Finally, she saw it. Or it saw her. You never knew with books.
The Complete World of Greek Mythology by Richard Buxton. With 330 illustrations, 139 in color. She slid the volume out and carried it to the area of the library designated by a sign as a quiet zone. This amused her because she thought of anywhere inside a library as a quiet zone. She put the box on the floor beside her chair and opened the book on the table.
In Buxton’s volume, the gods loved and lied, fought and fucked, deceived mortals, other gods, and even themselves. How attractive that they conducted themselves so messily. They weren’t infallible. They were simply gods. They could be fooled.
The pages fell open to Hermes. Son of Zeus. Messenger, trickster, protector, thief, diplomat, lover and guide of souls to the Underworld. Quite a resume.
She flipped to Atë. The Greek goddess of mischief, delusion, ruin and folly. The eldest daughter of Zeus. He’d cast her to earth admonishing her never to return. In response, she brought havoc. Who could blame her? At least she’d known her father.
More pages bent and slipped through her fingers, falling open to Perseus, half-god, freeing Andromeda from her chains after slaying the sea monster come to eat her. He carried the severed head of Medusa and the harpe sword he’d used to separate it from her body. Good work if you could get it.
Kak wondered which gods contested against her and what weapons they carried. Did they smirk to think of her arming herself with a chicken? As if hearing her thoughts, the chicken clucked, just twice, but loud enough. Kak closed the book and waited.
The gods didn’t show themselves but the kindly Hispanic man with the lisp did. He informed her, so pleasantly, that she was welcome to stay as long as she liked but that the chicken would have to go. She excused herself and, slipping the book into the box with Ugarte, carried it to the rear door and out to the parking area. No one followed.
Kak pedaled south to Angela before remembering it ran one way east. She didn’t want to go east so she retraced her path north and took a left on Southard, riding the short distance to Duval. Not wanting to go south on the now familiar street and forbidden to go north where she might see Rudy, she crossed Duval and continued west.
Two blocks later she rolled through the entrance to the Truman Annex. The red-roofed guard house appeared to be long-dormant and largely symbolic. No one stepped out to meet her so she pedaled past it over the brick street and under the gumbo limbo tree branches that met overhead.
She pedaled on, cruising past the Coast Guard cutter resting at the naval station, feeling her mood change as she followed the waterfront. As Key West went, she’d reached the westernmost of it. This was a Key West most visitors never saw. She was alone here, running out of room, her sanctuaries shrinking. A doomed species, the Silent-Breasted Kak, fleeing to live out what life she had left under the threat of an advancing civilization. Kakkus tacitus. The last of her kind. The only of her kind, actually. Doomed to extinction.
In the end, if she failed, that would be her saving grace. A willingness to die rather than be engulfed. That was the danger, after all. It wasn’t civilized domestication that doomed you. What doomed you was the lack of absolute resolve to resist at all cost. Once you wavered, once you humored the idea of living in captivity, you were finished.
The next guard house she encountered, the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, did stop her. She paid two dollars and fifty cents to the attendant and followed the drive as it bent to the southeast and swung back around to the west. Here she coasted through the parking area, easing to a stop where a low barricade of fossilized coral blocks separated the land from the sea and a sign advised caution to anyone deciding to climb on them.
She followed the shoreline south a few hundred feet until, beyond a rock jetty built as a breakwater, she could see the deserted stretch of sand ahead. Straw Hat Beach. She leaned her bike against a wooden bench in a cluster of pines with a view across the western water and ventured down the slope toward the tide zone. Except this time, when her feet touched the sand, she didn’t want it. She realized now that the sand only called her to mock her. Kak took a pinch of the granules and spread them out in her palm until she had isolated one single grain. Like the sand on Sanibel, it had endured over time as the softer minerals around it eroded into dust. In the end, for all its insignificance, lost here among its billions of sisters, this spec of quartz would outlast her.
Dusting off her hands, she ascended the few steps up the steep beach to the bench in the pines. The overcast sky kept the sun at bay and the breeze cooled her. This spot worked as well as any. Better than most. She’d remember it.
She sat with the box on her lap, removed the lid and took out the stolen book, disturbing Ugarte as little as possible as she did. It was stupid to have taken it. She found she had no interest in looking at it now. The condemned bird regarded her with a few sharp head movements before exploring the possibilities of escape.
“I’m sorry, Ugarte,” she said, to the doomed bird. The name came to her while she rode. Ugarte, for the Casablanca character played by Peter Lorre. Sacrificed to propel the story forward. Perhaps the sacrifice of this Ugarte would do the same for her story. It would have been a satisfying choice if not for the thought of an innocent creature’s blood on her hands. She put the lid on the box, unable to face the bird while thinking it.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. At least she had remorse.
She peeked through one of the holes in the end of the box, designed to allow a person’s fingers to slip in and carry it. Ugarte, either understanding no escape was possible or perhaps comforted by her executioner’s voice, settled into the shredded cardboard that lined the box and fell asleep. Kak placed the box gently as she could on the ground under the bench.
The previous late night, alcohol and shortness of sleep were all catching up with her. Waves lapped the shore in gentle rhythm. Gusts of wind tousled her hair, lulling her, tempting her eyes to close. She found a softball-sized chunk of fossilized coral to use as a weight on the lid of the box. This would keep it from being blown off by wind or dislodged from within if Ugarte woke and got ideas. Once she’d secured the lid she lay down on the bench, making a crude pillow of her backpack.
Half an hour later she was still waiting for sleep to claim her. She told herself not to think about the doxepin. Less than a minute passed before she had a warm, slippery blue bullet in her mouth. Having nothing to drink, she coated it with her saliva before swallowing. It stuck. She resisted the urge to gag, working up more saliva in her mouth and swallowing again. Another try and it was down. That’s two, she told herself. Keep track.
Before she knew it she’d joined Ugarte in the sweetness of oblivion. It was a dreamless sleep, the kind welcomed by those burdened with worry. In the depths of thoughtless disregard for her own consciousness she felt it: the certainty that she’d return to hang her toes over the precipice, to reclaim what had eluded her in Langone the day she’d given the gods the finger.
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