Ephesia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A requiem for the human race.

Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Daniel surveyed the garden as if for the first time; genetically enhanced orchid blossoms hung from the fruit-laden branches of mango and avocado trees, their dappled petals changing colour, one pattern fusing into another in kaleidoscopic splendour. Between the trees, the earth lay carpeted in violet-blue wildflowers – a sea of floral coolness surrounding small, bushy islands of silver dwarf Morning Glory. He absorbed the comforting, riotous sound of water tumbling down miniature waterfalls, doves flirting and finches brawling. Butterflies of every size and hue flitted between flowers like promiscuous suitors. Slanted stone walls hemmed in the garden, accosted by sprawling climbers and fronted by borders of irregularly ranked sunflowers. Nature could never have created a garden of such conflicting order and chaos. The vision of their personal Eden made Daniel sigh with both satisfaction and regret.

He followed the path through the encroaching ferns to stand before a marble statue of Aphrodite, her modesty partially ensured by the insinuations of creeping ivy vines. Daniel addressed the deity: ‘Why did nature feel the need to make intelligent life so emotionally sensitive? If humans exist as a result of the physical differentiation required for God to experience its creation, surely the creator has to be a sadomasochist?’ He shook his head and groaned, ‘Yet, who am I to question eternity’s love of producing time?’

With eyes closed, he recalled the first time he had seen Elsa, walking above him on the mound of Hissarlik, silhouetted against searing Helios, her thin chiffon dress hiding nothing of her figure’s exquisite definition. Elsa’s sudden attentiveness towards him induced a reaction akin to a tongue-tied schoolboy confronted with a goddess. She ignored his awkwardness, behaving with all the familiarity one would expect had they grown up fighting and playing together. His falling hopelessly in love with her happened as they stood before the back wall, at the point where the fig-tree had grown in the crack, just as Homer described. Elsa listened with genuine interest while he voiced how it may have been the point where the Greeks entered the city, rather than hiding in a wooden horse – if Diomedes and Odysseus had done so when stealing the Palladium, why not the infiltration party – but that all seemed like another lifetime now, as ancient as the history of the Troad.

‘Why did you wake me, Daniel? I know it sounds silly to say, but Medon and Genia seem upset.’

Daniel turned to face her; the reply stuck in his throat. Elsa walked towards him through faint clouds of mist created by the humid atmosphere, no different from that day at Troy, even wearing the same russet dress, her long dark hair styled by the wind blowing across the plain. The twins stood slightly behind her on either side, as still as the statue. Daniel experienced a metaphorical aching of the heart.

‘Don’t tell me you’re sick, Daniel...’

‘Let’s not dwell on it now, darling, I thought we might go on one last sojourn. Where do you fancy – Dove-haunted Messe, or perhaps, Wind-blown Ensipe? Just joking, but we could visit Tenedos, sit on the beach all night waiting for the rosy fingers of Eos to herald the coming of dawn…’

She giggled and grinned at him. ‘You’re such a hopeless romantic. Why not relive our honeymoon?’

‘Would you, Medon?’ The young man walked towards a small stone bridge spanning the trout and crayfish infested stream, guarded by the winged gods of love and mischief. The lack of full flexibility in Medon’s skin betrayed its artificial nature. He passed through a trellis archway supporting a white-flowered climbing rose, set in a hedge of orange and red fire berry,

They waited for a few minutes, Daniel eyeing the effigy, as though expecting her to stir from the plinth and perform a miracle, until the humanoid returned.

Daniel turned to his wife. ‘Come on, follow me into the time garden.’

The arch led them into the shade and coolness of a stone tower, from which they stepped out to find themselves in the middle of a hillside. Below, in the shallow bowl of the valley floor, lay the Greco-Roman classical city of Ephesus, its marbled whiteness gleaming in the Aegean sun, in contrast with the earthiness of terracotta roof tiles and the green valley. Harbour Street ran straight through its centre, side-streets branching off in right-angled regularity. Further up the valley, at the end of the Sacred Way, stood the Artemisium and Church of St John. The enclosing valley walls served to create a natural fortress, enhanced by battlements built along hills and mountain ridges. Copses of evergreen oak, cypress, laurel and eucalyptus stood dotted between buildings, pavements and roads.

They set off down the slope, scattering a flock of shaggy black goats, and approached the city centre from the East, with the Acropolis, stadium and Vedus gymnasium to their left. The air had now lost its clamminess; Daniel could sense the perspiration evaporating from his skin.

 ‘Am I really a great lover, Elsa?’ he dared to ask. ‘You may as well tell me the truth, now...’

Elsa gave him a smile approximating something between amusement and embarrassment. ‘I always appreciated your enthusiasm and consideration, darling.’

‘You always were the diplomat in this relationship, Elsa – always knew the right thing to say.’

‘I had to, didn’t I?’ she gave him a wink, ‘otherwise we’d never have gotten together in the first place. You never really came out of your shell until we made love in Izmir.’

‘Oh, thanks for making me a man, darling!’

‘Don’t worry about it, Daniel; you’re welcome.’

Those landmarks of the city most prominent to the approaching eye were the larger theatre to their left and the gymnasium lying midway between it and the harbour. A chariot drawn by stocky, short-maned ponies flew past, sending up a cloud of red dust – the young charioteer paid them no heed.

On reaching level ground, Daniel intended to pass between the Byzantine Baths and Church of the Virgin, but Elsa veered to the right.

‘I want to visit the shrine – consecrate my heart one last time, Daniel.’

A small domed chapel stood attached to one end of the basilica, they paused in the shade before its entrance.

‘Never mind the Ecumenical Council,’ Daniel couldn’t help grumbling, even though he felt ungracious. ‘If Innocent the Third hadn’t sanctioned the association of Mary with the moon, attempting to seduce women away from the Old Religion, her worship would never have become popular…’

‘Daniel, just think of her as Artemis, you die-hard pagan.’

Probitas laudatur et alget, darling.’

Elsa entered the chapel, calling over her shoulder, ‘Honesty may indeed starve, Daniel, but it can also choke you. Lying is the most important social skill of all.’

‘But there’s no one left to lie to,’ Daniel said to himself. He approached the entrance to peer into the gloom of the sanctum, listening to the faint echo of Elsa’s supplication:

 

‘AVE, Maris Stella,

Dei mater alma,

atque semper Virgo,

felix coeli porta…’

 

Daniel headed for the sunshine, fighting the urge to succumb to an emotional episode. He willed himself to resist lateral thought – to concentrate on living in the moment. Elsa soon emerged, smiling demurely and removing the scarf. She seemed pleased and he felt happy for that.

‘Come on,’ he encouraged, ‘let’s stroll down to the harbour, see the Aegean one last time. Elsa, if you could change anything… I mean about us... would you?’

‘Of course, I would, silly. Don’t look so worried. My heart would still be true, but you’d be me and I’d be you.’

The pavement and portico through the Harbour Gymnasium Baths were fully decked with mosaics: Eros pursuing various sea nymphs across the sea, all riding dolphins. A repetitious Bacchanalian reverie issued from a group of turbaned buskers playing double flutes, long-necked trumpets and hand drums – a pair of cobras swayed lazily to their tune.

Harbour Street bustled with the timeless interactions of people: children quarrelled while parents scolded, young men flirted with young women, older couples negotiated. Fashions varied: Dorian chitons, togas, the odd Phrygian cap, women in pleated dresses with braided hair. Either side of the wide avenue stood continuous rows of colonnaded porticos, paved with ornate mosaics.

Elsa paused before a small shrine covered in white-flowered lilies, to gaze at a statuette of Artemis. The goddess’s chest sprouted numerous rounded growths.

‘They’re definitely breasts,’ Elsa asserted.

‘Bull’s testicles,’ Daniel insisted.

‘Same to you as well…’ She pretended to take offence. ‘Oh, Daniel, I wish I could actually make an offering.’

‘And I wish I could make a libation to Dionysus,’ he answered with a grin, ‘along with the toast to follow, but it’s window shopping only, darling – you know that.’

She frowned humorously. ‘But who would carry you home?’ As they approached the arched gateway to the harbour, she added, ‘This must have been the most beautiful city in the world, Daniel.’

‘Undoubtedly,’ he replied, ‘but it was mostly downhill for civilisation after this, I’m afraid. I wish I could make time run backwards.’

They passed between the pilasters supporting a row of Ionic columns, their capitals decorated with flying Nikes, and stood looking across the harbour. Wide-eyed triremes and Phoenician-style galleys bobbed restlessly on the swelling brine. Those ships in dock were having their cargos of amphorae unloaded by pairs of burly sailors and transferred to the backs of mules.

Daniel doubled over clutching his stomach. ‘What is it?’ Elsa asked. ‘You are ill.’

‘It’s not only that I’ve become sick…’ he straightened up and spoke without looking in her eyes. ‘Elsa, darling, we’ve received some news; it appears there’s no one else left. Once it went airborne, we didn’t really have a chance.’

Elsa nodded in resignation. ‘Medon says it’s as though the virus was specifically designed to finish us off. Do you remember joking once, that perhaps we were simply an experiment doomed to failure, just like the dinosaurs? We’d better head back.’

‘There’s a shot cut, just through the gate.’ Daniel led the way.

They passed back through the gate and turned into a narrow alley-way, to step out on the garden bridge. Medon and Genia awaited them; they helped Daniel to the cottage.

‘End simulation,’ said Elsa.

The garden disappeared to reveal the surrounding desert, beyond a circle of cylindrical metal pillars. Nearby, withered palm trees and a desiccated smudge represented all that was left of what had once been an oasis. The Stratford-upon-Avon-style cottage became a metal-panelled habitat.

Once inside, Daniel turned to Elsa, his eyes full of despair. ‘I don’t want to suffer, darling. I’ll have Medon euthanise me.’

‘But, Daniel, it doesn’t affect the brain. Medon and Genia could perform the surgery, they could maintain us.’

Genia spoke up, ‘Yes, Father, we would still have you to guide us.’

‘We need you, Father,’ Medon added.

Daniel took their hands. ‘Our time has passed, while yours has just begun. You will cooperate with the others and learn to live without us.’ He turned and walked to a mirror, and looked on his reflection: the thin, wispy grey hair, the liver spots and wrinkles. He spoke to his wife’s reflection, ‘Darling, I can’t do it, live without a sense of touch. It’s bad enough now. What would Melisegenes have said, had he known that the trees would cease to bring forth new buds and the generations of men would be no more? Oh, Elsa, if I could only hold you one more time…’ A tear dripped from the end of his nose.

‘I’d best leave,’ Elsa said. ‘I’m only making it more difficult for you.’ She addressed the twins. ‘Make sure I’m switched off, once he’s gone. Please don’t leave me without him.’

Elsa walked to stand by the life-support machine containing her floating brain. She blew Daniel a kiss; her hologram became transparent, before fading away. All that remained was her voice:

‘My heart would still be true, but you’d be me and I’d be you.’


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