I waited a long time for the morning to come. I found it difficult to sleep and so I watched television instead. It is a novelty to have one which works properly.
My leg has improved. I no longer experience the searing pain I did previously. However, as I do not wish to use the device anymore, I do feel some pain constantly now. Perhaps it did not work entirely by magic. I consider building my own version at some point. For now, I am too distracted. I stare at the television and wonder how many of my memories really happened and whether I really am the person I think I am.
I examine the label on the small plastic bottle of pills I retrieved from the bathroom cabinet.
A voice comes from behind me. “Is that the unimportant medication you were talking about?”
I sigh, but do not turn around. “It is very rude to appear in someone else’s residence without invitation.”
Circe does not apologise. “I was nearby, so I thought I would come and see you.”
“I doubt that.”
“Anyway, why am I taking lessons in etiquette from you? You travelled six thousand miles to sleep here last night rather than stay in the same building as your family.”
“I like Florida. So I came here. Soon I will return.”
“Forgetting the time difference, of course, which means you left Olympus in the evening and arrived here at two in the afternoon. It also means you will head back home this morning, which will really be the afternoon. That makes this slightly ridiculous.”
“It is hardly my fault the Earth is a sphere. I believe some argued against it at the time.”
Circe sits, uninvited, on the sofa across from me. She has reappeared because it suits her. This is what people do. They leave when it suits them and come back when it suits them. It has been a long time since I allowed myself to be bothered by such behaviour.
She looks at me and smiles briefly before narrowing her eyes on the small plastic bottle I am holding. “You’re going to take them?”
“Yes. Is that your concern?”
“No, not at all. I was just wondering. Carry on.”
“I will. Thank you.”
I open the bottle and she interrupts me again. “It’s just that surely you would be better with a treatment that is less primitive and more likely to work.”
“You are referring to your powers? No, thank you. But if you are keen to use them to help, there are some dirty dishes in the sink you could take care of if you know an appropriate spell.”
“Now, who is being rude?”
“Just trying to lighten the mood.” I shake two pills into my hand. Just as I am about to take them, Circe feels the need to interrupt again.
“Wait. Don’t you want to know why I left?”
I answer honestly. “Not really.”
She waves her wand, and I watch helplessly as I drop the pills back into the bottle and replace the lid.
I am irritated. “Now, that was rude.”
“We should talk.”
“That is easy for you to say. Perhaps if it was your leg that was painful, you could make the decisions about medication and conversation.”
She waves her wand again, and the pain in my leg disappears. At the same time, I hear her grunt, and her hand goes to her leg. She takes a deep breath and puts her wand away. She grits her teeth briefly as she places one hand on the arm of the sofa and the other beside her. “Happy now?”
“You are being ridiculous.”
Her body shudders, and she inhales slowly. “I’m just getting you to talk to me. You said if my leg was painful, it would be my decision. My decision is that we talk.”
I sigh loudly. “Fine. Talk.”
She closes her eyes briefly before continuing. “It smarts a little, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.”
“I left in a hurry after we met in the hotel room.”
The three words I’m sorry that… are missing from the start of the sentence. I am guessing she does not apologise very often. “You did.”
“It took a lot out of me. It always does. I had to think about some things, and I…” Her voice trails off as her eyes close. “Wow, that hurts. I had to decide what to do next.”
“You can pass it back. It is fine. Really, I’m used to it.”
“Why don’t you let me take it away?”
“With magic? I understood there was always a price to pay for using it.”
“That’s not strictly true. Anyway, nobody says you have to be the one to pay it.”
“You mentioned a decision?”
“Is it a secret?”
“No. I have decided to help you. We will fix whatever has been done to you, somehow.”
This seems an odd decision. “I thought you were already helping me?”
She shrugs. “Well, that was because Hera told me to. Now I will help you because I want to help you.”
“Is there a difference?”
She smiles. “Oh, yes. A large one. I am looking forward to our day trip to the Underworld. I would say it is time to leave.”
My mother said specifically that it was not a day trip, but I do not correct Circe. She apologises before passing the pain back to me and telling me not to take any of the pills. I do not answer her. That is my decision to make. She disappears, and I am left alone.
After a moment’s thought, I return the pills to the bathroom cabinet before following her.
We wait for some time on the bank of the Styx. Everyone is there already. If I did not know better, I would conclude they have all attempted to arrive early, lest others arrive first and talk about them in their absence.
As we wait for the ferryman, Ares mutters something. I find it more irritating than hearing him speak, surprisingly.
“What is it?”
“Why did Hades put cameras all around the Underworld without checking if they were secure? Why didn’t he ask me?”
I can think of several reasons. He is standing gazing across the river, his features set in what I suspect he imagines is a suitably heroic expression. He is such a ridiculous person.
Circe looks nervous, which I find hard to understand. “You don’t like the Underworld?”
Everyone looks at me. Circe says, “Most people don’t like the Underworld. But, if you must know, it’s not the Underworld, not exactly. It’s Charon. He freaks me out.”
The ferryman? “Oh. I quite like Charon.”
Everyone looks at me again. Ares makes a strange face. “You like Charon?”
Why wouldn’t I like Charon? “Yes. Why not?”
Clio looks at me quizzically. “He doesn’t speak, does he?”
Ares shakes his head. “No, he doesn’t. Does he speak to you, Circe?”
“No, he doesn’t speak to me. I can’t even sense anything from him. He doesn’t speak to anyone.”
Doesn’t he? I think about it for a moment while looking across the Styx for the ferrymen to come for us. “I suppose he doesn’t. I hadn’t noticed.”
There is silence, and I turn around to find everyone is still looking at me, each with the same strange expression. “What?”
Ares’ face doesn’t change. “Nothing. Never mind.”
I shrug and turn back round to see the ferry heading towards us. We each hand our drachma to Charon, and it disappears into the folds of his cloak.
They all sit in silence as he takes us across the Styx. I lean back and look at the ferryman. His head is down as he concentrates on his task.
“Busy day today?”
There is no answer.
“I suppose it is not often you get four immortals at a time as passengers? It must be an interesting job, all the different people you meet. People aren’t really my thing, of course. Just give me solitude, my forge, and my automatons. That is usually company enough for me.”
His head does not rise.
“I don’t think I could do your job. All the people. And it’s so cold here. No wonder you wear that cloak. Aphrodite would always tell me I kept the house too cold. They say women feel the cold more than men, of course. It’s interesting, but there’s no evidence of that if you look at the literature on thermal comfort. I have. There is no evidence. It’s just an impression. Of course, you would have to look at clothing, whether it’s comparable between women and men. They don’t always control for these things. A lot of the research is done in office settings. Hard to control for that there. Maybe there is room for more rigorous research.”
Charon continues with his work, pushing the pole that propels the boat across the Styx.
“I suppose with you doing physical work all day, you don’t feel the cold as much. The muscles generate heat, of course.”
The ferry reaches the other side.
“Thank you, Charon. Nice to see you again. I always enjoy our conversations.”
I stand up and find the others are still seated, all looking at me with the same expression as before, except this time, their mouths are open. I frown at them. “What?”
Ares gets up, shaking his head. “Oh, nothing. Let’s go.”
And so we proceed to meet Hades.