you do?

“I need her back,” Orpheus says. “I know we all end up here sooner or later. But she was taken from me too soon.”

I feel the gray of a slow anger seeping into the corners of my vision. I look at him — my eyes, my smile like honeyed venom — as if to say, oh how sweet.

He tugs his guitar over his chest, and begins to play.

Orpheus’s fingers glide along the strings. I can feel each note vibrating in my chest. He doesn’t sing. Words wouldn’t matter. His music fills the room. His music is the sound of skylarks and rustling leaves. My eyes close. I’m not in this gray, empty place. I can almost feel the sun on my face, the breeze of lake air. I feel full — held. I let out a low breath.

“If you want her here, take us both,” he sings, rocking as he plays. “Tie me to the rocks and break my bones. Kill me where I stand. Just as long as I can hold her again.”

I open my eyes. I’m still in my husband’s office, breathing this dead air. Tears glide down my cheeks. I turn to my husband. He’s startled by my tears. I want to cry — how can you hear his words, and call what you feel for me love? If really love me, can’t we just leave this place, so I could be happy again?

No point in asking when I already know the answer. My husband’s eyes soften. I never say his name. My way of letting him know that to me he’s a symbol, a name on a contract, not really a person. Even still, I ask, “Hades, why?”

My husband’s gray eyes meet mine. I don’t look away. My tears blur his edges. His shape shifts. My fingertips dig into my knees.

My husband rises and walks closer to Orpheus. Startled, the son of Apollo stops playing. I lower my head. I don’t want to watch whatever will happen next. The only sound I hear is my slow breath.

“Looks like your story’s warmed her heart,” my husband says. “And because I want nothing more than to see my wife smile again, I’ll give you what you ask.”

His words echo, cold, inside me. No — he doesn’t get it. I want to stand and shove him, hard, through the window. Call him an idiot. Let my scream rattle the rooms of the manor, watch the walls crumble around me. No. Better not to give him a reaction. I push my anger and sadness down, deep.

Orpheus is stunned.

“I can have her back?” he asks.

“She’ll follow you to the docks,” my husband says. “Don’t turn to her until you’ve left this place.”

Orpheus fumbles on his feet. He clenches and unclenches one fist. He’s waiting, unsure, for something else.

“That’ll be all,” my husband says.

He turns to me. Does he want me to be thankful? Yes, I should be happy that he can be so caring. Someone who died and belongs here is leaving, when I’m still trapped. I’ve stopped trying to figure out what he expects a long time ago. I stand and let a practiced smile play on my face.

“Here,” I say. “I’ll lead you out.”

Not turning to my husband, I walk to Orpheus.

I link my arm in his. Casual. We’re old friends. His skin is too warm, almost hot. We’re out of the office. I eye the door of the front bathroom, where Eurydice waits. I open the front door and lead Orpheus to the stoop. I tell him I’ll be right back with his wife.

In the bathroom, Eurydice trembles.

“What happened?” She asks.

“Orpheus is taking you back,” I say.

She cries. She’s happy, I think. She wipes away her tears in the bathroom mirror. She pinches her cheeks to will back some color. Part of me almost hoped that she’d refuse, so she could stay here with me. That’s stupid. Whatever hell he gave her, however often, can’t be as bad as being here. Hopefully.

“Be careful,” I say. “He can’t see you until you’ve both made it to the other shore.”

She nods, jaw clenched. She squeezes my hand, so sincere. My stomach sinks. Alone again. I hope that she’ll be happy.

I lead her to the open front door. Orpheus’s back is to us. He’s gazing out over the water, maybe remembering my husband’s warning. Before I know it, I’m brushing past Eurydice, to Orpheus. I link my arm into his again. I lean close to his ear.

“She’s here,” I say.

Words bubble to my mouth. I can stop what I say next. I should. But I don’t want to. He doesn’t deserve her. I don’t deserve to be alone. I feel cold iron creeping back into my veins.

“My husband’s so dramatic with his warnings,” I say. “You’ll want to make sure that she’s close, right? No sense in coming all this way for nothing.”

Orpheus’s face is profiled against the gray cliffs. I catch half of his smile. Doubt is there. Seeded. Already blooming. He thanks me and starts walking. I don’t look — can’t look at Eurydice when I pass her, back into the manor. Little bird. Time to be selfish. The guilt will fade. I have forever.

+

Charon said Orpheus made it halfway to the dock before turning to check on Eurydice. She vanished in front of him. Sometime later, I found her in a cluster of other souls, wandering the back garden. Alecto told me Orpheus died — after some grief-fueled bender — with Eurydice’s name on his lips. But because he was a son of Apollo, he skipped the gray shores and went right to Elysium.

I don’t know if Eurydice knows that I’m to blame. I’ll admit that this isn’t important. What matters is that she’s here with me.

We walk to the fields, the first time here since Eurydice’s near-escape. She leans against the fence. She squints into the distance at the small figures, separated from us by an eternity.

“Do you think he’s one of them?” she asks

“Hard to say,” I tell her.

Her hand lingers on the gate before we finally move on.

+

That night, I turn to my husband before sleeping and ask, “Why don’t you ever sing for me?”

I can see the gray in his eyes and short beard. He looks clumsy as he rustles with one end of the bed sheet. He turns out the light and then settles into the bed.

I wait for a few moments, seated on my edge. Then, I hear my husband begin to hum a low, tuneless baritone, off-key. I close my eyes against the darkness and the quiet.

Soon, his song dies. I hold my breath and can hear thick waves splashing on the shores below.

+++

Nathan Tavares is a graduate of Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing, he enjoys traveling, photography, and hours-long Wikipedia benders. He likes to write about thieves, love, and the end of the world. You can find more of his work at nathantavares.com.