Her mother had died two months before and seemed very old. Sibyl could foresee her own frail hand on a white bedsheet and, beside the bed, a chamberpot to be sick into. At the time, she thought that she should remember to ask for youth along with years when Apollo begged for her love. She foresaw also the decline of an empire. She must remember to learn other languages. She would have decades to study, centuries. She must remember also to save treasure, so she could get through the fallow years comfortably. Life was just a balance: wisdom, folly; elation, despair; health, suffering. Everything comes to one, eventually.
Perhaps that was supposed to be consolation for not being made of stone. Still, she thought the knowledge heightened the pain, particularly when one knew what was coming. So: she cultivated in herself the talent of forgetting the future. That offered some peace.
A month ago, Apollo visited her as a lion, then a hawk, parading his power, which she could not abide. When he roared, she waved him away. They had met on a sunny day and then that night.
“I don’t think so,” she had told Apollo, but she had not meant it.
The next night feathers grew over his bright, sunny skin, and she almost allowed herself to be seduced, but at the last minute he became human, and she knelt on the beach. “I want a gift,” she said. “As many years as there are grains in this handful of sand.”
“Doesn’t that make you a prostitute?” He smiled a thin smile. He stroked his lovely, narrow fingers, as if he were a surgeon. “You’re selling yourself to the highest bidder.”
“Easy for you to say I’m a whore,” she said. “You have everything.”
“Very well. Let’s make the exchange.” He scooped up a handful of sand and flung it toward the star-filled sky. The sand smelled of fire, flickered in the air, glimmered, and she knew she had been given the years. He clutched at her wrist.
“If you call me a whore, then I’ll be one.” She stepped away from him. “I did not think I could be one, but as it turns out, I can.”
He grasped her shoulder. “You want more?”
She shrugged. “I want everything.” She looked at the unreadable stars. “I want to be a god.” Her mother would have said the same thing.
“I could have a hundred girls as pretty as you. But I chose you.” His eyes flashed and he leaned in. “I liked your shrewdness.”
She was angered and said, “I liked your power.”
He straightened up. “You can have your years. And with it, decrepitude.” He flicked his fingers at her. “Remember, until you are senile, what I have given you.”
Outlined in moonlight, he marched along the shore. Inside she felt a shaking, a rift from the past. She crossed her arms to keep from spilling out. The moonlight flaked on the sea, tapped on her eyelids when she shut them. She was, she thought, more like the moon than the sun, more like her mother.
She would need to forget him. She had been foolish to toy with a god, she knew that. But for now, the moon hung like a silver boat in the sky. The night breeze brought her the scent of hyacinth. The sound of crickets filled the air.
Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Prime Number, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 list of flash fiction. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud