This story is paired with Chapter XIX of Bulfinch’s Mythology. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
She kept getting pregnant because she hoped, secretly, that the next baby’s cry would be the one to rouse him. But all the babies were sweet and sleepy girls, content in their baby dreams—Endymion’s daughters more than her own. As toddlers they were malleably drowsy; their heads rolled against her shoulder when she burped them. She sang to them and washed them and watched them plump and lengthen, like tubers. They fell into endless naps. At the end of each day, before she left the palace, she hefted them against her one by one and carried them to the great grand room with its floor covered in sheepskins and pillows. The musk of sleep and lanolin was overwhelming. She was glad to leave, glad when she heard the final rattle of Helios’s chariot at the edge of the sky. Glad and guilty.
She hadn’t realized what Zeus had done until right before her first daughter’s birth. She’d fooled herself, just as he wanted. She’d been so happy when Endymion fell asleep that first night on the mountainside and she could go to him with her breasts swaying under her chiton and her smile inviting. In the end she had to lift his hands to her body and eel against him like some Cretan dancing girl, and she hadn’t even minded. He’d smiled while she fucked him, though his eyelids never twitched.
She couldn’t beg Zeus to wake Endymion; he never changed the rules except in his own favor. There was no one else to talk to about what she felt. She’d tried with Eos once but they couldn’t make each other understand. “At least yours is still young,” Eos had said sharply, but she’d stroked her little grasshopper of a lover with one finger as he perched upon her knee, and the way he’d fluttered his singing wings in answer had pierced Selene to the heart.
She went out in the falling dusk and sat heavily on the steps of the palace. Endymion’s dog was still there; it refused to leave. At first it had searched for him, whimpering, its nose furrowing the dirt. It had barked at the closed palace doors and snapped when she tried to calm it. Dogs weren’t like ocean water or night-blooming flowers. They’d long ago switched their allegiance to the human race. When they howled at her it was just because they remembered her a little, the way they remembered their mothers. She wondered if Endymion still remembered his.
The dog had realized in time that it could not get inside and that Endymion could not get out. It slept in the bushes now, when it wasn’t hunting. She fed it when she remembered to. She didn’t like to think about how she’d once watched Endymion share his bits of dinner with the dog and fill a shallow bowl with water for it every night, a bowl in which her reflection had shuddered and split.
The dog came and lay down beside her feet. She bent over her round stomach to put her fingers in its burred coat and scratched its thin haunches, petted its dappled head. It wasn’t the dog’s fault she had fallen in love with its master. It wouldn’t have wanted to sleep forever, anyway. Dogs were no good at forever. Still she thought that maybe when this one died she’d find another shepherd dog with a black spot over its right eye. She wouldn’t name it or try to make it her own. She’d just bring it to the palace and see if it stayed.
Inside the palace all her girls were breathing, and Endymion too. When she went in they would still be breathing and she would lie down beside her shepherd on the quiet silver bed she built for him and listen to the even thump of his preserved heart. At least he’s safe, she would tell herself, at least he’s mine, and outside the palace the dog in its sad way would be thinking that too.
Katharine Beutner teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa, where she is an assistant professor of English. Her first novel, Alcestis—also a myth-based adaptation—was published in 2010 by Soho Press. Her writing has appeared in The Toast, TriQuarterly, Humanities, Public Books, and other publications.