A Son's Lament: Phaethon's Soliloquy
The sun is overrated, thinks the boy as he begins his ill-fated descent to the earth. A dozen gods make the journey from the heavens to the soil every day, but the boy is acutely aware of his own mortality, so there is no point in lying to himself. Soon he will join his ancestors and make his permanent home beside the arthropods and nightcrawlers, but, for the remaining six minutes and twenty-four seconds before he hits the ground, his place is among the birds and the nova lights. Against his ears, the winds let out a piercing scream as if they’re mocking the circumstances. “This is your fault,” they seem to say. The boy doesn’t disagree with them on this, in fact, he admires their honesty. If only everyone spoke as freely as they do, he thinks before grimacing. If only I spoke as freely as they do.
He thinks about all of the things he missed due to his aversion to speaking his mind. The lonely slice of raspberry marble cake on his aunt’s wine-stained console table. A spontaneous midnight trip to the mountains to feel the grass beneath his soles. Fingers that clasped around his own that pulsed to the beat of his sisters’ makeshift orchestra in the town square that they spent so much time in during the summer. The instruments were on loan from the temple. His sisters somehow managed to persuade the priest to let them use the temple’s strings for a performance once and forgot to bring them back, or at least that’s what they told anyone when they asked. The boy never understood the temple. He used to sit during sermons and stare at the statue of Helios, the priest’s voice always running as background noise to accompany the boy’s identity crisis. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he could’ve been a better father? If he could’ve shown up for dinner every once in a while, the boy probably wouldn’t have fallen off of his stupid sun horse and then in turn would not be falling to his death.
What lies below the sky is of no interest to the boy. If he were courageous, he could look down and see his imminent resting place. What now looks like a light-brown smudge will soon reveal itself to be his uncle’s scorched vineyard that he spent so much of his youth working in. If he were courageous and had better eyesight, he would make out the various trails and footpaths that he and his sisters used to chase each other on between slow harvests, now all damaged by his quick excursion in the sky. A quick glance would make them appear to be empty, but if he would squint, he would see his sisters now, all seven of them, as they watched his descent from the burning vineyard in frozen, unadulterated horror. Though he is too scared to see them, the boy thinks about his sisters now. He remembers their borrowed instruments and how each girl’s face would light up while stroking their turtle-shell frame. He remembers his mother and laments over how he’ll never feel her tear-stained embrace again. He hopes that they love him and know how much he loves them. He reflects on past lovers and wonders if they’ll cry at his wake once they look at his flattened body and realize they’ll never feel the veins in his wrist again.
During the last forty seconds of his fall, the boy tries his hardest to change his course. Bronze limbs that once seemed as if they belonged to him flail with wild abandon as the boy attempts to rectify his situation and force himself back into the carriage. I will fly, he says to himself. I will fly back up to the heavens and take my place among my father and his peers. We will play catch and eat dinner, and I will apologize for blaming him for my mother’s sadness and sending back my birthday card, and he will say sorry for buying me a cinnamon-laced cake though I am allergic and leaving me all alone. I will fly back to my mother and my sisters and the town square that we used to dance around, and I shall tell them I love them and kiss their eyelids until their skin flakes from the irritation, and my sisters shall play on their lutes and lyres, and my mother shall hold me and ask me to sing, and I will. I will fly through the windows of all of my lovers and finger the veins on each arm and inhale their scent once they’ve just woken up, and they will dance with me and wrap their fingers around my own, and they will love me, and I will be loved. I must fly so that I may go back to my uncle’s vineyard and feel my toes curl under the dirt that my sisters made me lick so many times when we were young. I must fly so that I may look at the sun again without resentment and appreciate its heat against my naked chest. I must fly so that I may visit the graves of my ancestors and their ancestors before them and exclaim how I have cheated death through sheer will and determination and how their last name would be preserved, for I am still on this earth and ready to spread it around until the entire world is related to me somehow. I must fly to live. I must fly. I must fly. I must fly. I must—
Hannah Rovska-Strider is a queer fiction writer and MFA candidate at Stony Brook University. She lives in Southampton, NY with her unusually large collection of vintage Halloween decorations and a nice raccoon who taps on her window every other night at 3 am.