When I dance, my body floats up, and I soft shoe on vapor, twirl in the air, drop like rain, drip by drip, and up again. Tink tink tink go the small cymbals on my hands. My hips follow the wind, this way and that, around the room. To watch me is not to see me as beautiful, but to see the unfathomable moving through us. My stepfather is king. My stepfather said I could have anything I wanted. I could have the sun, the moon, the stars. Because I dance on clouds. I tell myself it is not his lust. The way my hips sway, the jewel in my navel moving in time with his pulse.
I have never had a choice before, power. And so, I asked my mother what to wish for: to live forever, to eat Baklava and not gain weight, to fly around the world, seeing there is all to see, and flying back again.
She shouldn't have asked what she did of me. She shouldn't have asked. She knew what she was doing to me. What I thought, if the new god is real, I'm damned to burn forever. If the new god is real And I am afraid. Afraid he is. Guilt eats at me. That never happened with the other gods. I can no longer trust my mother. I beg forgiveness from the new god and his followers. Their eyes are like swords. I have done a terrible thing, and bath after bath I do not feel baptized.
I dance, letting veil after veil drop. My tears smear my makeup, but that is part of the dance. My black eyes drip down my face down onto my chest down to my feet that only want to move because to stay immobile means to let the guilt eat me. So I spin, trip, fall to the ground, push myself back up. Too much wine now.
My mother is a hard woman to please, and with her glares and arched eyebrows, I learned to try. Or else. She sits on the throne next to my stepfather, her rings casting prism on the room's walls. I look at Herod. She arches her eyebrows. I look away. Then back. She frowns at me.
Now I know it is because I am young, and she is not. I know it is because Herod wants me and not her. My mother would kill me to take my place. And so given the opportunity, she did. The new god would not forgive such an insult. Our enemies . . .
All I wanted was love. Not too much to ask. A lot to ask. So I said, "What should I request, mother?"
I give you me, my present, my wish, anything you choose.
She relished the question, the power, licking her lips, sipping her wine. And then she smiled. Such an ugly smile with upturned lips and saliva dripping. She pleased Herod and killed me with one stroke. Leaning toward me, she sank her eyes into me like claws. She said, with eyes burned open," ask for the head of John the Baptist."
And I did.
Carroll Ann Susco holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and has numerous publications, including The Sun Magazine. She lives and writes in Alexandria, VA.