Story: Pygmalion: “Wanton”
Rebeka’s story was an honorable mention for The Pygmalion Contest. (Read about the contest here.) I loved the way she evoked such a strong mood with her vivid sensory writing, and her creative use of the “Chorus” from ancient plays. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks Rebeka!
By Rebeka Borshevsky
Worship me, she says. Lay flowers at my altar, give your bodies to my men. Spread the seed of love, bring more women for me to envy and more men for me to lust after.
But we were the women of Cyprus. We did not need the aid of Venus to secure the affections of men. We had our own charms, our own smirks and wiles.
No, we the common women say.
“No,” our princesses claim, and smear crimson across their doorstep, smiles on their faces as they kill those who seek refuge in their house. They tilt their faces to the sky, laughing. We the common women, we the Chorus, slink away to our homes, make love to our husbands for fear. For we all feel something our princesses do not—we feel the odium of the gods. We do not care for Venus, but it was not just Venus our princesses defied—but Jove.
Yet it is not Jove’s curse that falls on us. We the Chorus, we the common women, we the women who breed in the dirt and push children out into the dust, we hear the quiet thrum of laughter. The laughter of a woman, the laughter of a goddess.
And we know. We crawl out into the streets, fighting the hunger nibbling our stomachs. We lounge against the street corners, jutting our our hips, staring men straight in the eye. The men see us, and they either look away for shame or stuff money deep into our tunics. They come to us with the leering grimness of the Furies. No, we the Chorus, we the common women cry, but our bodies do not listen, and the men ignore us.
Afterwards, we slink home to our husbands. Some of them do not care. We enjoy them and they enjoy us. But others are not so fortunate.
Our princesses share our shame. They lurk the palace halls and steps, and the noblemen know where to find what they want.
We go to them, beg them for aid. They are as helpless as we, trapped by desire not their own. They wear their hair dishevelled, and their skin bears the marks of men not their own, swelling purple.
They say nothing to our pleas. They shake out their limbs, and money jingles in their skirts.
Help us, we cry. We the Chorus, we the women whose husbands will beat us when we return. We the Chorus, we the women who will bear a thousand children with no idea from whence they came.
The Propoetides, those princesses who brought us all to the dirt, look at one another. They shrug. “No,” they say. We the Chorus have nothing left to offer.
We pass by his house—Pygmalion, the stupid man who refuses our enticements. He walks by in the street and looks straight ahead. He does not even cast a sidelong glance like most of the men who look away.
“I have had enough of women,” he claims. We the Chorus laugh at that—who can have enough of women? Certainly not the men who keep after us, who come to us now like bulls. We lead them along, and the coins they press into our fingers are smooth.
We have no need of Pygmalions. Such men are fools, for they have not the entirety of the truth. He looks at us and sees Common. We know ourselves as Cursed. You see, it is far worse than the poets will ever say (I, the eldest of the Chorus, charmed Apollo into giving us the Sight—he regretted it later), for since when did poets ever reveal all the truth? Apollo and his kind only had use for women when we gave them what they wanted.
There are times when we look at a man and think them hideous. Then the next day we wake up and wait for him on the street corner, our skirts hanging about our knees. Afterwards, when the sickness wears away, we weep at ourselves, at how low we’ve become. We the Chorus, we the common women, truly become Common. Our husbands mock us for our moods one day, beat us the next when they catch us with the neighbour we thought ugly just the night before.
But we know that the day will come when even that part of the Curse fades—when we are left with nothing to feel, nothing over which to weep. Nothing.
He does not answer. But we know he’s in his back room, chipping away at stone. We learned this from the men he talks to, the men who will tell secrets to any who give a kiss in return. A stone woman. We the Chorus, we the common women, feel insulted that he would rather gaze in sickness at a stone than feel our life beneath his fingertips.
“What does she look like?” I, the eldest, ask the man beside me. He has paid and is about to leave. He is an intimate acquaintance of Pygmalion, though we know not his name.
“Like Phyrgia,” he says. “The young one.”
I, the eldest, relate this to my sisters. We the Chorus, we the common women, look at our youngest member. Phyrgia, barely old enough to speak to a man, let alone tempt one, now boasts enough coins to buy herself a palace. She doesn’t say a word as we tell her. Of all of us, her face most resembles rock. The curse is moving quickly through her. It has not consumed her wholly, yet. She casts her eyes to the ground and, when we press her, finally admits that she is flattered his statue resembles her.
We the Chorus still feel enough to know we must save her, save ourselves. Our princesses are past that point—they do not wish for salvation. They wish for more coins, to capture kingdoms through the conquest of princes.
We only want our own husbands back, our own bodies, our own urges and desires. We wish for the god-given gift of love, not the curse of lust.
We go to him, this Pygmalion. We do not knock. Instead we cry out his name, tearing our hair, smearing dirt across our faces. Phrygia joins us, more out of boredom than anything else.
Pygmalion opens his door, looks down at us with wide eyes. “What do you want? Or is that a stupid question?”
Help us! We cry.
We push Phyrgia toward him. “Take her as a wife. Save her. Perhaps Venus will have mercy on her through you, and us through her, as you have never offended her as our princesses have.”
He shuts the door in our face.
Pygmalion has finished his statue. I float down from my place among the gods to inspect it from all angles. I have already heard his inward sighs, already listened to the desperate thudding, traitorous heart. I know the layer he dare not even think. He believes he wants the statue to come to life, to give him what he cannot have: a whole, innocent, pure woman. What he truly desires is a woman already living, breathing, waking. He does not know her name, only has a vague idea of what he likes.
He simply wants her alive.
I pass my hands across the statue, consider bringing it to life. I do not want to lift my curse on the women of Cyprus. Their princesses are disgusting creatures.
I will not lift my curse—instead, I shall expand it. The men shall be as vile as the women. The wives cannot complain when their husbands are as they are. The men will not beat their wives when they acknowledge their own hypocrisy.
Pygmalion shall have his wife, have her living, breathing. He will choose her when he understands what they have gone through, when he sees what it’s like not to have charge of one’s own desires.
This is not villainy—this is mercy. This is the spread of the empathy of love.
We the Chorus, we the common women, we watch as Pygmalion and Phyrgia marry. Tonight shall be their only one of joy. They shall have many children, that is certain.
Our husbands do not beat us. They join us in our state. Perhaps one day, a traveler shall come across our city and find a people of stone and sinfulness, and ponder how we came to be this way.
We the Chorus, we the common women, tried to save ourselves. We tried to pray to Venus, tried to cultivate her approval through her favoured Pygmalion. Now, we can but embrace our fate. All we can do, sisters, brothers, lovers, cursed men and women—is be wanton.
© 2016 Rebeka Borshevsky. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author to request usage.