Once upon a time–nearly a decade ago–Sarah and I met, fell in love, and almost immediately decided to write a novel together. 🙂 That novel has gone through countless incarnations over the years, but its essence has remained the same: it is a lesbian reenvisioning of the story of Eros and Psyche, a story that is intensely meaningful to Sarah and me.
When Sarah wrote and published THE DARK WIFE, it was always our intention to write together our Eros and Psyche book not as a sequel but as a companion novel, set in the same ancient Greek time and place, revisiting some of THE DARK WIFE’s characters.
We are now in the process of dusting away the cobwebs and bringing this book, finally, into the sun. Its title is ALIGHT, and we hope to finish and release it sometime this year. We are both so thrilled about embarking on this long-awaited journey and can’t wait to share this novel with the world.
In anticipation of ALIGHT’s upcoming release, I wrote a story pulled from the shadows of its world, a sort of introduction to the novel-that-will-be. It’s called “Aphrodite Has a Daughter.” I hope you enjoy it!
“Aphrodite Has a Daughter,” by Jennifer Diemer
The jaded goddess Eros, archer of love, finds herself enamored with a mortal girl, though she has never before spoken with her or even glimpsed her face.
(photo by Irene Lee)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“Aphrodite Has a Daughter”
by Jennifer Diemer
I watch her.
I watch everyone. I know them by watching them: by the ways they eat and sit and walk. The ways they engage with the beggars, the marketplace vendors, the children chasing rats through the streets. Do they shed a tear for that ragged, shuffling woman who lost her feet to wasting sickness? Do they ogle the men or women—or both? Do they smile when they lie? Do they fidget because they’re bored, or jealous, or afraid? Are they longing to be somewhere else, with someone else, even as they kiss their lover’s cheek?
You can learn everything about someone if you watch them for long enough, examine their behaviors as intimately as you would examine a soft, slender neck with your mouth. You can learn their secrets—their sweetest secrets, their most wicked secrets—in a tilt of the head, an uncrossing of the arms, a tripping of the sandal, a lick of the lip.
I know all of these people by heart.
I am the goddess of their hearts.
I take their quickenings, their yearnings, and make of them something tangible. I make, for them, the love they seek. My task is not my mother’s task, to embody love at its most lofty and divine.
I am love in action—for better or for worse. More often for worse.
I don’t know her.
I don’t know, can’t know Psyche’s heart. She evades me, like a butterfly loosed from a net full of holes.
I have never seen her face.
Today, as always, she comes to the market veiled and alone. She joins her friend from the temple, Narkissa, and they peruse the fabric stalls together, touching the linens, whispering. They stop at the fruit-seller’s tent to purchase his exotics: fleshy plums and oranges with scents so heady, they make the veil over Psyche’s face move with her breathing. For a moment, I see her, a ghost of her: the thin white veil sheathes the shape of her nose, her lips…
I lean down from my perch on the bicep of a marble Poseidon as Psyche and Narkissa pass below me: Psyche a vision in priestess white, Narkissa draped in temple red.
Look up, I bid them, beg them.
“Did you hear…” she begins, her hand curved around a plum, her head slowly tilting back, to gaze up at the statue of the sea god. Not so long ago, this statue represented Zeus, but when he fell out of favor, fell to the Underworld, the people of Corinth hired a sculptor to make a wave at the god’s feet and carve a coral necklace, delicately notched, around his neck.
“I thought someone said something,” Psyche whispers, and if she could see me—she can’t see me—she would notice how I bow toward her. She would see how near I hang above, how we might touch if only she would reach up, outstretch her hand.
She raises her arm, as if offering the plum; her fingers nearly graze my wing. Surprised, I laugh, and she hears my laugh; her veil billows with exhalations around her face. “Who’s…there?”
Narkissa nudges her shoulder, wearing a pretty pink pout. “Psyche, what are you going on about? Come. This statue gives me a chill, makes me think of my poor drowned father.”
“I’m sorry. I just… I thought I heard a voice.”
“A voice? Poseidon’s talking to you now, is he?” Narkissa’s small mouth widens to a grin, her black curls bobbing against her cheeks. “Well, perhaps he might give you a boat to sail away from this wretched place, and calm waters for the journey.”
“It was a female voice, I think, not a god’s.” Psyche lowers her arm and turns to face her friend. “And it’s not so terrible here, Narkissa,” she says mildly. “The temple is lovely. As long as I wear my veil—”
“But you shouldn’t have to wear a veil, Psyche. It’s madness, the way they mob you and chase you for your face. If you lived someplace else, maybe…” Narkissa shrugs her shoulders and sighs, brow creasing. She busies her hands by peeling an orange; the juice drips over her knuckles in sticky streams.
“There’s no sense in maybes.” Psyche stills Narkissa’s shaking fingers by placing her steady palm upon them. Her voice is hushed, gentle. “Unless I truly hid myself away, my life would be the same no matter where I lived. This is my lot. And I am resigned to it.” There’s the hint of a smile in her tone when she adds, “Besides, I am in no hurry to leave you, my friend. Without you, I’m afraid I would hide like a recluse in the temple forever.”
“Oh, I’m not so special.” Narkissa, head bowed, chews on a slice of orange thoughtfully. “I just wish I could protect you. I wish I could summon Aphrodite to poke out their eyes and slice off their—”
Psyche’s laughter is an arrow; it punctures me as surely as a sharpened blade, and I nearly lose my grip on Poseidon’s head, have to scramble to regain my hold on his laurel wreath.
“Let’s talk of something else.” She threads her arm through Narkissa’s easily and begins to walk away. But before she is out of reach, before I lose sight of her to the crowd, she gazes at the fat plum in her hand and then turns slightly to place it, without Narkissa’s noticing, at the great feet of the statue, upon the too-white marble waves.
“For you,” she whispers, “whoever you are.”
Whoever you are.
My quiver beats against my back as I run past the stalls, startling customers with my rash, invisible shoves. I pray that Ganymede is not here today, pray that none I know, none I permit to see me, sees me now: rattled, lost, mad with frustration.
A small dog, no taller than my shins, nips at my heels, bouncing with his yaps. He can’t see me, but he can smell me, and when I break my pace to kneel down and scratch his filthy head, he licks at the air until his tongue finds my hand. Eagerly, he licks every one of my fingers, panting hard, tail wagging.
I bend toward his ear, whisper, “What is it you want?”
He licks my cheek, and my mind fills with muddled, dog-imagined scenes: a dry rug before a fire, a kind hand ruffling white fur, a shining bowl of water upon a clean-swept floor.
Safety, warmth, companionship. Home.
Love without conditions. It’s what they all want, animals and humans both, if they’re honest, and animals are always honest. Humans lie even to themselves.
“Come along,” I whisper. Gathering the dog against me and rendering him, with a thought, unseen, I rise and begin to move through the crowd, searching with my eyes closed and my heart open. I consider a handful of passerby prospects: a girl married too early in life, lonely in her loveless, childless home; a woman, widowed years ago, longing for simple, uncomplicated affection; a traveler seeking meaning in a narrow-minded, inhospitable world.
But then I find her, feel her wish before I permit myself to look upon her. And I know she and this dog will make a balanced pair.
She wears fine garments, and her hair is drawn up in fashionable pile atop her head. Jewels sparkle along her collarbones. To any onlooker, she would appear the image of worldly success.
But I know her secret.
She is hiding from her past in a place far from her homeland. Though she has enough money to get by, she is not rich, and all she has she stole from a man who beat her, sold her, after she was sold to him by her own father when she was only a girl.
Her life has been one bruise after another, of body and heart, and the hope for love has been battered out of her.
But love comes in many forms, and I am able to release them all.
I place the warm-bodied pup at my feet, where he pants excitedly, alternately licking my toes and pausing to scratch behind his ears. Then I draw an arrow from my quiver and unsling the golden bow from my chest.
“She’d love you on sight, I’m sure.” I smile down at the dog. “But it never hurts to have divine intervention on your side.” I nock the arrow on the bowstring, draw my arm back, and, with a silent exhalation, I let my intention fly.
The woman doesn’t feel the arrow tip strike her heart, though her hand flutters over her chest, and she takes a step back, looking dazed. When she lifts her gaze, pressing fingers to her brow, her eyes alight upon the dirty pup.
And she becomes, in that instant, someone new.
The transformation always astonishes me, though I’ve witnessed it thousands upon thousands of times. It’s like watching a seed, just planted, immediately flower. It’s like watching a mortal become, for a passing moment, a god. Because in that moment—so short that it’s immeasurable, unnamable—love begins.
And the lover is changed, irrevocably and forever.
Without a backward glance to me, the dog rushes into the woman’s arms. Despite paw prints on her clothing and messy licks smearing her face paint, she laughs, aglow, cradling her newfound heart mate against her shoulder, already whispering promises into his floppy, matted ear.
All around me, the people gossip and rush, but my vision of the world narrows to only this one woman and this one dog—and myself, looking on, as invisible as the love between them. More invisible, perhaps.
Whoever you are.
My hands curl into fists at my sides, and I hurl myself away—up and away. My wings assault the sky as I clutch my empty bow against my empty chest.
“Pining for a mortal, Eros?” My mother leans over me and smoothes the hair back from my face, peering at me with her perfect eyes, turquoise as the summer sea. “It doesn’t become you.”
I groan and roll to my side, turning away from her. I can never hide my longings from my mother and am not foolish enough to attempt to try. Aphrodite knows the yearning of every heart—born and unborn, living and deceased. She can read my moods without a glance in my direction.
“You know how to remedy this, daughter. You have all the tools”—her sandal nudges the bundle of arrows I threw to the palace floor—“that you require. Why waste time wishing when you might take action and make your wish come true?”
“Because there is no point in any of it,” I reply sullenly, shutting my eyes.
I feel her kneel beside me, and she lays a cool hand upon my cheek. “In any of what, darling?”
My mouth curves into a sneer. “Love.”
“You speak the word as if it’s a curse.”
I sit up, taking my mother’s hands between mine, and press my forehead against hers. The scent—her scent—of new-bloomed roses wafts lightly between us. “It is a curse—on both of us. How are to ever know love, true love, when we may wield it so casually, with the simple flick of a wrist?”
Aphrodite draws back from me, rises, and I remember, then, that she is not merely my mother but also a goddess, one of the most powerful deities in all of Olympus. I feel small but defiant beneath her ocean-deep gaze.
“The love we strike upon the world is no less true than love sprung up from nature. And no less potent. You know this, Eros.”
Breathing deep, I fall back against the pillows, close my eyes. “Maybe love itself is flawed, then. It’s no perfect thing—”
“And thank the Fates for that! Who wants perfection, truly? Who wants something so polished and well-formed that the heart of it is lost beneath painstaking refinement?” Her teeth flash white above me, and her eyes storm. “I want my love to bleed through, like a wound. I want it to make a mess. I want it to make a mess of me. And then…” Exhaling, she softens, smiles. “I want it to stitch me whole again.”
“Whole,” I whisper, shaking my head. “I don’t know what that word means. I never have.”
“Oh, Eros. My little lost cupid.” She falls to her knees beside me again, draws my head against her chest. “You will know. Soon, I’m afraid. And the knowing will alter you. For ever after.”
When you can have whatever you want, having isn’t desirable anymore.
When you can make your dreams come true by simply thinking them into being, you begin to dream empty dreams.
I am a goddess of love, Aphrodite’s daughter. I have dallied with more nymphs and demigoddesses than I care to remember, or admit. But I have loved none of them. And none, I think, has ever loved me.
What is bread to a breadmaker? A commodity, rarely a pleasure.
What is love to a lovemaker? A farce. A trick. A cheap thing, too easily acquired, too casually set aside.
I have felt this way from the moment I cast my first arrow and watched love alight upon an unsuspecting face. I figured out the game—because it is a game. And few people ever win at it.
So I numbed myself to it, laughed over it, mocked it, even as I flung my love darts far and wide.
Never before, never until Psyche, have I wished to see someone’s face light up for me.
I stand shamed beneath her window and fight an inner war: I want to be away from this place, as far away as my immortal wings can carry me.
And I want to be nowhere but here, only here, near Psyche—though she may never see me or touch me or know me—for the rest of my endless days.
The plum she left as offering is soft now; it feels, in my hand, heavier than it is. The weight of what I am about to do bears down upon me, and yet—
There is a lightness in my shadowed, fiercely guarded core.
When I spear the fruit, pale juice shines upon the sharpened flint, and the arrow slips over my bowstring. But I reposition it, draw in a deep, surrendering breath, and when I let go, as I watch the arrow sail through Psyche’s chamber window, I feel as if part of myself has flown in with it. To her.
She does not know me, has never whispered my name over her temple altar. I would not wish her to. It is my mother she honors. She has sworn her loyalty to Aphrodite, as virgin priestess of the goddess of love.
But Aphrodite has a daughter.
And I do not desire worship.
I desire only to see.
And, if I am truthful, to be seen.
Now Psyche stands veiled at her window with the plum and arrow in her hand, calls out in a voice hushed with wonder, “Who are you? Please. Show yourself to me.”
Lightness unfurls inside of me, two-winged, golden, poised for its first clumsy, tremulous flight.
If you liked “Aphrodite Has a Daughter,” you can now enjoy entire collections worth of stories in Project Unicorn, Volume One on your eReader or in person in paperback form (I’m a real book!), and support the project at the same time!
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