Well, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day again and I find myself walking the factory floor, followed closely by my assistant, Nick. During this time of the year, my candy company releases very special edition candies – heart-shaped, black peppermints. My mind often wanders back to the moment I first tasted them, those dark and creamy-smooth, minty sweets. Black peppermints would become my favorite candy and a signature confection for my company, Mr. T’s Sweet and Sundae Shoppe.
All production on the floor stops as we arrive. Ever since we opened for business, back in nineteen-eighty, I have sampled the first little black heart off the line. I always strive to recreate the original that was gifted to me so long ago. Black, heart-shaped candies with a hint of peppermint. Of course, I do love peppermint and have since changed the recipe to increase the intensity of the peppermint flavor. These are special to me though, as I said before.
Nick and I reach the end of the conveyor belt where the candies await us and as always, everyone on the factory floor stands around waiting for me to sample one. It is a tradition. I pick one up and run my fingers over its smooth texture. I draw it to my nose, inhaling the faint scent of mint. Just think, we used to take mint leaves and chew them; how uncivilized, how barbaric. I hold the piece up to the light, examining it for any flaws or imperfections. It is a perfect piece and I place it on my tongue, allowing the sweet, yet minty, confit to carry me back to…to…where was I?
Oh, yes. Paris. I was in Paris. I had rented a small room off the Seine River back in the days of horse-drawn carriages and oil lamps. I was, back in those days, Monsieur Thanton, living as a simple baker’s apprentice and of course, carrying out my godly duties. It had been a long day at the bakery, and I had learned much. I came back to my small room, carrying a basket of groceries that I bought from the market. Upon entering, my nose was assaulted by aftershave cologne. Cheap cologne at that, and underlying it was the scent of musk, sweat, and body odor. I didn’t turn to see who it was as I closed the door. I knew who it was from the nauseating aroma.
“Good evening, my lord!” Hermes said in an overly chipper tone.
“Is it a good evening, messenger?” I asked.
“Always! To see you, oh great one! Oh lord of death! Oh…” Hermes began.
I spun on my heel, allowing my shadow to grow large above and around me. Allowing my cold aura to permeate the room. To my pleasure, his jovial, mocking face dropped as his eyes widened and he went down on both knees. I advanced with my shadow and aura and he fell over on his butt, scooting backward until he hit the wall. The look of fear in his wide eyes, instead of his usual glint of mischief, was satisfying to see.
“Enough of you hamming it up. If you were an actor, messenger, you would chew the scenery off the stage, I am sure. Now say what you intended and be gone with you,” I said, lording over him.
Hermes cleared his throat and licked his lips before he spoke. “I have a message from your older sister, Atropos. I bring your list of collections for the evening.”
He held out a sealed envelope that I snatched from his hand. I turned and stepped away, drawing in my shadow and aura at the same time. He rose slowly to his feet, using the wall as support. I tore open the letter and took my pipe from the inside of my suit coat, placing the stem in my mouth. Hermes stood there smiling, with his hand extended and open, waiting to get paid, reminding me of Charon in the Underworld. I dropped two drachma into his outstretched hand.
His smile widened as he placed the gold coins into a pouch on his belt and flew out the open window. He hovered there and bowed to me from the waist, bidding me farewell by saying,
“Have a pleasant evening, my lord. And do remember the city of Paris is for lovers, hand-holding, and kissing. All things you will never know!”
Hermes broke into a fit of laughter as I glared at him from my window. He flew off, still laughing. I thought about flying after him, but I let that go for the time being. I sat at the table, lighting the lamp and my pipe. I began to read over the death list, trying to determine how many clones to make from my feather, and which ones I would see to personally. Somewhere in the distance, Notre Dame’s bells rang out the evening vespers. My eyes fell upon three names: George, Martha and baby Jacques. Off the banks of the Seine, storm surge, wave, drowned at 7:15 pm.
I puffed my pipe and pulled out my pocket watch to see it was a little more than an hour from now. Overhead, thunder rumbled and fat raindrops smacked into my window sill, a sound like knocking on someone’s coffin. I sat back in my chair, puffing my pipe and looking at my scythe, where it leaned in the corner.
“George, Martha and baby Jacques,” I said aloud to the empty room as the storm intensified.
As it happened, the wave took the pram with baby Jacques and Martha into the water. George stood on the riverwalk, crying out for help. To my pleasant surprise, some actually rushed to his aide as she bobbed up and down in the water, attempting to keep the baby above the waves. George, despite the group trying to stop him, declared that he could not live without them. He loved them. He dove into the water to save them. They drowned together as the storm ceased.
I called their souls to me and they rose from the watery depths to stand before me. His arms were wrapped around her as she cradled the baby. They smiled, staring lovingly into each other’s eyes before sharing a kiss. They came with me to the Underworld without so much as an argument, just happy to be with one another. Nothing else mattered. Not how it happened or where they went after, just as long as they were together. I was astonished as much as I was envious of such affection.
I walked back to my room beneath the full moon, thinking of my love for Artemis. She didn’t know it yet, and it would be a century or two before I told her. I felt at peace, basking in the moonlight of my secret love. My heart and I felt light as a feather, a feather floating on a gentle breeze. The broad smile on my face as I strolled was well-known to the city of Paris. It is the smile of every young fool in love.
I returned to my room and once again my nose was assaulted by Hermes’ scent. I groaned as I turned to face him, but the room was empty. On the table in a shaft of moonlight was a box wrapped in brown paper. A red ribbon with a tag tied it off, with a bow on top. I walked over with that foolish lover-smile plastered to my face and ran my fingers over the present. The package and the tag bore the faint scent of perfume that I could just pick up over Hermes’ musk. I pulled the tag off and read it. “Made with love.”
Still smiling, I placed the tag in the breast pocket of my suit coat. Later, I would have the tag framed. To this day, it sits on my desk in my office at Mr. T’s. To this day, it still makes me smile.
Did Artemis send me a gift? I hoped so, but I would be too shy, too nervous ever to ask such a question from my goddess. I delicately unwrapped the package and opened the box. The scent of peppermint wafted out.
“Oh, I love peppermint. Someone knew that!?” I started laughing. Someone actually paid attention to the fact I was always chewing mint leaves.
Inside the box were black, heart-shaped candies. Black peppermints. I took one of the smooth mints out and placed it in my mouth. It was Elysium! I was in Elysium! I never knew such sweets could exist. My heart soared and from that day forward, I always had black peppermints with me. Every time I taste one, I feel like I did then.
It truly is Elysium. A simple gift that always brings back that sweet memory. The gift of knowing that I was important to someone. That I mattered. And, my heart soars all over again.
I sit at my desk now, my reminiscing coming to an end. I approved the mints and the production line on the floor was humming along once again. Holding the framed tag in my hands, I continue to read it, as I have read it time and time again.
I slip another black peppermint into my mouth, then read the words aloud. “Made with love.”
But whose love? Made by whom? It is an enduring mystery in my life.