To Hestia, the keeper of my hearth. To your lemon tarts, little muffins and most of all your strawberry shortcakes.
Back in middle school, every day I would look at you. Sometimes you would look at me and I would hastily look away from you. But you always knew, didn’t you? One day you were passing by with the friends that never left you alone. That giggly gang, how I hated them so. You looked at me and smiled, your eyes sparkled and you mouthed the smallest of ‘hi.’ I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about you. You knew, alright.
One day I was walking to school on the long route by the creek. I saw you alone not too further up the street. This was my chance. My heart pinged wildly. I ran towards you, in my head a plan. Nothing too precise. “Hey, do you have an extra pencil? I forgot my case at home.” Silently you withdrew one from you little bag, not saying a word. My spirits dampened a tad, I didn’t know what to do. I started to walk along you, subdued. “You walk this path often?” You asked, breaking the harrowing silence that stretched between our souls. “It’s serene. It calms me when I feel torn.”
From there on the conversations flowed. We walked everyday by the creek on the chestnut road. One day it was spring, not too hot or too cold. Flowers bloomed, everything looked so new. The ring of bell on the hill never seemed such a melodious tone. In my head I had no doubt even then that I was in love with you. “We can have lunch by the lake, if you want.” Your smile extended to your eyes and it was sight to behold. “I’ll bring shortcakes, chocolate, strawberry and some mousse.”
Not a date, a ritual of sorts. We started to do it every Sunday afternoon. Your desserts were amazing, you made them yourself. Except one. The strawberry shortcake, it was too sweet for my taste. One day it was autumn, the leaves were brown and dead. We sat by the creek our feet dipped in the lake. I had no lunch on my hand. “Did you fight with your parents again and stormed off?” You asked. “Don’t bother me, I don’t want to talk about that.” All you had that day were your strawberry shortcakes. You brought them to my mouth and reprimanded, “You have to eat.”
From your hands they tasted sweeter than ever. When the cake was finished I moved in and kissed your knuckles. From that day, something between us changed. Suddenly, your strawberry shortcakes were the best thing I ever had.
An afternoon in summer when we were 16. I remember you crying, things at home were going awry. I felt so helpless, I didn’t know what to do. Each tear that fell from you face rained like acid on my soul. I held you close, you felt so petit in my embrace. “I’ll never let come to you any harm, my grace.”
One day in winter you came in a long overcoat. You were trying to hide your face, I didn’t know what was wrong. When I saw it, I lost my mind. On your left eye, a bruise, dark as the night. “Who did this?” I asked, fists clenched, anger surging from my soul. “It’s nothing, please don’t be mad, I fell on the floor.”
But I knew who it was, and I was going to make it right. It was your step father, that uncouth monster who scared you in the night. No longer was I a kid, my shoulders were broad and my punches were brute. I wasn’t going to let him get away with this one too. He was in drunken haze when I found him, he couldn’t even put up a fight. I was too fast, too strong, there was a manic gleam in my eye.
When I met you the next day, you were mad at me too. “What have you done? Now my mother calls me a whore.” I got on my knees, your eyes widened in anticipation. “This is my grandmother’s ring. It’s been in the family for generations.”
We had a small wedding, nothing too grand. We were still very young. Too young to get married, but I didn’t care what people said. My granddad had left me some money, we brought the little abandoned cottage by the creek we always wanted to have.
I had to leave school and work at a farm. But I loved it because I came home to you every night. Yes, things got tough when I lost my farm job for a little while too. But you hugged me and said, “We’ll make it through.”
“I can’t tell you, how much I love you so. You are my life, my goddess, my queen and my keeper of the hearth. You’re the flame that keeps me warm at night. That is my light when darkness tries to consume my fickle life.”
You would laugh at these little outbursts of love. “You’re a rainbow,” you said, “but you’re my rainbow, alright.”
Hestia. My first and my last. The way you would come up to me and say, “Sorrows never last.” And I believed you, so much and so. You only gave me the happiness and nurtured my soul.
You started selling your shortcakes, your tarts and your jam. Everyday you’d work and break your back. Sometimes I’d hear you cry locked in some room. But the cottage was too small and I would always know. Yet, whenever you saw me, all you would do was smile. “I must have done something amazing to have you in my life.”
And I knew, you had to be divine. No human would bare this much and still always say, “It will all be alright.” And that, “It doesn’t matter, if we make it or not. I have you and it’s all I want.”
You died on a Sunday afternoon, fate’s cruel jest. In my arms, our newborn babe. I didn’t know what to do. When things got bleak, you were always my beacon. But it had never been so cold, and my beacon, extinguished. A lesson in mortality that I couldn’t deny. This is how universe worked. Even Goddesses died.
Your lifeless body, a sight so unreal. It was like you were already a distant memory, like of a ship that sailed from the pier. “Baby, I am sorry I couldn’t always keep you happy. I wasn’t that strong. With our daughter, I promise I’ll do a better job.”
I dug your grave myself, I wouldn’t let anyone interfere. A little further from the creek, by the cherry tree you planted and held so dear. On a tombstone, that too I inscribed myself. “Here lies Hestia, the keeper of my hearth.”
Years later I sit at the very same spot. The little tree has bloomed and grown of course. “Our little girl is getting married. She found the right man, I think. He’s bright young man, he’ll keep our little princess safe.”
For the first time since I lowered you into this grave, I let myself cry. For I had to be strong for our princess, little girls shouldn’t see their daddies cry.
So this my journey, here I am. In my hand a basket full of little strawberry shortcakes.