I left Olympus the next morning. Other than the occasional visit, I’ve not returned until now. Instead, I went out into the world among the mortals. I wanted to know them better and, I suppose, to make amends somehow for the lives I cost. While I could do nothing to save Calantha or Spiros, I think that I sought some form of redemption by helping other humans. In that way, I hoped to fill the black space in my chest, where my heart once beat so fiercely for a certain god.
Speaking of hearts, isn’t it that time of year when mortals celebrate love with tokens to one another? Valentine’s Day. Those little candy hearts imprinted with messages and the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate remind me of a time long, long ago when I embodied a confectioner and learned to fashion uniquely shaped candies by hand.
I had taken up residence in a sweet mortal, who had to care for her sickly mother and three very young siblings. Her mother, a prostitute by trade, was ravaged with disease and unable to work. For that matter, she was barely able to care for herself, let alone the ragamuffins that ran wild in their one-room hovel. The father, or fathers, were unknown. But the eldest daughter, Aurelia, was industrious, crafty, and had a natural gift for cooking and baking. Her specialty was sweetmeats, or candies as they have come to be known.
She would stay up late into the night, making goods that she’d sell from her hand baskets at the marketplace. Between the baked goods sales and the coins she lifted from the pockets of those who ventured too close, she was able to feed her family, pay for the rent on their tiny shack, and buy the ingredients for the next day’s bakery items. It was a hand-to-mouth existence that I intended to change.
The plan was simple. I would help her envision and create spectacular confections that would gain her a degree of notoriety. Then, I’d use my skills to influence those with means to patronize her and eventually get her set up in a proper shop where she could earn a decent income to care for her family.
One evening, we were making specialty candies fit for a queen – a goddess queen. Hera, my own mother, to be specific. I’d planned to make little peacock shaped dainties, to send as a gift the next time Hermes came bearing news from Olympus.
Sadly, the test batch looked more like deformed, angry, blue and green ducks. Those would simply never do for my mother. You don’t send the queen of the gods ugly gifts, no matter how tasty they may be. Not being wasteful of the hard-earned ingredients, I reformed my ugly ducklings into a ball to try again. As I worked the doughy mixture, the colors blended together and the candy turned to a shimmery, albeit dreary, pale black.
“Black like my heart,” I mused aloud.
My mind wandered back to my failed attempt to attract the god who had unknowingly captured my now-wrecked heart, all of those years ago. Lost in my thoughts, I reworked the dough as I remembered little endearments and mannerisms. His gentle smile. His quiet demeanor. His habit of chewing on mint leaves. I stood at the rustic wooden table remaking the sweets, one after another. I rolled and sliced, pressed and formed. When I finally snapped out of my reverie, I was surprised to see that I’d formed hundreds of little ebony hearts.
That’s when I struck upon an idea. I knew just who I’d send them to. As a finishing touch, I placed a single drop of peppermint oil onto each one.
I then set about making fresh batches of bonbons for Mamá. I made some for Nike, too, forgoing any elaborate designs until we were more skilled. When I was done, I carefully wrapped the boxes of candy with plain brown paper, securing them with a lovely red ribbon that Aurelia had lifted from a notions vendor in the marketplace. As a finishing touch, I fashioned little gift tags that I attached to the ribbon.
To Mamá – “Fit for a Queen.”
To Nike – “Little Treats for Little One.”
And the last tag read – “Made with love.”
Using the last of the brown paper, I wrote a note to each. To Mamá, I wrote about the mundane existence of mortals in the city where I was living and promised to visit soon. To Nike, I offered words of encouragement and invited her to visit, though I knew she wouldn’t leave the Mount. To the god, I told him of my affections and asked that he write me back, if he found that he had a soft spot in his heart for me, too. I then rolled each note and tucked it beneath the crisscrossed ribbons on each package.
The very next day, Hermes arrived bearing notes from both Mamá and Nike, as I expected. We had been exchanging monthly messages for many years by then.
Hermes spied the packages and asked, “Are these to be sent back to Olympus?”
I nodded. “Two of them. The third one may be a bit out of your way.”
He read the names of the recipients, arched a brow then pouted. “No one ever sends me gifts. Me. The messenger,” he huffed petulantly.
I smiled indulgently and wandered over to the table to gather a dozen candies for him. Wrapping them in a small parcel of soft cloth, I secured it with the last remnant of the red ribbon and presented the token to him. “For you, Hermes. I do hope you like them.”
He smiled faintly and nodded. “Still an afterthought, but I thank you for that, at least.”
He picked up the third package and stared at it for a long time. Scowling, he mumbled an off-handed remark about sweets for a swine. Stunned at his vitriol towards such a gentle soul, I asked that he repeat what he said for surely, I misheard him. He merely shook his head, then abruptly scooped up the three packages and left.
I am suddenly feeling sad recounting this memory, so let me wrap it up this way. Long story, short. While I did hear back from Mamá and Nike, who were both thrilled with the treats, I never did hear back from him.
I had to accept that no answer was still an answer. That’s when I finally let go of my silly notion of finding love, when I stopped chasing that dream.
Well, this story certainly took a dark turn, didn’t it? Allow me to rectify that.
The good news is, we sold the rest of the black peppermint hearts in the market for a nice price and demand grew for Aurelia’s candies. We finally perfected the peacock shaped candies and created another that looked like the golden wings of Victory herself. Her candies soon became a great success and while her family never lived in the lap of luxury, they did have a comfortable, happy life. After her mother passed, she and her brothers and sisters moved into a larger home. Aurelia eventually married and had lovely children of her own. She found both success and love.
And that was good enough to warm the edges of my own black heart.