She stood there, hair falling flat and curling to the ends of her thighs, as her swooping bangs covered the sides of her skull. Her plump cheeks and wide mouth were attractive in a strange way, and her eyes like a cat angled and vexed her prey, her lashes flickered and became somber as a massive eyelid covered in gloss and sparkles. Eyes of a brown haze, glazed with horror and filled with dread. Her black dress, spread around her with fluffy ruffles of white, swaying beneath her shins. Her feet covered and etched with ink. Tattoos flayed away at her legs and worked their way up underneath the dress. Her dark hair was picked up by the breeze that came through as the doors burst open through the lobby. Her bare feet were like loud claps on the marble floors of the hallways. Her fingers raised up revealing blackened finger nails, painted with a ring tightly knotted around her third finger. Her arms wept under the ink, markings of curses and lies swept away at her skin covering all the way to her feeble neck. Her beauty was unmatched, yet unsettling. She moved like vapour, drifting in the winds, swaying silently at the entrance of the school. She slowly stepped forward like the undead in the night; like a ghost she hovered towards her prey.
Here are some of the latest pieces that our group has been working on, including some poetry and a few exercises in the art of drabble-writing.
The Apple of my Eye by Neil James Jones
Beautiful. Your body a work of art
But I do not love you, only those you know
Not inseparable but we must not part
I do not need you still must never go.
Touching is believing and I know it.
You’re my property but anyone can call
The shine has left this apple, I’ll admit.
They’ll claim you. Were you ever mine at all?
You will stay with me, more often than not
The signals you send are mixed, it’s true
You need me, I’m all that you’ve got
So every time I leave, I fear I’ll lose you
And no matter how many times you die
You’ll come back, you’re the apple of my eye
This poem is by Jessica Jane Parsons, whose friend (who is producing an album called Green Eyed Girl) approached her and asked for a poem to grace the back of the record.
depends on the light
but rage exists
glints and hints
but always controlled
I see that now
it is never unleashed
but never to be leashed
burns with purpose
and with care.
In last weeks meeting, we had a go at writing some drabbles. Drabbles are stories which are exactly 100 words long, and challenge the writer to be as succinct and concise as possible whilst still telling a story. Here are some of our efforts…
There was a steady drip from a corner she could not see. She pulled at the rope binding her ankles together and whined through the dirty cloth covering her mouth. Her hair was matted. She didn’t know what with, but she could feel it caked to her face. It might have been blood. It probably was blood. There was a pounding in her head. She screamed through the cloth as the dripping water got faster. The concrete below her started to get colder. A gentle puddle of water started to creep over her. The dripping sound turned into a gushing sound. – by Sam Moulton
The Idiots are Winning
The final signs of the end times were not biblical, they were idiotic. The idiots arrived. The perfect storm of ignorance and hypocrisy. And an idiot presented with The Big Red Button will invariably press The Big Red Button. We know this now as we did then, but it is little comfort as we pick through the dust and rubble of this grave, new world. Literature does not fill empty stomachs and art does not prevent the spread of infection. But you need not worry. Idiots were as ill equipped to survive in this world as they were the last. – by Neil James Jones
Jane awoke on the day of the wedding feeling dizzy. It was a beautiful morning, the glittery sunshine the same shade of champagne as the bride’s hair. At the church, Anna squeezed her hand. “You make a beautiful bridesmaid.” They began their descent up the aisle along with the rest of the wedding party – and then Jane could see him. Tall, imposing, dark – but handsome. He looked into Jane’s eyes and smiled, as Jane took her position and Anna stood next to her soon to be husband. Beautiful blonde Anna was getting married and there was nothing Jane could do. – by Danielle Jade Oldham
There was a moment as the sun set, pink and grey into the night, that I believed. Not in a god but something blameless. The mountains that fell around me were quiet as the birds rousted and the night animals had yet to stir. You let me stand there, protected but alone on that ridge as the shadows settled around us. There was warm blood on my knee from an injury on the scramble up, it made me feel human and safely mortal in a night that felt like it would never end, and until you spoke it never did. – by Imogen Berry-Henshaw
She lay there, not sure of what to think – wanting more than nothing to turn back time, wish the last few months back. She knew the symptoms, it had happened to her before. But this – the blood – not again! She knew what had happened; she’d lost it. Him. Her. It. Whatever had been growing inside of her – no longer there. Her bed was draped with the scarlet she had made. She couldn’t move, frozen within her own mind. This is your fault. You should have done better – taken more care. This is all down to you. And she believed it. – by Amy Murphy
It began in the days of milk teeth and pink custard. The days when the world still seemed so big and full of adventures. The day you arrived, the teacher brought you up in front of the class and asked you to introduce yourself. You didn’t speak English very well yet, but that didn’t matter. You were the shiny, new toy, enamouring every five-year-old in the room, including me. But I wasn’t brave enough to approach you, not that it would’ve mattered; it seemed like you never had a moment to yourself. Everyone wanted a piece of you. Fascinated. Mystified. I never said a word.
I think it angered me, that you never had any time for me. That’s why I did it. The day you fell asleep in the sandbox, during lunchtime. I sneaked over, and buried you in the sand. You woke up crying, and had to go home early because there were ants crawling all over you. Even years later, I never told that it was me who buried you. I might die with that secret.
We were friends after that. Not best friends, by any means. But almost. I never let myself get too close; even then I saw through your game. You had a new best friend each day of the week, each of our classmates vying to bask in the light of your attention. I didn’t want to be a best friend for a day, though. When it came to my turn, I would show you how much better I am than the rest. I would prove that you should be my Best Friend Forever.
You invited me to sleep over at your house. I wasn’t your first choice, but I was just happy to be asked. We were older now, but the title of Best Friend held the same weight. You were mine, but I was not yours. The politics of this were very serious, of course. That night, we talked about the future – not realising how wrong we would be. I said that I would be an artist when I was grown up, that I would live in a penthouse in New York. You said you would be a model, if it killed you, and that you would marry a footballer. I told you, with sincerity, that you were so beautiful that you could be whatever you wanted.
That was the night I found the book. Long after you had gone to asleep, I was wide awake, snooping around your room. I wanted to know whatever I could about you, and see how I could convince you to be my Best Friend. At the back of your bottom drawer, underneath the pairs of mismatched socks, I found a small pocket book, bound in red leather. I assumed immediately that it was a diary, and greedily flipped through the pages to read your secrets. This was not your diary, I came to find out. Inside the book, was a list of names, inscribed by your hand. The first few pages were Chinese names, but before long I found the names of some of our classmates, both from nursery and primary school. I scanned through the list, searching for my own name. I read the whole book three times, but my name was nowhere to be found. I was confused, but somewhat offended.
I worked up the courage to confront you about it, weeks later, but you denied everything. You screamed at me, calling me a liar and a sneak. You said you would never speak to me again, and you were almost true to your word.
We went on to different secondary schools. Your parents sent you to a private school, while I went to the local comprehensive. I was sure that that would be the last I would see of you. I even forgot about you for a while, and your little red book. We went on with our lives, treading slowly into the days of braces and pimple popping. Not that you ever had either of those problems.
The year we started GCSEs, you can imagine my surprise when you were introduced to me as the girlfriend of my best friend. The memories came flooding back once I saw your face again. I remember blushing bright red as you giggled, informing Jamie that we had, in fact, already met. You pulled me into a tight, dizzying hug. I remember how your hair smelt of vanilla.
A few years later, you were dating another friend of mine: Thomas. We saw each other regularly then. A big group of us would meet for lunch before class. You knew everyone’s name, but I was too shy to ask. I accompanied you on a trip to the bathroom once, holding your bag while you were in the cubicle. And I don’t know what possessed me to look; but I did.
Hidden inside a zip pocket, was the red leather-bound book. It was much older now, and many, many more pages were filled with names, but it was clearly well taken care of. I flicked it open to the latest page, where Thomas’ name was written in red ink. Hearing the toilet flush, I quickly put the book back, and worked on not looking too guilty when you came out. You didn’t suspect a thing.
You and Thomas broke up a month later. I only knew because he cried down the phone to me, wondering what he had done wrong. You seemed to act like nothing had happened. People called you a bitch. A heartless slut. I always defended you though. I would love to say that I did it to fight against misogyny, or because you were my friend, but that’s not true.
You hosted a party, after we had all finished our A-Levels. Everyone came, even the people who called you a whore behind your back and swore blind how much they hated you. I think you were used to that though, people always coming back for more.
I decided that this would be the night I would come clean. I found you on the roof alone, drinking peach schnapps straight from the bottle. We talked about the future, once again. You chastised me for not applying to go to university, but I hushed you quickly. I told you I’d been in love with you for as long as I could remember. That during those times I didn’t always like you but you always found a way to draw me back in. I said that I wanted to be the next name written in your little red book. I kissed you.
Or at least I tried. You pushed me away violently, screaming obscenities. You said you weren’t a filthy rug muncher and told me to fuck off. I fell against the wall, busting my lip. You reached to help me, but I smacked your hand away, mortified. I ran back home, as quickly as I could, but not before stealing into your bedroom once more, and stealing the book.
Once I was safely home, I studied it carefully. I slowly ran my finger across each name, trying to make sense of your odd habit. I anguished over each moniker, searching for a pattern. Max Allen. Francesca Sharpe. Elliott Marsden. Thomas Lucas. Eve Manning. Ruby Wyatt. Nothing. Anthony Parsons. Lily Wheeler. Cameron Stokes. Amelia Rodgers. Alex Parker. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I read all night. I read until my eyes hurt. Nothing.
I woke up at three in the afternoon, to a long text message from you. You apologised profusely for the previous night, and awkwardly asked if I brought home something that belonged to you. I didn’t reply. In fact, I booked my plane ticket that day.
It had always been a dream of mine to move to New York, but San Francisco seemed cool too. I left seven days later, finding myself a flat above a pizza delivery place. It was cheap, and dingy, and there was a ruckus at four in the morning every night of the week. But it was far away from you, so I adored it. And, yes, I brought the book with me. In spite of myself, you were never far from my thoughts. I got a job at the pizza place, taking the night shift. I worked all night, and slept all day, finding time to paint in the hours in between. I painted you more often than I wanted to admit.
Finally, after a few months, I reached out to Thomas, and asked how you were. The reply was worrying. During the day, you had become completely drawn into yourself, only speaking when spoken too. The light in your eyes had died, and you rarely smile. At night, you were wild. An instinct driven party animal with needle point veins and a patchwork tongue. Your rarer lucid moments were bleak, leaving you a stuttering, paranoid wreck. But the most worrying part was your absence. You had been missing for a week. No one, not one even your parents had heard from you in the last eight days. Swallowing hard, I thanked Thomas for the update, and tried to get on with my life, only dwelling on yours when your memory caught up to me. What good could I do across the Atlantic?
One year after your disappearance, I sold my first painting, for sixty dollars. I was at a gallery, where my art was being showcased as a part of a group. The crowd was unenthusiastic, but rather wealthy. I knew I could do worse than to pique their interests.
That’s when I found you. You stood in your own world, staring at a painting I had done of you. No, not staring. Glaring at it. I watched you from afar, taking in the view. It was the first time I had seen you since the party. Despite the reports of your addiction and hedonistic lifestyle, I thought you had never looked more beautiful.
Working up my nerves, I approached you. I always said that you could be a model, and in that moment, I realised that I had inadvertently made your childhood dreams come true. You didn’t seem at all surprised to see me there. You asked if you were my muse. I said nothing. You asked if I was a real artist now. I said… yes. You said you loved artists. I promised you that I still had art in me yet. You came back to my flat. And as many questions as I wanted to ask you, I fulfilled your childhood dreams once more, and afterwards you made my adolescent dreams a reality.
The next morning, you were gone. I woke with a start, unsure if the previous night had really happened. But the pillow still smelt like your perfume, which I admit to inhaling deeply. Then a thought struck me. I cut across the room, to the desk where I kept the book. Gone. Just like you. I felt as though a blade of ice punctured my heart. I felt stupid, and used. After that, each memory of you was tinged with shame. In fact, I made a conscious effort not to think of you, or your little red book at all. That’s why it was such a shock to receive a call from your mother.
That’s when I found out you died. A heroin over-dose. I booked on the quickest plane back home for the funeral. After seeing you laying in the coffin, all I could think about is how all my previous affection had vanished. Not that I didn’t feel sad, but I certainly wasn’t consumed with grief for a lost love, taken too soon. Everyone spoke of you highly, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was the only one of these people who really knew you.
That’s what inspired me to write my own eulogy. Not that anyone else will ever read this. In fact, I wrote it in your book, right under your last entry: my name.
Images from collages by Danielle Jade Oldham
This is the opening chapter of a currently unnamed story by Ward. Any feedback would be much appreciated!
“Welcome Johnny,” came a metallic and dark voice. The bag over Johnny’s head was removed and a sickly man with a face a mother couldn’t recognize was revealed. Blood seeped down from his mouth, nose and brow. The gashes wore down on his eyes as he struggled to look around at where he was. The room was dark. One light shone upon his face from above him – it looked like a damp cellar of some old house that he was in. The walls were a dark lime colour with old paintings of lords and mayors hanging from them. That was all he could make out.
The two men beside him were big from what he could tell, stocky and tall. The man in the suit ahead of him, cast in the darkness, was square jawed. Handsome even. He didn’t look as though he belonged but Johnny knew him. He was in charge of the two mugs beside him. Edward Lester was his name. He stood there, black gloves raised up in a welcoming posture towards Johnny.
“Nice night. Warm it is. Nice to be down here in a cool cellar. Could freeze down here in the winter I reckon though,” said Edward. “Now Johnny, what on earth happened? Did you forget who I was? Well here I am to remind you.”
He crept forward like a snake slithering on the surface, and a shade, a darkness, came forth into the light. Infected it. He took shape and held out his hand to take a knife from a box held out by one of his lackeys. He lent forward and pressed the knife to Johnny’s neck.
“You remember me now? Good old Ed? You forgot your place Johnny. You stole from me. But don’t you worry. I ain’t going to kill you. No. No. Just gonna take an ear so I can whisper into it when I need your services again. Because I will need it again.”
Johnny sat there trying to find the words, he stuttered and shook. He was scared. “Eddie, mate. I was gonna give it back I swear, I just needed the money a little longer, this investment I-I got it all figured, I just…”
Edward hushed Johnny. “Need more time? Well unfortunately, you miss a deadline, you pay the price mate. We don’t want the money anymore, too little too late.” He swept the knife carefully across the skin, going at a slow pace. It made Johnny quiver in fear. “You will lose your ear. And you will go out and skulk around hunting for someone who wronged my father. His life for yours. But obviously, the catch being you lose a limb.” He grabbed Johnny’s head suddenly, and violently. “Now hold still.”
Johnny moaned and yelled, “No!” He made noises he didn’t think were remotely possible from his lungs. He screamed like a tragic widow losing her husband. He cried and took bites at his own tongue in agony writhing around like a worm. Until a strange, silky noise echoed throughout the cellar. It had echoed for only a fraction of a second, but that made it ever more haunting. Johnny was now crying, Edward’s black gloves stained in a juicy thick red, and he was holding the ear in his hand. “Now Johnny, venture out into the world, I’ve got me a walkie-talkie now to speak to you if I need anything else. Have a nice day.” Edward said. Johnny was still crying and writhing on the ground kicking and screaming like a newborn babe.
Throughout the history of literature, our ears have been graced with many timeless love stories, spanning millennia. We hear of brave, dashing heroes and princes who overcome all odds to win the hand of their designated female love interest. It’s an evergreen formula, though derivative and a gateway to a sexist mindset. Nevertheless, this tale shall follow suit; this story deserves a protagonist, and a protagonist it shall have.
Thus, the role falls to Pygmalion. He was a proud man, and why not? He had a lot to be proud of. He was an extremely talented artist, a household name across the Mediterranean, known particularly for his lifelike statues. Crafted with such affection and attention to detail, his statues seemed as vivacious and feisty as a patron of the local tavern. With their mischievous eyes and strong limbs, it was suspected that his sculptures were liable to jump out of their petrification at any moment, and dance around the room. They said that his work was so magnificent that the gods themselves were envious of his talent. He had almost everything a classical-era celebrity could want: Wealth, Status and Political Influence. He lacked just one thing: A Wife.
Of course, a man of his stature could have his pick of the bunch. If he so desired, he could have all of the local kings line up their young daughters from Crete to Macedonia and choose his favourite. It would be an honour to be the wife of such an esteemed figure in their society – there was just one problem.
Pygmalion despised women. In his eyes, they were debaucherous creatures: prostitutes and drunks. They were weak and prone to vanity. Vapid. Greedy. He avoided their company wherever possible. No woman borne of Earth was good enough for Pygmalion.
He had grown old by this time. Old, and deeply unhappy. He had all the riches he could wish for, fields full of valuable livestock and crops and was a valued member of the council. But it wasn’t enough. He wished for a son, to carry forth his legacy. But how could he obtain an heir without a woman to bear his seed? He could never lower himself to be with a disgusting woman, lest his enlightened mind be infected by her domestic, frivolous drivel and his wealth wasted on her vanity and greed.
The perfect woman, Pygmalion thought, would be designed by man. She would live her life as her husband dictates. She would be innately beautiful, with no need of expensive clay and beeswax cosmetics. She should, however, not be a slave to her own narcissism. She would have youthful, golden locks, and wide child bearing hips. Her breasts should be large and filled with milk for my suckling son, her face perfectly symmetrical and her skin pale, and blemish-free. She would be pious, and fearfully respectful of the gods. Her mind should not be tainted by hearsay or the effects of alcohol. She should be well educated, and a sparkling conversationalist, who agrees with me on all matters of morality, philosophy, art and politics. She should also, however, know her place in the home, never speak out of turn, and serve my every need.
Pygmalion knew that this woman could not be found in Cyprus. He could search the entirety of the western world and not find her; and should he scour the far off eastern lands, and the whole world, he would be as lonely as ever. This perfect woman existed solely inside his mind.
And that was the idea that struck him. If the perfect woman didn’t exist, it was his job to change that. And who better for the task? With his talent, he could elicit the most beautiful woman in the world from a slab of cold, obstinate marble with ease. Men from around the globe would want to flock to Cyprus to marvel at her beauty – but he wouldn’t allow it. No one else could gaze upon on his flawless creation. The fruits of his labour were for his eyes only.
After purchasing the finest Parian marble in the land, denting his fortune, he set off to work. His wizened muscles ached as he tirelessly chipped away at the sheets of rock cocooning his magnum opus. He laboured on her image for almost three years, labouring on each small detail; the convex curve of her fertile womb, her earnest, full-lipped smile, and perfectly symmetrical face.
His toil finally ended on a sweltering hot day in the middle of summer. After smoothing down her shapely calves, he wiped a layer of sweat from his forehead and admired his work.
She was breathtaking. Pygmalion’s heart whelmed with devotion as he gazed upon the face of his creation. The statue was more beautiful than he could have imagined. And perhaps it was the heat of summer, his old age, or the overjoyed relief that came with her completion, or a combination of all three; but Pygmalion found himself kissing the sculpture. It was quick and forceful, her cold, frigid lips combating the hateful sun’s heat. He held the figure close, relieved by the chill. But her skin, though smooth, was hard and unforgiving. Not at all like the soft, supple flesh he imagined. His eyes welled with tears – His perfect creation was nothing more than a lifeless husk.
Days passed, where Pygmalion could do nothing but stare at the statue. The excitement of her completion had long since worn off, and left a gaping wife-shaped hole in his heart. Here she was, his perfect woman was standing in front of him and he felt lonelier than ever. He knew for certain now that no other woman would be as beautiful as she.
“A creation as beautiful as you deserves life.” Pygmalion said to the statue. “I am an old man, and I know that life is be cruel. But I can’t bear to spend the rest of my days alone. I am a helpless old fool who has fallen in love with his own sculpture.”
The statue, of course said nothing.
“You, as divine as you are, shall share my burdens, and bear me a son. I shall go to Aphrodite’s temple and ask for her blessing. I shan’t be away for too long – I can’t bear to take my eyes off of you.”
Once more, the statue was silent, though it’s doubtful that it would’ve had much of a choice in the matter anyway.
After fetching his prize bull from his fields, Pygmalion made his way to the Temple of Aphrodite, where a large crowd gathered around the alter. Caught up in his own mind, he had forgotten that today was Aphrodisia – a festival honouring the very goddess of love and beauty that he had come here to pray to. He watched in reverent silence as the blood of a dove was used to purify the temple. The crowds dropped to their knees and called out in exaltations, adulating Aphrodite. Pygmalion followed suit, praying to her with all his might.
Atop Mount Olympus, Aphrodite watched the paltry humans laud her powers and revere in her greatness. She smirked, so used to seeing them go about their everyday lives, that it was almost insulting to see so many visitors in her temple during the festival. Those foolish little fleas had no idea how much power she had on their mortal world.
“Pathetic.” She spat. “These little idiots think that, just because they pray to me, they can get whatever they want. I don’t care about their failing marriages and unrequited loves. It’s just the same requests over and over, with no thanks to be had.”
Then, as the crowds began to dissipate, she spotted Pygmalion. This was a face she knew all too well. She had kept an eye on the sculptor in the past, drawn to his faultless statues and virility in his youth. She had always wondered which woman would end up his wife, and be rolling in gold for the rest of her days, but now she could see that Pygmalion had never been wed; nor did he frequent the local brothels. She raised an eyebrow – what request could this man ask of the goddess of love and beauty?
Pygmalion brought his bull towards the altar, and sliced it open with the ceremonial blade. Its guttural screech could be heard across the island as the blood spattered the ground. It had been decades since a sacrifice so grand had been made to Aphrodite; if he hadn’t caught her attention before, he certainly had it now.
“Oh Great and Beautiful Goddess!” He cried. “Maiden of the Sea!
“I have at last found my true love, a woman so perfect and pure, unlike any other. The smile on her face blesses my days and her alabaster thighs haunt my nights. I present to you this fine bull, the greatest of my herd, as I plead for your blessing. My greatest love is a sculpture made by my own hand. As the just goddess of love, I beseech of you – bestow my sweetheart with the gift of life, and we shall both be eternally grateful.”
Aphrodite pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing deeply. After all these years, the buffoon had fallen for his own statue? Surely this had to be madness; the man was losing his sanity in his old age.
“No,” Dionysus told her, “I know madness, and this is no madness. Pygmalion has truly fallen for the sculpture; a pretty thing she is too.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s not a woman, or any kind of human – It’s an inanimate object! He’s not in love with an inanimate object.” Aphrodite said, shaking her head. “There’s more to love than beauty, you know.”
“That’s a tad hypocritical, coming from you.” Dionysus chuckled. “So, what’re you going to do? Are you going to bring the statue to life?”
“I suppose I shall.” She sighed. “Perhaps it’ll be amusing if nothing else.”
Meanwhile, Pygmalion’s heart battered at his bloodstained chest, harder and harder as he approached his front door. He held his breath, and pressed his hand against the rough wood. If Aphrodite was willing, the love of his life would be waiting for him behind this door.
He pushed it open.
The statue stood exactly where he had left it. Cold and hard as ever.
A darkness settled into his heart. How dare Aphrodite not answer his prayer! He had sacrificed his best bull for her – he was certainly entitled to a payment of some sort!
He slammed the door shut, and stormed across the room, grabbing the statue by the waist. The bull’s blood on his fingers seeped into the porous rock and stained the milk-white. His gripped tightened, as he resolved himself to destroy his creation. He wanted nothing more than to throw it to the ground, smashing it into innumerable sharp fragments.
He stared into her bovine eyes for one last time, and bent down to kiss her goodbye. He bowed his head, and closed his eyes, bracing himself for the sharp chill of her lips.
But it never came.
The statue’s lips were soft and warm, moving out of sync with Pygmalion’s. They were speaking. Pleading.
“Let go of me! Let go! You’re hurting me!” The statue cried. Pygmalion’s eyes shot open. His grip on her waist loosened, letting her fall to the floor.
“You’re alive!” He exclaimed, a large grin crawling over his face. “Aphrodite has answered my prayer, and you shall be my wife!”
“W-Who are you?” The girl asked, struggling to cover her nude body. Pygmalion could hardly believe his eyes. She was his statue, come to life – and she was even more beautiful with blood pumping through her veins.
“I am Pygmalion.” He said proudly. “I sculpted your body from the finest Parian marble and prayed for you to be given life so that you could be my wife. I am madly in love with you.”
The girl swallowed hard. “I am Galatea.”
“Are you in love with me?”
“We… have just met, sir.”
Pygmalion frowned. This wasn’t right – he brought this woman to life. He should be a hero in her eyes, if not a God. “No,” He said sternly. “You love me. That’s how this works. You’re just a stupid statue so you probably don’t know how love feels, but I do. You are my perfect ivory virgin, borne of my own hand, and we shall be wed tomorrow. Perhaps in time, you shall learn how love feels.”
Galatea bowed her head, too afraid to use her newfound tongue against her creator. He had already exercised his power over her, marked by the finger-shaped bruises on her waist. She waited until Pygmalion had gone to sleep before she found some old sheets to drape around her body, and stole out of the house. Without direction or deliberation, she made her way to Aphrodite’s Temple.
The temple was in a shambles after the day’s celebrations; the tiled mosaic on the floor could barely be seen through the blood and muddy footprints; and the smell of the slaughtered bull lying on the altar hung heavy in the air.
Galatea crept in cautiously, keeping out a watchful eye for any stray Cypriots who might who might approach her. The chill in the night air made her wary, and the smell of death made her stomach lurch. Once she was certain she was alone, she fell to her knees sobbing.
“My Lady,” she cried. “Why have you forsaken me to this mortal life? I do not want to marry Pygmalion. He is a strange, old man, and I fear he shall do me harm. He claims that he loves me, yet he does not know me. O goddess of love, will you have me forced into this sham of a marriage?”
“Yes, my child.” said a voice behind her. It was low and earthy, but Galatea could swear she heard the earth move with each cadence. Warm hands clasped her shoulders in a comforting manner. “I know of your struggles all too well, Galatea. But I’m afraid this is a struggle you must bear, as a woman.”
“He has bruised me, my Lady.” Galatea protested, adjusting the sheets to display her waist. “His forceful grasp is too rough for my skin. His wicked hands too careless and destructive. He claims to love me for my beauty, but surely there is more to me than that? What if the rest of me is not to his liking?”
“You were created to be beautiful.” Aphrodite said tonelessly. “Nothing else matters. Not to Pygmalion anyway. You shall marry him and give him a son.”
“Without love? That doesn’t seem like any kind of life.”
“You have no choice, Galatea.”
The girl, shocked by Aphrodite’s lack of compassion, snapped her neck up. Goosebumps writhed up her spine as her gaze met the goddess’. An aura of ethereal power radiated from her, more alluring than Galatea could ever hope to be. She stood up and turned around, drawn towards the goddess. Her deep, brown face, wide set green eyes and long nose seemed almost hypnotic. This was a face too dangerous, too beguiling for the eyes of a mortal.
“Do not come any closer.” Aphrodite warned, outstretching her hand. “Go home to Pygmalion, child. He’ll be happy to see you; you should be thankful to have a man at all.”
But Galatea couldn’t look away from the goddess, until she blinked, looked around and found herself back in Pygmalion’s house once more. That day, the two of them were wed. They married in secret, an unorthodox ceremony as they were both older than the traditional age for marriage, and Pygmalion forbid anyone else, even wedding guests, from laying their eyes on his wife. By the end of the night, she still did not love him.
Nine months later, she gave birth to twins, a son, Paphos and a daughter, Metharme. She wasn’t the most maternal of women, but she loved the two of them dearly. She still did not love Pygmalion.
She watched her children grow up, performing each of her motherly duties to perfection. Her days were monotonous at best and chaotic at worst. Wake at dawn, help Paphos get ready for school, cook and clean with Metharme, and spend the evenings spinning. With his supervision, Pygmalion sometimes allowed Galatea to visit the market in the afternoons. He paraded her around like a trophy, falsifying stories of their intoxicating love for his fans, and vilifying all the other women in comparison to her. She wondered if he knew how uncomfortable it made her. She wondered if he cared.
Nights were even worse. They tried to talk, but there was nothing to say. They had the exact same opinions on morality, philosophy, art and politics, and would only parrot the same beliefs back at each other. And the nights Pygmalion tried to make advances towards her were nothing but awkward. She turned him down most times, unless they had come across some silphium in the market. She cried almost every night while he slept, wishing for her repetitive life to come to a stop. She almost prayed for some natural disaster or death to occur; just so something would happen. Years passed, and she still did not love him.
At the age of fourteen, Metharme began to menstruate. Just a few days after her fourteenth birthday, she awoke her mother excitedly; proud that she had finally become a woman. That day, accompanied by Paphos, Galatea took her daughter to the woods, and helped her sacrifice her old toys to Artemis, as a symbol for the end of her childhood. Pygmalion didn’t join them. In the past few months, he had been ill, and seemingly deteriorating more and more each day. He had been bedridden for almost a year now.
Metharme worried about her parents often. They didn’t act like the other parents in the town, who were younger, buoyant and full of life. Pygmalion was easily the oldest man in the village, and Galatea seemed as though her mind was full of thoughts that she didn’t dare speak aloud. During the ceremony, she seemed even more subdued than usual. The crackling of flames filled the clearing, the smoke rising to the treetops. Galatea’s gaze did not stray from the pile of burning dolls. She did not cry.
As they made their way home in silence, Metharme tugged at her mother’s dress. “Maia, you seem sad. Are you worried about Pateer?”
“No, child.” Galatea said abruptly. Her pace quickened.
“He’s rather old, isn’t he?” Paphos chimed in. “A boy from my school, Doros, said that his father said Pateer wouldn’t be around to see winter. He said that if the frost won’t kill him, then Hades would get impatient and come up to the surface world and kill him himself.”
“You shouldn’t speak about your father in such a way.” She scolded. “Your father is very proud of you both, it would sadden him to hear this, you know.”
Their walk home continued in silence.
Within a week, Metharme was married off to Cinyras, a hero from the land of Cilicia, leaving Galatea even lonelier than before. “It’s a good pairing…” Her ailing husband assured her in a self-satisfied wheeze. “Metharme has your beauty… And Cinyras is a brave warrior… With great riches… Any children of theirs…Will be destined for greatness.”
“Metharme is brave.” Galatea replied. “And she has a good heart. She genuinely cares for those around her. Even as a child, she was very empathetic; but also, very soft-willed. Aren’t you worried that you pushed her into this marriage? Did you ask her want she wanted? How she felt?”
“She will be… an excellent mother.” Pygmalion croaked.
Metharme would go on to have six children; none of whom would ever get to meet Galatea or Pygmalion, for she never saw her parents again. Her youngest son, Adonis, inherited his grandmother’s beauty, and gained repute from causing a rift between Aphrodite and Persephone, who both admired the young man’s good looks.
In the meantime, Galatea waited by Pygmalion’s bedside, holding his withered, liver-spotted, old hand in hers. She performed all the duties of a loving, dedicated wife; she helped him wash, and relieve himself; as well as cooking for him, and singing him to sleep.
After all these years, her beauty had not faded. She looked as young as the day she came alive, her skin smooth and unblemished, her hair free of grey streaks. Every day, Pygmalion looked at her the way he did on that first day, with the same mixture of pride and devotion. And even then, she did not love him. The bruises on her waist had never faded.
Paphos grew up to take his father’s place in the local council, enamouring the masses with his strategical mind and unparalleled intellect. So much so that they renamed the city after him after he died. At the age of thirty, he took his own young wife, and had his own children. He visited his parents often at first, but his job became more and more demanding; his visits became less frequent.
It was during one of his visits that Pygmalion would breath his last. He sat at his father’s bedside while his mother went to the well. He told him of the latest developments in the political sphere, and listened patiently when Pygmalion gave his own, unsolicited opinion on the matter. When Galatea returned, Pygmalion grew quiet. He watched her wordlessly as she busied herself around the room, dusting and cleaning. Finally, he said: “I won’t be seeing you in the Fields of Elysium, will I, my sweet?”
“I doubt it.” Galatea said, reaching up to eviscerate a cobweb in the corner of the room with a flourish of her rag.
Pygmalion’s eyes lost their light. Letting out a final sigh, his muscles went slack, and he peacefully surrendered to his eternal rest, feeling accomplished with his life. And why not? After all, he had a lot to be proud of.
Paphos buried his face in his hands, breathing deeply. His father was dead. He waited for his mother to speak. She did not. He raised his head, and turned his tear stained face to where she stood.
In his mother’s place stood a statue of a young woman, lifelike and expensive-looking. It was made of Parian marble, yellowed with age, with fingerprints of dried blood staining its waist. He looked back and forth from the statue to his father’s corpse, wondering what to do.
Galatea had been granted the gift of life in order to be Pygmalion’s wife. Without a husband to dote upon or children to raise, what use would a woman be? She never went to any sort of afterlife, she simply ceased to exist; her marble figure lost to history, never to be seen again.
However, some say that Galatea lives on in the hearts of women everywhere. Galatea is the little girl in pigtails who wants to be a doctor, a firefighter, an engineer when she grows up, and receives a nurse’s costume, a toy kitchen and a baby doll for her birthday.
Galatea is the school girl with the short skirt who cowers from the lewd men who shout at her in the street, wondering why her fashion choices makes her a target.
Galatea is the stripper; stronger and braver than most people she knows, and faces physical and verbal abuse every day by the same men pay to objectify her every night.
Galatea is the housewife tamed into submission by her loud husband, wondering how her life might have turned out if she hadn’t taken her mother’s advice, and travelled the world instead of having a child.
Galatea is the crazy cat lady, dubbed so by the community she leans on for support, wondering why her identity was erased because her feline friends are the only visitors she gets these days.
Galatea is Audrey, Kelly, Julia, Wendy, Kim, Rachel, Julie, Karen, Christina and she could even be you or me.
Galatea was valued for little more than her beauty and her sex, but upon further examination, Pygmalion may have reaslised that she, and many others, had a bit more to offer.
Words – Róisín Doherty
Images – Danielle Jade Oldham