Selective Memory

by Gerri Leen

The wind blew, and Hera stood on the summit of Mount Olympus, looking for Zeus. Far in the distance, she saw a thundercloud, lightning flying across it. Closing her eyes, she concentrated and heard the sound of tinkling laughter and her husband’s hearty cries of pleasure.

“Mother?” Hebe’s sweet voice sounded from behind her.

“Go away. I want to be alone.”

Hebe came to stand next to her and stared out at the cloud. “It’s his nature to stray.”

“It shouldn’t be. Not when we love each other.”

“Why do you act as if it’s the first time, when he does this so often?”

Hera stared at her. When had Zeus ever done this to her?

Hebe’s eyes were full of pity. “Come, let’s take your chariot out.”

Hera tried to ignore the hurt inside her. She was the Queen of the Gods. She would not cry. “Yes, let’s get far away from here.”

Hebe led her to the stables, hooked the horses to the gold and silver chariot. Hera stepped onto it, and the horses pranced nervously, then Hebe jumped in beside her, and they were off. They hit the lowlands, and Hera slashed the reins, sending the horses in the opposite direction from where Zeus hid in the clouds.

The forest gave way to scrub, the green turning to tan. Hera stopped the chariot at a crossroads, felt a familiar shudder take her as she entered Hecate’s realm.

Hebe seemed to shrink in on herself, her normal vivacity squelched in this dying land. “I don’t like it here.”

Hera handed the reins to her daughter and jumped off the chariot, landing with a puff of dust, scattering scorpions and serpents.

“You.” Hecate sat on a rock, her weathered skin and tan robe and dun-brown hair blending into the desert. She rose, the trailing hem of her robe leaving a current of dust in her wake. “You don’t tend to frequent the crossroads unless you want something.”

Hera tried to remember if she’d been here before? She had no recollection of coming to this place, but something in her memories felt incomplete.

Hecate pressed her hand against Hera’s forehead, then dropped it hastily. “What we do to ourselves for love.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No,” Hecate said, walking away. “I know you don’t.”

“I did not give you leave.” But as she said it, Hera had to suppress another shudder. She might be the Queen of the Gods, but Hecate was something else — something older.

“Mother, come away.” Hebe frowned, her young beauty shining like a white flower in the desert.

Hera knew she’d once been as fresh as Hebe, before she’d borne children to Zeus, before her hips had grown rounded and her breasts full and heavy. She glanced at Hecate, thought she saw three faces where there had been one before. A crone, a young girl, and a woman such as herself, ripe with possibility.

“Why do you give away all that you are?” Hecate clapped her hands, and a line of scorpions and spiders followed her as she walked away.

“What did she mean?” Hebe asked as she took Hera’s hand to guide her into the chariot.

“I don’t know. But I know who will.” Hera took the reins, leaned toward the horses, and whispered, “Mnemosyne.”

They raced back over the desert, onto land that grew green and lush. Mnemosyne was alone, lying in a meadow watching the birds fly overhead, turning slowly to watch Hera drive up. She stood, smiling at Hera in what looked like surprise. “My queen.”

Hera left Hebe in the chariot and crossed her arms to keep warm in a breeze gone suddenly chill. “I have forgotten something.”

“Yes?” Mnemosyne looked nervous.

“I’m sure of it. Just as I think I’ve been here before.”

“Here? In this field?”

“Here. At this moment of choice.”

Mnemosyne sighed. Then she nodded.

“Take me to your river.”

“Hera, I—”

“Take me to your river. At once.”

They were suddenly there, standing in a place between two rivers. Lethe’s waters of forgetfulness, so clear and sweet looking. And Mnemosyne’s river of remembering, the water stormy with lost truths.

Hera did not hesitate. She knelt and drank.

The truth hurt. It stung like the barbs of a million tiny bees attacking her heart. Memories flooded her, and she slammed her hand down on the water, causing a huge surge to wash over her and Mnemosyne before it ran into Lethe’s river.

Lethe screamed, rising from the waters as if burned. “You,” she said. “You are early.”

“I am years too late.”

And Lethe smiled. A secret, scary smile, and somewhere in the darkness, Hera heard a scream.

“My mother will be so displeased,” Lethe said, laughing.

“I did this for him.” Hera stared at the river that had given her happiness in the emptiness of forgetting. “But no longer.”

With a thought, she was in the field, striding toward Hebe, who stared at her and said, “Mother, you’re crying.”

“No. I’m not.” Hera wiped her eyes savagely. She was not crying. She would never cry again.

Turning for home, she let the horses pick their way up Mount Olympus.

Zeus was waiting on one of the balconies. “My darling,” he said, taking her in his arms.

She let him hold her one last time. Then she whispered, “You smell of wood nymphs. Of demigoddess. Of humans. Of swans and lovely, willowy creatures who you should not touch. You reek of all of them, my husband. And you make me sick.”

He let her go. “And you reek of Mnemosyne’s river.”

“You prefer I stink of Lethe’s?” Backing away from him, she held her head high. “I can’t stop what you do. I can’t make you a different man. But I can choose what I know and what I don’t.”

The look he gave her was full of hatred, and she imagined it always would be.

She found she could live with that.

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