There was little to be said of Nyx’s bad twins. Despair, the dour and dramatic Moros, strode around under a dark cloud of bad weather and low mood, stealing whatever flowers of hope that his air brained sister ,Elpis planted in the minds of men. Nyx arose from her primordial soup and watched as the children of the Old Ones ran around playing their roles. If everything went to plan there should be some kind of balance, some kind of equilibrium. At least she hoped so. Epis was a silly girl with lofty ambitions. Wherever there was her brother, the more realistic despair-monger, Moros, there she was, a fickle child, planting seeds everywhere, with only a few stray flowers blooming. Sometimes her seeds grew up as weeds, choking out all desired growth, the Flowers of Hope failing to sprout anything but bitter disappointment and desperation. Sometimes grabbing hold of the possibility of survival gave a human the edge, the little boost needed to survive an impossible situation. Sometimes the roulette wheel spun, her cousin Luck shunned the poor gambler of life, limb, fortune and fame, and all Hope came up empty in their desperate grasping hands. Still, the only good Goddess left on earth after Pandora’s little mistake, Hope kept up her work, for good and bad, for all the neutral of it, forever the good daughter of night anddarkness that she was.
After all, sunlight does not summon Elpis, no. For that there needs to be a desire to see a spark in the darkness, a glimmer at the end of the dark tunnel; and the little humans were always grasping on for whatever flame of hope they could manage to summon. Elpis was perpetually young, forever youthful as was her birthright as a daughter of the God’s and Nyx’s daughter. Yet her perfect sweet face, with cupid bow mouth and glittering amber eyes that sat under cow-like lashes, betrayed the millennia she had been walking the earth amid heavy sickness, war, hard vices, unending toil, and the curse of having to break your back to bring sustenance to the table to eat.
She longed to eat ambrosia with her less troublesome family back up in Olympia, and drink the wine of Zeus, but there was work to be done, and Elpis worked hard for the Hope she was born to sow by the feet of men, to see if it would take root in their hearts. It was not an easy job. Elpis hated sitting by the bedside of the critically ill, while their families hoped beyond hope that this time the doctors would come up with something, that the hearts of their loved ones would keep beating, thatthere would be some kind of miraculous recovery. The pandemic had her rushed off her feet. Elpis was in demand from coast to coast, from continent to outer space. I hope, I hope I hope…I hope it ends soon.
I hope my sister recovers. I hope I don’t die. I hope. She had always been in demand, but the sheer scaleof the hoping was overwhelming. She threw her seeds by the feet of the Hopeful, faithful in their devotion to her comforting art of hoping, but few sprouted anything other than a few poison tendrils. Elpis sat by a river and cried. “What use am I! This hope that fails when it is tested is useless! What use is hope when it is dashed over and over again? I hope too! I hope they recover, I hope they breathe, I hope they can meet again and drink together and sing. Even my own Hope will not grow!” Elpis threw her seed by her own feet, and nothing grew except ugly weeds that cried tears of dusky dew.
Moros stood downstream and peered over at his crying twin. Her tears pleased him. It was nothing personal, he was made that way. Despair and sadness were as food to him, and delicious food at that. Still, there was an ember of filial love that could not bear to see her cry so long and pitifully. Besides, if she did not get to work, planting False Hope and Hope Unfulfilled then there would be no heights of despair for him to savor.
“It is no use, Moros! You win! Come no closer!” Elpis’s tears fell softly upon the weed by her feet.
Moros strode downstream towards his sister and embraced his silly twin by the banks of the river. “Don’t cry,” he said regretting it before the words even escaped his thin pinched lips. “I have someone for you.” Elpis looked up at Moros blankly. “I go everywhere I am called, Brother. I don’t neglect my work.”
“Ah, but this one, Elpis, she does not call to you. She detests you. She reviles you. She does not want you.”
Elpis was standing blankly, not comprehending Moros’s intent. “Then why would I go to her?”
“Because she needs you, Sister. You got to give her a chance. Without hope she will fail, she will wither and she will die.”
“She has no hope?”
“It is a desperate case, Sister. A dire situation. She has hoped before and learnt her lessons the hard way.”
Elpis did not remember each fallen sparrow squeaking when their hope was crushed. She didn’t even try. It was the way the world went. Luck shunned some people, and their belief in Hope followed it to the mines of Despair, where Moros reigned supreme. Moros tried once more.
“I think Luck has taken an interest, and Justice too, but they will not be able to get through to her, to entice her down the right path, if she does not have a little Hope too.”
“It is not set?”
“Not nearly engraved in stone, my dear. Not even partially. There is a chance. She needs you.”
Elpis looked at Moros from under those dark lashes, her comely body shifting under the white of her dress, and her fingers snapping with irritation.
“But it is not set either that she will win. Her hopes may be dashed and then she will hate me even more!
Then her despair….” Moros finished her sentence…”Will be exquisite, dear Elpis. Perfect.”
Elpis shook her head in horror. A kernel of hope formed in her chest, and a seed that fell from her littlebag fell to the floor forming a perfect blood red rose, with a dewy countenance and healthy green leaves.
“Where is she?” Elpis demanded. “Take me to her now!”
Joanne sat staring at the trees and the Spanish moss. Her campfire crackled and spat with the sap and the wetness of the Oregon winter. She walked back to the tent to grab her little camp kettle, and by the time she returned the fire had gone out completely, smothered by its own fuel. Living outside was hard for the first six months. After being homeless for a year she had become her own cheerleader, not allowing herself to fall into despair, pulling along her young son and her old friend with her. She used to hope that she could make that violent pig that she married divorce her. She used to hope that her visa would come through; that the child could go to school. She used to hope that she could somehow get them into a small apartment, or perhaps a trailer. She used to hope that her friend would stop drinking. She used to hope that there was a future together, and a happy one at that. Now she was merely embattled and fighting to survive, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by long day.
She fought through the heat of summer with no shelter. She fought to steal showers from campgrounds. She fought to find enough for the child to eat, and to keep her friend happy. She fought the park rangers who moved them on, despite the little group of homeless people being quiet and clean and respectful, and even despite the fact that they paid for camping. “No more than two weeks at a time!You know the rule! You have to get out of here for two weeks!” Every time they shouted the words at her it never got any easier for her. First she was sad, then she was proud she was not like them, and finally she became angry.
They never realized or cared that they had no where else to go. They didn’t care that she cleaned hotel rooms and filthy bathrooms to earn enough to pay the $22 a night camping fee, so that the child would have a bathroom that flushed and a shower to clean up in, and the security of being somewhere that was safer than the rest stops and parking lots they were sometimes forced out to live in when the campgrounds filled up with tourists in the summer. She often thought to herself that she must be the only person in the world to wish for winter to come around again. At least winter and the retreat of the vacationers in her campground spots was something that was assured. Sun would come up, sun go down. Summer give way to fall, the children go back to school, and the campgrounds would empty, leaving luxurious space after space for her to labor in the unending quest for camping money and food money.
Elpis looked at her sadly. She was rapidly reaching middle aged, but still pretty, and she loved: oh my how she loved! She loved the child that she fought tooth and nail to protect and stay with. She loved her friend who sat there with a bottle in his hand, drinking away money she did not have, and not offering a cent in return, nor a moment of work or labor. He ran the camp like a criminal with an ideology of domination and inferiority. He demanded things be done his way, despite not putting anything into keeping the dream alive. What dream! This woman’s dream was reduced to being able to find enough kindling to restart the fire heat water and perhaps make a cup of coffee. Her hope was reduced to a space being open to pay for in a little campground with running water and bathrooms. Her hope was diminished to being able to stay with the only treasure of her life: her little boy. He ran around the camp. Elpis threw seeds by his feet and all of them bloomed into flowers of hope. He hoped there would be a Christmas this year. He hoped to get a baseball glove for his birthday. He hoped his mother would be ok, and that he would never have to leave her side.
Sometimes in desperate moments the mother would hold him and cry and say to him that he would be better off without her, and they would cry and cry together, with her brother Moros standing over them holding a vial to collect the product of their misery and hopelessness. He hoped that one day she would know, really know, how much he loved her and needed her, and that he would withstand anything to stay with his beloved mother who saved his life and grabbed his little body in her own arms, protecting him from the blows of his father, and running out that door with him screaming at her that he, the legal American, would set ICE on her, and she would never be legal, never be free of him.
She ran anyway. She ran for her life, and there was a kernel of hope in her heart that if she simply survived and protected her little boy that there would be some kind of safety and happiness for them both. She dared not dream of what that would look like in reality. The disappointment would be too much for her to bear when her heart was broken once more. Hope was expensive, and Joanne could not afford it. Love, she thought, love would win the day. Except, it is all too easy to fall between the cracks. Justice was a complicated animal and ruined by politics to boot. The right and wrong of it having become a complicated game that humans play with other people’s lives, and not much of it about the actual fairness of any of it. It was all about teams and prejudices, and laws that made a mockery of Justice’s proper intent.
When Joanne had left, she had Hope by her side. She hoped he would not follow her. She hoped she would get away with her life and her child. She hoped that something good would happen, whatever that meant she did not know. Joanne only knew she had to fight to stay alive and protect her child, from his violent father, from ICE that he used as a weapon against her and her son that the abuser demanded was born outside of American territory, and from a world that had no mercy on her at all, or so it seemed.
Luck was on her side, though. When she ran down the stairs of that apartment block, and jumped into her friend’s beat up old truck outside of an L.A. airport hotel, no one saw and no one paid her any mind. Luck was on her side when she managed to plot a way through the mess. Luck brought her enough work to not starve, but Justice was blind and gagged, and it was simply not enough. Hope burnt in her chest, until that ember went out when the first winter hit and they were still driving up and down the 101, from campground to campground.
Elpis admitted it was not much, that tiny kernel of hope in Joanne’s chest. She hoped that Trump would be thrown out of power, and that more compassionate politicians be in charge of matters, and more than that she hoped her precious son would have a future. Elpis knew all about family. Hers was perhaps more dysfunctional than the most lurid of human situations, riddled with incest and grudges, but she also knew love and loyalty and that a mother’s devotion was one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
The boy was another matter. He hoped all the time. He hoped so much and so freely that it made her heart jump, and better than that his hopes were small and manageable. He was used to disappointment, and despite sleeping in a tent in the forest, was a healthy and active little man. He had enough hope to carry his mother along in his dreams. She had enough love to keep that hope alive. Elpis realized this really could work, if only she could boost Joanne’s spirits a little.
Joanne was collecting bits of fluffy moss, hunting around for scraps of paper and tearing up precious cardboard egg cartons, making a nest of kindling for her dead camp fire. The boy shivered as she dismantled the cone of sticks she had built up in the camp fire hearth, and she started again from scratch, with wood too wet to really burn. The dry easy to light sticks of firewood were too expensive for her to consider buying. “Jack! Go see if anyone has left partially burned logs in their camping spots! Only if the campers have gone, darling! Just take what is unwanted and unused!”
Jack ran off, and returned with a few sticks of partially burnt sooty firewood that had become mostly charcoal. Elpis smiled as she called for Luck to join her. Joanne was staring into the match box, there were only three matches left. The wind blew heartily and the rain was falling in soft drops on her dry kindling. “Come on, fire! Light!” The first match sizzled, but the second one took. Joanne burnt her fingers as she held onto the match trying to angle it to catch the paper and moss. Luck smiled and the flame caught the smaller twigs. Joanne piled on a whole bunch of tiny pieces of wood, and then dared to lay one of the partially burnt drier pieces on top. She hoped it would take up the fire and burn. Jack was shivering scarily. Hope threw some flowers at her feet, and a tiny carpet of daisies flowered that only Elpis could see, but that humans could always feel in their souls.
The fire roared as Joanne built it up, and the daisies blossomed, and a few tulips grew. The hope caught fire in Joanne’s chest. Elpis sat in the branches of a tree in the little camping spot in the middle of a forest. She needed to get Joanne and Jack out of here, if they were to have any hope at all. The old man who had helped them escape sat under a tarp with a bottle of rum. Sometimes some people are mixed blessings. She had to make Joanne leave and take a few chances. Leaving the forest and the gentle rhythm of life outside, with its fragile safety made bearable by total freedom, did not seem like an option to her, at least not an attractive one. Joanne sometimes thought about going into a shelter, but with disease all around it did not seem like a good idea, besides it barely seemed safe or even possible. Hoping for kindness and compassion was one thing…receiving it was another thing entirely. Hope is so dangerous. Realistically hiding in the woods was safer than poking her head up above the wall and testing out the thin wispy unreliable kindness of others.
Generally, the Gods and Goddesses did not appear to men in this modern age. There were rules to obey and nobody wanted to risk the wrath of Zeus. The days of meddling in the affairs of humans were long gone, but Elpis could not help but think she had let Joanne down. She had hoped and her hopes dashed. She was used to people sitting in jails hoping for freedom. She was used to people in desperate situations hoping for the world to collapse around them, so as to distract from concentrating on torturing them in their desolation and desperation. Elpis shuddered when she recalled the hope of serial killers to remain invisible to the police…and the hopes in the hearts of good detectives that they would catch them before someone else ended up planted in a shallow grave. The hearts of dictators were full of hope that their dastardly plans would reach fruition. They hoped for the destruction of their targets, for suffering and death and successful invasions. Elpis had no choice but to throw her seed at their feet, and hope that no flowers grew. It was not just the good and just that hoped for good things. Hope was not confined to the realms of beauty and triumph of everything kind and decent, no. Hope was sold out of the back of a truck that loaded up the dark dreams of the evil too.
In the heart of every evil human being, from Lucretia Borgia to Adolf Hitler, Hope sprung eternal. Elpis was not allowed to remain anything other than neutral, but sometimes the evil was too much to bear, and Elpis deserted them, leaving her brother Moros to his bleak harvest of tears. Her heart gladdened when she remembered the tears of the evil and cruel, and she knew she had to hide it from her mother. Her mother, Nyx was a stickler for correctness, and justice was not the job of the last little goddess on Earth.
Elpis called to Moros, who trudged into the dripping forest, wearing his sad heart on his sleeve.
“Moros! This is so unfair! And look at her! Hardly a scrap of hope at all. Justice wants her in a shelter where there is running water and warmth and help, but she dare not hope that anyone will help her. Everything she has ever known has taught her that false hope is an expensive commodity and that if people can hurt you, they will.”
Moros looked at the small boy running around the camp. “It has been a long while, sister since we took a more direct approach with these humans. I was thinking of talking to her old man. She would not be so bold if he made her leave. She might run towards something with a little more hope.”
Elpis stared at Moros, bright eyed and shocked. “Zeus will be furious!” Moros shrugged.
“He does not necessarily need to know, Elpis. It might amuse him. Besides it is such a small limited little thing, I don’t know if it would bother him anyway. No one would believe the old drunk if he said he saw a Greek God who was demanding he send his friend away!”
Elpis looked at Joanne, and how thin she was, and how the light of hope had left her eyes. She saw how short her shadow was. She was wasting away, starved of all hope and possibility. Her realism was destroying what was left of her. Love was draining her dry, and her stoic soldiering on exhausting her human body. She needed some hope, otherwise one day she simply would not wake up at all. “Do it,brother. Just do it.”
The old man sat with his bottle by the fire that Joanne had built, eating a peanut butter sandwich she had worked for and wearing clean socks she had laundered by hand in water she boiled at her hearth. Moros was disgusted by him. Moros took a long breath of the clean forest air and slowly faded into the old man’sview. “Old man! I am from the Gods! Listen to me!”
The old man sighed. “Not the DTs again…heaven knows I have been trying to keep up with myself…” Moros predicting his reaction held his vial of tears in front of him and touched it to the closest tree. It withered before the old man’s eyes. “You have a lot of nerve to call yourself her friend, Walt.” Walt’s rheumy eyes blinked as he started to try and comprehend what was happening. To be frank the booze helped. It made everything less impossible.
“I was trying to help her and the kid! That man would have killed them both!” Walt fought back.
“This is no longer helping Walt. You have got to make her go away. If you want to save her, you have to give her and the boy up. You are not helping any more. They need to look for better help, old man.”
Walt knew it was true. He had hoped it wasn’t, but he knew the truth of it. He was no help at all any more, the weak man that he was. As Joanne and Jack packed their backpacks with their few clothes, it did not feel very lucky or hopeful. She had no idea why Walt had told them both to leave. He simply insisted on it and that was the end of it. They had to go. He would not protect them any further. Lady Luck had sent them a taxi ride south down to the big City. Some kind woman had taken pity on Joanne and Jack and wanted to help. She didn’t know why she wanted to help so badly, she just did. As the forest faded out of view and the 101 wound down towards San Francisco, Jack reached out for his mother’s hand. “I hope things get better, Mom,” he said quietly. “I really think they are going to.” Joanne looked down at her hopeful son’s face. The past was disappearing out of the rear view mirror as the Bay came into view, shining with the lights of men reflecting off the water. The phone rang. It was a shelter saying they had a space for the two of them, and not to worry about having no ID. There was a hotel room, a bed each, free food, their own shower and bathroom and a door that locked. There were people that wanted to help them both make everything better. “Do you think there will be like hot water?” Asked Jack with a smile on his face. He dreamt of hot showers and baths full of bubbles.
“I certainly hope so kid. Do you know what, I think there will be for sure. I think everything is going to be better, kiddo.” For the first time in years Joanne felt something strange in her heart. She could almost swear that when she looked down at her feet sitting on the flood of the yellow cab, that there were flowers growing there. She saw a glimpse of sunflowers and carnations, pretty violets and lush roses. The lingered for a second and then they were gone, though she felt them still. She felt the flowers of hope growing in her heart.
“Who knows,” said Joanne quietly, “perhaps I will write that book I have always meant to write. I think I would like that.”
Jack stared out of the window in awe of the lights of the city spread out before him, and a woman appeared above the water with long lashes and amber eyes, and the hint of a smile blooming on her sweet plump lips. She looked like an ancient statue come to life from the ruins of Pompei. She blew him a kiss, and stood above the ocean, spreading a warm glow of Hope that lingered, glimmering and shining across the Bay. Jack put his head on his mother’s shoulder and patted her hand. “Who were you waving too, Jack?” she asked concernedly.
“No one. I was just waving goodbye to our bad luck.” Jack winked at Elpis who winked back. It was then that she decided she would never leave their sides again.
And Zeus sighed, as Nyx laughed and the little Goddess skipped into the City.