28 June 2013

"Free Advice"

By Curtis C. Chen

I wait an agonizing fifteen minutes in line for the right maker window to open up. Gods aren't used to waiting for anything, you understand; and the bored smiles I get from the hostess in a flimsy Naiad costume are infuriating.

At least I know my own disguise, as a potbellied business drone, is working. Normally a woman would be all over me within seconds. Especially the married ones. It's a curse to be the god of betrayals.

Finally, the diner at window three rolls off his stool, and the hostess waves me over.

The boy working window three can't be more than sixteen years old, but his hands are nimble and quick. He could be one of mine. I order Thunnus sashimi to start and watch as he makes art out of the preparation.

Cut, dip, form, assemble; his grace honors the once-living ingredients and the patron who demands this sacrifice. It's a quaint ritual, designed to give mortals a simulation of receiving worship. I don't begrudge you that need, but it is only a shadow of what real adulation feels like.

The boy bows his head when presenting the wooden slab, adorned with three perfect portions of fish. He doesn't look up as I consume the offering. The textures and flavors unravel magnificently in my mouth, and it almost feels like a sin to swallow.

I compliment the boy, order an Arachne roll, and ask: "Did you grow up on the island?"

He stiffens, but doesn't pause his dance, spinning inside the tiny booth to retrieve a soft-shell crab, turning back to fold it into his next edible creation. "Long time ago, sir. Live here now."

"Ever visit back home? Friends, family?"

He pauses, knife in mid-air, and glances at me. "Got no family since the war, sir. No friends, neither."

The knife descends, slicing through the seaweed-wrapped bundle.

"Not even Kritodemos?"

He stops the blade and looks up. His hands move to grip the edges of his counter, and I see them shaking. "How you know that name?"

I smile at him, a god's smile, and I know it calms him, even if he refuses to soften his stare.

I pull out the hundred-drachma note the man in the alley gave me. The hologram of Zeus glitters in the light. You'd never know it was counterfeit if you didn't have a god's eyes.

"He's here," I say to the boy. "Paroled last week. He will arrange a chance meeting soon, be surprised to run into you, want to catch up. You'll go along. Why not? It'll feel just like old times. You'll wonder how you ever had any fun without him. But he will betray you at the first opportunity."

I slide the cash across the counter.

"I can't accept," the boy says.

"A generous gratuity," I say. "Take it. You're right, islander: you have no friends. Only the gods."

After a moment, he snatches the money and hides it in a pocket, faster than even my eyes can follow. Nimble and quick.


Photo Credit: korafotomorgana via Compfight cc