The Underworld is dull.
It is monotony incarnate, a stretched-out and gelatinous tedium that sticks to every surface. All that surrounds me is permeated and replete. What’s worse is how the contagion of this place endures, the plodding quality afflicting everyone who enters.
I should be grateful or satisfied or something else altogether. However, I cannot muster any such emotions. Instead, I find myself impatient for a fresh thing, a bright thing. I never wanted my life to be soaked in darkness. Yet, here I am, in this near emptiness. Alone.
There is a single companion I should not forget. Cerberus, three-headed and keen for affection, nips at my heels incessantly. His drool reminds me of the moon, pools of reflective moisture that dot the hallways. I think about the moon frequently. The way it echoes back a distant glow, basking in the warmth of another, even from a distance. Could I be so lucky?
I do not feel hopeful.
I dwell below and thus, I cohabitate with the decomposers. We as one take in the dead, shepherding what persists of the living into the next stage. I watch as each shifting, opaque form enters my kingdom, often confused and disoriented, unsure of what is happening. It’s easy to show them kindness, for they have not done anything to warrant disdain or impatience.
Reluctantly, I preside over all of them, fulfilling my duties as Queen of the Underworld.
Not that they need supervision, for the most part. They go about their meandering without much comment. I am left to fill my time in other ways.
I spend the silent trickle of days roaming the stone corridors and carved-out rooms. Shadows trail upon the walls like vines, roots reaching deep into the cracked stones. I wish I could find my way into these crevices, join the amorphous inky black and lose myself there. It wouldn’t be ideal but little about this existence is. I am contained here without much of a say in the matter.
The heaviness of this place sometimes increases, spilling into the interstitial spaces of my very lungs. It makes me ponder my role as a Goddess, which is a slippery slope to other thoughts.
They go like this.
Long ago I concluded that the concept of yielding power is uninspired. To rule over others is the work of those who seek to sustain themselves externally. I find such satisfaction internally; at least I try to. A seed has most of what it needs packaged neatly within itself. Once it has rain and sun, it grows. It does not consume the world around itself greedily. It takes what is needed and that is all.
My brothers do not agree with my perspective. And why should they? Their contentment is enviable, in a way. I suppose I lack even the energy for jealousy.
If I indulge the subject of things that bloom, things escalate. I consider them often, though I cannot say why. Perhaps because I never see them. Their colors are nothing more than pigments I swirl in my mind, mixing and isolating, trying to find a new shade to brighten these interminable days. Living in monochrome, tinged in bruise-blue and muddied-white, offers nothing to a starved imagination.
Still, I attempt to envision the silk of a petal on my gray fingertip, the aroma and dust of the pollen adorning my nose, the crushed leaves between my teeth. To exist below the sun, who stretches across my skin. My hands would reach to grasp the air, fistfuls of luscious wind. The wildness would course through me, swept up and emboldened. I would feel alive.
I want to consume the vitality of such things, to live in vibrance and saturation. I’d embrace all these shadows if they came with the light, too. It is not difficult to understand why I feel trapped by these abstractions.
I remain here, of course. Tethered by the chains of responsibility and power. I’d happily give it up if you press me for honest thoughts. Wouldn’t anyone? Crave more, I mean. This whole place surrounds oppressively with tones of softened, weathered surfaces. I do not think many would choose this.
Sometimes I convince myself that it’s alright to try sneaking away. As long as I keep the dead souls amassed where they should be, perhaps none would notice the Queen of the Underworld creeping to the Earth’s surface. The only one to miss me would be the dog, who would stay busy enough if I left him with a few bones buried here and there.
For seconds or millennia, I have convinced myself and unconvinced myself of this prospect. And the more these thoughts come upon me, the potential of escape grows increasingly tantalizing.
But with eagerness comes anxiety.
I am not made for the upper world. I envision that it is pleasant and comfortable, with people who smile and help one another. When something dies, as everything must, there is mourning. Then more life.
I’m curious to witness this. It would be interesting to experience effulgence and hope. I would come back, quickly. And then I wouldn’t go again.
Just once couldn’t be wrong…
I remain here. Until I don’t.
The path I have discovered leaks.
Sound, texture, and a slow steady drip of color. It’s gradual, the shift from under to above. My feet find their way tentatively, treading upon the wet earth. Each restrained step propels me forward in tiny bursts.
Onward, onward. The incline is obvious and gentle. I put my feet into the mossy path and keep going.
I stare, fixed on the growing point of illumination within reach. I keep my gaze locked on it until I cannot handle everything that cascades down the trail, so I squint and cover my eyes. I peek through the cracks of my fingers and let myself adjust.
Already it feels good, walking into another realm where everything I have known is replaced with something I have not known. There’s a richness that bears down on me and I stagger.
At last, I blink through the overstimulation. He’s the first thing I see.
He is bathed in honey-hued beams. It clings to him in shimmering layers, as if the light hungers for him. My first thought: how must it feel to be swathed in this way? Then I study more of him.
I sense who he is, as I assume he does me. I wouldn’t expect a God of Spring to have such dark hair. It falls in waves to his shoulders, thick as river weeds at night. Even within the murky layers, brightness glints upon the locks, fine and unsullied.
His skin is sunlight. Or at least, if sunlight could be pressed into a solid-state, he would be carved from it. This surprises me at first, that a being could contain such pure luster. The clothes that swath him are pale and undulating in the air.
His face holds an expression of disbelief and I wonder how he connects with time. Will he be frozen for hours? Maybe his expression has already changed and I am the one who cannot keep up.
We shift through various parallel emotions. Mine include interest and a vibrating kind of anxiety. His I cannot be sure of. Perhaps perplexed, curious.
“Who are you?” His voice flows from him, low and smooth. Melodious, upwelling from beneath our feet.
“Persephone,” I reply, hoping my voice doesn’t sound like bashed roots with their fibers strewn about.
He pauses, inhales my name. Tasting it. “Your name is beautiful.”
I had never thought this. It seems hard to believe. But who am I to know better than a God of Spring.
“What is your name?” I ask to cover my ignorance.
He tilts his head, eyebrows coming together. His shoulders roll back and I am reminded of the wind. I wonder if he will ripple in a strong gust, or hold fast against the aerial current. I hope I have the chance to find out.
His gaze is questioning, uncertain. I grasp for an answer to his unspoken words. I’ve never felt so compelled to fill up a silence before.
“I came to see the flowers,” I eventually force out.
There’s a rush smiling and yes, I was right. He does ripple and I have a feeling it’s with amusement. I become vaguely embarrassed and work to shove the feeling out of sight.
“You came to the right place…” he mumbles toward the soil and somehow I catch each word before the ground subsumes his statement.
“Why do you think so?” I ask to hear him speak more. To get him to look at me. When he does, I wish he hadn’t, because his eyes are flecked with brown and green. My throat goes tight. There are many marks on his face that I cannot name, not abrasions or scars, but something innate. They add texture to the plains of him, plains I want to traverse. This makes no sense, so I try to ignore it.
“I have an ability,” he says simply. Then his hand motions to the side and for the first time, I perceive the flurry of blossoms. There’s a melee of color I had never thought possible, vivid shades and dim shades, and patterns erupting and racing outward in a small sphere.
There are more flowers than I ever thought possible. And I have had a long time to think about such things.
His cheeks pluck color from the rosy blooms. It flatters him and I think my own face must be mimicking the hues. I glance down to hide my strange reaction, studying the way small tendrils flourish around his bare feet. These are pungent green, tangibly lush. So unlike the streaking shadows that decorate the kingdom I rule.
How would it feel to have his skin pressed to mine? Would I blossom under his pressure as the plants do?
I have a destabilizing desire to crouch and touch the newborn leaves, tracing each tiny curve of green from the ground and up his form.
At last, I tear my eyes away and meet his.
“You make things grow,” I conclude out loud. Not the most astute of observations but he doesn’t seem to judge.
He makes another kind of ribbon movement with the upper part of his body. “I get it from my mother.”
“And your mother can do this as well?”
He doesn’t blink and I become self-conscious.
Glancing down at myself, I see my dreary attire. The gown looks fragmented, stained by storm clouds, I realize. Perhaps I am stained, too, stitched with gloom, standing before flowers and brightness. Unworthy.
“Where do you come from?” He tilts his head.
I open my mouth to respond yet words slip away. I motion down and he may not understand but he asks no question. He moves, glancing over his shoulder to invite me along. I pursue him, marveling at the explosion of plants in his wake. I wonder if he prefers me not to stare at the display. Perhaps he doesn’t care.
Clouds find their way across the darkening sky and I regret the diminishing brilliance. I draw closer to him, hoping that perhaps his visual warmth includes similar physical properties.
Can I linger, I want to ask. Would you mind?
He glances at me, maybe sensing my silent question.
He says nothing.
“Do you ever pick the flowers?”
He frowns briefly. “It didn’t occur to me.”
I let this information sink in. His whole life is drenched in flowers. There is no reason to pick them. Another inquiry forms within my mind. I consider whether it is appropriate to speak it. I am a goddess, after all. I probably should not be concerned with such trivial matters. Bizarrely, I feel the words rush forth like stones along a creekbed.
“Perhaps I could take a few with me when I go.”
“You’re leaving already?” His body swivels toward me.
Something in his eyes catches my attention. It makes my insides ignite, lightning and thunder and rain and a pummeling of sorts.
“Soon. I cannot skirt my duties for long,” I reply.
His shoulders hunch and resumes walking. “I understand.”
I watch, a few steps behind, how his jaw clenches. Perhaps he is chewing on words. Perhaps he is going to tell me to leave.
“You can…” He stops and glances up.
I don’t understand so I peer at him harder. His eyes are trained on the sunset clouds, each one dusted with the sun’s descent. There’s a fresh dapple of crimson on his cheeks.
He’s more striking than all the flowers, I decide.
Which is unexpected. I shudder under the weight of this knowledge, confused all the more. The silence presses on and I ultimately prod myself to end it.
“I can what, Hades?”
He darts a glance at me at the sound of his name. He looks either appreciative or embarrassed.
“You can walk next to me. That way, you will feel the plants growing under you.”
With a series of quick steps, I fall in beside him. My usually cold feet have finally absorbed enough of the earth’s radiance and I’m relieved. Placing each food gingerly, I sense the slight tickle of new shoots that his presence elicits. A burbling kind of excitement takes hold of me and slips through my throat, out of my mouth.
He looks at me with such an expression of wonder I can’t walk anymore. I stop, gaze at him. He is a most wondrous being. One I couldn’t have envisioned existing.
I incline my head, calling for courage. He waits patiently, his face lit and eyes wide.
“Hades, can I come walk with you again?”
A flickering, burgeoning smile sweeps over his face. The sun sets in earnest. Before it slips out of sight, he nods.
“I would enjoy that. Will you tell me about where you live upon your return?”
“Yes, though it is not a nice place like this.”
“It must be nice when you are there, at least.” The words seem to have rushed out before he noticed them. He presses his lips into a line, abashed.
“I think it would be better if you visited, too.” I duck my head to hide my cavernous grin.
Without thinking, I sink to the ground and run my fingertips along the uneven surface of the plants. The twilight steals most of their details, and yet, my skin knows their variation. I’m enthralled, mostly that they are Hades’s creation.
A split second passes and he’s crouching beside me. We share a timid smile and hover close.
“How does it feel? To create. To exude this kind of essence?”
He meets my eyes and lingers there. “It just happens. No special skills are required.”
“You’re wrong,” I say at once and feel a dancing flush. “I mean, you are special. You add loveliness to the world. I preside over death and nothing else.”
He doesn’t recoil. I marvel at how his expression softens. We’re separated by a handful of plants that tangle exquisitely.
“Death is part of it, too,” he whispers.
I suppose he is right. But there’s no splendor in it. I glance toward the sky.
“Persephone,” he says delicately, cradling my name.
I come back to him. He plucks a flower and shyly, slowly, takes my hand and unfurls my fingers. There he presses the tiny bloom onto the flesh of my palm. I tremble, as he does. His hand stays upon mine and I am filled with a dawn most expansive and complete. “Until you come again.”
I know this flower will not last long. Not where I live. Nonetheless, the sincerity of it, the promise lifts me. Like the last of the pastel clouds above, I float.
His face creases with the largest smile yet. We rise to stand, hands joined, joy matched and ricocheting. His hand feels reluctant to release mine but he does, after a small squeeze. I turn to leave, knowing I will see him soon.
I do not begrudge the lessening world, the escaping life, as I descend the path to the Underworld. I overflow with something new. Change. Possibility.
Cerberus bounds to greet me. I grin at him.
“I made a friend. Perhaps he will be your friend, too.” The multiple noses sniff the things I brought with me; the air and flower. The scent of Hades’s hand pressed to mine. The loyal creature yips his enthusiasm.
The halls of my domain don’t bother me as much anymore. I know what exists beyond them. I have a connection to all of that beauty. And he to me.
I wonder how it will be to finally have a partner. To finally know the balance of things I have longed for. Such balance is a gift. I treat it with the utmost and diligent care. I take fewer things for granted, too.
The Underworld is less dull when Hades is here. He brings with him such boundless light. And all is as it should be.
For together, we are sun and moon. Darkness and bloom.