Note: I have been advised that this might make more sense to readers with a tiny bit of background. First, hopefully it will be obvious but this is fiction. My real sister was not actually punished by Hera, as far as we know. It may help readers to be reminded of the Greek myth of Echo, the mountain nymph who had her voice taken away by Hera, as a punishment for her long-winded stories (and, more specifically, for not exposing the whereabouts of Zeus), and afterwards could only repeat what she heard others say. Echo fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and then turned into a flower, and afterwards Echo faded to nothing but a sound. So, without further ado…
My sister was a shadow. Her skin no longer felt the brush of wind. She had become the breeze.
I never met her. But my first stories held her transgression. Conveyed her punishment. Her suffering.
Zeus, King of the Gods, sought my cousins. He loved their strong, laughing bodies. Their husky, smooth songs. Their sharp, glittering eyes. He followed them, hungry, into the mountains, into the rivers, blue-green, teeming with life. His sister-wife, Hera, came looking for him – Hera, older than Zeus, tricked into being Queen of the Gods. Trapped into a life she had not asked for, Hera asked my sister for an answer my sister had been forbidden to give.
Where is Zeus? she asked.
I was told that Hera was jealous, vengeful and my sister verbose. Both of these – crimes. My sister, with her long, rambling stories and beautiful voice, keeping secrets from the Queen of the Gods. Hera, in her rage with her brother-husband, the one who had hung her from the stars, stole my sister’s voice. Cursed my sister so that she could no longer share her own words but only repeat those of another. My sister who fell in love with a flower, her beautiful body withered, her bones become rock.
I listened carefully to my mother, to my cousins. I was a quick study. I had my sister’s way with words, her lovely voice. And I knew these things were a danger to me. I knew to speak these words, to use this voice, could lead to losing everything: My very body, the feeling of waves washing over me, the taste of a ripe peach. I learned to give Hera what she demanded: A dutiful echo.
But I was plagued by dreams. I woke up, sweating, in the night. Hera beside me, I cowered. I have done what you wish. I have said nothing but what I have heard from others. Please, spare me. Too afraid to look in her eyes, I looked away. From the Queen of the Gods I heard the sound of ancient tears. I turned and saw deep grooves, canyons, where sorrow had carved a centuries-long path.
With a weary tenderness she spoke. I am blamed, but he had already robbed her when he forbade her to speak the truth. I only made obvious what was already so.
I don’t want to become a shadow.
An echo is already a shadow.
But I can feel the wind. I can taste a peach.
I’m afraid, I said. I don’t want to lose everything. They said I would lose everything.
And Artemis the hunter and Athena the wise warrior were there. Aphrodite. We are with you. I slept fitfully.
Sunlight. I am breathing, alone in my room. I whisper the truth. I am awake. It is morning. Nothing happens. Birdsong.
I pull back the covers, my feet touch the ground. I look in the mirror, speaking slowly. I am strong. Dust dances in a beam of light. Nothing happens.
I walk outside, the symphony of limbs, light and dark, warm, cool. She was forbidden to speak the truth. I speak this to the trees, to the sky. I say it clearly. Repeat it. Nothing happens. The branches do not seem to mind.
My legs start to move, before I know where I am going. I am walking, running. My lungs are filling with air, reaching for more air, not enough air. I am afraid I will run out of air before I get where I am going. But there is Theia, the shining light, mother of the sun, the moon, the dawn — my lungs are renewed. And the Muses, dancing with Apollo — more breath. And then I see Alice Walker up ahead with a bag of air. And E.B. White? There is so much air, I am full, to the brim, of all the air I need and I’m running, flying until I reach the cave.
I stand outside, looking into its depths. I gather my strength and with all of the breath left to me I call, sending my words as far into the recesses as they will go: He is here. I hear my sister’s voice calling back: He is here – here – ere. I feel the sun on my arms, a swirl of wind. Birdsong. And my sister, blinking, steps out of the cave.
My sister became a shadow. But I am not. I have hands and a tongue and a still-beating heart. I am afraid. I am alive.