Papa circled the game like a parched horsefly, but his eyes were on Mama. He and Mama often joked about Mama's "interests," as Papa called them. (Always the same joke.) She would spout off some poem, and Papa would say, "What is that, Greek?" Mama would confirm that it was in fact Greek, and they'd both guffaw; they'd squeeze their sides and swab their eyes. But behind their swabbing, their eyes weren't laughing. That was obvious enough to me.
"Some say Pandora is the story of the first woman," Mama said, in response to a question from Papa, I guessedeven though she wasn't looking at himbecause Papa squinted at Mama, like she was blurry or too bright. "Some say it's the story of the birth of all evil."
"Arguably the same," Papa said, but barely. Unlike Mama, I sawand readPapa's lips.
"Hmmm?" Mama said.
Papa added, "I thought it was about a boxabout a woman opening a box."
"It was a jar, actually," Mama said, although still she didn't look up. "There are various versions of the story, but it essentially goes something like this. Zeus went to Hephaestus, the god of artisans and fire, and asked him to create a woman." She flipped a page in the Greek dictionary, scanned the words on the page with her index finger. "Zeus wanted to use the woman as a means of revenge against mortals. So, Hephaestus molded the woman, gave her form. Athena taught the woman how to weave. Aphrodite gave the woman beauty. Apollo gave her a gift for healing. Poseidon gave the woman the security she'd never drown. Hermes gave boldness. Hera, curiosity."
Mama shifted her gaze from the dictionary back to Hesiod, then. She didn't notice no one was listening to herno one, that is, but me. Papa had opened the newspaper, and he read while he paced. Tessa had nabbed Papa's camera off the kitchen counter and zoomed in to spy on Old Lady Clara, who lived in the cottage across the way. Mary Catherine alternated between studying her Scrabble letters and examining her rosary beads, all while chewing her nails. Grace yawned audibly, rolled onto her back, stretched her long legs skyward and closed her eyesclearly intending to make the point Mary Catherine's turn was taking far too long.
"Zeus named the woman Pandora," Mama continued. "He sent her as a gift to Epimetheus, who married her. At the wedding, Zeus gave Pandora a storage jar as a gift. Epimetheus, wary of Zeus, told Pandora to never open the jar. Because Hera had given Pandora curiosity, however, one day Pandora slightly lifted the jar's lid. Before she realized what was happening, she'd released Apate, the spirit of deceit; Geras, the spirit of old age; Moros, the spirit of doom; Eris, the spirit of strife; Momos, the spirit of blame; Oizys, the spirit of suffering; Nemesis, the spirit of hatred; and Ker, the spirit of carnage and death. When Pandora again sealed the jar, only hope remained."
"Would you look at this, Seena?" Papa said, apropos of nothing. He held the newspaper in one fisted hand as he circled and he waved it about as if swiping his way through a horde. "The Supreme Court agrees with me, even if Pope Paul doesn't. Says here the court decided Friday. There's nothing cruel or unusual about killing a killer."
"Mmm-hmm," Mama said. She turned another page. She was no more listening to Papa than Papa had been listening to her.
"Is it like dominoes, Papa?" I said, trying to dodge his noticing Mama's obvious lack of interest.
Papa was fairly adept at failing to see the obvious, actually. Neither he nor Mama had noticed Tessa and I had arrived. He jerked toward us, startled. "Dominoes?"
"You said there's nothing cruel about killing a killer." I was thinking about that snake. "You have to be a killer to kill a killer, right? Doesn't it just keep going?"
"What are you talking about, Yllis? Human beings are not like dominoes. Killing is not fun and games." And then: "Tessa. Hey. What are you doing? You put my camera down. Now."
Excerpted from Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Copyright © 2011 by Christina Meldrum. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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