All her life Leda had been afraid of water. So frightened, was she, that as a child she would wail at the sight of her parents drawing a bath. Even stepping into an ankle deep pool in her parent's pearly tub could send her into shivers. She had nightmares about clogged drains, and rain puddles. At her old job, they had a parking lot that in winter would become partially submerged due to rain fall. You would park your car at the beginning of your shift, and by the end, the front tires of almost every vehicle would be under water. Her coworkers joked that soon they would need a boat just to get to their cars at night. They would stand in the doorways and watch each fat raindrop curdle into an already immense ocean. Leda just pulled her coat tighter around her body, and asked her supervisor if she could sit in one of the cubicles away from the windows.
Unlike Leda's fear of water, she had always had a fondness for books. So it was that when the tiny ocean outside her former job became so bad that she could no longer take it, she took a job at BradCo Books. It was the type of bookstore that was large enough to get lost in, but still small enough to have rare and antique books for sale along side the New York Times bestsellers.
Leda loved the feel of books; the hard leather spines from the out of print books, and the silken dust jackets of the new books. Books so new that when she opened them they creaked like an old ship at sea, or a well-used stairwell. She loved filling her arms with books and walking the shelves until she found their rightful place. She loved sliding them into their neat cubby-holes, or placing them gently into a plastic bag when they were bought. Even on her brakes Leda would stay in the main store, slowly rounding corners, letting her fingers brush and rustle the spines as she walked. She felt that by touching something so beautiful and so filled up with someone else was truly the only way that she could ever know them completely.
The first time she saw the man with the swan tattoo it was raining outside. Not a hard daunting rain, but a slow glittery drizzle that made the dark grass outside look sugar-coded. She hadn't been watching him browse the shelves, though she had seen him enter the store. Pulling the hood of his jacket down from his mop of damp hair, and pushing his hands into his pockets until his skin become accustomed to the heat.
"Excuse me?" He said to her, and upon turning that was when she first noticed the tattoo. It was long and dark across the side of his neck. When he talked the veins in his throat would vibrate, making the bird look as though it were in flight. "I'm looking for something…" he said, smiling, noticing her silence.
"Anything in particular?" She asked him.
His smile was rich, frightening, hypnotizing. "No, nothing in mind, really, is there something you would recommend?"
"Well," she began, but stopped short of anything concrete to say. Her lips felt heavy as though they were made out of wood. People had asked her what were good books before, but she had no idea what to offer this stranger.
His smile widened, and he leaned in close to her: "Why don't you just tell me what your favorite book is! The one book that you feel you could not live without."
She started to rattle off a list of the great books of the world: Shakespeare, Homer, Hawthorne, Faulkner.
"No, no" he stopped her, "Those are books that will always be here, I want to know what tiny, obscure book you hold tight in your mind. I want to know what makes it so rare, and so unique. What makes it beloved to you?"
Leda led him around the shelves quickly, as though this were a maze that she were trying to get out of. She honestly had no idea where to go, but finally she stopped, pulling an old dusty book out from the ranks of obscurity and handed it to him.
"What is it?" He asked her, holding the cover gently in his hands: "Tell me about it?"
"It's about love," Leda told him: "Rare love, I mean, it's not the kind of love that you kill, or die for, but it's the kind of love that stays with you long after your done with the book."
"I see," He opened to the first page, and read it in silence while she watched him. "My name is Zeus." He held out his hand to her.
A smile crept up across her face before she realized it and she took his hand. From the window behind him she could see that the rain was falling harder and faster now. "Leda."
Zeus stayed in the store until closing. After paying for the book, he pulled himself into one of the overstuffed armchairs that littered the bookstore. Leda reasoned that because of the rain, a lot of their patrons were lingering inside the store when they didn't have to. Although a few times, as she staked the shelves she could feel eyes on the back of her neck. She could feel anticipation, and need. Although she had no idea if it was his, or her own.
Closing time came at eleven. Everyone locked the doors and plowed the bookshelves recovering anything that was misplaced and righting it for the next morning. It was Leda's turn to set the alarm, and she watched everyone pull on coats, and open umbrellas outside the doors before doing one final check of the place. She could still feel eyes on her but she ignored it. She wasn't afraid, she enjoyed the books, as always, and the moody dark had never unsettled her before. Flicking off the final light switch she began the last long strides to the alarm.
"Leda," she heard, the voice tight and cacophonous, soft like a whisper, but she heard it in her head as a scream.
Leda jumped, turning, Zeus was leaning against one of the stacks, one elbow resting effortlessly near the books. "What are you doing here?" She was angry at first, but then she reasoned that he must have been locked in. "I'm sorry," she apologized for her tone, "You scared me, you shouldn't be here, I could have locked you in."
"I'm not worried about that."
Taking a step forward he reached out to her, folding his wrists around her back and pulling her forward until they touched completely. "Stop," she warned. But he did not. His lips met the top of her forehead softly, traveling down her eyelids until finally latching onto her mouth. "Wait." She said against his teeth.
"Don't fight this." His voice was so gentle, yet his hands were so hungry, so vast, she felt that every single inch of her was exposed.
He pulled the top of her BradCo books t-shirt up over her head and let it fall to the floor; then he unbuttoned her pants.
"Please," she pleaded. He was on his knees now, wrapping his arms around her forcefully, though her own arms were free, she could have pushed him away, and fled. Yet, she could not. She could not move until he pulled her down with him. When she was on the floor with his weight rising above her he moaned her name: "Leda," he said, his next words were a gift: "I choose you."
Her mouth was open. A scream was trapped deep inside her belly. Please, she felt her herself say. Her silence was harsher then the storm thrashing the windows outside.
Leda lay nude on the scratchy carpet in the dark. Her eyes had begun to blur in and out of focus, and at times she could see every defined architectural line of the ceiling, and at other times everything was a strong haze.
She was alone now, but she had been for only minutes.
Closing her eyes she remembered the hard glare of the swan tattoo on Zeus neck. How she had stared at it until she was sure she had seen the drawn wings latch away from his skin and flutter, as though real.
She remembered his voice: Leda, moaning, Leda. Leda…
How when he arched his back upward in the last moments of it, his yell had called the thunder, and then the lightening. Filling all the windows with white, and in those few seconds she had known the tattoo was real. She could feel the feathers growing across his stomach where it touched her. She could see now the way that his jaw fell forward into a beak. How his eyes slanted, becoming exotic diamonds in his skull.
When he pulled away from her, he had changed completely into the dark swan. His bird calls felt like thrashes against her skin. Every hair on her body stood upright. Static clung to her face.
She had raised herself upward with an adrenaline rush of strength and reached out to the creature. Her fascination for it frightened her, but she did not back away.
The bird folded it's long neck across her open palm.
And then he was gone.
a/n: Written for the September Writing Contest, via The Review Game.