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Fiction: Aphrodite: Winter

September 28, 2009

She isn’t there in the winter. They – men leaning on staffs and breathing heat into the air – discuss it among themselves. She isn’t there, and they ask why. They invent stories amongst themselves, tales of her with Persephone, threading the pale flowers of the Underworld through her fellow’s hair – but no, no. That is not true, because then she would be somewhere, not here but still there, and she is not.

The truth doesn’t make sense to her. Winter, the chill nipping along throats and shoulders, destroys her. It tears her apart with curved nails and makes her scream – pleasure pain pleasure pain; she’s not sure, it’s hard to distinguish the two when she rules such a vast domain. But winter: still it destroys her, still it kisses her until her eyes stream with tears and she forgets herself.

If she forgets herself, she doesn’t exist. That much is true and that is honest, and yet if the men knew, they would ask: then how does she return? Where does she go?

She laughs at them when she hears their words in the summer, and slaps them with pulsing waves of desire, need. She speaks, without the need for oracles or sacrifice to appease her, for she laughs often and without restraint: “I am everywhere.”

That is the truth. She exists not at all, and yet she does, really: she exists in the occasional kiss, mostly chaste now, just a brush of lips over a brow, or else in the tentative touch of icy fingers.

She has to wonder, though: where does she go? She’s not certain – not to the Underworld, though, and that is all she knows. Not even to the Kharites, with their red-red, ever-smiling mouths – even they succumb to silence in the all but endless winters. To her, they are endless: and yet they are incredibly finite, for she never remembers anything of them.

Once, she asked Zeus where it is that she goes, and he laughed at her, as though she were nothing more than the humans that she herself mocked. “You? You are not of winter, and so you do not live there.”

His answer terrified her, and it still does now. She hides: she wraps herself in Ares’ warmth; she is hot beneath her skin, and flames blaze in her summer-girl veins. She thinks, thinks, thinks, and she dreams, but she can’t find an answer better—or equal—to that Zeus gave, and she doesn’t like that. She doesn’t like to think herself an outcast, but, in the winter, that is what she is.

Nothing grows through the snow that settles over the earth, or even in the chill that creeps in the autumn days and makes her mind hazy and her pleasures harder to find. Not love, or plants, or fruits: not even hate can blossom here. Yes, yes, even Eris fades in the winter – a cooling of the words at first, the sharpness edged with something softer, and then even she goes.

Aphrodite does not stay, cannot stay, when winter sets in. She has tried before – fighting back with teeth and nails, snarling and screaming – but it never works. Ice blazes against her, pulsing like a fire that she can’t control, and it pulls her under. She drowns in the ice like a child, struggling to press her face up through the jagged hole to breathe: and it does not work.

She blames not Demeter, nor Persephone—and from the tales whispered among women with loose-hanging breasts and thin, cruel mouths, she knows this to be strange—but Athene. She is Aphrodite’s undoing: thus the chill winter months must be of her. She curses Athene and flies at her, screams, attacks: and cold, hard Athene simply ignores her.

That, though, is the way of things.

It is only when she looks, finally, to herself that she realises what she knew all along. She looks past the image that the humans set upon her, trying to define who she—she!—is, and she understands. Winter takes her from the scope of humanity and places her back among the kosmos, as Ananke once again: for it is inevitable that the kosmos need her influence, too, in order to remain as they are. In the winter, she realises, she wraps herself with Khronos, and melts, fluid and snakelike, into him. He remains with her when she returns: she understands that. He keeps her heart beating—hers, hers; the only heart of all the gods that truly beats—as she dances with mortals and exchanges kisses with her lovers.

Winter does not seem so harsh, now. She thinks of him in the spring, summer and autumn, and that makes her disappearance easier. She shares kisses with Persephone at the solstice and then waits: but she does not wait long. Winter sears through her, tearing her apart – she feels no agony, not really, but only the bliss of knowledge.

The pulse of ichor, of life, in her veins is kept there by her yearly embrace with Khronos. She melts into him, and he into her, and she becomes new once more. She is refreshed; she shines among the Olympian gods and puts even the Titanes to shame. Her heart beats and her eyes flutter, ichor pulses and need claws at her belly, and she understands that this is her own blessing. She smiles to the sky in the dead silence of a summer night, and looks on with bright eyes to the coming winter months.

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