by by By Julieta Cárdenas

illustration by by Katia Zorich

So what, then, could I have done differently on the night when my mother, a prostitute in Hades came to visit me in my bed, a rest I felt I deserved after a day of turning my body into long lines and small knots for the amusement of the small nobles and the drunkards of the market place, but to follow her down and try to win the grace of Pluto

My stained clothes- the colored sack, both torn and sweated, turned holy white in the hell fires that shook us dry on the bank by the boat of Charon.

My mother, who spoke to me from my bed asked for her escape, «You, you who are alive, can you take me from the ventricle pits like I was pitted when you-- the seed of your father-- were bit out by the world, can›t you?»

It was not a sense of responsibility or obligation that prompted me to follow but the natural response to a demand by my creator; I am always relieved when someone tells me what to do. I have a philosophy that a statement is an act of its own sort, palpable as a leash around a neck. So, then it follows a demand is a road; I followed it down and slid with my mother into Hades.

Her body was strong and mine was as well, exercise will do that to a person. In fact I think, there is no greater genius than that of the body, the body knows how to make itself strong when there is not much else… that said in that moment there was more to do than in the bed I had left. For Hell is a busy place and unlike the staleness of purgatory people here said hello.

Charon, with a grin across that part of the face that rests in the middle of a jaw, introduced himself as my father--this is his kind of humor I am told, squirmy and gross, like he is touching just by speaking. My mother whose legs were chained was pulled apart-- a puppet played by the lowliest of the aquatic devils of the River Styx. There were many but one of them was particularly interested in using it as exercise, to pull steadily mimicking the rowing of Charon with his webbed hands on the chains on her dry ankles. Charon held me from helping her, for I squirmed knowing that it hurts to be pulled for the amusement of others. In an impulse driven by anxiety I stood up on the boat and danced, nervously in body and naseously in memory, with sweaty palms, I tried to remember how to dance This distracted Charon and the beasts long enough so that my mother and her legs were left alone, for a while at least. It must be funny after all to see such a small man dance in such a way that you can’t tell if he choreographed it or if he is just making it up as he goes along, sweaty and sick. Either way its pathetic. But when you have resigned yourself to evil, the pathetic loses its pathos and then is left, like fish bones too small to swallow safely, it’s just the base and grimy humor that I, myself a clown of sorts, could never really understand.

Charon dropped us off in front of Cerberus, and having been raised on the streets with the street dogs I was comforted by his smell and his anger. “I know you dog, all dogs are the same dog, you dig it when I dig into your fur and stroke?”

Pluto, who had been watching us since we came in, was impressed that we had made it this far without suffering anything too grave. Confusing me for one of his own, he asked me to choose any prize I wanted. “I can make you a deputy-god little harlequin and I can give you an entire season of dance if you would like. I have a cornucopia and it is deep enough to hold all the wishes of man.”

He hadn’t realized that it was my mother’s freedom that I came for, and having had my mother himself for sometime I knew he would think twice about his offer if I did not take care to ask for her carefully.

But mother why are you in hell anyway, did you not raise me decently enough? I sleep at night, when I can, and sometimes I can›t, just like everyone else. I am even industrious, I work hard all the time and one day maybe I will even have children who work as clowns but at the least they won›t be murderers and at least they won›t be fools. Of course I couldn›t ask her this, and so I kept it to myself. She had a lot of trouble talking, although she was kind enough to never forget my name, and she even gave me a shape I could trace in the case I needed to sign any bills.

I realized that as a god Pluto would understand me in whichever way I spoke. So, with my body itching I showed him my little harlequin joke; I pulled a coin from behind his ear and placed it on my nose, I did a flip and caught it, in-between my toes. I ended with a flourish, with one knee on the floor, I tipped my hat and reasoned, a reasonable reason. “There is one fact Plato, and I am certain you will agree; that a God is always true, and truth be told all truths must hold, if hell is to stay warm and earth to stay cold.” He agreed that gods are honest and that his word was both good and real and assured me my request would be granted and that in asking I should have no fear.

I wiped my brow and called my mother’s name, Cardine.

This upset him greatly. It’s strange to see a stoic cry, it didn’t happen here, but I worried it might. There is a sculpture in my city and one man always says it shows a stoic cry, to me it looks grotesque, the sculptued man’s mouth looks like that of the feral cats who without milk and sometimes without patches of skin sometimes come to you asking for food, the cats who make the face of the stoic in pain when you have to kick them hard in the gut so they go away Gods are mortal and it hurts them not to be loved. He realized that his power did not carry to her mind, that she wanted to leave, that her will was hers somehow still. Sometimes the cats keep coming, until you have to throw them in the river, out of pity, really.

I felt sorry for him, the great god whose anger was a masculine despair, whose feelings, which showed in his face and in his stressed closed fist, were no different than the silent prayers of the sick and sorry of the towns. I tried to make him feel better by telling him he could do with me as he wished in return for my mother›s freedom. He said he would. He let us go then. Charon was quiet on the way back. To this day, I do not know if Pluto has punished me yet, or if it will come tomorrow, or if he forgot.

My mother now lives with me and we wander through the streets. I dance with little bells on my little feet. She looks at me and smiles and each day prays out loud. She likes the shapes I draw for some mountains, far away. It really calms her down. I hear these are from hell, I want some days to hide there and breathe in clean cold air.