The Body Is A Language

When they were scattered to the winds, words lost, minds mazed, it wasn’t just an exile from place, but from each other. Community gone, language gone, every friend a stranger, every stranger a foe, they wandered the earth, incomprehensible not just to others to but themselves, too. They must relearn speech, even for their internal conversations.

That first generation never ends.

They do not notice at first — they have no words for passing time, no numbers to count the days or months — but when they have clawed enough of a sense of self together, they find the world has changed, their children’s children long dead and gone, their great work a rumor for a shepherd’s night, nothing more.

They do not recognize themselves in these new faces.

The gap may have always been there, may have grown wider during the unknowable period of their wandering. These new people are soft, without the pliable layer of keratin that keeps them safe, with only vestigial moons at the tips of their fingers and toes, and with no skyward ambitions. They rage to see them so. They try to seize them, to call them back to what they were, by deed if not by words, and pass through them like smoke, like carbon monoxide, invisible, inaudible, inimical.

Water Weeds

An inch of water in a pool closed for the season, and a young man face down in it, wrists tied together behind his back with duct tape. They found him when the snow melted in the spring, seven months after he’d disappeared, after the whole county had turned out to search for him, after his name and photo had spread for a thousand miles in any direction, after fourteen press conferences by the police. The snow melted, and the country club opened, and when they pulled the cover back there he was, preserved by the cold for the most part.

A suicide, the cops said, and refused to answer questions.

Years later, and miles away across the state, another young man face down in a river. Disappeared in the winter, disappeared from an empty car, leaving behind a laptop, a phone, a change of clothes. No search parties, no news coverage, no updates; a father making the rounds from precinct to silent precinct and church to church, pleading. A handful of mourners wandering the banks, calling his name, hours past sunset. The river never froze, but there he was in the spring, newly dead.

Suicide, said the cops, and closed the file.

Cancer

So we’d been living quietly enough in the swamp, the hydra and me, and if it wasn’t a glamorous life it wasn’t so bad, either. The fat days had ended, presumably because the mother hera had gotten bored, or hydra, she’d grown big enough, either way, but we didn’t go hungry. There’s plenty to eat in a swamp if you’re not picky.

Anyway like I said, we were living quietly, just the two of us, talking about the old times and the old folks, when news came through the grapevine that her brother the lion had been killed by some dingus and that she was next on the list, even though she wasn’t doing anybody any harm that didn’t come into the swamp first. Meat’s meat, as they say, and a gal’s gotta eat; you can’t blame someone for that, or who their parents were, or anyway you shouldn’t.

Anyway, eventually he rolls up, big and brawny and brooding, handsome enough if you’re into that sort of thing, growling and sobbing from underneath the hood he’d made out of her brother’s skin, weeping and penitential and determined, swinging around a sword and firing off those flaming arrows like a real jackass. Hydra, well, we’d put together that this was what the mother hera had been after anyway, and death or glory, y’know, so, out she goes.

I go out with her; I’m not so big and my parents weren’t fancy, but you do what you can. I took a good couple of chunks out of his toes with my claws before he kicked me way deep in the swamp. By the time I got back hydra was dead, all except the one head that couldn’t die, and he’d buried that under a boulder.

I dug down deep, for years and years, and I’d still be digging if I hadn’t died first. She’s still down there, far as I know, that stubborn central part of her; I like to think she’s grown back, spread subterranean back to the swamp. Always good times there. It’s okay up here looking down, but it’s not the same.

Zeus

We’ll skip over how the baby got in his head—it’s a messy story of incest and cannibalism, you can probably fill in the gaps—and, you know, we’ll skip over the aftermath, too; the whole virgin warrior thing is rad, don’t get me wrong, but you get it. Olive trees, gorgon shields, tricky wagers, turning a woman who committed suicide into a spider, there’s some fun stuff there, but no.

No.

Instead, let’s talk about the moment of birth, the unendurable headache that went on for days and days as she drummed her heels against the inside of his vast celestial skull, let me out let me out let me out, and how he went from unconcerned to miserable to anxious to desperate. The cold iron of the anvil against his cheek, his wife and her son grinning down at him, the biter bit yet again, Dionysus solicitous, slightly tipsy, fluttering around trying to get him to drink something first to dull the pain but he can’t think, all he can do is—

And then the hammer descends.

Blessed relief as the sky leaks in and his daughter leaps out, armed and armored, tall, lovely, and wary, and ohhh, the shivery moment as he lies there, hair damp with sweat, blood, cerebral fluid; he presses electric palms against his temples to hold the bone closed against any afterbirth. He weeps with relief, static discharge lost in his beard, alive again in that moment stretching from heaven to ground.

Aegeus

Ten ships, each with ten youths, sails white and crisp against the sky, disappearing into the haze of the sea, the winedark sea. Aegeus stands on the shore, bare feet cold and bloodless against the sharp rocks of the beach, hands clasped against each other so tight they ache, heartsick with worry and guilt. When he turns his eyes toward town, hours later, he has lost the trick of perception and totters shaky as an infant down streets he cannot recognize.

Weeks pass, and months. He measures the distance in his mind, the dangers, curses himself for a coward, returns to the rocky shore again and again. Every ship that heaves itself out of the horizon’s uncertain line snaps a lash against his back until he can sort friend from stranger, hope from despair. Anxiety wears him smooth as a river stone.

When at last he spots the black sails, it is almost a relief. The waiting is over, and he has failed twice over. He shakes out his robe and walks out to meet the returning ships, eyes fixed still on the horizon until the waves drag him down to his father’s kingdom; let the hard duty of survival be taken up by others better suited to it.