“Still Life of Death and Pomegranates (Persephone Descending)” by Isabel Kim

first: She is beautiful, this much is a truth; she has eyes like summer and smiles like spring. Her mother’s flowers bloom in her wake, vines snaring around her feet, a trail of growth leading all the way home.

And she is venomous, because, haven’t you heard, red berries are as poisonous as they are luscious? She smiles and her heart is black. She thinks about death: everything wilts in the end. She is rotten at the core and it trickles outward, a sapling with a deadwood center with ivy growing up her limbs, a breaking anchor as she strides.

second: He comes for her in the morning, cool like marble, like unknowing earth that forgets the taste of sunlight. She wonders about that darkness, and thinks it must be cool down there in the catacombs, no green and growing things to follow her every footstep, no mother’s eyes watching. He asks. This is what is forgotten: it was always a request. She acquiesces, and he takes her to his kingdom.

She should like to be queen, she thinks.

third: She excels at queenhood. It is silent in his kingdom, and vast. He is a ruler of echoes, it is peculiar, to watch the shades scurry, or simply stand, gazing down at their feet in the endless fields where noise echoes and no green things grow. They are happy to talk to her, the flower child, the spring’s voice, and she feels so, so small when they confess, I prayed to you, and you did not come. And in that smallness there is a blackened core; what right did you have to call me?

Was it not my choice, to stay away?

She can do nothing for them here, and for that she is grateful. No flowers grow in her wake, she is as wraithlike as the shades.

fourth: Her husband is not kind, and she does not expect kindness from him. Lord of the Dead, Lord of the underworld, her husband; ruthless. Refreshing.

He is unlike his brothers, she thinks, quieter, more patient. He speaks to her in formal tongues, the languages of civilizations that have come to ruin. He loves in a deliberate manner, there is no passion in his gaze, no storms or lightning, only a cool and weighty arrogance. All things are his, all things wilt in the end. He knows this for a truth and for that she loves him.

He builds her a throne of angles and slips, and she looks regal on her perch. Elegant, he calls her. Devastating. She smiles, and says, yes.

His lips are cold and he drinks up her warmth and she drowns herself in ice.

fifth: The garden is lovely. They make love beneath a pomegranate tree, heavy with fruit.

sixth: A messenger comes, her mother is waiting, weeping. An eternal winter above, he says, nothing grows. Come back, make her fix it to rights. She regards him from her slippery throne, borrowing her husband’s cool gaze. Why should I care? He clasps her hand, begs, please. She looks at him, and she is the girl of green and growing things, of floral blooms and fruit, and she thinks of the wraiths who prayed once upon a time in a land above. She is queen of the underworld, but all things must wilt in the end, death being no exception.

She nods once.

seventh: Her husband escorts her out in his chariot. He is as impassive in this as he is in all things. She is petulant. Will you not miss me? I doubt I shall return. He looks at her and shrugs. An ending is an ending, and who am I to judge? She breaks his stare and looks up at the heavens. You are Lord of the Dead, good sir, if you have no right, then no one does, or ever will. He snorts. Perhaps that is so. He places a cool hand on her cheek and smiles. It is incongruous. But I know you, daughter of the earth, flower carrier and growth-caller, all things wilt, but you, you are renewal. She narrows her eyes, and looks away. Do not remind me. A pause. Keep my throne warm, or rather, cool.

eighth: They break away into sunlight, and she squints, golden and liquid like sap-sweet honey. The chariot comes to a halt, the abyss melts into dry dirt. She gazes into the distance, a barren field and a narrow strip of green far off in the distance, advancing. She looks at him. My mother will be here soon. He nods. Then I shall take my leave. He helps her off the chariot, a gentleman even when a returning thief. The earth crumbles beneath her feet, and flowers bloom, a sweet scent fills the air. He nods at her. Goodbye.

Goodbye.

ninth: Her mother is ecstatic, wrapping arms around her back as binding as vines. She returns the embrace. Her mother is warm with sunlight, and she feels it leaching through her skin. Grass greens around them and trees bud. A dandelion bursts through the ground. She sighs, and smiles tiredly. It has been an adventure, and her rotten core is satisfied, her heart beating in tune with the earth.

tenth: Her husband finds the cracked pomegranate on her throne, red seeds spilling out, and laughs.

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