“What are you waiting for, permission?”
I opened my eyes. Had I blinked? It must have been longer, it feels like I’m looking through a camera lense and pulling everything into focus. I feel like I’m waking up and looking for my glasses. Where are my glasses? My question is answered when my vision finally sharpens and I see him. A man is standing in front of me. I think I know him. I must know him, his hands are clasped over mine. My hands hold something in them. I don’t know what it is but it is the only thing I am certain of. I feel movement against the skin of my palms. Is it alive? Everything else is uncertain. The man is important. I know that much. He speaks, I know his voice down to my bones but I cannot think of his name.
“You look tired, love.” He is smiling at me, I feel his hand on my cheek. It is familiar, but in a way that feels long ago and far away. It does not feel comforting, which I assume is how it is supposed to feel. The man is still smiling at me, but his eyes are full of something else. They are a deep, concerned brown. I want to ask a question, many questions but I am suddenly taken by everything else in view. There is long grass around where we stand. It is bright too, we are close to the sky. I peer around the man, whose smile is fading with every moment I am silent. I see a vast ocean just under the horizon. My chest tightens. A cliff, now this is familiar. It begins to trickle in like a leak, the memory of where we are…where we were? We were here together, this man and I. Another time. Before. Another certainty. I will relish them as they come. I want to look behind me to see the rest of it, but something stills me. A deep, quiet warning that I should not take my eyes from the man in front of me. His smile is gone, a firm line where the curve once was. It somehow suits him. I suddenly have the urge to laugh, but I cannot seem to find my voice and it is released as a quick exhaled breath. He notices, and speaks again.
“The season has taken its toll on you…” The strangest thing is, he is right. I am tired, even though I seem to be only waking this very moment. Something is not right. I look at him more closely and try to find what is missing. As if by looking at him I can look deeper into myself. He speaks again “…you can rest now. Your work is done.” I don’t know what he means. I watch as he lifts my clasped hands with their secret held within and plants a soft kiss on each one. I am surprised to see my hands are worn and rough. Gardening, I think. Another memory tangled in weeds and vines. I don’t have time to think more on it, because I am suddenly very, very hungry. It feels as though I haven’t eaten in days. My stomach growls and I begin to feel dizzy. The man laughs at me and opens my palm.
“You’re always forgetting to eat Seph, here” A nickname. I need him to tell me more but instead the man opens my hands and I see them. Red and glossy, freshly gouged from the skin. I’m so hungry. I have never been this hungry. I lift the small clump of seeds to my nose, they smell of summer but I am reminded first of spring. The man’s lips pull back into a smile once more, but it is different. Sharper.
“Well, what are you waiting for, permission?” he says. Somehow I know that smile better than his name. The realisation hits me hard, but the seeds are already in my mouth and it is too late. The last thing I see before the scene fades is the man’s face. The face behind the one he wears for show. Sunken eyes over a narrow face. His final words echo back and forth in my head.
“What are you waiting for, permission?”
My eyes feel heavy as they open. But the world is in view straight away, this time. This time? My mind must have been elsewhere. Daydreaming. The man standing in front of me is smiling. The sky is bright and the sea glints behind him. This place. There is a cold breeze and my cheeks sting under the chilly whipped air. Was that there before? Before? My hands are warm though. He’s holding my hands. I suddenly want them back, but I remain still.
“You look tired, love.” I barely hear him say the words. I am tired. Very tired. I cannot do this again. Do what again? I look at the man carefully. I know him, surely, but something feels different. What was his name again? His hand is on my cheek, I know the feeling but I am looking deep into eyes I don’t know. Because they are not his. Is that even possible? I ask myself, but I feel most certain. It is comforting, to be certain. I lean into the questions at the back of my mind. The trickle must become a flow. I need to think. The man is looking at me like I’m a sick lamb. I don’t like it. I close my eyes. Show me more. “The season has taken its toll on you…” What season? It cannot be Spring again or Summer with this chill in the air. Spring again? “…you can rest now. Your work is done.” Remember. My hands are warm though. What is in your hands? I summon strength, more than I thought I would need and slowly I pull my hands and their prize away from him. I remember a hunger as I open my hands, and my eyes.
Pomegranate seeds. But these are dry, old and unappetizing. The man’s voice is sharp and clear this time.
“Are… are you not hungry, Seph?” That is not my name. I don’t think I have ever felt anything like what is happening now, but I know I must have. I know Him too well. My mind races with centuries of my past. Memories of the same moment in a different shell case. With it comes a power all my own that I quite forgot I had. How long have we been replaying this scene? I close my fists around the seeds and crush them to a fine powder that slips through my fingers. With them go any shred of doubt I had. I step back from the man who held me and the curtain is pulled away. There is no grass or sea to be seen in this place. Just the barren rocky cliffside, and the darkness and Him standing at the edge of everything. Just how he likes it. I find my voice, and it echoes in the cavernous dark.
“What nonsense is this?” I demand. The man has dropped his guise fully, and now looks sheepish and grey. His black eyes hold no feeling, only the fidgeting of his bony hands betray guilt.
“I just needed you to stay a bit longer, love.” he says meekly. Of course. And he didn’t think to ask me first. He never does.
“So you thought you would waste a few millenia with this… stupidity?” The anger in me boils as I walk slowly towards him, accidentally sprouting grass and forget-me-knots with each step.
“Time loops aren’t stupid.” he mumbles, his head bowed to avoid my gaze. I have heard enough, in the moment I raise my hand to him it is wrapped in the sharpest thorns.
“What are you doing, Persephone?” I don’t hear any fear in his tone. He is mocking me. I gather my power and shove him off the edge of that cliff he always clings to. I do not turn to leave until I hear a splash. The dead can keep him for now, I need some air. I spin thick vines into a ladder to take me out of this wretched place, I spot them with lavender and sage to clear my head. As I work I hear him scream from the depths.
“You will come back to me! You always come back!” I cannot help but smile at how frustrated he must be. A lonely little man in his cave of ghosts. I honor him with a reply.
“Of course, husband. And when I do, it will be on my terms.” I turn my back one final time and breath in the heady smell of home.
“Goodbye, Hades!” I call out, as I climb swiftly into the sky.
Aisling Lynch is a daydream enthusiast and aspiring writer with a penchant for nonsense in all its forms. She loves myths and fairy tales so much that she often believes she is one. Don’t we all end up in stories anyway?