Zeus wants a new body. Again.
Hera stares at the blinking text message before putting the phone down on her desk to search for the bottle of scotch hidden in the back of the bottom drawer. She doesn’t bother with a glass.
It’s barely been five years since he switched to this body but it’s longer than she expected. She stares down at the message again until the screen goes black.
The dutiful wife. The only one the king of the gods will trust.
The whiskey burns.
He stopped giving her the courtesy of calling years ago. Text message is just too convenient. Frankly, it’s a wonder she’s getting more than one word messages because when she closes her eyes all she can see is him trying to send a fumbled text around the embrace of some other girl.
It’s an image branded across the backs of her eyes from the centuries where she still bothered trying to track him down. Make him come home. Beg him to come home as he stared blankly at her with beer on his breath, a girl on his arm, and the entire pantheon watching.
All the pantheons watching.
She reseals the bottle and shoves it to the side, rereading the texts again and again as though the contents will change. Her finger hovers over the delete button.
Two messages from the husband with no one else to call.
That’s all she ever gets. An address. A request.
Hera’s free hand taps her pen against her desk, finger moving ever closer to the button that would make it all go away. Maybe she won’t answer this time. Finally. After centuries together. Surely she’s learned to stop letting him under her skin by now.
But the pen falls and her finger moves to tap the reply button instead. Hera grabs a charm from her desk drawer and rises to her feet, quickly tapping out a message. Asking Zeus to wait until after working hours when she pauses mid-sentence. The couples who come to her for help are important. Their lives. Their love.
They’ll fight. She doesn’t need that.
Instead, she deletes the half-formed message and steps out of her office to give her secretary a tight smile, “Please reschedule all of my afternoon meetings. Apologize on my behalf. Tell them the next session is free of charge.”
Smoothing her skirt, Hera steps into the elevator. There is still the matter of her personal appointments, dinner with the son who isn’t hers. He gets a personal text. A true apology. Once spending time with her husband’s other children would have curled poison in her gut but of all their children, Apollo is one of the few who makes a point to keep in touch.
God of music and medicine and the sun itself.
In this age there’s nothing shameful about loving a step-son.
As she steps onto the busy sidewalk, Hera gives a tight smile to the man holding a dirty sign and an empty cup. Waiting there every day. He knows she’ll cave to his empty eyes even if he is unaware that they remind her of the brother who wanders the edges of the sea, boat long lost to storms. She drops a few coins, letting them bounce into the styrofoam.
Of them all, Poseidon might still wonder what prompts Zeus’s continual body switching. Five years isn’t long. Especially to a god. She’s been in her own body for 50 years now. Frozen face. Forever 39.
There is something unsettling about letting herself turn 40.
She passes by a bar featuring only a capital D and a bunch of grapes on the sign and wishes she could still cling to her innocence the way Poseidon does.
Zeus always has the same reason.
He has improved at giving her excuses. This body doesn’t have the muscles I was expecting. I’m getting fat. I scorched myself on some lightning and now I have an unsightly burn.
Their souls are immortal but the bodies are not and he always forgets to take care of himself without reminders. She used to leave him little notes on his things. Tucked away in his lunch. Taped to his lightning quiver.
But that was a long time ago.
Before the convenience of cell phones and email. When he still had to come home.
Now, he doesn’t have to leave the bars. They have food, drink, bathrooms, and a cell phone to reach the wife at home. Assuming he even calls it home. Based on sheer proximity, she’d guess that bars and hotels are more familiar to her husband than their upscale condo. She didn’t bother asking his opinion the last time she got it redecorated. The bars seem to have everything he needs.
Most importantly, the bars have beautiful women.
It always comes down to that. Every excuse for a new body just another way of letting her know that he isn’t scoring as often as he’d like to.
Blaming the excuses on the body he’d chosen. She can do the math. Find the common denominator.
Still, she won’t tell him and he won’t ask. But if he did she might mention that these days bulk and beefy didn’t do quite as well as a toned chest and a brain to go with it. But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Not her husband.
She steps on the subway. Not herself.
So she finds herself at the address he sent. Large stone steps between her and the doorway reminiscent of a glory long lost.
If she were her own client she’d tell herself to walk away now. Turn away. Ride the subway. Maybe visit her other son. Hephaestus is doing better than all of them with the sudden demand for new technology. New toys. The world wanted a workshop, whatever the shape of the maker.
She hasn’t seen the other children in years. Eris runs wild and has no intention of coming home. It’s not hard to track her whereabouts through the newspapers as her discord only spreads. Ares, however, has disappeared despite what the news would tell her.
God of war.
Occasionally she hears stories from those who have seen him. They’re all the same. Drunk and alone in the middle of a warzone. Emptiness in his eyes. Dust in his hair. Bottles at his feet.
Forever tied to a mission he no longer believes in.
His worshipers won’t let him disappear. Won’t let him change bodies. Won’t let him go.
Other children she wishes she didn’t hear of so often. Another of her husband’s offspring, the grey eyed goddess of wisdom herself, is particularly active and every mention of her name stings.
Athena had never been a child. Never needed a mother.
It’s that thought alone, that Zeus might call his favourite daughter if the dutiful wife doesn’t show up, that prompts Hera to climb the steps.
Thumb running over the golden band on her left hand.
Artemis, on the rare occasion she joins Hera and Apollo for dinner, might tell her that she should be thankful there are no other children to contend with. The demi-gods, tired of unexpected siblings showing up among their ranks, figured out magic long ago to stem the reproductive abilities of their far off grandparents.
Her fingers clench tightly on the door of the lobby. The bonus of her husband’s lack of illegitimate children doesn’t always seem a fair trade for the loss of her own ability. The womb sits so silently inside her yet still aches empty with every monthly shedding.
The goddess of marriage and motherhood should not feel so barren.
Her heels click across the ceramic floor. Perhaps she’ll close the clinic and return to the adoption agency. She’s had this face for a while now. It’s pushing her luck that no one will notice the lack of laugh lines.
Of course, that would require her to laugh.
She doesn’t have to ask the bellhop where her husband is. They’ve been married too long and the scent of burning metal and fresh rain is one imprinted on the foundations of her soul itself. One scent that still screams of home even though she’s not sure it ever really was.
Somehow home feels more like the dark confines of her father’s stomach, swallowed alongside her siblings as they passed the hours chatting in the darkness. Five eldest gods trapped while Zeus was free to grow in the open air alone.
Smells of home are the absent husband. Thoughts of home are the errant father.
She wonders what Hestia would think and cannot remember the last time she spoke with her eldest sibling. Waiting at the hearth. Waitress at the one bar meant for their kind. The only place Hestia knows they’ll all eventually end up. Hera pauses outside the conference room door and quickly pops a reminder into her calendar to give the family a call.
She’s written such reminders before.
Zeus shoots her a smile when she enters the room. He gets a glare in return. She’s better than the smile forged in a thousand bars with a thousand girls. She can still remember better smiles. The smiles from when they first started.
He at least has the courtesy to look sheepish.
Truthfully, Hera doesn’t even recognize the long blonde haired man staring back at her. He looks like a muscular Apollo. The analogy rings familiar in her head. She must have made it the last time she helped him murder for this body.
They start to blur together after a while.
She glances briefly at the conference room table, surprised to see a body already lying prone across it. Skin blending into the wood. Her job has been further reduced, she’s not even needed for the murder portion of the evening. The corpse is just as large as the blonde version of her husband standing before her, equally muscular. Although, the new one has a beard.
Perhaps Zeus was feeling nostalgic.
All that was missing was the wife.
Pride puffs up his chest but all it takes is a critical gaze and a simple sentence to deflate him. She can’t help rolling her eyes and says, “You forgot the charm, dear.”
Zeus starts to pat down his torso, “I could have sworn I brought one with me.”
Hera holds in the sigh and reaches into her pocket, fingers closing around the tiny metal charm on a thin chain. “Use mine,” she says and tosses it onto the body on the table.
“That’s why I call you,” Zeus slips back into the easy smile, “always thinking ahead.”
At least he doesn’t call her babe. He did once, three or four bodies ago, and she left him standing with a quivering soon to be corpse on his hands. She didn’t come back until a week had passed and he’d filled their apartment with roses.
She doesn’t like roses. He used to know that but she tells herself it’s the thought that counts.
Her sister had offered to take them off her hands and use them in her shop. Demeter’s smile sad as they carried vases from the apartment down to the van and there was no bubbly voice to greet them. It had taken centuries but eventually Persephone had run from the suffocating version of love offered by her mother.
Straight to a marriage not even Hera had expected to work.
And yet, Hades and Persephone had never once needed to sit on her couch to resolve their issues. They had flown higher than any in the pantheon, building an empire that spanned the world and folded hundreds of corporations under their wings.
Goddess of Spring to usher in the new and Lord of the Dead to close the deal. All black suits and colourful tattoos as matching black bands shone on hands that were never far apart.
Zeus isn’t even wearing his ring. The diamond Hera bought herself glistening on her finger.
“Well,” Zeus says, ever impatient, and slaps the body on the table, “shall we get going? I can’t wait to give this guy a test run.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, “If you’re interested?”
Her womb aches but she straightens her back and says, “No.”
He shrugs, “Your loss.”
She’s not sure it is.
“What were you thinking-” Hera doesn’t get a chance to finish the sentence before the room fills with a flash and a bang. When the dots dancing over her vision clear, she is treated to the sight of her charbroiled husband. Golden hair dissolving to black ash.
Always the god of lightning.
His soul will be zipping its way around the nothingness of the universe, probably already impatiently waiting for her to bring him back. A small golden glow fills the room as the charm she threw on the body activates, sensing a god nearby with a bond to a god in the nethersphere.
A few steps let Hera reach out and wind the chain between her fingers as the charm sits on the body’s chest. The sparks increase, tugging at her own magic to jump along the chain from her fingers to the body and back again.
A little magic. A few words.
A wife’s duty well fulfilled for another five years.
She can bring him back.
A part of her is still flattered by the trust. He comes back to her again and again to help him with the transition. She’d been so lovestruck the first time. When they’d barely been born in the minds of mortals and he’d fallen at the hands of their father. Hit down before they could be victorious.
But he’d already pressed a charm into her hand and spoken of a body that looked so close to the one he was already wearing. As their siblings fought the Titan horde she had brought Zeus back in a new body and the others had never noticed he was gone.
When he boasted as their father bled gold across the fields of how he was unbeatable, she didn’t correct him.
The chain continues to spark across her fingers, dancing light patterns across the room as she pushes more magic down to the body. Thinking only of him.
Of a time he had let her pick the bodies. Asking what would please her, which form she liked best. His queen. And so as he tied his magic to the sky, Hera felt confident tying her own to her marriage.
To the man she trusted to always be by her side.
She hadn’t noticed when he’d stopped asking which bodies she liked best. Making his choices on his own and coming home to surprise her with the latest model. They would murder the new body together and transfer his soul.
Hera considered it a bonding activity.
Now it is all that binds them. Glowing chain tying fingers to corpse, tethering his soul back to mortal flesh.
Her phone buzzes in her pocket. Hera fishes it out with her free hand and smiles softly as Apollo’s name flashes across the screen. It fades as she reads the contents.
A shame she can’t make it. Athena was hoping to join.
Athena. The grey eyed goddess. The step-daughter who never needed a mother. Shortly after Zeus had stopped asking Hera’s opinions on his bodies, she had emerged. The first of the next generation.
Zeus had crowed. Her husband clapping the fully grown woman on the back and showing off his new daughter to anyone who would listen.
In those days, Hera had never carried a child. Had no daughter.
But he did.
Now she has six by blood. She stopped counting when he hit 50 divine children. She hadn’t even bothered counting the mortal children after Hercules.
Hera snaps her wrist back, yanking on the chain and detaching it from the body. The sparks fizzle, then disappear. For a moment she stares at her own hand and the empty chain dangling from it.
Slowly she puts the chain back in her pocket. Hera straightens her skirt, takes a breath, and reaches for her phone. The first text is to Apollo, saying she’ll be there for dinner. The second is to Hades, asking her brother to put the fresh corpse on ice.
Then she spins towards the door. Her heel punctures straight into the charred remains of her husband’s old body. He can wait.
She’s waited thousands of years to get know her step-daughter.