This is the second part to a short story called Adonis. You can read the first part here.
“What is this life?” I whispered aloud. Nothing answered, just the creaking of the branches as they relayed the message back and forth, back and forth. And then silence, total and unmistakable. The kind you only feel at the back of your neck, when you know someone is watching you. I opened my eyes.
The sun settled in a form of halo around the man’s head, so bright that I could not see his face. I sat up, wondering whether someone had come looking for me. The man wore strange clothes. A short brown tunic, a leather belt and boots. A bow in his hand and a quiver full of arrows on his back. A hunter. A hunter? I squinted, dizzily. I felt oddly languid, like I knew I should have stood up, properly introduced myself, apologised for my lack of manners – and lack of a hat that I must have dropped somewhere. Somehow though, I felt it did not matter, that the hunter would not mind.
“Who are you?” I said, my voice loud in the over-powering silence. He stepped forward, away from the light, his face no longer impossible to see. I knew then why the sun had hid his face. It was jealous for he… he was beautiful. He knelt on one knee, using his other to prop his his chin up with his hand.
“I could say the same of you, my lady. Alone in these woods.” His eyes twinkled, darker than the foliage overhead. He grinned. “The wild boars could think you’re a flower and eat you up.” I stared, not sure whether I was still processing his presence, or the fact that there were wild boars nearby. Sensing my confusion, he smiled warmly, stood up and extended his hand. “Come,” he said. “I’ll show you the way out.”
We walked in silence for a while, side by side. I wanted to look at him, to appraise him better than the sidelong glances I sometimes managed. He was a walking version of the marble statues I had seen in Florence. Poised, alert, Apollo in the Woods, he seemed oblivious of how unnaturally close he came to man’s idea of old gods. He ambled, smiling sometimes, while my own tongue was tripping over all the questions I wanted to ask.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to not make it sound like an accusation. I failed a little. He threw back his head slightly and laughed, the sound a perfect chime in my ear.
“I come here to hunt.” He turned, his face angled away from the sun, so that the halo reappeared around his brown curls. “My name is Adonis.” Adonis.
“I am Ema,” I said simply, a name unmatched with his. “And I am… completely lost.” The woods around me which had not been very familiar already, were alien now. Tall pines, stout olives and citrus trees replaced the great oaks, the sweeping willows and elms. The air smelled of salt, like there was the sea nearby. I looked behind me but it was all the same.
“Surely you are not lost all the time.” When he turned to look ahead, his profile was like one I had seen etched on an old coin. All he needed was a laurel wreath around his head. “You know I hunt, but what do you do?”
“I write.” It came naturally this declaration, which was strange, in itself. I no longer spoke about it, ever since it started making people feel uncomfortable. My mother and father particularly. Not many people had any use for a woman who wrote.
“That’s wonderful!” he exclaimed, so genuinely I had to look up. His face beamed. “Not everyone has the gift of telling stories, much less writing them. We call those who do, kissed by the gods. And to say it with such conviction, then it is what you are born to be. But now, tell me your stories.”
So I did. Words rushed forth like a dam had collapsed and he listened rapturously. Tales I had as yet only entertained my youngest cousins with. Stories that lay in secret, at the bottom of my wardrobe.
“You should not bury your voice where no one can hear it, fair Ema,” he said. “Why waste it so? You are given one moment, this very one, to make use of and unless,” he laughed, the air chimed in response “unless the gods decide you are fit to stand by them in the immortal rungs, all this will be over soon.” We walked on, never stopping, crunching on the same dead leaves, as the same clouds passed overhead creating pools of temporary darkness that wove in and out of trees. And yet, everything was different, colours heightened, senses sharpened. Was I finally seeing? “Beauty fades, strength seeps out of old bones,” he spoke as if from far away, like he was talking to himself. “But we have now. And only death can take that away from you.”
“Adonis,” the name familiar, a sweet morsel in my mouth. It felt like a dream and yet it was real. As real as my skin prickling, as the warm sun on my back. He was here and yet he was yesterday. He was breathing and yet he did not exist, like he was walking behind the flimsy curtain of time. This is what it felt like, that walk in the woods. Like an elusive dream I was both living and remembering. A memory I was still shaping with every step I took.
“Look, we have arrived.” He pointed at a line of trees beyond which I could see a clearing. All was silent but in the distance I could hear it, the crashing of waves against rock. I walked on, past the fringe of the trees, where Adonis halted. “This is where I leave you, fair Ema.” He took hold of my hand, pressed something inside it, curling my fingers around it with his rough hands. His eyes bore deep into mine, it was just the way he looked. So intense, and from so far away. Like he knew. Like he saw.
“I hope I hear your tales being sung at every hearth. Then perhaps one day, we shall meet again.” He smiled, one last ancient flicker before turning and walking back. And I saw her there, in the woods as she fell into step beside him. Flowers bloomed from where her feet touched the ground and chimes rang sweetly, the same chimes which rang when he laughed.
“Watch out for the boar,” I whispered. The sun was setting, the woods turned golden and bronze. Great oaks rustled their leaves to reaffirm their presence. We never left. You did.
Adonis. The beautiful mortal. There, at the edge of the woods, a single red anemone swayed gently. I opened my hand and saw a feather, slightly bristled from where I held it, but still fine. White it was, with a brown tip. I held it close. It would make a fine quill. I turned and walked towards the setting sun, towards distant voices of people calling my name.
Who was Adonis?
In Greek Mythology, Adonis was a beautiful youth, a favourite of Aphrodite. In Euripides’ version of the tale, he is killed by a boar, sent by the goddess Artemis for having ventured into her hunting domain. His blood mixes with Aphrodite’s tears and out of the soil sprang a flower, the Anemone. As red as blood and as sweet in fragrance as Aphrodite herself.