Linda stared at the words scratched on the faded yellow parchment. A corner of her lip curled as if pulled by string. The scribbles were simple things joined together in compound and complex sentences.
She hated all of them.
Linda shoved the papers off the desk. Next flew the ink well across the room. Black ink splashed onto her arm, karma ever quick to strike.
“Curses,” she hissed under her breath as she fetched a towel from the rack at the hearth.
Nothing clicked today. Words usually flowed like music from her hand. Today they were flat and discordant. She puckered her lips.
Everything I write is garbage. And, always will be.
Why had she bothered to leave bed? The soft straw mattress had been her savior during a week of active procrastination. Disappointment dogged her from sunrise to sunset.
Linda searched the single room house for any inspiration. The hearth was on one end, the front door on the other. Her mattress laid in another corner, the wooden writing desk opposite it.
Damn, I’m poor, she thought. Not that she was in it for the money. She was an artist and an intellectual gatekeeper. Without her, only the Gods knew what kind of simpletons would infect her city. The people of Thebes depended on her as their poet laureate.
A thoroughly thankless role.
One that had not showered her with gold dinars or offered a retirement plan.
Linda raised her chin. She was vital to the artistic community, sans frills.
One by one she returned the sheets of parchment to the desk then fetched the ink. She sighed at the minuscule amount of ink left in the well. Where would she find the money to buy more?
Getting comfortable, she smoothed down her tunic. She tucked strands of coal black hair behind her ears. With a hand poised to begin, Linda inhaled a deep breath and stared at a blank page.
… Nothing came.
Rolling her neck, she tried again.
She shook out her hands, rubbed her fingers.
One more time.
… Nothing came to mind. It was as empty as the paper.
Panic fluttered in her chest. What if she couldn’t write anymore?
If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
Air froze in her lungs. Linda buried her face in her hands.
It’s over. I’m over, and it’s mother’s fault.
Her inability to create started with the damnable letter. She went to the bed, and then pulled out the letter hidden beneath.
Days before a courier raven had dropped off a letter from her mother. After she had plucked the scroll from the bird’s delicate leg, it fled from her hand. Instead of flying out, it smashed into the wall only a finger length from the open window. The poor thing flopped on the floor for almost a candle mark before it had died.
Now, she couldn’t write. Not a single verse or turn of phrase fluttered from brain to fingertips.
Linda reread the scroll. Some mothers excelled at cooking, others at sewing. Hers had the gift of guilting. Every line gouged Linda’s psyche.
We missed you at the memorial, dear. Your father would have been wounded. The whole family was there, except you. Try to make the baby’s naming ceremony.
Linda crushed the paper in her hand. The last place she wanted to be was at her brother’s second child’s naming ceremony. A temple brimming with screaming babies and gossiping ladies wasn’t for her. She was busy with her work and her home.
Linda paced in a circle around the house. The walls grew closer together. She smacked her foot on the desk. Her toe throbbed with pain. Room to pace grew smaller. She stood still. There was no place to move. Her meager furniture squeezed in on all sides.
She shook her head. Blood rushed in her ears.
You’re being silly.
She rung her hands. I didn’t attend the memorial because I had to work.
Her father always supported her creativity. He would have understood.
“Such a pretty girl,” voices from her past spoke in her head. Everyone and sundry had expected her to marry well. Birth a brood larger than her mother’s. It never mattered how pretty her brothers were. Her clear, pale skin, blue eyes and curly hair was the envy of the village girls. And, the bane of Linda’s existence. Seeing the despair on her face when her brothers left for tutoring, her father bought her ink and paper. He had taught her to read. Encouraged her love of languages. He’d helped her with chores so she’d have time to sneak in one more stanza before bed.
Tears rolled down Linda’s cheek. I missed my father’s funeral.
A gasp turned into a sob. Salty tears dribbled into her mouth. She had never felt so alone.
Outside her window, a cloud blew passed the midday sun. Thebes’ stone battlements stood further down the road. The walls stretched higher than any tree in the surrounding forest.
Linda squared her jaw. They can do without me for a few days. She sniffled. If I leave before dawn tomorrow, I’ll make the ceremony in time.
With the decision made, a knot unraveled in her chest. Muscles in her back moved looser. Feathers unruffled. Claws relaxed.
She poked her head out the window, breathed in the scents of wet leaves. Linda roared her delight. A breeze carried the sound up to the sentries on the ramparts. They ducked down, clutching spears between quivering knees.
In the opposite direction, a dust cloud warned of travelers arriving to enter the city. Her city.
Linda hurried to her desk. Words gushed onto the page. Thoughts of her nephew, father and the future weaved into a single vibration.
She slumped back on her hunches, exhausted by the effort. Even her tail laid limp. It usually took an hour of polishing after the first draft to fix the sentences just right.
Not this time.
The riddle was perfect, a magnum opus that honored her father and nephew.
Linda stretched. She raked her claws on the dust covered floor. Time to greet the visitors.
Birds stopped chirping when she opened the front door. A smile brightened her face. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
The traveler was Oedipus.
Oedipus was the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. Through an oracle, his parents learned that their son was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. This alarmed King Laius for obvious reasons.
He ordered a servant to dump baby Oedipus on a hillside for predators to eat. Unfortunately, for Laius, he employed a servant with a conscience. Oedipus was given to a local shepherd.
In between shearing sheep and tending farm, Oedipus was told tales of the oracle’s prophecy and his royal parents. Obviously, the shepherd believed in open adoptions way ahead of his time.
When he reached adulthood, Oedipus realized manual labor and poverty wasn’t for him. He traveled to Thebes to try his luck there.
On the road to Thebes, he got into an argument with a man and killed him. Unfazed by murder, he continued on his merry way.
He then encountered the Sphinx. The Sphinx took it upon herself to make sure no new idiots entered Thebes, the current residents were already the dumbest in the land. Being a reasonable person, she gave travelers an IQ test. Answer a riddle, those who answered correctly could enter.
It wasn’t her fault every traveler said the wrong thing for years. This gave Sphinx a bit of a large ego. She couldn’t imagine anyone getting the right answer.
When Oedipus strolled along, Sphinx stopped him and demanded he answer her riddle: “What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening? Oh, and answer in the form of a question.”
“What is, man,” Oedipus replied. “At the dawn of life a baby crawls on all fours. In the middle of life people walk on two legs. At the end of life the elderly use a cane with tennis balls on the bottom to get around.”
Sphinx was devastated. Her greatest life’s work figured out by a smug, stinky stranger. She couldn’t handle the failure. Sphinx flew to the highest cliff and threw herself off.
The people of Thebes rushed out of the gates. They were so overjoyed that the intellectual snob was gone, they instantly crowned Oedipus king. (Thus proving the Sphinx’s point of how dumb the residents were.) Oedipus was also presented with the hand of the recently widowed Queen Jocasta.
Sometime after the wedding, Oedipus was shocked, shocked!, to learn the man he’d killed on the road to Thebes was his father. Jocasta therefore was his mother. How he (or Jocasta) had not figured this out earlier remained the greater mystery.
Oedipus blinded himself because of guilt.
Boo hoo for him. The real travesty was the collective IQ of the people of Thebes. Cart loads of fools took up residence in the city. The arts suffered for generations.
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Next week’s blog will share information about the Chimera, the girl with too many heads.