On a small and beautiful island in the Aegean sea, there lived two lovers. Well, two and a half lovers, really, which was the problem. Andromeda, Perseus and Hephaestos had grown up together on the island, and as children they’d been the best of friends. But then they became adolescents, and then things changed. If Andromeda hadn’t gone and turned into one of the great beauties of the age, there wouldn’t have been a problem, really – it probably would have worked out. Probably. Who knows.
But she had. And so Perseus and Hephaestos fell in love with her, and out of friendship with each other, even though she continued to treat them both like friends. They reached young adulthood, and Hephaestos had two realizations. One, that if he and Perseus both stayed there, they would probably kill each other at some point. Two, that if he left the island, he could make a successful life in the wider world to which he could lure Andromeda.
So he got a job on the boat that ferried supplies and tourists back and forth from the big island. Perseus was delighted, as he took this to mean that the field was clear. Andromeda heard Hephaestos’ promises that he’d be back for her, but in her heart she thought that he wouldn’t, not really. Surely there were far more beautiful and desirable women on the mainland. She was being modest, and she was also being wrong.
And so, heartbroken over the loss of her friend, she turned to Perseus for comfort. And, in time, she came to love him, since with his rival gone, his dark and dour side was in eclipse.
Then one day, unloading a supply boat with stock for Andromeda’s restaurant, something caught his eye, something bright and shiny in one of the boxes. He reached in and pulled out a brand new iPhone and Bose earbuds. Attached was a note from Hephaestos, who wanted her to know how successful he was becoming, and that this would be just the first of many things he could give her, and that he would be back soon to take her away from the island.
Perseus saw black! He was enraged! Not just because he could never have afforded such gifts, but because his rival had given Andromeda not an iPod, but an iPhone – the phone part useless on the island where there was no cell phone service – only useful if she followed Hephaestos away, away from the island and from Perseus.
He jammed the gift back in the box and let it go to her. Let her have it! he thought bitterly. Let her have him if that’s what she wants!
But he couldn’t help himself. Next time he saw her, he scowled at her, and she knew, that he’d seen the gift. He confronted her – did you accept his gift? Will you keep it?
She had accepted it, had already begun listening to the music that Hephaestos had put on it for her, even as she knew she shouldn’t, that Hephaestos would expect…something in return when he came back. But it was so wonderful, to have music, to have life, to have messages from the wider world!
But she told Perseus, I’ll get rid of it, if it’s that important to you. No, keep it. Keep him. If that’s what you really want, to be a whore who’s paid by men with gifts like that. And she slapped him, and ran away, sobbing.
He went down to the sea and began to kick rocks at it. I hate you! He shouted at it.
Then the sea said, in its deceptively soft womanly voice, why are you kicking rocks at me?
Because you’re going to take her away, you’re going to take her to that bastard, that dirty city, you’re going to take her away.
Oh, listen to you. Do you want me to stop her?
Well, I won’t. Do you know why? Because you have so much hate in your heart. You hate him, you don’t love her. You hate him for being able to offer what she wants. Go and get the hate out of your heart and we’ll talk.
So he went away. He knew the sea was right. And he wasn’t a bad man, just a little insecure, and a lot scared, of losing the one thing that meant more to him than anything.
He found the iPhone sitting on a café table, where she’d left it. Nobody had taken it, of course, the tourists weren’t here yet so theft wasn’t a concern. He picked it up and scrolled through the songs – of course he’d seen iPods and iPhones for years, tourists always had them, he knew how they worked.
As he went through the mix tape, for that was what Hephaestos had made for her, he realized what good taste his enemy had. It even had the Decemberists on it – that great classic all the world’s seafaring people know, The Mariner’s Revenge Song. Do you all know it? Of course you do, dumb question, I’m sorry.
That was when it came back to him, the bond, the love, he’d had with the companion of his youth, and he was sick with grief and regret, that he’d let his desire for Andromeda destroy that friendship. I don’t hate him, he realized. I only hate that he might take her away.
So he went back to the sea. Look, he said, I’m free of my hate for him.
That’s nice, the sea whispered. But you still aren’t acting out of love. You want to possess her, you don’t want what’s best for her. Show me you’re acting in her interests, not your own, and we’ll talk.
So he went away. And he thought about it. And he realized, he didn’t want her to leave because he knew she’d be miserable – what was the rest of Greece like now? Chaos and disorder, riots, inflation, what if he took her to Athens! Hephaestos was blinded to the corruptions of civilization, the things that would ruin their life together, that would make Andromeda ugly and tired with stress and misery. This was where she belonged, this secret magical island!
And so he went back to the sea. Look, I want what’s best for her. I want her to stay here, for her good, so she can be happy. She thinks she’d be happy with him, there, but we both know she’s wrong.
Hmm, the sea said. Okay. Well, there’s one more thing.
Ah, fuck! He shouted.
Well, there is. If you love her, make sure that there’s something here she can’t ever leave. Something she’ll love so much she’d rather die than leave it.
Ahh, he says, understanding. I see.
Finally! The sea said indignantly, because it had spent a lot of time on this guy and really, it’s very busy.
His heart was light. He was free from hate, and jealousy, and possessiveness. He would do what the sea demanded, to keep his beloved safe, and happy.
He came back to the seashore with his big fish-gutting knife, and opened his shirt. You’ll make sure she gets this, right?
The sea was going to say something like, duh, Captain Obvious, but then it saw the look on his face, and it softened, and said, of course, dear.
And for a second he thought the sea would relent, like Jehovah with Abraham, sparing Isaac at the last moment. But you’re island people, you’re fisherman, so you know – the sea is a bitch. If she had arms, she’d have crossed them then, waiting on him to hurry up and do it already.
And so he stuck and yanked, and cut his own heart out. And because it was magic, he still had time to throw it into the sea before he collapsed.
One of the villagers saw him do it, saw his body as the sea claimed it, and raised the alarm. The whole town all went out after him in their boats, but the sea had other ideas, and kept them from getting to the body, and it sank, and did not come up again, ever, and its bones made a nice home for some coral.
Andromeda was devastated when she heard the news. Why, why, she screamed and shouted. Ask the sea, was the only answer anyone had. So she went to the shore that night and screamed at the sea, why, why? But the sea didn’t answer; it had moved on to other things.
She fell to her knees, sobbing, and that was when she heard a voice, faint but clear – Perseus’ voice. She turned to the source and saw a large seashell – this one right here. What is it? It’s called Calliostoma. It’s a big one. Thank you.
She put it to her ear, and she heard it! His voice! And he said, my darling, don’t leave the island. This is where you belong, and as long as you live here, you can pick up this shell and hear my voice, my heart is in here now. I know the secrets of the sea, and I’ll tell you where the fish are running, and when the boat is coming, and how bad the storms will be, but only if you stay. I’ll bring you a soft breeze on hot days, and when you step from the beach into the water, it’ll always be the perfect temperature. The city will eat you, will eat your love for Hephaestos and his for you, stay here, with the island, with my spirit, which will always be with you.
And the girl fell to the ground, weeping, my love, my love…