Friday, April 16, 2010

Timeless and Proud

My hair was gray and thin, my skin wrinkled and leathery, my mind a slowly dulling tool—okay, I was getting old. I was a well-accomplished citizen in my lifetime, including planning my town’s downtown revival as well as being a prime benefactor of the refurbished local theater and hospital. But my time was running short. The mayor came to me one day, offered me this: we make a memorial statue of you in the town square, complete with commemorative bronze plaque and lush garden. That’s great, mayor, I said should I approve schematics, artists and designers? He said, no, you don’t understand—we’re going turn you, your body, into the statue. We’ll bring in a gorgon, let her give you the ol’ stone stare, and voila, you’re memorialized for all time. It’s quick, painless.

Now recently, after various tests and consults, the doctor had told me I had about six months to live. My lungs were failing, my ticker was weakening, my kidneys were becoming more like the beans of the same name. He said, you can do some treatments, get hooked up to the best technology, take the best medications, and maybe we can stretch that out. I didn’t like the sound of that. I was pushing 80. My outer form, while not at its peak, looked much more healthful than what was happening inside. Maybe now it was time to check out before I became skeletal, a bad cartoon.

So I told the mayor, let’s do it. Later that day, he called me, said Medusa’s coming in on Thursday. I said, wasn’t she killed and beheaded by Perseus, and he said, yeah, in the Greek myth, sure, but this is real life. I was to come to the town square at two the next day, make sure all my affairs were in order. Last will and testament, my mail cut off, bills paid in full, services cancelled, etc. All of it a somber affair. I had no heirs. My wife had died 11 years ago, so not much to reconcile. That afternoon, the sky blue and sunny, I went to a local diner for my last meal, ordered their biggest porterhouse, regular Coke, fries covered in gravy, and a double-sized peanut butter sundae with triple peanut butter for dessert. Some of the younger townsfolk weren’t aware of who I was, the things I had done for the community. I said to my waitress, who had blue hair and multiple facial piercings, that I was going to be turned to stone not too long. Yeah, aren’t we all, she said, flipping her eyes.

At the town square, there was a small crowd gathered, everyone wearing the same pair of cheap-looking black sunglasses. There was applause and shouts of my name as I got closer. The mayor’s assistant handed me a pair, said, wear these until it’s time. A black Escalade pulled up. The driver, wearing the same sunglasses, hopped out, opened the back door. The sound of hissing snakes preceded Medusa, head full of wiry asps, eyes beaming like small stars. She wasn’t like the way she had been depicted in mythology books and in that Harryhausen movie. She had legs instead of being snakelike below the torso, wore contemporary slacks and blazer, and her body had a slight copper tint revealing barely visible scales. Her face was smooth and like a normal woman’s. An unfortunate squirrel at the base of a nearby blooming dogwood caught her gaze and became a lawn ornament. That sent a chill down my spine, filled me with second thoughts.

So, who’s the lucky duck, she said, her voice raspy like she’d been smoking a pack a day the last 2,500 years. I might be eternal but I ain’t got all day.

I stepped forward, swallowing, raising my hand, as she looked me up and down, the snakes on her head looking at me also, their heads bobbing side to side. Great, she said, I like the occasional civic gig. Works of mine are spread throughout some of the finer municipalities. Gotta tell you, though, being used for hits, lovers’ revenge type deals—much more lucrative. She looked around, said, who’s in charge here, let’s get this show moving!

The mayor stepped forward, said some nice words about the town, me, as I stood by his side. I smiled, thinking about days gone by, contemplating the beautiful sky and warm breeze, the chirping birds. My wife, who said to me once, they’ll make a monument to you some day in this town. Memorialized for all time, I heard the mayor say. He held up the plaque that would go at my feet, the base of the statue I was to become. He finished, shook my hand and patted my back, and there was applause. I was guided over to where I would become a statue. Several people worked with me to get me into a good pose—timeless, they said, timeless and proud. I could hear Medusa off to the side, out of eyesight, carrying on a phone conversation.

So, my moment had arrived. I kept my eyes closed and my body still as my sunglasses were removed. I felt the crowd buzzing around me, collective holding of breath. I heard Medusa’s voice. Think about forever, she said, her voice now smoother, think about some happy moments in your life, and when you’re ready open your eyes.

I remembered the ribbon cutting of the refurbished theater and my wife, beaming, by my side. The first production was The Glass Menagerie and we sat in the front row, enchanted, smiling and clapping. Then we walked home, the streets lazily chugging with cars, chimes tinkling in the wind, as we held hands. Wonderful times.

I opened my eyes, ready. I stared into the gorgon’s twinkling sun eyes, felt rigidity move through me, tickle the wide smile on my face, the firm pull of going home.


  1. In the first paragraph I had the strong urge to forward this guy "Changes in the Memory after 50" by Steve Martin. Probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much once he learned he was dying, but it's my way. Maybe I'll leave a copy in the now-eternal crook in his arm, or hold the pages up to his stone eyes.

    Had you not advertised it as a gorgon story, I never would have seen that coming. Great integration of the mythological and modernity in this one, Christian. The myth helps us feel a certain way about modernity that's necessary, but that reality doesn't quite afford.

  2. Oh man this so much how I want to go, maybe mazzie and I can get a package deal?? great concept and flawless execution here cb. well done.

  3. I didn't ever think I'd
    use 'Medusa' and 'uplifting' in the same sentence but what a way to go! :D Great writing!

  4. Brilliant - both the concept and execution.

  5. What a fantastic idea! So clever, and so well delivered. This line is genius: "I might be eternal but I ain’t got all day." Great stuff.

  6. This was engrossing from start to finish and completely satisfying. Loved it. Just goes to show you don't need a twist at the end (though the whole concept is sort of a twist in itself) for great flash. Nice one.

  7. What a story, so well told. Just loved every single bit of it, from your descriptions of Medusa being a raspy businesswoman to his last meal, to the image he remembered just before he opened his eyes.
    Such an original and imaginative story.

  8. This blew me away. I think I read most of this with a smile on my face.

    "I might be eternal but I ain't got all day." And then, she's talking to the side in a cell phone. Absurdity at its best.

  9. Really nicely done. And they say the old gods are dead. I, too, love "I might be eternal but I ain't got all day." Priceless. This is a great story.

  10. It's unanimous: the "I ain't got all day" line's a winner. Nice work.

  11. Brilliant work Christian! Just loved the whole concept and the way you weaved the mythology with today's world.

  12. I found the presentation of the dialog a bit weird, but otherwise a very neat tale. The idea of Medusa doing volunteer civic work like this is crazy like a fox. Makes me wonder what other mythological creatures are getting up to.