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Knowing Medusa

By F. Macias-Mossman

Billy grunts a final time before pulling out of me. He climbs off the bed and his shape is barely visible in the dark. He doesn't bother with the lights, but instead makes his way to the bathroom.

He will dress in there. Slipping back into tight jeans and pulling a t-shirt back over his wiry chest. After his shoes are on, he'll flip off the bathroom light and come back to where I wait, still and quiet.

He'll say, "You ok?"

"Yes.”

"I probably need to go."

"All right."

***

After he’s gone, I lay in the dark, what’s left of him drying on my skin, and remember Medusa.

Poseidon lusted after her, until one day, he finds her alone in Athena's temple, where she is a priestess, and rapes her. Athena angered both by Medusa's stupidity and the defilement of her temple reduces the pretty girl to a hideous monster, forever cursed.

I turn on the shower, until I feel the steam of hot water start to dampen the dark bathroom. Thinking of Medusa, I step into the heat and let it course over my skin before reaching for the soap. I wash what is left of Billy away.

***

There are no stories of Medusa about her life as a monster. Instead, the Greek's blow through that part caring only that she could turn men to stone even after her own death. Yet, I wonder about the woman who slithered about at the ends of the world, living in the darkness, a monster.

***

Mother comes to the house every Saturday morning with groceries and pity. I wear her favorite yellow sweater and sit on the sofa, with my legs crossed at the ankle.

It's how she taught me to sit as a little girl. It's how she wants to see me.

She rushes into the house with her arms full of bags, but doesn't look at me. First, she must inspect the tiny house. She'll check for dust and grime. She'll inspect garbage and look beneath toilet seats.

Finally, she'll sigh and take me in, still sitting on the sofa in the yellow cashmere sweater set.

"I love you in yellow, Sylvia," she tells me starting to unload the groceries onto the small dinette set.

My reply is always the same, "Thank you, Mother."

"You've got a bad light in the kitchen. I'll have that boy come out to fix it."

"I can do it."

"Nonsense, it's why we pay him."

She talks from the kitchen telling me how busy father is. How he had appointment after appointment, but will be up next time.

She tells me this every Saturday.

After Mother tucks away the groceries into their proper places, all my favorite food, she comes to sit by me. She lets out a breath. One delicate finger reaches out to brush back strands of my hair that have fallen loose. Her eyes feed along my skin, tracing every inch of scar tissue until she takes my hands into hers.

Her hands are porcelain white, despite her age the skin is smooth and supple. She plays piano. The well-trained fingers taper delicately to a point. Mine lay dark and shriveled in hers.

It is at this moment that I know Medusa best, gorgon, monster, slithering about at the edges of the world. Alone.

"You were such a pretty girl," Mother says. I bite down on my lower lip. "Your father and I just don't understand why you've given up."

It's the same argument. I get angry and start to cry. I wring my blackened hands in my lap and ask Mother to leave.

She rises and kisses the top of my head, more out of duty than compassion.

"Your father will be up next weekend," she says.

***

Billy works in the kitchen. From the guest bathroom, I listen to the sounds of the stepladder sliding across the linoleum and the clinking of tools.

Later, a knock on the door startles me. Billy tells me the work’s done.

"Thank you," I say back through the door. The mirrors were removed from all but this one bathroom. I keep the lights off to avoid looking in it.

"So, do you want me to come by later?"

"Yes," I say. He lingers outside the door.

"Sylvia?"

"Yes?"

"Will you come out?"

I back up to the farthest wall of the bathroom, squeezing my eyes shut. "No."

***

To look directly upon the face of Medusa, even her severed head, you'd turn to stone. Your face constricted into a look of horror, forever.

Upon viewing me, my mother cried, silent sobs causing her to fold upon herself, her head almost down to her knees.

The doctors unveiled me on a Saturday. From my private bedroom at the hospital, I could see the blossoming crepe myrtle trees. The rich pink flowers contrasted against the clear blue sky. Mother wore a peach suit with white accents. She belonged at a wedding reception not a hospital. Father, in a dark suit, screwed his face up in disgust and walked out of the room.

"Do you want to see?" The doctor asked. I looked from mother, folded in the corner of the room, to father walking out. It was the last time I'd see him.

"No," I said, looking out, instead at the crepe myrtle trees.

***

After her punishment, Medusa was sent to live her days at the edges of world beyond the ocean in the Kingdom of Darkness.

My parents sent me to the edge of the city, in a custom-built bungalow, all my belongings neatly scattered through out the little house, transplanted from a world I would never go back too.

***

Billy is here. He's used to the dark and finding me is simple and unobtrusive.

He will push into me, like a child finding the nerve to take the jump off the high board. He is not to touch my face or kiss me. The first time, the feel of my hands, the rough uneven surfaces, startled him. Now we are used to each other.

Tonight Billy lingers.

"Sylvia?"

"Yes?"

"I want to see you."

"No." The word flutters between us in the dark.

"I want to see you," he repeats.

“Please,” I moan. My fingers grip the blanket beneath me until I can feel my nails bite through the fabric into my own skin.

Perseus killed Medusa by using gifts from the gods; the winged shoes of Hermes to travel to ends of the earth and Athena's shield as a mirror.

Billy simply flips a light switch.

He clears his throat, yet says nothing.

Medusa's reflection couldn’t kill you, only looking upon her face could.

Billy takes a step back. I want to squeeze my eyes shut, but can't. Instead, I see Billy's mouth hanging agape, his hands gripping the doorframe.

I reach out to him, but take notice of my blackened hand and realize what has happened. Now my eyes do shut and I crumple down into the bed.

Perseus ended Medusa’s life with one cut. Billy does this with the slam of the front door.

***

It was later that I realized I had burned my hands. My face stung and the blood streaming down made it to difficult to see. Pulled free from the car, hands patted me down; a voice assured I'd be all right.

I asked, "Is my dress ruined?"

"You'll be all right."

"Yes, but my dress?" I had asked again forgetting that Ron was still inside the burning wreck.

Ron died on impact, they all told me later. I was lucky, they said as they used steel brushes to scrape away the dying skin from my face, chest, and arms. I should be thankful, my nurses said washing my new wounds with a mixture of bleach water as I screamed and screamed.

***

Mother tells me that father will be up next weekend and that he says hello.

"We've hired a new man to care for the house," she tells me after taking my hands into hers.

"Oh," I say, and realize I miss Billy.

"You were such a pretty girl," she says. It is the old argument again.

"But I'm not anymore," I say.

"Yes, but the doctors say that with more surgeries--"

"No."

"Sylvia, dear really. Father and I just don't understand why you don't want to try."

I stand up and start to turn off the lights.

"Sylvia?"

"Mother, this is what I am now. This is what it is."

"Yes, but Sylvia it doesn't have to be this way," she says, "Father will be up next week, and he'll tell you."

"Ron's dead," I say. She has no reply.

She leaves me alone in my little house, her face puffed and tear-streaked. I want to tell her that it will be OK, that I know Medusa's story and, like her, I can accept my fate, but instead I watch her leave.

 

 

F. Macias-Mossman lives in central Texas with her husband and two children.

Photo "Doll," courtesy of Julia Borysewicz, San Diego County, CA. The artist notes that the doll was found at her neighbor's house a day after a wildfire.

 

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