It isn’t easy, sitting by this fire, listening. Once I was a nymph bathing by a cool spring, the air fragrant with wild mint. Now they call me hag, witch, half-oracle, but never woman, wise one, kind one. Listening requires knowledge of the soul, a politic face, a few fairground tricks, and, crucially, being at ease with the void.
I keep a place at my hearth for dearest Cupid. Now and again, he appears at the sunlit jamb, withered, throws the bow in the corner, lays down his quiver – that’s the deal. Then, I reach into the cubby, open the old Chinese tea caddy, and hand him his cigarettes: twenty Carrolls and a cricket lighter. A small ashtray with a map of Majorca.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Farmer’s fag. It’s not widely known, but if Cupid could retire, hang up the wings and the ballistic equipment, he says he’d gladly lean over a gate of an evening, count cattle, curse the midges, muse on mart prices. Fewer still see that Cupid, forever seventeen, still refuses to accept it: that he’s stuck.
Where I’m from, seventeen is quite late to start smoking. “Those things will kill you,” I said, the first day he came, the pack of cigarettes in his fist, the seal unbroken. He pouted at the irony, shuffled about, made to leave. So, we made a deal, out of respect for my finite life: one cigarette per visit. And, as the cigarette burns, he can talk about anything. Loneliness is the bespoke curse of the gods.
Today, he draws long on the cigarette, sits back and spreads his knees like he has just finished the second cut of silage. The feathers of his wings extend, he exhales slowly through his nostrils, a rebel devil. Then he fixes me with those nut-brown eyes. From now on, he says, I will be called Eros.
Bless the young for their notions. We are what we are. Especially gods. At this point, he hocks and spits into the hearth, so that it sizzles, then, resting his head on his free hand, says: I’m going back to my roots. I want to start over. Love is a serious business, with heady outcomes. Now, I know they call me rogue (they call me hag, witch, half-oracle), but I want to be more responsible, and therefore, more respected. I want, he says, tapping some ash, to progress. And he raises an eyebrow. What is wrong with that?
And there it is: the void. I stand to re-arrange my shawl, flap at a fly. When a fickle god asks a suffering mortal for an opinion, it is dangerous, for both. But the god has eternity to repair.
“Be the best version of yourself,” I say, staring at his forehead, my smile a reflex.
Yes, he says, and seems sated. He stubs out the cigarette, the filter red with lipstick. He stands, picks up bow and quiver, stops at the jamb, fingers an arrow. You know, he says, with a wink of his eye, I could –
He’ll break my heart someday, I swear it. And then he is gone, in a flutter, the sun on the jamb fading to evening ochre. I make mint tea with fresh mint from the well, and honey. Its aroma mixes with the thinning smoke. What was the best version of me? Nymph, half-oracle? I can’t tell. And where did I get that from, anyway? Was it Reader’s Digest, or Ireland’s Own?
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