|Bird Eyes, Cat Tongues: Or, A Plum Tale
"They say pussy and paper is poetry, power." --Tupac Shakur
Philomela loved her sister Procne, even when she acted stupid. Blood forgave blindness and lust. She'd heard that once from a fork-bearded seer in the Athenian agora, and it made sense of things. "He's trouble," Philomela told her as they stood shoulder to shoulder at a window wide as a mouth with gold-bar teeth. "Can't you see that?" She pointed below, her finger fluttering. "He's playing Father right now."
"You're just jealous. Look at him," Procne commanded in the empty-box voice of infatuation.
Tereus sat on a marble bench beside Pandion, whose gnarled hand rested on the other man's leg. A straight bloodline of crushed roses led to the pair because Ares' hot-tempered son had ignored the paved path and stamped his way to the old man. How could you trust a man who killed flowers for pleasure? Pandion liked him, though, with Procne's fervor, and Philomela remembered the tapestry she'd found hidden in her dead mother's room that showed her father, young and handsome, riding a big, black-haired man. Not Tereus, but the god of war.
Did Pandion see his old lover when he gazed rapturously on Ares' pretty son and stroked his thigh where his crisp blue tunic ended, or did he see the dead boy, his own young son? Or did he see himself, carefree and happy, before his family married him to a rich Athenian girl, and responsibility swallowed him whole?
"Look at his mouth," Procne said. "It's so soft when he kisses me. And his tongue...I could die from what he does with it. He's perfect." Her breast swelled under her white gown, and she twisted a lock of feathery hair around one finger, listening only to the body-lies.
Philomela wanted to tell her sister that Tereus was handsome but nothing like his divine father, only she'd have to confess Ares' visits, all those hot wet things he'd done to her, and it was just too much trouble. "He's gorgeous, but so are a million others. He's mean, Proc. Look how he kicked the cat yesterday when he thought we weren't watching. The poor thing limped for the rest of the day."
"The cat scratched him," Procne said stubbornly, one hand straying unconsciously to her breast to squeeze a nipple, like he would. "He let me lick up the blood."
"That's sick." But Philomela's heart wasn't in it.
She'd licked more than blood from Ares' naked body, had stuck her tongue
everywhere on and in him to taste it all. Her cunt began to
throb, and she knew he'd sense it; he had a predator's nose for her lust,
and didn't do patience well. Even now a hard leather-clad thigh
was visible just beyond the doorway. "Proc, tell him to get
someone else to drink his blood."
Ares waited in the women's quarters, where plush tapestries covered every wall, ceiling and floor so that each room was like a lolling cat's belly. Since her mother's fade from life, no one came here, except them, and often, her cheek pressed against a satyr's haunch or a nymph's shoulder, as Ares took her more ways than she could name. Not that they talked much. Philomela believed that everything about this unbelievable relationship demanded quiet. If she spoke, he'd vanish, because that's what words could do. She'd asked her shadowy mother once if she loved her, and the next day, the lump formed, fat and purple as a plum on the side of the nursing breast, the only color her mother ever had. And no one ever spoke about it, while the lump grew and her mother shrank until she drifted into the grave on a cirrus of death.
Besides, Ares didn't belong here; it was an accident whenever he appeared to her, and speaking would remind him that he belonged on the field of war with a famous general or king, not with some skinny girl who lived songless in a tapestried bird cage. He teased her about the quiet sometimes, because she said nothing even when her flesh purred. "Cat got your tongue?" And he'd stroke her back with his divine hand and the silver rings that bore the scars his body couldn't, while he rocked into her with a lazy ocean rhythm.
This time, while Ares pounded into her, hot and sleek as a panther, Philomela thought about Tereus, his son and Procne's new suitor. He had the same black curls, so shiny they looked wet, and those wicked black eyes that blinked dirty thoughts. Ares was bigger, though, muscles everywhere, molded bronze, but maybe that's because Tereus had a mortal mother, and demi-gods didn't come in super-size packages. Tereus couldn't be so big here, either, because Ares was huge, big as a farm animal. His symbol wasn't the ram for nothing.
Then Ares pushed his thumb into her ass and fingered her clit, so Philomela
stopped thinking about her sister and her sister's creepy new boyfriend,
and concentrated, like Ares, on the matter at hand.
At the wedding feast, Philomela ate a lonely plum so juicy that its purple blood ran down her chin.
Tereus, sitting beside her, wiped it with his finger, which he licked clean. "Sweet," he said, then leaned closer. "Bet your pussy tastes like this, all sweet and purple. How'd you like to give me a taste? A wedding gift for your new brother-in-law?"
"Pig," she snapped back, and glanced over at Procne, who chattered happily with their aunt Myrrha, her cheeks sunset-pink, her eyes wide and glowing with misplaced love.
Under the table, Tereus squeezed the fleshiest part of Philomela's leg, then pushed his hand between her thighs, cupping her like a peach. Nothing between them now--all Ares' fault for insisting she be always open for him. "Nice and juicy," said his son, and tongued her ear.
It was his father's semen leaking from her onto his fingers, but Philomela didn't tell him. Tereus was the kind of man who'd want to visit where his father had, turned on always by what he couldn't have, and he was insistent enough, one long finger already probing her. She tried to hurt him by clamping her legs shut, but he only laughed. Apparently hurting was an art, and Philomela had no skill for it. A knife gleamed silver on the table before her, and she studied it, the bronze handle shaped like a lion, roaring serrated teeth. "Let go, or I'll cut your hand off."
Tereus thrust out his red lower lip and pulled away. "Tease."
She watched him lick Ares from his fingers and wondered that he didn't notice. But salt was salt, and Tereus not very picky, his taste buds dulled by depravity. "If you hurt my sister, I'll kill you."
"She's too stupid to hurt." He turned from her, giving Philomela his cruel, coiny profile, and she knew his hand was now busy in her sister's cunt.
Philomela got drunk after that, glass after glass of red wine viscous with age, and ignored the food that congealed on her plate. Would she ever eat again, with Procne leaving tonight, married now and destined for children and pain? Her tears splashed into the wine, and she drank them, feeling Tereus shake beside her as Procne jerked him off, the white tablecloth barely covering the bobbing red head of his cock. No one noticed, dancing around Pandion's hall with wine-inspired enthusiasm, scarfing down his lavish spread, where every dish was served on gold and stuffed with spices no one could pronounce.
"I'm a lonely plum," Philomela announced with a distinct, embarrassing slur, but only Tereus heard her, twisting his head around just as he stained the cloth with his half-divine come.
Before she could move, Tereus had scooped up a fingerful of chunky seed, waved it before Philomela's nose, then speared her with it. Her chair toppled over as she leapt to her feet, and she nearly killed him there, cut out his malformed heart and fed it to him while it beat its evil pulse. But good Greek girls from respectable families didn't murder their sisters' husbands at wedding feasts, so she stumbled from the hall out into the warm Hekatombaion night.
Under her feet in the dark, flowers fell, but she couldn't find the path, not drunk like this, her violated cunt stinging and blinding her. She ran until the ground snapped up and tripped her, then she lay soft and still on her back in mimicry of death.
At first she thought the shadow was Tereus, and she sat up, crying out.
"What's wrong?" Ares asked. He touched her shoulder and then they were on a cloud just under the moon.
No metaphor, either, but real. Ares liked to surprise her; he seemed to think her life was dull and empty. Below her she saw the shimmer of candles, and a swallow dancing in the lilac breeze. The cloud was wispy and vaporous, but strong, and she settled back into it, her arms and thighs open by instinct now. Not her mouth, though. He could put himself in there, but not take the truth that tangled and stuck in her throat about his son and his sticky white fingers.
She knew about fathers and sons, had seen with her green little-girl's eyes how Pandion had coddled the baby with that extra piece of flesh, before the jealous dead mother sent Thanatos to break its tiny baby's heart. The two graves were invisible from this height, but Philomela could feel the cool stone that cradled the bodies of her mother and brother, cool like the cloud around her. Her father remembered the dead boy by growing white hair and lines around eyes that rarely smiled.
"What's wrong?" he repeated, his deep god's voice edged with impatience.
"I'm fine," she lied. "It's just losing my sister."
Ares moved between her thighs to drink, his hair slick and feline against her smooth skin. His tongue slid over her clit until it swelled for him and throbbed in his mouth, and the juice ran down her thighs. He loved to eat her, she knew, to give her seas of wet pleasure, and his moans tripped up to the stars and hung there until he finally pushed his tongue inside her, where his son's come-smeared finger had been.
Then he stood with a god's speed, dressed and menacing. "I could kill you."
The father's tongue was apparently more sensitive than the son's. "You don't understand," she said. Unless he did? Or maybe it didn't matter whether she'd allowed it or not, just that another man had touched her, so she said nothing else, just stared up mutely, choked by words.
Then the cloud dissolved, and Philomela went hurtling down like Hephaestus on his father's foot, the air rushing by in chilling streams. Unlike him, she didn't crash into the earth but landed with a whomp on her feather-stuff mattress, breathless and alone, still wet from Ares' mouth. Sounds hurried to her from the window: the clop of horses' hooves, the cheers of wedding guests, the high drunk cries of Procne, and Philomela knew she'd lost her sister and her lover forever.
"I'm a lonely plum," she said, and outside in the arms of an old oak
a hoopoe laughed at her stupidity. War gods didn't love good
Greek girls, and bad metaphors didn't cure rejection.
"I miss you," the messenger said, as he shifted from one muddy booted foot to the other, a muddy trail extending behind him across her ancestors' tiled faces.
Philomela was glad he'd left his horse outside. "What else did she say? Did she look good? Was she happy?"
The man shrugged shoulders thin and knotted like young branches. "She was crying, but the women always cry when they give me messages. She wants you there when the baby's born. It's soon now. Very soon."
Of course Procne would want her there. Mothers died after babies were born, rotted and purple. She pictured Tereus rutting into her sister's tiny pink womb, planting seed to grow a boy with curly black hair and a full ripe mouth perfect for kisses and betrayal. "Tell her I can't come."
"She'll want a reason." He sighed. "They always do."
"Tell her I'm in love."
When he left, Philomela wandered up to her spinning room and stroked the soft balls of wool that spilled from a wicker basket onto the floor. The kicked cat bounded in, silver claws clicking on the marble and leapt on one, skittering into a wall with its makeshift mouse.
"I wish I were a cat," Philomela said.
At first Philomela thought the shadow was Ares, and she sat up, crying out.
"What's wrong?" Tereus asked, beside her on the bed. He touched her shoulder where her shift had slipped, then watched it slide down to her breast. "So who is he, your new lover?"
"What are you doing back here? Is my sister alright?"
"Tell me who you're fucking."
The door was shut, and even if she screamed, her old father wouldn't care. No, hear, she thought. He wouldn't hear. "Is Procne alright?"
"Has he been here tonight? Has he fucked your tight little pussy?" He moved closer, and the bed protested. "When I fuck your sister, I think about your sweet pussy, how it felt around my finger."
She could scream, but then he'd never tell her about Procne. "There's no one," Philomela said. "I just told you."
"To make me jealous?" He smiled with the warmth of a tomb, and she saw that Tereus really didn't look much like Ares after all. His fingers were on her breast now, tugging at her nipple, and she hated him.
"Tell me how my sister is."
With his other hand, Tereus freed his cock, which wasn't as big as his father's. "Suck this, and I will. We're all family now, right? So get off your high horse and blow me like you blow your boyfriend."
Large purple stains appeared on the white skin of her breast, while her nipple stood painfully swollen and red. Did Procne look like this, stained with Tereus' selfishness? Desperate to know, she almost did it, almost bent her head and swallowed him. Just then a nightingale flew into the room and flapped its tiny wings excitedly. Tereus jumped to his feet, swatting his fist, and Philomela fled, running fast as a wounded cat to the stables.
Dressed in a stable boy's reeking clothes, she rode to her sister's. It took seven days and seven nights, and she slept in fields behind haystacks, avoiding the towns. A farmer chased her with a pitchfork when she stole his olives, and a man-faced dog bit her ankle when she tried to sneak into a cottage for a blanket when the rain started. Twice she turned back, but looked at her breast and thought about Procne, which drew her back to the road.
When Philomela finally arrived at Tereus' cliff-side house, mud-spattered, hair matted, his servants wouldn't let her in, so she screamed and screamed until Procne came to the door, her body full and flushed with her unborn child.
"Phil!" She spilled into a chair. "What happened to you? You smell like a privy."
"I missed you."
"What about this mysterious lover? Oh, don't tell me it's over! I want you to be happy like me. And why didn't you come back with Tereus? He wouldn't tell me anything." Her face was open and kittenish, breakable as a plate.
Philomela refused to kick her, although the unsaid words chased their tails in her belly. "You know how I am."
Procne laughed. "That's what I figured. Too independent. You'll never get a man that way."
She'd meant solitary, but smiled for her sister. "Let me get cleaned up, then we can talk."
"Anything in particular?" Her sister rubbed her hand across her distended belly, like she hoped for a genie.
If only they lived in a fairy tale. "No, nothing," Philomela said.
Tereus glowered through dinner, ignoring Philomela except when he stroked his wife's nipples through her thin dress, which made Procne blush. Then he turned to her, all teeth and hollow eyes. "I guess you can't understand this," he said. "How we can't keep our hands off each other, especially now that she's giving me a son."
Ares hadn't been able to keep his hands off her. He'd taken her everywhere and every way, with people nearby or miles away, so hot and desperate that she'd even thought he loved her. "How could I know?"
"We'll find you someone, Phil," Procne said. "Don't worry."
"You don't want to die a virgin, do you?" Tereus asked.
"No." And she wouldn't. Ares made sure of that, kissing her everywhere until she begged for it, literally begged him to ruin her. Even then he teased her for another hour or two, rubbed his cock over her clit, holding her down so she couldn't thrust up and take what she wanted. Afterward, he licked her clean, and she came for him again.
Tereus gulped more wine. "Maybe she's not a virgin. Maybe she fucked the stableboy to get his clothes."
"Don't say that!" Procne giggled uncertainly and put her hand on his shoulder. "I think it's time for bed."
As she heaved herself up from the chair, Philomela went to her. "I'll go with you."
"Dream of me," Tereus said.
Philomela slept with a chair braced against the door, a wise precaution since Tereus prowled when the moon was high and full.
"Open for me, you bitch," he whispered through the wood. "I know why you came here. Stop pretending. I know you want my cock."
She pulled the sheet over her head and squeezed her eyes shut. False protection, but what else could she do? Her sister's husband. Father of her unborn nephew. Ares' son. "Go to your wife," she called. "Your pregnant wife. Leave me alone."
Her door rattled against the frame, the knob screeched as he jerked it. "Open up!"
"I'd rather die."
"I'll be back," Tereus said, and kicked the door again.
Why did the wrong ones always make those promises?
She avoided Tereus, who came to her room every night, banging the door instead of her. He trapped her in the corridor one afternoon, rubbing his hard cock against her thigh like a dog. He stepped away only when Procne rounded the corner.
Finding the house too dangerous, she wandered around the huge estate, now debt-free thanks to her father's gold, and found a ruined temple of Ares a few miles from the house. Sons and fathers, she thought. An impatient god, a needy son. Maybe Tereus needed pity, that's all. Philomela believed it until Tereus caught her one day as she left the temple.
"I saw you," he said, falling in step beside her as she walked through the woods. "I saw you touch his statue."
"So?" She had to touch it, the marble curve of his arm.
"You want him. You want to fuck him. I could tell."
Philomela walked faster, scuffling through soft grass and violets. "He's a god."
"So I'm not good enough for you?"
She ran, but he grabbed the corner of her dress, and the treacherous fabric refused to tear. Tereus backed her into a tree, where the rough bark gnawed her, and pushed the dress from her shoulders to expose her breasts, one still marked by his fingers, the bruises lemon-colored now. "Let me go! You're pathetic."
"Pussy," he said, and punched her hard on the jaw. "You're all pussies."
The forest blurred then faded, leaving her in a green haze like the womb of spring. There was pain, teeth biting everywhere, blood where he forced himself, tree scraping her skin, shame, oh god the shame, barely muted by the fog of *not happening* *not happening* *oh please stop* *save me, Ares* until it was over and he separated from her, stood above her staring down with Ares' eyes. Ares, who didn't come, who didn't save her even though she called his name.
"I'll tell," she decided, but spoke what should have been a thought. "I need to tell."
"No," Tereus said. "I'm not giving your idiot father back his gold. Your sister is staying with me." And he pulled out a knife. He didn't kill her. Too quick, too easy, from a man who kicked cats and raped women. No, he bent back Philomela's head, pried open her jaws and cut out her tongue, throwing the torn flesh into the grass.
Philomela tried to die and, with all the blood pouring from her, thought it might work.
"Tell now, cunt."
The green became the color of dying fall leaves, the rich warm red of
dried fire, and Tereus left her there, ruined like the temple.
When Ares took her virginity, Philomela saw it as ruin. Everyone knew a girl's worth was in her hymen. Only when it broke, it felt less like ruin and more like freedom, a necessary loss. When Tereus took her tongue, Philomela saw it as ruin, a true ruin, a fatal one, even if her body kept living. She staggered back to the temple with its cracked steps and fallen roof, and curled up like a ball of wool in a pile of shattered stone.
"I hate you," she tried to say into the darkness with her raped mouth.
She heard voices calling, but couldn't call to them, couldn't move her
broken body. The voices passed, and so did day, and Philomela
slept in mockery of death.
Her body betrayed her and demanded food. Stupid thing, that didn't care about her need to die. It forced her up on her sore used body to the bushes hung with berries beside the temple. Her mouth was too raw for food, so she simply tilted back her head and dropped them straight down her throat, then went back inside. About to lie down in the same spot, conveniently marked with her blood, she noticed a flight of stairs leading downward and decided to follow them. They took her not to the Underworld, but to what must have been the priestesses' rooms, lit by a hole in the ceiling. That's when she found an old loom lying on its side, the balls of wool scattered on the floor. It made sense of things, that old loom, and every emotion inside her surged together.
"I'll tell my story," she would've said. "It's time to tell my story."
It took her six weeks and ten berry bushes before she finished weaving the story of her rape by Tereus. She didn't rush, using every color of wool, all her mother-taught skill, to speak her pain and anger so it would spread not like a plague but a cure for all the evil, goddamn ways of men. Because it wasn't just a fucking story--it was her life and her body and it mattered.
Then she stripped off her ragged clothes, wrapped her poor flesh in the tapestry, the story sprawled across her back, and headed back to Tereus' house. On the way, she passed a trio of farm girls with baskets full of plums. About to walk by, her resolve wavered and her head dropped with shame, but the surge came again and she danced instead before them, spinning, until they had learned her story. Then they dropped the fruit and followed her. "We'll help you," they said, showing scars, sharing stories that weren't just stories but their lives and their bodies. "We understand," they said and soothed her like mothers, dissolving the lingering shame.
When they met a group of widows returning from a holiday, the girls pointed to Philomela's back, and said, "Join us! It's time for revenge."
And Philomela danced for them until they agreed.
More women joined them, mothers, wives, Bacchantes singing for their god, a prostitute fleeing her pimp, even a few Hestian virgins who'd wandered over to know what the fuss was about.
This army of women marched through the gates of Tereus' home, shouting for him. Procne, thin again, a baby clutched in her arms, came running into the courtyard. "My husband's not here," she said, eyes saucer-wide. "What do you want?" A fat ginger cat sidled up to her, rubbing its pumpkin head against her ankles. "I don't understand what you're doing--"
Philomela, who'd let herself fall behind the others, walked noiselessly through the crowd and stood before Procne, whose face went pale and blank as the moon. When Philomela began to dance for her sister, telling the truth at last, Procne began to scream, a high, terrible sound like a dying bird. Then she caught Philomela's hand, holding her son with the other. "I'm sorry," she said, in a low cracked voice. "I guess you thought I was weak, and that's why you didn't tell me. And maybe I was. But I can show you now that I'm not." The baby in her arms, its eyes wide and violet like plums, gurgled and smiled. "This is Itys. My son. His son."
And they went into the kitchen, the women dancing behind.
Tereus sat at the head of the table, staring at the rows of women who stood in a circle around him. Whenever he tried to move, the circle shrunk, so he stayed still, wary and silent. Then the circle broke, and Procne advanced, carrying a covered silver tray, Philomela behind her, both splattered with blood and wild-eyed, two Gorgons with a special gift.
"I hope you're hungry," Procne said. "But then you're always hungry, aren't you?"
The room erupted with laughter so loud the walls shook.
Procne placed the tray before Tereus and smiled sweetly. "Eat for me. Eat for us."
When Tereus saw the meal she'd prepared, he tried again to stand, his chair scrapping roughly against the floor. "What game are you playing?"
"No game," the sisters said, and the women echoed them, their voices low and haunting now, like nightingale's song.
"No game. No game."
"I'm not eating that."
"Then we'll help you," Procne told him.
The women flocked around Tereus, some pinning his hands to the chair's arms, some clasping him from behind, some standing on his sandaled feet.
Procne grabbed his hair and tugged back his head, while two more women pried open his jaws. "You always wanted pussy-here's your chance to glut yourself."
Philomela tore a strip from the animal's roasted back and shoved it down Tereus' open red gullet. Piece after piece went down, until his eyes bulged and his breath came in painful bursts. She didn't stop, even when his body slackened and no air came out at all.
"He's unborn," Philomela wrote in blood on the plaster wall behind him.
Some gifts can be taken back.
They nearly served him Itys, his young son, but Philomela stopped Procne's knife with her open palm. She dipped her finger in the blood and smeared it on her cheek, her sister's cheek, and on the baby's, then pointed to the cat that had settled against the oven's side. It was a necessary sacrifice, twisted and mean enough to match Tereus' crime. She would've laughed, if she could.
Afterward, the women carried Tereus' stuffed body to the cliff's edge and tossed him into the sea. His dead arms outstretched, and he flew with Icarusian finality into the black water. It drained them all, as revenge does, so they dragged themselves back to Procne's house and perched on chairs, curled up on straw-stuffed pallets, each with a cup of warmed goat's milk to drive away the last demon.
The next day, still full with vengeance, they ate plums from a tree that had sprung up overnight in the courtyard and talked about the future, mixing in the past for flavor. Gurgling under the mellow sun, Itys crawled from woman to woman, rubbing his curly dark head against their ankles while they stroked him, petted his soft baby's skin.
They hung Philomela's tapestry from the palace gate, and more women came, a few husbands, too, good solid men who missed their wives, and they let them in, because the war wasn't with love. Besides, a world with only women is half-full, and they were thirsty. Philomela felt that thirst, and no milk or plums could satisfy her. Her missing tongue itched with unasked questions, unexplained actions, and besides, he owed her, him, the one who let his son finger her, rape her, mutilate her. Him, the only god on Olympus who never raped a woman, the one who went on trial for killing his daughter's rapist, the one who let her bleed in his broken temple.
With her slate and chalk, she asked Procne for help.
"Maybe," her sister said cautiously, "maybe he left you because you didn't tell him what happened with Tereus at the wedding feast. Maybe you hurt him."
She shook her head. War hadn't hurt him, so how could she? And what about the rest, how he'd done nothing when Tereus raped her?
"Phil, he's the god of war. You want Apollo and happy endings, you picked the wrong god. Yours probably wants a fighter. Before this happened, you weren't one. Now..."
Philomela loved her sister, who was ready to sacrifice her son, even when she said stupid things, and kissed her cheek.
But her tongue still itched.
A month later, Philomela returned to the temple. "Ares," she would've called.
The night split, and he was there. At first he did nothing, said nothing, just looked, then he kissed her, oddly gentle. When he stepped back, she could speak.
"I killed your son," she told him.
He let her push him down on the stone and free his cock, which hardened in her hand. She lifted her skirt and lowered herself onto him. As they rocked together, at her cries a swallow swooped from the highest branches of a great pine and landed on her shoulder, staring at her with knowing black eyes.
"Good thing you're not a cat," Ares said with a smile.
Philomela stroked the bird's soft plumy wing. "Who says
(c) April 2001, Bird Eyes, Cat Tongues: or, A Plum Tale
of Vengeance by Thamiris