Tea with the Titans
"Would you like more tea?" I ask my sisters. I dip a ladle into the geyser's flow and pour boiling water over the soggy apple slices in their cups. The cinnamon scent lifts into the air then dissipates.
"I don't know what to do," Rhea says, stroking her pregnant belly. "He scares me, the way he talks."
"Cronus is trouble. He doesn't follow the laws." In her chair of stone, Themis sits so straight her chest puffs out. Because today is a special occasion, the day of the family reunion, she has let down a single strand of her hair from her usually tight bun atop her head, and it moves against her mouth as she speaks. Otherwise, her clothes are perfectly unwrinkled. "We can't let him go on like this."
"Our father's dead," I say. "I can't bear to lose anyone else, like we did our father."
Rhea places her hand on my shoulder, her fingers trembling. "We won't lose him. We just have to speak to him."
"An intervention?" I say. "Will he listen?"
"Of course not." Themis sips the cooled apple tea. "Has he ever listened to any of us? Not even you, Rhea, his own wife. There's only one solution: imprisonment. He's broken bonds that can never be restored. Our father didn't deserve death."
At every reunion, this conversation is the same. Except that, each year, our tones grow in severity. Each year I feel more and more as though I cannot take the pressure of family faces, family voices, of our combined past which bears down on Mount Othrys and each year grinds its summit deeper into ground while Mount Olympus grows taller in our diminishing shadow. Soon our family home will be a valley.
In the background, as if their voices are echoes in the hills, I hear Themis: The other deities will not always uphold our laws, but I don't care. They will obey as long as we hold power. So will our brother.
"Phoebe, are you okay?" Rhea asks. "You look like you could use a lie down."
"I'm fine," I say. "I just need some air."
Themis wrinkles her eyebrows, peers around us. We are, after all, in the crisp morning air of the Mount, but I don't need that kind of air. I need air from different mouths, the air of a different fate. I think, for a moment, that if these sisters were different people, if our family were a different family, I wouldn't feel like I was choking all the time. But there is nothing one can do to alter that which has already come to pass.
Instead I stand, take my leave of them, make my way around the Mount. I shield my eyes against the harsh sun. Another trio of my sisters lounges on the mountain rocks. We women travel in trios. One scratches her name in the stone while another braids the third's hair. The third stares wide-eyed at the clouds. These sisters, I have always thought, are not burdened with the weight of knowing how temporary happiness and power are. Somehow, they have learned to ignore it, to laugh in spite of it. Always they are smiling. I envy them their ability to forget. They wave as I pass. I don't fit into their circle; I would bring dark to their clouds. I am going to find the men, who always know how to make a sister feel as though she's safe inside their arms.
They are where they always are. Long ago they built a balcony of knotted olive wood into the side of the mount with railings in the shape of the rivers our sister Tethys has birthed. Upon this balcony they've constructed a wooden table upon which they toss dice to see who rolls highest. They keep score carved into the rocks. I count the notches: Cronus has the highest, three hundred and twelve to date. Hyperion, who prefers to watch the games with his observant eye, has earned the least, though he has won each game he's played. As children we would still have teased him for his small stack of notches, but because our insults never pierced his hide, we gave up on that long ago.
All five of my brothers are here, four gathered around the table where Cronus and Crius face off, tossing the dice again and again. Crius rolls twos and fours, but Cronus rolls only fives and sixes. Once he rolled a one, but everyone agreed it was a fluke, a faulty die, and we tossed it over the railing down into the world below. It's said that the Olympians now play our games, even now, as they wait to bestow their judgment.
"You look terrible." Cronus says. "Didn't you sleep last night?"
I shake my head. "Barely."
"Last night was new moon," says Coeus, looking at me with the gaze of a baby animal, hopeful, in need of my approval. "It's all uphill from here, sister. You'll sleep better this night. I'll make sure of it."
They resume their game, and I see Hyperion's shadow from the corner of my eye, which means he wants me to see it, for he controls the sun and moon while I am controlled by them. I have always envied him this. He stands by the rail under the shade of summit. His hands grip the rail as he peers down the mount into the misty drop. I join him. My brother has always been able to blend into the walls. I feel sure that he knows me as no one else does, not even Coeus, who knows only that I hurt when my moon shrinks and throb when it swells, and who cannot stand to lie beside me in my fits. Hyperion must know the weight as well as I, for he is always watching. He must feel it in his shoulders, because always his back bends as if pressed by a force we cannot see. When I too clamp my hand onto the rail, so close our hands are a hair's breadth apart, Hyperion doesn't look away from the bottomless nothing below us.
"I don't want to fall," he says.
I think of falling. I think of the Olympians, my nephews and nieces. I think of the bitter fate of sons killing fathers, as though there is no other way. The curse of family: that we both love and despise one another for bringing us into or keeping us in this world. I imagine what it would be like to jump. The way the air would pull my skin tight like I were newly born again, stretched like fresh leather. The pit drop in my stomach. The wind whipping my hair like a dream I've had every month my whole life. Nothing below or above me but air. Free.
"It can't be helped," I say.