Inspired by #7 of this prompt set from alltheprompts.
“Perseus?” Grace squeaked, forgetting in her shock that she didn’t need to speak to be understood. “Son of Zeus, slayer of Medusa, savior of Andromeda, Perseus?”
There was a long silence, and the trembling in Grace’s knees got worse.
If I had slain the gorgon, I wouldn’t be here.
“Oh my god,” Grace whispered, sinking to the floor as her legs gave way. Shame at her thoughtless words warred with profound disbelief that any of it could be real. She bent her head and pressed her palms to her eyes, as if she could push the conflict out of her skull. Her breath came fast and her fingers tingled with encroaching numbness.
Grace? She didn’t answer, struggling to keep from hyperventilating. Grace! Grace, please, I can’t move to help you, so you have to listen to me. Please. Breathe in for three seconds, then out for three seconds. Count it in your head, let me hear you. Please.
She tried to take a full breath and hiccuped through her first attempt. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, but she tried again. In. One, two, three. Out. One, two, three.
Good, Grace, that’s good. Keep going. And when you feel steady enough, I want you to get up and find the drinking fountain, get some water. Then sit down somewhere for a while.
Perseus remained silent as she followed his instructions. The closest fountain was down the hallway towards the entrance, and after that, the closest place to sit was a bench in one of the galleries. It was a show by some modern artist she didn’t care for, whose name she couldn’t remember. She sat before a huge canvas filled with loops and swirls of garish neon colors, peppered with bits of broken mirror. The bench was set too far back for her to see her own fractured gaze.
This isn’t the first time you’ve coached someone through a panic attack, is it? she asked.
No, came his immediate reply. All the women who have heard my voice suffered through one, or something like it. It pains me that I can’t prevent it, nor do more to help.
Grace dug through her purse and unearthed her little pack of tissues. All the women? she echoed back at him. Men can’t hear you?
None ever has, not that I know of. I don’t know why.
And you don’t know why I can hear you, or any of the others who have.
No. While Grace considered what to say next, she heard Perseus’ sudden laugh. It’s the damnedest thing. I tried to shake my head to answer you. I can’t. And even if I could, you wouldn’t have seen it anyway, from wherever you are. But I tried. Talking to you, I can almost forget I’m trapped.
I’m sorry, Grace offered immediately.
No, don’t be. I’d still rather have the company.
Well, I am, but I meant about earlier. Grace swallowed down a lump in her throat–apparently that urge didn’t go away even when talking wasn’t strictly necessary. I…I didn’t connect the dots. You said you’d been turned to stone, and then when you told me your name–well, in the myth I learned about as a child, you won.
Yes. I don’t remember everything–Greek mythology isn’t my area of study any more than Greek art is. But you were supposed to have killed Medusa by cutting off her head. And later, by some accounts you used it to turn a king to stone when he refused you hospitality–in others, you used it to save Andromeda from a sea monster when her mother was too boastful of her daughter’s beauty, and the gods grew jealous. Grace sighed. I never thought the myths had much basis in reality. But it never occurred to me that they did, only they got it wrong. Because you could hardly have married Andromeda and founded a city if you’re here.
No. His tone was subdued. I never met this Andromeda you speak of, let alone saved her from a monster nor married her.
But Medusa–the Gorgons–they were real?
I’m glad I’m still sitting down.
As am I. Are you feeling stronger now? The concern in Perseus’ voice was plain, and it warmed Grace.
Yes. I’ll come back, she told him, starting to get up.
You don’t need to, he said, freezing her in place halfway up from the bench. I can hear you fine from there.
I think…I think the limit is within the building, Grace ventured as she sat down again. When I ran, your voice got fainter as I came to the front entrance. And after it shut behind me, I couldn’t hear you at all.
Your reasoning is good, but I’ve been in much bigger museums before. I think the limit is the distance my voice could reach if it were truly sound, and not thought.
There’s… Grace did a quick count, knowing the layout of the museum fairly well. There’s at least three walls between us right now. But you’re as clear as when I was standing next to you.
Then perhaps we’re both wrong, Grace. In all this time, there have only been a handful of women I could talk to. And most didn’t stop to figure out a scientific explanation for what they thought was madness.
The wry twist in his tone made her giggle. She glanced around to make sure she hadn’t been heard, but the only other person in the gallery was at the far end, studying one of the pieces up close. He didn’t turn her way, so she guessed her faux pas had gone unnoticed. Just me?
Speaking of figuring things out, Grace began carefully, has anyone tried to undo what was done to you?
A minute passed, then two, then five. Grace stared at the tiny shards of mirror, nestled in thick daubs of glowing pink. I don’t have much hope of that anymore, he finally responded. I would rather not try again. It would be enough if you would visit me from time to time while I am here. Tell me about yourself, about your life. Walk the museum and describe the other art to me. Bring books and read me stories. Whatever you are willing to do.
I can do that.
Thank you, Grace. It may be a long time before I find someone else to befriend, and I…
What? she prompted when he trailed off.
I see myself falling to pieces. Even stone doesn’t last forever. Every time I am moved, there’s a chance I will lose more of myself.
Grace stood and made her way back through the museum to Perseus. She circled his statue, noting the damage for the first time. One corner of his cape was chipped away, but that was minor–that wasn’t his body. The hand that gripped the spear was cracked, one of the knuckles missing completely from a finger. There was a flat spot on his calf that suggested a curve sheared off. On his face, there was a deep gouge with softened edges–that had happened a long time ago. And one of his earlobes was simply gone.
He said nothing as she inventoried his injuries. Does it hurt? she asked, facing him again.
No. I feel nothing. But the part of me that still clings to hope fears the damage. I do not think I would be whole if I ever became flesh again.
Grace shook her head. I…I can’t imagine.
I don’t want you to. I’m not asking for your pity, Grace. Only your kindness.
She gave him a weak smile. I can do that.