Just One by Susan Cornford

Just One
Susan Cornford

I blame it on the award. If I hadn’t won that award, none of this would have happened. Well, some of it was beyond my control, but the final part, the saddest part, was all my egotistical doing. Every year I regret it.

It all started when Hades saw Persephone out picking flowers with her friends, those water lily maidens. Now, everyone knows that she is beautiful and her flower arrangements are world-famous. But somehow Hades had never laid eyes on her until this particular day. I guess he wasn’t above ground that often. Leaving alone that she was his niece, he somehow got his brother, Zeus, to agree to his grabbing the maiden while her overprotective mother, Demeter, was preoccupied.

They got her to wander away from her group of friends by using a rare yellow narcissus that was just out of the other girls’ comfort zone as bait. As soon as she got it collected¸ up out of the earth comes this horse-drawn, black chariot, driven by Hades, who was invisible… but everybody knows it was him. Persephone got snatched up, flower and all, stashed in the chariot, and the whole kit and caboodle disappeared down a hole in the ground. I heard there were some pigs that got swallowed up in the whole proceedings too, and the owner is planning a law suit.

Of all the flower girls, only Cyane tried to do more than just weep. She managed to get hold of Persephone’s belt but was turned into a river for her trouble. Which is what Demeter found when she came back to collect her daughter. You can’t blame her that she lost it big time and turned the remaining nymphs into sirens, disguised herself as an old woman, and trekked all over the place playing private detective. It wasn’t till she came across Hectate at one of the crossroads she was the goddess of, that she got some good advice. Hectate suggested that, since he was the all-seeing sun god, Helios seemed to be the go-to person for Intel on missing persons.

Helios obliged.

Being none too fond of her brother anyway, Demeter sucked it up and humbly begged him to let the girl go. But, by then, Hades had done the right thing and found someone who looked the other way about their consanguinity and married them. So it looked like a fait accompli.

At that point Demeter went on strike, and that was the end of bountiful crops and beautiful, perfumed flowers, and happy bees making honey. Soon famine gripped the land and temples were besieged by starving petitioners, begging for the divine family to sort themselves out. Zeus changed hats from being collaborator to being mediator, and everybody hunkered down to wait for the outcome.

That’s where I come into the story.

Well, a bit earlier in the proceedings, about the time that Persephone, being a spirited lass, had gone on a hunger strike until her uncle/captor/husband let her go back to living with Mom and her carefree bachelorette days. Hades put out the call, throughout the Underworld and beyond, promising great rewards for anyone who could tempt his bride’s palate and prevent her becoming anorexic.

Many tried.

There were baklavas, moussakas, dolmades, fettas with olives and yoghurts with honey.

Nothing worked.

So, why did I, of all people, think I could succeed where others had failed? That blasted Greengrocer of the Year Award. I gathered together a basket of my best produce, and this was back before Demeter caused the droughts and floods and locusts and mildews. I had grapes, figs, apples, pears, and pomegranates. Imagine my thrill when I heard that the only thing our stolen goddess had deigned to eat was one of my pomegranate seeds.

Imagine my horror when I found out that this was why, despite all the best efforts at negotiation, Persephone would only be returned to us for part of each year. I was there that day when Hermes came to lead her back to us where she belonged. It must have been my guilty conscience but, when I looked at her smooth, white throat, it seemed like she had a small lump where just one pomegranate seed might be stuck.

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