PANDORA’S PEARL: A Postmodern Myth                 

    

     by Joseph E. Edwards VIII                                       

Evocation Of The Muses

Nine Muses – descended from halidom Taos Mountain,

Lolling about in algae-filled Stagecoach Hot Springs,

Naked as the day they were born from Kronion’s

Incestuous loins out of Titan Mother Mnemosyne:

They had forgotten Memory, and could help none

With their nine songs, forgetting their own names.

 

“Where is the chorus?” asked Kalliope, swimming backward.

As she floated, listening to the burbling of Poseidon’s blood

In Apollo’s lungs, boiling in Hades’ rage, she thought of him:

How long had it been since Apollo’s cold eyes calmed her?

Three centuries? Four? Since she’d lain across his chiseled

Chest, his unwavering arms wrapped about her milky waist,

Telling him her troubles in secret, Apollo Muse of the Muse.

Even now his name was slipping away into Morpheus’ Realms.

 

“What the fuck is a chorus?” asked her sister of The Forgotten

Name, maybe Erato or Klio or Ourania; none of the nine knew.

Since the hazy, drugged decades, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and Oughts,

The sisters had felt a tad touched. In fact, they could remember

No names at all, excepting Kalliope, whom Hesiod called “most

Important of all, for she keeps the company of reverend kings.”

 

Peach-blossom lit a cigarette, holding it away from the water in

Stiff fingers. Chamomile, reaching over, took it away, smiling.

“Bitch,” she protested.

“Here comes the chorus,” Tart said from

Atop a rock, her knee-length black hair dripping down her legs,

A toad-sized clot of green algae lodged in a tangle by her ankle.

The other sisters stood, giggling sibilant laughs like sighs as the

Nine men floppily tramped down the trail, making crude jokes.

“Get down,” Applesauce said, jumping loudly back into the hot

Spring. “And act like nymphs, or dryads, I can’t remember.”

 

A Titanic Conspiracy

“Where’d the Muses go?” the Titan said. Aphrodite rolled over in her hammock to look at Prometheus, who was busily flicking Ravens away from his entrails, more of an annoyance than a punishment – like having fleas. It was the Eagles that worried him.

 The millennia had been good to Aphrodite: she’d changed skin color, from olive to black, but found the tone flattering, and had stuck with it through nine U.S. Presidents. Ever since Martin Luther King, Jr. rocked her world. “There’s a woman’s man,” she’d told Athena at the time.

Athena, of course, had scoffed. “Honey, the only position you’ll ever have in any political organization is on your back. Get real, sister.” Athena was the Matron Deity of the United States of America, the inspiration for the Stature of Liberty and other relics of conquering heroes.

It always annoyed her when the younger goddesses called Aphrodite “sister,” as if they were on a par with Primordial Beauty, love of life through thick and thin, muck and glory. She thought none of them quite understood the timeline of the creation of the gods She thought she was up there with Gaea, since Gaea is so beautiful, but so are the stars and heavens – maybe even beyond Gaea. The other goddesses didn’t understand her.

Chorus: Of course the others understood her. They wanted to annoy her.

She was born from the frothing balls and monstrous, Bobbitted gonads of daddy Ouranos and the Unnamable White-Capped Sea, in an Earth-age beyond Time. Time was less and more than her brother, and Memory also. Zeus? To Aphrodite, Zeus was like a nasty younger cousin who stole his family’s inheritance; she longed to usurp him. She wasn’t just any old Titan; she was her own Titan, unconquered by god or man. Not even forced marriage to Hephaestus (who relocated to Mexico with the steel industry) had quashed her indomitable spirit. Besides, he couldn’t get away from her insatiable lust, like others, given that he was permanently disemboweled.

She’d taken to hanging out with Prometheus for this reason. He was the one other Titan she could relate to. She felt spiritually disemboweled, and every bit as rebellious as the incorrigible Prometheus, son of the primordial Titan Iapetos by a daughter of Ocean, granddaughter of the Unnamable White-Capped Sea and Boundless Sky, a simple lover. As she considered him, his ribs splayed like the bars of a broken cage, he looked uneasily into the sky from the mountaintop – whether Taos Mountain or the Kachina Mountain outside Flagstaff or Mount Helikon or Mount Olympus or Mount Zion or Mount Moriah or Mount Everest, they didn’t know or think to care. The Earth was her living room.

She looked up. An Eagle was circling in the stratosphere, eyeing Prometheus’ dry liver greedily. He shooed a Raven away and tucked a large intestine back in to discourage the Eagle from coming closer. Aphrodite frowned. His suffering was Sisyphean, cyclical, like the seasons. He lived an impossible hell each day.

Her hell was not only possible, it was a cosmic probability: the old always adore the young too much, but do they always know they grieve the young, fracturing hearts by quelling the Muse in them, their divine spark? Did Aphrodite – old among the anarchic – know how many hearts she’d fractured in the Piscean Age?

Prometheus had no cosmic probability to rely on. His was the choice of mercy via morality: of individuality in the face of cosmic nothingness. Alone among the gods, Titan Prometheus chose to love in spite of love. He alone chose altruism. He alone was the fool enough to care about others entirely more than himself: a bringer of fire, Magpie burning his wings bringing the Sun, as in the Hopi myth.

But, searching the sky for Eagles, did he stop to ask himself, “Was it a good idea? Giving fire to people? Is it Zeus who punishes me, or is it Gaea?” Did he ever question himself, or wonder from whence he came? He never questioned his rebellion, nor saw the roots of his own conflict, he was before Time; Memory was his sister.

He never paused to think that he’d thrown a pearl before swine; that his gift was misused to burn villages, propel bullets and cars, and spark nuclear fission. Even as he retched while Zeus’ Eagle hid its bald face in his liver, tearing a chunk off the size of a porkchop, he didn’t think that his hatred for Zeus was unjustified. He never thought of Gaea, and when he did, it was the idea of “mama” that an infant has for both parents, in the age before knowledge of gender. But like two parents, Gaea is beyond yes and no, in and out, beyond IT, and certainly beyond she or he. Gaea is Cosmos.

Chorus: Aphrodite leapt up and kicked the eagle still yanking on Prometheus’ liver in the head, which stunned it enough to make it mad and confused. In a rage, the bird confusedly flew into the face of an innocent actor, Mr. O. Rex of Athens, GA, and pecked out his eyes during a remote on-site shoot, which royally mixed up the metaphors in the film (also blinding him for nothing).

Aphrodite knew none of this, however, and sat on a waterproof cushion on Prometheus’ lap, and stroked his face, murmuring, “Are you O.K.? Was that a mean eagle?” He loved it when she treated him like a baby. “Want me to kiss your booboo?”

He shook his head, “No.” “No? I will. I’ll kiss your booboo if you want me to?” “No.” “Please?” “No, that’s gross, Aphrodite.” “Please?” “No.” “Please with me and Hera on top?” (“How did she know about me and Hera,” he thought. “I hope Zeus doesn’t find out. He’ll set lions on my spleen, next.”) “O.K.” he said. She kissed his liver.

Then she started thinking about Prometheus’ earlier question, having sated vanity. Ravens had disappeared with the liver chunk dropped by the eagle when she kicked it in the head. She’d seen it fly across the checkered marble floor she’d had Hephaestus built for him under Prometheus to make him more comfortable while he waited for Ragnarök, the death of the gods, end of days. It didn’t occur to her that the death of gods and the end of days were literally identical. Sunday, Monday… Woden’s day, Thor’s day: all named after somebody’s gods. In fact, however, the marble floor annoyed the fuck out of him, most of the time, and he would stare at it fixedly, stupidly, wondering where his Muse went. What did he have to rebel about?

Chorus: He needed a juicy conspiracy, and Aphrodite was just the goddess to provide it. Besides, he would say yes to anything Aphrodite wanted him to say yes to, and say no to whatever she said to say no to, just to get more poontang. For some reason (maybe he’s saving it for later), Zeus’ eagle never chomps on the divine willie of Prometheus.

Maybe because Zeus tried to show mercy to Gaea, whereas Prometheus tried to show mercy to humanity, his willie was safe, for now. Maybe that’s why Prometheus felt the Muse in himself for the first time, and wondered what had become of the Muses in the grand scheme of things, and of Memory, root of Wisdom, fruit of the Garden of lost delights, now a pantomime, hedonism. Prometheus of the holy willie. He had a mission.

“Pandora,” Aphrodite said, lifting a leg provocatively: a very hairy leg, almost as hairy as Pan’s.

Chorus: Thousands of years of shaving one’s legs can cause quite a backlash, and Aphrodite had backlash leg hair problems. This detail isn’t meant to offend anyone, or diminish her beauty in any way. She’s still totally beautiful and all, but she has these exceedingly hairy legs. Like a spider, or a satyr. Or, like he said, Pan, the other god with a thick coat of goat hair, curling in locks from hip to toe. That sounds bad, we know, and its too bad, but we don’t know how else to put it. Her legs are hairy enough to braid the locks on her thighs. And she has very hairy armpits. And a slight mustache, but it’s cute. Oh, and we should mention also that she gained some weight in the ass end, but as the late great Albert King once said, “Big leggid womyn are back in styyyle,” and in the post-B.E.T. booty-rap age, we think this is only more true.

Don’t get me wrong, or let the obnoxious chorus throw you off. (And do shut up, oh perennial Jungian shadow we never want to face but end up facing in the end, Deus ex Machina.) For this Myth was given to me, Xenophobon, to deliver to the Republic for the edification of immortal principals of universal Truth, eternal forms that never change in the great big scheme of things. I am the lucky mortal whose burden it was to discover the Muses, as mentioned, in the Hot Springs – by the Muses to deliver to humanity for the benefit of divine principles of order and humor in general circulation of the body politic this little tidbit of gossip: we, yes we, the Muses and I, can all say that Aphrodite is the most exquisitely beautiful queen, but hairy, that’s all. Like a Yak. So, now that we’ve solved that issue – right Chorus?we can get back to the tale.

“Pandora?” Prometheus replied.

Aphrodite kissed Prometheus for a long time, her lips tasting of ambrosia-flavored lip-balm. “Can she be trusted?” he said.

“More than you can possibly imagine, old man,” she said.

“Who are you calling old, ancient-of-days?” he said.

“You, you old fart,” she said, walking away into the rosy mists of some desolate peak in South America, or Antarctica, or Africa, or Greece, or anywhere, as long as that somewhere is outside of us, transcendent, formal, procedural, hierarchical – and not in us where it can be personal, chaotic, complex, and seemingly real, an experience.

A living Myth, when it walks out of the story, walks out of the personal into the possible, a great maybe to any choice that is needed by the whole of that element to reach a desired end in the tale. The Muses, the Muses, where are the Muses for our Republic, Oh, Aphrodite and Prometheus? Do you love us? Have you ever cared about humanity, then where is hope, Pandora’s pearl, vive esperanza para Mundo Dios? Is Pandora more than an automaton to you, or nothing but a chess piece in your Machiavellian schema?

 

Pandora’s Stained-Glass Window

Pandora was busy, always busy. Busier than Hephaestus in his prime, but never bitchy; she worked alone. She was carefully assembling a stained-glass window in her studio, watching the forest move outside, when Aphrodite arrived, pulling up in a red convertible, and stepping daintily on the stones of the path leading to Pandora’s door.

Chorus: She’d shaved her legs, which is fine, the Muses say, even though they liked the look.

A deer stepped from the trees, its ears twitching like a rabbit’s, sniffed and then licked Aphrodite’s palm. “Shit,” Pandora said, seeing her approach. The window she was working on was already a week overdue for a church in Albuquerque, and here was Aphrodite. Being a goddess was seriously inconvenient when one had overdue deadlines. “Shit,” she said again, putting the shard of glass in her hand down and went onto the balcony.

“What’s up, sistah?” she yelled down at the approaching goddess.

“We need you help!” Aphrodite said, cringing at “sister”. “May I come in?”

Pandora nodded, turned, and went downstairs to open the front door. Aphrodite breezed in with the air of a landlord. Like she owned the place. The heavy oak door with a colorful stained-glass window depicting a hummingbird swung closed solidly.

“It’s Memory. She’s gone, forever, maybe.”

“Good,” Pandora said. “I don’t want to remember.”

“Yes, but the Muses went with her, or, at least, they’ve forgotten themselves.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Do you know where they are? Do they know their names?

Pandora laughed, the way a happy girl laughs when she sees a butterfly landing on her arm. “Aphro, you are so silly,” she said. Aphrodite looked puzzled, annoyed.

“What?” Again with the disrespect: does age or time mean nothing to immortals?

“The Muses aren’t lost, how could they get lost? That’s a paradox. They blaze the trail by always being lost, even when found.” Aphrodite looked like a muse as Pandora’s words sunk in: lost and confused. Pandora was always paradoxical like this. Fickle.

“Then where are they? We must find them. Humanity needs their inspiration, and Zeus – damn him – has denied them. He has hidden their mother, and they are lost – even to themselves. I don’t know where to begin, other than with you: one last quest.”

Pandora paused – this was a bit of news, very interesting news. She sensed, with the political instincts born into the gods, that she shouldn’t show surprise to Aphrodite. Instead, she dissembled. “The Muses may be lost, to themselves and us, but not to the people. Not to humanity.” She turned and walked back up the stairs to her studio with Aphrodite trailing behind, annoyed. Aphrodite always steamed when she had to walk behind one of her younger relatives, and thought, “Pandora is my pawn,” in spite.

“So what I hear you saying is that you want me to find and free Mnemosyne from Zeus’ clutches, so the Muses can remember themselves. You want me to defy Zeus and so protect you.”

“Not me, I want you to save humanity.”

“I see,” Pandora said, fitting the piece of red glass she’d put down into the design on the workbench. “What has humanity done to deserve such a gift?”

“Done? Humanity has survived, hasn’t it? Despite the gods? It has risen from the ashes of the ancient fickle ways, strived for humanity for millennia, found new paths, and new gods and goddesses, and found none. People haven’t forsaken the old ways, but only transformed them into new guises.”

Pandora laughed bitterly. “Form. Now you sound like Plato. What form is there, new or old, that makes a flick of difference in the evolution of people and their fantasies of perfection? The perfect form of a rebirth is still wrought in blood and sweat, hope and hopelessness, in the myriad confusions and imperfections of Gaea’s existential anarchy.

“But the Muses…” Aphrodite started to say.

“The Muses… cht… Sums of imperfection are no more unique – nor less – than the elements that compose them. Maybe humanity is better without…” She didn’t mean it, of course, which is why she said “maybe,” but Aphrodite missed the honest detail, as usual. Pandora didn’t correct her.

“Humanity has lost its will to grow because the Muses are lost,” Aphrodite said.

“To grow into what? A monster? Another Zeus? Or a beautiful tyrant, like you: fickle as a bitch-hound in heat with your affections and conspiracies? Do you not see the patterns of divine behavior? I do.”

“I believe in Prometheus, now. I have to, to survive through the changing beliefs of people. I have to believe in Free Will.” Aphrodite said. “But obey Fate.”

“Free will and Fate are just the same thing from two different points of view, the world’s and one person’s. Look at this window. You see the pattern?”

Aphrodite looked. The Virgin de Guadalupe was appearing in the shards and lead beading on the table in front of her. “Sure,” she said.

“It’s made from hundreds of pieces of broken glass – melted sand and coloring – and poisonous lead, supposedly the lowest of metals. Should ‘she’ wear red or blue, have a sweet face or cruel? Is it up to me, or the congregation to decide? I can choose how I will, but will the Church pay me for a Virgin in dominatrix black leather, a whip in one hand, a sexual smirk on her face? No. The form is nothing but local politics – bickering and infighting in retrospect. Like the gods, the form of a Muse is subject to the people in their chaotic ramblings. Like us, any form of law is poured into its own mould, provided by human vice and immorality. The tree of human history grows by trial and error; grows when people learn the right thing to do, after trying all the wrong things, first. The Titan Humanity is dumber than you or Prometheus, as ruthless as Hades or Zeus, progenitor of Gaea, androgynous parent of Mount Olympus. Democritus knew. Socrates knew.”

Aphrodite was now confused, silent, waiting for Pandora to continue. She did not. Finally, Aphrodite said, “So will you help us, Pandora?”

“Yes, I’ll help you Aphrodite. For myself, this time, I will help you.”

 

Pandora in the Underworld

The entrance to Hades’ kingdom was once a gaping cavern with stalactites and stalagmites arranged like rows of shark’s teeth, and a great fawning hound that would love you until you got inside, and then eat you if you tried to leave.

Times had changed, for Hades. More than one might at first suppose. He had built a new and improved “Gates of Hell,” but it was really just the underworld. An atrocious stairwell leads below a decaying three-story brick office building in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, the new and improved entrance. But he couldn’t compete with Satan’s Lake of Ice in Las Vegas, and his pits of bone sucking soulshades were almost empty. Only a few haggard old ghosts, some of them notable figures like Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, and Napoleon, rattled about in the passages with vacant stares. As Pandora stood at the top of the steps, disco lights were dancing on the steps like so many fairies, while from inside, the hip-hop beats thumped against the night air. Sad. He was imitating Hell. She took a step toward the top of the stairwell, lined with a wrought-iron fence with sharp fleurs-de-lis, slightly nervous, and slightly stimulated. The underworld could be loads of fun for an amoral immortal. She, on the other hand, always had a mission.

A harsh voice, like a Raven’s caw, came from behind her. She turned. In the dusk, and under a yellow streetlamp, a baggy-clothed gray man was waving his arms, shouting at her. She turned to hear him better, expecting the usual Christian “end of the world” bit or some Druid bowing. She braced herself for an onslaught. Every time she went out, a mortal would recognize her and react fanatically. It was getting to be a problem. Instead, she found, the graybeard was half-shouting and half-muttering a verse of Sibyl’s Vision, the Norse song of Ragnarök, end-of-gods, end-of-days.

 

Brothers will fight

And kill each other,

Siblings

Do incest;

Men will know misery,

Adulteries be multiplied,

An axe-age, a sword-age,

Shields will be cloven,

A wind-age, a wolf-age,

Before the world’s ruin.

 

Pandora waved and yelled across the street, her piping voice ringing on the walls, “Yes, darling, I know, I know.” The old man smiled blackteeth rot, his face beaming with a newfound youth, and slumped to the ground, lifting a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 to his lips after pouring a dollop on the ground to honor her. She turned and walked in.

The Gates of Hell was packed – it was a Saturday night – with humans of every sort, but mostly white-skinned Goths with black leather and torn tees, makeup on their faces and drugs in their eyes. A skinny MC whined on the stage, trying to rap with the rhythms coming from the ancient Karaoke machine at the end of the oak bar. It was, she thought, quite pathetic. Endearing. She thought she might hit on him after she was done dealing with Persephone. She hoped not to encounter Hades, but if so, she had little to worry about. Made from dust like a Golem, she had a bit of Hades magic in her, herself, and could appreciate the darker side of life, when it wasn’t too morbid.

She slipped down the back hallway past the VIP rooms, where moans of lust and the slaps of spankings mingled with soft laughter. She recognized one of the voices on the other side of the door marked “Eros and Eris Room” and knocked.

Chorus: Do you mind, Kalliope and I are a little busy?

(Sorry, Bub, Pandora’s here. Better get.)

Pandora opened the door. Kalliope was reclining on a couch, eyes like an owl’s, royal counselor. She was amused to see Pandora, whom she almost recognized.

“You seem familiar,” Kalliope said.

“Do I?” said Pandora. “Where can I find Persephone, pray tell?”

“Ask the Oracle to ask Apollo. How would I know?”

“How would Apollo know?”

“Now that you mention it, he wouldn’t.”

“Quite. So where is she?”

“Oh,” she said, remembering with Pandora’s prodding, “Downstairs, I s’pose. In the sub-sub-basement. Take the elevator at the end of the hall.”

“Right. Thanks Kalliope,” Pandora said, shutting the door behind her.

Kalliope?” she said, hearing her name from outside herself. “Now I remember: ‘The nine daughters born of great Zeus, Klio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhymnia, Ourania, and Kalliope, the most important of all, for she keeps the company of reverend kings.’ But who is my mother?”

Pandora found the elevator at the end of the hall, and pressed the button – there was only one: “Down” – and waited while the elevator trundled on the other side of the gold doors. Claw marks had rent holes through one of the gold panels, apparently from inside the shaft. They slid open, and the left door stuck three-quarters of the way on a sharp edge of the rips in the metal, grinding to a stop with a clicking noise. She stepped in, and the doors closed, and the elevator shuddered into motion. It sounded like a wheel was loose somewhere as the car lowered deeper and deeper, toward Tartarus. A deadbolt bigger than a breadbox slammed shut on the inside door. “Melodramatic. How typical of Hades,” she thought.

Halfway down, however, the elevator lurched to a stop, and the doors stayed shut. She felt the car swaying, as if in a breeze, and a howling noise came through the crack in the door, like the wet breath of a humongous wolf. She was, in fact, hanging at the end of the elevator cable at the top of a cavern as deep as Poseidon’s locker, blown in the fury of a torrential underground storm. The elevator dangled for a few minutes, to give the rider pause to consider their predicament, and then the floor opened.

Pandora fell straight down for about ten feet, from sheer momentum, then blew sideways in the storm. She screamed as she fell, until she had to take a breath between screams and realized she’d be hoarse by the time she died if she kept that up. In the distance, she could see a spot of light as big as a candle-flame, and she seemed to be carried toward it on the hot, wet wind. “Smells like dog breath,” she thought.

As the spot of light drew closer, or, rather, as she drew closer to the spot of light, she realized that it was a very large doorway, like a landing pad in the face of a cliff, and it seemed to be sucking her toward it with incredible force. She turned her feet toward it and braced for impact. When she hit the landing strip, which sported stripes, red lights, and all, she broke her fall by rolling forward onto her feet, brushing brimstone soot off her black pants, and walked through an archway upheld by two pillars as big as redwood trees into a long gothic gallery. Gargoyles and statues of all the Saints lined the walls, but the Saints weren’t standing proudly in pomp. They were in the various states of torment that plagued them throughout their lives. There was St. Francis with the Stigmata, bloody palms, the weight of an invisible cross bending his back over; and St. John the Baptist, minus his head, which was by itself in the next alcove. St. Joan of Ark was depicted in a bas-relief against a background of flames.

 

Persephone’s Cosmic Mirror

At the end of the gallery, a pair of silver doors blocked her way. She could see her reflection in their mirror-like surfaces, peeking from behind pearl-inlayed floral patterns. A gold disc was mounted in the center. “This must be it,” she thought, and knocked. The doors swung slowly open with an ominous groan, a crack of light growing between them.

“I’ve got to get Hephaestus to oil that fucking hinge,” a breathless voice said from inside. Green and golden-amber light flooded from inside, setting Pandora aglow like a figure in a Max Plank painting. She stepped in.

“Persephone? Is that you?” she said. She was in an underground jungle; the smell of fruit trees and dew was pungent. She breathed it in, invigorated.

“Pandora! Long time, no see, sweetie. Whatever have you been up to?” There was Persephone, long curly locks flowing in a warm breeze, skin as soft as a baby’s butt. “It’s been positively ages!”

“Yes, sister. It has,” Pandora said, smiling as well as she was able. The years had been kind to Persephone’s figure and face, but her mind had long been addled by trauma. Living with Hades was a living hell, and a thousand years hence she’d convinced herself that she was “perfectly normal.” She even told Ares and Athena at a family reunion that the Olympian family was the ideal nuclear family. “Monogamy is just one of Babylon’s lies,” she’d said. Ares had laughed in her face, and she’d fainted for two hundred years. They were very cold years.

“What can I do for you, it’s not often that we get visitors. Let me call Hades, he’s just the perfect host. We can have tea and crumpets, what say you?”

“God forbid!” thought Pandora. “She’s an anglophile!”

“No thanks, Persephone. Actually, I’m on a bit of a mission, like your mom’s. Remember that? When she descended into the underworld to save you from permanent exile from Mount Olympus?”

“Oh yes, very sweet of her. Of course, I don’t see why everyone makes such a big deal out of it. The underworld is ever so nice this time of year, and Hades so successful. It’s so interesting!”

Sooo,” Pandora continued, ignoring Persephone’s blather. “I’m on this mission, and I was wondering if you would give me some help with it. It’d be grand fun.”

“Marvelous, darling! What can I do to help?”

A fortnight later, the two of them were trudging out of Tartarus, a weighty mirror between them. Persephone was babbling on about the difference between lunar and solar calendars in ancient agriculture. Pandora was trying, with limited success, to ignore her. This was day three of a comparison of ancient Judaic and Canaanite religious cycles.

As they came over the rim of the chasm, they found their way blocked. Pandora stopped, and Persephone said, “Oh!” – surprised in the middle of a sentence. Standing in the middle of the yellow brick road was Hades in a pimped-out business suit.

 

Hades Ain’t All That

“Well, well, well, well,” Hades said. Actually, muttered would be a better word. He was a neurotic beyond Woody Allen’s wildest dreams, and muttered incessantly. He often repeated himself. And he constantly adjusted his wanker under his Toga. Still, he tried to come off as a monster. He was a bully.

“What have we here,” he whined. “Two little girls being naughty, eh? Guess I’ll have to punish you both. It’ll be my pleasure, and your pain.” His whine was simpering, and gave Pandora the feeling that Hades was a Grade-A creep. A lecher. A dog.

“Not even you, Pandora, can waltz into Hades’ Realm, to the deepest pits of Tartarus, and steal from me without punishment. I think I’ll start with spankings.”

He was shaking at the boney knees, hobbling toward her, grasping with his blue-veined hands, wrinkly clawlike fingers with greasy yellow nails. (Auto restoration was a recent hobby.) She slapped his hand and kicked him in the balls without saying anything. He fell over, groaning, writhing, moaning, gasping for breath, losing his breath, fainting, coming to – he’d never been kicked in the balls, none of his victims had tried it.

 

“You bitch! Fucking Amazon! Amazon! You tried to castrate me! Psycho in Hell! There’s a fucking psycho in here!” He screamed over his shoulder, apparently to a slave, but there was no slave there. In his overconfidence, he had come alone.

“Listen to me, asshole,” she said, yelling over his renewed shrieks of agony from the ball-kicking, curled into the fetal position. “I want to make a deal.”

He stopped writhing and moaning, and looked at her. “You want to make a deal with the devil?”

“Stop it!” she yelled at him, setting her end of the mirror down and bending to talk to him. “You are not the devil. It’s the people’s beliefs that have got you thinking that. People don’t know what to think about me, so I get to be myself, but not you. Not Persephone or Aphrodite or the Muses or any of the gods, not even Zeus. You’re all locked in cages of idea, and I think I can get you out. You’ll be whole. Almost mortal.”

“What will happen to my realms?” he said, sitting up, a greedy look on his face. He’d always resented being given the underworld to rule, Zeus’ kicking-boy.

“Your realms?” she said, and stood up. She thought, and laughed. “I don’t know, old man, I really don’t. I don’t know what will happen to any of us, only that we’ll be free from humanity forever, and they from us. You’ll be free to rule wherever you are, and to walk above ground, unrecognized, forgotten.” Pandora didn’t mention that when Aphrodite came to her to find the Muses, she’d recognized their forgetfulness as a sign, an omen from the moment, to build a box.

This, not finding the Muses’ mommy (who was probably hiding out from Zeus in Tahiti), was Pandora’s real mission. If Prometheus wanted to find the Muse, it was most likely because he was starting to feel the Muse in himself as he forgot his godly identity. And if Aphrodite was getting bitchy, it was probably because she was finding the Muse to challenge Zeus. Things were moving: Persephone was helping her and then Hades was on his knees before her, a minor demigoddess. It was if as the Fates were on her side.

Author’s Note: The narrator, chorus, and I are also on Pandora’s side, which may have some effect on the final outcome of the story.

Hades, most tortured of the Olympian gods, most abject, stood up straighter than he had on his wedding night all those ages ago, and said, “Yes, Pandora, daughter of all the gods, keeper of Hope, I will help you.”

“Excellent,” said Pandora.

“Shall we have an orgy to celebrate?”

“Please shut up, and carry this mirror for us. It’s heavy, and we’ve been walking out of Tartarus’ pit for two weeks with it,” she replied, leading the way up.

 

Pandora’s Box of Mirrors

Once back at her studio, Pandora lifted the mirror onto her workbench, and threw a blanket over it. Plastic was lain on the ground in front of the bench. The shades were drawn. “Too bad,” she’d thought as she drew them. “The sunlight would help me work, but I can’t have Aphrodite seeing what I’m up to. She’s too vain to understand.”

With a rubber mallet, Pandora started smashing Persephone’s mirror, pounding with delight, punk rock blasting from the stereo speakers. In the ceiling and above the main plate glass windows, was row upon row of stained glass, like petals of a rose, in every shade and color of light. She was small, and felt smaller with every pound of the mallet, until she felt tiny, a bubble on the surface of the Earth, ready to pop off and up into the great beyond. She wondered if Persephone or Aphrodite felt this way, too, or if Gaea felt it – small in the cosmos. Zeus, he was sure, would never feel the shattering of the vessel of the feminine principle. He was far too conceited.

Then she stopped, and pulled the blanket off, being careful not to lose any pieces. Beneath the blanket, like the cracks that form in mud, or like the back of a leaf, the mirror lay, whole in each of its pieces. It had gone nowhere. It was still there, one mirror, but in each piece a different image of the world was now being reflected, instead of one image. Like one of her stained glass windows, its colors changed as one moved, sparkling with complexity. But inside each broken piece a perfect world was reflected. “Perfect,” she thought, “because it is, not for any other reason. Perfect because life exists, and that’s a miracle of its own. The last hope for humanity or the gods: divine divorce.”

Then, drawing on all her skills, Pandora made her opus; her own Muse burned as a fire within, and she was ready to risk everything for her moment of inspiration. She sat on her stool, hunched over beneath glaring florescent lights, and fitted all the pieces of Persephone’s mirror together into a box. The chaotic pattern she’d devised was a work of genius, and by an optical illusion it reflected one solid color from the colors around it, so that it looked as if it were made of platinum or maybe mother of pearl, or mere glass, but not a mirror. She finished with a huge golden lock and put the key inside, closing the lid but not locking it. Then she packed the box in a carton and wrapped it, putting a bow and a card on the top.

Then she called Aphrodite.

 

Those Lazy Days of Ragnarök

Aphrodite arrived within a half-hour, screeched into the driveway and ran up the walkway, shooing the deer that was desperately trying to lick her hand. She pounded on the door, glancing nervously around, admiring the way her hair flicked as she did.

Pandora opened the door, and Aphrodite slipped in.

“What’s all this about?” she said, hurriedly.

“You’ll see. Everything’s been taken care of. You’ll find out exactly where the Muses are, and Mnemosyne, before daybreak tomorrow.”

“But why did you want me to call Hermes. Are you sure that was wise? If he figures out what we’re up to…”

“He won’t. That’s why you’re meeting him at your place, not mine. I want you to give him this,” Pandora said, turning to a side table in the foyer and picking up the gift. “And tell him it’s a gift for Zeus from you. There’s a card on there that you need to sign to make it seem real.”

“But… but… why, Pandora? This doesn’t make any sense!”

Pandora took a deep breath, and steeled herself. Lying was on old habit, but one she’d managed to break as the people lost understanding for her over the centuries. She didn’t like doing it anymore. It gave her blisters on her tongue. But she had a mission.

“It’s simple,” Pandora lied. “Zeus has turned Mnemosyne into a dove, again, and locked her in a box, that’s why the Muses can’t remember themselves, why Prometheus started to wonder about them. Send him this box, writing in the card that it’s a new box for him, to glorify his power over women, and he will put Mnemosyne in the new box, flattered because it came from you, whom he looks up to.

“And when he does, Mnemosyne will magically transform into a dragon and break the box, devouring Zeus in one gulp. Then you can ascend the throne and rule Olympus, as it should be. You see? It’s perfect, no?”

“Yes!” Aphrodite said, her eyes aglow with greed for power. “It is perfect! It accomplishes multiple ends with one fell swoop. It is sure and ruthless. I love it!” She was yelling, hysterical, laughing.

Pandora put her arm around her and smiled. “Take it to Hermes now, and don’t forget to sign the card. Oh, and remember, don’t mention that the box is for Mnemosyne. We’re not supposed to know. He’s sure to use it to cage his pet.”

Aphrodite got in her car drove away. Gravel spat up behind her from Pandora’s driveway, the wheels screeched again when they hit the pavement.

Then Pandora was alone. She sat down in a chair and waited to see what would happen when Zeus got the box.

 

Off the southern coast of Cuba, there is a tiny coastal island in the flats. A few huts dot the beach, in disrepair, and beyond, there is only thin jungle, and then more sea. That day a luxury yacht was anchored just off the island, and on the side it read, “Mt. Olympus.” On the deck by the pool Zeus was having a cocktail when Hermes arrived. He had his arm around an exquisite nympho in a bikini; she sat on the deck, giggling and resisting weakly, making little effort to escape. Her tanned legs kicked the air.

At first he was a glimmer in the face of the sun, as when a bird passes overhead, but the glimmer grew into a shadow, which grew smaller and darker as Hermes neared. Zeus bellowed, his voice sending ripples across the ocean’s surface, “Get outta the light, you fuckin’ moron. We’re trying ta fuckin’ sunbathe down here!”

“Oh, s..sorry, boss, sorry,” Hermes said, zipping down, landing softly, his ankle wings tucking against his calves. “I have a ssspecial d..delivery f..f..for the All Father.” Hermes had developed a stutter from the multiple hundreds of lightning bolts Zeus had given him for being the all-too-frequent bearer of bad news. He could handle a bolt now and then as well as the next god, sure, but it did tend to rattle the brains after a while.

“Oh yeah, what is it?” he asked. Dropping the girl with a thump. She pouted, and crawled away mink-like.

“I d..don’t know g..g..great G..G..G..G..God,” Hermes replied. “I would n..never open y..y..o.. the All F..Father’s mail, except at his r..r..request.”

“Eh? Good boy,” Zeus said, taking the package from Hermes. “It’s a present for me, looks like.” He read the card. Heh, from Aphrodite. ‘Bout time, too. Ooh, baby. I wonder what it is.” He ripped the box open.

“It’s a b..b..box, Sire,” Hermes said.

“I can see that,” Zeus said. “It’s the thought that counts. She said it was to thank me for everything I do for humanity, women in particular. Look, it’s almost identical to Pandora’s box.”

S..S..Sire! You’re are r..right!” Hermes said.

“Of course I’m right. I’m always right. I’m God, and don’t forget yourself. You just called me ‘you.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard you address me so casually. I should give you a bolt of bone-charring lightning for that.”

Hermes threw himself to the deck, crawling toward Zeus’ feet, muttering. Zeus said, “Get up, you moron. Be a god, for God’s sake.” He did.

He went on. “Well, I’ll just have to put that puny little pearl that got left in the old box in this one. That box is about worn out, anyway. Go get it for me, will you? From on top of my dresser? Good lad.” Hermes had gone and returned in less than a heartbeat.

Zeus unlocked and opened Pandora’s box and lifted a pearl out of it, then dropped it into the new box and locked it. Then he smiled and said, “Who are you?”

Hermes replied, “Who are you? A better question would be, who am I?”

Zeus said, “You’re right. Very wise. You’re a smart cookie. Who are you?”

Hermes said, “I don’t know. That’s what I’m saying.”

The being formerly known as Zeus stood up.

“That’s a nice island,” he said.

“Yes,” said the immortal nameless being that was once called Hermes, and the two of them went to the island, the locked boxes tucked under their arms and lost the boxes in the jungle, broken by the elements. The yacht was hijacked by Zeus’s nympho, and the immortals diminished to Earth spirits on a sinking island – castaways.

Hades and Persephone moved to a cabin in the woods and grew pot and barley.

Aphrodite cried, weeping for a loss, but she didn’t know what the loss was, and that’s what made her weep. Then she forgot to worry about her loss and forgot crying, and became almost human, almost inspired, and that was enough. She became alive.

Pandora and Prometheus slept, and in their dreams they slept, and were happy.

Prometheus’ corpse was never found. The birds ate him when he forgot about rebelling from the bird’s-eye view, giving in to his love for their wild freedom.

A neighbor found Pandora crystallized, smiling, a shard of glass in her hand.


© Joseph E. Edwards VIII

New renaissance artist Joseph E. Edwards VIII enthuses his short stories with a Hermetic muse – a philosophy that also finds expression in his visual art and music. In an approach not unlike that of magical realist Jorge Luís Borges, Joseph imbues each tale with a personalized kabbalistic Tree of Life, a literary ‘magical’ self-referencing creative loop of logic. Following Kafka, the imperfect individual is pitted against bureaucracies of chthonic antiquity in order to ask important questions about human freedom. In “Pandora’s Pearl,” Joseph transforms the classical gods of Greek mythology into satirical versions of the old forms, semantic relics of Western lore. As humanity lost interest in the gods, they adapted to the changing times with limited success. Led by the titan Aphrodite, a cabal of deities convinces Pandora – whose famous box releases death – to help Olympia regain its ancient grandeur. She agrees, and falls back into her roll as puppet in the machinations of the older deities in the pantheon. Or does she?

joh@kitcarson.net