Sieved Water

Elaine Graham-Leigh

Here in Hell, every day is the same. We take our sieves to the river, dip them in and run to the jar with the water pouring over our feet till there is nothing left. Then we turn around and do the same thing again, and again and again and again. It’s our curse, my sisters’ and mine. Because we killed our husbands; because our father told us to.

When people come to see the Underworld, their guides never fail to point us out. They make a story of it. ‘Once upon a time there was a king called Danaus…’ The feud between our family and our neighbours had gone on for generations, but my father had no sons. So, he offered his daughters to our neighbour’s sons. We were married all together and that night, we obeyed our father’s instructions and killed our husbands. Except that Mesa my sister told her husband instead and he killed us.

Lynceus, that was his name. Queen Mesa and King Lynceus; the handsomest of the brothers and the cleverest of the sisters. I remember how his and Mesa’s eyes found each other, that day of the wedding. She was the prettiest of us, too. You can see the Islands of the Blessed from here. I always wonder if she’s there. In the story she’s the heroine, the one who did the right thing, and we are the villains. For a long time, I thought that was deserved.

I know it was a crime, what I did, but now I think it wasn’t the worst one. I was never brave like her. When Father told us what we had to do, I waited for her to say ‘that’s wrong,’ to say, ‘we won’t kill for you.’ I would have supported her if she had; believe me, I would. She must have known that. But she said nothing, she pretended she’d obey, and so what could I do? I was never the strong one. 

Since the day I died I’ve been thinking why she did it, why she kept silence. I think of how handsome Lynceus was, how many his older brothers, how dearly she must have wanted a crown. She didn’t try to stop us. Lynceus didn’t try to stop us. All his brothers, all her sisters; and at the end the heroic couple step clean from the bloodbath, innocent.

Sometimes when I reach the jar there’s a drip still on the bottom of the sieve; water with the dross sieved away, like truth. I know so much more now than I did when I was alive. Sometimes it makes me feel aggrieved, vindicated, as if her crime wipes out my lesser one, as if now that I understand, my punishment should be over. The drip hangs crystalline from the sieve for a moment, then it’s gone. I turn back to the river. I know there’s no point, but I keep on trying. Perhaps because they told me to.

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