A short story by grade 10 student Frida Purdon.
Three goddesses sit on the curb and chew bubblegum. It has just rained. The sky is tender like a bruise. It is the moment when people begin to notice the presence of silence after the storm like a man sitting in the corner of the world wearing a trenchcoat and smoking a pipe.
This is all very poetic of course. In fact, at this moment, the least poetic things in all the universe are the three elegant goddesses sitting on the curb, blowing pink bubbles. It is their perfection that is disturbing.
They subconsciously finger the human prayers in their laps and, with their smooth hands of moonlight flesh and birdsong bones—hands like summer nights—they rip them, these prayers, into smaller and smaller pieces.
The first goddess is Athena. Her hair is shaved close to her skull and her teeth are very white against her black skin. She wears big gold hoop earrings and a red bandana. She smells like New York bagels.
During Paradise Lost, Athena lead the Peace March.She and the wolves and the birds and the bears stood before the Gates of Eden and hollered, cried, lit the skies on fire and waited for some entity to use its immense voice and fill the basins of emptiness within their chests, fill them with love or art or misery or the ocean, which was so human it hurt to swim in it. They waited there until they could wait no longer. Lips and eyes burning like infidelity, they stuck their signs into the ground and then slipped away. The signs are still up there, white and distant, protesting one form of darkness or another.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” says Athena, loading her gun with pink cartoon hearts. Her many bracelets clatter around her skinny wrists. The words To Be or Not To Be are embroidered on the back of her leather jacket above a sewn illustration of spider with a long, oblong face and glistening doe eyes.
The second goddess is Hera. She has heavily penciled eyebrows and short purple hair. Her nails are ragged and short. She has a voice like a dead woman’s dream of walking barefoot on broken glass.
And Zeus can never get enough of her. His hair is soft like dandelion seeds and he takes pictures of Hera at the Heavenly Wafflehouse, whipped cream smeared on her upper lip like oblivion. The storms ravage this land and Zeus tattoos a skull onto Hera’s shoulder, says their love is as bright as a mortal’s. Outside, the souls ache breathtaking colour and rustle in the Destiny that sweeps the world and all its vestigial questions. Inside, the lamp burns. Zeus and Hera’s shadows on the wall look like dark children catching butterflies with nets and giving names to all the things they don’t understand.
“And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” Hera says, sipping her Coca Cola with a straw.
The third goddess is Aphrodite. Her hair is tangled and her knees scabbed. Her socks don’t match and her overalls are covered in obscure stains like clouds with no one to turn them into familiar shapes. A key hangs from a shoelace tied around her neck. Her face is smudged with soot. Her breath smells like a poem dragged itself to the back of her cavernous throat and died.
“She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair and from her lips she drew the hallelujah,” says Aphrodite, poking at an animal carcass smeared across the road with a stick. Her eyes are enormous, like the infinity you feel when holding a newborn in your broken arms.
Across the divine street, a boy finds a golden apple. Being a good person is what pays the rent in this heavenly dominion so he decides to ask the goddesses sitting on the curb and chewing bubble gum if the apple is theirs.
“Is this yours?” the boy asks, “I’m Paris, by the way.”
Athena says, because the apple is not hers, “Nobody wanted your dance. Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering, drowning life and your effort to save yourself, treading water, dancing the dark turmoil. Looking for something to give.”
The apple is not Hera’s either so she says, “The whole shadow of man is only as big as his hat.”
But Aphrodite is hungry and even though the apple isn’t hers, she says, “I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.”
The boy smiles. Aphrodite grabs the apple. She bites into the fruit and tastes all the wonderful things about death.
The boy nods, runs his hand through his hair and walks away. The other goddesses throw her scornful looks. They never approve of Aphrodite’s little games.
At a party later, Paris will tell a joke and a very pretty girl will laugh. She will cover her mouth with her hand.
Her eyes will be like the language of flowers.
“What’s your name?”
“Well Helen. Do you believe in love?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Do you believe in war?”
“War believes in me. You know, every baby born is the Devil’s attempt to become a better person for the one he loves.”
“So you believe in love.”
Athena and Hera find Aphrodite in an alleyway. She curls and twitches as though burning in a fire. Her eyes are misty, her lips form words but the letters are made of blood and bone, things they haven’t learned yet.
They shake her shoulders, slap her flawless cheeks.
“Rage, I will sing your rage, Achilles. I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.”
Dragging her through the streets, she kicks and splutters, cries and scratches.
Under a tree, Helen and Paris spill into each other.
“I will sing, I will sing, I will sing for you, Achilles.”
“Rage! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry . . .”
“Hush, now. It’s okay, Love, you’re safe. It’s okay.”
“Rage . . .”
When Aphrodite was little, she always used to love building things. She could make a desert out of a sea, a night out of a day and out of a man, a grief so magnificent it gleamed like a polished car in the driveway.
She would tie her hair back and plunge her hands into his mind.
When she was done, her face would be ruddy, her hands bleeding.
“Do you believe in love now?”
“Yes,” says Helen. She smiles. It is dark and all Paris can see are the corpses of men scattered like roses thrown at an opera singer across the land.
Paris takes her hand.
And so it begins.