Friday, May 22, 2020

"Quarantine of the Gods" by Catherine McKenzie


Mount Olympus
Dear Aphrodite,
       Hey, sis.  You were right to get out of here before lockdown.  This might be a mist-shrouded, lush paradise, but even paradise gets tiresome when you’re stuck inside all the time.  Especially with our family. 
     Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful Hera stocked up on ambrosia and nectar, but I’m dying for some variety.  Grilled octopus would go down pretty well.  Or a slice of that lemon loaf they sell at Starbucks.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m beginning to have more sympathy for Grandpa Cronus over the whole baby-eating episode – it’s like, sometimes you just want something different, you know.   
     I was dumb enough to think it would be peaceful to stay in the palace for a few weeks.  I have an infinite tapestry I’ve been weaving for a few millennia, and was looking forward to finally getting it finished.  But peaceful?  Ha! 
     Dad – well, you know Dad.  King of the Gods and Men – he never does anything half-way.  He’s wearing a face mask around the house, and nagging all about handwashing.  If you get closer than six feet – WHAM! – thunderbolt to the side of the head.  I’m like, “Dad, you’re immortal!  What are you so worried about?”  And he’s all, “Plank the curve, Athena!”
     Hera won’t stop fighting with him.  I knew there was going to be trouble the other afternoon when he mentioned taking a walk down to the goose pond.  I think the man honestly just wanted some fresh air, but it set her off ranting about how he was probably going to meet up with Leda.  Then she cornered him by a fountain and started listing off ALL his affairs.  Yes, seriously.  All. Of. Them.  Every Goddess, semi-divine, mortal, nymph and nature spirit. 
So that took until sundown. 
The really big argument happened yesterday.  Just before noon, we heard the muses yelling and singing, the way they always do when there’s an Amazon delivery.  I’ve told Dad a million times, just get a doorbell like ordinary people, but NO, he says he likes the noise.  Go figure. 
And there it was on the top step.  An enormous box.  With no address label!
Hephaestus stepped forward and started picking at the tape.  Said he’d ordered more metalworking tools, so it must be for him.  Dad rolled his eyes and was like, “More tools?  They already fill a whole wing of the palace.”
Hephaestus started whining about how he needed them to make a super special present for you, his beloved Aphrodite.  (I guess he hasn’t noticed you don’t live here anymore.)  And Hera shot Dad a nasty look and put on her mommy voice.  Wasn’t Hephaestus a TREASURE for making something for his wife?  What a fine boy they had!  Isn’t it LOVELY when husbands give their wives gifts?  Ugh, I wanted to vomit.
Dad mumbled something about decluttering, and Hera stamped her foot and said she could think of a few things around the house that hadn’t sparked joy lately.  Then he told her to back off and stop speaking moistly at him.  And in the middle of all that, Hermes came in playing the lyre, sang two verses about the Trojan horse, and walked out.  Totally random.
But then I looked back at the box. 
“What if it’s a trap?” I said. “That box is big enough to fit a small army.”
Dad started stroking his beard.  “True.  And have you seen our delivery boy?  You know what they say about geeks bearing gifts.”
Hephaestus wouldn’t budge though, he was all “muh tools”.  And Hera told Dad to “leave the poor boy alone.”  She said she had no concerns about the contents, and insisted we bring in the box at once.
Let’s face it, Hera’s beautiful and an awesome dancer and she bakes a mean loaf of banana bread, but she’s also one vengeful woman.  Turning his lovers into bears or monsters, or tricking them into incinerating themselves.  And I know we’re not supposed to talk about it, but remember when she lottedpay to have him illedkay?  Dad must have been thinking of all this, because he turned towards the package and raised his arm.
“No!” Hephaestus yelled.  “You’ll damage my new anvil!”
Dad ordered him to move out of the way in his Sky God voice, and Hera tried to grab Dad’s arm, and in the middle of it all, WHAM! – thunderbolt to the box, missing Hephaestus by a golden hair.
Red liquid started to seep through the cardboard and form a puddle on the ground.  Hera put a hand to her mouth, and Hephaestus cocked his head to one side and said, “What in Hades?  Those aren’t my tools.”
We all stood there in horror for a moment, imagining what – or who – was inside that box.
Then we heard a sleepy voice from behind saying, “Oh man, you trashed my stuff.”
So guess what?!  It was Dionysus’s package!  And that wasn’t blood coming out … it was wine!  He’d ordered a shipment of a thousand bottles of Nemea Agiorgitiko, as well as some theatre props (he’s trying to put together a virtual performance of The Bacchae on Zoom with his friends). 
He threatened to curse us all, but once we actually opened the box and realized half the bottles were salvageable, he went back to his usual mellow self.  
All’s well that ends well.  I guess.
You were smart, you know – getting out of here and going to Asgard for the quarantine.  You’re probably sitting on Thor’s lap right now, playing with that beautiful hair of his, and popping grapes in his mouth.  I bet you’d be happy staying there forever.
For me, though, this can’t end soon enough. 
Athena

Catherine McKenzie is a mere mortal, currently social distancing in Oakville, Ontario, far from Mount Olympus.  She has three kids, aged 16, 12, and 6, who provide her with lots of inspiration for the YA and children's fiction she loves to write.  


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