SATURDAY TALE - Off-Spring by Marcia Sherman
where the river disappeared and kept watch...
Dusk was nudging the sun away. The breeze quickened to wind, and leaves scattered. Caritas sat on a rock by the pool, near the cavern, where the river disappeared. Twice a year she kept watch. She knew her mother was waiting for her; it was soon time to leave. But her grandmother was not yet in sight. Cari could not, would not leave until her hand was firmly grasped by the elder’s. She touched the birthmark on her right cheek. Maybe she would see her father again this time. Maybe Cari would get another kiss. His beard tickled, she remembered. That had been nice, even though it had burned a little and left a mark. Cari’s mother told her it was the shape of pom seeds. Cari thought it looked like tears.
Dusk edged through the trees and wind tossed leaves in every direction. Persephone wiped her hands and removed the apron. It was almost time; and all of the preparations for her absence were now completed. She eased into a chair by the door, waiting for her mother and daughter to arrive. She was ready to meet her husband. Every year Sephi went through the same rituals: clean the cottage, pack some personal belongings, smell the last of the flowers – even though chrysanthemums had little smell – and set out alone to the pool, by the cavern, where the river disappeared. It had taken her longer to prepare this year. Her growing belly kept getting in the way. Why was her daughter not returned?
Sephi knew Cari waited in hopes of seeing her father. However, Hades had been warned not to seek contact again. That would void the contract, and he would not chance losing Sephi forever. Cari, with her black eyes and fiery red hair, was the image of her father and his surroundings. This second child would be quite different. Cari’s brother would be born in dark, but would carry light with him always. He too would be the image of his father – and nothing at all like her husband. Sephi knew exactly how Hades thought, what wife doesn’t? At first he would be happy, over the moon as it were, to have a son. A son who – being born underground – would stay with him forever and take a seat beside him in the management of the underworld. All babes look alike at birth, and eventually change to favor one parent or the other. This babe would keep the coloring with which he was born. Hades would begin to wonder, and doubt, and suspect. Then he would count the moons, and he would know. This child, this son, with those cool, blue eyes and soft-as-spring-lambs pale hair, was not the son of Hades. Waiting for her daughter, watching out the window, Sephi let her thoughts wander. How was it she had been so weak? Was it really just all those months, year after year, in dark and heat? The soft, new grass and the rainbow of flowers had seduced her, along with his smile. She was lost, and loved, and never spared a thought to the complications which might arise from the joining. He had been gone when she awoke. Nothing for it now, just bear it and move on. Where was that girl?
Cari watched the shadows grow and tamped down her excitement and fear. What was taking her grandmother so long? There – finally, footsteps on the path, surely that was Demeter making her way to collect her granddaughter. Cari glanced past the cavern to get a better look through the trees, and her eyes widened in amazement. It was him! Had her yearning called him? She jumped up and ran to the cottage, calling to her mother the entire way.
Fontanus or Ueris? Either name would be perfect. It may be considered a slap in the face of her husband, but Sephi wanted a name to remind her of that breathtaking afternoon spent in the May bower. Shaken from the reverie by her daughter – at last! – calling to her, she gathering up her travel bag, she stepped out of the door. There was Cari dancing along the path. There was her mother, laughing. There was, wait, was it…him? She had not seen him in almost six months. Thought it impossible, considering the circumstances. Her knees gave out and he rushed to catch her. Joy shone like a May dawn on his face, amazed at the gift she held for him. Gently, he lifted her and carried her into the wood.
Cari watched her mother and companion and laughed delightedly. She looked up at the trees – did they suddenly seem a little greener? With one long loving look at the couple, Demeter smiled too. She took Cari’s hand, and they entered the cottage.
Hades waited for hours at the mouth of the river, in the cavern, near the pool. At length a messenger was sent. There was to be no argument. Just this one winter Persephone would not be returning to Hades. Other than the god of the river Styx and his bride, only the dead live underground.
It was remarked upon as the warmest and mildest winter in hundreds of years.
Only one snow fall - and that on February 14th.
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Art: Evelyn de Morgan
Layout: Amanda Bergloff