by Dee Caples
Even immortal gatherings after a departure are comprised of guests holding plates of delicacies and vying for the too-few seats. Ops makes an unfortunate choice when she perches on an antique three-legged stool and breaks it to pieces. With a shriek she goes down, splattering red punch all over her lacy pink dress. Roaring with laughter, Shango pulls her to her feet. “Guess you didn’t go on that diet soon enough.”
I move my feet to make way in the crowd as Pan comes by, balancing a platter of grass and ranch dressing on his front hooves, the rear ones clicking delicately on the hardwood floor. I scoot over on the divan but he shakes his head. “No, thanks, I’ll stand.” Trying not to feel hurt, I smolder.
Aphrodite, my wife, glides into the spot, her lean thigh pressing close to me on the right side. That prompts Mut, on my left, to lean forward and give her a big smile. “Hello, my dear. It’s been ages since I saw you.”
Lovely, red lips smile and she politely swallows her bite of fruit before speaking. “It sure has. You don’t look a day over two thousand. How do you do it?” Aphrodite reaches up and brushes a strand of silver hair back. She complains about it but to me there’s no one more beautiful. I’m a lucky god.
Mut sighs. “I’m just sorry we had to meet again under these circumstances.”
“I’m going to miss Athena terribly,” I blubber. “After so many eons, who’d have known she’d decide to join the Starry Host? In an effort to get a grip, I blink and look across the room at Ambrogio, the vampire god, reclining with the grandchildren on his lap.
I listen to the little ones’ chirping voices but it doesn’t do the trick. See, I can’t cry. When I’m upset I put everyone around me in danger. My feet are getting very warm and despite all effort, heat spreads up my legs. Aphrodite pats my thigh. “Hephaestus, you gave me your word.”
Pan’s jaw grinds side to side, chewing his cud. “You need a glass of iced tea?”
Mut rolls her eyes and Aphrodite shoots him a look of censure. A shudder ripples through my body. “No! I’ll be fine!” I smile at my wife and put an arm around her back. “I’ll be fine.”
“Come on, Poppy! Do it!” the female grandchild urges Ambrogio. Her brother echoes the plea but, thankfully, he shakes his head. Surely this isn’t the day for performing magic tricks, even to amuse one’s grandkids. Great entertainment aside, this is hardly the proper venue.
Or is it? Am I the only one mourning Athena? Chipper conversation floats through the air, punctuated by laughter. Old friends hug with the joy of standing in the company of friends unseen for centuries. Hands are being pumped and wings unfurled in a show of unbridled happiness. Does no one care we won’t see Athena until night, and only in spring, at that?
A buzzing figure lands behind me on the back of the couch. One of Aphrodite’s erotes sips her tumbler of moonbeams then rubs her nose and takes flight again. “Careful, old boy,” Mut warns, leaning closer even though smoke is rising from my suit coat. “Osiris won’t thank you if you singe his couch.”
From the direction of the recliner come peals of laughter from the children. Ambrogio has given in and rotted. Quickly forming again, he grimaces a little and raises his foot to reveal a large, gooey spot he’s failed to reincorporate. A couple of deities applaud. “Oh, but that’s okay, huh?” I snort.
The smoke is getting thicker and drawing attention. Aphrodite hands her bowl over and gives me a little push. “Take this to the kitchen. Walk it off.”
I huff and ignore Quetzalcoatl, raising a hand to cover his mouth as I pass. Ganesha gives me a comforting pat on the arm with his trunk and asks, “You all right, buddy?” The bastard thinks I don’t see him wink at Bhudda. I have to get myself under control. It really steams me that immortals are becoming as self-righteous as humans about smoking. It’s not like I can, or should be, expected to hold back. Fire is my power, my strength. I hadn’t asked for this!
Taking a deep, calming breath, I put Aphrodite’s bowl in the sink. The low purr of a classic muscle car approaches the house and blats one more rack of dual pipes before the motor is cut.
A few nymphets and a couple of matronly goddesses squeal like sprites at the feet of Apollo. “He’s here!” Hera trumpets, waving her hands as she runs to the parlor.
I know the sound of that GTO engine and grind my teeth. A cherub floats down, picking a soothing tune on his harp. “Chill out, man,” he advises.
Too late for that. I hurry to the porch and sit on the swing, panting, tasting brimstone on my tongue. Closing my eyes, I listen, my temperature rising. It’s Loki, the last person I want to see. He has no conception of solemnity. My disgust is compounded by hearing the women vie for his attention like he’s some kind of rock star. Worse yet, he’s taken to disguising himself as Tom Hiddleston since the movie Thor came out.
My hair begins to dance with tiny pinpricks of embers the closer he gets. I hear Aphrodite beg him to not start anything. “It’s cool,” he jokes as the screen door squeaks open. I force myself to look at his handsome, grinning face. “Hephaestus! How’s it shaking?”
I scowl. “How do you think? Athena’s gone.”
Loki tries his best to hold a straight face but I can see the corners of his lips quivering. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I know how close the two of you were.” He lifts his long necked bottle of Corona and takes a healthy swig, distilling trails of sweat running down to his fingers.
Lifting a mocking brow, he points back to the kitchen. “Would you like me to get you one?” Faking dismay, he slaps his forehead then puts a hand over his heart. “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”
Flames rise from my shoes and shirt cuffs and I can’t hold back a growl of anger. This guy really knows how to get me hot under the collar.
His mouth falls open with amusement. “You’re still holding a grudge, aren’t you? It was just bocce ball, dude.” He snaps his fingers, ego oozing from his pores. “I know. Let’s settle it over a game of badminton.”
That does it. I roar in fury and combust. Running off the porch into the yard doesn’t cut it. The damage is done. From inside the house comes a shout of “Fire!”and thumping feet. Atalanta runs around the corner of the house, carrying her basket of golden apples. She doubles over, giggling. My embarrassment is complete now. You have no idea of how devastating it can be to have a pretty blond catch you with your clothes burned away. I stand there, mortified, wishing I could die.
Mercury speeds to the rescue, grabbing the water hose to put out the porch roof and swing. My wife pulls me to a safer location. “Can we go now?” I ask. Gods! I sound so whiny!
On the porch Artemis and Poseidon are leading the Greek chorus of merriment at my expense. Aphrodite crosses her arms and glares at me. “I can’t take you anywhere.”