a moment all in attendance were on their feet. They edged forward,
and encircled Orpheus and his companion. Orpheus shuffled The blinded
man in behind him, and again raised a hand for peace. The faces
tempered from plaintive yearning to frustrated desperation, then rapidly
approached ire. Their voices soured into jagged overlaid shouts.
Fingers pointed and threatened. Fists clenched. Something glass broke
with a crash. Out from the midst of it all, erupted the store owner,
lunging and thrusting patrons aside. He roared and grabbed hold of
Orpheus and the blinded man, one in each of his powerful hands.
the mighty juggernaut of Ratha Yatra, the owner cleaved a path
through the riotous group, his sempervirenous arms
out-stretched, and our two heroes out front as a battle ram. Some
made futile attempts to fight back against his inhuman strength, but
all were forced to give way. The tattooed youth was the first to fall
screaming under foot. The old woman let out a shriek of terror as she
tried to struggle clear of the melee. She was pinned helpless
against a rack of vibrating personal massagers, but shielded from a
certain crushing death by her aluminum walker.
office door banged open, and shuddered in its hinge mounts. Orpheus
and the blinded man were hustled inside with the owner close on their
heels. The creature slammed shut the door, and slide home a heavy oak
bar across its frame. The thunder of pounding fists and wild peals of
rage broke upon the other side like a great tempest spiraling out
from the center of the shop. His office walls did little to muffle
the rancorous assault. He braced the door with the bulk of his
shoulder, and widened his stance with a shuffle of his gargantuan
owner craned his neck about to regard the poet and his companion. Through his long black tendrils of unkempt hair, a wide
and toothy grin peered out that could chill the spleen from the devil
himself. Orpheus and the blinded man stood frozen in place, weary of
the creature's intent, and the purpose of their current imprisonment.
Finally he spoke in his cavernous and resonant timbre. “There's a
back door to the alley there, behind those boxes,” he said, “but make
haste, there isn't much time before the fire axe is discovered, and made use of against us all."
trouble yourself, master poet,” chuckled the creature with the
warmest smile his ghastly features could muster. “This is not my
first angry mob either.” A glimmering sliver of axe blade breached
the surface of the door with a loud crack. Splinters fractured and
flew as it was wrenched free for another blow. His smile steeled to a
potent melange of earnest and resolve. “And I'll be damned if this
rabble will be my last.”
Orpheus gave him a nod and led the blinded man
quickly toward the door. “How can we ever repay you, brother?” said the blinded man.
paused mute in the door way, and searched in vain for adequate words
of gratitude. The store owner locked eyes with him, clasped a hand to
his chest, and said, “You have restored what has lain fallow
beneath this breast for immeasurable time. Damn the material trappings of this hollow purgatory of ash. You have let slip, hope
from beneath the lid of Pandora's box, a thing I had long since abandoned to
myth.” The door cleaved into wobbling jagged planks. “Now
recognized a rare and precious kinship in the creature's poignant
eyes, and thank him.
can't just leave him,” said Orpheus.
Orpheus closed his eyes for an instant, and felt the unfettered
keening absence in his heart. It sat ragged and pleading in his
chest. A moment later, he and the blinded man were running down the
alley. They crossed a busy street to blaring car horns, rounded a
corner, and cut through a pay-lot. They ran until their lungs ached,
and their legs felt palsied and burned. They could take no more. They
collapsed behind a milk-soured dumpster, beneath where a gray squirrel squatted, and gnawed on a chicken bone.
panted Orpheus,... “I need a drink.”
“Here, here!” gasped the blinded man. Between breaths he continued. “I know a place,... it's
quiet,... it's not far,... we wont be,... bothered.”
Their strength returned, and they left the rodent to its meal. The blinded man directed Orpheus a few blocks away to The Gateway Tavern.
Inside, just as promised, Orpheus glanced around and observed no one beyond a lone bartender, and an ancient black mastiff by the back
door. By all its appearances the dog was either sound asleep or possibly
dead. The blinded man retired Orpheus to a remote booth, and made his
way to the bar.
The blinded man ordered drinks, and engaged in some quiet conversation
with the bartender. Orpheus slumped in the booth, and willed his
dehiscent heart closed with each measured breath. He ground his heel
against a fresh ruptured blister beneath the table, and drew a smear
of blood from his lip between his grinding teeth. The blinded man opened a tab, and headed back to the booth. Orpheus sat up and spread out his left hand, palm down, on the
surface of the table. He made a white-knuckled fist with the other and punched it. There was a sickening crunch.
“Pluto's thorny balls!” exclaimed the blinded man, “I wish
you'd stop that!” Orpheus wiped the trickle of blood from his lip,
and slipped his hands beneath the table. “Here,” said the blinded
man sliding Orpheus his drink, “if you need hit something.” He
held his glass as though to toast, 'to one step ahead
of the mob,' but thought better of it. He sat quietly and sipped his drink
instead. Orpheus produced a fistful of red brick-dust and salt, and
poured it into his own glass. The blinded man sighed with exasperation,
and said “Hera's crippled bastard, what now?”
Orpheus did not answer. He finished corning his drink, and bent
over the table to suck up the spilled portion. Before reaching his
lips to the puddle, the blinded man insisted, “What did you just
do? You do something to your drinks. What is it?” Orpheus
made a quick huff at the puddle then sat back. He gave the blinded
man the most terse description possible. At its conclusion the
blinded man dumfounded. It was as though Orpheus's words were
only recognizable as individuals, taken out of context. Together they were
rendered meaningless, and as clear as hard tallow.
The blinded man finally broke the awkward silence, “Are you aware of what
awful company you tend to make?”
“Said the pot to the kettle," answered Orpheus sipping his gritty drink.
“The irony of my statement is not entirely lost on me, no,”
said the blinded man, “but I must say, it is awful, because it is.
It is truly awful. Sharing a little time and space with you is trying
on a Sisyphean level. Did you know that?”
Orpheus shrugged and continued sipping.
“Did you just shrug?” asked the blinded man, “Did you just
shrug at a blind man?”
“That poor doomed soul,” said Orpheus, “I will carry the
guilt of his abandonment to the end of my days, if 'end' ever comes.”
It took the blinded man a moment to contend with the non sequitur,
and connect what was said with the fate of the creature they left
behind with the riotous crowd. "So you have beaten yourself bruised and perhaps bloody for his
sake?” he asked.
“What?” said Orpheus, “no. I was merely stating a fact. I
realize he's capable of defending himself and his property alone. I just
feel our leaving him was cowardly and inhumane.”
The blinded man pressed on. “So there's some other reason for
all the repulsion, the self-injurious behavior?” Orpheus
acknowledged nothing. “Fine,we can leave the self flagellation aside for now, but how about this brick-dust and salt business? Any thoughts?" Orpheus kept mum. “It's her, isn't it?” said the blinded
man, “It's all for her,... isn't it?” Orpheus stiffened. His
broad shoulders climbed up and inward. He glanced down at his
swelling left hand, then feigned distraction over one of his coiling
shoulders. The blinded man continued to pry and prod as though
unaware of the mounting fury.
“You scourge yourself in every way imaginable, at every
opportunity, and taint all you imbibe with salty filth, and it's all
for her. Tell me, do you imagine, that out there, somewhere, your
sweet Eurydice appreciates all these gestures?” Orpheus exploded across
the table. He grabbed two handfuls of the blinded man's rags and
flesh, and yanked him half-over the table.
“If you cherish your lips and tongue you'll keep that name far from
them around me, understand?!” The blinded man nodded, and Orpheus
dropped him back into his seat. “Hear me, Oedipus, I won't tell you
tense silence passed between them. Finally Orpheus spoke. “He has
her in a keep, Hades. Its brick and mortar, five akainas
thick, no windows, no doors. A swirling gray sea surrounds it. Waves
pound at its base on all sides, but never leave so much as a mark.”
He turned his glass in the light. “I hear those waves in my sleep,
as does she in her every waking moment. I feel the cold mason stone,
as does she against her cheek, and I taste the tears she leaves there as she weeps.” Orpheus raised his glass and drank.
Orpheus finished his drink in one deft shot,
and signaled for another. The blinded man bowed his head into his
hands to ponder what he just heard.
“Well then,” said
Orpheus, “Was that adequate?” The blinded man looked stunned.
“I,...” he said, “I
don't have words. I can't fathom your,... the pain, gods!.”
“No,” said Orpheus, “I
meant your song? Was that sufficient?”
“Oh,” said the blinded
man, “that, of course! yes! exquisite, everything I'd hoped, and
more. I'm afraid I don't have the words there either. Your gifts defy reason.” The bartender replaced the empty with a full glass.
“I can appreciate that,” said Orpheus. “You have my
sympathies. Of all the arbitrary devils on Mt Olympus that glut
themselves upon human suffering, the Fates, the sisters Moirai, are
by far the least forgivable. In a man's life he learns to loath their
ilk respectively; Clotho, the spinner, for permitting our birth in
such evil times, Lachesis, the allotter, for the perennial coat of
hide with which she burdens all our days, and finally Atropos, the
unturnable, for the inevitably undue time of our death.” Orpheus
gave a grim chuckle. “You and I owe her dereliction a special
Orpheus paused to salt his drink, and the blinded man seized the
opportunity to reroute their conversation. “I'm sorry,” he said,
“You'll have to excuse my thick-headed lack of deduction here, but about
your hand,” he hesitated as though treading over jagged broken
glass, “and before, all this self-abuse?”
“Yes?” said Orpheus over the dusted rim of his glass, “what
“Well,” said the blinded man, “'what of it' indeed? why do you do it?”
Orpheus peered down at his blooming purple hand. His fingers
splayed out on their own with pulsing turgidity. “Good question,” he said.
“My, 'gifts,'” said Orpheus, "you called them, 'defy reason'? I don't know, but what I can say is they are not free. They
demand sacrifice to exercise. 'Some assembly required,' I believe
the phrase goes.”
“I see,” said the blinded man. “But just then, when you hit
your hand, I heard bones break, for what was that a payment?”
“Well," smiled Orpheus, " I don't do encores if that's what you're entreating."
“No, neither do I,” said the blinded man, “not without a sandwich and a nap first.” Peels of laughter erupted from Orpheus, and it warmed the blinded man's heart.
Orpheus, “maybe you're not such bad company after all. You can make
a man laugh. I'll give you that.”
The blinded man smiled, and gave a short mock bow. “And not just any
man. I might add.”Orpheus nodded his head to acknowledgment the feat.
The moment passed, and he went on to explain how within his heart he contained all
his memories of Eurydice. They filled a stone keep there, much like
what Hades built to imprison her in Tartarus. “The constant
repression of these memories is vital to my sanity,” said Orpheus,
“what's left of it.”
In order for his song to attain its full endowment, Orpheus willed
this keep open, and allowed its contents to fill and inspire him
unbridled. He described the experience as “-akin to the quickening
of desire to a sentient and willful presence,” and as
“-cold-flaying the hide from the inside his soul.” Enabling the
escape was always a far simpler task than the re-capture.
Localizing pain, distal to his heart, afforded him the focus and
strength required for re-sealing the vault with all wistful ghosts
and howling anguish inside. The completed explanation left the blinded
swirled his drink, spiraling its coppery silt into a rising nebulous cone.
“So,” he said, “if you've no more curiosities, our
bargain still needs some requiting.”
blinded man stirred himself from revery and said, “Well, since you
asked, I do have one more question.” Orpheus gestured for him to
proceed, but he felt a tinge of impatience creep into his chest. “About
the keep,”continued the blinded man, “Hades's keep, not your own, you
understand?” Orpheus nodded. “No soul of the perished has ever escaped
the Land of the Dead. So why build a
prison within that prison?”
went dumb. He felt as though the answer laid there as obvious as if it swirled
around in his glass, but he just could not give it tongue.
it,” said the blinded man, “no one, no one dead that is, has ever
returned from Tartarus, as far as we know, yes? So
why then would Hades, after all his duties and obligations as
its supreme ruler, waste the energy building a secondary prison, an inner prison? The
cost and effort hardly seems worth it for mere redundancy?”
can claim understanding of anything they do?!” Orpheus snapped.
that as it may, Orpheus, however, what gods do undoubtedly makes
sense from their point of view.”
lurched forward to the edge of his seat. “'Their
point of view?”
he scoffed, “Listen, their point of view is maximum yield! How to
expect it. And how to extract it! That is best borne in mind when
forced to encounter any such beings.”
blinded man sensed the launch of another fervorous tirade, and chose
to rest his point. The opportunity to re-husband the wild snorting
charger would come again soon enough, when it dipped its head to
blinded man played the attentive listener. He did not side
with the arguments outright, but supported the impetus beneath each of Orpheus's bitter
assertions regarding the “-black-hearted and
thoughtless gods,” and their “-arbitrarily molestations of the
poor and innocent mortals,” with an affirmative nod, “mhm,”
or “aye.” Soon enough the sermon ran its course with Orpheus
mumbling into his glass, “-the rapacious monsters devalue
compassion, shed no tears, my friend, they care not.”
blinded man interjected at last, “if that is so-?”
is!” Orpheus insisted through a grimace and labored swallow of
saline grit and mud.
me out,” the blinded man began again. “Take the king of Ephyra. You're familiar?”
said Orpheus, signaling the bartender for another round.
said the blinded man, “doomed forever to roll a boulder up a great
hill only to have it roll back down again, day in, day out.”
on,” said Orpheus.
where is this great hill?”
said the blinded man, “Tartarus, the Land of the Dead, and home of
the angered god who set him to the task in the first place.”
Orpheus puzzled over the blinded
man's blurry point with diminishing patience.