SUN KISSED by Katherine Herron

Father had a beautiful cage built for me,
bronzed like my skin...
Sunlight is one of the only things that can touch me now. Warm and bright and almost like a human touch, if you forget the tangibility of skin, the pleasure of another person’s palm lines aligning with yours, which I almost have, because it’s been so long. Father kisses my forehead, sometimes, when he visits, but Father locked me away here, so his touches don’t count or comfort. He doesn’t count or comfort.

It’s not a father’s or jailor’s touch that I want.

(I raked my fingernails against his cheek the last time he came. Then envied the blood there, the proof of human contact.)

(He has not returned since.)

No one else ever comes, no one who can touch me the way I want to be touched, so I imagine a lover into the summer sunlight that strays into my tower. I dream one into the rays leaking, looking through the sunroof—reverie that it’s a lover’s lips on mine instead of the sun’s light, rhapsodize about the patterns on those imaginary lips, invisible from a distance but so so intimate in the moment, merging with mine. His bright hands on my hips and then my waist and then everywhere else.

The bronze below me, around me, heats with the sun sometimes. Shines with it. Father had a beautiful cage built for me, bronzed like my skin. I know I’m high above the palace courtyard, but there aren’t any windows here, save the sun roof, so I can’t see anything but the blue sky above, the occasional cloud. Sometimes, I can almost hear gardeners and visitors strolling below, and I wonder what they make of the tower sitting amidst the sunflowers, if they know about the bronze box—Father calls it a chamber, but it’s a box, really, no matter the soft bed and the fine robes and the precious metal walls—I’m living in. They’ve grown accustomed to me, most likely. I’m old gossip. Argos’s princess, a gem in a jewelry box.

Where was I, the courtyard, I wish I could see the courtyard. I used to play outside these bronze walls as a girl, before these bronze walls existed, skipping around its columns with the sons and daughters of servants. Older. Sneaking through its mazes with the cook’s son, letting him kiss me into stone corners the sun couldn’t reach, loving the spices in his breath. Wanting my legs around his hips and my back against one of the stone columns and the erasure of all space. To be touched, every bit of me, consumed, all of me.

But the cook’s son only ever kissed my lips, because a princess must be pure for her prince, whenever he may come. I wonder if the cook’s son is the cook now. If his soft hands prepare the fruit bowls and breads and spiced meats I receive each day through a slit in my bronze chamber, too narrow to fit more than a plate through. (I’ve tried.) There’s a door too, but only my father has the key. Servants aren’t trusted with its weight.

When I close my lips around figs in the morning, I envision the cook’s son preparing them. It bothered me, once, that his fingers were never as pristine clean as mine, but I wish they’d stain me now. Stained means touched. If the Oracle of Delphi were to give me a prophecy, I imagine it thus:

You’ll spend your life as a ghost, aching for the climax of contact.

A prophecy changed my father’s life, ruined mine, so I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, more considering them. If my father hadn’t visited Delphi, honored its oracle, then I’d be outside right now. Wed by now. Touched by now. Loved by now.

You’ll die a maiden, untouched as a priestess in your afterlife.

Except that wasn’t the prophecy, wasn’t my destiny, wasn’t I supposed to have been loved by now? Father locked me away, you know, went mad, you know, because Delphi’s oracle told him his death would come at the hands of his daughter’s son.

So no one can touch me.

Sometimes, I wish I had a sister, and then spend hours on my knees, praying to the gods for forgiveness. The sun always chooses those moments to bathe me. Like it’s listening. My only friend. If I close my eyes, the sun has a face. The sun is a man with power enough to free me, passion enough to consume me. Knock away the bronze. Kiss away the intangibility trying to undo me. If I close my eyes, I can feel a man’s beard in the sunlight, swear that it echoes on my chin and cheeks and thighs.

My name is Danae, Princess of Argos, daughter of King Acrisius, but no one has said my name in such a very long time.

I swear the sun whispers ‘Nae against my earlobe, into my lips and my neck and my chest and my stomach as he kisses, bites, scorches. Snipping my name in half, just to get that much closer to me.

I wish for a sunburn. A mark. Like the love bites I wouldn’t ever let the cook’s son leave on my neck but always left on his. I want the sun to burn my entire body. Sometimes I let my robes fall, and bathe all my bare skin in the sunlight for hope it will, but it only ever bronzes. I was a never a fair-skinned girl, but I’ve never been so sun-kissed.

I wish that someone, the gods, the sun, could give me the son that my father so fears. A boy heaven-sent to free me.

I know it’s mad, but I swear my stomach truly is increasing, though my diet hasn’t changed. Though I’m spewing my breakfasts more mornings than not, just after finishing their figs and breads and honey. Because I’m spewing my breakfasts more mornings than not.
I don’t think I’ve bled in two months.
Impossible that I haven’t bled in two months.
I haven’t bled in two months.
If it’s madness to think that I could truly be with child, then I’ll pray for madness. I’d cry through the prayers, but for the sun’s gentle lips, kissing away the tears before they can fall.

My belly has grown huge. I know I’m not mad, because none of my robes fit like they used to. It bulbs through all of them. I think the sun likes my stomach bare. It fawns over the skin there, the impossible child kicking beneath. Kisses and murmurs and caresses.
A hero, I hear in the breeze that sifts through the sunroof. Our son will be a hero.
As though I care about anything but the perpetual touch of a life grown from mine. My son can do whatever he likes, so long as he never leaves me. So long as he saves me from here, because the sun, for all its radiant warmth, cannot. So long as my son avenges me.
(Perhaps I do wish him a hero.)
I won’t consider the possibility of a daughter. I refuse to trap a daughter inside this tower, chamber, box with me.
Father has found a new box for me. Made of wood now. A chest now rather than a chamber. A more honest prison, fate, punishment, a quicker death. He was all smiles when he opened the door to my room for the first time in months, ready for the desperation of a daughter dying for any conversation from any company at all. Then all faltering smiles, all horror too profound for frowning, at the sight of the infant clutched to my chest
Horror encased me too, though I’d envisioned that moment triumphant with: Look at your grandson, Father. Doesn’t he look strong? Doesn’t he look up at me so lovingly? Won’t he grow up to desire you dead, dead, dead?
Reality was a flood of: He’s going to take my son, he’s going to take my sun, he’s going to steal the light and leave me here to touch only ever bronze.
The wooden chest splinters my shoulder blades now as waves whirl around us.
“The gods loathe kin slayers,” I pleaded with Father before he nailed us away within these wooden boards.
“I’m no kin slayer,” he said, before tossing us to sea. “Poseidon can do with you as he likes.”
And then I was screaming through the slits in the wood, but the waves had already taken us. My words fell to their depths to litter the sand like shells. I wrapped my body around my son’s cries. His soft, round cheeks and tiny toes.
“You’ll kill him for this someday won’t you, sweetling,” I soothe into his ear. “Won’t you, darling? My strong, sunlight boy.”
The ocean should have swallowed us whole by now, but the sun keeps creaking through the cracks in the wood, driving the water away. Running its thumb across my forehead, its lips over my eyelids, whispering, Our strong boy.
I wonder if Father, too, has pieced together his grandson’s sire. If he’s allowed himself to recall the strange forms Zeus will take for his human lovers. A swan, a satyr, a sunbeam. It took me ages to believe it, though nothing else explains the infant in my arms.
(I’ve been ravished by a god, but still never truly touched. It’s a lacking I’ll never admit aloud, for fear of lightning.)
“Zeus will save us, won’t he, sweetling,” I whisper into my son’s soft forehead. “My sweet, strong Perseus.”
Katherine Herron is a long-time fan of all things fairy tale. She currently lives in Edinburgh, where she is working towards her master's degree in Creative Writing.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff
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Comments

  1. Such beautiful, exquisite tragedy full of longing and hunger, bringing a familiarity of myth to a wonderful payoff by this story’s conclusion. I began to suspect what was happening with each name mentioned, and went from sympathetic frown to delighted smile of confirmation with the mention of Perseus at the end. You gave such creative and clever details to a familiar myth, Katherine. Wonderful work!

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