Fiction Inspirational Sad

A woman emerged from the sea on a wave cresting toward shore. She was pulled from the sand in a riptide bound for the open ocean. She had no name and did not know what a name was. As she reclined against a fizzing bed of sea foam, all she knew was being.

           The woman drifted for a while, idly playing with the bubbles that surrounded her and the jumping fish that practically leapt into her lap to squirm around and wriggle. This is how she learned about death. It looked uncomfortable, though once the fish stopped thrashing, they stared at her with calm, glassy eyes, mesmerized by some magnificence she couldn’t make out. In years to come, the woman would grow accustomed to that dead look as men and women alike gawked in awe at her splendor and beauty—all of them staring like those fish. She might have been crowned Goddess of the underworld, but her womb was too fertile to reign over the land of the dead.

           The woman who rose from the sea did her best to soothe the fish in their last moments, not understanding how or why they died; it seemed quite commonplace and random. Leaning back and looking up at the stars, she could see the whole universe resplendent in whites and blues and brightness and mist. Watching the stars, she was at peace.

           Then the Western Wind saw her. His name was Zephyrus. The sheen of her golden hair had caught the light and glinted against the dun of the clouds. Zephyrus was entranced by her dark skin and bright yellow hair and felt it an awful shame for such a magnificent creature to be drifting alone at sea. Scrunching up his face, he blew with all his might and pushed the woman to a pebbly shore where the rocks smelled like flowers and the weeds pushed through crags on the beach.

           Three women waited for her silently, arms laden with linens and silks. When the woman rose from her bed of sea foam, they dropped their towels, and the birds stopped chirping. Everything stared. Even the flowering rocks smelled less sweet. The woman who emerged from the sea stepped off her pillowy sea cushion and felt, for the first time, sand and rocks between her toes. It was grainy and rough, and it burned. This is how she learned about pain.

           By now, the women on the beach had shaken themselves from their stupor, but having never seen a creature more beautiful than themselves, they were hesitant to approach the being before them. They called themselves the Three Graces. Once they brushed the woman’s hair and painted her breasts in pearls and gold, they were eager to strand her at the gates of Mount Olympus. Too late though, because Zeus saw her great beauty and commanded the Three Graces to tend to her, since until this one came along, they had been the loveliest women. The Graces were worshipped, but now they would serve at the whim of the Gods, trapped in the great gilded cage on Mount Olympus.

           The woman who rose from the sea heard the raucous of the Olympians as she stood outside the doors of the throne room. Someone with a grainy voice announced her presence, and cacophony melted to a murmur. She steeled herself and entered to face the foreign creatures.

           She stood in the middle of the floor. The room was silent, save for the pitter-patter of Ambrosia falling from the ceiling into a small troth at the edge of the room. The Olympians expected nothing more than a pretty face, as there had been many before her, but they were utterly dumbstruck in her presence. The immortal beings seemed as dead as the fish in her lap, and her courage melted to resignment.

           The first one to speak was a large man with a wicked grin and features so symmetrical it was like gazing at a newly sharpened arrowhead. His name was Aries. He was the God of war. Aries greeted her and laughed. Then, he looked down at his hands and started picking at his fingernails with his teeth. Artemis, the maiden Goddess, was next to recover.

           “Welcome, friend,” she said.

           Zeus, king of the Gods, piped up, and there was a flurry of commotion. Someone was commissioning a golden throne, another ordering a chamber of clouds, the next, a party to disperse the news.

They called her Aphrodite.

Aphrodite stood at the center of the fray and looked up. There was no sky above her. In its place, a golden ceiling gilded with flowers and bows and men stuffing other men into jars and more men stabbing one another with blades loomed overhead. She thought it looked quite uncomfortable. Once the flurry of activity died down, the woman was taken to the room of clouds and bedecked in diamonds and glittering beads. Poseidon, the God of the sea, made her a dress of loam, sheer when viewed in the light.

           In the minutes that followed, Aphrodite was wed to Hephaestus, a large man with red-brown hair and a beard so burley and thick it carried the smell of the storms he made for Zeus and the lightning bolts yet to come. He was crooked and bent, and Aphrodite didn’t mind and didn’t care. She also didn’t know what marriage was.

           She liked the man when he sang to her; she did not like him when he brought her gifts and trinkets. She liked him when he laughed uproariously and did not like him when he knelt to kiss her feet or praise her beauty and being and eminence.

           Hephaestus was smitten, enamored, and utterly enthralled. He was not, however, the least bit in love. He made her a soft metal wrap and hard golden crown that gave her such radiance, even he could not bear to gaze at her. When she wore the garbs, her beauty was so overwhelming it was painful to be in the same room with her. Aphrodite hated the wrap and hated the crown and hated the great gilded cage that blocked out the stars.

           Aphrodite took a lover. While Hephaestus murmured, Aries, could speak, and she liked the way he talked to her: without reserve or hesitation. Aries admired himself and nothing else, so there was no room for him to praise her. He knew he deserved the best of everything, and what was Aphrodite but another one of his bests? She was merely the next great treasure. He visited her when he liked and laughed at her when he liked, and Aphrodite seemed the only one contented by his likes. Everyone else distained the poor God of war. In fact, Aphrodite was more than contented—she would happily disappear into his treasure trove forever if she could, just to listen to him talk without fumbling or muttering or stammering. This particular situation irked the other Olympians, but Aphrodite didn’t care what they thought, mostly because they listened to her when she spoke, regardless of their judgments about her dalliance.

           And she spoke a lot—more than the other women on Olympus and sometimes even more than the men, and Aphrodite had never figured out why. They all knew much more than her and had so much more to say (they had done so in private), but when the Olympians gathered for council meetings, they talked over each other and listened only when they needed something. But the Olympians listened to Aphrodite. Everyone (except for Aries, who was glared into submission by the others) was silent when she opened her mouth, stupefied by the grace she exuded.

           Then one day, the Gods stopped listening. She opened her mouth, and the raucous roared over her. No one cared what she had to say. It seemed that Aphrodite had lost her splendor; she was fading. Suddenly, Aphrodite was forced to contend with her attendants, the Three Graces, for attention. Aries stopped seeking her out. And then there was the issue with the golden apples when only the most beautiful Goddess could claim them. Two other Olympian women, Hera and Athena, fought with her over the status of ‘most desirable’ to win the apples. What was the Goddess of Beauty if she wasn’t even the third most desirable on Olympus? Gods and mortals alike began comparing themselves to Aphrodite, their children to Aphrodite, and even the flowering rocks on the island she washed up on were being compared to Aphrodite. Surely, she thought, I must be more beautiful than a rock.

           Any power Aphrodite had wielded was consumed by age. People still stared when she entered a room but no more so than when Hera or Athena did the same. And yet, Aphrodite was content—no more dead looks or stupefied faces. The world around her sprang to life.

           She had her son, Eros, who gurgled happily around Aphrodite’s feet and shot off arrows that made unsuspecting mortals fall in love. She enjoyed tending him and feeding him and watching him play in the mud. Aphrodite nearly considered herself happy. She missed the stars, but it had been years since she’d seen them, and they had faded into a distant memory of bliss of a time gone by.

           And then the fighting began. Aphrodite promised Helen, the woman famed for her beauty, to the Prince of Troy in exchange for his support when she contended for the title of ‘most desirable.’  Helen, though, was married to the king of the Greeks, whose honor she insulted when she ran away with the Prince. Aphrodite may have been Goddess of Love, but she’d never had much respect for the sanctity of marriage.

So, the Greeks went to war with Troy, and Aphrodite accidentally started a decade long war. She tried to stop it, she did, but what was she to do? She talked, and no one listened. She cried, and no one saw. She screamed, and no one cared. She looked out over the fields of the dead, their listless, fish-like eyes staring up at her accusingly.

           It’s your fault, they said from their grave, you killed us, and now you’re dying too.

           Aphrodite blanched and rushed to a mirror. She ran her fingers over the tiny divots and lines melting into her softening face. How could she be dying? She’d never considered her own death; she was a Goddess, after all. But there it was, clear as day: age.

           Perhaps she wasn’t a God. Gods were born not found in the ocean under mysterious circumstances as she had been. As a living being, she was a harbinger of death, but she was made into a Goddess as a symbol of life. Aphrodite was better suited to rule the dead in the underworld—it’s a shame her womb was too fertile for that.

           Aphrodite didn’t want to cause death, and she didn’t want to die. She wanted to see the stars. Quietly, she draped a hood over her golden hair with a whisper and crept to the shore of the flowering rocks. Wading into the water, she tilted her head to the sky. The universe opened in front of her, all golden and white and shimmering and unchanged. For the first time she wondered, could the stars be more beautiful than me?

           An urgent listlessness overcame her. No matter how she hated her power, she wanted it back. She wanted the killing to stop, the death to end. She wanted to be seen and be heard and be cared about. She wanted freedom and dreams and space to live as she had, long ago: simply being.

           A curious tingling crept up her legs, starting at her toes and wandering across her stomach, her chest, her ears. For a moment, she could even feel her honeyed hair.

           Inexplicably, she was shining again, skin giving off a warm glow and hair flashing bright as a sun against the dark tide. This time, it was the Sea King who caught his breath. Once again, time slowed in her presence, and the flowering rocks became putrid. The breeze felt sharp and the sky dull.

           Aphrodite had found her beauty.

           Begrudgingly, she returned to Olympus to take her throne and be ogled and stammered at. At least she had her son. When Eros saw her return, he laughed and clapped his hands, counting his love arrows to ensure he had enough to ensnare all the mortal princes and kings in Aphrodite’s web—not that she’d need them, of course. Not anymore.

           Before she passed through the shining doors of Olympus before her, Aphrodite took a deep breath and leaned back to look at the stars. Tonight, she was glad they were more beautiful than her.

March 05, 2021 23:25

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21:05 Apr 22, 2021

A very powerful story, not only because of its beautiful narration, but also due to the fights for important things in life (existence): values, dreams, hope, etc. Congratulations for your achievement!


Amarah Friedman
19:42 Apr 23, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad it was moving. I think writing about something worth fighting for is one of the most important things to do.


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R. K.
18:09 Mar 08, 2021

This is a captivating retelling. I adore how you delved into Aphrodite's perspective of the world and uncovered that even beings meant to be flawless have cracks and insecurities. It's no wonder Aphrodite found society so shallow, she came from the deep after all. Sometimes, we're rushing down life so fast we need to just look at the stars. Look forward to your future work!


Amarah Friedman
01:45 Mar 09, 2021

Thank you! I had so much fun writing this story (got a bit carried away with it too). I can't wait to see what else you write.


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