I’m still a slave to my thesis, which is coming along nicely, I think. I hope. Honestly, I don’t know. Everyone who has been through a creative writing program of some sort knows that you can perfect something over and over and over again, but someone is still going to find something wrong with it in the end. It’s learning how to ignore this that gets you through the program.
At the end of this update, I included a scene that I’ve touched up the other day. I am a little iffy about it…or rather, the whole three chapters, if only because I feel like my poor little ego was squished the last time I gave it to my advisor, who immediately marked it up with comments like, “It’s like you never took my class.”
Ouch. My pride.
Thesis aside, everything else is mediocre. Teaching has been teaching. Life has been life. Wedding plans have been coming together, and the wedding budget has been making me cringe. But, there are only two months left and then all of this nonsense can be over. I don’t know how anyone enjoys planning a wedding. I’ve come close to calling it all off a half dozen times already.
In other writing news, the former agent drama has passed by nicely. I can’t say much more than that here, since I don’t want to put all of my business out there — but let’s just say my last post was not entirely unrelated to the situation.
I have been made another offer of representation, which I’m currently waiting to hear back from. I feel more than comfortable with my decision this time, and hopefully all goes well. I’m ready to get back into the game, and I’m sad that I was nudged out of it in the first place.
Anyway, here is my excerpt. Enjoy it! (And forgive the formatting.)
“Don’t get near.” A mother frantically pulled her child by the arm, yanking him away from the road.
Ismene looked behind her, thinking that perhaps, a run away cart would hit them. Why else would a mother be so worried about her child walking on the street? But, there was nothing. Only more people. No cart. No horse. Nothing dangerous at all. Confused, Ismene’s attention settled back on the mother and child, but the mother did everything she could not to look in return.
Antigone frowned.“These people. After all my father has done for them…”
“Antigone, don’t. It is not the time.” Eurydice put her arm around Ismene’s shoulders, guiding her down the street. The queen placed her body between the offending mother and Ismene, shielding her from the woman’s view. Ismene tried to poke her head around her aunt’s form to figure out what was wrong, but they rounded a corner, and now it was too late, as mother and child both disappeared out of sight.
The royal family was protected by a retinue of royal guards, some in front, some behind, all with swords, spears and shields. Ismene never quite understood why they were needed, but she figured that they were there to protect her from people like that crazy, hawking woman and her fledgling Theban child.
“It will never be the time.” Antigone hissed, looking everyone in the eyes as she passed, forcing them to look away uncomfortably. It reminded Ismene of the game her brother, Polynices, taught her, when you stare at the back of someone’s head for a long time and try to will them to turn around with just your mind. He taught her the secret chant that went with the game: Turn around and see my eyes. Turn around and see my eyes. To Ismene’s surprise, it always worked. They always turned their heads. But what Antigone now played was the opposite of that game. See my eyes and turn around. And they always turned around.
The people peeled away from the royal family as the retinue paraded down the back streets of the kingdom. They weren’t just moving to make way, but some of the merchants and townsmen actually tripped over one another to jump back and press themselves close to the cool, clay facades of the buildings. Their faces were stuck in an awe-like expression, mouths opened in O shapes, eyes wide, unblinking and curious. Or frightened.
“What’s wrong?” Ismene checked behind her again to make sure that maybe there weren’t horses coming down the road. Or an army. Something. Then she looked down to make sure that her appearance was not out of place. That would be a reason to stare. But, her chiton’s skirts were all pleated nicely, tied around her waist with a golden-threaded rope. She had just begun to worn the dress of a woman, though hers hung slack and in the style that younger girls her age wore. “Why are they moving away like that?”
“Come. We are almost to the market.” Eurydice led the girls from the staring eyes and gaping mouths of the small crowds that had begun to gather.
Ismene didn’t ask any more questions. Instead, she tried to keep up with her sister, who walked confidently in front of both she and Eurydice. Antigone even passed the guards, fearless and uncontrolled. Part of Ismene envied her sister, how brave she was, how courageously-defiant and outgoing. But Ismene also knew that defiance didn’t get anyone anywhere in their lives. Her Spartan mother and uncle taught her from since she was a younger girl that hard work and perseverance is what made one excel. No lazy man knew success in Sparta.
But Antigone? Antigone didn’t seem to care about any of that. She stood on her own two feet, and although she was sometimes rash and mean, Ismene loved her for it all the same.
The sounds of bartering merchants almost drowned out their own conversation as they neared the heart of the market. Ismene looked around in excitement, her sandals bending over the smooth cobblestone paths, her nose tilted in the air to breathe in the scent of freshly-baked breads and newly-captured fish. Rich and poor gathered here, separated only by what they wore, not by what they bought. The nobility favored bright silks with dark trim, the newest design, and the poor wore whatever it was they could get their hands on; sometimes, this meant they wore himations, the men’s toga-like wrap, and chitons, often reserved for the women, that looked like they have been passed down through many families before it got to them.
“Do you see all of this?” Ismene whispered mostly to herself. Antigone fell back to walk by her sister, grabbing the younger princess by the wrist. Ismene couldn’t move far because of it, and didn’t question whatever it was that her sister was thinking. “Can we get a treat? Something sweet, maybe?”
The way Antigone scanned the crowds reminded Ismene of the Sentries who kept watch on the palace and city walls of Thebes. She was alert, on guard. Suspicious. “Stay close.”
“But can we get a treat?”
Eurydice stopped beside the sisters and gestured towards a stall. “Why don’t we have a look over there? I see pretty things glittering in the sun.”
Excitedly, Ismene gazed in the direction of Eurydice’s observation. With a wide smile, she tugged hard on Antigone’s grip until her wrist broke free. “Come on, Antigone. Can’t you just have fun for once?”
Antigone continued to stare out in front of her, around her. “No, I can’t. I am too old for fun.”
“Darling, you are only twelve.” Eurydice ushered Ismene along. “Come. Maybe we can find something to lure your sister with.”
Ismene giggled at the prospect of luring Antigone like a fish. Imagining her sister as anything beside her thick-skinned Antigone made her laugh. A fish in particularly. She walked beside the queen, and though the people bowed low as they passed, they angled themselves so that they mostly faced Eurydice and not Ismene.
Perhaps it was only in her mind.
The market stalls were made of aged, splintered wood that smelled damp and rotten from always being out in the elements. Meat stalls had flank steaks, goats’ heads, lambs’ ribs and other delicacies dripping overhead, hung on thick twine. Fabric stalls were nearly wrapped in pieces of multi-colored cloths, as if it wore its own clothes. There were stalls for fish, for tools, for seed and grain. There were stalls with wooden toys for children, weapons for men, and pretty baubles for women. Ismene and Eurydice stopped at this last stall, with the pretty things.
Antigone still stayed behind, and around her, a halo of space, like a moat, encircled her. People stayed at arm’s length…or two arms’ length. Ismene watched this over her shoulder, leaving the queen to her shopping, but she didn’t have the chance to stare at the phenomenon for too long before she was remembered again.
Eurydice pushed a long, golden necklace into Ismene’s arm, clucking on about the price and quality. “Look at this one. The crafter has made tiny sea shells from gold. Do you see?”
Ismene looked at the necklace that dangled against her arm. She picked it up and rubbed a thumb along one of the golden shells. “I’ve never seen a real sea shell, Your Highness…so I suppose that it is pretty.” Thebes wasn’t a coastal city, and the ocean wasn’t exactly close. To get there, you had to be prepared to walk for many hours. Sea shells weren’t exactly popular anyway, and before now, they held about enough excitement as a stone from the river would have for Ismene.
“You never have?” Eurydice tilted her head to the side. “Well, we shall fix that, shall we not?” Turning back towards the merchant, the queen put a leather pouch of gold coins on the stall. “You can have all of this for the necklace, and a basket of sea shells. Go and find some.”
The merchant looked from Ismene to the queen, scratching at the side of his dirty face, adding to the grime under his fingernails.“Yes, Your Highness.” With a deep bow, he departed, and Eurydice began to walk once more.
“What else can we find?” As the queen spoke, she put a hand on her rounded stomach, wincing some. “The babe is restless, though. It would be a good idea too not stay out for long.”
Ismene looked back over her shoulder. Antigone stood in the same spot with the same circle of space around her. She hadn’t moved an inch, and she continued to stare at people, hands flat at her sides. What is she doing? “Yes, maybe we should not stay out for long.” Slipping the sea shell necklace around her neck, the younger princess turned back to the queen. “I’m going to go check on Antigone.”
“Okay, darling. I will be over here. Do not wander far.” Eurydice didn’t seem too concerned as she was quickly distracted by a large, purple-ish gem presented to her by an outgoing merchant.
When Ismene walked back to her sister, a few guards followed somewhere behind her. She could hear their heavy footsteps and the unmistakable clanking of their swords against their shields. She broke through the invisible barrier around Antigone, and stood beside her with the exact same posture. The guards kept their distance.
“What are we doing?” She didn’t look up at Antigone, but stood straight ahead, mimicking her big sister.
“Observing, Ismene. Sometimes, you must observe.”
“You are only twelve, you know. You don’t have to act so grown up all of the time.” Ismene picked at a bead on her new necklace.
“Mother was already married when she was thirteen, so I am practically grown.” Antigone crossed her arms over her chest.
So did Ismene. “Yes, but you are not mother.”
“I am not anything, and neither are you.” With one hand, Antigone gestured out towards the people. “Do you see how they stare? How they steer clear of us, as if we were walking diseases?”
Ismene looked about, noticing the Thebans who snuck glances at the princesses and quickly looked away again. They looked ashamed to gaze at the royal children at all. It made Ismene uncomfortable all over again. “Yes.”
“It is because I am not anything.” Antigone looked down at her sister, her pallid stare dead and unreadable. “And neither are you. And we will be this way forever. Just like father said…we will be cursed forever…never to marry, never to know what it is like to really be a woman…”
Ismene heard her father’s words echo between her ears: Please take care of them, brother, as they are young and female, and no man will want them.
“Antigone, please stop.” She didn’t want to remember her father’s words. She did not want to remember the pain her father was in when they were spoken.
Her older sister looked back out at the people. “This is how it is. I cannot stop it. There will always be a space between us, the Children of Oedipus, and them, the People of Thebes. The people who have so quickly forgotten the way Father defeated the Sphinx’s riddle to protect them; the way he blinded and exiled himself so that they could be healthy again and the land could be cured of the plague.”
Ismene took a deep breath, knowing that there wasn’t any stopping her sister. There wasn’t a way to turn what she was saying into fiction. It was all true. Every word. Even if Ismene wished to forever ignore it. When the Sphinx captured Thebes and held it ransom for the answer to a riddle, “What walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three in the evening?”, it was her father who came from a far away place and answered with “a man.” And when Apollo saw it fit to let the corrupted Thebes ail and wither away, it was the unfortunate fate of her father to be driven off the land so that it might live again. He was the corruption, the reason for the blight on Thebes.
“You can’t escape your Fate, Ismene.” Antigone turned to head back up towards the palace which loomed slightly above the streets of the city. “It will always be there. Waiting.”
Eurydice came up beside Ismene and Antigone, and behind her, a guard carried a bushel basket of shells. “Here you are, my love. Sea shells.”
Ismene reached into the basket and pulled out a light purple shell with dark purple lines that ribboned across the front in iridescent striation. When she brought the shell to her nose to smell it, she could almost taste the scent of the Agean Sea’s salt on her tongue. Turning it over in her hand, she ran her thumb across the pearly, smooth underside of the shell and smiled. “It is very pretty.”
Antigone frowned at the word “pretty.”
“As are you. Don’t you ever forget that.” Eurydice smiled at Ismene first, then Antigone, as if lending her the compliment as an afterthought. The queen started back towards the palace, Antigone and the guards in tow. Ismene followed behind with a shell in her hand, but Fate on her mind.