That night, as I sit alone in my hotel room, things are as bad as they have ever been. I concentrate on the pain in my leg. Why is it now so bad again after years of improvement? I cannot say. Could it be the travel? The climate here? In truth, over the years, I have grown tired of attempting to find reasons. In these periods, it is always tempting to find some kind of logic to it. It will be better when I am less busy. It will be better when winter is over. It will be better when the hot weather passes. It will be better when I am more active. It will be better when I get more rest. It will be better tomorrow. Yet tomorrow doesn’t always come.
I sit in a chair, watching the news channel as it expounds upon all the myriad ways that the mortals have found to cause each other suffering. It does not distract me sufficiently. I exhale, and I find that my breath emerges with a moan of pain. Perhaps I should try to sleep through it. But how can I?
The pain takes different forms. Tonight it feels as if a spike has been driven through my lower leg. I am not sure I can stand, and I have no desire to try. I close my eyes and pant, trying to control my breathing. I inhale deeply and hold it, breathing in and out slowly. Over and over, I repeat the process, but there is no magical result. I am still me. I am still alone in this room, still in agony. I reach for my phone. Why? Who do I have to call? Who would understand? Who would care?
I cannot think straight. Has the pain ever been this bad? I grip my leg pointlessly. There is nothing to see, nothing to feel. Somehow it would be better if holding it made the pain worse, if I had some degree of control. Instead, it feels as if the pain is coming from deep inside it, from somewhere I cannot affect.
Is someone doing this to me? I reach down to my sock and grasp the handle of the dagger I have taken to carrying with me. I tell myself that if someone is coming for me I am not defenceless. For a moment, I consider the result if I were to cut off my leg below the knee. Would that end the pain? Would it be replaced by a different pain? Would it be worse? How could that be possible? Maybe the pain would remain, even after my lower leg fell to the floor. The phantom pain would be left behind, hanging in the air, still torturing me.
I pick up my phone again. Who can I call? Nike? She would sympathise, but I fear I would find that irritating, and she would hear it in my voice. That would not be fair on her. I would not wish to upset her. Everyone is likely busy in any case. They will be sleeping or out enjoying themselves. Only I suffer like this. Hephaestus the Wretched.
At least a mortal could pray for relief. Who should I pray to? I must make do with more practical remedies. I reach for my briefcase on the table beside me. It catches in the side of the chair and slips from my grasp. I curse as it hits the floor. I reach down for it, straining not to move my leg. Eventually, my fingertips find it and, with some effort, I haul it up onto my lap. With shaking fingers, I manage to open it and find the white plastic bottle within. I hold it to my chest with one hand and push the briefcase to the floor with the other.
I struggle to open the bottle, cursing and panicking before the lid pops off. How many should I take? I am supposed to take no more than six. I have already had eight. What do I fear? I cannot overdose. Can I? I don’t think I can. Could I fall asleep and not wake up? A wave of agony emanates from my leg, and I wonder if it would be such a bad thing. I put the thought out of my mind and shake four tablets into my hand. I have no water, but I do not care. Afterwards, I stare at the ceiling, breathing slowly and loudly as I wait for them to take effect. If I was mortal, I would most certainly be offering a prayer to someone.
It is unfair. Why must I be the one to endure this? Why must I live in pain, alone, ugly, and unloved? Why do others get to enjoy existence? I am so tired, in every sense. So very tired. At last, I feel the pills take effect unless it is my imagination. The pain still seems to be there, but I find I care less. Perhaps I can sleep.
My phone is in my hand again. I scroll through my contacts and press a name. I put it on speakerphone, so I do not have to lift it to my head. It rings and rings, but nobody will answer. As always, nobody is coming, and I will not leave a message. There is no point. I feel like the rhythm of the beeping from the phone is lulling me to sleep. Eventually, miraculously, a voice comes down the line. There is noise in the background, more voices and music. They sound like they are at some kind of social event. “Hello? Jeffrey?”
Who? Oh yes, my mortal name. “Adam. I am in Los Angeles—”
“That’s great! We need to meet up! Do you want to meet me at—”
“No. Listen. You mentioned a doctor. For the pain. Can you arrange something for tomorrow? I can pay.”
He sounds concerned. “Are you okay?”
I silently squeeze my eyes shut and focus on each word I have to say so I can try to sound normal. “I am fine. I just thought as I was here it would be a good idea. But it has to be tomorrow.”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll set something up and call you in the morning. It’s done, no problem. You sure you don’t want to come out tonight?”
“Thank you. No, I will call you in the morning.”
I hang up without saying goodbye. It is likely rude, but I cannot sustain the conversation any longer. I let the phone fall to the floor and try to force myself to sleep. The drugs are having some effect. Perhaps things will be better in the morning.
I am almost asleep when I see the figure in the doorway.
It speaks. “Hephaestus?”
I know the voice, but how can she be here? “Aphrodite?”
She walks towards me. “I felt you were in pain. May I sit with you?”
I nod and she sits beside me. My wife is so beautiful. She is my one achievement. I do not know if I should view her that way. Perhaps I should not see her outward beauty above all else. That may be another failure of mine. It is difficult to think of anything I have done correctly within our marriage.
She takes one of my hands, and I smile in gratitude. I can smell her perfume. It reminds me of our home, and I can think of no better distraction.
Another figure appears in the doorway, tall and strong.
I also recognise his voice. “Hephaestus, my brother, are you in pain?”
He is as perceptive as ever. I turn to Aphrodite, too disorientated to be angry. “Why would you bring Ares here?”
She rewards me with a stare of great intensity, but I do not understand its meaning. It is like she is looking deep within me. “He brought me, Hephaestus. He wanted me to come.”
I do not understand. They are together? “Ares brought you? Why?”
She grins and tilts her head sympathetically. It is most unsettling. “Because, you silly thing, we wanted to see you in agony.”
She leans towards me. “You deserve this, Hephaestus. You are not as we are. You never were.”
I try to grab the dagger in my lap, but her hand snaps out and grips my wrist. I find myself unable to move as she puts her face up to mine, contorting as she hisses, “It is coming, Hephaestus. You will see.”
I turn my head to see my brother advancing towards me. I shout in anger as he raises his sword and swings it at my head.
I wake with a jolt, drenched in sweat, the television still gleefully showing me scenes of horror. Aphrodite is not here. Neither is Ares. They never were. A dream. It was all just a dream. I have taken too many of the pills. Was it a dream or a hallucination? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
I grip the dagger, even though I know there is nobody there. I notice the pain has dulled a little more. Is it the drugs? I sense that is the wrong question. The question is not, why is it better? The question is, why has it become so bad recently?
Perhaps tomorrow will bring me answers.