Nadira and Hades
It was a summer that sent the dizzy, half-giddy pulse of fever high into the clouds. You close your eyes, and imagine a sky that swells with the burgeoning weight of the heat. A saffron sheet, taut.
A summer in which even the rules and laws that governed your life grew limp, like cheap paper whose structural integrity has been compromised by watercolour paint. The heat softens and spreads the faces of the children in your neighbourhood into shriveled, sun screened blurs peering at you from behind the windows of their homes like so many convicts on house arrest. It melts the grease in the icecream man’s moustache so it droops and uncurls, casting shadows on his presence. The bees fly drunk on nectar that has turned alcoholic; the neighbour’s cat sleeps all day in the shade of their drapes. You rest your head against the coolness of a melon before cutting into it, hold a glass to your cheek, watch aunt Alice’s hair go slack and cling to her face.
“This heat is deranging,” she says and rubs sunscreen on your skinny-as-an-afterschool-special arms.
The ivy-aunt. Yours are the tendrils that clutch.
Uncle Henry’s Audi rushes through the green midday heat, slick and shiny as a scarab. Gleaming so dubiously you can barely stand to look at it. Freshly waxed, with coins of sunshine dancing on its hard, black body.
In the dappled light, filtering in through the blinds, aunt Alice watches uncle Henry bend and lift you effortlessly into the air, as though you are an inflatable child, made of air. On your face, she sees the shy delight of airborne young. It is your smile that reminds her of Priscilla, that you have deep dimples that stay on for long after the smile leaves your eyes, that your skin shines, and that your face is small and wonderful and that even now, when you are 7, what she can see is the lasting glamour of a face that both does and does not know its impact. It makes her soul subdued and measured when she sees the alarming, sudden twilight of your eyes, blasts every atom of air out of her lungs when you turn those eyes on her and say, with near complete indifference, that you sometimes wonder about your mother. Your apathetic grace is frightening to her, as she watches you, and contemplates what the world might exact from grace. You are gravely curtained, then, aunt Alice adopting a tone that seems to say, bright rain of my love, look at me, and slough off your mother’s skin.
She is unsurprised at the extent of your physical ease with him, alarmed that you seem to have a sub world that excludes her entirely. A pliable, downy world of smiles and laughter that she, the aunt, had no part in. She recognizes, acutely, that a delicate, purple tinge of envy hangs round the periphery of her thoughts like an ominous storm cloud. Heavy on the horizon.
She doesn’t allow herself to consider whom it is she envies. The child, or the man.
From the front seat window, with the wind in your hair, you watch a band of parrots, vibrant as methai, plunge out of a Maple tree, tumble in the sizzling air, then sort themselves into formation and streak away across the sky. Uncle Henry points them out to you, smiling a startling, white smile. It gives his brown, almond shaped eyes, crinkled, happy edges. His hair is clipped close, dark and thick, facebones like something cutting standing out in sharp relief against the soft curve of an almost feminine mouth. Sometimes, he’s the most handsome man you’ve ever seen. And sometimes, he isn’t.
“The sky looks like a mandarin.” You say, distractedly, having discovered a lime sweet in the glove compartment.
Uncle Henry frowns at you. “We’ll be eating after the show, Nadira. Please don’t ruin your appetite.” He lifts a slender finger, points out the window, and then rests his hand on yours. “Do you see that cloud? Over by the streetlight.”
“A transparent, spotted snake.” You say, and then reconsider. “The staff of Asclepius.”
He looks at you with such keen eyes that it must have been a strain on your good humour (you are not a very good humoured girl, to tell the plain truth) to sustain the pressure of that gaze. “Mi amor,” he says, laughing, “the trees are sea anemones.”
“Waving their tentacles.” You flex your hands, tendrils of silver snaking upwards and dissipating.
“Trying to trap the clouds,” he agrees. “Are you reading about Asclepius?” His knuckles, on the steering wheel, are turning white.
You, unsure of the politics of this, shift uncomfortably. “I was. Our history teacher told us to pick a figure from mythology we admired, or wanted to be like.” “I was going to write about Athena, but I don’t like what she did to Arachne.” He looks at you. “I mean,” you say, “she was a better weaver. It wasn’t her fault that Athena was too big headed to admit it.”
“Did you say that to aunt Alice?” He asks, eyes glittering like glass, cool hand still overtop your warm, slender, one. His talk like a creature next to him, a crow of his singular expression.
“Yes. She was the one that suggested Asclepius instead. He’s O.K.” The trees and streetlights fly past. Inky. Sepulchral.
It grows darker, as the light grows softer, fuzzier, turning to a kind of crumbling yellow pollen. The sky outside is a series of oblong shapes between the crowns of the trees, the roofs of houses, balconies, flowerpots. It looks like a jigsaw puzzle.
The Phoenix theater has a newly painted high dome that you haven’t seen from the inside, yet. It’s painted like the ocean, white stippled and warm, tiny, green-gray fish like whizzing jet planes, leaving bubble trails. A whale coasts, fatly baffled, by the chandelier.
How strangely it makes you feel, how strangely you think of beauty. You are greedy for it, insatiably greedy, you might watch it forever, staring intently, watching everything about you with a fierce urge to take it all and imprint it within yourself.
You are the girl, who sees and knows. And later, the girl who doesn’t know. The girl mired in uncertainty, stranded in doorways, your own inability crippling you.
You are here to see Cain, your favourite play, for the first time.
The theater smells of breathing people and floor polish. A magical, theater smell that you love and treasure. Smells, like music, hold memories. You breathe deep.
It may be thou shalt be as we.
At night, you would stand on your bed with a sheet wrapped around you and say “‘And the unfathomable gulfs of Hades, and the interminable realms of space, and the infinity of endless ages, all, all, will I dispute!’” and crash into bed without bending your knees, like a corpse. Aunt Alice would frown, crossing her arms. Left over right. “I won’t allow you to stay up this late with uncle Henry next time he makes a nighttime visit,” she would say, each time, and leaving you to contemplate this dreadful promise, would kiss your cheek and pull the duvet up to your chin.
Gainst all external sense and inward feeling:
Think and endure, — and form an inner world.
Memory, in all forms, had turned into an impetuous sort of regret.
The loss of uncle Henry grew robust and alive. Like a monsoon rain. Every season.
Numbed by the loss of the uncle was not an uncle (unbeknownst to you, the girl who saw and knew) you look out at everything with a vision smudged by a half-grief. A grief like a broken plaything, tucked away into a glass paned cupboard. Cozy and contained. Private and narrow. The girl comes away, seared, laughing mutely at her effrontery.
By a most crushing and inexorable destruction and disorder of the elements
Which struck a world to chaos, as a chaos subsiding has struck out a world such things, though rare in time, are frequent in eternity.
Pass on, and gaze upon the past.
“Your voice could cut straight through a man, Nadira.”
With a whimper, grief bursts through the white hot crack, falls on its knees, gets up and stumbles on benumbed legs out of the room, weeping heartily. A snot nosed child. You watch, astonished.
You were born fit; you rendered yourself unfit. A sharp, steely slash of hysteria — you swallow the knot in your throat that threatens strangulation and watch Hades watching you.
At first glance, you appear to have settled into the skin of your mother. Slim hipped. Thick, dark hair coming free from your plait in soft, unruly wisps. A chiseled, heavy browed face, straight, sharp nose and luminous nutbrown skin. Your white, sudden smile gives way to twin dimples and your eyes have the pinched, hunted look of the very unlucky. By the corner of your delicate, fine mouth there is a small birthmark that moves as you suck in your lower lip.
Only your eyes are incontestably entirely yours. Large. Dewy. Dark as an aged roof grown mossy with rain.
In New York, on the train, across the aisle from you, a woman with chapped lips blows her nose at regular intervals, dropping each tissue at her feet like a flock of improvident doves.
Memory is that women on the train. The tissues at her feet. Fucked in the way she draws from the recesses of your cupboard, and emerges with the most incorporeal article. A fleeting look, a feeling, the sky on a hot day. The dome of a theater. An uncle’s knuckles.
She knows him, this god of loss. This god of grief locked in glass paned cupboards. This god of memory. Of course she does.
You see your face reflected in his gaze and the specter of your future in it appears to mock you. You tire of grief’s proprietary handling of your body. You want it back. It’s yours. Grief laughs a hollow laugh and dances cheerfully out.
He leaves no footprints, no ripples in water, no photographs.
In my literature class, we were given a list of topics and told to pick one and write about it, and there was an option to write about a parent/guardian's relationship with a child (that was the literal prompt, it was super vague) and I wasn't interested in the others, so tht's wht I chose. Originally I intended for this to be a re-write of smth else I did for Nadira tht I hated, but it spiralled out of control. Anyway! I hope y'all don't mind me dropping it here. It's sort of a short piece on Nadira and Hades.