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[personal profile] mycursedface
A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean?
In my heart it doesn’t mean a thing.

- Toni Morrison, Beloved

It starts with his daughter screaming.

The girls often screamed when they were young, all of them. Screams of anger, screams of laughter, screams of delight and screams of EKHIDNA PULLED MY HAIR SKYLLA STARTED IT PAPPOS PAPPOS EURYALE STOLE OUR TOOTH I DIDN’T DID DID NOT TO INFINITY PAPPOS LADON BIT ME GIVE ME BACK MY ARM OR I’LL SCRATCH YOU; his first brood take after their mother, and are fierce, proud and quarrelsome.

This is different; this is a scream of fear, of pain, and even as he drops the net and runs, it doesn’t end. Medusa is on the ground, her hands pressed to her temples and her claws digging into scalp and snake alike; Euryale has her hands pressed to her mouth and Stheno’s crouching and whispering, Meda, Meda, Meda.

Medusa is screaming MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP as she rocks backwards and forwards; her snakes hiss with pain and threaten all that come near with sharp fangs.

The Old Man of the Sea is helpless, helpless, helpless, and he doesn’t leave until the screams turn into sobs into a hiccup and a hoarse whisper of pappi make it better.


Medusa stays in the back of the house, in a new storeroom that is dark and cool. She lies on the floor, chin on her arm as she traces patterns in the dirt. She flinches when people come close, which isn’t new, and says that everyone is walking too loud, talking too loud, stop breathing it’s hurting my ears, which is.

She doesn’t eat.

Sometimes he finds her hugging her legs to her chest, rocking backwards and forwards. Sometimes she’s giggling; her dark eyes jerking from corner to corner and her mouth curled in amusement. Sometimes she’s keening a high, eerie lament as if in mourning. Sometimes she whispers and whispers in the sibilant language of the snakes; if she notices anyone around, and she always does, she’ll stop almost guiltily.

But nearly always, his daughter is silent in the dark.


Euryale asks, What’s wrong with her?

Stheno asks, Pappos, how can we help?

Medusa’s high, eerie keen turns into a giggle that rolls its pitch up and down; the Old Man says, go back to your cave, girls.

Stheno says, get fucked and kicks the stool on the way out. Euryale, dark eyes huge and miserable, stays silent. You raised her, my wanderer, her father says, brought her back and then all three of you left-

But, Pappos, we had-

I know.

…It’s not just Meda, is it? She asked, we did it. She left and then we left. It’s all of three of us.

He does not say yes, he does not say no, he just stares out the doorway to the Nile. Find Stheno, my dear, and please go back home. I could not bear to lose any more of you.


Later, he hears Euryale screaming at the uncaring night. He knows how she feels, but she and her remaining triplet are gone by morning.


Medusa is standing in the kitchen. The Nile is at the lowest point of the year now; it’s been months. Carefully, he sits down at the table. She’s turning a knife over in her hands, over and over in the sun from the window.

I thought the light hurt you, my little Queen.

Only when it wants to. It doesn’t now. Just wants to play and free.

The Old Man doesn’t say anything. Indeed, he doesn’t move. She continues, her snakes humming an off-key counterpoint. But it can’t, silly thing. It has to light up the world and it can’t run away. It’ll get into trouble.

What happens then?

Has to be broken, fit the rules and stare at the ground and answer only when spoken to. Good little light, won’t hurt anyone ever ever ever
. Her blood is dripping onto the bench; she has the point of the knife buried in her finger. He moves to get up, moves to pull the knife away and stop her; it’s more intention than act but he has to duck.

The knife clatters to the floor behind him.

Medusa stares at him; head tilted, eyes hard. I’m going now, she announces and sweeps out with a flourish of her wings. He’s just a little too slow at recovering, at getting to his feet and running after her. By the time he reaches the front door, his daughter has vanished.


He tells her mother, of course. His wife asks him why and how long in her harsh voice made worse by anger and grief.

He, prophet who can never lie, tells her.

Ceto slaps him with a hand sporting spikes instead of fingers, and his blood mingles with the ocean. She tells him to go away, and as he does he can hear Atlantis being dismantled to an accompaniment of raging curses.


He tells Doris, staring into a cup of wine with his cheek still on fire. His other wife sighs and runs her fingers through his hair.

She says, I’m sorry, love, and he knows that she means it.


It’s been two years when he finds Medusa in the garden. Her tunic is worn, filthy, and she looks ill and ragged. But her hum is happy enough and she’s weeding.

Really, Pappos, you need to take better care.

We’ve been worried about you, Meda.

Her voice sharp, There’s only one of you. I can only see one of you. Only one of each and it’s not right to be more than one because-

I meant your mothers.

The Gorgon visibly calms. The words don’t make sense. You have to weed out the confusion.

Is that what you are doing now?

No. I’m weeding the garden because you’re hopeless at it.

If you stayed-

Can’t do that.

I miss you.

They’ll find me.

he asks but she’s getting to her feet and walking away.


The Old Man doesn’t see her, next time she comes back. He sees the broken furniture, the clothes and cutlery and open boxes strewn around the courtyard and he sees a small handprint of mud and blood on the wall.

His belongings are in a strange order, arranged into symbols and spirals.

He can’t understand it.


One blisteringly hot summer’s night, he asks her how she is. She doesn’t look at him, but she answers after a moment too long it’s all straw underneath before retreating back to the garden. The Old Man dismisses it as nonsense until he turns around. There is his wall, his wattled wall with the cracked mud and bits of straw showing through.


Medusa is in the kitchen, singing softly to herself. He’s bleary-eyed, but his anger has long since gone back to worry, worry, worry. Softly, he says, Medusa?

I had to find them. I knew they were there, and I had to find them but I couldn’t so I said sorry.
She’s referring to turning his house upside down (it won’t be the last time); that was seven years and three visits ago.

Who, darling?

They said…
Medusa falters, frowning even as she wipes the dish. They said they were going to hurt you, so I had to stop them.

Who said?


He wants to press her, ask her again, but her eyes are starting to skate around the edges of the room even as her snakes hiss. He wants to reassure her; that’s what fathers do. He wants to protect her and comfort her until the fear that runs through her body has no reason to stay. I’m safe here. You’re safe here, I promise.

No one’s safe.


She never says who they are.

Given everything, the Old Man cannot dismiss them as merely figments of her insanity.


That his daughter is insane he has no doubt; what makes it bitter as ash in his mouth is that it is a punishment that he cannot protest.

After all, his brother Cronus lost the war and he lost his kingdom.


Ceto comes around one day, human form slipping and sliding around her as she stalks up to him. The Old Man puts down his net and looks at her; his sister-wife paces and paces with legs that occasionally look more like tentacles, and she clenches a jaw full of too many rows of teeth.

She was staying with me, Ceto says at last, throwing her self down at his feet. Atlantis. Medusa’s always loved it there. And sometimes she was okay, you know? She was our girl again. Her normal shy and sheathed-claw self. But she’s gone now.

He says nothing, just waits.

We were talking and her face changed. Scared. She was there watching me and she asked where I’d gone. What I’d done with her mother. Ceto’s dark abyss eyes bore into his face. She lunged at me, Phorcys. She’s not a bad fighter, our girl, but, Mother and Chaos, you know me. I react. I reacted. I flung her off and she hit the wall and I swear, her wing snapped. But she got up and swam away and it was fine.

The Old Man reaches out and strokes her rough seaweed hair. It does not, he says in a quiet voice with sorrow and guilt all the way through it, make much sense to punish her and her sisters for her being alive if the punishment kills her, does it?

…I wish that you had not said tha
t, the personification of the sea’s terrors says evenly, and starts to cry.


It would be easy to say that after the first century, there was a pattern. Medusa would arrive, stay, leave. Sometimes she said nothing; others she spoke so fast that he couldn’t understand a word she said. More often it was a broken conversation, which only loosely made sense.

But if there is a pattern, it is a pattern of only that; she arrives and leaves. Nothing else is ever the same; not how she is, not how long she says, not how long she says away.


For once, it is raining in Egypt. Ill-luck and nothing good, here in this land of yearly floods. The Old Man is talking, softly, of nothing much. Life in the village, life in the sea, the dramas of his seals. Nonsense things and little things, talking to soothe the Gorgon’s mind and keep her in safety. Medusa throws her spindle across the room and stalks into the kitchen; remembering the knife when she first left, the Old Man follows her. She marches to the basket of eggs, picks one and then smashes it against the ground.

That’s me! Intact and in pieces at once and everything that’s me is spreading and I can’t…I can’t- She presses her hand to her mouth as her shoulders shake. Can’t gather me up can’t put the pieces back together and I slip through my fingers and I can’t…I can’t…

He does something he hasn’t done in centuries. He walks up and pulls her into his arms, just wraps his arms around her and kisses her hair. It’s alright, my girl, it’s alright…


The Old Man of the Sea is a gentleman, a gentle man who never lies. He loves his children, all of them alive and dead, no matter who and what they are.

He doesn’t like to think of the times that he loses his temper with Medusa; there is only so much guilt one person can stand. But memory is a cruel thing; it plays all the things he said over and over and over until he knows his lapses of patience better than some of his friends.


One time, he shouts. He, inhumanly calm and divinely kind, shouts and gave back as good as Medusa is dishing out. That night, he dreams of his beautiful daughter curled up in some jungle ruins, whispering to the brightly coloured and poisonous snakes. A breath later, it’s nothing but raging, muddy water.


She doesn’t return until two dynasties later.



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March 2010

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