"What does one do when they meet a god?"
He found me in the summer.
He found me lounging in a grassy meadow in Amyclae, a crown of peonies nestled in my hair. Lying in the sun, I felt the coolness of a shadow across my face and looked up to see him standing above me.
I watched the flex and pull of taut muscles, of the solid bronze pillars of his arms, and felt heat pool into the pit of my stomach. His smile, a pale and shiny moon, entranced me immediately.
Like a fool, I did not know who he was until he spoke. He was a stranger, a probability, a summer tryst. Beguiling and magnetic but deniable. I twisted a lock of hair between my fingers and wondered how his arm would look curled around my waist, reassured by the power I held to withhold myself from him.
Then, he spoke and I knew.
The soft thunder of his voice reverberated through my ears and into my skull. He spoke with an intonation that both caressed me like a gentle breeze and choked the breath out of my lungs.
For a split second, I remembered my mother. When I was young, she would tell me the stories of the gods, of charming men who stole away innocent children, of the glorious god Apollo. God of the sun. God of warm bodies and soft touch. God who wove verse together, string over string, and tied me a knotted veil to cover my eyes.
Was there ever anything I could keep from you?
He pushed me delicately into the grass and entered me softly and slowly, like a finger dips into the flesh of a clam and encircles the pearl within.
The pink of his skin kissed mine, and his heat became my heat and my heat became his.
He sang a melody into the dip of my collarbone, let the notes echo in my ribs. I giggled as the thin scruff of his beard tickled my bare chest.
As he pushed in and stole the warmth from my lungs, I remembered my mother and the stories of the gods. I remembered her warnings. I lost myself in the heat of Apollo’s gaze and the caress of his mouth.
Will you ever leave?
I was fine at first. I fell asleep on his chest and woke up in the grass, alone. I let out a sigh of relief and ignored the ache in my bones. Good, I thought, it is good to be only a preoccupation and nothing more.
Even I could not lie to myself.
For weeks, I returned to the meadow. The flowers were especially beautiful there, I told myself, my mother would love these peonies, sunshine is good for the health. I returned again and again. For weeks, the only footprints in the grass were my own.
It is strange how someone can leave and return so silently, as if they were never gone. Apollo found me bathing in the river, an innocent smile across his face betrayed by the glint of hunger in his eyes. His eyebrows furrowed with thought as his gaze drifted from my flushed cheeks to my shoulders to my chest and down below.
I held my arms out like the wings of a swan and invited him in. He drank in my smile, gorged on my breath, got fat on my blood. Then he settled back, pliant and relaxed, and gently stroked my shivering, skinny arm.
“I love you,” I whispered, rubbing the skin between the bumps of my ribs. Apollo smiled.
Will I see you again?
In autumn, we celebrated my birthday. Apollo asked me what I wanted for a gift. Moons? Stars? The world?
I laughed. Flowers, my lord. Just flowers.
He settled a plot of wilderness and filled it with thousands of peonies, daisies, roses, lilies, all for me. For the first time (and not the last), as I looked out into the vast meadow he created, I was afraid of him. Afraid of the power he held that only a wave of his hand could fell mountains and dry up rivers. And afraid of the fact that a powerful being such as him would submit the will of someone like me.
My mother had sensed for a while that something was wrong. I left home for too long and came back too flushed in the face. She made a habit of inspecting my neck and legs when I returned. I didn’t let her know that the marks were there, only invisible.
She sighed a lot more and held my younger sisters closer to her chest. I almost felt sorry for not telling her. But then I returned to Apollo, and for a few hours, I forgot everything about her and about myself, even my own name.
Will you remember me?
For three months, I didn’t see him. I paid no attention to it at first. Sometimes gods did that. Sometimes they leave and don’t return for a while and come back as if no time had passed at all. I understood the needs of the immortal, to fluctuate between one plane of existence and another.
Besides, the meadow he gifted me felt like a promise. We had solidified a pact between us. I sat in the meadow and held my love for him close to my chest like a prayer.
Three months in, I visited the marketplace by Sparta in search of a new hairbrush for my youngest sister. Browsing the stalls and vendors, I suddenly remembered his temple was there. I’ll stop by for a visit, I thought to myself. Give an offering so he knows I’m still thinking about him. Maybe... just maybe, it’ll remind him to come back.
Somehow, I knew he was there as soon as my sandaled foot touched the marble steps. I almost ran up to greet him, but a thought stopped me. He’s not at Olympus, I realized. He’s here, but he hasn’t come to visit.
Dread is a slow trickle. It starts in the bottom of the stomach like most feelings do and spreads up the torso to the heart. It always begins slowly and then comes all at once, a torrent of shame and fear.
I crept up the stairs, gripping the front of my chiton in clenched hands. I heard his voice, soft yet thunderous, joined by another, light and feminine. A woman.
He was with a woman, a priestess of his own temple. She had to have known who he was. She must not have cared, laughing and smiling up at him, caressing his arm.
For a sick moment, I wanted to call out and confront him. To play the part of the jealous lover. But I knew my place and crept back slowly from the temple steps and walked all the way back home. It was only when I reached home that I realized I forgot to buy the hairbrush.
Who are you to me?
Apollo found me again.
Lying in the meadow he gifted me, I heard his voice call out
to me from above. He smiled down from his flaming chariot, a reflection of the sun itself as he greeted my prone figure with a lazy wave. He had the look of a man confident in himself and the ruse he disguised behind a grin.
Like a shedding viper, I imagined peeling away the layers of his immortality from his body, dimming the glossy tint that enveloped him. I imagined turning him human and laying bare all his shame.
I played my part well. A young and naive lover, dutifully awaiting their beloved. We each had our parts to play. He pretended to love me, and I pretended it was true.
Now, I wonder if he knew at the time what I learned of him. Perhaps he didn’t care that I knew. For some reason that sickens me more.
I understand how people fall apart. We let a feeling sit in our brain for months, growing and festering like a bloody sore, like a disease, until it consumes our entire body. I didn’t eat for days. I shed the fat around my chin and under my eyes until my skin turned a sallow pallor. I slept for only a few hours each night and always in the meadow. I let him take me over and over and didn’t return to my home for weeks.
My mother screamed at me when she saw me. I wonder how I looked in her eyes, her child reduced to a skeletal figure. My sisters hid between her legs and avoided my gaze. She threw my clothes at me and locked the door behind her. I didn’t bother to wait or ask for forgiveness. I simply left.
How does it end?
Sometimes, I wonder if it was truly an accident. He was a god. He could do anything. A god of archery, his aim always ran true. How could he miss?
I ran my hand along the smooth edge of the discus and felt the cool stone beneath my fingertips. Several paces behind me, Apollo stood with a discus of his own in his outstretched hand. His form was perfect. I heard the quiet swoop of stone flying and turned around to look. The last thing I saw was his smiling face.
They built a temple for me in Amyclae. My mother never visits but sometimes my sisters sneak away to look at the ceremonies they hold in my honor.
Apollo left something for me, a last parting gift. A flower, delicate and pure, the one the Greeks call the most beautiful of all flowers.
Hyacinth. Beautiful, tragic Hyacinth.
Aliza Li is a seventeen-year-old attending Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, Texas. She is a whopping four-feet-eleven-inches of pure creative energy and enjoys staying up late and watching Buzzfeed Unsolved. Aliza has published work in Aerie International student literary journal and has a received a silver key in the Scholastic Art & Writing awards. She hopes to one day become a published author and share with the world the same magic that entranced her to write when she was young.