Once Upon a Time, There Was a Man
A mother asked her child. The boy with medium black hair and sleepy blue eyes awoke from his tiredness immediately and shook his head. He was only six years old and didn’t know much about mythology or life but his curiosity was at its peak.
“Will you tell me, mum?” he asked eagerly.
The woman smiled softly and nodded. She got in bed, next to him, and wrapped her arms around his small body.
“Dionysus was the god of fertility and wine who was then later considered a patron of the arts. He created wine and spread the art of viticulture. He had a dual nature; on one hand, he brought joy and divine ecstasy; 1 and on the other he would bring brutal and blinding rage.”
The kid grabbed his mother’s hand and listened with excitement.
“His parents were Zeus and a human called Semele.” She continued, caressing his forehead lovingly.
“Zeus the God of thunder and lightning?” asked the child, remembering the image from a cartoon he had seen.
“Yes. He was his son. His mother was killed out of jealousy and he became immortal because his father saved him. The Titans ripped him to pieces; however, he was brought back to life. After this, Zeus arranged for his protection and gave him to the mountain nymphs to be raised.”
“He was raised by fairies?” asked the boy with gleaming eyes.
The woman nodded, deciding against correcting him.
“Let’s say, spirits of the forest.” The boy nodded and urged her to continue, “He loved his mother so much, even if he hadn’t met her. He journeyed into the underworld to find her and bring her back to life.”
The boy frowned, “Did he find her?”
His mother smiled and nodded. The kid wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly.
“I’d do that too, mum. I’d go to the end of the world to find you.”
The woman laughed softly, feeling touched by her brave son.
“I know you would. But you must be careful, Victor. There’s always someone lurking in the shadows, boiling with rage and jealousy. There’s always someone like Hera, who can’t accept reality.” The boy nodded, his eyes staring intensely at his mother as she wrapped up her story, “Well, that’s it for tonight.”
“Tell me another story~” whined the boy in a bratty manner although he was only trying to get himself further spoiled by his mother.
The older woman looked upon him with loving eyes and kissed his forehead.
“Tomorrow night. I promise.”
Victor agreed to the terms, although he didn’t like it, and grabbed his teddy bear. The woman got up and turned off the lights. She took one last look at her son before she walked out.
In the master bedroom, her husband was patiently waiting for her while reading a book. He put it aside when he saw his wife enter and get into bed.
“Have you told him yet?” He asked in a serious yet warm voice.
“In one form or another, yes. It’s not easy telling your son that his parents will get a divorce.” She replied coldly before she turned off the lights.
“Victor! Victor, it’s morning~”
He wasn’t in his home that was for sure. It didn’t smell like vanilla or like his mother’s strawberry pancakes. Truthfully, he couldn’t remember whose home he was in this time around.
“Victooooor,” she called him again. His train of thought was disrupted when he heard his name as it echoed down the hall by Dee’s whiny voice.
The feminine voice wasn’t elegant, like his mother’s, and it was slightly manly. She shook him twice before he opened his watery blue eyes and rolled on his back.
“Your husband is not home today, Dee.” He mumbled before he yawned loudly. “We’ve got time, don’t worry.”
He hoped his nonchalant tone would give her the impression that his prior plans take a back seat when it revolves around her.
The girl rolled her eyes and hit him playfully in the arm. He frowned and grabbed her wrists, pulling her on the bed and rolling over her, keeping her trapped. They messed around in the sheets for a few more hours when Victor’s stomach growled.
“Come on, I’ll get brunch ready. You go get ready for that meeting of yours,” Dee started as she got out of bed and went into the kitchen.
All by himself, Victor sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. All these distractions just to keep his mind off reality but every now and then he couldn’t help his desire to have more from life. As he headed towards the bathroom, he realized that it is better for him to remain detached from reality rather than facing the truth that he will never get the life he so desperately wants.
Standing under the shower head with water falling over his body, Victor thought back on what happened in the last week. It was a mix of lust and business but it seemed everything was leading him towards this one meeting that could change the course of his life and bank account forever. Getting out of the shower and looking at his reflection in the mirror the blue eyes staring back at him showed a man with no desire to live. The suicidal glint would only appear when he was alone and his façade slips away to show his true identity. He sighed and walked out, avoiding reality once more.
“Hmm, smells good~”
He walked behind Dee and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer and kissing her neck.
“We don’t have time for that. You said you have a huge project coming soon,” it was shocking how many details she remembered about him.
Victor left butterfly kisses along her neck until she hit him in the ribs softly and he let her go. He walked and took a seat at the table, watching her with a fake smile.
“I do. But let us focus on the now rather than what has yet to come.” He answered, “When did you say your husband will come back?” he asked, grabbing his cup of coffee.
“Why? So you know when to leave?” Dee teased him.
“You know me too well.”
She rolled her eyes before fixing an omelette in one of the plates and putting it in front of him.
“This looks tasty,” He said slowly probing it with the fork. It looked a little burned on the sides and not cooked enough in the middle, “Will it kill me?” He asked tauntingly while leaning towards her.
She threw a napkin at his head as she huffed offended.
“No! You’re too precious to be killed just yet.”
He raised an eyebrow and placed the napkin on his neck; just like a little boy.
“Not just yet. Got it.”
She rolled her eyes but couldn’t stop smiling.
It was no surprise that a 40 year old woman such as Andrea Collini wanted to spice up her sensual life. She met Victor Abbot at work, in Paris. She was married for longer than Victor’s age at that time however she didn’t seem to find happiness in her life anymore. They met again in Venice and that was the moment they started their affair. Victor wasn’t sure if what he felt was love or just carnal desire for her more mature body; maybe both. He just knew he wanted more. He wanted to feel the life going through his veins; he wanted to feel the adrenaline of doing something forbidden.
As he looked at her face, he couldn’t help but notice the imperfections first. One of her eyes was smaller than the other and together they had nothing interesting or alluring. Her face was plain, and she had a big nose compared to her other features. When she smiled, he could see the wrinkles on her forehead and the ones around her mouth, yet her teeth were brand new, since she was a rich woman and could afford it. His eyes moved down her neck, to her chest. She had implants but they didn’t seem to fit her physique. Her upper body wasn’t in concordance to the lower part; she wasn’t in sync. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t even that pretty; if anything, she was rather naïve for her age. But Victor liked that; he liked being the perfect one in their relationship.
He smiled and took a bite from her omelette. It tasted as bad as it looked but he forced it down his throat. He had no place to go to if his project would fail except this little cottage owned by the Collini family so giving in to her whims was the least he could do.
“So, what’s the plan for today? Will you come back here or-“
Victor shrugged, knowing she wanted him to return to her and spend a few more hours together. She leaned against the table and bit her lip, intending to be seductive but it looked nothing like it. He took a deep breath in and gave her a peck.
“I have to go now.”
She chuckled and wrapped her hands around his neck. They kissed a few more times before he finally got out of her grasp.
Once outside, he couldn’t help but sigh in relief. He got himself into that mess and he enjoyed it greatly, but all good things must come to an end. It was time for a new discovery.
His meeting was held in Rome, in one of the buildings near the Trevi Fountain. The project he and his co-worker were working on took a lot more time than they expected and they even had to move to Italy in order to please their client. He had only a few more days of work and then he could go back home. He missed the British air and the people but mostly, he missed his mother. He missed having her wait for him with warm food, having her prepare his suit whenever he had an important meeting and especially the way she told him mythology stories. It was home; she was home.
He never liked living among strangers, where not only talent and hard work mattered but also the way you express yourself and the way you behave with people with more power than you. Wherever he was in the world, appearance and family still mattered and Victor hated to be constrained by what others thought of him. And yet, it was better to be judged by the people in his country, whose values and principles were related to his, than the strangers who look down on him, as if not everyone lived on the same earth.
He was greeted by the same guard at the entrance of the building; a man taller than Victor with a stuffy mustache and eyes so small that Victor often wondered if he was doing it on purpose to scare people away.
Just as he stepped inside, a very presentably dressed man approached him.
“Look who finally arrived! Abbot, you’re late.”
Victor brushed his co-worker off and they both walked to the elevator.
“Do you even realize just how big this project is? If we get it, we can finally call ourselves architects.” said the visibly tight-up man. He was dressed by the book for such formal events and his hair was sleeked back with the right amount of gel.
Victor rolled his eyes and pushed the elevator button for the fifth floor. It was a small building compared to the ones back in London and the elevator looked ready to crumble.
“I know, John. That’s why I agreed to come here and spend a year in this country. I wanted to take a look at the Italian architecture and find my muse.” answered the blue-eyed man, arranging his tie a bit more.
“And have you found it?” asked the skeptical, more realistic John.
Victor thought about Dee and a few other women he slept with throughout the year. They were all married and had an unfortunate and unhappy life. Of course, that was all in their imagination because they had no concept of what it meant to be truly happy.
“No. I didn’t find anything equally broken and inspiring.” Victor sighed in disappointment.
John stared at his friend with a face that was void of all expressions. He already got used to Victor’s peculiar way of thinking but he’d always come with some crazy idea that would almost push them off the cliff.
“You should wake up, Victor. This is the 21st century. You won’t find anything that you haven’t seen before.” John mumbled, linking his hands behind his back.
He watched as Victor bit his lip and grunted. He was childish and had a certain point of view over life and love but he was an amazing architect and his projects -be them crazy and impossible at first- brought clients and prestige.
They arrived on the 5th floor fast. John had a few more questions for his friend but he pushed them in the back of his mind. They had an important meeting that day that could situate them on top of the social pyramid.
“Let’s do this right, mate,” John mumbled as he opened the door for Victor to walk in first.
A group of men with suit and ties surrounded the table and John felt the room grow increasingly smaller as all their eyes focused on the two men as they entered the room.
“So, Mister Abbot, what exactly have you improved since the last time we met a year ago?” asked one of the stiffest associates.
“If I remember correctly, you vehemently disapproved of my idea to coerce culture and ingenuity. You said my idea was farfetched and impossible to construct. Well, we did change the plan slightly and this is what we came up with,” Victor started, opening his power point presentation.
The project was nothing but a chain of restaurants, designed as museums. Only Victor could have come with that crazy idea. John was so sure they wouldn’t get the project but Victor was determined to succeed.
The image was better than the associates have imagined and most of them seemed pleased. As Victor continued his presentation, John stood aside with pride. It was moments like this when he remembered why he was still Victor’s companion.
After the meeting, they went out for a drink. Victor smiled and laughed even if nothing was funny. His eyes inspected every man; they were a group of six and none of them looked any different. They were dressed in the same kind of suit and they all had the same tired faces. Some of them were fatter than others which led him to believe that some were living worse than others. Against what they were trying to show, they were nothing but money induced corporation men. They had no imagination and not an ounce of flair. Next to those men was John who stood out proud among the pack like a bright dot of paint on a white sheet of paper and Victor couldn’t help but admire how he refused to fit in with the crowd.
A few hours later and the two British men realized they could not spend more time and money on social drinking. Although he didn’t show it as much as Victor, John was also home-sick and wanted to return to his family as soon as possible.
“Let’s go, we already did our job.” Victor mumbled leaning towards his companion. John was already flushed and he looked like he needed some fresh air.
Once they paid for their drinks and politely said their goodbyes, Victor felt invigorated by the air of Rome after being forced to stay so long in the vicinity of some capitalist brutes.
“We’ll probably have to leave soon and come back prepared for the real deal.” John started as he lit up a cigarette. He breathed out the smoke and loosened his black tie enough to get comfortable. “The construction and decorating will take a while. We might at least move here for the next couple of years. That’s enough time to search your muse,” he joked, taking a deep smoke before breathing it out.
Victor wasn’t amused but he couldn’t deny that a muse was in need. His projects have taken a common turn lately and he actually had to research more compared to other times. His mother’s stories weren’t as vivid as before and he was growing older.
“Where to now? One of your conquests’?” asked John, finding it funny how Victor’s face broke into a frown.
“Probably,” but he wasn’t sure. It seemed like there was nothing to return to anymore; there was no excitement anymore, not for him.
“Well, good night, mate! I’m heading to the hotel to change and probably go look for my muse,” John chuckled at his own bad joke and called for a cab.
As Victor stood alone under the street lights he couldn’t stop thinking about his recent situation. He could go back to Dee’s cottage or he could go after his friend and spend some time with him and his affinity for expensive restaurants.
The blue-eyed man called a cab even if he was sure the driver was going to ask for more money than the ride cost.
“Where to?” the driver asked and in the end, Victor answered with one piece of paper that had Dee’s address written on.
For the whole ride, the driver talked and talked. Ever since Victor got in, the man found it crucial to establish why he didn’t like men in suits.
“They’re always around, looking out for more money to steal from citizens like me. We work you know; we work hard and then someone in a suit comes and demands money. And we’re not stupid, not stupid at all but we also want to live so we give them whatever they want.”
Victor sighed and glanced at his watch. It was almost midnight and they barely got out of Rome. He was already regretting his decision to not accompany John as he tried to drown out the deafening voice of the cab driver.
“These rich men have entered politics and now they do whatever they want with us. Just wait until they come up with new laws, in their favour, not ours!” the driver added, taking his hands off the wheel and lighting a cigarette that smelled heavily of toxins. “What, you don’t smoke?” he asked once he saw Victor’s nose scrunch in discomfort. “Everyone smokes these days. I went past a high school yesterday and I caught 14 and 15 year old giving each other cigarettes. Nasty pieces of shit, I’m telling you, and they are our future! Ha!”
Victor was usually a calm man, but the driver wouldn’t stop talking and he even swore a few times in Italian. It was going to be a long ride so for the moment, the British man closed his eyes and tried to block the driver’s voice out and think of his own desires. He couldn’t help but smile, as he started to imagine one of his conquests but not as they really look but as he would like them to move and talk and behave. A woman that would be so beautiful that everything around her would pale in comparison. A woman that could be so bright that when she’d come close to him, he’d be unable to think or move. So, so bright and warm, coming closer and closer.
Victor opened his eyes and looked outside, seeing the light he has been imagining come towards the cab with great speed. The driver did everything he could in order to move or stop in time, he even signaled the other driver, but it was too late as the cars collided. The faster car drove in such way that it threw the cab off the street and made it roll over a few times before it stopped. Victor tried to stay conscious but his lids became so heavy that he couldn’t help but close them.
Maybe a few seconds passed when a woman and two men approached the cab. She looked around before she pointed at the backseat.
“Take him in,” she said before her eyes moved on the driver, who was half dead already.
The men nodded and complied silently.