Helen

By Jessy Wallach, TIWP Student

Helen remembers what it was like to be a child. Peaceful, mostly. Calm. There was a pasture out behind the palace where she and her sister would play, and a clear pond where she could splash her feet or catch minnows. Sometimes she’d stare into it to see herself staring back, and admire the dark gold of her eyes, or her dark hair curls, or the way her nose tilted down at the end, just a little. She was beautiful, and being beautiful felt like a gift the gods had given specially to her, a secret she could hold tight and warm as a fire in her chest, one which would never burn her. Her reflection was a friend, a blessing, and a work of art all wrapped in one. And she remembers when grabbing, greedy hands yanked that fire away from her. When her beauty stopped belonging to her. All of a sudden, it was a prize for some distant prince or king to win. She remembers wrapping her arms tight around her torso on the day the suitors came, thinking, this is the last time my body will be mine. When they offered her a choice of whom to choose, she looked for the strongest, the boldest, the wealthiest, because maybe if he already had everything, she could keep this one thing that was hers. She didn’t want much, just a quiet meadow where she could be alone, where she didn’t need to be guarded like a prize spear or precious amphora that might be stolen away at any moment.

Mycnia wasn’t like that. It was all tall fortresses and armed guards, and Menelaus was paranoid that every visiting merchant or new serving boy was here to take her from him. And there was Hermione, who started off no more than a rise in her smooth belly, but grew and grew, a life expanding inside her that she had never asked for. What struck her then was the realization that she was not a child any longer. No matter what she did or how much she longed for it, she could never go back to that meadow or that clear, gentle pond. It hurt to see Hermione grow older, too look at her and wonder, ‘how long does she have left?’ She was glad that her daughter shared only a fraction of her beauty. She had less to lose.

She left for Troy because she could. She wanted more than anything to make a decision of her own again, a big, life-changing one. The sort she hadn’t made since she chose Menelaus. And had that even been life changing? Perhaps the story would have unwound the same, just different names and places, a daughter with a different man’s eyes.

She wasn’t thinking of war, or of ending the lives of countless men. Just freedom. Just the foolish, painful ache in her chest that told her that maybe in Troy, she might find meadows, and quiet, and just a whisper of everything that she had once taken for granted. She feels no guilt for her actions. The men who died, felled by the sea or the gods or by disease or spears or swords or archers’ bows, the men who were left traumatized or broken, waking in their quiet homes at night with blood in their throats, they weren’t fighting for her. They fought for gold or glory or pride, or just for the restless need that burned inside them to destroy, to take and take and take simply because they might. And when Menelaus makes his way into the city and slaughters everyone within its walls and carries her back to Greece on a ship stained with blood, she has that, at least. Let her go down in history as the woman who made ten thousand men bleed.

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