Orpheus and Eurydice: Letters and Stories
I'm in this life that someone inserted me into.
I want to be in another world, to grow old with Eurydice, to have her beside me. Better yet: the both of us forever young — and healthy and all those things I'm supposed to remember to ask for to outwit the trick questioner.
Inside another story, we're both healthy. She's applauding my music. Even Heracles, her cat, is dancing, stropping her ankles. And in a farther story, I see us old and calm, strolling through a field of crocuses, holding hands, our grandchildren laughing beside us. But I don't see this story that I'm in right now. What is the ending?
The advice is always to not want, to be a lump or rock, absorbing temperature neutrally. She said that to me as she lay under the quilt, her face fever-flushed, eyes skittering, breath labored. The snakebite is killing her.
I will play my quantum music; I will raise another world. You should pluck the lyre. We are alike, dear youngling.
You must be tired too—designing a new world, then constructing it. What kind of life is it for you? Constantly growing things, changing them, adding water here, cutting down there, digging a trench, making thunder, remembering to light the stars. Adding music. Baking bread, mashing grapes, stirring soup, twisting the head off the chicken, skinning the lamb, gutting the fish, draining the rabbit. Hard life for you. Harder even for the rabbit, I suppose. I sympathize with you, you know. Now you should sympathize with me.
Give her health. Let the boils heal.
"My chest feels as if it's being sliced with hot knives," she said, her eyelids fluttering. "We had a baby. He lifted his tiny arms to me. Is that a possible world? Could such a thing happen?" She fixed her slate eyes on me.
"Perhaps in another reality." That's what I told her. And there are other worlds, other gods. There's the Elysian Fields and Mount Olympus, where we could banquet with the gods. I have to find a way to get there. Perhaps I can sing a path to the gods. I will do it. I will.
You should play your lyre. You have talent, but the birds and the rocks that follow you won't save your wife. Go down to Hades and bargain with my brother. Maybe he'll let her come back, but probably not. Even as a child, Hades was melancholy, grudgy.
I will make another world. It may seem wasteful to evolve ferns and bacteria into grasses and nymphs, and let them hurtle into black holes, but I have the time.
We can start all over again. I have ambition, hope, and infinite — almost infinite — time. Are you game? Let's meet.
* * *
The sea surged on the shore that day, foaming and hissing, as Orpheus walked beside Zeus who shone so bright he could blind you. The surf pulled at the land; gulls screeched above; the air smelled of salt. "Will I come back as myself?" Orpheus asked. "Will she?"
"Sort of." Zeus shrugged. "You might have a tinsel wing or furry mouth."
"That's not me."
Zeus flicked at a piece of lint gleaming on his mighty forearm. "Sort of you, I said."
"And the same for Eurydice?" This was not sounding good. This was sounding like eradication.
Orpheus stepped back. "No."
"Those little proteins and enzymes lodged in her blood, squirming, swimming, searching. So beautiful with their hectic activity. Up and down they thrash, some with paisley tails. And now I'm supposed to eradicate them? I'm proud of that design. It didn't come out of nowhere."
"Not eradicate. . . just move them out, to some other host."
Zeus boomed a laugh. "You want to preserve my work. Will you be the host?" He turned and whooshed away to Olympus.
Orpheus coughed. "I'll take the venom," he shouted. He coughed more painfully, a lacerating sound that burrowed out into the bright day. The birds coughed with him, the lions and ants and the crocuses. He went back to where Eurydice lay on the bed.
"I'm tired," she said. "Don't look at me."
He stared at her skin, once glistening, now spotted and bloated. Maybe she was already becoming a shade.
She settled under the quilt and closed her eyes. "I remember a summer day when we walked through the fields, and you said you'd love me till the planet flaked into ash. I remember an autumn day when I gave birth to our first daughter . . ."
"That never happened."
"Yes, it did." She raised her feeble hand and tapped her head. "Here."
Orpheus was afraid. He took her hand and brought it to his lips.
She sighed and withdrew her hand. "I know we don't have children. I know I'm dying. I know I'm remembering events from our past and events from our future." She shuddered. "How strange the mind is. How strange the universe is. Remember me, and I'll live in your mind."
"I want you to live here, not in my mind. Not to be a picture but a real person."
"Maybe I'll get well." She coughed and her body shook. "I don't mind if you remarry. I want you to be happy. I want her to love you." She looked toward the open window. "I even want you to love her. Remember me from time to time. Remember me." She stretched. "I don't hurt now." She smiled. "The pain has stopped."
Dear Orpheus, (she left behind in a letter)
I love you now and in all worlds. This one's enough. It would be nice, though, to have you in all the other worlds. Nice.
Here comes Heracles, meowing.
's Nice Girls and Other Stories
was published by New Rivers Press
. Her stories have appeared in FRiGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, Waccamaw
and New York Tyrant
, among others. Her flash, "The Writer," was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf's Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and "To Kiss a Bear" was selected for Wigleaf's Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.