To Kak’s displeasure, Philip, his parents and Stammer came back inside from the deck, slipping into their respective chairs at the table of honor. The solitude had been energizing. It was over now.
“What is it they say?” Philip asked. “Red sky at night, wedding couples delight?”
“Have you seen a waiter?” Kak asked.
Philip frowned at her empty glass and leaned in close to her. “How many is that?” he asked, quietly.
“The world is always one drink behind,” she said, not bothering to lower her own voice.
He moved her empty glass out of her reach.
“In this case,” he said, “it may be two or three behind. Let’s slow down, honey.”
“Don’t you think I tried?”
“I tried slowing down. I tried stopping. I even tried going backwards. You know where it got me? Here. For better or for worse.”
Philip leaned in closer, until his head nearly rested against hers.
“Lately,” he said, “I don’t understand anything you say.”
“How would you like me to talk?” She had no intention of humoring any requests except as tinder for arguments and found herself spoiling for one continuously.
“Like the old Kak.”
“Philip, my boy, that’s one thing I can’t do.”
“Because she’s gone. She died. Better get used to it.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“And I’ll keep doing it.”
Having this conversation in front of his parents made Philip uncomfortable. He lowered his volume further.
“We need to clear the air.”
Kak pointed out the window to where the sun had finally disappeared and the sky reddened quickly. “Are you seeing this? Do you know how clear the air has to be for it to show so red?”
The light had begun to infuse and illuminate an isolated thunderhead half the distance to the horizon. She saw herself in it. That’s what she was now. An isolated thunderhead.
“You know what I’m talking about,” Philip said.
“Yes, but my mouth is just so dry.”
“Who besides Kastle would like some coffee?” Evelyn asked.
“Kastle doesn’t want some coffee,” Kak answered.
“We don’t want you feeling awful at the ceremony,” Evelyn countered.
“You know, Evelyn, I was planning on feeling awful at the ceremony anyway. I may as well be hungover, too. Then I’ll have an excuse.”
Evelyn considered this briefly. “I’m afraid it isn’t how a Temple woman carries herself.”
Now they were getting somewhere.
“Yes,” Kak said, drawing in a huge, heavenly lungful of air. “I think you are afraid. I guess I do have something to learn about being a Temple woman.”
“You certainly do.”
“Here’s a tidbit for you. I’m not going to learn it. And I’m going to start by keeping my name.”
Evelyn attempted no reply. “And work outside the home,” Kak said. “And drop my kids off at daycare where they’ll learn to play and fight. And when I pick them up I’ll love them and spoil them.”
Evelyn stared at her plate. The anger had become a weapon in Kak’s hands. She felt its energy pulsing through her, feeding her, and as she grew stronger her enemies cowered before her.
This was how the gods became gods. On the way to their perceived destiny they discovered an unexpected power that so changed their perspective it was their absolute responsibility to wield it. The anger was that for Kak. A new destiny. Poseidon’s trident, rocking the earth with a mere touch. Zeus’s lightning bolt, swift and deadly. Perhaps most apt of all, the harpe sword Perseus used to decapitate Medusa. Kak watched Evelyn avoid her, noting how much her future mother-in-law’s curls resembled serpents. Kak couldn’t help smiling. Had Medusa seen the game changing before Perseus struck? Evelyn saw it. And it frightened her.
“Come to think of it,” Kak said, “I’m going to feel great at the ceremony.”
She went around the table, from face to face, daring each to challenge her. Only Stammer held her gaze. Instead of the shock or disappointment Kak expected, Stammer’s expression bordered on admiration. The problem was that Kak didn’t want that from her. Not now. Not ever. She moved on.
“Nothing from you?” Kak asked, when she’d gotten around the table to Philip. He may as well know it now. Her recent acquisition of anger would no longer allow her to be content in his pocket, down there with the loose change and lint.
“No?” she asked. “I didn’t think so. I assumed I’d fight my battles alone. That’s fine. The odds are about right.”
“Let’s get you that glass of wine,” Philip said, pulling her from the table.
Evelyn glanced at Kak’s feet, mustering a trace of her old command.
“I certainly hope you’re not wearing those things tomorrow,” Evelyn said.
Those things were the gift from Nono. She lifted one of the tacky, bead-adorned rubber thongs.
“You don’t like them?” Kak asked, in mock surprise.
Evelyn’s nose wrinkled. “They’re hideous.”
“I see what happened to you,” Kak said as Philip dragged her in the direction of the bar. “And it isn’t happening to me.”
Philip ordered a glass of pinot noir and a shot of tequila.
“Yummy,” Kak said.
“The tequila’s for me,” Philip said. “I need to ask you something.”
“You want to know if I’ve lost my mind.”
“I already know that.” He shook salt onto the skin between his thumb and forefinger.
“You want to know what happened in Key West. I’ll tell you the whole story and leave nothing out.”
Why not? Whom did a god fear?
“Stop,” Philip said. “Listen to me. I don’t know what’s going on with you.” He licked the salt, tossed the tequila into his mouth and bite into the lime before continuing. “But I don’t want you to think you’re fighting alone. You’re not. I’m going to be your husband. If you want those things you said at the table, I want them, too.”
“That’s just the lime talking.”
“Brave words in private. I notice you couldn’t say them at the table. Not in front of your mother.”
“I know you think we’re all afraid of her.”
Philip raised a finger to the bartender. “Again.” He drank the second shot of tequila and took Kak’s free hand in his, leading her from the bar to the middle of the dining room.
“I need to borrow this,” he said, slipping the Tiffany engagement ring off her finger. Once Philip had the ring he took a step back from her and lowered himself to one knee. All chatter in the room stopped cold. A few spoons clinked against glasses. She hadn’t seen this coming. Even with anger at her disposal, it threw her off ever so slightly.
“Don’t do that,” Kak said.
But Philip wasn’t listening. “Twelve months and two days ago,” he said, “I asked you to be my wife. I told you I loved your mind, your body and your soul.”
A collective ‘aw’ poured from the Temple family and wedding party. Philip waited for silence.
“I’d be honored to share my name with you. But I love your name like it is. And if you want to keep it, then I want you to keep it.”
She needed to stop him. She wasn’t sure how.
“I love your independence,” Philip continued. “If you want to work outside the house, then I want you to do it.”
It was coming around again. Philip was recreating the very situation that had put her in acceptance. That they were clothed this time made no difference. The gods had seen it coming, had gotten her in a roomful of people, and were using Philip to try and finish her. Perhaps they’d had this in mind from the start.
“So what do you say?” Philip asked. “Will you marry me? Again?”
The one hundred thirty dinner guests had no understanding of the game being played. Philip himself was oblivious. Only Kak recognized the stakes. She couldn’t say yes. That had started her troubles and would take her back there. And she couldn’t say no. Not anymore. Getting to denial meant giving up the single greatest discovery of her life. Anger.
The gods were speaking through Philip now. She had to answer carefully. Cleverly.
“You asked me this already,” she said, with a little sigh to let him know how tiresome it had become.
She watched him stumble mentally. Lose his place. The burden was on him. He was in the glare of the spotlight, kneeling before his family and friends, baring his soul, defying Evelyn. And his fiancé had trivialized his intention. Kak couldn’t imagine a more awkward position for him. Good. Whatever it took to get him to give this up.
To his credit Philip recovered, doubling down on his proposal. “I’m asking again. I’ll ask every day of our life together if you want me to.”
Daphne’s hand went to her mouth. Kak supposed this epitomized the dream for most of the women in the room. To have a man profess this way, gush, unguarded, make himself perfectly vulnerable in front of every person who mattered to him. Any other woman in the room would say yes to this. They couldn’t see the mythological impossibility of acceptance. Or the subservience of denial. Any other woman didn’t understand the danger this posed Kak. After all she’d been through, to be placed on the spot, the final flaming ring trotted out for her to jump through.
Philip, unaware that he was the pawn in this final showdown, held his pose. His face told Kak everything there was to know. He’d asked and would be damned if he didn’t get his answer. This Philip showed none of the nerves of the Philip at Langone. This Philip was confident. This Philip leaned out over a deep emotional precipice knowing the hand of his love must extend to steady him and prevent him from falling into it.
It didn’t matter if she sounded like a bitch. Everything tomorrow would go as planned. But only if she defused this here and now.
“You don’t get it, do you?” Kak said. “I set something in motion. I can’t just go back.”
“Why not?” Philip asked.
The first murmurs of concern bubbled up among onlookers. What should have been an adorable scene, a treat for the wedding party and families of the bride and groom, had quickly grown bewildering. A few of the duller guests still beamed in ignorance though most by now had given in to their confusion. Their faces showed it.
Screw them all. She, once mortal, had thwarted the will of the gods. They’d sent her on a reverse scavenger hunt never suspecting it might give her the means to defeat them without finishing the game they’d designed for her. She’d seized the power. She’d ascended Olympus and stolen it. Neither Philip nor anyone else could take it away. The harpe sword swung in her hand, cool and heavy. Only she could relinquish it.
“Philip?” she asked.
“Yes, Kak?” He leaned forward expectantly, holding the engagement ring a bit higher, ready to receive the reward for his display.
“When you die. Instead of a headstone. I want a statue of me, naked and sitting on your face for eternity. Would that be alright with you?”
The shocked silence following her question pleased Kak beyond anything she’d known.
“Oh,” Evelyn said, meekly.
Unfortunately, this seemed to help Philip. He found his composure.
“If you’ll pose for it,” he said, “I’ll be a lucky man to have it for a headstone. In about seventy years.”
This drew a sprinkling of laughter from the room. It grew, becoming more infectious until the whole room tittered either from the humor of the situation or relief in its passing.
Whether the guests believed it had been staged by the wedding couple or the ultimate honest exchange between the bride and groom, someone started clapping. It built until applause filled the dining room, serving to embolden Philip where he kneeled.
Damn them all.
“So,” Philip said. “How about it?”
Out beyond the wall of windows the sky bloomed into flame. The aftereffects of a sun buried under the horizon were just being realized.
“Say yes,” Philip said.
Electromagnetic radiation shot through the clouds, through the air, igniting everything in its path.
“Say yes,” Philip repeated.
“Say yes,” Daphne called out.
The energy streaming through the windows expanded like a star on the verge of supernova. It was becoming hard for Kak to think.
Now the entire wedding party was in on the act. “Say yes!” they cried together.
Half the room took up the chant. “Say yes!”
She tried to concentrate on the sky but the chanting shattered her focus. What was being called down from that inferno? What had the gods concocted to trip her up at the last second?
The entire restaurant had fallen under the spell of the war cry. The staff stopped their serving to join in. A hundred forty voices rose up against her. Kak wanted to scream at them. To tell them no, no, no, if only because they were so eager to hear yes. She told herself not to even think the word. The crowd carried on.
“Say yes. Say yes!”
No one enjoyed it more than Evelyn. She stood, pumping her fist. The whole place stood with her.
“Say yes! Say YES! SAY YES!”
It was dizzying. Kak watched them in horror, feeling herself sway, trying to get her breath. And the chanting went on. Still on his knees, Philip beamed, holding the ring higher and higher.
Kak opened her mouth. Philip signaled for quiet. The chanting dwindled and died. The room hung on the tip of Kak’s tongue. She inhaled and the room inhaled with her.
“I think,” she said, “I left my head outside.” Every mouth gaped as she walked out of the dining room, past the hostess station and into the evening.
She strode deliberately across the asphalt to the median separating the entrance and exit lanes to the Tween Waters. Kak made her stand knee deep in the clumps of mondo grass planted there under the tallest coconut palm in the median. It was no irosun tree and this wasn’t the Shasha Forest but it would have to do. At least under the palm’s cover the gods couldn’t piss directly into her face.
A dried out palm frond lay between the clumps of mondo grass. The leaflets had broken off, leaving just the stalk and mid rib extending from it like, well, like a sword. Kak picked it up by the base of the stalk and brandished it. The rough fiber felt good in her hand.
She imagined that Andromeda had cried. Begged for her life, naked and cold, before finally sagging into the rocks to helplessly await her doom or her saviour. It would not go that way tonight.
“This is the shit you pull?” Kak yelled into the glowering sky. The gods had heard everything else, certainly they heard this. “I played your stupid game. I beat you. I want what’s mine.”
The only response was ever-reddening sky. That was no answer at all. She wouldn’t be ignored.
“This is my night,” she bellowed. “Not yours.” She didn’t have to look to know that the dinner guests were pressed to the windows behind her. They watched her, heard her raging against the heavens, saw her swing the weapon that had been cast at her feet. Let them watch. Let them see how a mortal became a god.
“Let me pass, damn you,” she screamed, thrusting the harpe skyward. “Now!”
The bolt of lightning that connected the sky to the palm tree above Kak pushed thirty million volts down the trunk in a blinding gold flash. The massive surge of electrons racing toward the ground vaporized the sap into steam. The trunk exploded, spraying thousands of fragments in every direction. As the side splash from the strike lifted Kak off the ground, she felt the sting of hundreds of ejected bits of palm tree pelting her. The force threw her into the mondo grass, removing her from the sight of the wedding guests gawking through the Old Captiva House windows.
Had Kak been outwardly conscious as she lay in the clumps of grass she’d have marveled at the spark and fading glow of the stricken palm against the darkening sky. She’d have felt the vacuum of temporary hearing loss. Her hands would have tried to explore her singed eyelashes, eyebrows and hair but loss of feeling in her extremities would have denied comprehension. She’d have used a hand to smear the hundreds of dots of blood all over her face, neck and arms where the bits of disintegrated tree trunk broke her skin. Most of all she’d have been aware that her breathing had stopped.
But she wasn’t outwardly conscious. She was in the deep ink of death again as she’d been 368 days earlier in Langone. With one difference. In Langone it welcomed her. Sheltered her. Soothed her. Here it contained her. Worse than that, it suffocated her. It drew her down with a weight that threatened to seal her in the darkness. To separate her from anger forever.
There was no singing. Not this time. No summoning from the depth and darkness she’d wanted in Langone.
She struggled for the surface, clawing at the shadows. With her flailing came the awareness that she wasn’t alone. There were things with her. Awful things. Closing in on her. Clutching at her arms. Pressing down on her legs. Holding her under until the unthinkable began to form in her mind. Was this Hell? Was this what she’d hungered for? Were these the demons that would torment her for eternity?
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