‘The Hero and the Chalice’ touches on the warmth and gratefulness observed during the equinox . . .
. . . and exposes an important moment when a very modern and untraditional family discovers more about one another, including their own Mabon, ‘the good son’. Lucy is a stay-at-home mother of one daughter, wife of the fabulous and wry-humoured Marisol, and maternal presence to her live-in friend Darien. She’s preparing for the equinox harvest table, knowing it will be a fantastic event, but welcomingly different than previous years.
The Hero and the Chalice
Following last week’s interlude of high heat and sultriness, the differences of that Saturday evening were clearly marked. In the back garden, Lucy let the crispness and spicy undertones rejuvenate.
After a nomadic existence, seasons that changed and didn’t, Lucy’s garden had witnessed the passage of eight summers, the arrival of seven autumn equinoxes, each delightfully varied, each with its own memorable story. This one, she knew, would be far more exciting than the last.
Temmi had grown old enough to understand the turns of the earth, the great Wheel, and the assemblage of gods and goddesses with their own stories and histories. At twelve, Temmi studied it calmly, they discussed it calmly, and she wanted to participate in the feast—calmly. Since Temmi had stopped wearing pigtails and had ceased, almost entirely, to scrape her knees, naming her Tempest had become one of the greatest follies of her parents. “We should’ve named her Serena,” Marisol had said.
As for Marisol, as slowly as the seasons progressed into one another, she had come to care for and support Lucy’s practices. Their connection deepened when the two of them realised they could talk about God—any form of transcendent power. Marisol sat at the harvest table every year of their ten together, but it was only in the last three years that Lucy felt Marisol’s sincerity.
Lucy stood in the dormant garden, letting the lights of galaxies fall on her as if they were warm sunbeams. A leaf alighted on the top of her head, and she decided to save it as an auspicious gift. It inspired a hunt for twigs and fat sycamore leaves already upon the grass. Alerted to the presence of another by the smacking screen door, Lucy swung about, quickly beholding the hourglass shape of Marisol against the kitchen lights.
Marisol pulled a stubby, narrow discard of a poplar from the space over Lucy’s ear. “What are you going to do with all of this?”
“Make a bouquet for the table. It won’t be as grand as last year’s, but, well, it’ll be ours. Did you get my apples?”
Marisol’s smile glowed, and she slipped in for a good hello kiss. “A significant assortment, as requested.”
“Thanks, my dear. How was your aunt?”
“Fine and talkative as ever. Can we eat these yet?” Marisol hovered over sweet rolls. Even without the finishing touches of icing, they tempted.
“No!” Lucy tossed Marisol an apple, caught by an old softball pro. “Have an apple if you’re starving.” She luxuriated in the scent of the apples, nose over the white paper sack of them, then helped Marisol return hers to the pile without it falling to the floor.
“They were all over the truck,” Marisol said, adding a soprano laugh. “I flexed many muscles and stretched many ligaments getting to them. I think there’s still one missing. I’ll have to hunt for it tomorrow.”
“Oh! Speaking of hunting!”
Lucy’s girlish enthusiasm infected Marisol. This was Lucy’s favourite time of year, with the changing of the trees, her upcoming birthday, Samhain on the horizon, and Temmi going to her first boy-girl party on the night of Halloween. Marisol wasn’t entirely sure, but it might be more elation than Lucy had ever displayed.
The tiny toy of a frown touched Lucy’s deluxe bottom lip. “The chalice is missing.”
Marisol’s small eyebrows flicked upward. “The chalice from the palace?”
“Don’t be silly! And don’t quote Danny Kaye to me now! I’m trying to be serious.” Lucy’s attempt to maintain a sour face collapsed against the light in Marisol’s eyes. They laughed together, having no real reason for it, but loving it anyway.
Marisol gave a ceremonious nod and a rather courtly bow. “I will help you, my lady, find your chalice from the palace. As soon as you tell me in what far tower you’ve hidden our daughter.”
“She went to a movie with Darien. Or, maybe—reverse that. Darien took her to a movie. That one, you know, that all her friends are seeing.”
“With the super cute dreamy boy?”
“That’s the one!”
“That’s all right, then. Where are we going?”
Marisol had followed Lucy into the hall of their small saltbox. Never had it seemed too-little a house for them, even when Temmi came along and Darien had somehow wandered into their life. It was home.
A light below shone in the stairwell to the plush basement, Darien’s space. When they’d moved in, it’d been a fantastic mess, dingy and smelly, a stereotypical basement of an old home.
Then, like a stray dog, Marisol had befriended Darien at school, where he was a new substitute, and learned that he was staying at a weekly motel on the edge of town. Without Lucy’s permission, Marisol had invited him to dinner, then Lucy, without Marisol’s permission, invited him to stay. “All of our pets are strays,” she’d explained, “and you’re the strayest of them all, Darien Price.” He had been a scraggly, short, wide-eyed twenty-something with a subtle masculinity that defied the dying clichés of his sexuality. It was he that had completed the basement, and had created an apartment he called his own.
Really—his own. He never had guests. No one ever called for anything but business, and he was the only one in their social sphere that hadn’t a car, a mobile, or a credit card. Marisol had learned as much as she could about him by peeking into his personnel file, but he was fantastic with the kids, knew almost everything there was to know about almost everything. Temmi, the finest judge of character, had adored him since she was six years old.
Lucy was used to invading Darien’s domain; the laundry was in a separate room in the back, and, for a stay-at-home mom, she cruised through the living space as if it hardly mattered. For Marisol, intrigue enlivened her gaze. This was nearly foreign land to her. Infrequently, Lucy requested a jar from the pantry just inside the laundry room, and Marisol fetched it without turning on any lamps, only the bulb in the corner. The years had flown by, and she’d hardly seen his place.
In an automatic movement, instilled by her many trips to the pantry, Marisol shuffled to that familiar spot. A jerk at her elbow stopped her. Lucy defied all logic and actually opened Darien’s closet.
As soon as the light touched the innards, a procession of fine cotton shirts and trousers took shape. The wardrobe hardly interested Lucy. What she eyed was the shelf above. It contained rows of containers, some plastic squares and others the squat rectangular shape of shoeboxes.
“The last I saw the chalice, it was in our room,” Lucy said, shimmying a stool out of the laundry room to aid her ascent. “I think I might’ve accidentally left it in one of these boxes when I put our winter clothes away. Everything was so jumbled together. Take these.”
Marisol carted two small shoeboxes to the sofa. She returned Lucy to solid ground, one of the two bigger cardboard boxes between them. Marisol hoisted it to a table reasonably free of music and science magazines, the only post of any regularity Darien received. They settled quietly into the occupation of rummaging.
“What’s the chalice for?” Marisol asked, hoping her inability to comprehend and remember everything failed to offend.
“Oh, I love this shirt! I can’t wait for winter so I can cuddle into all my favourites again! The chalice? It’s for drinking out of.”
“Really? I thought we were going to toss dried apple chips into it when we got bored.”
“Ha, ha. You kiss your wife with that mouth, do you?” Lucy had asked for a kiss and got one, with a pat at the curve of her hip, too. “The chalice is for drinking the fruit juice I’m going to make. Or did make. Do we still have grape juice in the pantry? That stuff I canned last year?”
“The pantry and I hardly know one another so well, sweetheart.”
“I’ll look later. I want to find the chalice first. It’s been bothering me all day, but I didn’t want to go crawling up and down the step stool without supervision. Temmi was at Becky’s house, and Darien took his bike out to the trail. I don’t know how he does that. Makes my bum sore thinking about it. I think he went all the way to Dublin and back! I can make a cranberry-apple juice that might be nice.” Her jump of subjects was smooth. “Or mulled wine. Or cider. Oh! I can make sangria!”
Marisol chuckled. “Now that’s more like it.”
“I’d have to make something for Darien, though. I have an odd feeling he’s a teetotaller, like Bruce Wayne.”
“Maybe he was in AA.”
“Our baby-faced Darien? No.”
“Kids these days start drinking whenever they think it’ll do them some good, when they think they’re invincible. It could’ve happened to Darien.”
Lucy continued to unfold and refold clothes from the box, not yet reaching the bottom of it and finding nothing but garments for her effort. She sighed, considering Darien. “There are times I look at him, when he thinks he’s not being watched, and he seems so damn sad. I don’t understand it. I wish he’d open up a bit more. We don’t even know where he’s from, not really. Okay, next box! This one doesn’t have what I’m looking for. But my good boots are in here. Help me remember that when October’s rains start falling.”
“Yes, because my mind is such a steel trap. More like a colander.”
Marisol grunted as she shelved Lucy’s box, and one of the shoeboxes whose contents were accessories for snowy days. She had trouble manoeuvring the second hefty box from its place, and caught it just as it was about to slip between the inside closet wall and the edge of the shelf.
Lucy hissed at the precarious position. “Be careful!”
“It’s heavier than— Look out!”
Marisol hopped off the stool backwards, and Lucy sidled out of the way as the box flipped to the floor. Its top unfolded, spewing its contents everywhere. Lucy spotted a bronze-hued object rolling under Darien’s bed.
“Chalice! Chalice!” she cried, falling to her knees to try and grasp it beneath the bed. Her arm fanned out, and she stretched as far as she could, but the chalice was not within reach. She rubbed a shoulder that she’d twisted dubiously.
“That’s how I felt trying to reach those apples in the truck. Come on,” Marisol paused momentarily to massage Lucy’s shoulder, “let’s just move the bed a little and we’ll find the chalice from the palace.”
“I don’t know what he has under there, and I don’t want to know.”
“He’s not a teenager with stacks of porno mags, Lucy.”
“Well, we don’t know that! He could! And it would be perfectly healthy of him to support his adult libido, but I’d rather not embarrass him, that’s all. He could be home any moment.”
“If he does have porn under here, it’s not going to be the kind of porn that really interests us. And Temmi’s hardly the type who’d snoop.” Marisol crouched to move the bed frame, luckily supported by casters. She inched it along with the strength of her legs.
Lucy’s shout was so vehement that Marisol jerked to an immediate halt. At the end of the bed, where Lucy was, Marisol looked around for anything frightening or disgusting. Just the chalice and a stack of old books.
“Is that all? I was expecting there to be a dead mouse, or at least a very large spider. I know how you feel about your arachnids.”
“They can live in my house as long as they don’t let me see them. Wonder what those old books are?”
“Now you want to spy on Darien? Fine, I’m game. It’s hardly porn.” Marisol hunkered to the floor, grabbing the first book off the stack, and immediately tackled the paper sticking from its deckled edge. “It’s just a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Has his name in it, though. Darien Kendell Price. See, you used to joke that it was an alias.”
“It sounds like an alias that’s trying so hard not to be an alias. Oh, Zane Grey, very—very not like Darien at all.” She thumbed the yellowed pages, and out the corner of her eye decided Marisol had unearthed an interesting clue from the confines of Harper Lee. “What’s that?”
“Some newspaper articles,” answered Marisol, falling into concentration and hesitation. “It can’t be that old. It’s still pretty bright. I can’t read it; don’t have my glasses on.” She let Lucy’s clear vision do the studying.
Less than a hundred words into the first article, Lucy shoved the scraps back where they’d been found. Her tight throat managed to gulp down a fullness that’d erupted from new tears.
“Let’s put this stuff away,” she said quietly, eyes dribbling.
“What is it? Did he do something terrible?”
“No. Not that. Marisol, push the bed back, please, and help me clean this up. Don’t—don’t make me talk about it—I—” She dropped to the sofa and wept.
Disturbed, Marisol bolted upstairs, found her glasses in her handbag, and sprinted back downstairs to read the articles for herself. Not nearly as emotional as Lucy, Marisol was nonetheless stunned into silence.
No sooner had Marisol returned Darien’s space to its normal state than the occupier of it returned, his twelve-year-old BFF in tow. Tempest recited a glowing review of the film, what friends she’d run into there, and went off to call them so that they might chat about it again.
Darien, meanwhile, was in a mode of recovery. He scooped water from the kitchen tap over his eyes, over the back of his head. He made gurgling sounds and accepted the clean towel Marisol slid into his elbow.
“You remember when I took Temmi to that concert? Boy band. British.”
“That’s them. It took me a whole week to recover from that, get the prepubescent screaming out of my ears. Not that I mind kids. Love them. Just—maybe in amounts that don’t equal the populations of third-world countries.”
Marisol looked at Lucy, who was then tackling the object of icing fresh rolls with a tranquil defiance. How were they going to do this? Marisol didn’t have the tact to deal with Darien, and Lucy was, at present, still wiping the end of her nose and the bottom of her eyes with a shirt sleeve.
As Darien returned to his full height and caught the expressions of women he regarded as sisters, he knew something had changed.
“What did I do? Why are you crying?” he said to Lucy. He returned Marisol’s look. “Why is Lucy crying? What did I do?”
Lucy interrupted Marisol’s explanation of the chalice, the moving of the bed, the discovery of the newspaper clippings.
“You know, Darien, you should sit at the harvest table with us tomorrow night. Other than the usual rituals of the autumn equinox, it’s a good time to release any guilt you may have over events and feelings experienced in the past.”
The territory of expressing guilt in a visible manner was new to Darien, and, at first, he scrambled to conceal what might be too exposed. “I did have a hot date tomorrow night. Or a slightly lukewarm date that I hoped would turn hot.”
“Bring him along,” Marisol said imploringly. “Is it that Piers guy from the bank?”
“Oh, he’s so cute! I like him, and he’s so helpful.” Lucy sniffled, slapping more white icing to the rolls she’d missed. “We’re only going to eat and play games.”
Darien felt the pull of it, this family of his, the possibility that Piers might embrace the homemade goodies and who could weave a basket in the fastest time. Lucy could make anyone feel at home, and had a way of giving a man a chance to see that the actions in his past did not negatively define his present self.
“Is that all?” he asked, wrapping an arm at Lucy’s shoulders and kissing the greying cedar locks. “You want me to eat and play games to alleviate my guilt? It was a long time ago,” he said, wincing as he connected the images of repressed horrors to his current shyness. “But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I’d done more—done something differently. That’s why I came here. I wanted to get away from the people in town who kept looking at me funny. I should’ve told you, and that’s another reason I feel so bad.”
“You can talk about that tomorrow.” Lucy patted his hand and slapped the spatula, full of icing, right on his chin. He squirmed and grabbed the towel he’d just dried his face with. “Piers will want to know what a hero you are.”
“I’m not a hero,” sighed Darien. “He still died.”
Marisol set out plates and made Darien start a pot of decaf coffee. “But I’m guessing that Piers doesn’t even know you had a brother whose life you tried to save.”
“No, he doesn’t,” murmured Darien. “I’ll tell him. Not because I want to be glorified as a hero, but because I like him and he has a right to know more about me. Like the two of you.”
Temmi skipped into the room, dog at her heels. “Why’s everyone look so gloomy?”
“We’ll tell you tomorrow,” Marisol said, rummaging Temmi’s long locks through her fingers. “It’s nothing bad, don’t worry.”
“If you say so. Mom, you’re killing me with this food.”
Darien rested forearms on the counter, nose inching closer to the delectable smell from the iced rolls. “Can we eat these yet, Lucy?”
is a fainéant druid who resides comfortably in her native Ohio.