Welcome to Short Story Sunday.
This was posted here a while back but it is one of my favorites so I’m posting it again.
Marla is a writer and art director in Northern California where she lives with her husband Steve Kings and daughter Charlotte.
Ode to a Greek God
A story by Marla Todd
I’ve been 6000 years at the top of my game. I knew it was too good to last.
I’m having breakfast on my deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the perfect amount of salty warm breeze drifting over me. A beautiful redheaded woman is still in my bed and I can still feel the warmth of her skin against mine. Fortunately she’ll be gone in an hour.
Anyway, I’m having coffee and some amazing cheese and apple pastries my son dropped off this morning. I’m also checking out a box Pan had dropped off with the pastries. That’s my son Pan, the famous happy-go-lucky satyr who dances through the woods making merry. That’s over. He settled down about 150 years ago with a wood nymph named Gloria and they’ve been keeping domestic bliss ever since. I never thought I’d see the day. Anyway, they were cleaning out some closets and found some stuff I’d swiped a few years ago. Thirty-four years ago to be exact.
It looked like I’d gone into the backpack of a college girl. I’d been in college mode that year for a change of pace. I was young, buffed and blue eyed and a killer smile. Female heads all turned in my direction.
In the box was a silver hair clip in the shape of a flowering tree branch, a delicate sexy lacy cream-colored underwire bra size 32C, a sea shell and a folded up piece of college ruled notebook paper. I unfolded the paper and read the words that would change my life.
It was a poem. It was in a round girlish script written in blue felt tip pen. No name identified the writer. I started to read, expecting the usually silly girlish babble about the meaning of life, teen angst and the horrible nature of never being understood. What I read was something else entirely.
As I stood upon the steps,
Halfway between the land and sea
The messenger god Hermes
Came to me,
Swift footed and bright
But somewhat overtaken
By his cousin Dionysus’ last visit
He brought me a message
And I read it through his blue eyes
“I bring you myself” he said.
No answer came from my lips
Except a kiss,
Which spoke very clear.
Oh happy was I,
When hand in hand
Under the stars we ran
For my mythical Hermes
Turned into a man
I took a gulp of coffee and stared at the poem. A poem about me? People had written poems about me, of course, but this was personal. It was a poem about ME, not a god of tales and lore but about ME, Hermes. It was about ME.
This girl knew me. I mean she KNEW me. She knew who I was. How? I never let on to any mortal to who or what I am. Never.
She wrote me a poem. It wasn’t a great poem. It wasn’t even a good poem. It wasn’t epic. But by my father Zeus, it was tender and sweet, full of the promise of love. It was happy. It was from her heart. A heart that considered me more than just a good body and maybe a great fuck, if I did indeed fuck her. I know I must have kissed her. I must have made love to her, because a girl who wrote the poem would never just fuck a guy. She’d have made love to me in a way I should have remembered, but damn it I couldn’t remember a thing.
A kiss. I tried to recall it. Such a kiss I should have remembered. It should have burned on my lips. It should have taken my immortal breath away. I sat going through all of the dusty file drawers in my brain trying to remember, but NOTHING came to mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I am usually NOT the romantic type. I love women but I refuse to be the kind of guy or god who is going to turn into a jellied mass of so much romantic bullshit over just any female. Or am I? My stomach knotted up. My head spun. My heart started to beat fast. I thought I was going to throw up.
By the way, I am Hermes, the messenger God. I go by a lot of names but my friends and family and people who worship me call me Hermes. The Romans called me Mercury, but that is a completely different story, one I’d like not to bring up right at this moment.
So I close my eyes and THINK. 34 years. I’m trying to get a face. A location. Who the hell wrote that poem? There was a ski trip to Aspen and another to Tahoe. An uneventful week in Miami brought back no memories. Of course there were trips to Greece and Paris. The summer was spent in San Francisco and a little north of there was the beach house. Fall brought on New York and Boston. I was in Vermont for the holidays with my family (I know what you’re thinking and yes, we do get together for the holidays just like any other large dysfunctional family).
I heard a car start and looked back to the side of the house. The redhead drove away in her red BMW. I wouldn’t see her again. She got what she wanted and was happy. Fine with me.
Up the drive walks my cousin Dionysus, who happens to be staying at my brother Apollo’s place next door. There again, he was the PARTY GOD. Now he turned into Mr. Bottle Shock. Always going up to Napa, Sonoma, Amador or jetting over to France, Australia, and all corners of the Earth for wine tastings. The guy has been going on about Lodi wines lately so much that I wanted to smack him until I tried them. He was right; it was the nectar of the God’s. But really – Lodi? Have you been to Lodi? Despite all of that he’s still my best friend.
He read the poem. “Halfway between the land and the sea. She was at the beach house you dork.”
“Do you remember her?”
“Yes I remember her.”
“Who was she?”
“Miranda. Quiet girl with the pretty blue-green eyes. She was cute enough.”
“I’m trying but I don’t have a face yet.”
Dionysus poured himself a cup of coffee, added about a gallon of milk to it and half a cup of sugar before sitting down. “She drove a beat up old MG Midget. You talked cars. She was impressed by your Porsche. The two of you hung out all weekend making small talk. Saturday night you went for a walk on the beach and she had sex with you. You thought she was sweet. Remember, she was getting ready to go off to UCLA for the fall. You told her you were going to Harvard.”
Pictures, smells, sound and feelings started to flood my brain.
“She’d been there for several weekends. We always ended up talking on the porch.” I said as images started to come back into my brain.
“Right. She liked you a lot but she didn’t come out and hunt you like the other chicks always did. It wasn’t until that last weekend that you acted on it.”
I remembered. She was a cute, somewhat pretty 17 year old girl with long brown hair and aqua marine eyes. At a party she wouldn’t have been the girl all the guys were after, but I noticed her. Well, she noticed me first. She started out talking to me about cars. From cars we talked about the tides and the ocean and movies and music and school. She wanted to travel to Nepal and spend time in Europe. Most of her friends were moving on to different colleges but she seemed all right with it. Her mind was set towards the future. I liked her company but she didn’t indicate at all that she wanted true love or a lasting relationship.
We’d walked on the beach. I’d made a few jokes and she’d laughed. She said a few things that were so funny it surprised me. I kissed her and a few hours later we made love by the base of a cliff in a private isolated area of the beach. She didn’t howl at the moon or put on a show. She wasn’t a virgin either.
Miranda let me take the lead but followed with quiet perfection. She lost herself quietly in the moment (which by the way lasted a good hour) and in me and didn’t ask for more. She could kiss too and had an amazing body. What more could a young man want?
We walked back to the house with all of our friends and she never said a word about it. The next morning she gave me her number and said, “Call me”, knowing full well the chances of me doing that were slim to none.
I never called her back.
Now I sat alone in my anguished romantic hell. She’d written a poem that morning and I’d stolen it along with a few other items to remember my lovely weekend. The god of thieves had taken a token of love she dared not share with me and for 34 years I had no idea what she’d written on that piece of folded up note paper.
“Where is she now?” I asked Dionysius, knowing if he didn’t know he’d find out.
He pulled out a large wine glass; the big kind used for reds and filled it with water.
“Take a look Hermes. But you might not like what you find. I guarantee you that one like her isn’t sitting around pining for the boy who got away.”
Images and information started to swirl in the glass. And I guarantee you, it sounds primitive, but you get a lot better information in a wine glass than you’ll ever get on Google.
Miranda had earned a doctorate degree in Genetics from UCLA and an MBA from Stanford. She was currently the Director of Development for a biotech firm in Northern California. The husband was an advocate for foster youth and has been a public defender for 20 years. They’d produced two lovely children, one of each. 11 year old girl and 13 year old boy. Both in swim club, good students, get along, popular, no problems. Lots’ of friends with kids, vacations and barbeques. Her home is in a fairly upscale neighborhood but not too pretentious. They go wine tasting a lot and like to cook. My kind of mortals if you don’t mind me saying. The husband even built sort of a wine cellar in the basement. She also likes to build garden sculptures but the visuals were blurred.
“Like whirly gigs?” I asked, thinking of pink flamingos with wildly spinning wings and little figures of men chopping wood. The idea was too weird to digest.
“Kinetic yes, but more large found items, tiles, wood, paint.” Answered my cousin.
“Like the Watt Towers?”
“Not that extreme. More like something out of Sunset Magazine. Understated with a touch of rustic charm.”
Enough of the garden shit. “What’s the relationship like with the husband? What is he? Some middle-aged Viagra popper?”
Dion gave me a smile, like the kind you’d give someone who just said something incredibly stupid. “Hermes, I’m surprise in you. The husband doesn’t need Viagra. He functions quite well on his own.”
“I didn’t need to know that. Did she ever write HIM a poem?”
“The husband? No. You’re the only one she has ever written about.”
“Does she still write anything?”
“She just finished a novel. It’s a mystery romance sort of deal.”
“Can you get me a copy?”
“Sure. I’ll call her up tonight and ask her to email it to me.” He said with a slight touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“Am I in it?” I asked too urgently, hoping the answer would be a definite YES.
“I have no idea but I seriously doubt it.”
“Is she looking to publish it?”
“As we speak. This is her dream Herm. She wants to be published before her kids get into high school so she can be home more with them.”
How could any woman with such a romantic soul, who wrote a poem to a god end up where she was I wondered? “What the fuck is she doing in Biotech?” I asked my cousin.
Dionysus shrugged. “A growing and diverse field with fulfilling opportunities to make the world a better place. She loves it but after 25 years of it she is ready to move on, maybe be a consultant but her family is everything to her.”
I looked into the glass again and saw her as she is now. The brown hair was a little shorter falling slightly below her shoulders, now lighter with blonde highlights. She was dressed stylishly in one of those cute little sweater sets all the women are wearing with a slim skirt and flats with bows. She wore bows on her shoes, a fact that turned my body to so much more jelly. I remember she always wore some bit of fluff or frill along with her Levis and rag wool sweaters. The aqua marine eyes sparkled with little signs of aging. She laughed out loud filling the room with joy. How could someone be so happy working in a science lab? How could someone be so happy without me?
The glass told me that she is known for her humor and mirth. I hardly saw any of it 34 years ago. How could I have been so blind?
To make matters worse was the fact that she was lovely. Fifty one years of lovely female bliss aged to perfection – like the most exquisite and complex wine ever made. She was something to be savored. She was something to be lingered over and enjoyed slowly with great appreciation. I wanted her so bad I ached.
I’m not the kind of guy, or god for that matter, who turns himself into an animal (like dear old dad) to trick a woman. I’m not going to do anything to hurt or use a woman. If a woman wants to use me, then fine, I’ll let her, but that doesn’t make me a bad guy. But I guess I was the perfect asshole to Dr. Miranda Wilkenson Hobbs. She wrote me a poem and I never called her.
I looked up at my cousin. “What was it like before she met the perfect husband?
He shrugged. “She traveled a bit. Worked a lot. Dated a lot. Had a couple of serious relationships but nothing she couldn’t walk away from. She met her husband 16 years ago at a party.”
“Did she write him a poem?” I asked.
“Nothing. Any hang ups with old boyfriends?”
“None. She’s still friends with a few. They’re all married with kids. Nothing unusual. She didn’t write them any poetry either.”
I conjured up an image of the husband in the glass. Average to nice looking middle-aged man. Full head of black hair, sparkling bright blue eyes, slightly crooked nose but with one of those warm and fuzzy charm filled smiles that women love. Nice slightly better than average guy who could in no way compare to me. No way. Not enough for her to write him poetry. Asshole bastard.
During the following weeks I pulled strings and called in favors that sent Miranda’s book right into the waiting hands of Bryan Woods, literary agent extraordinaire. By the way, Bryan Woods was the name I went by when I spent those weekends at the beach house 34 years ago.
When she received my call I couldn’t believe how good it was to hear that lovely voice. Why of course she could meet me. Where? I made arrangements in San Francisco. She’d have to drive to the big city which was A) always a treat for her and, B) a few hours from her home and away any distractions, C) a most romantic spot for seduction.
It was a beautiful day in the city with clear skies and a high of 68 degrees F. I wore gray Armani and my Rolex Daytona (yellow gold), and of course a Hermes tie. The blonde highlights in my hair were perfect and natural. The smile was a zillion watts. The eyes sparkled blue as a Maxfield Parrish sky.
I picked a restaurant with impeccable service and food, an excellent wine list and a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Exactly at noon Miranda showed up. She scanned the room and saw me with a slight hint of recognition. She’d dressed carefully with thought as women do. A flattering and pretty pink tweed suit over a pink silk blouse with high t-strap shoes that was so classic and sexy I nearly laughed out loud with joy.
She smiled and took my outstretched hand. I took her back to our table. There was the usual required small talk about the drive over, the weather, etc etc etc.
We ordered wine and food. I told her how impressed I was with her book. By the way, I was impressed. The woman could write a story. We spoke of publishing and possible options and contracts. I told her I could see a movie deal coming out of all of it. No lies there. After a flurry of animated conversation we suddenly stopped.
Then she looked at me with slightly squinted eyes and asked “Have we met before?”
I said “The beach house.”
“Oh my goodness. That is you.” She said looking slightly embarrassed.
“We made love on the beach.”
She glanced down unable to meet my eyes for a moment then took a sip of wine and looked up at me again. “We were just kids. Wow that was a long time ago. Small world. Um, it’s good to see you again. You’ve obviously done well for yourself”.
“So have you dear Miranda.” I put the piece of notepaper with the poem in front of her. “Read it.”
She read it but her reaction wasn’t what I thought it would be.
“Where did you get this?” she demanded.
“I took it from your backpack.”
“It wasn’t yours to take.”
“You wrote it about me.”
“Just because we…Bryan, this was private. You betrayed my trust in the absolute worst way.”
“It wasn’t yours to take.”
“I’m Hermes. My real name is Hermes, not Bryan. On some level you had to know. Tell me you knew.”
It was as if she didn’t hear a word I said. “Yes, it was about you but the poem was mine,” she said. “You were not supposed to see it.” She was clearly upset, not in a crying angry way but in a calm and collected rage.
“How did you know?” I asked calmly trying to sooth and comfort her.
“Because you shrugged it of the next day like nothing ever happened. I really liked you a lot but oh well. Shit happens.”
I took her hand. “But it did happen Miranda. You and me. You wrote a poem about us.”
“Guess what? It happened a long time ago. I’m not that girl anymore.” She said obviously not following my lead as she pulled her hand away from mine.
“Obviously. How did you know that I am Hermes?”
“You were cute and light on your feet. You made me think of Hermes. Jeeze Bryan. Is that why I’m here? If this isn’t about my book…”
I put my hand on hers again. “I didn’t mean to upset you. But yes, Miranda, I am the messenger god Hermes. Hear me out. I only use the name Bryan Woods when I mix with mortals. Your poem touched me to the very soul and to my bones in a way that nothing else has ever touched me. Nobody has ever written anything so personal to me or about me before. I’m sorry I over looked you. I am sorry I never called back. I’m sorry that it has taken so long for me to tell you that I love you.”
“I should go.” She said trying to pull her hand away and starting to stand up.
“No” I said still holding her hand as I transported her to another time and place.
I took her to a beach. The air was cool and breezy not too cold. She wore a sweeping filmy dress of lavender and white that highlighted her curves. Her hair was slightly blown by an ocean breeze. She was bare footed. I wore a romantic poet’s shirt, sleeves rolled up, half way open to show my spectacular chest.
Against the cliff was a bed piled high with romantic white on white pillows and flowing curtains off of high bedposts. Pink garlands of fresh roses wound around the bedposts. It was one of her dream sort of things.
Miranda looked around 360 at her surroundings, completely ignoring me. Her eyes squinted at the sight of the bed. She turned to me with a total lack of expression on her lovely face except for an angry fire in her aqua marine eyes.
I put my arm around her waist and pulled her close then buried my face in her hair. “It’s been too long”. I said.
She pushed herself away. “What the hell is going on? Did you put something in my drink?”
“I told you I’m Hermes. You’re in my world now.” I said.
I grabbed her wrists. I would have her and she would submit and enjoy ever bit of it and then be glad that she was mine. Or so I thought. She twisted to get away and stomped on my foot. We lost balance and went down to the sand. I was still holding her wrists as I landed on top of her. I could have taken her then and there as I lay between her legs, but I didn’t. Not with Miranda.
“Let’s move it to the bed.” I said gently, my lips meeting hers.
“No, I’m not going to do this. Please. Don’t make me do this.” Tears welled in her eyes. I felt a knot in my stomach and then a wave of nausea swept over me. I rolled over onto my back letting her go. The day was not going as planned.
She got up and walked down the beach a ways then stopped dead in her tracks. She stared at the surf. The sea serpents were out there wrestling. They’re as big as humpback whales with all the teeth, big eyes and claws one expects from them. She froze, and then looked back at me.
“Sea serpents.” I said catching up with her. “Listen Miranda, I’m really sorry. Yes, I’m an arrogant son of a bitch. When I read the poem I thought just for a moment that, no it was more than a moment. Nobody has ever cared like that.”
She didn’t hear a word I said as she stood transfixed on the sea serpents. They roared and crashed into each other in kitten-like play. Green, blue and gold scales sparkled in the sunlight.
I put my arm around her shoulders. “Pretty magnificent creatures aren’t they?”
“Will they come after us?”
“No. They pretty much stay to themselves.”
“This is amazing. Are they real?”
I turned her around and looked into her face. “Yes, they’re as real as I am.” Taking her face in my hands I kissed her. She didn’t fight me, but didn’t exactly jump in my arms either.
“We’re at that point between the earth and the sea.” I kissed her again. She stepped back and crossed her arms. This was going to be more difficult than I thought.
“You’re Hermes, the god Hermes.”
“Yes. I am Hermes.”
I expected her to kiss me or something now that she realized who and what I was. She turned away from me and looked at the sea serpents again then looked back at me.
“I wish my kids could see this.”
“My children always loved it when I took them to see the sea serpents. They still do.” I said suddenly thinking that I’d done well by my children and their mothers. In these modern times we’d be a typical blended family. Go figure. Miranda didn’t say anything but kept looking out to the sea.
“This could all be part of your life Miranda. Few mortals ever see this. I’m willing to make you part of this.”
“You’d give up immortality?”
She gave me a look that would have killed any red blooded mortal. I watched her take off again down the beach.
I suddenly understood that she’d never love me in the way I wanted her too. Honestly I did. Of course understanding and acceptance are two different things. I ran after her and caught her by the arm spinning her around to face me.
“Miranda stop.” I said trying to reason with her.
“What about my book?” She demanded.
“What about it?” I spat back at her.
“Did you like it or were you just saying that to get me here?”
“It could be a best seller.”
She glared at me. “I won’t sleep with you to get it published.”
I was slightly offended but saw her point. “That isn’t good business Miranda, you should know that. Your book is good enough to publish without sex.”
“I know it is. But as my agent can you get me a good deal and top posting on Amazon and book and posters in the window of Barnes and Noble? Can you get me on the best seller lists? Can you get me an interview with the New York Times and NPR?”
“I’m your agent now?” I asked.
“Yes, I mean don’t you want to be?” She asked looking at me like I was stupid or something.
“What about your biotech job?”
“I’ll keep working until the royalty checks start coming in,” she snapped.
I put my hand on her shoulder, ever so gently. “I’ll get you a six figure advance. You can quit your job tomorrow if you want.”
Her face softened. I could feel her shoulders relaxing. “Really? You’d do that?”
“Of course I would. I’ll be your agent but you have to do something for me.” If I couldn’t have her love, I’d get something almost as good out of her.
She squinted her eyes up at me. “What?”
“You have to write about me.”
“Books. The modern adventures of an ancient god.”
“I can do that.”
“I’ll have the contracts drawn up. I believe you’ll like the terms.”
“I’m sure I will.”
“One day I will make love to you again.”
She finally smiled. “Don’t count on it.”
“Let’s go back.” I closed my eyes and when they were open we were back in San Francisco. The restaurant (which by the way I own) was empty of any other customers and fresh blackberry pie and fresh made vanilla ice cream was on the table along with coffee. The sun was starting to set over the San Francisco Bay. We talked about our lives and our kids for about another hour or two. It was so easy with the elder Miranda.
“You’re going to get caught in some pretty nasty traffic.” I told her in my most concerned and caring voice. “You can stay the night here with me.”
“It’s ok,” she said,”I have a couple of audio books in the car.”
I walked her out to her car, a blue 2010 Mustang convertible. I should have known she’d still have a convertible.
I didn’t want to let her go. “Miranda, I’m sorry I was a jerk. I didn’t know how you felt about me. Another time and place and we could have…”
She put her finger to her lips as if telling a child to be quiet. “Listen, Bryan, I mean Hermes, I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you imagined it but I have a good feeling about this, about us. I really do and we’ll make a good partnership and maybe even become friends. I take that back. We will become friends. Okay?”
Friends usually means the kiss of death in a relationship but not this one.
“You’ll write about me.” I said, not as a question.
“I will write about you Hermes.” She put her hand on my waist, stood on her toes and kissed me. “I will write wonderful things about you that everyone will want to read.”
I opened the car door for her. “I’ll fax over the contracts in the morning. Drive safe Miranda.”
Late into the wee hours of the morning I sat on the balcony overlooking the Bay and thought of her kiss that lingered on my lips. The messenger god Hermes had indeed turned into a man.
- ~ Thanks for stopping by,
- Juliette aka Vampire Maman