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Persephone and the Solstice

She stood in the grassy field where the cars were parked, a foot-beaten path leading through the spindled oaks and the flowering dogwood, up a rise and down to the banks of the river. She couldn’t see the summer solstice revelers but she could hear their voices rising and falling, the splashing of bodies in the water, and dogs barking. Violet and Rosemary were busy beside the car piling items on the ground, the cooler; the blankets, a mesh sack of freshly-picked peaches, giggling to one another.

Swinging braids, and sun hats and headbands, their swim suits on beneath denim cut-offs and shortie tanks, flip-flops and brightly painted toenails with toe rings and anklets, ropes of beaded necklaces strung with good luck amulets.

“Let’s go, let’s go. It’s starting without us,” the girls told her, still laughing. Violet pulled a plastic baggie stuffed full of dried mushrooms out from beneath the passenger seat and Rosemary squealed in anticipation.

The longest day of the year. The sun standing still in the sky. The shortest night of the year. But the subsequent summer dawns arriving later and later, until the earth once again spun and tilted her body away from the warmth of her burning star. She could feel herself tipping away from the solstice and towards the equinox while her friends celebrated the first day of summer, welcoming the delirium of warm days and nights. The swimming hole where the river slowed and bent, the love not yet offered, taken and squandered, the setting sun and the rising sun; all met with wild abandon. And she, too, would share in the revels, drink the alcohol, ingest the drugs, repel the advances, and all the while her heart would be in longing for the autumn and the cold embrace of his arms and the loam of his earthen bed.

“Don’t pine!” Rosemary reprimanded her, but kindly. “Oh, dear heart,” she said, and pulled her fast against her thin body, all bone and feminine flesh. She smelled of sun block and the essential oil that was her namesake.

“She’s not! Are you?” pouted Violet, and joined them in a clinching hug. “You’re here now. Be here, be with us. You’ll leave soon enough and then it will be us waiting for you to return. It’s summertime! Midsummer’s Eve! Come on, let’s go swimming and help find wood for the bonfire. Here’s your oblation, m’lady.” She squatted down beside the cooler and fished out a forty-ounce bottle of Miller High Life, opened it and dropped in a bright blue, plastic, curlicue straw. She stood and handed it to her.

She took it, pulling deeply on the straw, then smiled. “It’s okay. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. Don’t ask me to be happier than I want to be. Let me miss him. But you’re right, I am here. With you. Let’s go!” She grabbed the bag of fruit and skipped ahead. The girls followed.

) O (

They had spread their quilts out on a slope, just above the rocky sand of the river’s bank and she was lying face down, head pointing towards the water, chin on her crossed wrists. She had just woken from a timeless nap and was watching the party-goers, trying to hold onto the feel of him in her arms, the way he had come to her in her napping dream. Her heart was as though a threshold with a door she could not close completely. Despite the nap, she was still pleasantly drunk, the sun, which had been merciless on her shoulders and she could feel her where her exposed skin had burned slightly, was beginning to set. She had her straw in a bottle of SmartWater, the empty beer bottles accumulating in a small pile to be picked up the next morning when they left.

The pile of drift wood and found wood by the river’s edge was growing taller. Stacked crisscrossing, with several torn paper bags at its center, they were waiting for darkness to set it alight. She loved the midsummer’s eve bonfire and was waiting to chew her mouthful of mushrooms then, and dance with her tribe around the flames. Dance the flames of the fire down to ash.

Most of the revelers were still in the water, jumping from a rope swing, swimming its wide width and dunking one another. Earlier, she had waded in ankle-deep, barefooted and tempting the demons of broken glass and rusted shards of metal to wound her. To punish her boldness, but she stepped lightly and felt only rock and grit beneath her feet. None of the young men dared to scoop her up and toss her bodily into the dark waters. She stood still, her eyes closed and she could feel the bottom of the river calling, the silt and smoothed rock beckoning her to lie down in its bed as though a timeworn stone where the catfish would wind around her body, ray-finned corpses in the River Styx floating endlessly towards the black sea. She had shuddered off the temptation and walked backwards out of the water to sit cross-legged at the edge. A black dog came over and laid its head in her lap. She had stroked the broad plane of its forehead, running its silky ears through her fingers, drinking another beer until the world became softer and the sun lit up the shadows at the corners of her sight. The grain-based drink, the man-made ambrosia, and yet it was as though sipping from the River Lethe, forget forget forget with each swallow. Memory-less, she had stood unsteady and climbed up the sloped bank to the quilts.

Now it was time to rise and join her friends.

) O (

Singled and coupled, each had found respite, some in the sand ringing the embers, some curled into the sparse grasses of the slope, others back up in the meadow in backseats and truck beds. The sun was rising, illuminating the world, the fire dying, bidding farewell to the night. The river remained a black wound, bleeding towards the sea. She was alone, standing amongst the fallen, sleeping bodies.

She made a ceremony of undressing, toeing out of the flip-flops, pushing down the cut-offs, then the bikini bottoms. Pulling the tank over her head and then untying the ties on her bikini top. A neat pile of shed skin. Deftly, she unbraided the two long black pigtails and finger-combed the hair untangled.

She walked into the water, thigh high, pubis high, just below her breasts and she spread her arms and received it as though a lover, kicking off from the bottom, swimming out towards the middle. She rolled onto her back, floating, head pointing downstream, eyes closed, breathing through her open mouth. Her hands palm down on the surface, infinity circles, keeping her body afloat with the most minimal of movement.

The thinnest of membranes separated her from him now. She exhaled, wondering if she had the fortitude to let go, to push her body down into the depths, forcing his arms around her as he, too, gave in to longing and pulled. She could feel him just below her, his hands pressed fast to the jutting shoulder blades. He seemed to be holding her aloft. Her face was wet with tears. The sun finally visible, the river mirroring the morning sky. With an elegant fierceness, she turned and dove deeply, reaching for the bottom, digging loose an object, then stroking fast and strong upwards, breaking the surface with her upturned face. Wading out of the water and into the blanket Violet and Rosemary were holding open for her.

Tight in her fist she had one half of a freshwater pearl mussel’s shell. She ran her finger tip over the ridged black outer side of it then turned it in her palm, the smooth nacre luminescent underside exposed without its other half hinging it closed.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
elenbarathi
Jun. 15th, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, oh, oh, this brings back so many memories. Thank you. Extraordinary writing.
bleodswean
Jun. 15th, 2016 11:16 pm (UTC)
What will you be doing next week on the Solstice? Thank YOU for reading and leaving such a great comment!
elenbarathi
Jun. 16th, 2016 04:09 am (UTC)
Actually, my daughter and I were just discussing that - she and her man may be coming out from Seattle on the 17th so we can go down to Pirate Camp (which is her special magick place) on the 18th.

Depending on what else happens, I may go camp overnight at Dungeness County Park on the 19th so I can set out for the Spit before daylight: Full Moon will be at 4:02 AM that morning, with civil twilight beginning at 4:31; low tide will be -1.62 at 10:06 AM, so I will have sufficient light and sufficient beach. Sunrise is at 5:12; moonset is at 5:49; I mean to be at my special magick place 3.5 miles out, and dance the Sky Rocks skyclad before anyone else comes out there.

Sunset on the 20th will be at 9:16; moonrise will be at 9:18; the tide will be going out then: I mean to be out on Gibson Spit, playing pennywhistle for the seals as the gold Moon rises over the rose-blue sea.

*grins* Not much like the days of shrooms and body-paint and dancing around a giant bonfire all night. So what about you; doing anything of note?
murielle
Jun. 15th, 2016 10:11 pm (UTC)
Sigh

This is so lovely, so longingly lovely. I ache for her youth, I ache for her sisterhood, I ache for the heat and the brilliance of the longest day, but mostly I ache for her aching.

This fits in beautifully with your whole arc. In his absence it seems his hold on her is stronger, more tangible. In his presence she is so deeply drawn by him that she almost disappears--into him.

I love the bit about the dog, and wondered if it might be him. But he's never really all that far from her, is he?
bleodswean
Jun. 15th, 2016 11:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you, M! I'm always amazed at how similar we think about things, how we are drawn to the same types of characters....and their interior longings! Everything you've said here just totally encourages me because YOU GET IT! And that makes me happier than I can say. Yes, and yes, and yes!

I'm seeing now that my Hades/Persephone is two couples...and I need to work that out so I can concentrate on one of them! The first is the HR Giger inspired Hades and his suicided wife....the house, the basement atelier, the dark art. Those are mature people in a modern romance. The second is this Persephone, the young woman who wants to be older, the older man who shouldn't be compelled by her but is because she represents his destiny, the trade he made with Zeus....
murielle
Jun. 16th, 2016 12:14 am (UTC)
You honor me because I so often feel the true depth of your words will always be just beyond my reach. But I love the idea of the two couples. Yet when you write about the younger Persephone I don't see him as that much older. There is too much youthful arrogance in him, it's not cruel, it just is.

In any case I have fallen in love with your mythical pair. <3
(Deleted comment)
bleodswean
Jun. 16th, 2016 02:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you, G! I am so happy that this worked for you! And I love your swoon-worthy last line here! YES!
mijeli
Jun. 19th, 2016 10:45 pm (UTC)
Commenting as someone who has no idea what's the big picture - if there is one - just as a reader who got a glimpse at something beautiful and throws up her arms. This is beautiful. Your language is like poetry, flow-y and rhythmic, rich and visceral. The last two paragraphes moved me the most, because that gut reverberation was strongest there.

She could feel him just below her, his hands pressed fast to the jutting shoulder blades. He seemed to be holding her aloft.

Gorgeous and tender, makes me ache with longing for the lover who is not with me right now. So - wonderfully done.

(Is there a "bigger story" at work? You don't tag, so I have to ask! ;-))
meridian_rose
Jul. 11th, 2016 02:23 pm (UTC)
Nice!
"She made a ceremony of undressing" is a lovely moment.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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