Rebel Girl by Anna Marie Laforest
Persephone has emerald eyes under serious brows and the long careful fingers and glittering nails of an artist. If she hugs a tree it doubles its leaves and bends to lift her. If she caresses the velvet chins of roses they smile and burble themselves into the scent of Chinese tea. She tickles grapevines and they laugh until their tears fall in clusters into her hands. She is the pride of Demeter, her mother and Empress of all Nature.
One day Persephone decided to see which of the young gods she might attract. She looked down at her gown laced with buds and vines, and sighed – “how naïve!” She pulled over it a black leather jacket, tore the dewy daisies out of her hair, and lined her emerald eyes with kohl - the same black kohl Cleopatra would use millennia later. There, that was better. But when she painted her toenails black, her mother began to scold. “You don’t need to look like a tramp to attract Apollo or Mars.”
Dark and bosomy and with a good waistline despite her years, Demeter had ruled all outdoors for centuries. She paid rhythmical homage to the Sun, the Moon, the Stars - and all things ripened into never-ending summer.
“I’m not trying to attract anybody,” Persephone lied. “Besides, Apollo and Mars are too young for me.”
“No they’re not…” but mother was lost to the air as daughter disappeared, fast as an evening rainbow. Well, she’ll soon be back, at least to change her clothes, thought Demeter. Still, to make sure, she rolled her eyes upward demanding that Zeus watch over her daughter, and Zeus was obliged to do this, such is the power of a mother’s prayer.
By noon Persephone discovered that the trees and flowers were not admiring her as usual; instead they coiled their faces away, and by three o’clock (mythological time) she figured out it was her bizarre make-up and black jacket. How fickle they are – I’m still me, she scoffed. At four o’clock she caught sight of one of the young gods and she approached, but he ran the other way. By five o’clock (still mythological time) she was tired of being abandoned. Does everything have two faces, except me?
Now she found an empty hill, full of dandelions, so stark, like her mood. Ah, she might as well go home and eat. But then - a strange singing came from below. She bent and picked through the grass to see; nothing there but sweet deep melancholic singing, below. She took a little stick and started to dig. Now the singing was louder, more plaintive. She dropped the stick and started digging with all the fingers of her glittering hands, for Persephone was exceedingly kind and would free anyone who was trapped below. Besides, the melancholy song touched a strange chord in her thirsty adolescent heart.
She dug and dug and found nothing. Who could be singing? A lonely grasshopper, perhaps, or ants singing along the channels of their sandy home? But why so sad?
Finally the hole was big enough to put her head in -- and she did, and before she had a chance to decently peer, she tumbled into the Underground full force. And no wonder, as sly old Hades was pulling her in. He had been in love with her since she was thirteen and now, four years later (mythologically speaking), she was so boldly beautiful, he could wait no longer.
“Hello Persephone. I am deeply honored to make you my wife.”
She blinked her eyes to get used to the dark, then saw Hades -white hair, pale underground skin. How tall she could not tell, as he was down on one knee, but my, is he ever OLD! His hands went out beseechingly; on each finger including his thumbs lay a gigantic jewel, different sizes and cuts, but all colorless -- not a *sparkle* among them.
“Hullo Hades, you’ve got to be kidding, you’re over twice my age at least.”
“But Persephone, you forget age doesn’t matter among the gods and goddesses;
we will live forever.”
Ugh! she looked at the crows-feet near his eyes and the ancient wrinkles of his neck.
“That is not the point,” she said.
“Well, you will marry me anyway,” he said, “because you cannot escape from here.”
“Are you THREATENING me?” she said. “That won’t work.”
“Persephone, I love you, I always have; I was born to love you.”
He jumped like subterranean lightning and kicked the grainy ceiling with his boot.
“But you could grow to like me.”
“Look, Hades, get off it! This isn’t ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I could never like you. Now let me out of here. Ah-choo!” So much dust Hades’ anger had kicked up.
Hades stopped pummeling the dirt. “I… love you,” he repeated quietly. “I’m the one who has been singing the melancholy song.”
“You can’t be!” she held her hands to her ears. “Besides, you only think you love me, you’re only attracted to this black leather jacket, black make-up, and the whole underground look.”
“No, Persephone, I swear I have always loved you. Please, enter my palace, take a shower, adorn yourself with jewels. I will love you just the same.”
Out of curiosity she entered Hades’ palace. She found a beautiful mineral springs for bathing, and so she did, taking care to scrub her face back to its original natural beauty, hoping that that would turn the old punk off. The jeweled gowns were beautiful but colorless, like the jewels on Hades’ fingers. She put her own gown back on, and went off to explore.
She found many mazes veined with gold, laughing labyrinths, every sort of rock and carved geometry - but wherever she climbed or turned, there was Hades imploring her to marry him. She refused and refused, and continued to run the passages to find a way out by herself.
And where was Zeus, you may ask? How could he allow this? Wasn’t he supposed to be watching over her? Well, earlier that day Hades had struck a bargain with Zeus to look the other way while he abducted Persephone. Yes, Zeus had heard the prayer of Demeter, but he’d waved it aside, not because he owed Hades anything, but Hades was one of the good ol’ boys. And besides, Demeter’s prayers were always full of needling little environmental demands.
Zeus yawned; he knew Hades was far too old to actually take advantage of the young and strong Persephone, and he knew Persephone liked adventure. In this way Zeus justified looking the other way.
So Persephone hustled, tired and hungry, scrambling and starving, the passages so narrow she had to suck in all her breath, the passages so low she had to crawl her way through, and each time Hades surprised her by appearing ahead of her. He knew the shortcuts - after all he had carved the tunnels - and he brought her food and mineral water. She would drink but not eat, not even the chocolate truffles.
Time went on, and Zeus forgot about them all. The girl got weaker and weaker, partly from not eating but mostly from not being able to create, not being able to caress nature, or spawn new forms with her long artistic fingers. What was there here, under the earth, for her to touch? All was dark. All was rock. All was dust. She drank the mineral water and threw the silver tray of food into the dirt and screamed, “Let me go!”
Meanwhile Demeter was beside herself, having no idea where Persephone might have gone. Worried sick, she pulled out all her hair and snipped all the flowers from her gowns. She threw herself onto the ground and rolled with grief. She looked like a bag lady striding across the earth, searching, searching for her daughter, striding back again, raging, raging, and in her rage she threw aside her timetables and ignored the Sun and the Moon and the Stars; in her grief she was not able to nourish herself or the earth.
At first the plants and the trees wilted a little, in a show of compassion, but eventually all of nature started drying up from neglect. Demeter searched and raged, raged and searched; everything green dried and wilted, and everything else wilted and dried.
Finally it occurred to her to ask if anyone knew where her daughter had gone. One of the teen gods offered that he had seen Persephone that day but had freaked out over the leather jacket. Still, he said, she was so beautiful he had followed her at a distance, and had seen her tumble into the Underground.
Demeter knew her daughter was too agile to fall that far on her own; she smelled a Hades-rat, and immediately called Zeus. Zeus was not looking forward to talking with her, but he knew it was coming because everyone and everything alive had been pelting him with prayers to fix things so that the earth could come alive again.
“Mortals are so worried about death,” he yawned.
“I’m awfully sorry,” he said to Demeter, “but I made a bargain with Hades and we shook hands on it. The deal is, if Persephone has eaten anything at all in the Underworld, she is stuck there.”
“Whew,” said Demeter, “that’ll be okay then. I know my daughter; she’d rather starve than be compromised by that old punk.”
“All right,” said Zeus, “I’ll talk to him.”
Hades was in his cold, dusty under-kitchen kneading pizza dough when he was summoned by Zeus. He sighed and shook his floury hands against his flannel shirt and headed upward.
“Well,” said Zeus, “tell me the truth, Hades, has Persephone eaten anything down there?”
“No, darn it. But I was just about to try pepperoni.”
“Well, Hades!” chuckled Zeus “I don’t think that’s going to work. Anyway time’s up.” Now his voice got serious. “The natural world is shriveling up. Mankind has not learned to balance the environment themselves, so I have to restore Persephone to her mother and then she will stop grieving, and make the Spring come again. Look, I’ve got a lot of pressure on me here… are you listening, Hades?”
“Huh?” said Hades, who was thinking maybe he should go all out with green pepper and double cheese, but as he went back down with orders to release the girl his old eyesight snagged on a pomegranate tree with its gorgeous orange-red fall-bearing fruit and with a snap of his fingers, or maybe it was the twig, he abandoned his pizza plan.
Just before releasing Persephone, Hades cut a pomegranate in half and offered it to her. She was surprised to see the healthy orange-red fruit against the dark stone underground, and without thinking she swallowed six of the luscious seeds. Because of this Zeus declared she would have to spend six months of every year with Hades.
But, for now, Persephone sprang up through the grass and embraced her mother. They went about rejoicing and touching everything back to life. She told her mother about the Underground mineral springs and mazes. Her mother told her more than she ever wanted to know about grief and revenge.
“You know that I’ll grieve and rage every year in those six months when you are Underground, Persephone, and I’ll make it fall and winter. There will now be four seasons. Let’s see, I’ll have to adjust my time tables, cut new deals with the Sun, the Moon, the Stars.”
“I know, mom.” Persephone rolled her eyes. Having survived the harrowing Underground, she had a new perspective on her mother’s realm.
“Well,” said Demeter, finally changing the subject, “maybe you’ll grow to like him.”
“Maybe I won’t,” said Persephone, “but at least I don’t have to worry about it for another six months.”
No one knows whether Persephone grew to like Hades. Everyone is generally too busy surviving the snow and icy streets to worry about myths and symbolism, but if you think about it, Persephone was born with the creative power to transform everything she touched. How much would it take to change Hades’ appearance? And have you noticed that jewels now *sparkle* and have many, many colors to them?