Posted on | November 12, 2012 | No Comments
The Big Red Door
It was not supposed to be like this.
The Man in a Midnight Black Bowler Cap raises a pistol and aims at his chest. There is no mercy or sadness in the eyes of his soon to be killer.
He knows there is nothing he can say to stop fate. In some ways he may even deserve it.
The Man In a Midnight Black Bowler Cap fires without remorse, before dissolving into a strange fit of laughter.
He has dreamed of this moment for years but never thought to see it actually happen.
You cannot die in a dream so Hey-You wakes up and forgets that he was dreaming of his own death.
“Do you have a question for me?” asks Yozev.
“Are we there yet?” replies Hey-You. He keeps his eyes closed. After so long, in the cold he worries his eyelids may be frozen shut.
“Yes,” replies Yozev and with a snap, his hands spring open and with his stomach in his mouth, Hey-You wishes he had not asked the question. Hey-You does not have the time to form a response before crashing down a mound of soft snow. Yozev grins—there is no crying. He was right; the child had not broken any bones in his fall.
Hey-You staggers for a moment, readjusting himself to solid ground. Having done so, he glares up at Yozev. This does not appear to be the safe destination he had envisioned.
Basileus can be seen through its transparent protective dome-warm, comfortable, impossible, safe. However there is a long line to get into the city and the people appear to be in poor humor. The refugees outside the city have not slept a whole night in weeks, constantly moving to survive the cold. Hundreds of thousands wait for the boats, some children with parents, some other in the company of friends, more in the company of strangers, but all are here to survive. Hey-You, takes a look up at Yozev, hovering nonchalantly above him.
“So?” asks Hey-You.
“You’re here,” answers Yozev. “Now all you have to do is make it to the boats and you’ll be fine.” His chest aches. He is lying. Sometimes he is unaware that he is not telling the truth, until the pressure in his chest builds. It reminds him of Pinocchio.
“Liar,” says Hey-You.
Basileus is the only city in the Olympian World that is not utterly in shambles. On the ocean shore at the city’s limits, there are thousands upon thousands of rusted boats. At one time the boats had motors. Now they have men with oars. Like the boats, the city used to function. Basileus is the opposite of a snow globe, inside it is warm and dry, and outside the snow falls in pitching gales. It would be very easy to die standing in the long line outside the city, as your body slows its movements and the cold is death’s bedfellow.
“Liar,” says Hey-You.
Yozev cannot resist the temptation of watching the boy even though it pains him. Yozev receives another lesson in humanity.
After fifty steps, Hey-You falls over. There is something in the child’s ineptitude that touches Yozev. Unfortunately, being a god his affection appears to humans as contempt. In his mind Hey-You pats Hey-You on the back.
“You are pathetic.”
Hey-You’s nose begins to bleed.
The child mutters under his breath and stomps in the footsteps of bigger men who have already made the trek. “I think this might be an amusing adventure,” Yozev says finally, having found the excuse he was searching for. “Let me come with you. I haven’t seen the sea in a long while.”
Hey-You seems to be taking his mother’s death poorly. His vocabulary has become somewhat limited since Yozev refused to go back for her. So far he has only asked when they would arrive at Basileus and called Yozev a liar. This is unfair, as he has explained to the boy several times; he only had arms large enough to carry him. The mother was too heavy and most likely dead already. His explanations had not gotten the positive results he had expected.
“The truth is, boy, I am not sure if you’ll make it without me,” explains Yozev. He hates this illogical weakness. He has done a good thing and now that good thing has only brought him further burden. He could not find reason to congratulate himself on bringing the child all this way just to let him die at Basileus. Rationally, this means he must accompany the child all the way to safety or the pain in his chest will intensify.
“You’re a midget,” replies Hey-You.
“And you are witty. We both have our burdens to bear.”
Humans like to hurt other humans when they feel hurt. This explains their many problems.
Hey-You had just been contemplating this as Yozev began taking a few tentative steps towards the little boy. The pain intensifies. Yozev concludes he may have been wrong about the validity of his solution.
“Do you ever sleep?” asks Hey-You. The boy’s own eyes reflect that he has not slept in quite sometime. Which means he had faked being asleep to avoid talking to Yozev.
“No rest for the wicked,” says Yozev.
“Your eyes don’t close,” Hey-You points out.
“I have learned the trick of sleeping with my eyes open,” he replies. He actually has no eyelids and thus it makes this necessary. “That is but one of my many talents.”
Shivering desperate people, covered in poorly made clothes, surround the duo, sweating, stinking, talking profusely about trivialities. He can see their rising passions like a thermometer about to explode. The child passes parents holding their children. A father screams at Hey-You not to skip ahead in line. The mother shouts obscenities at the boy—he wishes he had a family.
Yozev steps in front of the boy and smiles as if he might be insane. Actions done by the insane are attributed to the gods’ justice and, as such, their crimes are not punishable.
“Your mother wanted me to come with you,” says Yozev. “I wouldn’t want to break a promise.”
Hey-You nods, unable to disappoint his mother.
Yozev has found a way of controlling the child. He will invoke the boy’s mother whenever he needs him to do something. It is always worthwhile to know how a piece moves.
Thousands of yards stand between them and the gates. People are in poor temper, more prone to curse than to be polite. The tension moves in waves. Sometimes they are just people in a line. Sometimes the cold starts to feel like fire on their skin and time feels like it is running out. People become impatient and seconds become hours. That was days ago—this moment feels like eternity. The guards are all that prevents the lines from rioting. Those who cause disturbance are dealt with. Judging by the fading patches of red amongst the snow banks, they are dealt with deftly.
Some wait as long as weeks, the lucky wait days. Every few minutes another person succumbs to the cold with a dull thud. Hey-You imagines himself outside the gate watching the boats leave without him. He occupies himself by meeting strangers. Telling them made up stories, about how he was going to meet his mother in the city. The lies are more pleasant than the truth. The truth might just drive him mad.
“You shouldn’t look at people like that,” Yozev says accusingly. “Your face might stay like that for the rest of your life.” He has heard parents use such lines and earn smiles. Surprisingly, the child continues glaring at him. Yozev quickly learns a lesson about lessons most humans never learn. Lessons are usually situation-specific and, when referencing past incidents, are only useful in hindsight to that particular situation, which has already occurred and, as such, lessons are altogether useless. “I saved your life and now you are angry,” Yozev says sulkily to the boy. “That makes me curious.”
Curious in this case means sulky.
“My mother is dead,” replies Hey-You.
Yozev notices the boy’s little hands are bunched into fists. He points to the boy’s fists. “This means you are angry?” asks Yozev.
The boy nods. “How can you not have learned this before?” asks Hey-You.
“I didn’t care. Godly feelings are fairly ambivalent for the most part. For some reason, I feel the need to pay attention now. Your argument for being displeased in regards to your mother is faulty. It is for the best that she is not here. She was sick anyway, and would only have died in front of you, which in the long run would be more painful and awkward,” Yozev points out.
Seeing the child’s welling eyes, Yozev speaks again and cannot make his words sound believable. “I suppose I am. She will make it through the gates soon.”
Hey-You punches Yozev in the chest. Yozev feels the instant desire to ask how any of this is his fault or strike back at the boy. Instead, something soft in him speaks. “I never had a mother. She died when I was born. And my father wasn’t around much either. He was a ladies’ man and had a lot of sons he ignored.” Perhaps that might explain why Yozev ignores his own sons, and why he is himself a ladies’ man.
“I knew my mother,” says Hey-You.
“Yes, she seemed nice.”
The child has nothing to say to that. He returns to shuffling back and forth on his little feet, like he is treading water and walking at the same time. The line moves a few more inches. Yozev’s patience with waiting in line begins to wane. “Do you think you will ever grow? I thought I would,” reflects Yozev helpfully. “It just seemed to make sense that I would. My brothers are all much bigger than I am. Maybe you will be a child forever.” A lot of people do not appreciate Yozev’s sense of humor.
“I’ll get old.” Hey-You points to a gray bearded man hobbling on his cane, talking to himself, flapping his gray toothless gums. “That will be me,” claims Hey-You.
“How ambitious,” Yozev answers.
He finds it strange that he could be thousands of years old and looks so fantastic while these seventy-year-old babies were rotting from the inside out. An arrogance bestowed by years of worshipping has led Yozev to a belief that he is insanely handsome. As a result he is constantly looking at himself in mirrors.
Finally they reach the gates, which is guarded by twenty sober looking soldiers. Hey-You and Yozev are patently ignored. A plump guard decides to take an interest.
“Is he your son?” asks the plump guard, his double chins rolling around on his face like dancing ass cheeks.
“Yes.” Yozev looks at the child and warns him with his glance to keep quiet. From the hungry eyes of the guard, it is clear many children come unattended by adults.
“Here are your tickets,” says the guard, running his hand through his greasy hair and then picking at his beard before handing over an envelope. “I wouldn’t open them until tomorrow. It may cause you a bit of trouble.”
“Tickets?” asks Yozev.
“There aren’t enough boats for everyone. As of yesterday’s count at the gates there are nine million, eight hundred thousand people in Basileus now, but only enough ships to take four million away. The Priests decided on a lottery system to determine who gets on the boats. From what I hear a lot more people will arrive at the city after the gates close and won’t be nothing we can do for them,” says the guard. He looks at Hey-You and licks his lips. “Things can be done for a price.”
Yozev’s eyes become blank and a hand slowly reaches for his blade. The man goes white when he looks at Yozev’s insane eyes. “Enjoy the city, sir. They decided to drink a world of wine in five days to celebrate the end. Every street offers free drinks.”
“Do you think everyone being drunk will help the situation?” asks Hey-You.
“Be a lad and shut up,” says Yozev.
Two men pass them glasses as they enter the domed city of Basileus. The boy passes his to a man he had met in the line. Yozev takes a sip, pretends to swallow, and disposes of the glass and wine in his mouth at the earliest convenience.
Basileus is warm. For Yozev this is inconsequential. For Hey-You it means he is shivering because his body is finally warm enough to register that he was cold.
Desperation is in the air. So are music, love, fucking and feces. The smell is of rotting garbage. Less than a week earlier this city was pristine. Now piles of garbage litter the alleyways and gutters. Rays of light comes in through slits in the mostly snow covered dome and hurt the eyes when caught directly. The city was built under a dome of glass, made to last the most terrible of storms. Inside, a storm is brewing which will destroy the city and bring down its domed ceilings in crashing shards.
It begins slowly.
“I’m hungry,” pleads Hey-You.
“I doubt these men will have food to spare,” says Yozev. He raises an eyebrow. “Unless you intend on being a cannibal, then there might be a sufficiency in food. Didn’t you eat yesterday?”
He steps over a drunk passed out from drinking too much wine. There is far too much garbage on this street for Yozev’s fastidious mind.
“I need to eat every day.”
“That is a dreadful inconvenience. ”
“I like it.”
Yozev wonders if he can taste things now. He has not tried for millennia, having found the experience somewhat pointless.
“You will not like it when you do not have anything to eat today or the next day,” says Yozev spitefully.
An awkward silence follows. Yozev and Hey-You begin their journey into the city. It is a big city, bigger than any that Hey-You had ever seen, with more people and more things going on.
Religious sects look for customers. The end of the world is destined to increase their business. People drop coins in their baskets. Not like they need to save for tomorrow anyway.
A seemingly endless line of half-naked, curvaceous women approach Yozev and his ward, sidling past them with big grins and swaying hips. “How would you like to spend your last night?” asks the matron leader of the topless women, who happens to have a black eye and luscious pert breasts. She notices their delayed response and laughs. Her breasts jump up and down as she wiggles with mirth.
“Do you like girls, yet?” Yozev asks Hey-You.
The child’s mouth opens and closes without words coming out. “I think we’ll keep walking,” comments Yozev.
“Come on midget, you don’t need to be in the circus anymore,” the woman’s eyebrows dance up and down.
“Insulting me doesn’t turn me on, girl. I am not a woman.”
“I don’t find that attractive,” says the woman, her hand going towards her black eye. She looks at Hey-You as if he were old enough to have a name. “What about you, big man?”
“No thank you, miss,” replies Hey You. His eyes do not stray from her chest. “She has nicer breasts than my mother.”
“Thanks, darling,” says the woman. Yozev kisses her hand and moves on. He does not know why he did that. He does a lot of things like that.
“In the future, if you are trying to seduce a woman,” says Yozev, “Do not mention your mother. Generally speaking it just makes things more complex.”
The throngs of half-naked women follow them. They are not actually following the two of them per se, just walking in the same direction. It gives Yozev a certain smile to think they are following him. Hey-You looks back at them and ruins their air of cool nonchalance. The duo’s attention focuses on a scene unfolding in front of them as the ladies make their way around a corner. A man and a woman are exchanging words.
“I love you. Can you honestly say the same thing?” asks the woman.
The man wipes sweat from his brow and sighs. “I guess I owe you the truth. I never really loved you,” admits the man.
The woman grimaces saying. “You were a poor lover.”
He puts his hand in the air. “You never had one interesting thing to say,” he replies.
“Why did you stay?” asks the horrified woman.
The man brushes his brow again. “I don’t know. I guess I wasted my life.”
The woman looks mildly embarrassed. “That is terrible, just terrible.”
He stops and looks her in the face. “Yes, that’s exactly what it is!”
The couple stands poised on the street realizing they are not alone. Most people would leave each other after such a confrontation, but this couple lacks a better place to go.
Yozev pushes the boy past the couple and directly into two drunken Priests. He smiles at them with a look of affected derangement. They grin back at him, exposing grimy teeth and eighty proof breathe. One of the Priest mutters something and the three of them laugh ferociously.
“What was that you just said?” asks Yozev.
“There is-ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” the others laughs again.
“Well out with it,” says Yozev.
“There is no hope.” One of their glasses smashes to the street—this time their laughter is explosive.
Past the Priests, are members of all twelve Olympian castes—drunk, happy and spouting clichés. Children set off fireworks. Parents flinch with every bang. Street vendors give away their wares. Children feast on sausage and lamb wrapped in bread, grease dripping down their fingers. Clowns dispense helium balloons and children release them, leaving thousands of balloons stranded on the city’s ceiling. Open bars operate on each side of the sidewalk. The wine drinkers gargle their wine and toss it back and forth between their cheeks as if it still matters what year it was bottled, and how the oak rounds out the aftertaste. A soccer game starts in the middle of the street. The kids get into fights and give each other bruises, cursing back and forth at each other. In the way children do, as they instantly become family. Hey-You urges his guardian to keep walking. He does not want to see all the happy families.
They move past the street corner and witness a scene of amazing carnality. Think of an orgy in a world where non-participants are executed and you get a sense of the numbers engaging in the acts. Priestesses and Priests of Dionysus were overseeing it with religious zeal and a host of pike-men.
“Is that where babies come from?” asks Hey-You.
Yozev goes to open his mouth.
In every direction Yozev looks, men and women fuck each other in the street. Some couples look happier than others. A blond and red-haired double-backed monster seems to be writing new pages for the book of love. For a second Yozev watches them with opened mouth shock. He is surprised that he can still learn anything about sex. He wonders if the woman was a gymnast. There cannot be any other explanation. He also wonders if all the women are being taken willingly.
“I’m still hungry,” says Hey You.
“We should get some food,” says Yozev, blank-faced.
A shadow that reminds the boy of his mother approaches. Hey-You looks at his feet. He will not get his hopes up. He has already seen a dozen such shadows, so he keeps the smile from his lips to keep the pain from his heart. His mind has a way of seeing what it wants to see.
“You look like a gentleman,” says a soft female voice from over their shoulder. Not his mother. Still hurts. “Wonder if you boys could help a lady out?”
Yozev turns and sees the short, sweaty woman. The fact that she is short makes Yozev more comfortable in dealing with her. He finds humans unreasonably tall when he has to stand on the ground. He wonders if she wanted him to engage in gymnastics. There are many facets to becoming human.
She is short, pretty and suppressing a lot of anger. The boy walks towards her. Yozev’s hand fondles his sword.
“Yetanna,” says the woman, holding out one hand to shake while cradling an empty blanket in the other. The empty blanket looks as if it still has a shape. Yozev looks inside expecting to see a baby.
Nothing. Do not react.
“I don’t want to sleep with you,” says Yozev sliding his hand into hers. Yozev feels terribly inadequate when the woman’s face falls at his response. Part of him decides that there might be a little more room in his chest for this woman and her blanket baby.
“That is an awfully tall assumption for—never mind,” says Yetanna. “I notice you don’t have any eyelids.” He can tell that the woman is trying to blackmail him but cannot imagine for what. Perhaps she wanted a god to help her onto the boats.
“Yes. I have no eyelids.”
“You are also quite short,” she points out somewhat sheepishly.
“I think we’ve established that. Why are you listing my characteristics for me? This is the last night of the world. I remind you much is permitted on a night such as this.” He looks at the blade strapped to his chest. Her eyes follow his and she walks back a step.
“You’re scaring her,” Hey-You says.
“He is trying to, my love,” Yetanna explains to Hey-You.
There is something in the way that Yetanna calls the boy “my love” that strikes Yozev’s fancy. “Maybe I am not trying to scare you,” he says. “Depends on what you have to say.”
“I know who you are,” says Yetanna.
“And this means?” asks Yozev.
“I need someone to protect us. We have tickets to the boats. I am not sure we will make it unescorted,” says Yetanna.
He looks back at the blanket and stops himself from flinching. He wonders what she sees when she looks into the blanket.
Does she feel its heartbeat?
“And why should I help you?” asks Yozev.
She looks at the blanket and back at the god. “Do you have to ask?”
“We should help her,” says Hey-You.
Yozev pats the boy on the head. The ache in his chest momentarily dissipates. He wonders if the human conscience existed physically inside their chests, at a point between their heart and their lungs.
Yetanna beams at the boy. “I expect my child will look like you when he gets older.”
Hey-You nudges Yozev and says, “Sons should protect their mothers.”
Something in his words makes Yetanna stumble.
“Are you going to become another thing for me to worry about?” she asks.
“You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll look after you,” replies Hey-You.
“I don’t think I could lose another hour’s sleep,” says Yetanna.
“You do look weary.” Hey-You steps forward and hugs her.
She grimaces and the bags under her eyes are pulled from either side.
“But still pretty,” says Hey-You.
“He looks like he could eat a little something,” Yetanna says to Yozev. “Children should have skin on their bones. Your little boy looks like a corpse.” She starts combing his hair.
A lot of women do such things for Hey-You. She has nice fingers and knows how to make him feel as if he might fall asleep standing up. Yetanna is like his mother, but nicer. Though at the end, his mother was not herself.
The question of who she might be during these moments had yet to occur to Hey-You. His memories had trouble making the distinction between his mother and what she had become. She was only composed of the good parts—the rest of her—the parts he could not explain, are the world doing things to her against her will and had to be kept separate. He pretended she had become possessed.
“Such a skinny boy you are,” repeats Yetanna.
“Yes, he is quite homely,” says Yozev. He notices her expression and takes note. “A face only a Father could love and I am a good father,” says Yozev. She has the longest fingers Yozev has ever seen. He wonders if she plays piano. “Do you play the piano?”
“Only when I am awake,” says Yetanna with a smile she must have used at hundreds of cocktail parties. Strange that a woman comfortable with making empty conversation with strangers can be the same woman holding a blanket she pretends is a baby.
“What is your son like?” asks Hey-You.
“Aliens dropped him at our doorstep. He hasn’t spoken yet but I am sure that he has a lot of strange and wonderful things to say. Children with eyes like that see things we don’t,” replies Yetanna.
Hey-You’s brow furrows with concentration. “What is your son’s name?”
Yetanna opens her mouth to answer and a long line of naked grandfathers prance by, smiling, looking quite silly as their genitals bob up and down. She starts laughing. This laugh is a rich laugh made of stops, high notes, drops and echoes. He automatically looks at her fingers as she laughs, his brain somehow linking the two things he likes about her.
“That is a party I would hope never to be invited to,” she giggles.
“You must be invited to all the parties,” Yozev says. “I would be offended if I was not invited. I would not choose to attend,” he adds, “but that is besides the point.”
Yetanna laughs once more.
“I will help you,” Yozev says suddenly.
The three maybe four of them pass out of the market place and find themselves on a slightly less crowded street. Saying less crowded in Basileus is like saying less stifling in hell. An old man with a fantastic moustache, thankfully wearing clothes, puts his hand on Hey-You’s shoulder. Yozev’s hand goes to his blade.
The old man lets lose a belly laugh from his oversized gut and fancily waves his hand at Hey-You.
Hey-You responds with a little bow. The old man stands with his back to a rather large red door, which offers the only color on the gray street.
“Would the young family like some soup and bread?” asks the old man. He speaks in English, the Olympian tongue, but with a strange accent. In his head Yozev’s thoughts babble on about whether he should fuck her, and whether or not the same language is spoken all the world, albeit with slightly different accents.
“I can’t take anything from strangers,” replies Hey-You.
“My name is Raphael. Now we are friends. What does the wife think about some soup and bread?” asks Raphael.
“I don’t think at all. I am a good wife,” says Yetanna.
“Will you accompany me, my lady?” asks Yozev.
Hey-You squeals with delight. Yozev feels the ache in his chest ease another degree.
“Will that stop you from complaining?” The child eagerly nods. “I over-indulge you,” says Yozev. He walks in front of the boy; his eyes keen for any approaching threat. “Oh, and no more squealing. It sounds effeminate.”
Raphael guffaws as only fat men can, and wipes his dirty fingers on his massive belly leaving large sauce stains on his white apron. “Things are going mad. The fools are going against everything they have ever known,” says Raphael with a look of distaste, before licking the rest of his fingers.
“Very profound. What sort of soup is this you offer?” asks Yozev.
“Delicious soup,” answers Raphael. Yozev grinds his teeth; he hates when he does not get a straight answer. The old man opens the Big Red Door and motions for the trio to come into his house. “The authorities gave us all kinds of food. Tomorrow we set sail. Each one of us was given three months supply on the off chance that we don’t win the lottery,” Raphael scowls briefly before breaking into his next big smile.
“There will be more losers than winners,” says Yozev.
“Everyone is a loser in this situation,” supplies Raphael.
Clichés are addictive when situations do not have words to describe them properly.
“There is lobster, smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, turkey, gravy, potatoes, everything you could want,” says Raphael with the pleasure of a waiter who works at the best restaurant in town. “The more the merrier.” Yozev being of a suspicious mind wonders if the old man intends to drug them and take their tickets.
“I’m hungry,” says Hey You.
“And repetitious,” says Yozev. He touches the boy’s nose. He does not know why. “Should I be more encouraging?” Yozev asks the old man. His hand is still on the boy’s nose. What should he do? He squeezes it. He analyses the old man and his smile. Honest. But hiding something.
“Why are you asking this man instead of your wife?” demands Yetanna.
“I thought polite women kept their mouths shut.”
“You shouldn’t have married me. I am anything but polite,” suggests Yetanna. She kisses his cheek, her lips lingering on his skin before disengaging. The peck of a kiss feels like it lasts for minutes, his memory trying to memorize the sensation, all of his synapses concentrating on capturing and elongating the feeling on his skin. It is the first kiss Yozev can remember. He tries not to blush. As a mortal, he cannot even control that. In this confusion he says something stupid.
“In this city it is common for men to beat their wives,” says Yozev. Yetanna lacks an adequate reply. That was the wrong thing to say. Rephrase. “So should I be nice to the child?” he asks again. Dizziness dissipates and reason returns. He should avoid kissing this woman when he has other things to do. He wonders if his own weakness to such physical affection comes from not having experienced for such a long time. One way or the other, this weakness was something he would have to watch, it could turn dangerous if ignored.
“Children are like princes. You throw away a kingdom for a prince like your boy,” says Raphael. He pats Hey-You on the head. Yozev feels a tremor of jealousy and dismisses it as an unlikely emotion for him to be having.
“Come in and meet my princes,” says Raphael. The old man opens the Big Red Door and they enter a small gray house that smells of dust and gourmet cooking.
“May I say something,” asks Hey You of Raphael.
“Of course,” says the old man.
“You have a great moustache.”
“Thank you,” says Raphael touching his flowing white moustache and smoothing out the tips. He seems to touch his moustache compulsively. Yozev suspects it is a guilty tic and then suspects he is overly suspicious. “It takes a long time to grow a moustache so full and manly. The years make us so much better.”
The old man’s house is composed of one floor with just a few bedrooms and a kitchen. The kitchen is already filled when they arrive.
Little boys and girls, little men and women, husbands, fathers, mothers, and daughters all sit around five geometrically opposed tables shoved together as if to say “the more the merrier.” There is more food than Hey-You has ever seen. “Soup and bread” does not accurately sum up this incredible feast.
Everyone in the room smiles as if someone is watching them. “Tomorrow is a big day,” announces Raphael. Introductions begin and Yozev phases it out, trusting his memory to store the relevant facts.
“Mom says she’ll tell us the bad stories. The ones she couldn’t tell us when we were babies,” says a fat little girl with pigtails.
Henceforth she shall be referred to as Pigtails because, until you are thirteen, the Olympians do not give you a name and she has pigtails—besides, it is rude to describe a girl as fat.
“My daughter asks and I give,” explains a raven-haired woman who should not have been old enough to have children. She smiles in an odd way, nervous, as if she expects someone is going to laugh at everything she says and not because she is funny. The raven haired woman reminds Yozev of a little girl waiting to be told to go to her room for wearing her mother’s clothing.
Raphael cut off fatty slabs of roasted lamb and passes the dish around the table. Turkey is next. Then chicken. He individually cracks the lobsters and passes them around. He still wears the same smile—a smile that says he would do this each and every day if he could. Yozev lets his plate be filled, feeling the beginnings of an overwhelming anxiety. What if he is still unable to taste?
“Eat little princes and princesses. Tonight we are together,” says Raphael. “Does anyone want some wine? I think I may indulge in a drink or two myself.” He uncorks bottle after bottle and passes them around. The little boys take huge gulps and hesitant sips and the parents follow in a more leisurely fashion. Conversation opens up as the cheeks redden.
“Delicious wine,” says the raven-haired mother. She laughs. Yozev had expected the shrill voice, but he did not predict the full joyousness of the laugh that followed.
“Thank you very much for the hospitality,” Yetanna says to the old man. The blanket crumples into nothing. Hey-You puts his arm on her neck. She turns and gives him an overly grateful smile.
“I am sorry you lost your son,” says Hey-You.
“I hope I find him again,” says Yetanna quietly, her soft voice now filled with the possibility of exhausting sobs and eardrum-cracking sorrow.
“Sometimes it’s too cold,” says Hey-You.
There is a short pause where they look ready erase the charcoal line that separates them from becoming mother and son, this woman with her dead child and this boy with his dead mother. Then Hey-You turns away and shoves a whole piece of bread in his mouth and begins the laborious task of chewing. The world is rarely so perfect as to replace exactly what you have lost. This is why men weep, and little pig-tailed girls get fat.
Yozev fights off the nervousness of trying something new. The biscuits look like a boring first choice while the lobster is too strange and exotic. The soup looks too light. He wants something not only light, but also substantial. And then he sees the pig. There is an apple stuffed in the pig’s mouth. The meat worries him because he is scared he will like the taste of blood. The red apple seems like a more wholesome first taste. Yozev rips the apple out of the pig’s mouth and takes a bite barely suppressing the shudder that passes through him. “It is good.”
The fat little girl dips her bread in her soup, making a yummy sound as she takes her first bite. He mimics her, and can hardly contain himself as the salty broth meets the crusty bread.
He shoves meat and gravy into his mouth until he can no longer keep it closed. The food slides down into his stomach. The feeling is so good he can almost understand his people and all their foolishness. He takes a strip of meat and examines the blood and gravy with his tongue.
Pouring wine down his gullet, he forces the food to slide down his throat. Wine tastes good. His head swims slightly. He wonders if he will lose his god-like drinking tolerance. He hopes so. It has become tiresome drinking twenty whole casks of wine just to get intoxicated. If only his god-like tolerance had come with a god-sized bladder.
“Darling, you are chewing with your mouth open,” scolds Yetanna gently. She kisses his cheek, and he feels her kiss penetrating his skin, grinding gently coming to rest in that sensitive portion of the brain we call the soul. He looks down. He has an erection! He has a body!
“Do you like sea-food?” asks Yozev. He puts a large piece of lobster in his mouth and starts chuckling and spitting out his food, the taste is so good.
The fat little girl giggles and opens her mouth. “I love see food,” says Pigtails, sticking out her tongue to display her food.
This is an important moment. This is the first time anyone in this civilization has ever heard this joke. The whole room explodes into laughter. Things are different when you hear them for the first time.
The raven-haired woman takes the child into her arms. “Don’t sicken the guests.”
The girl grabs for her mother’s fingers. “I am sorry mummy. Do you still love me?” asks Pigtails.
The mother nods. “Of course I do. I love you with all my heart. Mummy would do anything for you.”
Hey-You tilts back his glass and throws some wine back to wash down the food. In another gulp, he finishes the glass, giggling.
Raphael notices that Hey-You’s plate is empty. “Meat?” asks the old man.
Hey-You takes a large piece of steak and begins worrying away at it with his teeth. “I apologize. He is a bit of a savage,” says Yozev.
“This is no day for manners,” answers Raphael. “Enjoy. Do you like sweets, prince?” Hey-You has too much food in his mouth to answer.
“I think he is saying he hates sweets and would love more vegetables,” says Yozev.
The child looks ready to burst with exasperation as he struggles to chew the ridiculous amount of food he has crammed into his mouth.
Hey-You looks at Yozev with puppy dog eyes. Yozev nods.
`“Not until he finishes his dinner,” Yetanna tells the old man.
Yozev snickers. The boy struggles to chew all the food he has put in his mouth. The sound he makes doing this is quite disgusting and thankfully cannot be repeated in words. This does not stop Raphael from making one last toast.
“Tomorrow is a terrible day,” says Raphael. “Tonight, let us drink. And raise a toast to children.”
Yozev catches the secret in the old man’s eyes and looks down.
Yozev had not understood what the old man had been hiding until now. He can see the secret reflected in the eyes of all the adults in the room. The adults are getting drunk for a reason. They purchased spaces for their children on the boats. They gave up their own tickets to make sure their children made it on board.
“My kingdom for a prince,” the old man says to Yozev.
“My kingdom for a princess,” says the raven-haired woman, trembling with nobility. If she had not had a daughter she would be one of the kids. You can see that she does not feel grown up enough for this sacrifice. The old man kisses her brow and her eyes regain their strength. He looks at Hey-You and understands Raphael’s decision. He would do anything to make sure Hey-You would survive. No one else but Hey-You was really alive to Yozev. Yetanna smiles at him. He would try to help her too.
Yozev pours back a full glass in a gulp. Yetanna kisses Hey-You. Yozev wishes the boy had a name. “The world for my boy,” says Yozev.
Glasses clink and a god makes a promise he may not be able to keep.
“The world for my boy.”
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