The Dynamic of Demeter and Persephone
She bleeds away into the wallpaper in the kitchen and the bathroom rug and the tomato plants growing between the box hedges, and we forget she is a person just as we are.
I wonder if she knew this going into motherhood.
The first time, of course, a surprise. A disappointment for at least ¾ of his thirty-nine years, except for the gorgeous granddaughters who have his light skin and blue eyes and their mother’s Puerto Rican hair and eyelids.
But to choose it again.
I imagine her weeding in the back yard, before the gardens, before the poppies and the bleeding heart and the stone walls. I imagine the felled trees all around them and the earth freshly churned. Her voice which I realize now is the same sound as things growing. The rush of basil roots and the sink running. Speaking to him and putting the idea of me in his head – the delicacy of petals, the scent of dianthus, rising under his hands.
I imagine him looking into the forest and considering it. The seed of me planted there before I ever really was.
Greeks and Romans speak about betrayal often in their god stories, and it is no different now.
It would seem that I sprung from my father the same way that Athena ruptured from Zeus’ head, clad already in armor. Zeus swallowed his lover and in a similar way, my father swallowed my mother.
I have inherited his grey eyes and palms that raise life from the earth, but it was she who raised me. Betrayal of the worst kind – she told me not to pee on the kitchen floor and, keeping eye contact with her, I did anyway.
It has always been this way.
Perhaps she is reminded of the youth I sapped from her whenever she looks at me. Although I have the quiet strength of my father, I have the beauty of my mother (less, though, lacking her gaze and clear skin).
The things she has given me, I have learned to resent: strength and endurance. A voracity for being alone.
She taught me to reject love, although perhaps she doesn’t know it.
Leave him then, she said under the oak trees, if you’re unhappy. I am ugly when I sob, the choking snotty sob of toddlers, blood vessels in my face breaking near the surface.
Years and years of this: leaving them. Not realizing that it was myself I was unhappy with. Knowing only that love is something unfinished, something broken off.
I don’t speak to her about the boys who pursue me or the men I allow in my room. There is just the slightest of differences between the two: the muscles of their backs, for example, or whether or not they will fill my window with paper cranes the day after I turn away from them.
I don’t speak to her about the boys but I know that she loved a boy once, and that he was a strange boy who carried more of a man in his sinewed body, a man who liked to hit women.
I imagine my body but the skin rougher and the eyes a very different green, bruises rising on cheek bones, her lips thinner split at the corner. And then to carry my brother who chose to make a legend out of a monster.
He looked like a model, she says in my kitchen as I cut basil for her and watch her clean my dishes.
I tell her that it doesn’t matter – that many of them look like models. Maybe it was that he was black, that he had the kind of deep voice that inspired sanctuary, that he was someone who made me appear small in comparison if you happened to glance at us for just a moment.
She doesn’t like to run the water for a long time and I consider telling her that they all break before me, break like saplings, their skin coming off in strips and their insides too young yet for it.
I break often and sometimes by my own hand but it is more like citrus. Sectioned and fragrant.
She has told me recently that she doesn’t see the point in books that have to be read in more than one day, that there can’t possibly be so much that has to be said, and so I know she won’t understand.
In high school and for two years after I loved a boy who made a point to never look directly at me and looked instead at the girls within twenty feet of my left shoulder. I can still recall his square heavy hands and his closed face. I can still recall the night I stood to leave leave him then and he moved me with his body into his room, where he murmured my name and kissed me so hard that I thought my lips would get cut on my teeth, which wouldn’t have mattered much because blood is just as salty as tears if you’re trying not to sob that toddler sob of yours while the man you love takes all of the strength from you.
And so this is love, is it.
That day in the yard I wonder what exactly she had in mind.
I know she wished for a girl – and I wonder why she wished it. I wonder if it was the flowers that did it, the phlox and the poppies, the beautiful symmetry of lupine leaves. Bleeding hearts bobbing against the boulder that they chose to leave in the garden.
I wonder if she knew what I would become, and if she accepted that right there, on her knees in the dirt that wasn’t quite soil yet.
My brother’s father died shortly after I was born.
We don’t talk about him and usually I forget his name, but I know she speaks to him often. I know she keeps a relic of him in her china cabinet behind the wine glasses which get a lot of use.
In January I think about telling her.
She remembers him from before any of these other boys who made me unhappy – she remembers him before instinct flooded us on summer nights, before bonfires and ochre couches, driving home on winding back roads with the moon lighting up the fields and his thighs. Before the fireworks and the kiss. Before his body became what it is now, what it was two months ago in my room – all muscle and broad, taking up the rest of the emptiness that I have lived with here, washing my dishes every day and waiting.
I knew as soon as he told me that he didn’t like tomatoes, back when we were sixteen. The ones I fall in love with never like tomatoes.
In my yard with the cigar tree blooming at twilight, he turned his head as soon as he caught the scent of them – the plants like sentinels in the back quarter of the garden, their bodies so thick and strong that no stakes could hold them up.
Leave him then, I know she will say. If you are unhappy.
But I’m not unhappy, I’ll tell her.
I’ll let the tears roll down into my ears and the curve on my neck and my hair and I’ll think to her, across the miles, I’m not unhappy. He has left and I am alone. But I am not unhappy.
Sarina Bosco is a chronic New Englander and reluctant homeowner. When not writing, she can most likely be found washing dishes or hiking the surrounding area. Her work has previously appeared in Cider Press Review, The Missing Slate, The Sonder Review, and others.