The stench of my George Foreman mini-grill revealed something was burning. I stopped mid-hallway: something, or someone, was awry in my house.
I’d always wondered if grilled cheeses opened portals to other worlds. There’s just something eerie about them. Nothing in the universe is so simple yet so, so appealing. In the Sandwich Olympics, grilled cheese is king. The divine scent of the cheddar entices even the gods.
Gathering my courage, I faced the intruder.
A man munched on the sandwich as Mr. Foreman burned. He leaned against the counter, merry eyes daring me to question. From his anachronistic toga to his winged sandals, he was a blaring example as to why one shouldn’t leave sandwiches alone - you never knew who might steal them.
He tipped his baseball cap. The stranger’s grin revealed bits of crumbs.
“And you are...?”
I noticed the checkered scarf around his neck.
“The man.” He sent dancing fingers through the air in a snazzy salute. “G’morning, sweetheart. Loved the sandwich.”
“Apparently,” I mumbled. “So, how did you get in? The doors are locked, and I didn’t hear any breaking glass.” I looked him up and down. “Get lost on the way to a toga party?” Maybe he was a crazy frat bro.
“My life’s a party - I bring it with me, or steal Dionysus’ thunder.” He sipped from a chipped coffee mug, then ah’ed appreciatively. “By Jove’s hairy derriere, what a drink. Wine pales in comparison. To the gods of old, and young days long since gone.” He wandered into my dining room. “We don’t love them til they’re gone.”
My eyes convulsed. “Sorry, but who did you say you were?” I looked at his hands. They were tapered like the fingers of an artist who smuggled on the side.
His eyes bespoke whimsy. Looking at this stranger was, in fact, like taking the first, dangerous bite of a melty grilled cheese.
“Hermes: the man, not the scarf,” he sang, opening the porch door.
Hermes nearly flew over to the porch’s edge, tipping the mug over the railing and raining coffee on the ground.
“To Olympus.” My mug went flying. “We make this sacrifice of vessel and drink. A blessing upon the woman who is such a kind hostess.”
“You killed my coffee cup!”
Hermes shrugged. “Sacrificing things of meaning makes the gods likely to smile upon you. Just don’t pull a Tantalus, m’kay?” He nudged my shoulder. “I’m getting you heavenly boons.”
“Are they worth my coffee?”
“Most definitely.” He patted me on the back. “So, love, the reason I’m here: your old man wants to chat.”
I sunk, comet-hard, onto the porch. The so-called Hermes blurred before my eyes.
“My - my dad?” I stammered. Hermes helped me up. “But my parents are deadbeats.” I choked back tears. “They bolted. I was twelve. I came home and found the house empty. Things were always hard for us, and my parents were always… strange, but to do that to your kid?” Shivers flooded me. “Don’t tell me you know him. He’s better off dead.”
Hermes whistled low. “He didn’t want to. The man never shut up about you.”
“As if a lost frat boy knew him!” I stumbled back into the house, sinking into the couch.
A steaming mug of tea appeared in my hands.
“Drink it up, honey. It’s sweetened with ambrosia – it’ll give you strength.”
I drank reluctantly, memories flooding my head. Whatever crap the lunatic had spiced it with tasted bittersweet, like a worm drawing old wounds from my brain:
Dad, tinkering with circuits, showing me how to make metal come to life. His proud face as I showed him my inventions. “You were born to create,” he’d whisper.
He’d chased me through fields, taken me camping in the Catskills. I’d watched as he built a bonfire, his eyes sparking as the flames grew.
“Fire’s a gift, Agalia,” he’d said I toasted marshmallows. His eyes, sometimes, grew strange to me. There was a burning in their depths like moonstone.
The lullabies he’d sang to me, in his honeyed Greek tongue. Toys painted just for me. The stories he’d spun, of the Greek gods and their follies, like the myths were his.
“I was only twelve,” I said. “In sixth grade, Jesus Christ. The cops looked everywhere. No trace. They cycled me into a hellhole of foster homes and left me heartbroken. Don’t tell me you knew him.”
Hermes’ eyes glowed. “There was no other way. If there had been, your father would have plunged the depths of Tartarus to return.”
I glowered over my cup. “Yeah. Right. How do you know?”
“I was there, in your old man’s company. I remember that night. He had Olympian business to do.”
My eyes widened like saucers. “What are you saying?”
Hermes steadied my shaking hands.
“Look,” he said, “look literally, into the cup. There’s something you should see.”
“What, my delusions?”
Hermes twirled his finger over the tea. Images dances across it as he whispered in Greek. My Greek was so rusty I couldn’t understand.
The liquid shifted to a glassy surface. My father reflected back at me, his face contorted; his cry rang. I jolted: the cup clattered. Hermes waved his hands. Tea droplets formed a liquid sheet.
My father’s figure burned.
Red. On rocks. Chains.
“That’s impossible,” I whispered, “It’s horrible!”
Hermes’ face was grave.
Tears stung my eyes. “This isn’t real. Someone must’ve spiked my drink last night.”
Hermes tried to hold me back. I lashed out at his conjuration. “That’s not my dad! He left me - he didn’t- no.”
“I’m sorry,” Hermes whispered.
But the vision had already begun.