Archive for September, 2012

The World of Normal Boys – K. Soehnlein

(We have not discussed this in the group and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Starting a new school, having unusual hobbies, being unsure of yourself, wanting to fit in: all of us remember this stage of teenage life, which the author describes well. Hanging out with the bad boys, doing drugs, having illicit sex to throw off the mother’s boy image are also common experiences as are bunking off school to avoid PE lessons. Perhaps less common, the teenage boys ‘experiment’ sexually whilst fiercely proclaiming that they ‘ain’t queer’, though I suspect everyone remembers the intensity of one’s first orgasm.

The main character begins, as teenagers do, to see his parents in a new light. His mother escapes into alcoholism while the father distances himself from emotions: when one of his sons has a serious accident, it is a technology challenge for the father to adapt the house so as to make it disabled-friendly.

The book captures the spirit of the 1970s well, its music and that dreadful fashion mistake known as the tank top.

Although I found this book very engaging, I would not go as far as the reviewer in The Advocate who described it as ‘a cross between the film American beauty and Edmond White’s A Boy’s Own Story.’

A bit of proof reading wouldn’t have gone amiss. The boy sees his mother smoke inside the house ‘for the first time’ on two occasions.

Quotations:

“He falls asleep unsure if he is the spinner of this web or a creature trapped at its heart.”
“When people who aren’t normal try to make their lives normal it doesn’t work.”

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The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity (No-Nonsense Guides) Vanessa Baird

(We have not discussed this in the group so this review is in a personal capacity.)

I only purchased this book to support a new bookshop (Hydra on Old Market – worth a visit and they do great coffee), and to support The New Internationalist (which I ought to read regularly, given my views, but find heavy-going and then feel guilty about it! –  the No-Nonsense series is a handy digest of archived articles) thinking that I was already well-read in this area. However, I learnt a lot.

There is a global overview of attitudes towards what some would see as ‘perversions’ or ‘deviations’,  the hidden history of those who, over the centuries and across the continents, have hidden their true sexual identities and loves.

Globalisation is seen as a mixed blessing. With increasing international communication, not least through the internet, minority groups living under oppressive regimes have been able to join hands and network with those who have won many struggles towards inequality and who can advise on strategy. On the other hand, capitalism cop modifies everything and whilst it targets minorities as sources of income it also inculcates images of what is ‘normal and religious right-wingers bankroll churches and other groups in the third world who then lobby politicians and law makers in an attempt, highly successful in Nigeria and Uganda, to hold back progress and further oppress people. Globalisation has helped many people to have the courage to come out but their very visibility has led to increased persecution and violence.

Straight people and societies seem highly threatened by sexual diversity. ‘Family values’ and the core of a nation’s social cohesion are seen as being at risk so religious teachings are co-opted to inculcate guilt, science to explain causes and discover medical ‘cures’ and the legal system to punish difference.

A spokesman for the US Family Research Institute has claimed that homosexuality is too powerful to resist because it provides better orgasm than heterosexual marital sex, which ‘tends towards the boring end.’ One wonders how he knows this.

I was challenged by the topic of trans people. I thought that I was liberal in believing that if gender roles and behaviour weren’t so fixed, people would not need a ‘sex-change’ operation but could simply be themselves without society’s opprobrium. That is not how trans people see the issue. There is something very strong about the way that people inhabit their bodies.

Intersex people challenge our binary assumptions. If God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, how do the ‘moral majority’ view God when he made Adam and Eve in one body?  And do those who crusade against female genital mutilation ever think to challenge those parents who seek ‘gender realignment’ operations for their ambiguous-looking children? Interestingly Columbia is one of the few countries where this is illegal, in recognition of the child’s right to self-designation.

There may be some surprises for some, for example that Muslim societies have historically been far more tolerant of diversity than Christian ones. Also, Judaism is not monolithic. Some Cabbalists have seen homosexuality as an attempt top restore the original androgyny of Adam and, thus, the image of God in human beings. One of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, prophetically, that by oppressing sexual minorities, ‘We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and that must nearly be the ultimate blasphemy.’ Puritans who make a fuss about their right to wear a cross at work, who feel they are being persecuted, who tut tut at swear words, take note.

This is a matter of life and death for many, not just a fashionable cause, and the book includes a useful list of political and campaigning groups and an up to date guide to laws around the world about the age of consent and the laws which affect sexual minorities.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Some of us knew little about the Iliad and were apprehensive when this book was chosen but we were pleasantly surprised at this moving, well-written story by an author who took ten years to write this, her first novel. One said, ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Another, that she is a better writer than Mary Renault. (Though the trite phrase’ I am sorry for your loss’ leaps off the page as out of keeping.

The author is primarily an historian so the novel is straightforwardly linear with no modern gimmicks such as flashbacks: a period novel without heavy encumbrances which gives a feeling of what it would be like to be a Bronze Age warrior (and what is like to be a woman, of low status, disposable.)

The first part appeals to those gay men who like coming of age stories, with gradual self-discovery, a feeling of being ‘different’ ands tender, exploratory sex scenes, though this woman writer is a bit coy when it comes to describing ‘the action.’

Some found the interventions by the gods somewhat strange, though in our largely secular society, there are plenty of superstitious people who believe in similar things. The gods are, however, amoral and it is the narrator and gay man, Patroclus, who is the moral one and the healer (cf the shaman in other societies).

Some of us found it odd that Patroclus continues to narrate after his death while others viewed the whole story as having been told by the spirit of Patroclus.

Others wondered about the absence of Achilles’’ heel, though the author points out that, “There is no such thing as a definitive Greek myth.  Examine the tales of any hero and you will find at least half a dozen variations.

“Achilles’ most famous myth—his fatally vulnerable heel—is actually a very late story.  Our earliest account of it is by a Roman author, almost a millennium after the Iliad and the Odyssey were first composed.  During those thousand years a number of other stories popped up to explain Achilles’ seeming invincibility, but the Iliad and Odyssey contain the simplest: he wasn’t really invincible, just extraordinarily gifted in battle.  Since the Iliad and Odyssey were my primary inspiration, and since their interpretation seemed more realistic, this was the version I chose to follow.”  (See her study guide)

Quotations:

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Why me?”
“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”
“I swear it,” I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes.
“I swear it,” he echoed.
We sat like that a moment, hands touching. He grinned.
“I feel like I could eat the world raw.”

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”

“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

“When he died, all things soft and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong.
“Patroclus,” he said. He was always better with words than I.”

“There are no bargains between lion and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”

“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“He smiled, and his face was like the sun.”

“Achilles was looking at me. “Your hair never quite lies flat, here.” He touched my head, just behind my ear. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you how I like it.”

My scalp prickled where his fingers had been. “You haven’t,” I said.

“I should have.” His hand drifted down to the vee at the base of my throat, drew softly across the pulse. “What about this? Have I told you what I think of this, just here?”

“No,” I said.

“This surely then.” His hand moved across the muscles of my chest; my skin warmed beneath it. “Have I told you of this?”

“That you have told me.” My breath caught a little as I spoke.

“And what of this?” His hand lingered over my hips, drew down the line of my thigh. “Have I spoken of it?”

“You have.”

“And this? Surely I would not have forgotten this.” His cat’s smile. “Tell me I did not.”

“You did not.”

“There is this too.” His hand was ceaseless now. “I know I have told you of this.”

I closed my eyes. “Tell me again,” I said.”

“I have done it,” she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. A C H I L L E S, it reads. And beside it, P A T R O C L U S.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

“Odysseus inclines his head. “True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” He spread his broad hands. “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?” He smiles. “Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”

“I am made of memories.”

“I feel like I could eat the world raw.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave. “Or your brother? Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said. “He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

We had been silent. We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us. Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.

He is half of my soul, as the poets say. He will be dead soon, and his honor is all that will remain. It is his child, his dearest self. Should I reproach him for it? I have saved Briseis. I cannot save them all.

I know, now, how I would answer Chiron. I would say: there is no answer. Whichever you choose, you are wrong.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”

“I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This, and this, and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender, or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin.”

“I will go,” he said. “I will go to Troy.”
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whipsered. “Yes.”
Relief broke in his face, and he reached for me. I let him hold me, let him press us length to length so close that nothing might fit between us.
Tears came, and fell. Above us, the constellations spun and the moon paced her weary course. We lay stricken and sleepless as the hours passed.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”

“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”

“I stopped watching for ridicule, the scorpion’s tail hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

“He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”

“Bring him back to me,’ he told them.”

“There was more to say, but for once we did not say it. There would be other times for speaking, tonight and tomorrow and all the days after that. He let go of my hand.”

“Achilles’ eyes lift. They are bloodshot and dead. “I wish he had let you all die.”

“You can use a spear for a walking stick, but it will not change its nature.”

“She wants you to be a god,” I told him.
“I know.” His face twisted with embarrassment, and in spite of itself my heart lightened. It was such a boyish response. And so human. Parents, everywhere.”

“He is more worth to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

“It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.”

“I would still be with you. But I could sleep outside, so it would not be so obvious. I do not need to attend your councils. I—’
‘No. The Phthians will not care. And the others can talk all they like. I will still be Aristos Achaion.’ Best of the Greeks.
‘Your honor could be darkened by it.”
‘Then it is darkened.’ His jaw shot forward, stubborn. ‘They are fools if they let my glory rise or fall on this.”

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

“It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright were they dull.”

“We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”

“We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake loving him in silence.”

“Patroclus, he says, Patroclus. Patroclus. Over and over until it is sound only.”

“I conjure the boy I knew. Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms.
The memories come, and come. She listens, staring into the grain of the stone. We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”

“I am air and thought and can do nothing.”

“That is — your friend?”
“Philtatos,” Achilles replied, sharply. Most beloved.”

“I shift, an infinitesimal movement, towards him. It is like the leap from a waterfall. I do not know, until then, what I am going to do.”

“When I am dead, I charge you to mingle our ashes and bury us together.”

“Afterwards, when Agamemnon would ask him when he would confront the prince of Troy, he would smile his most guileless, maddening smile. “What has Hector ever done to me?”

“What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory… We are men only, a brief flare of the torch.”

“Bury us, and mark our names above. Let us be free.”

“I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heartsblood lost.”

“Go,” She says. “He waits for you.”

“I almost did not come, because I did not want to leave it.”
He smiled. “Now I know how to make you follow me everywhere.”
The sun sank below Pelion’s ridges, and we were happy.”

“As for the goddess’s answer, I did not care. I would have no need of her. I did not plan to live after he was gone.”

“Achilles weeps. He cradles me, and will not eat, nor speak a word other than my name.”

“This is what Achilles will feel like when he is old. And then I remembered: he will never be old.”

“. . .nothing could eclipse the stain of his dirty, mortal mediocrity.”

“He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight. I found myself wishing he would wake so that I might watch the life return.”

“The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know is in dark or disguise, told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“A surety rose in me, lodged in my throat. I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

“The greater the monument, the greater the man. The stone the Greeks quarry for his grave is huge and white, stretching up to the sky. A C H I L L E S, it reads. It will stand for him, and speak to all who pass: he lived and died, and lives again in memory.”

“If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth. As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong. “Patroclus,” he said. He was always better with words than I.”

“Have you no memories?’
I am made of memories.
‘Then speak.”

“I saw then how I had changed. I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough.”

“Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all.”

“Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone.”

“Achilles makes a sound like choking. “There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.” His spearpoint flies in a dark whirlwind, bright as the evening-star, to catch the hollow at Hector’s throat.”

“There is this too.” His hand was ceaseless now. “I know I have told you of this.”

I closed my eyes. “Tell me again,” I said.”

“I began to suprise Achilles, calling out to these men as we walked through the camp. I was always gratified at how they would raise a hand in return, point to a scar that had healed over well.
After they were gone, Achilles would shake his head. ‘I don’t know how you remember them all. I swear they look the same to me.’
I would laugh and point them out again. ‘That’s Sthenelus, Diomedes’ charioteer. And that’s Podarces, whose brother was the first to die, remember?’
‘There are too many of them,’ he said. ‘It’s simpler if they just remember me.”

“The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered gleam of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.”

“Perhaps he simply assumed: a bitterness of habit, of boy after boy trained for music and medicine, and unleashed for murder.”

“and when he moved it was like watching oil spread across a lake, smooth and fluid, almost vicious”

“There is no honour in betraying your friends.”

“The flames surround me, and I feel myself slipping further from life, thinning to only the faintest shiver in the air. I yearn for the darkness and silence of the underworld, where I can rest.”

“When he speaks at last, his voice is weary, and defeated. He doesn’t know how to be angry with me, either. We are like damp wood that won’t light.”

“He knew, but it was not enough. The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“And perhaps you should get some new stories, so I don’t fucking kill myself of boredom.”

“I know, now, how I would answer Chiron. I would say: there is no answer. Whichever you choose, you are wrong.”

“The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons.”

“Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child.”

“And as we swam, or played, or talked, a feeling would come. It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull.”

“Perhaps such things pass for virtue among the gods. But how is there glory in taking life? We die so easily. Would you make him another Pyrrhus? Let the stories of him be something more.”

“I think: this is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: how long do we have?”

“Later, Achilles pressed close for a final, drowsy whisper. ‘If you have to go, you know I will go with you.’ We slept.”

“The ship’s boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.”

“As if he heard me, he smiled, and his face was like the sun.”

“Who was he if not destined for fame?”

“I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“Our men liked conquest; they did not trust a man who was conquered himself.”

“Do you think Aristos Achaion fights in hopeless wars?”

“I have done it,” she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. ACHILLES, it reads. And beside it, PATROCLUS.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

“He did not fear ridicule, he had never known it.”

“This is how I think of us, when I remember our nights at Troy: Achilles and I beside each other, Phoinix smiling and Automedon stuttering through the punch lines of jokes, and Briseis with her secret eyes and quick, spilling laughter.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”
“Perhaps,” Achilles admitted.
I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“His fingers touched the strings and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once.”

“They leaned towards him, like flowers to the sun, drinking in his lustre. It was as Odysseus had said: he had light enough to make heroes of them all.”

“Wealth and reputation were the things our people had always killed for.”

“He collects my ashes himself, though this is a women’s duty. He puts them in a golden urn, the finest in our camp, and turns to the watching Greeks.
‘When I am dead, I charged you to mingle our ashes and bury us together.”

“This and this and this.”

“And I wanted to be able to listen, to digest the bloody images, to paint them flat and unremarkable onto the vase of posterity. To release him from it and make him Achilles again.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other”

“Success in such a war as this comes only through men sewn to a single purpose, funnelled to a single spear thrust rather than a thousand needle-pricks.”

“That is — your friend?”
“Philtatos,” Achilles replies, sharply. Most beloved.”

“Indeed, he seemed utterly unaware of his effect on the boys around him.”

“Name one hero who was happy. You can’t.”

“The door snicked shut.”

“I have heard that men who live by a waterfall cease to hear it—in such a way did I learn to live beside the rushing torrent if his doom.”

“He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”

“Peleus acknowledged this. “Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them?”
“I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.”

“But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart? ”

“For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty?”

“He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight.”

“He is a mortal,” she says. “And mortals die.” “I am a mortal!” he screams. “What good is godhead, if it cannot do this? What good are you?”

“There was nothing clever to say, so I said something foolish.”

“We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake in this room loving him in silence.”

“He is half my soul, as the poets say.”

“He is lost in Agamemnon and Odysseus’ wily double meanings, their lies and games of power. They have confounded him, tied him to a stake and baited him. I stroke the soft skin of his forehead. I would untie him if I could. If he would let me.”

“For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. I”

“I wish he had let you all die”

“An ugly man, with a face sharp like a weasel and a habit of running a flickering tongue over his lips before he speaks. But most ugly of all are his eyes: blue, bright blue. When people see them, they flinch. Such things are freakish. He is lucky he was not killed at birth.”

“I could have told him more, of the dreams that left me bleary and bloodshot, the almost-screams that scraped my throat as I swallowed them down. The way the stars turned and turned through the night above my unsleeping eyes.”

“Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop of my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook.”

“Priam’s eyes find the other body, mine, lying on the bed. He hesitates a moment. ‘That is — your friend?’

‘Philtatos,’ Achilles says, sharply. Most beloved. ‘Best of men, and slaughtered by your son.”

“Pride became us—heroes were never modest.”

“The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death.”

“Divine blood purified our muddy race, bred heroes from dust and clay.”

“You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to know what he had not said.”

“The heat rose up my neck, wrapped fingers over my face. His hair fell around me, and I could smell nothing but him. The grain of his lips seemed to rest a hairsbreadth from mine.”

“He waits for you.”

“We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.”

“One morning, I woke to find Chiron gone. This was not unusual. He often rose before we did, to milk the goats or pick fruits for breakfast. I left the cave so that Achilles”

“I did not plan to live after he was gone.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“He is such a flood, I thought”

“It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came.”

“In the silence, I can hear Phoinix’s breaths, labored with the exertion of speaking so long. I do not dare to speak or move; I am afraid that someone will see the thought that is plain on my face. It was not honor that made Meleager fight, or his friends, or victory, or revenge, or even his own life. It was Cleopatra, on her knees before him, her face streaked with tears. Here is Phoinix’s craft: Cleopatra, Patroclus. Her name built from the same pieces as mine, only reversed.”

“Our mouths opened under each other, and the warmth of his sweetened throat poured into mine. I could not think, could not do anything but drink him in, each breath as it came, the soft movements of his lips. It was a miracle.”

“I do not know this man, I think. He is no one I have ever seen before. My rage towards him is hot as blood. I will never forgive him. I imagine tearing down our tent, smashing the lyre, stabbing myself in the stomach and bleeding to death. I want to see his face broken with grief and regret. I want to shatter the cold mask of stone that has slipped down over the boy I knew.”

“You are a better man than I.”

“She wears a cape, and it is this that undoes her—that allows her to be pulled, limbs light and poised as a cat, from her horse.”

“We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“Even here, behind the darkness of my eyelids, I cannot name the thing I hope for.”

“I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heartsblood lost.”

“Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child. Orpheus’ voice made the trees weep, Heracles could kill a man by clapping him on the back. Achilles’ miracle was his speed.”

“Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

“Exile might satisfy the anger of the living, but it did not appease the dead.”

“I gaped at the cold shock of his beauty, deep-green eyes, features fine as a girl’s. It struck from me a sudden, springing dislike. I had not changed so much, nor so well.”

“You do not command me. The silence went on and on, painful and breathless, like a singer overreaching to finish a phrase.”

“True is what men believe, and they believe this of you.”

“Strange that such a small kindness felt like grace.”

“The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again”

“There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Why me?”
“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”
“I swear it”

“It seemed absurd even to think of it, foolish and improbable as a dream is by dinner.”

“But I would have the memory be worthy of the man.”

“who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. I”

“There are too many of them,” he said. “It’s simpler if they just remember me.”

“I let the pebbles tumble to the ground from my fingers, where they lie, haphazard or purposeful, an augury or an accident. If Chiron were here, he could read them, tell us our fortunes. But he is not here.
“What if he will not beg?” I ask.
“Then he will die. They will all die. I will not fight until he does.” His chin juts, bracing for reproach.
I am worn out. My arm hurts where I cut it, and my skin feels coated with unwholesome sweat. I do not answer.”

“I let the pebbles tumble to the ground from my fingers, where they lie, haphazard or purposeful, an augury or an accident. If Chiron were here, he could read them, tell us our fortunes. But he is not here.
“What if he will not beg?” I ask.
“Then he will die. They will all die. I will not fight until he does.” His chin juts, bracing for reproach.
I am worn out. My arm hurts where I cut it, and my skin feels coated with unwholesome sweat. I do not answer.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“May I give you some advice? If you are truly his friend, you will help him leave this soft heart behind. He’s going to Troy to kill men, not rescue them.” His dark eyes held me like swift-running current. “He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.”

“His eyelids were the colour of the dawn sky; he smelled like earth after rain.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?” “Perhaps,” Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise,”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?” “Perhaps,” Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“…the sea was hidden by the house’s curve, but we could both hear it, the distant hiss of waves against sand.”

“…all the grace I saw then was his own: simple, unadorned, glorious.”

“My consolation is that we will be together in the underworld. That we will meet again there, if not in this life. I would not wish to be there without her.”

“This was the cruelty of adults. Do you understand?”

“hot and close. The walls were hung with deep-dyed tapestries and old weapons kept gleaming by servants. Achilles walked past them and knelt at his father’s feet. “Father, I come to ask your pardon.” “Oh?” Peleus lifted an eyebrow. “Speak then.” From where I stood his face looked cold and displeased. I was suddenly fearful. We had interrupted; Achilles had not even knocked. “I have taken Patroclus from his drills.” My name sounded strange on his lips; I almost did not recognize it. The old king’s brows drew together. “Who?” “Menoitiades,” Achilles said. Menoitius’ son. “Ah.” Peleus’ gaze followed the carpet back to where I stood, trying not to fidget. “Yes, the boy the arms-master wants to whip.” “Yes. But it is not his fault. I forgot to say I wished him for a companion.” Therapon was the word he used. A brother-in-arms sworn to a prince by blood oaths and love. In war, these men were his honor guard; in peace, his closest advisers. It was a place of highest esteem, another reason the boys swarmed Peleus’ son, showing off; they hoped to be chosen. Peleus’ eyes narrowed. “Come here, Patroclus.” The carpet was thick beneath my feet. I knelt a little behind Achilles. I could feel the king’s gaze on me. “For many years now, Achilles, I have urged companions on you and you have turned them away. Why this boy?” The question might have been my own. I had nothing to offer such a prince. Why, then, had he made a charity case of me? Peleus and I both waited for his answer. “He is surprising.” I looked up, frowning. If he thought so, he was the only one. “Surprising,” Peleus echoed. “Yes.” Achilles explained no further, though I hoped he would. Peleus rubbed his nose in thought. “The boy is an exile with a stain upon him. He will add no lustre to your reputation.” “I do not need him to,” Achilles said. Not proudly or boastfully. Honestly. Peleus acknowledged this. “Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them?” “I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.” I found my pulse beating thickly in my veins, fearing Peleus’ anger. It did not come. Father and son met each other’s gaze, and the faintest touch of amusement bloomed at the corner of Peleus’ mouth. “Stand up, both of you.” I did so, dizzily. “I pronounce your sentence. Achilles, you”

“The islands looked all the same to me–high cliffs bleached white, pebbled beaches that scratched the underside of our ships with their chalky fingernails.”

“That is my mother’s lyre,’ I almost said. The words were in my mouth, and behind them others crowded close. ‘That is my lyre.”

“She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back, and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon.”

“Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
“I doubt it.”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said. “He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

“All I saw was his beauty, his singing limbs, the quick flickering of his feet.”

“I could smell the sea. It was everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, in the sticky damp of my skin. Even here in the grove, amidst the must of leaves and earth, the unwholesome salty decay still found me. My stomach heaved a moment, and I leaned against the scabbed trunk of a tree. The rough bark pricked my forehead, steading me. I must get away from this smell, I thought.”

“He is giving a show, I know, of grace, of tolerance, and my teeth clench at the calmness in his tone. He likes this image of himself, the wronged young man, stoically accepting the theft of his prize, a martyrdom for the whole camp to see.”

“The never-ending ache of love and sorrow.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

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