Everyone believed him, that little shit. His pretty face and his pretty voice. How sad, the nymphs crooned, smoothing his brow, how tragic. He knew what he was doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he let loose the snake. The pain was ecstatic.
They talked about him as if he were brave, coming to the underworld. They neglected to mention the gods were protecting him. He had them all under his spell. What is it about a man who can sing?
Hades, that old queen, he likes his games. He’d have traded him for me in a heartbeat. But Orpheus was never there for me. One rule. Don’t look back. To create suspense he waited until the last second. I could hear the birds, the plaintive warning of a thrush. His eyes were steady. Back to the cave for me.
For a brief time he was famous, loved by all. La la la, la dee dah. But the Maenads saw right through him. Some say they tore him to pieces with their bare hands. I doubt it. If a woman is strong, she becomes a monster. That’s why I remain the vision of a good wife, the best wife, a dead wife.
They call me the Eater of Hearts. They say I live in a lake of fire. They claim to fear me, but they really fear themselves. It’s Osiris who weighs their hearts while they announce all the evil deeds they didn’t commit in their lifetime. I just listen.
They go on and on. Osiris is too soft. The rare times the scale doesn’t tip in their favor, my duty is to dispose of the hearts so they cannot continue to the Field of Reeds. Those hearts are black and shriveled, inedible. Without a body, without a soul, their shadow selves flutter and languish. You get used to them. They become white noise.
When I tire of the dead, I visit my animal counterparts: hippos when I am moody, crocodiles when I am lazy, and lionesses when I am eager to hunt. I only eat the hearts of my prey. That’s fair, isn’t it?
Anubis leads the souls to the Hall of Judgment, his muscles taut, his wet jackal eyes gleaming. I imagine his hands on me, wrapping me in strips of linen, layer after layer. But I am a demon, or a god, depending on who you ask. He will never touch me because I will never die.
Here’s the thing. Adam was so boring. He’d point at a creature and ask, “Cat? Does that sound okay?”
“But what makes it a cat?” I’d bend to stroke the creature behind her ears, marveling at the gold discs of her eyes, the narrow points of her teeth, the filaments that sprang from either side of her mouth.
I never saw God, a voice booming from above. He wasn’t winning any Father of the Year award, I’ll tell you that.
Adam was on his hands and knees, trying to name the insects. “Ant. Fly.” The tree was on the edge of a lake, its image reflected in the water. “Grasshopper!” Adam shouted, clapping his hands. The wind rustled the leaves of the tree, and the leaves on the lake rustled in return.
A creature broke the surface of the water then disappeared. “Fish,” I murmured. But how did she breathe down there? Why did her skin glisten in the light? Did she ever wonder about life on land?
I studied the tree. I took my time choosing the ripest fruit. God hadn’t mentioned naming the plants, and Adam had no initiative.
“Snake?” Adam asked. “Does that sound okay?”
I don’t know what I thought would happen. Anything, I prayed as I took a bite. Anything but this for eternity.
Claire O’Connor is an educator who has worked with students of many ages in New York, California, Idaho, Morocco, Malaysia, Greece, South Africa, and Scotland. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Baltimore Review, Best New American Voices, Fiction Circus, Gravel, the Southern Indiana Review, Shenandoah, and Wigleaf, and she has previously won The Missouri Review’s Miller Audio Prize for prose. She lives with her wife in Scotland