The bus pulls out past the GPO and stops at the lights before turning left. I stare out the window, the past crowding itself into my mind. I have lived too long.
As a child, I wanted the future so badly I could taste it. We laughed and played on the beaches, but it was always me who stared out to sea and wondered what else was beyond our island home. When we were taken away, I didn't want to go.
That was how I ended up tumbling hard into the water, a face full of salt and stinging blood, groping out for the ship and managing somehow not to be pulled to safety. I never heard the cries of my sister who struggled to grab hold of me while they held her back. She was the prize. They let me drown.
I ended up on an island again, alone except for the voices of the goddesses who had made it theirs. There I met Hermes, my first lover, the man with the silvery skin and golden eyes. But that was later, surely? My memories are all mixed up.
The bus moves north, past the newspaper office and along the busy street. It's going too slow for me - I who could fly, once upon a time.
My brother Aeetes became a king - it seems that everyone I knew was a king - and he welcomed me to his palace in the city of Colchis, proudly displayed for me his greatest treasure, the lambswool cloak threaded through with solid strands of gold.
And now I remember our father laying his hands on us before we were taken away from our home, telling Æëtes he would possess the greatest treasure in the world, and that his daughter would steal it from him. My brother never heard the negative half of that prophecy, but I have keener ears than most. What that father of mine said about me? "Your children will build cities, daughter, and you shall watch them fall."
He would know, I suppose. The people of Rhodes built a statue to our father, a colossal sculpture shining goldly over everyone. I never knew how accurate that statue of Helios was, for I never saw our father's face. I just felt the glow of his hand as he touched me with his paternal blessing, then saw the glow as it moved past me and touched the face of my bright-eyed sister. Pasiphae. Poor darling Phae....
The bus turns west now, skirting the other side of the mall, and I squeeze my eyes shut. The past is intruding, and I don't want to think of my sister.
I remember screaming at Aphrodite for her interference, weeping as I realised what she had done to bedazzle Helen of Sparta into tapdancing away from her loving husband and into the arms of that pox-ridden prince. Poor Helen, the girl that everyone loved because she was heir to a city. I remember her mother, white with pain as she birthed those god-gotten daughters of hers, but that image blinds me with what happened to Pasiphae.
I am too late. My healing skills and prayers to Hekate are worthless now. I can do little but watch as my darling little sister is pulled apart by the monster within, clawed and gored in the process, blood running into the shell-tiles of the floor. Minos claims it was a religious ceremony gone horribly wrong - the mating was supposed to be symbolic, not actual - but eventually he tells me the truth. He has offended Poseidon, who inhabited the ceremonial bull himself and raped the young queen in punishment for the king's own trangression. Planted a monster inside her.
Some days I hate the gods.
Penelope was Helen's cousin. I keep forgetting that. We have a strange link, Penelope and I, both married to each other's sons, bound in love to one man whom we both outlived. I remember his eyes, warm and brown and staring at me as if he loved me. I never knew the truth, where he was concerned. He had a wife.
When Sparta was besieged with suitors, I lived for a while in a temple of Hekate. A young man came in to make an offering to the goddess, claiming it was for love.
I laugh at him. "Hekate isn't a love goddess. She'll make you a potion for sex or for death, but nothing that lasts."
"I'm in love with Helen," he confesses.
"Who isn't? The man who marries her gains a kingdom. Is it any wonder that they fall over themselves to love her?" I hesitate, take pity on him. "If you want her to notice you, treat her like a girl rather than a marble statue. She'll like you better. Anyway, she's not that pretty."
It was a love match, gods help them. He seduced her in a corridor, pretending he thought she was a serving wench. They were married with due ceremony and silly grins. Until Aphrodite sent her away chasing shadows...
The bus is steadily moving north now, past the Thai restaurant and the cheap (but overpriced) pancake parlour, past the Chinese takeaway on the right and the sewing centre on the left. Past the Guide Dogs for the Blind, past the Aboriginal Centre, past the college.
I hardly remember the seventeenth century. Isn't that strange? I hardly remember the 1950s, come to that. After a while, immortality stretches thin. Centuries go past without you noticing. I never bothered to track my descendants, though Lavinia was one of mine - the girl who married Aeneas and founded the city which founded the city which founded Rome. From their marriage, many generations later, came the Caesars, blood of my blood. Yes, that's why they were all blond.
I loved Rome, first as an intense little kingdom, then as a stuffy Republic and finally as a sprawling great Empire which fell spectacularly after we lost the old gods. I don't miss most of them - those deities who paddled their fingers in the lives of mortals as if it were all some kind of game. I still have wistful thoughts about the silvery hands of Hermes running down my spine, but I'm glad to know that I outlived Aphrodite. Spiteful Aphrodite, who stole my daughter.
Cassiphone stands up to me, screeching, and all I can think is that she has her father's eyes, the eyes of the man who left us and returned to his faithful wife - not so faithful, if the tale about Dionysus is true. But there are so many tales.
Cassiphone was so like my brother's daughter Medea, with those bright blue eyes and unnatural golden hair which marks us out as children of the gods - even Caesar had that mark. Medea, standing on my lonely beach with defiant eyes, holding up that blood-stained golden fleece and begging me for purification in the name of Hekate.
Helios is mourning the loss of a son and summons us to him, all of his remaining children. Pasiphae is there (but Pasiphae is dead) and Aeetes is young, and we all gather to grieve for the brother we never knew, who stole the chariot of the sun and paid the fatal price for his delinquency.
I turn away deliberately and leave Medea to her fate, my brother's daughter. Even I can do little for one whose destiny is to kill all those close to her.
Others come to my island, seeking help or favours. I punish those who intrude, twisting their nature of reality into colourful shapes. Others stay, and keep me company, share their love with me. He is one such, who stayed a while.
He comes accompanied by brutes and thugs, Odysseus, the king of wiles. I turn his men into snuffling creatures, rooting through the undergrowth, but him I cannot touch.
When he leaves, he says my name, "Circe," in a voice as soft as night.
I weep, and my tears are acid running down my skin.
The bus drags its slow way through the street of restaurants and cafes, streets too narrow for the traffic to slide easily through. My distant past is alive in my mind, though I'm not quite sure what I did last week. Dying is easy, but immortality is hard.
I'm screaming at Aphrodite for what she did to Helen, that laughing, happy bride, cutting her off from a lover-husband who had teased her mercilessly into loving him back.
I'm falling into Hermes' arms, exploring him for the first time, discovering the magical properties of the isle of goddesses.
I'm listening to Helios silently predict the future for his wide-eyed little daughter Pasiphae - no mention of her being torn apart by her own monster child, was that not her written destiny? He says she will marry a king (and silently that her children will kill each other). That much is true. Ariadne killed the monster for the love of a stranger, and her sister abandoned her for the love of that same man. I should have taken them in myself, raised them as apprentices on my solitary island, but what did I know about children?
Cassiphone is leaving me to serve Aphrodite, my lovely daughter, so certain that she knows what is the right thing to do. My son Telegonos is quick to follow, searching for some sign that he has a father out there in the world. When he finally meets him, he will slay him by accident and marry his queen.
Telemachos is kissing me, Penelope's son with his father's eyes, pulling me back on to the bed of grass. Gods help me, I married him. The other son of Odysseus. I couldn't help it. He was my only, lovely husband. He died too. They all die, sooner or later.
The bus moves on, through Newtown, past the twin supermarkets and the school zone and on towards the boundary of the next suburb, marked out by a Video City in bright orange and fluorescent blue.
Aphrodite is laughing at me.
Helios is weeping.
Cassiphone is arguing, shouting, quietly leaving.
Telemachos is wound around me, half asleep.
Pasiphae is bellowing, shrieking, her body streaked with blood as the talons claw their way out.
Helen is eagerly asking me what I think of Menelaos.
Telegonos is pulling the sword out of his father's belly, horrified as he realises what he has done.
Penelope is marrying him. Marrying my son, frantically ignoring the delicious irony.
Minos is blustering, trying to conceal the truth from me. Lying about my sister's death.
Hermes is pulling my mouth down to his.
Medea is begging for my help.
Leda is falling into the downy embrace of the swan, conceiving her unhappy daughters.
Aeetes is showing off his gold-streaked lambswool, so proud, so proud.
Odysseus is speaking my name. "Circe."
Everything stops. I pull open the back doors of the bus and head home, walking slowly. My legs are stiff - they don't have to be, but immortality is no longer what it's cracked up to be. Maybe it never was.
The bus hisses, indicates with a flash of orange light and heads off towards the next suburb and beyond. There's always a beyond. The future is just another place to kill time.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a writer specialising in comic fantasy. She lives in Tasmania, Australia, with a physicist. She has had two novels published, Splashdance Silver and Liquid Gold, as well as various short stories. For more information about Tansy's work, visit her webpage at www.tansyrr.com
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Published by permission of the author.
by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer 1897.
Courtesy of Artmagick.com