The goddess of love sat in the row in front of me, two seats to my right, during the first lecture of Classical Mythology in Art and Literature. I don’t hyperbolize or lie; it was really her. She asked to be called V, which may have fooled the rest of them, but not me. It was just another of her epithets. Philommeidḗs, “smile-loving”; Eleemon, “the merciful; Androphonos, “killer of men”. V, I mouthed reverently along with the rest of them, tasting the syllable on my lips, but in my mind I called her Aphrodite.
The professor blinked owl-eyed and flicked to the next slide, and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus appeared on the projector screen. Now who here has seen this painting before? Everyone around me raised their hands, but I was too busy staring at the lock of hair that had escaped her claw-clipped bun and was now curling gently against her neck. The thin white strap of her sundress threatened to slip off her shoulder as she rummaged in her messenger bag for a pen, and it felt like watching the Titanic drift toward the iceberg.
Then we were sitting cross legged on the polka-dot sheets of my dorm bed, facing each other. There were dog-eared Greek mythology texts stacked on every surface, their paper tongues lolling out of their open mouths from years of cracked spines, but she didn’t even blush at my clear admiration of her. She must be used to it. Instead, she lay out all of my makeup on the bed between us, and tucked my hair behind my ears. For a second her hand lingered on my face, tracing my jawline with her fingers, and the taste of apple blossomed on my tongue. She said she was a history major, and that she liked to sit at coffee shop patios and imagine what the people going by thought about each other. I wondered what that had to do with history, but I didn’t say anything. It felt like there was a sparrow nestled in my mouth, and I could either swallow it or let it burst from between my lips in a cloud of feathers, and I didn’t want to choose.
She painted my lips mulberry-red, dragged a mascara brush through my eyelashes, and when she leaned in close to wipe a smudge of powder blue eyeshadow from where it had fallen on my cheek I smelled salt on her wavy hair. Music was playing in the dorm below us, and from beneath the floorboards Chris Isaak crooned, What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way…
She held my hand in her own, turning it over gently and inspecting every inch. I watched her eyes, two deep-sea pearls, dart from my chipped nail polish to my face.
…What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you.
I wondered if she had to guess what I was thinking, or if she already knew. She raised my hand to her lips and kissed the tips of my fingers. And at that moment I completely forgave her for the Trojan War.
Charlotte Bruckner is a writer and student based in Santa Cruz, California. His work has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, and he is on the editing board for Chinquapin Magazine.