Lament of Demeter

Among the silks, I felt for a bare arm. Among the racks of silk and chiffon, I felt for an arm that would be propped tenderly beside the body it belonged to, a body trying to make itself stand in the way of a whisper, or as translucent: a body that was hiding. My fingers grasped for skin, got only silk-chiffon-beading-rack-hanger-tag-and-ribbon, ah, but then, there it is, I am clutching the edge of an elbow, then an inseam of flesh. I drag her out of her hiding. And it had been quite easy this time. Ten minutes of looking for her in these depths, the underworld of a department store, eating red candies from a little coloured box, eating them as if each candy was a triumph against me. Alright then.  

I march her to the perfume section. Up the escalator, past the stand of tongue-slick catalogues, the wine, olive oil, chocolate bar with workers in puffed green hats, past the ice cream served in long-necked glasses, the nests of hand-pulled pasta in plastic, the aprons of hand-cut cloth. I march this daughter into the mirrored room called perfumes, there with the women in black suits  – hierophants of the department store, show us the sacred knowledge of consuming – their hair pulled into tight little hair-sprayed buns, their mouths darkly lipsticked and working, working the same words and phrases, the same chants: Eau de Eleusinian. Extract of Nestorius. Bitter Seed of  Pomegranate. Oil of Deception. Shield by inhalation. Mist of Fate. 3 ounces.  They bear silvery clouds, trails of encumbering scent, this and that flower, scrapings of spring, last bits of the garden, though the snake of course has been squeezed, too, over the jar, the fangs have been milked. Such poison has been re-adjusted in a  fervour of endless disguise, our insatiable doings.  

And here, my daughter, you can wait. I can among the scents hover. And with her near, the bottles spin Spring Spring Summer. All the blooming, growing grass, green and color in the vial. Under the stopper, no trace of death. And this strange daughter receding, before me. Even as she sits on the stuffed chair the saleswomen have provided, I can see that in her mind she is receding back into her hiding. She is hurtling away from me as if she has jumped backwards off the edge of some tower, plunged into an abyss. Why does she do it. Always has, even when she was a child, wandering off in the fields, the tall yellow grass, clawing the dirt, making a cave of her blanket and books stacked on a chair. Even crawling into cabinets. And now as a woman, still the same. Hiding in the clothing racks, sitting in the back of the car, and when she cannot really get away, then in her mind. As if buried. The scents around me begin to dampen –  

Come on. Can’t we. Just for once.  

I’m here, aren’t I.  

Let’s get some lunch.  

What dark hell has seduced you always, that your state is one of fleeing. What proverb, what  might, what choice words have fallen so tenderly off the bone and into your mouth, my daughter,  that never again can you fully live in the land of the living? Here I lead you into this crystal cave of  scent and yet like a bird over Avernos, that lake of noxious poison, you suffocate, you wilt into this  chair, your eyes dull. Where are your thoughts? Are they ever with me?  

Come on. Lunch.  

What does she wish me to do? Put a coin in her mouth to pay Charon as he guides her again over some blackening river of thought to the underworld, while I remain on the shore, waving, reaching, pacing the river bank for a hundred years? What I have borne is now a mystery to me, her mind out of my grasp.  

In the shops we choose one restaurant in the corner. The broad-bladed fans whirring above us busily, the waiters perspiring in their black and white. We sit quietly over wilting salads. Out of the tinted windows we can see the line of coast. The whited sand. A dog running the jagged line of the waves. She excuses herself. I drink my water, the waiter refills the glass, I finish my salad and then my daughter’s salad. I wait. No sign.  

I walk onto the sunned balcony of the restaurant and look down at the shore. And there is  Persephone, in the dark flash of hot ocean. I see she is washing herself, cleansing herself in the sea. I lift my hand to her – she hides her body in the waves.

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