The Weight of Things Forgotten

by Gerri Leen

Mnemosyne lay in the meadow grass, listening to her daughters’ laughter. Nine muses, their voices raised in song, free from care. Except for Melpomene. But she could even make tragedy a sweet thing.

Mnemosyne remembered tragedies that weren’t even hers. And they were never sweet.

She noticed a peacock strutting down the far side of the meadow, felt dismay come over her. Not now. Not today.

The bird let out a harsh cry.

She saw Clio running across the grass; her daughter waved to her.

The bird cried again, the sound impatient.

Mnemosyne got up and walked to the peacock.

Its voice was no prettier than its cry. “My mistress needs your assistance.”

“Why today?” The sun was so bright, the wind sweetly cool.

“She is waiting.”

“Fine.” She was only a Titan, and Hera was the queen of the gods.

The peacock spread his tail, and the sunlit meadow gave way to a shadowed, misty realm. Hera stood between two rivers, wrapped in a white cloak edged with gold.

Mnemosyne walked to her river — the river of memory — rolling by, stormy and dark. Lethe’s river of forgetfulness meandered gently on her other side, light from some unknown source dappling it.

Hera looked up, assessing Mnemosyne. “I need your help.”

“I know. This is about him?” Him = Zeus. Mnemosyne’s lover before he married this beauty who could not hold him.

Hera met her eyes, holding her hands out in a helpless gesture. “I’ve forgotten things. He told me I have. I must have drunk from Lethe.”

“If you’ve forgotten anything, it might have been on your own. The mind can do that. To protect us.”

“I’m a god. We don’t just forget.” Hera knelt down by Mnemosyne’s river, cupping her hands to hold the water.

“Why do you need me here? If you wish to drink, do so.” She knew how this would go, wanted to be somewhere else.

Hera drank. Her expression did not change; she seemed to be waiting for something. Then she laughed — a forced expulsion of air rather than sound. It sounded almost … helpless. “I can’t remember.”

Mnemosyne moved closer, sinking to the ground next to Hera, feeling the cool mist rise up around her. “If it is in you to remember, my river would have found the memory.”

“It was part of me, once. Zeus told me it was.”

“What is it you want to remember?” But she knew. This was part of the game.

“I want to remember what it was like to love him without the anger I feel now. Without the pain of betrayal.”

“Perhaps you never loved him the way you want to remember.”

“Perhaps not. I remember only this pain. It hurts worse now than it did before I drank.”

Hera’s eyes blazed, and a fierce wind came up, blowing water from Mnemosyne’s river in great sheets. But Hera could not stop it from flowing, could not do more than momentarily lower the level. Memory would not be denied.

Lethe’s river began to bubble behind them, and Lethe appeared on the bank, smiling the sinister smile of her mother Eris. “The only way to love a man like Zeus is to start fresh.” She held out a goblet that shone with the same strange light of Lethe’s river.

Hera eyed the offered gift. She seemed to be remembering something. “I’ve done this before. I’ve been here before.”

Mnemosyne looked down. Hera had been here before. And each time, she called her to witness.

“You knew.” Hera stared at her, lovely brown eyes accusing her of betrayals Mnemosyne had never committed.

“I always know.”

“You never hated him, did you? You only loved him. You gave him such beautiful children.” Hera sounded like the little girl she’d never been allowed to be.

Mnemosyne felt her heart go out to her. Wanted to hold her, to comfort her. But Hera would not want that. Right now, she wanted only the truth.

“I never hated him.” But Mnemosyne’s love had been fleeting. She’d been blessed in that.

“Here. Drink.” Lethe leaned over, the goblet finding its way into Hera’s grasp.

For a moment, Mnemosyne thought Hera might not drink, but then she lifted the goblet to her lips. Her face went slack, held the innocence of a child, the expectation of a young woman. She blinked and looked around, as if surprised to find herself in Persephone’s realm. “Where is Zeus?”

There was a flash of thunder, and he appeared, his beard freshly combed, his breath sweet with mint. “My love.”

Hera ran to him, and he wrapped her in a thunder cloud and carried her out of the underworld.

“Why?” Mnemosyne had wondered it before, but she’d never asked. She knew why Zeus wanted it but didn’t know why Lethe helped.

“Even discord gets old,” she heard Eris whisper, her disembodied voice causing a chill down Mnemosyne’s spine. “But to see it start afresh, to feel it take hold — that is a gift I cannot enjoy without my daughter’s help.”

Lethe sighed. “Someday, I will defy you, mother. I will take away all her memories so she won’t remember loving him at all. She’ll finally be free.”

“You say that every time,” Mnemosyne said. The weight of Lethe’s forgotten words settled onto her before they tumbled into her river.

“Do I?” Lethe asked, as she sank back into her own river, a slave to it. But a peaceful one.

Mnemosyne heard Eris’s harsh laughter echoing through the mist and wished herself back to the meadow. The sun shone brightly, taking away the chill from Hades. The peacock was gone, and she saw a gold-tipped cloud that rumbled with thunder.

Hera was getting to know her husband again.

“Mother?” Euterpe ran to her, humming a merry tune as she took her hands. “Come sing with us. Do you remember the song Hermes taught us?”

Mnemosyne nodded. There was nothing she could not remember.

Even if she’d rather forget.

Bio: Gerri Leen has had two short stories published in the Star Trek anthology Strange New Worlds (volumes VII and 9), and a poem in newWitch Magazine.

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