Like a goddess I hover over the text, my hands sliding over the cool smooth pages that are the only body that holds you now. Just black and white print etched between always, even white roads - a recital of deeds as fait accompli - is all that marks the living of your life and the other lives too that my fingers touch as they caress the page.
Did you ever think then of what would happen? That even dead you could touch and be touched far into the unknown future? That when your body long dried and decayed, was at one with the earth, it would nourish the tree that has died and dried to become this paper - all the body that carries you now. Did you think you would rest? Or did you know that touching me, moving me I would touch you; that I would press with my questioning hands on this page and lean with the weight of time behind me so the sweat of my palms would mingle with the text, smudging the firm lines between stories to give fluid to your dry ink? That I would stand long enough for the warmth of my curiosity to burn through my hands drying paper to parchment and to dust so I can make you move again.
Could you imagine I would grasp two firm fists full of the dust and, hands held high, let the grains fall free through the air again, silkily through my fingers, dancing in the breeze, making mounds, taking shape on the ground? Fleshed out once more. Seeing you like that gives body to my thoughts too. Is that how you looked then, taller, more shapely than I had imagined? The physical reality so different from thought.
They say you were a woman of temper and force, but wise and thoughtful. They say it with reverent words, and with detachment. Is that how you felt, detached? Was your famous chastity inviolate? Did it spread and cover your heart as well as your body or were you moved, and touched by the actions, the traumas and the angst of your pawns? Did desire or regret ever temper your games and force you to interfere? Did it push and tear against the web of your will, tearing irreparable holes in the fabric of your life, their lives. Did you love, Athena? Those lines told me nothing.
Odysseus watched, hunched and disheartened yet another grey streaked sunset; not even a hint of pink to give them courage to last another day. Sighing, he hitched the remnants of his cloak over his now bony shoulders and listened to his once brave companions squabbling and bickering behind him. It's hard sometimes to be a hero.
Maybe we should just eat one of the bloody oxen - they can't watch everything we do - and it's more than a body can stand to sit here day after day, week after bloody week, eating leaves and grass and staring at that healthy, full-fleshed herd while we wait for the wind to blow. It's driving me crazy.
It's driven me crazy! I must be mad to even think of it! and you're all mad too! Mad to talk about it, mad, we're all mad, mad, mad with delays and indecisions, mad with the torments of ticks and fleas and flies, crazy with fatigue and the smells and pains of gastro and hunger, sick of being pushed like pawns in their petty games. You know we can't touch a single ox, not one, not even a hair of one without revenge from those meddling megalomaniacs.
How do you think we got here, Heroes? By our own sweat and endeavour? On the currents of our courage? Buoyed by our bravery? Or by wind and whirlpool whipped up by some God or Goddess with a bet on their favourite play-thing, just halted for a day or year without food or shelter by a rival while they argue odds and interference. Go to sleep and forget it; you can't win but you can wait. If you'd wanted regular meals you should have stayed home and fished instead of gambling against the gods. Go to sleep.
And he slept, while his companions clubbed and stabbed to death one of the sea god's sacred cows, tearing and rending its bloody flesh. Wallowing in its blood like silent ghouls, they feasted on its sacred flesh as its blood pumped slower and slower onto the ground, oblivious to the gathering thickness of the air around them - the cloying pressure of the sea god's wrath as he willed the last of their blood and bone. Not to lie in pools and mounds as testimony to their petty lives but to be dispersed and disintegrated until no trace could be left. As they slept the pressure mounted and the first stirrings of the wind brushed across their faces.
Yes I was touched: as the wind stirred his hair, I was moved beyond endurance by the sight of his wretched body, a frail husk of the man I had sent out questing, in cold, jealous rage.
I remembered his body, skin so soft you could die for it, the smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes, the sensuality of his mouth, slightly crooked, and the jauntiness and humour. He gave me his friendship, his respect, admiration, trust and his body but never love, and never the satisfaction of his desire.
So I hated him, and I hated his love for Arachne, my Arachne. The nimble-fingered, witchly weaver, I detested her assumption of regality; my regality, I loathed the power of her assurance and I abhorred her inviolate security in the perfection of her abilities and the way it was reflected in her stance and in the angle of her nose to the sky.
Yet when I saw him on the island asleep, his body all bitten and racked with pain even in his sleep, while around him his companions initiated their doom I knew I couldn't leave him. I knew that when the winds blew up their storm of rage he would never survive alone and the sea god would not spare him.
So yes, I intervened. I went back to Arachne whose ambition was never tempered by emotion; and who had the outline of the shadow of Odysseus traced on her wall near her loom; and who was the only weaver whose fingers could weft through the warp of time - and I begged.
I'll do it for a challenge only, Athena, a challenge for the supremacy of the craft. The man is long gone, and I am alive. I have a life and a living, and I want a crown. Your words and manipulations sent him questing, searching for the glory you said was his; your machinations and web of lies spun his hopes around his head. You blinded him and his followers with the fantasy of adventure.
It is your fault my goddess, your blame, your guilt, and his gullibility. If you want my weaving to save his life I will have your help and your crown. A nine day challenge for your conscience.
Setting the loom is the hardest part; testing the warp, threading the colour, setting the weft. Finding the island with flying fingers, knotting and tying the colours to the frame. The scarlet dawning over their sleeping bodies as the coloured wind wakes them, sending them scurrying for the boat, insanely jubilant, the brown of their bodies against the black of the boat, and the grey-green of the sea, surging and tugging at the anchor.
Gaunt and excited faces, glittering eyes watch the vanishing of Thinacia over the crests of waves as they push away out to sea - Poseidon's sea that swallows them in a tossing morass of darker grey, and cold-blue white-capped tempest. Carefully, quickly the outline of the man Odysseus is unravelled from the wall. Deftly fingers tie Odysseus to the mast, lashing him firmly while the boat is tossed. The red is blood on the deck and red are cuts on the faces of the sacrilegious crew, splitting them, draining them, smashing them, washing them, white lumps onto black sea as the days turn into night again and again. While tired arms, and strained faces, search - tempers fraying - for the stitch in time.
Blackness is his hair plastered on unconscious white face and the colour of his shadow binding him firmly between swollen pink welts. Brown are the decks washed clean of men and blood. Pallid is the deathlike body of Odysseus against the wood, as on the ninth day a tiny tuck is made - spinning him backwards. Meshed and cushioned in a web of clinging threadlike shadows to the deck of the first day. The clean brown deck, alone, alive, Thrinacia bobbing gently on the horizon.
I won Athena, my goddess - he is alive. Remember your promise? Now you must make me the queen of my craft.
"A Stitch in Time" won the Irene Searcy Prize for the Literary Essay, Murdoch University, 1993.
New: 13 December, 1996 | Now: 21 April, 2015