by Gwenda Bond
There’s something else you should know about Cassandra. The curse wasn’t even the worst thing that supposedly happened to her.
She became a priestess for Athena. When the city of Troy fell with a bang, a whimper and a wooden horse full of sweaty guys, she was kneeling before a statue of Athena in the goddess’s temple. The thing about burning and pillaging soldiersis they forget what’s sacred, or maybe they don’t care. Anyway, this soldier called Little Ajax attacks Cassandra in the temple (yes, there was a Big Ajax too, new and improved and 30 more fluid ounces FREE, presumably). She clings to the statue, but he pulls her free of it.
Accounts range on what happens next, but it’s generally agreed that he rapes her.
I’ve seen depictions of this in my mother and father’s books, usually on the side of a piece of ancient pottery. Cassandra is always nude. She’s always open to the viewer, one arm in Little Ajax’s grasp, the other curved around the cool marble statue of her goddess.No one saves her. She does not cry. Her face is still and perfect.
Athena does take her revenge later. Wouldn’t you be pissed if you were a big deal goddess and some soldier defiled your temple? That’s the thing. None of the scholars can agree on whether Athena is bent out of shape because the soldier raped Cassandra or because he did it in her temple.My mother and father don’t even agree. Everyone agrees that after the rape, Cassandra becomes a slave. I imagine her insides having frozen the same way her face froze into a mask during the rape. I imagine everything that came after like a bad dream. She finally ended up murdered by the crazy wifeof the king who enslaved her.
Helenus’ story is simpler. He became a traitor. The Greeks captured Helenus from the Trojan army because they heard Apollo had given him the gift of prophecy. They did a little thumb screwing and Helenus spilled everything he had ever known. Some stories say he told them how to build the wooden horse.He became a slave too, but he was luckier. His owner got murdered and then he wound up a king.
I’ve given all this a lot of thought. If there’s a moral to these stories, it’s that gods suck.
And who’s in charge of fate?
* * * * *
Hel and I have just arrived at school the next morning when we see Jude. She rushes past with dark glasses on, not looking at anyone. Jax trails her, trying to catch her. He’s angry.
Hel says, "You’ve made me as crazy as you."
Then he steps out and knocks into Jax with his chest. Jax steps back. A little.
Those big eyes narrow at my brother. Jax growls, low in his throat. They circle each other like they’re in some high school play about prizefighters. Can my brother fight? I’m not sure, but I go after Jude.I know she can’t.
I hurry to the girl’s bathroom. Jude stands in front of the mirror, dabbing concealer over a harsh yellow bruise under her left eye. But that’s it. Just a black eye. No cuts,no deeper bruises on her arm where he grabbed her. This confirms that the whole thing didn’t happen. But something did.
I wait for the other girls prettying at the mirrors to leave. I feel sad that no one even seems to notice — or care — what Jude is doing.
"It gets much worse," I say.
She squints at me. Flinches. "It was my fault."
"Okay, fine if you let him do this to you, but don’t pretend it’s because of something you did — besides being alone with him. You’re too smart for that,"I say, even though I know this has nothing to do with smart.
"How do you know? Did you go out with him before?"
She sounds jealous. My stupid heart feels as stomped on as if I had.
"No," I say. I take a breath. She won’t believe me anyway. "Jude, I can see things before they happen. I have visions, and I had one of you. One of you and Jax.It doesn’t end well. It’s worse than a black eye. Much, much worse."
She shakes her head. "I just thought you were a loner, but you’re crazy."
How can I make her believe me?
"In the car, did he call you sugar–sweet before he tried to kiss you? When he grabbed the back of your neck?"
Jude blinks. It looks painful. "How could you know. . ." Her fingers tremble around the concealer wand. "Jax is great. He’s really funny."
"He throws a mean right hook and has really big ears. I’ll give him that," I say.
"You don’t get it," Jude says. "I like him."
A cheerleader comes in and makes a show of ignoring us.
"Don’t," I say. "Don’t like him."
Jude packs up her make–up and gathers her purse. "Don’t worry about it," she says, then, "Does he always say that before he does something?"
"I don’t know, but if he says it get the hell out of there."
Jude nods and leaves.
I lean against the cool concrete wall. I watch the movie again, of what he’s going to do to her. I wish I could take her advice and stop watching, stop worrying.Stop wanting to change things. At least she has a warning.
I pray to whatever gods might listen, sucky or not, that she changes her mind somewhere along the way. Before that ending. I don’t want Jax to be her true north. I want her to choose a new course.
* * * * *
Hel and I find Dad at the kitchen table eating Oreos. That will stop when Mom gets home.
Dad glances up and catches sight of Hel’s face. In reflex, he reaches out to touch Hel’s massively swollen cheek. I wasn’t kidding about Jax’s right hook. I have never liked my brother more.
Hel shakes his head. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Dad backs off.
"This weekend I thought we’d go out to the park. I could play some golf," Dad says, biting into an Oreo.
Hel takes a cookie and dips it in Dad’s glass.
"Let’s stay home this weekend,’ Hel says, then touches my hand.
There’s going to be an accident on the interstate. If we go to the park, we’ll end up spending eight hours sitting at a stopstill in bumper–to–bumper traffic,then not be able to find a hotel room and have to sleep in the car.
The prospect distresses me, after this terrible week.
"Yeah, Dad, let’s stay here," I say.
"You have one of your feelings, Cassandra?" Dad teases me.
Hel leans forward. "I’ve got a ton of homework."
Dad frowns, but nods. "Your mother probably wouldn’t be up to going right away anyway."
Hel touches my shoulder as he heads up to his room. That cheek must hurt. Maybe he won’t turn into a traitor.
"Dad," I say, getting up and opening the fridge door. "I need to talk to you about something. You may want to switch that milk for a beer."
I extend one to him. He could say no, but he doesn’t. He takes it. "What is it?" he asks.
"Why’d you and Mom name us after Cassandra and Helenus?"
He twists off the top and takes a drink. "We wanted your names to mean something."
I keep my face still and perfect, instead of punching him in the face. He’s my dad.
What happens — what’s real — is slippery and hard to pin down. The tornado didn’t hit the golf course. Worse things didn’t come to worse for Jude, at least not yet.Maybe I can leave Cassandra to history. Ancient history.
"Call me Cassie from now on, okay?"