For Medusa, with love.

from Styx River Anthology, by a. darlington kilbride, iv.

She has, she thinks, lived too long.

Been too many things. Been both monster and woman, neither and both, walked a tightrope between the two extremes in the hope of finding an acceptable balance, and all she has to show for her troubles is rope burn, scraped elbows, heavy cloth bandaging. She has taken the necessary steps, of course - avoided mirrors like they are the last gasps of a dying man who only wants his mother, covered statues of an unfortunate few she made the mistake of loving at one time or another, in fact shrouded their frozen horror in swaths of black silk and muslin until the last, terrible rictus of the last, terrible man is obscured into something that looks like a smile if she squints hard enough. She wasn’t always a beast of burden, is the thing.

Medusa, she was voted most likely to be picked last in gym class.

Most likely to take what she could get and call it love.

The image takes shape like a bruise, an ache existing in both future and present:

You can fuck me, throat full of smoke, a flash of scale, and a her that is no longer her tosses a smile scarred with the last vestige of dignity over a bare shoulder, as long as you promise not to look directly at me.

The trouble, it seems, is that she has fallen madly in love with the word no. Irreversibly, really, no tattooed on the underside of her forked tongue. No to beauty, brilles stretched tight and shiny as a drum skin across retina like a door that always opens into nowhere, no to good men with Chloris’ best blooms mangled down to a shiver in their clenched fists, to the wet thump of a living heart, to warm blood. No with scales. No exposed and unshined. Beastly thing that she’s become, freed demon that she is, no.

Not fit at all for consumption.

This is not a new dream.

Grimy super-eights of celebrity open-casket funerals. She wants to see how the beautiful and the powerful bury their dead, and they do not disappoint. Nations have to fall to finance the procession through the center of Tartarus: Flash bulbs popping, the death of Old Hollywood presented to the lucky viewers in vivid Technicolor™, no studio audience and too many players on stage at once, all the cues missed or ignored, all the lights in the house gone down but for Charon’s lantern.

She imagines herself dead, at last and finally dead, borne from her subterranean home upon a glittering platinum bier into the doldrums of the Acheron, delivered to lantern light and judgment. Imagines her heart tucked neatly beneath the same hands used to sing her children to that ultimate sleep, the sighs of relief, hush ebbing and flowing around her like a culling song. No one is there to see it and so none believe it, but Medusa smiles in her sleep.

The event horizon of her sternum pressing down on the dying star of her will, she pours another finger of vodka. Another, another. The galaxy is turning in on itself and so are her insides. Another. The bottle is half gone and her pupils blown turn to satellite moons knocked from their axis, astir in her head. Gravity and timing and this endless loop she's doomed to, caught in the jaws of her own life. In the end, everything in this universe dies - the universe itself is no better than she for its vastness, no less hurtling toward its last day. The only difference between she and the stars wheeling across the sky in common time is that some of them are already dead. Refilling her glass after a moment or two of quiet contemplation, she considers that perhaps they’re the same after all.

She hoped that next time she found herself here, somebody would come. With her guts splayed out like a Rorschach, like an angel's wings, begging for a needle and thread, she said to herself "next time," and she laid her weapons down. Laid her body down in the middle of the road, eyes on the horizon. For days she waited, carrion creatures making sweetbread feast of the famine of her flesh, wet beaked and streaked with viscera, reminding herself that she had offered to cover Prometheus’ shift. From the outside, she looks like a good Samaritan. Would, anyway, if her insides hadn’t seen fit to become the outside.

If the crush of bone and asphalt wasn’t so flattering to her figure.

They dream - and she knows it - of taking her head as a trophy. Casting the monster in bronze, making an example for future generations of heroes and villains, blah, blah, blah.

Fine, then.

We all die, sooner or later. But if Atropos indeed intends to send her on to the next nightmare, intends to let them defile her for the sake of glory, her neck won’t be the guillotine’s only meal. Whoever said monsters can’t be beautiful hasn’t met her statuary collection: A flash of scale is all it takes. A glint of fang. A light goes on inside her and she is the beauty of her own recollection, hair like brand new silk and the bell of her hips chiming FOR SALE when she walked, scaleless flesh that smelled of violets and salt water begging to be touched. She’ll waft through a smoky bar like clove smoke and smile from beneath her veils, stand close enough to kiss the petal soft skin beneath an ear, since mortal men have those, call one leg Milk and the other Honey and offer him a stronghold in the oasis between. They will come, the promise of legend and sex sweat on their single tongues too strong to ignore, and when they come for her with their axes and their swords they’ll have to navigate a garden of bodies to find her. She won’t make it as easy as nobody wants to admit killing is.

(It is.)

Loving, if it is a monster in question, is apparently much harder.

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