Did Persephone dream of food while trapped in the realm of the dark king? As she grew paler and thinner, refusing the clusters of grapes with their ashen bloom, the suckling pig rich with burnt fat? Hunger sharpening the line of her cheekbone, deepening the hollows of her eyes. Her reflection in the mirror could almost be a shade, one more to join the multitudes roaming the cavernous halls of the underworld.
He dresses her in robes of faded splendor. He toasts her with dark wine from goblets etched with the lyre of Orpheus. Her throne awaits her, cast from the silver paid to the ferryman by all who cross his river. The scent of attar is pervasive, overwhelming. She learned to despise roses here.
Perhaps she dreams of coarse peasant bread with sweet yellow butter. Trout from mountain brooks, roasted with woody stems of rosemary. Even a simple ear of wheat from a sheaf left as an offering to her mother, crushing the kernels between her teeth. Perhaps she has other pleasures: the smile of a shy goatherd as he brings her hazelnuts gathered from the mountainside; his eager expression as she tastes the cheese he makes from goats’ milk, flecked with wild herbs; the desiring gleam in his eyes as she licks honey from a stolen comb.
He dines at a table of ebony, served from platters of bone. Oysters in the shell, gleaming wet with brine. Peacock stuffed with mushrooms, perfumed with thin slices of truffle. Roasted artichokes, drizzled with olive oil. He selects a dusky purple fig and cuts into it, one stroke across, one stroke down, an echo of its flower. The creamy flesh is tinged with pink, shading to red at the center. He consumes the fruit slowly, savoring each mouthful. When there is only the scent of the fig left in the air, she rises from her seat, abandoning her untouched plate.
Though the column of her spine stands out starkly, though her skin reveals the tracing of her veins, her hair continues to grow, long tresses of pale gold that spill beyond her waist. The perpetual dusk leaves her sleepless, steals away all sense of time. She wanders the shadows, passing through a succession of nameless and forgotten halls. She finds a bone knife upon an altar, wicked and delicate. If she cut herself, would she still bleed?
Was it a longing for color that brought her to the gardens? Led her beyond the grove of olives, beyond the vineyard? Into the orchard, past the white peach and the aromatic quince, and drew her to the pomegranate tree?
The fruit is heavy, the skin hard like leather. She breaks it open, and a bead of bright liquid spills down her wrist. Tongue to flesh, licking away the trail of crimson, tart sweetness headier than wine. She shakes the seeds into her palm – one, two, three, four, five. Six. She places them in her mouth one at a time, crushing each between her teeth and swallowing it whole. When the last seed has stained her lips crimson, she turns to leave. He is standing there, leaning carelessly against a fig tree. Watching her. And she is caught.