Deianira

by editorialmonster

Poor woman, ill-fated, what a plan she devised! Widely powerful envy destroyed her…

-Bacchylides, Odes 16.35

I haven’t seen my husband, Alcaeous, in three weeks. Al calls almost every day from the hotels, but it isn’t the same as having him home. We only moved into this house a few months ago. It was a huge house. It was too much space to be alone with all the time. I had to get out, and walk around. I had to meet new people.

The house was at the edge of the city. There was a park near here with a long, paved trail extending out into the forest like the concrete spine of the river beside it, but the river was far older than these gray squares. When the hosue was too big for me, I often went for walks along the trail.

From off the side of the concrete trail, just once, and down a ways against the river, there was a strange concrete marker. It was as narrow as a pipe, but square. It wasn’t shaped like a tombstone, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind when seeing it. It looked like a strange, thin tombstone. Written top to bottom, in plain block letters, was TESCOROW. I didn’t know what it meant, or what it was marking. My husband said it was something to do with some old oil or gas line, warning about their pipes underground. Al was an oil man, and he knew about these things.

I wasn’t sure, though. I’d seen the plates his company put on roads and access ports. There was nothing familiar about the TESCOROW marker. It was too far from the side of the road, and near a river that would be trouble for pipelines. How workmen would ever reach this place, before the trail was cut through the scrub grass and trees, and the before even the suburban sprawl came to push against these woods was a mystery. The marker was older than the trail. The concrete of it was worn and molded with moss in the cracks.

I’d seen bobcats on this trail, and coiled copperheads the size of bike tires. The snakes loved the heat on the concrete. They crawled up from the river to rest upon the artificial stones. I’d seen dogs off leashes running ahead, gregarious and wild. This wasn’t a place for the oil and gas men and their machines. This was a place the animals held down against the press of the city, and maybe the trail would keep the developers from cutting down all the trees along the river.

That we did not know the meaning of the marker in the woods along the river, I loved. Let there be mystery in the world. Let there be shadows in the trees, and shambling mounds of fallen leaves that might be shamble men.

Of all the mysteries of the world, the one I liked the least was where my husband went when he flew around the world to tour his pipelines and wells. He called me from hotel lobbies, never hotel rooms. He called me from airports. He rarely called me when he was alone in a room, lonely in the dark. He said he just read reports, watched TV, or slept once he went upstairs. If he got really bored he’d go to the gym, or the bar to watch sports. He never mentioned the possibility of a woman in his room. Alcaeous was the son of oil barons, shipping magnates, and the topless fashion models that clung to the decks of their beautiful ships. Of course he was cheating on me. Why wouldn’t he be cheating on me? I had a house in the suburbs big enough to fit three or four large houses inside of it. I could call the company to send a car to take me in to the city whenever I liked to shop at expensive stores. Our children had trust funds to make grandmothers weep. I could drink fine wine alone on the large balcony overlooking the woods at sunset while my husband traveled the world, touring his pipelines and refineries for weeks and weeks. This was the way things worked, even if we never talked about it. Marriage was a contract, like a business arrangement. And, at least when he was home, he was only with me.

I saw children on the trail, with paper sailboats leaning out over the water, placing their vessels into the gentle current, and then running along the sides to watch them go. The winner was the one whose ship went the farthest. I raced behind them a while, jogging to keep up with their boats. I wanted to see whose ship would sail the farthest. A fallen tree caught one of them in its branches. The boy whose ship it was, for a moment, thought of crawling out along the log, and releasing his boat. He came to his senses when the log shifted. It was a monster in the shape of a log. I saw it, and he did, too. Its branches were the heads of a small hydra. It opened one of its eyes and looked back at the boy, and at me.

The boy screamed and ran away to his friend, and the other ship.

I didn’t run. I stopped and stared. It had an ancient eye, and some of its branches were tentacles with tiny mouths on the end. It was camouflaged as a fallen tree, but it was something older than a tree.

“Hello,” I said.

It blinked at me.

“Are you the Tescorow? Is that your marker?”

It looked away from me, closed its single eye, and pulled all its branches together into a single trunk, like an alligator’s tail. It slipped under the water. The black moss along its back made it look like a chunk of river stones.

On the phone, Al said that I saw an alligator, nothing more. It must have swum upstream with the warm weather. Farther down the river, hundreds of miles away, the alligators are natives to the water. Perhaps someone had released an alligator there, hoping the creature would swim downstream to its brothers and sisters. I tried to explain about the branching tentacle eyes, heads, and the transformation into stones below the water. My husband surrendered to me. He said, “Maybe you’re right, dear.” I knew he didn’t believe me, and he wasn’t going to fight me about it from a hotel lobby in the middle of Brazil when he had a woman waiting upstairs.

There is still a mystery in the world, but my husband is no longer supposed to be one of them. When we were young, he was a young widower with soulful eyes, and I thought he was fascinating and mysterious – a vast interior country to be discovered and tended to like a garden. Now, I’m nearly fifty. My children are grown. I wonder what happened to the sense of mystery in my husband, who is distant to me even as he is unknown. I wonder what happened to the sense of mystery I held over him like an Oracle’s incense.

When he comes home, I would take him for a walk along this trail, and we would see if we could find the mysterious creature again. I wanted bring paper sailboats of my own. I wanted to make him place one in the water next to mine, where the boys placed theirs. We could search for the transforming creature again with paper ships like children.

I felt it in the house when he was home. There was a low television hum, somewhere, or the sound of the weight machines clanking against each other. He was older than me, and he still went to the weight room every day. He still ran three miles before he had coffee in the morning. When he went hunting with younger men from his company, they were often surprised at his vigor. I was, too. I leaned into him at night, and it was like leaning into a tree trunk. I wondered at the roots of him, digging into me, and how gentle he was that I should come out unbruised beneath such strength.

When he was a young man, his first family died in a car accident. It was his fault. He was drunk. He did twelve months of probation for it, and spent a lot of time in alcoholics anonymous, but it didn’t stick. He didn’t keep any pictures of his first family out in the house. There’s a box of them somewhere in the attic. I’ve never walked in on him up there, with the pictures spread out before him of his lost wife. It’s like her pictures might as well be her ashes in a mausoleum. He should at least talk about it more, even if it’s the past. It should come up in conversation with him, sometimes, if he feels anything.

Another day along the river, I see horse riders in the woods on the other side of the river from the trail. They’re riding slowly through the thick underbrush. They are dressed like cowboys, with chaps and spurs. They don’t have pistols, but they seem to be carrying bottles of Gatorade in the holsters. One of the men was whistling something, but he was gone and out of earshot before I could pick out the tune. I should ask my husband for horses. His mother kept horses when he was young. I didn’t see the monster in the water that day, but I did see someone had pushed a rotten tree over to cross the river on foot, along the rotten wood. It didn’t look safe. I thought about doing it, just to see what was on the other side of the river, but whatever I expected I’d find was not enough of a temptation to lead me over the blackened bark and branches. I could see the kids with their sailboats running over, laughing at each other.

Then, I had a thought: what else would the monster eat. I studied the bridge carefully. I threw a rock at it, and watched it for signs of motion. There were no squirrels, here, and no sounds of people playing. Bicyclists flew past, paying me no attention at all.

The stones did nothing. I touched the log bridge with my hand. If it was the monster, it did not move. I looked up and down the river. One of the cowboys was visible, through the packed trees. He was drinking Gatorade and resting a moment. The way he sat on the saddle, and the way the horse stood, and the angle of it, I realized it could be a trick. The horse’s head could be stuffed and lifeless. The cowboy, riding in a saddle just a little too high on the animal’s back, could be a centaur in disguise, with false legs hanging off the sides of his own back.

He saw me looking at him. He smiled. He took the brim of his hat and bowed a little, like a gentleman. When the horse took up again, I looked closely at the animal’s face. It seemed stiff, like the neck was moving a little wrong. The neck wasn’t in balance with the rest of the animal.

So, there are still centaurs in the world, out past the trees, where there are neither roads nor travelers to bother them, anymore. With the invention of the automobile, I imagine it became easy to be a wild creature. People didn’t really go into the trees except at state parks anymore. These must be outriders, disguising themselves to watch for intrusions into their secret territories.

I didn’t tell my husband about it, because he would call it a silly whim, and then, when pressed, he would agree with me. He is a very agreeable man, my husband. He does not want to fight with anyone.

The next day, I stopped someone on the trail, a runner who was stretching his legs against the trunk of a tree. “Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” he said.

“It’s a nice day.”

“Sure is. Good day for a run.”

“Yes. Do you come here much?”

“Oh, when I can.”

“Have you ever seen anything strange on the trail?”

“What?”

“I thought I saw an alligator the other day, but I’m not sure what I saw. Maybe it was an alligator.”

“Haven’t seen anything but snakes.”

“Well, keep an eye out.  It was something big.”

“Yeah, I will,” he said. “Thanks for the heads up.” He took off then, waving at me, indifferent. The farther away he got, the more I wondered if I was going crazy, or if he thought I was going crazy. I spent too much time alone, with my husband away. I should join a book club, or a church, or a church book club. I should take classes. Rich wives were supposed to take classes.

I walked along the path, searching for signs and portents and strange things. The only weird thing was, I was there for over an hour, walking along the path, and I never saw the jogging man, again. He had either kept on into the woods, down to the end of the trail deep in the woods, or he had been intercepted along the way.

Going home, I noticed too many signs for lost pets.

I’m making myself crazy, thinking about it.

I think I wanted to find the centaurs, and talk to them, and to find out what is happening here, at the edge of the city. I wanted to see the mysteries of this world with my own eyes.

My husband flew in late at night. I heard his key on the lock downstairs. I heard him entering his security code. I felt his weight in the bed, beside me, and his huge hands on my arm. I leaned into him, wide awake but afraid to speak. What should I say to the man whom I was feigning to sleep against while sniffing for old perfume. I wondered if there was ever a way to keep him here, forever: my husband, in my bed.

In the morning, we made slow love, and ate a long breakfast. His phone kept ringing, but he turned it off. He looked tired.

“How were the pipes?” I asked.

He smiled. He took a long sip of his coffee. “It is as if the oil will never end. There is so much of it. As soon as it starts to run down, it becomes cost effective to burn sand to melt the oil out of it. Soon, I imagine we’ll be recycling oil from polluted lakes, curing them even as we continue our pillaging. The pipes are fine. Better than fine. I should retire.”

“You would get bored.”

“I would,” he said. He put his coffee down. “But not because of you.”

“Do you want to go for a walk today?”

“Your mythical alligator? Yes. Let me get my gun.”

It wasn’t unusual for him to carry a gun. It isn’t a shocking thing to say between us. We were wealthy beyond many people’s wildest dreams, in an industry that attracted trouble in dangerous parts of the world, and there were always risks associated with that. Kidnappers. Thieves. Protestors and activists that go too far. I do not carry a gun, but he does. He carries it everywhere it’s legal. It’s a normal thing for us, and without it he would feel like he had no wallet or watch. He’d feel a little naked without it concealed in his belt.

We walked to the trail. It was a nice day. The sun was bright. The wind was gentle and cool. We walked to the trail, and I peered over the edge constantly, holding my husband’s hand, searching for signs of the unknown things of the world. I showed my husband the strange marker, TESCOROW.

“Is oil or gas line. Electric company. I’m sure of it.”

“Weird, though. Right along the river, by this trail. It’s not old, either.”

“Perhaps a dog, and he liked this trail. The owner loved the dog, and buried her here. A dog named Tescorow.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said. It was my turn to dismissively agree.

“It is a dog,” he said.

Nothing else was on the trail but grass and breeze and joggers and dogs. We didn’t even see a snake or a bobcat. Perhaps the trail dogs had chased them all back deeper into the woods.

And home again in the sort of comfortable silence that comes from thirty years of marriage. We did not need to tell each other what we were doing in the house. He wandered into the kitchen to make paella. I wandered into the bedroom to shower and put on a house dress and water plants.

While he was cooking, his cellphone rang more. He wandered into the backyard to answer it, because he still believed his signal was stronger in the yard, even though it wasn’t any stronger anywhere. He had a good cellphone. It had a good connection anywhere in the world. Our house was made for a man with a cellphone.

A late lunch on the balcony, I lit candles. I smiled and sipped white wine. The paella was like eating a tidepool. All the lost sea creatures trapped in the drawn away tide, boiled in the sun with rice the color of sand.

“Tell me about your first wife. Tell me anything about her.”

He choked on his rice. “What is this? What?”

“Tell me about her. I want to know about her.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m your wife, and I want to know about her.”

“It was many years ago. Do not concern yourself with the past. It hurts too much. Please.”

“You can cry in front of me. I’m your wife, Al. You’re supposed to cry with me sometimes.”

“I cry all the time.”

“It doesn’t bother you to cry a little about the television and the news and all the people that died in that Tsunami you didn’t know. You never cry about someone close to your heart. Tell me about your wife. You never cry about her. You never even visit her tombstone, or the kids’ tombstones. You never cry about them. You never choke up in conversation to hide it. You never even seem to hurt.”

He threw his fork over the balcony. He stormed inside the house.

I waited. Nothing happened. I stood up gingerly, and walked into the house.

“Tears are nothing.” he said. He was holding a bottle of whiskey like he was shooting himself in the mouth with it. I’m his wife. I’m supposed to know his moods. I don’t. Did he lose workers he knew? Accidents happen on oil lines. Did people die and I didn’t hear about it? Did I time my question badly.

“I don’t want to see you drunk,” I said.

“I’ve paid for my sins. I held their broken bodies in my hands. How dare you talk to me like this.”

“I’m going for a walk,” I said. “I don’t want to be here if you’re just going to get drunk.”

“I paid for this house. I worked hard for it. For you.” He sat down in a chair. He wasn’t shouting. He was talking to himself, falling softer. If it was his house, why wasn’t he ever here for any length of time? His house was just another hotel, with another woman inside of it to comfort him.

I put on tennis shoes. I took keys with me so he couldn’t lock me out of the house.

When I closed the door, I locked it. I whispered into the door. I want a divorce.

It was his house. It was in his name. I didn’t want it. I never wanted big houses, fancy cars, a business spread out all over the world like a hydra. I just didn’t want to be alone all the time. I wanted to grow closer together, not stagnate like this.

I walked down to the trail, then. TESCOROW was still there, a marker without meaning, in the woods beside a river. The log bridge was there, now, beside the marker. It had migrated to the marker.

“Hello?” I said. “Are you the creature I saw, or a log bridge?”

The leaves on the branches fluttered into life. Flower buds like hundreds of tiny heads yawned open, curled into glorious red, and curled back into the blackened stem as if never there.

“Do you want me to cross you?”

It did nothing. I heard the sound of horseman riding at a gentle clip along the trail across the river. One of them slowed and smiled at me. His saddle was so high up the horse’s back, I knew.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Hey, what’s wrong with your horse?”

“What?”

“It’s head looks funny!”

He smacked the side of it. “So it does. That log looks pretty flimsy if you’re thinking of crossing.”

“I don’t trust it, either,” I said. “But, how else do I cross over to your side?”

“I might be able to help you with that. If you’re up for it.”

He turned his stiff-faced animal towards the water. He feigned kicking the sides of the beast with his flimsy boots hanging from the chaps on mannequin legs.

He was a centaur, I knew. He was going to carry me over the river, and away from the house and the oil company and the whole, boring mess I had made with my husband. I’d live in the woods with him, eating wild roots and hunted game. He would have a penis so large it would make me scream like being destroyed. It would be more brutal than anything my husband had ever done to me. I’d be tied to a tree, and hung there, with my arms braced with ropes, and some bench or bar to take the huge weight of the beast. I’d be unable to walk. I’d be broken like a horse. When he was done with me, he’d feed me to the river. My husband would find my body, and maybe then he’d cry for my sake. Maybe he’d feel something about someone he says that he loves.

The centaur smiled, and picked his way across the rocky water. The river was deeper than I expected, going all the way up to the knees on the fake body that draped below the saddle. He looked so friendly, with such a broad, wide smile. Maybe we’d only be good friends. Maybe he’d let me ride him like a horse, and he could take me to the top of the mountains where the eagles still flew wild. He didn’t leave the water to hold his hand out to me, next to the log bridge.

“Hop on,” he said. He winked at me.

I was doomed, and I knew it. But, this was the only way to know anything more about the mysteries of the world. I took his hand. I took my place upon the false saddle, in front of him, where his strong arms held me like a damsel in distress. Across, then, to the other side of the water, and his powerful animal body below me, stronger than a ship.

At the other side, I heard my name shouted out, and a man so angry he could kill me. A man, not crying in pain. A man afraid and angry.

The gun, my husband’s gun.

Was he aiming for me? Was he aiming for the centaur?

We fell, the beast and I, on the rocky shore on the far side of the river.

The monstrous bridge, now with a hundred heads, all ravenous, tried to stop my husband from running to us.

There’s blood. Someone is screaming. It’s me. I feel no pain. Someone is not screaming. He is trembling. The horse’s back leg is lamed and bloody.

The thrashing waves, and the monster of the water, and I saw my husband grappling all the heads at once in a powerful squeeze, with both his arms. He rode upon its back like riding the hydra.

The horse won’t move. I think the body is dead. The man on the horse is dying, too. He’s crushed under the weight of the false head. I was deposited just above him, but my leg is twisted underneath the weight of the horse’s body. He’s bleeding all over me.

Was the bullet for me, or for him?

The hydra screamed in death, like a thousand songbirds flying away in fear. It was thrown dead into the water, and used like the log it had feigned in life.

My husband grabbing at me, muttering some in Greek and some in English.

He pulled me from the beast. The blood was not mine. The horse and rider, a bullet passed through the leg, and into the beast. It had bled out. It was still bleeding. The man’s arm was moving weakly, but he was not going to survive with all that blood.

My husband fired a bullet through the horse’s brain. Sawdust shot out from it. He fired again, this time through the rider. The whole centaur stilled.

I had never seen so much blood.

He struck me with the gun so hard the world spun away from me, and I could barely think. I don’t know if he meant to strike me, or if he was trying to grab at me with the gun in his hands. It hurt so much. His hands were trembling. Blood and sweat had flooded his skin. He was flush. More alive than I’d seen him in years.

My husband, killer of the hydra and the Nemean Lion, the man who wrestled death and won, and did so many great and glorious things I could not count them all, tossed me over his shoulder and hauled me over the body of the  on the other side of the river.

“Mine,” he shouted, at no one. “My wife!”

All this time, I thought I was his wife, and I see that I was his possession. He never asked me if I was all right. He never checked if the blood on my clothes was mine.

When we got home, we were both bloody. He couldn’t look at me. He stood in the room, looking down at his hands, the gun still in them. I said I was going to take a shower. Before I did, I opened all the liquor cabinets. I placed all the locked up or hidden alcohol that we had in the house on the kitchen table. He stared at all the bottle accumulating where we ate breakfast together when he was in town. The way his face looked, I couldn’t tell if he was ashamed of what he had done or furious with me. He didn’t move. He just trembled, holding his gun.

Drink up,” I said. “You might as well. Drink like you would at any of your hotels. Drink like when you are having fun with your friends and your women. Drink like I’m not even home.”

He put the gun down next to the alcohol. He sat in front of all those bottles. “I’m not an alcoholic,” he said. “I went through all of it, and none of those people were like me. It was a car accident. It was all an accident. It was fate. This was an accident, too. He was trying to kidnap you for ransom. I was protecting you. I want to keep you safe.”

I kissed his cheek and left him there.

In the bathroom, I locked the door, and took a shower to get the blood off me. I thought about leaving, but then I didn’t want to leave. Not until I was sure he was passed out, drunk. He would look for me in the bathroom. I went to the balcony instead, where I could hide under the tablecloth we had left out there.

I heard him screaming. I heard him tearing up the house trying to find me, but he couldn’t make it all the way up the stairs as drunk as he was. I waited for it to get quiet in the house. I wanted him to pass out, drunk.

When I came down to find him, he was on the couch. The television was on. He was cradling a bottle of ouzo like an infant. There was vomit all over the carpet. I had some sleeping pills with me from the bathroom. I placed them into a full, open bottle of wine. I plugged my thumb over the lip and shook and shook until I thought all the pills might be disintegrated. I poured it onto his open mouth. It spilled all over his face. He gargled and choked and tried to grab for the bottle with his hands, but he couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t roll over. He swallowed some, and choked on it, choking it down.

It was red wine, and it got all over his shirt. He was still wearing the bloody clothes from the woods. I guess that’s where everyone got the idea of the centaur blood, and a shirt. I smashed the bottle into the sink, with the other broken bottles. I turned the faucet and left it running, to wash everything away.

I wasn’t arrested for it. I wasn’t even a suspect. I said that I had no idea he was planning anything. I said he must have been terrified of going to prison after shooting someone. My children came, and his company men, and they filled my house up for a time, surrounding the couch where Alcaeous had died without ever sitting on it.

I lived a long time, then, by myself.

I was really lonely for a while, but then I got used to it, and my children came to visit sometimes, but they didn’t like coming to the house and nobody wanted to go on the walking trail. I sold the house. I live in a small house by my daughter to be close to my grandchildren.

I tell them stories about a happy dragon named Tescorow, who helps the children of the world play games and trick their parents.

My sons and daughters don’t understand what happened to their father.

Nobody really talks to me anymore except my grandchildren.

When I moved, I had to pull Megara’s pictures down from the attic, with her children, I arranged them all around me and looked at them. She had bruises on her arms in most of them. Her children always seemed to have marks on their skin, too. There’s one where the boy has a black eye and he’s standing in his father’s shadow, staring at the camera as if it will reach out and bite him. My husband looks red-faced in them all, like he’d just been drinking.

The obituaries for my husband ran all over the world. He was a glorious man. He was well-respected among the leaders of men.

The glory of Hera. Sure. Anything you say.

What do I know? I was just his wife.

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