For Valentine's Day on Monday I was invited to perform a piece on love at the Drinking and Writing Theatre at the Haymarket Brewery. I was asked to write about "ludus," a competitive form of love, love played for sport. I wrote a nerdy (sexy?) little version of the myth of Atlanta. Here it is:
Atlanta paused to consider the golden apple that had been tossed at her feet. It was deep yellow gold, 24 carat by her estimation, in the impressive likeness of a GOLDEN delicious variety. Though she appreciated the verbal pun on the part of the craftsperson, its existence was troubling. “Really?” she thought, “I’m really supposed to stop, pick this up, and lose the race because it is shiny? Is that what the world thinks of me?”
This was a rhetorical question, of course. First off, she wasn’t actually saying it out loud, because there was no one around. The other runner was still far behind. Second, she knew very well that this was what the world thought of her. The world expected her to be easily distracted by shiny things because she was a girl. Not only was she a girl, she was a princess. Not only was she a princess, she was a princess with strong opinions. These are all things that her world, which was not yet considered ancient Greece but instead terribly modern, could not abide.
It was galling that this was what the world thought of her, of course, but she was basically used to it at this point. What got her was that it had been tossed by the guy she was racing against, and although she had every intention of beating him, when she caught a glimpse of him before he slipped on the full battle gear he was required to wear (her rules) she thought he might be cute. Alas, just another douchey warrior. Figured.
She glanced behind her. Still no other runner in sight. She stooped to pick up the apple. What would she even do with a solid gold apple? She slipped it into her pocket, but mostly because she didn’t want some near-sighted chipmunk to come upon it and break a tooth. She ran on.
By the time the second apple rolled across her foot, she knew something was seriously up. This one was a perfect replica of a honey crisp, and while she still felt that it was an egregious waste of precious metal, she had to admit, she was touched that the guy had done his homework and discovered her favorite variety. But then she realized that he probably wasn’t actually some oracle, and more likely some sort of god must be involved in these shenanigans. Fucking Aphrodite, always fucking Aphrodite. Actually that was factually true, Aphrodite was always fucking, since that was basically her job description, which was fine, a girl’s gotta make a living, but why, thought Atlanta, must she metaphorically fuck with my footrace? This was, she understood, an attempt on the part of her competitor to suggest that his interest in her was actually inspired by love, rather than moneylust, and though it was clever of him to let her know he found her, and her likes and dislikes, INTERESTING, it was also sort of pathetic. A very expensive way of tugging her pigtails. She was about to kick the apple out of her way, but then she considered that it might make a nice paperweight and slipped it into her pocket next to the golden delicious. She really needed a paperweight. She had lots of papers and her desk was near an open window.
She jogged on, which was actually kind of hard with 2 3 pound hunks of gold in her pocket. This whole race thing had seemed like a good idea at one time, or at least an entertaining one. She would only marry a guy who could beat her in a footrace. She added the rule about him having to run in full battle wear later, mostly because it was pretty funny. When she got bored with that, she added the rule where they got killed if they lost after a few them whispered some anachronistically demeaning comments as she ran past them and though didn’t know why, hearing the words “junk” and “trunk” directed at her made her feel self-conscious about her jiggling ass. It was a cruel world. Sometimes you want to just take a nice long run outside without feeling like your body is available to every leering centaur with a grabby hooves, and while she couldn’t do much to protect all the other women who felt the same way, she could at least decapitate the assholes that had the temerity to evaluate her physical assets during her own footrace. It seemed fair.
So points to this guy for keeping his mouth shut. Still, she felt that tossing heavy objects in her way to distract her had to qualify as cheating. She would be a little sorry to murder the guy who had gone to the trouble of involving deities in his subterfuge, but rules are rules.
When the third golden apple bounced off her ankle, she was really pissed. First off, OUCH. Second, it was starting to seem like a cry for attention. One apple to the foot—quirky, like a handlebar moustache or two-toned sandals. Two apples to the foot—establishes commitment to afore-mentioned quirkiness, like a side-career as a sculptor or orchard farmer. Three apples to the foot—desperate, like all these quirks exist to essentially mask a dull personality or bad teeth. She had stopped to examine the damage done to her tendon (not yet called Achilles, for obvious reasons) and picked up the apple. This one was a macintosh, smaller and rounder than the others, with a little golden worm peeking out of one side, and she smiled in spite of herself. Then she had a thought. The young man she was racing that day had tossed these apples, had cheated, because he knew he could never outrun her. The apples were a message that said, “You are faster than me, yes, but I. WANT. YOU.” He was clever—and devious. Then another thought occurred to her. If this man had managed to charm three golden apples out of Aphrodite, he was not only rich, he was also probably pretty golden delicious himself, for while Aphrodite was undeniably slutty, she did have a taste for bronzed skin, dark eyes, and good cheekbones, a taste Atlanta shared. So the guy throwing these apples was slightly untrustworthy, fiendishly handsome, hot for her, and in possession of an excellent pair of calf muscles, or so they looked to Atlanta as he sped past her. She let him pull ahead, examining from behind, as she rolled the golden macintosh around in her hand. It all spelled trouble, and she couldn’t help but get turned on by that. Maybe, she thought, as she slipped the apple into her pocket and began jogging towards the finish line, just maybe, she’d let this one live.