If Ever, Before Now, You Listen to a Word of Mine
Watch the god Hypnos meet the Mother in a coffeehouse.
He, in dapper clothes the color of oblivion and clouds.
She, ragged, wearing a worn number from two days prior, milk-stained and smelling sour. She cradles a cup of coffee, lets it warm her hands until they regain color.
"Why don't you call on me," the god asks.
Listen to his voice, a purr, a song. Watch how the Mother nearly wilts to sleep then and there.
"I cannot," she sighs.
"I could send my sons to you," Hypnos says. "I could give you such dreams: Bathe with unburdened limbs. Make love to every ideal. If you would but ask."
"I cannot," the Mother says.
"I could ask my father to shine on you," he says. "Make it so dark at night that you weep for the star's beauty and cannot help but find the softness of your bed and come to me."
The Mother shrugs.
Watch as the god Hypnos shakes his head, bewildered. He senses the Mother's Want. Need. Hypnos's own wife had many sons, the Dreams, but she never told him about this. Innumerable parents of late—unable to call his name.
The loss of power makes his fingers numb.
Behold as he fumbles buttoning his jacket, then leaves.
Now, a week later, he gives in, and again calls upon the Mother to meet at the coffeehouse.
Watch. The Mother seems pleased to be there. See how she clasps another cup of coffee, treats herself to whip cream on top. She bites her lip as she gazes around the coffeehouse, soaking in the sounds and smells, as if she'd never noticed it before.
"Are you listening?" the god asks her.
Notice how hard he's been trying to lure her.
"What?" she asks. "Oh. I was able to call on you a little but never much."
"Why," he entreats.
Look how the Mother stares, and for the first time in a millennium, the god feels small. His clothes feel too tight. Loose buttons of silver rake against clammy skin–he could not button them all. The Mother wears a similar number to their previous meeting. The bags under her eyes pulse a shade of purple that could match the sunsets of childhoods immemorial.
Behold, now, how an idea forms.
"A bargain," the Mother says, leaning back in her chair. "Spend a night with my baby, keep her well and solaced. Should you sleep well and carefree, I shall call on you."
A bargain of impunity, it seems almost too good to be true. See how Hypnos laughs. How he rubs his hands together. He agrees boisterously. See the small smile the Mother returns.
When he arrives at her abode that very evening, he is ready for victory.
The Mother hands over her child, beloved. She kisses her head, lips trembling, then whisks out of the house.
Survey how Hypnos himself surveys the baby. A child of glory, surely. One that will be a part of the tale of his fleet-won bargain.
See how round the child's eyes. Deep brown as rich soil. As new bark. She seems happy, healthy. Indeed, the god believes this will be an easy feat, to care for the progeny of the future....
We arrive on the following morn.
He calls on the Mother at the coffeehouse.
The god returns the baby to the Mother. She hoists the baby to her hip and grasps a coffee in her free hand. The baby smiles, open-mouthed, all gums and drool.
She hadn't been happy at all the previous night.
She tore a button off his jacket.
His vest cracks and reeks with stains. Even after the babe finally slept in his arms, he could not slumber. For he worried she might wake (she did), and then he worried more.
Behold a flustered god.
Hypnos's wife never told him, but now he recalls: The same Look, the eyeing, the way his Queen studied him when he offered sleep to "all who ask."
He is Sleep. He Is Sleep.
"Call on me," he says, voice floundering to a whimper.
The Mother says, "You failed."
He grabs his hair, pulls at it. His skin is clammy. When had he not slept a full night before? Primordial. Constant. One night unmade him.
It must be fixed. Temples built. Glory given.
He scoots out of his chair and kneels at her feet.
"Mother," he begins.
See how a plan forms: The bards will sing of this song, a way of thanks for his mother, and this Mother, and all guardians, parents, and caregivers. He throws his hands in the air, ready to pay heed and amorous love to those who cannot call on him—
But now, as he expounds, the Mother imagines taking her coffee and throwing it in his face.
Imagine how the coffee might scald him, and for a moment his immortal skin would smell roasted and ripe. An exhausted rage would see his entire body soaked.
"—I will give relief for those in need," the god continues.
Still, watch as the Mother contemplates.
Fury in her chest.
Picture how the coffee would have an arc like a rainbow before it lands.
She raises her hand, clutching the cup.
"Please." The god's head is bowed at her feet now. He does not see her hold the cup of coffee over his head.
Behold a precipice, now.
The Mother wondered the punishment of burning a god, whether his skin would heal, or whether his cut vest would stain as vibrant as her daughter's milky spitup.
See how her arm hangs suspended. Her daughter squirms on her hip.
's work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Passages North
and other publications. Recently, her short story "The Sum of All Amazements" was chosen as honorable mention by the editors for The Masters Review 2022 Summer Short Story Award. Her website is lyndsiekay.wordpress.com