BABY, WOULD YOU TAKE THE BULLET FOR ME?
Deborah Di Bari
Time had run out. Decked by hubris, Admetos dropped on the mattress. Comatose from too much champagne? He had had much to celebrate these past years. A new pregnancy had followed the birth of a son. The girl was born before the boy’s first birthday, with another possibly on the way. Alcestis’s breasts had been giving milk as her belly transported his heirs.
Her arms, marble to his touch, clutched her knees. Dawn tinted the windowpane pink. Sunrise sculpted the nightgown to her body. Nothing would go with her. Alcestis, rigid with resolve, did not wake him. Apollo agreed to come after lunch. She had found a volunteer.
One morning, Apollo came to visit. He stayed in the guesthouse. Apollo was doing time for murder. The jury of his peers had given him a lenient sentence for the revenge killing of the lackey that had killed his son. The order came from the top. His son had raised the dead from gutters and shelters. His son’s words had healed wounds of despair. The gutters and shelters emptied. The authorities attempted to close down his son’s private, no-fee clinics that distributed condoms, abortion, wellness, and socialist theories. Voter rolls swelled in the lead up to state-controlled elections.
The news had come in fragments. Multination. Pack of Rottweiler. Lone wolf. Dead at the age of twenty-nine. Healer. Radio, flat screen TV, print media, already gone to press, sent e-mail alerts to subscribers.
02:30 AM EST Thursday, December 3, 482
Asclepius, son of oracle god Apollo, dead after dog attack outside lower eastside clinic
Asclepius was said to have been raising the dead in the name of the father. Unconfirmed reports say his powerful grandfather, Zeus, arranged the attack as a last resort to hold onto his power over life, death, and conception with mortal women.
Talk radio proclaimed Asclepius, the leader of the Medusa blood cult and child molestation, had been murdered during a homosexual rendezvous. The tabloids inflamed opinion at supermarket checkouts until her decision became the news.
Evidence showed Apollo had flown across the globe, gathering information along the way. He then took the car, waiting on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport, to the dog trainer’s home. His trademark gold tip arrows were found in the bodies of man and beasts. Apollo was given seven years of living and laboring for a mortal. A boy sponsored by one of the few remaining immortals, Admetos had been the last to arrive at Alcestis’s bridal games.
Her blood scent carried on a downdraft. The suitors howled. His doeskin boots crumpled around his ankles. Alcestis’s father doubted Admetos’s ability to protect his company from hostile bids. A hostile take-over from North or South could change his status from CEO to criminal. June breezes carried sweat and musk high up to her loft. The unmistakable fragrance like the stallions in father’s stable aroused her ambivalence. Alcestis stumbled from bed to balcony. She reclined on bed and chaise, hearing her mother’s sibilant Alcesstissss blowing through the women’s quarters. She watched the negotiations on the closed-circuit monitor in her sitting room. North, bent by frigid blasts had years on her father. South frisky as a cub intoxicated on male pheromones. East lumbered on feet thick as bacon slabs. West, yes perhaps, West could have done.
How long before another marriage to a prominent man cut short her grieving? Lands are wed. Women were conveyances, voluptuous, fertile vessels of hope. She had gyrated in her father’s orbit. Sitting on his knee, she watched his mouth shape her fate. His finger pressed to her lips had silenced her protest. Alcestis, your marriage will form a powerful business alliance. Everyone will benefit, even you.
Her husband’s exhale splintered his rib. The jagged bone grazed his lung. Death’s finger poked beneath his plump feathers. The conference of practitioners sent an envoy to deliver the final verdict. His time had come. A volunteer had to be found sooner rather than later. Admetos, struck by his immortal patron’s limitations, had petitioned the two people certain not to refuse his request. He selected two hourglasses from his collection. Gold to represent his father’s age; the piece with pearl encrusted handles, his mother’s. The hourglasses’ upper bulbs three-fourths and two-thirds empty sat beside an egg timer. Everyone understood the plastic kitchen timer’s meaning. Clenching life’s pinky finger, both refused the voluntary opt-out. Alcestis reached for the ticking egg timer lying in the sand at her feet. Her earring moved by the whisper blowing at the back of her neck. Through the humid night, her head down on her knees set in stone. The rescued man slept. His doeskin boots limp in moonlight and starlight. After his death, what would remain? Admetos in a grave…
Paparazzi’s cameras whir and clack. Flashes illuminate silent gaps. The pundits chatter pros, cons, and improbable odds. How far would she go? We’ll tell you more and give you the top stories we are following after this.
Erectile dysfunction and bladder control pharmaceuticals, a public service message about smoking, insurance, assurance, something to cure everything, all in slow motion perfection and a piece on the Mediterranean diet’s efficacy on longevity, the montage. Her image on the screen, markers of happiness and success pulled from the archives and spliced together: wedding day, childhood photo with her father, her infant son curled on pregnant belly, a family portrait with a toddler in each of their laps. The black-and-white, nude cover shot, the constant backdrop to speculation. The original sits on her dressing table in a borderless crystal frame. Backs to the camera, faces in profile, lips just about to touch, Alcestis mouth tilted up to his. The photo taken in Sicily hit the newsstands as they sailed in the Port of Volos.
Breaking News: This from the news desk.
Death has arrived. Hold on, we have live video. Hank Lauders is just outside the gate of couple’s palace. What’s going on there, Hank?
Well, Fred. Just a minute ago, Apollo, on his way out to avoid pollution met at the palace gate. Apollo made a last-ditch attempt to persuade Death to spare Alcestis’s life until old age.
The two deities exchanged words. It looked for minute as if there would be a struggle. The authorities held back the crowds, and we couldn’t get our cameras close enough, but in the end it seems Death has prevailed for now. Death entered the palace.
Scissors slice cloth and hair. Camera shutters blink open and close—grief at metallic speed. He stumbles loss-nauseated. Thick neck vessels on shorn heads, women in tattered garments, throats raw from lament. Her husband stranded with the living, follows her shrouded corpse.
What had made her do it?
What tipped her over the edge?
The children are safe, not like the last time.
Medea was a witch.
What is the story with these foreign women?
The dead are silent.
She had clothes and homes, everything money could buy.
She had a happy marriage. Had anyone asked her?
Ask Alcestis such a ridiculous question?
Do you ask the sky’s cloudless reflection on the calm sea if it is a lovely day?
She was lucky.
Burnt meat and lament—houseguests, pranksters, and demigods trample Alcestis’s flowerbeds.
Alcestis should have pitied her husband. She should have refused Death’s seduction.
Pity is what killed her.
Husbands will expect their wives to follow Alcestis’s example.
Baby would you take the bullet for me?
See what I mean.
Breaking News: This from the news desk.
In what appears to be another bizarre development in Alcestis’s ever-evolving and bizarre story, it seems Heracles, the famed Gold Medalist, showed up unannounced some hours ago, after the funeral. Sources close to the grieving family have said The Gold Medalist disappeared after one of the staff confronted him for defiling Alcestis’s memory with his drunken revelry. Ah, Hank what can you tell our viewers about this strange twist?
Ah, that’s right Frank, the Gold Medalist showed up about an hour after Admetos had returned home from the gravesite. My sources say Admetos, caught between grieving and hospitality codes, had not revealed the true identity of his deceased. The Gold Medalist believing it some foreign staff member, went to the recently vacated guesthouse where Apollo had stayed in exile, if you remember, and well partied in the manner he is famous for.
Ah, Hank does anyone have any idea of the Gold Medalist’s whereabouts? Is he—
Hold on Frank, we have just gotten word the Gold Medalist has returned; this is really strange, with a woman?
The Gold Medalist leads a barefoot woman on a rope. Grave silent. The tattered and shorn chorus part. Admetos sits in the center hall cleared of mirrors and furniture. Apollo had served his time. Death had come and gone with his prize. The two had crossed paths at the gate. Admetos extends a hand to greet his guests. Here, she is yours.
What is this friend? Have you brought a gift? The chorus misses their cue. The digital clock ticks off the hours of mourning. His hands pried from her grave’s gate. He never asked her to die for him. He did beg for her to stay. Witness accounts are inaccurate.
Death cheated you my friend. You should not have allowed me to stay. You said your mourning was for the Mexican babysitter.
How could I say I buried my wife? I had mastered the words when you arrived. I know them now. Alcestis is dead. Apollo failed to negotiate new terms.
I need a favor, can you give this woman a safe place until I return?
I just buried my wife.
This woman took the bullet for her husband.
Death has changed her.
Why is she silent?
She has secrets. Give her a few days.
Is she ill?
Time heals all wounds.
What do I say?
Early daylight shadows parade along the walls. She attracts the dead and repels the living. Resurrection confuses her senses. Sworn to newborn secrecy, words fall stillborn from her mouth. The dead do not come back, only the dead know why. Death stalks Alcestis. He clings to her in fragments after waking. Her skin chaffed. She melted in the glacial river. Death is greedy. He took the coin and hung the embryo from a branch to grow thick and sweet. Lava. Snail. Rabbit. One-cell existence. Unmade and made. Was someone calling? She wished the living would stop calling out her name.
Who invited him here? Had he come for a fight? Trouble followed the Gold Medalist like a shadow. He snatched her. A hairline crack—she dropped like a feather from Thanatos’s wing. She had barely tasted Styx water.
Stroke victims communicate with their eyes, one blink for no, and two for yes. No one dares to penetrate her silence under suffocating layers of white tulle.
Lament struggles with abrupt reversal. The doo-wop chorus cannot agree on the right note for resurrection.
How’s this, Baby, come back.
I came back.
I did forget.
Baby, would you take the bullet for me?
Alcestis is one of a handful of wives resurrected after death. If she can maintain her silence for three days, she will be the first to succeed. No one remembers rebirth. No one will attend to the resurrected. The two women famous for attending the resurrection call Alcestis a fraud. The cables soon drop the story; Baby, would you take the bullet for me? is last week’s lead. The new lead is the Gold Medalist’s world breaking downhill slalom against time. It has better visuals. The paparazzi decamped to the limelight.
Maia washes the oily milk coating Alcestis’s purple skin tinted green like autumn plums. She rubs at the stubborn love bite on Alcestis’s right shoulder. Her fingers tangle in Alcestis’s honey-mated dreads. Alcestis reaches in silence for the mementoes dropped on the floor. Admetos watching from the shadows reminds Maia of her cuckolded father.
Alcestis pecks like a bird, sparrow or chick at its shell. Maia slaps her hand worrying the hole in the veil. I see now where your toddler daughter comes by her willfulness. She pins ivy leaf brooches to the shoulders of vernal equinox voile. Alcestis, had she been able to voice her opinion, would have chosen bacchanal crimson to give her complexion a lifelike glow.
She is sitting in the sun beneath a gauzy canopy. Alcestis rocks her cradled arms side to side. Rills run from her frost caked lashes. Time passes, if it passes at all. Alcestis places her hand over her heart. Maia agrees to bring the toddlers when her color is brighter. Alcestis gaps with fragments she picked up. What came first her soul or body? What comes next?
Alcestis, was Death a considerate lover? Did you enjoy his caresses? Is that why you willingly went to him? You know I would have been fine if you had stayed buried like any other wife. I have kept my promise. No woman can ever replace my Alcestis, not even you. Admetos stamps out of the bedroom. He does not want to know about life after death. Since her return his doeskin boots do not crumple near her side of the bed in the moonlight and starlight.
Alcestis wakes in a parallel space, between tissue-thin barriers. His fear resonating through her bone, flesh, and sinew. Admetos had excited her girl hunger. No Goth girl chasing death, she just preferred the grave to another marriage.
Alcestis hides the chronicle of her death under the furs stored in cedar chests, in shoes and bags on shelves, and in closets of clothing. Husbands tend to destroy or edit their dead wives’ journals. She watches herself bend and stand and kneel in choreographed ritual. How else will her resurrection be complete?
She bangs her fist against the wall to show signs of life. Sheets scented with asphodel perfume. The sun rises. Her cycle spots the sheets. In her solitude, her room rises and drops with the rhythm of marching feet. Helen, radiant myth, squeezes Alcestis’s hand until the blood drains. She holds her free hand up to block the glare from the sea of shields, breastplates, and helmets. Helen’s husband ravaged Troy to reclaim her. Admetos eases his rigid body into bed beside Alcestis after sunset. She died for him. Now she must live for herself. Admetos’s index finger pressed to her mouth maintains her silence. Alcestis holds up three fingers. He folds one down each remaining dawn.
A yellow film floats on the claret’s surface. The second day after the accident, bile runs in thick black cords. In the middle of the third night she wakes in rush of sighs, sighs—suffocating sighs.
The expectation of her first words throws her home into chaos. The shorn and tattered women cover their heads with tulle scarves. They wash graffiti from walls and tear posters off official buildings. Baby, would you take the bullet for me? The women tell their husbands to remember. The men ask their wives to forget. Paparazzi, cameras, and sound equipment crowd the west gate.
The Pleiades point her to the hour. The heavens feast and mourn; someone has died, wed, a fetus breaks through luminous membrane. The resurrected dead are too few to number. Alcestis’s lips part. Her toddlers’ names balance on the tip of her tongue. Her voice returns on schedule. Words bruise her mouth. She finds a new way to use them. The sweetest morsels taste like alms. She names the world anew blue/tart, water/life, milk/contraceptive. Alcestis slips the last line she wrote in silence into the crystal picture frame on her dressing table. A mother gives her newborn the gift of birth and death. The first cry follows the last gasp.