Melissa Darcey Hall is a writer and high school English teacher in San Diego, California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fugue, The Coachella Review, Five South, The Florida Review, The Louisville Review, Columbia Journal, Pigeon Pages, Epiphany and others.
MEDUSA MAKES A HOME
She’s getting soft. Age and time do that to a woman. She’s lost her desire for vengeance against Athena and Poseidon, against the men and women who whisper lies about her unbridled rage; she knows better than to believe in justice. And she doesn’t want to return to her former maiden charm; she knows now that beauty never goes unpunished. After years with only her thoughts and a half dozen stone men for company, loneliness has devoured her wrath, leaving behind a hunger for comfort. It’s the kind of emptiness that hovers in your chest, pours into your lungs, and burrows into every crevice of your gut. Instead of revenge, she wants purpose; instead of beauty, she wants hope. If she has to hide in this cave forever, she needs a reason to wake up every morning.
The change happens overnight: a man stumbles into her cave and instead of turning him to stone, her gaze melts him into clay. Staring at the sticky gray dollop, she takes this as a gift from the gods and forms a clay baby girl she names Eirene. Her eyes roam the sky and water for more materials, wincing apologetically as birds drop to her feet and fish float to the surface, lifeless balls of clay. She molds a second clay baby, Calliope, along with flower pots and kitchenware and a table and chair. When a lost pair of men stumbles upon her cave, she considers sparing their lives, but she’s not finished forming her family and home. Their bodies provide enough clay to build two clay bassinets for her clay babies, a clay bed for herself, and even a clay pet dog to complete her family. She doesn’t create a clay husband; she has no need for men in any form.
Years pass and her powers alter. Now, any living creature she looks at turns to yarn. Birds unravel midflight: reds and yellows dancing in the wind like confetti as they plummet to the earth. A fox unravels into a pile of gold; a snake disentangles into threads of moss. She weaves blankets and pillows for her clay babies and knits them stuffed animals to admire in their clay bassinets. Combining the yarn remains of a lion with a goose, she constructs a butter yellow and white-flecked wall tapestry to brighten up the dim walls of the cave. At night, she cradles a clay baby in each arm, their soft gray bodies wrapped in green and gold swaddling blankets. These daughters will never change form, no matter how long she stares at them. She tries to remember the lullabies she used to hear mothers sing to their daughters—not her mother, of course, who never showed affection to her or her sisters—but the words escape her memory. So, she replaces them with a hum, repeating the melody and willing the words to return so she can be a different mother than the one she had. She wonders if this is what love is.
Another handful of years passes and her powers transfigure again. Instead of stone, instead of clay, instead of yarn: seeds. With every bird she eyes, sunflower and violet seeds rain from the sky. The fish dissolve into seeds of ferns and ivy that she digs out of the pond. She plants violets in clay bowls to sit on her clay table and ferns in clay pots around the clay bassinets. The ferns appreciate her dank cave, thriving in dimly lit corners. She plants ivy along the walls of the cave and sunflowers at the entrance as a shield from the outside world. Every week, she gives her clay babies a tour of the plants. This is a violet, and this is a fern; this is ivy, and this is a sunflower; this is a cave, and this is our home. It doesn’t take long for the sunflowers and ivy to form a fence across the opening of the cave. Both are plants that take what they want, claiming territory and space without apology: a worthy match for any man who finds them.
And then her powers disappear altogether. When she looks into the pond, the fish stare back, unaltered. Peering through her sunflower and ivy wall, she admires the sky as birds soar across her line of sight, unharmed. Without her powers, she has nothing but a headful of snakes to defend herself from the cruelties of roaming men. But she isn’t frightened. Her home is complete, and she can finally rest.
She drags the clay bassinets a little deeper into the cave and reclaims a seat in her clay rocking chair, clay babies in tow. The cave is silent, but it’s the warm kind that’s less the absence of life and more the presence of ataraxia. Epicurus would be proud. She breaks the silence with a hum, first soft and then building in volume, reciting the melody of a forgotten lullaby over and over again, determined to uncover the words.