A god is falling from molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide. This particular god is particularly pictured with wings on his feet in children’s magazines and movies, in statues, in history books. Humans show this god with male bits and pieces, but do they know that gods can become goddesses, swapping gender and color as one would coins for chickens at market? At the base coat of us all is a certain reflection of color. Melanin makes it so. This god made one too many trades and now she is falling.
Mercury is falling and falling past mechanical birds and past condensation collections and past air molecules the size of bees. She is falling past South Africa and Japan and large puddles of water called Ocean. She tumbles and skids to a stop in her orbit, floating above a forest. Silvanus catches her in the large mitt-like branches and collects her, the dark thing with nothing but her name. There isn’t even a title to go along with her because she’s lost that, too.
When I roll in moonlight, will it stain my skin? She wonders. Will it wash away this darkness, this Melanin in me? If I turn my skin inside out to bleach me clean, will it do my body good? The stones are stained with moonlight and I wonder why I cannot be. Their staining is false, slaughtered by time. Why cannot my color bleed away also?
Mercury. She whispers it lovingly to herself, the word that passes everyone else’s lips but her own. Instead of ‘I’ she used to say her own name, the only thing that makes her a god still.
“No... goddess bullshit. I’m a god regardless... vagina parts,” Mercury mutters in her sleep.
“Humans impose the gender paradigms and labels on us. I’m not even sure where the word ‘goddess’ came from.”
Silvanus chuckles and curls up tighter around the sleeping god. “We’re all gods. Even you, Mercury.”
She rises with leaves in her hair and a fern in her palm. She lets it uncurl and leap away from her touch like her tree frog brothers. She lifts herself from the bed of the stream and knocks her head upon the wood bridge under which she slept for years and years. She wishes she were still sleeping. Every time she wakes, all her old enemies “happen by” to scorn and gloat.
I’d better prepare myself.
In her forgotten kingdom, she robes herself in clean brown linens, ignoring the twittering, chasing calls of birds in her forgotten city. She stares and blinks into the caverns, but they stare back darkness. Stone giants rest beneath the moss and keep to sleep, knowing she will watch over them. The great bits of rock make natural steps far too large for her legs. Her stones have faces that watch back through eyeholes drilled by wind. There is a tree torn into three matchstick trunks that she will not mourn.
“Mercury?” A voice cuts through the frigid air.
Don’t bother me. I’ve just been born.
“Melanin,” she murmurs, knowing he can hear her. “Will you take my request into account?”
“No, Mercury, I will not make your skin a lighter color.”
“But the humans have named an element after me that is silver. Can you…”
“I made you as I made you, Mercury. You will be as you will be.”
“Why did you come here then? I’ve fallen and I’m this color.” She looks down at her verdant arms, turned mossy with age. Underneath the green robes is much of the same color that she grows there to hide dark, grey skin.
I am dull, dark, and dusky, she thinks. “These names for my skin. Everything bad begins with ‘d,’” Mercury says bitterly, voicing her musings aloud. “Dirty, dusty, dank, decrepit, despicable, damning, deathly, drenched, detriment, disgusting, deafening. Why don’t you rename me, too? I don’t carry messages as a god for the gods anymore. I’m not silver anymore. I might as well have a new name.”
“What would you like to be called? We could name you something starting with a ‘d’ that alliterates with your adjectives. There are plenty of ‘d’ words out there that are positive, or neutral at worst. Dirigible, drapery, and dandelion as examples.” He sounds amused. “And ‘drenched’ is up for interpretation. If you were drenched with affection, I would hardly call that a cause for alarm.”
She remains silent for a long time. “I’ll think about it.”
Melanin does not answer her and so she assumes that he has gone to wherever megalomaniacs of color go. He could have done her this small favor but he chooses not to. She has no idea why he keeps coming around other than to prove his varied word choice.
“Dirigible,” she says to herself. “Absurd.”
Mercury holds out her cupped hands to the sky and asks for it to let her borrow a little blue. This ritual ends the same way it always does. Melanin refuses her. The sky refuses her. The sun refuses her. The birds decline to lend her a feather or two. Even the insects, bright yellow swallowtails or honeybees carting heavy sacks of pollen reject her. At night, the moon will come and it will deny her, too.
She stalks across the ground, delicate feet leaving no prints, and took the rock steps that will take her to the meadow. There used to be wings upon her feet. She never used to need stairs, such a paltry invention. Now she climbs like all things without wings. She feels her muscles tug and snare on ligaments too often neglected. She thought about tying crows to her feet to avoid the troublesome problem of walking and it’s really too bad she can’t catch them.
“Melanin, I am really not in the mood,” she snaps, undeterred by the singsong voice following her.
“Mer-cu-ry,” the creature continues to sing.
She stops in her tracks. “Silvanus.”
There comes the sound of airy laughter and the rustling of leaves. “You’re awake.”
“Yes. Everyone will have felt it by now. Why do the most annoying of immortals visit me in my plight?”
The airy laughter came again. “I gave you what you asked for.”
“While I slept you turned my skin to moss. That is your idea of ‘giving me what I asked for’?” She pauses for only a breath. “The one responsible for this granite beneath the green is on my list.”
“Am I on your infamous list? Who else is on it?”
She does not respond to this, continuing her journey upwards. There are humans milling about feeding, fraternizing, and frolicking, but she pays no more attention to them than she would a squirrel or sparrow. They cannot see her.
“I am the keeper of the forest and therefore you, since you chose this as your bedroom. I am the keeper of monstrous things and winged things. If you are not careful, you will put down roots and melt away into bark and leaves.”
“You jest, Silvanus,” Mercury says wryly, but she fears she might actually wake up with branches instead of limbs. She wonders if the cruel trick will be played while she is awake or during slumber.
The voice follows her as she steps into the trees, wandering off the path. She glances back to see a face forming in the bark: lips, nose, eyes, and cheeks jutting out of the woodwork in a cartoonish fashion that makes her furrow her brow in a scowl to keep from raising her them in quizzical astonishment. There is nothing that should surprise her about the forest god. He shows up erratically, as Melanin does, playfully teasing her about her need for a change in her color scheme, a change in name, a change in attitude, a change in purpose. Silvanus is lucky, for he has always had a purpose: protect the trees. She finds it useless to remind him that his task is as impractical as his reminders are. Over the years, her conversational dance with all sorts of playful earthy gods has shortened to almost nothing. One day there will be no words at all.
“Mercury? I am sorry.”
This is a step in the dance she doesn’t understand and she nearly stumbles. Her mental processes halt for a moment before she is able to say: “I am sorry, too.”
Silvanus’s tree-form slowly sinks back into the cambium of the tree as if he’d never been and she walks on. She treads on a stick and it cracks, making the sharp sound of breaking. She grimaces, begins again; her heavy footfalls, swinging limbs, and breathing break all quiet.
“Am I lacking that much grace? First go my wings and then my coordination,” Mercury says to empty air, tears pooling at the edges of her eyes. She will not mourn the trees, but she will mourn herself. If she doesn’t, who will?
“Pitiful child.” A third voice sparkles out of the forest shadows.
“Not today, Iris, not today,” the former messenger god murmurs. “News of my awakening reached even the highest heights?”
Mercury turns her eyes on the silver-skinned god approaching her. Behind him trails silks of every hue and description, fitting for a god of rainbows and messenger to Juno.
“Melanin commands me.” There is a shrug in his tone. “We are not trying to instill jealousy in you.”
“Well, thank you, Iris.” Bitterness mixed with rage bleeds into the conversation. “There was one thing I wanted, just one. I gave you my title, my staff, my winged shoes, my cap. Have you come to make sure that our deal is still in effect? It is. You may leave with your heart at ease. Silvanus plans to turn me into a great birch.”
“That would please you. You’ve always wanted to be a great silver thing.”
“I was a great silver thing. I was a musical thing. I was the overseer of multitudes of arts and a guide. I used to care for things.”
“And then you went on your color quest and you’ve never been the same. Selfish and driven as always.” Iris very nearly laughs as he finishes the familiar woeful tale. “You traded everything you had for pale comparisons to my colors. You traded your wand for blue, your cap for purple, and your shoes for indigo. You swapped genders for orange and yellow. You gave your career and talents for green and red. When you mixed the colors, you found they made you darker and darker until all you came out with was a dull black. The more you added the darker you became.”
Mercury stares silently at Iris’s brilliant cloak.
“Mercury, you have become the most powerless being on the planet: an unemployed, homeless, uneducated, dark-skinned woman,” Iris concludes, swishing the rainbow so that it catches the soft forest light.
There is nothing she can do as her final visitor for the day raises his arms and ascends into the sky. There is nothing she can do, watching the beautiful color swing just out of reach. She wants to grab hold and wrestle Iris to the ground, spit in his face and yell profanities. There is nothing godly about that and nothing more horrifying.
“I’m becoming a human.”
Mercury feels the need to vomit, another human urge she shouldn’t have. She presses her back against the tree, feeling its meaty bulk behind her and slides down it to the ground. Its weight presses back into her, bending her as a finger does a flower stem. She folds up and shrinks down to the ground.
“Mercury, I’ll take good care of you,” Silvanus’s soft voice came to her. “Just rest.”
“I’ve been resting for years and years,” she mumbles. “I can’t go back to sleep now. When I wake up I’ll be all green and black and I’ll probably be a human or a rock.”
“You are too proud to be a rock, my dear, and far too intelligent to be a human,” he chuckles.
“No,” she tells him stubbornly. “No I will not.”
“I can take you away from here, far far away.” Silvanus sways and bends with a slight breeze. His skin is a bright, young green instead of old and peeling.
“Your sapling form is so pliant, I could pluck you from the earth,” Mercury murmurs in response, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Somehow, she is curled up under her bridge again, knees drawn to her chest and moss-coated, green hair falling down her back.
“But you will not because you are so very fond of me,” he teases.
“Do not be so sure.”
Silvanus bends further down towards her, resting his skinny body against her shoulder as a child who places a hand on his sister’s skin for comfort. “I can take you away from here.”
“Silvanus, I’m so very tired of being relocated to your next project place. You always put us to work...whether it’s Faunus or Demeter. Who is your next project?”
“I actually have two in mind. Vesper is the first one and then you.”
“V... Vesper!?” Her eyes fly open in shock as she leans forward away from his touch. Her hands clench against the rock on which she rests. “The Evening Star? How did you manage that?”
“We have an interesting relationship.” Silvanus’s body straightens. “There is a certain sweetness to him.”
“Vesper? We are talking about the same Vesper and not a human knock-off.”
“Knock-off?” His bewilderment is apparent.
“You know, when the humans name their children, pets, and cities after us.” Mercury waves her hand. “They think we don’t know about that, but we do.”
Silvanus nods. “Ah. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
“They’ve taken our words. Why can I not take theirs?”
“Always so confrontational, Mercury.”
“How did you get in contact with the Evening Star?”
Silvanus is silent for several long minutes, but Mercury can wait. She waits and she waits for him to say something but he doesn’t seem to hear even when she says his name. She abandons this mission after several tries, assuming he has a calling elsewhere. She imagines him rescuing a clan of bunnies or a forest assaulted by a young arsonist.
Mercury guesses that social calls are over for the time being and she seriously considers going back to sleep for good. She tilts her head first one way and then the other, watching moss flecks drift to the ground from her hair and then she decides that it’s time to take a bath. It’s time to show them that she can take care of herself here. She can and she will.