Beneath the smooth, familiar face of things is another that wais to tear the world in two.
‘Prometheus was a god of prophecy. He would have known he would be punished, and how. Yet he did it anyway.’
‘Yet,’ he said, ‘may I return? Will you be here? For I have never known such a wondrous thing in all my life as you.’
I had stood beside my father’s light, I had held Aeëtes in my arms, and my bed was heaped with thick-wooled blankets woven by immortal hands. But it was not until that moment that I think I had ever been warm.
‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘I will be here.’
No one had ever confided so in me. I drank down every story like a whirpool sucks down waves, though I could hardly understand half of what they meant, poverty and toil and human terror. The only thing that was clear was Glauco’s face, his handsome brow and earnest eyes, wet a little from his griefs but smiling always when he looked at me.
‘Those years are nothing,’ I said. ‘I made no use of them.’
Every day we sat together talking. He was full of dreams, hoping that when he was alder he might have his own boat, and his own cottage instead of his father’s. ‘And I will keep a fire,’ he said, ‘burning for you always. If you allow me.’
‘I would rather you keep a chair,’ I said. ‘So I may come to speak with you.’
‘Sorcery cannot be taught. You find it yousrelf, or you do not.’
My stomach twisted. I had not thought how my confession would take Glaucos’ greatest pride from him. Too late, I thought. Too late for all the things I should have known. I had made so many mistakes that I could not find my way back through their tangle to the first one.
My face was hot. ‘I suppose I should take you as my tutor and deny everythion?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That is how it works, Circe. I tell Father that my sorcery was an accident, he pretends to believe me, and Zeus pretends to believe him, and so the world is balanced. It is your own fault for confessing. Why you did that, I will never understand.’
[…] there was no wound she could give me that I had not already given myself.
‘Gold does not give back a life.’
‘I can tell you are not a queen. Believe me, most of the families would rather have the gold.’
His shoulders were taut, tensed as if against a blow. The last time he had thanked me, I had stormed at him. But now I understood more: he, too, knew what it was to make monsters.
‘It is difficult, [Deadalus admits]. I have done my best to be a father to him and a mother too, but I know he feels the lack. Every woman we pass he asks if I will marry her.’
‘And will you?’ [Asks Circe].
I looked into [Deadalus’s] good face. Not good because it was handsome, but because it was itself, like a fine metal, tempered and beaten to strength. Two monsters we had fought side by side, and he did not wavered. Come to Aiaia, I wanted to say. But I knew there was nothing for him there.
Instead I told him, ‘I hope you get to Egypt one day.’
But I pressed his face into my mind, as seals are pressed in wax, so I could carry it with me.
‘It is done. I will think of them no more. I cast them out and I am finished.’
After so long amid only the smooth sameness of nymphs, each imperfection was a pleasure: the lines around their eyes, the scabs on their legs, the fingers broken off at the knuckle. I drank in their threadbare clothes, their worn faces. These were not heroes, or the crew of a king. They must scrabble or their livelihoods as Glaucos once did: hauling nets, carrying odd cargo, hunting down whatever dinner they could find. I felt a warmth run through me. My fingers itched as if for needle and thread. Here was something torn that I could mend.
Give me the honest asp, who strikes me if I trouble him and not before.
Come, I would say to them, it’s not that bad. You should appreciate a pig’s advantage. Mud-slick and swift, they are hard to catch. Low to the ground, they cannot be easily knocked over. They are not like dogs, they do not need your love. They can thrive anywhere, on anything, scraps and trash. They look witless and lull, which lulls their enemies, but they are clever. They will remember your face.
They never listened. The truth is, men make terrible pigs.
‘Your wife sounds like a clever woman.’
She is. I cannot account for the fact that she is married to me, but since it is to my benefit, I try not to bring it to her attention.
His skin smelled of labour and the sea. He knew ten years of stories. I felt keen and hungry as a bear in spring.
‘When I was a boy and everyone played at wrestling monsters like Heracles, I dreamed of being Daedalus instead. It seemed the greater genius to look at raw wood and marble, and imagine marvels. I was disappointed to find out I did not have the talent for it. I was always cutting my fingers open.
The scars themselves I offered to wipe away. He shook his head. ‘How would I know myself?’
‘Sweet son,’ I said, ‘you are right, this world is a wild and terrible place, and worth shouting at. But you are safe now, and all of us need to sleep. Will you let us have a little peace?’
[Circe speaking of Telegonus.] I made a list of all the things I would do for him. Scald off my skin. Tear out my eyes. Walk my feet to bones, if only he would be happy and well.
‘I come to say that you may go, and I will help you. But there must be conditions.
Did he know how much those words cost me? I do not think he could. It is youth’s gift not to feel its debts.
I thought: I cannot bear this world any longer.
Then, child, make another.
Is it not our human tragedy that some men must be beaten like donkeys before they will see reason?
‘My son does not now,’ she said. ‘He is not to blame.’
‘I know. I can spot a spider in her web.’
Athena, the restless goddess whose schemes spun on and on. She had fought to bring her hero home, to see him lifted among his people, for her honour and his. To hear him tell the tales of his victories, of the deaths they had dealt to the Trojans together. But I remember the greed in her eyes when she spoke of him: and owl with a kill in its claws. Her favourite could never be allowed to grow dull and domestic. He must live in action’s eye, bright and polished, always striving and seeking, always delightnig her with some new twist of cleverness, some brilliance he summoned out of the air.
‘Telemachus the Just,’ I said.
He smiled. ‘That’s just what they call you if you’re so boring they can’t think of something better.’
‘You have always been the worst of my children,’ he said. ‘Be sure you do not dishonour me.’
‘I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.’
‘We are not our blood,’ he answered. ‘A witch once told me that.’