Her enemy was dead. She had seen his body. He had returned her son to her. He wept over the body beside her, still innocent and whole. She was free. Her past was dead. And what was she to do now?
She envied Telegonus his easy show of simple emotion. It was, like his face, another blessing he had inherited from his father. When he was angry, he stormed, he yelled, he wounded, like moments ago when he dismounted from the ship with his father's body in his arms and turned on her in a terrible rage, crying, "I did not know him. Why could I not know him?" When he was angry, he was violent and implacable and predictable. She grabbed his muscled arm firmly with her small, delicately fingered hand, bade him sit and rest his burden, and forced the story of Odysseus's death out of him like water out of a stone. For, when he was grieved, the tears flowed out into the valleys in his perfectly carved face, choking his anger, as they did then, and rendering him immobile, at his father's side at last, where he belonged, as they did now.
For her, it could never be that simple. All she could think of was the strangeness of seeing them side by side. It didn't seem possible for them to exist in the same universe, much less on the same island. It made perfect sense, in a way, that Telegonus had killed him. By fate, it was no accident. They simply could not both exist at the same time. It was foolish, but part of her was surprised to see that Odysseus had grown older. There were tired lines around the pulled bow of his lips. The angles of the proud prow of his nose that she remembered now rendered his chin weak. His mane was streaked with gray. If anything, Telegonus looked more like the Odysseus she had known than Odysseus herself. But nonetheless, she expected the crumpled warrior to rise at any moment, in youth and strength, brute force and simplicity, and demand her obedience. Chauvinist pig. Predictable, familiar, long-lost, chauvinist pig.
A cough startled her out of her reverie. She remembered anew—Telegonus had brought Odysseus's widow back with him for the funeral. Penelope, her name was. Penelope, his wife. Neat little thing, birdlike, compact, and efficient. She painted a vivid contrast beside Circe, tall and sensuously curved, dark curls tangled with flowers, loose and wild down her back. Dry-eyed beside her husband's casket, Penelope gave Circe a cold look, before her eyes traveled to Telegonus, then to Odysseus, then back again. Circe knew what she must be thinking. Ah, there she is, the slut.
Yes, yes. We know, we know, Circe thoughtwearily. She wanted to shake the woman, Odysseus's widow, by the shoulders, force her to look in her eyes. Then she would see that they were not so different. Don't you see that I'm tired of being a sensual figure? I don't want attention. I don't want lust. It sickens me, being a goddess of fertility thoroughly against my will. I have no desire to be slobbered over, and I certainly can't slobber. I refuse to sing my siren song of seduction when I am told, and I'm sick of the men who think I sing for them. Please. I am older than you are, older than the sun and the moon and most of the stars. Passion is for youth. Let me out of this youthful prison. Stop looking at me like that.
Still, Penelope eyed her with a distaste that immortalized the goddess's mask of smooth skin and full hips and breasts, overripe, past their time, but only to an unusually discerning eye, one that could see the discrepancy between the body and the face. Clutching her stoical son's arm—Telemachus, his real son, Circe presumed—Penelope refused to be fooled. You're a painted whore. You're not as young as you look. She didn't see that they were the same.
What Circe could have said to her, if there was any way to say it… as she read the bitterness beneath Penelope's smooth, domestic mask of the expected cosmetics of grief. Away for years after the war. Never a word. Could have been dead. Never really knew his son. Killed by his bastard by some floozy. Serves him right. Serves her right. Serves them both right. Then, the grief would break over the bitterness in a wave, forcing the question they shared to the surface, as they kept vigil over the same dead man— Why?
The wind howled, doing the silent mourners shame. Even Telegonus had quieted, eyes red and solemn. It was late.
"It's cold," Penelope said perfunctorily.
Circe shivered, nodded, said nothing. Without another word, Penelope's gangling son followed as, propelled on her short legs, she strode briskly into the house. It was like she owned it. She should, Circe thought. It should be her house. It would be some condolence. It would make sense, if it was her tragedy.
Soon, Telegonus was gone as well. He studied her unfathomable face, gave up, adjusted the cape wrapped about her, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Her eyes stung, which angered her as much as it touched her. Telegonus must have known this, for he left quickly. In the glow of the dawn, his strong-shouldered silhouette, full of leonine grace, cut a profile that chilled her. He had left her alone with him.
The kiss of the fading sunlight found its home in his golden hair, until he almost looked like the Odysseus she had known, not gone, merely sleeping, breathing deeply, his heavy arms pinning her to his side. If she let herself, she could see him waking, yawning and showing the long passage of his throat, his teeth, like a lion and stretching his arms. If she let herself, she could feel the tingling absence of that resented burden in her own arms. She could feel the lack of will to rise from beside him, now that she could, if she let herself. But Circe would not be mocked. He was dead. It couldn't happen again. She wouldn't let it. Odysseus had left her. He wouldn't come back.
So, this is how it goes, she thought, as she knelt there for some time and the hated face of her youth faded into the darkness, and it was the wind that made her eyes tear. Because surely it wasn't grief. Surely it wasn't love. Surely, it wasn't over, she thought.
For, curse him, he just wouldn't die.