“Well look at you,” said Erzulie Freda Dahomey to Aphrodite. “I see western civilization continues to be good to you. How’s that fat baby of yours?”
“Not as good as it used to be,” replies Aphrodite with some bitterness. “Cupid is with his father for the weekend. Hermes is teaching him coding for the new dating app he wants to start.”
“A chip off the old block,” nods Oshun sagely, taking a long pull off her blue curacao daiquiri.
“Truth be told, “ says Aphrodite, “He’s intolerable this time of the year. Fame goes straight to his head. All those Valentine’s Day cards with his likeness on them. It’s enough to make one sick,” she said, signaling to the waiter.
“But Aphrodite, he’s your son,” says Mary gently. “Think of all the people he’s helped find love. Surely you must be proud of his accomplishments.”
Ishtar laughed. “Mother Mary—you know I love you to hell and back, but the world has changed, especially for us. You, on the other hand…” she gestured toward the cross around Mary’s neck.
Mary blushed. “It hasn’t been easy,” she said quietly, as her eyes filled with tears.
“Leave her alone,” says Erzulie Freda Dahomey, looking up from the menu. Her phone beeped. “Whoops, I gotta take this one,” she said, laughing, and left.
Oshun shook her head. “Only one thing on that girl’s mind, as usual,” she murmured to herself.
“Well, what else is there?” said Ishtar, who was sitting next to Oshun. “Desire makes the world go ‘round. Why pretend otherwise? Behind every intense emotion is desire,” she said, taking a healthy sip of her vodka sour.
Aphrodite sighed. “Desire, in this so-called modern age—has become a business. Always has been—but—this is new territory. The business has overcome the original point. That’s where I struggle,” she finished wearily, as the waiter appeared. “Thank you,” she said, as he set down her double gin and tonic.
“Believing in love will change the world,” said Mary quietly. “I’m aware of my inexperience in romantic love. But I was chosen. I’ve accepted my destiny, and I think you should too,” she said, taking a sip of mineral water.
“You were raped,” said Ishtar flatly. “By one of the boys who call themselves God. You’re not the first one, and you won’t be the last.” Her phone beeped. “Ugh! It’s my father—he’s fighting with the nurses again. I’m dreadfully sorry, but I gotta go,” she said, putting on her leather jacket.
“What a shame,” said Oshun. “I was looking forward to catching up. Text me this week and we’ll meet for dinner—it’s on me,” she said firmly.
Ishtar nodded in her direction. “I would like that,” she said. “Mary, call me on Thursday—I recently got a shipment of ancient poetry from Mesopotamia, if you’re interested—”
Mary nodded. “I will,” she said bravely.
Aphrodite frowned. Why even bother organizing these brunches year after year, she thought, as she signaled the waiter for another round of drinks.
Nikki Wallschlaeger’s work has been featured in The Nation, Brick, American Poetry Review, Witness, Kenyon Review, POETRY, and others. She is the author of the full-length collections Houses (Horseless Press 2015) and Crawlspace (Bloof 2017) as well as the graphic book I Hate Telling You How I Really Feel (2019) from Bloof Books. She is also the author of an artist book called “Operation USA” through the Baltimore based book arts group Container, a project acquired by Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. Her third collection, Waterbaby, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2021.