The Long Road to Hell (And Back Again) - Rinalda Faraian

The thing is, you think distance is an easy enough concept. How could it not be. After all, we live in an infinite universe, with an infinite number of potential timelines. Fractals along the linear course of your life, unfurling before your feet, unlocking each level as you make choices, as you progress, shutting the other ones behind for other you’s to find. Distance was just another choice. And, if the universe is, in fact, infinite - you thought, blowing on your coffee to cool it down - then wherever you are positioned in space and time is the exact centre of everything. Wherever anyone else is positioned is also the exact centre of everything.

‘Relatively speaking, we are all in the same place - the very core of the Universe’, you said, waving your hand at nothing in particular. You get used to talking to nobody in particular after a good while of being alone. Self-imposed exile, you liked to call it. Nobody agreed it was a good name. But then again, nobody was there to hear you say it.

It gets quite lonely on the island. It is a beautiful place, you don’t deny that. It has sharp mountains like teeth jabbing up from the shores, tall grass to get lost in, dust trapped in sunlight. It also has never-ending darkness on other days.

You get into the habit of measuring your pulse. The mountain range of your heart, you watch it unfurl on the small screen. Jagged shark teeth punctuating the fact that you’re alive with every shallow breath. Some days, it feels familiar. Red ropes that keep you together. On others, it is not your own. Someone else’s heart beats in your veins on those days. You try to remember who, but you can’t anymore.

You sometimes wake up with headaches, as if the very thoughts that keep you sane want to crack your skull open and escape. You see traces of features in-between blinks, in-between dust particles suspended in the attic. Standing really still sometimes makes these visions clearer, but in the end all you end up with is a resting heart rate of 75 bpm and a sharp pain every time you inhale. The attic, always the attic. You sit cross-legged on the floorboards that creak and groan with every move, trying to breathe. But this breath is a rope with knots.

‘You wanted this, Persephone,’ you tell yourself. The voice that comes out is not the soft, honeyed purr that resonates inside. It’s the hoarse murmur of someone who has not had anybody to talk to in quite some time. You unfold your insides, lay them in front of you in the shape of a map you cannot read anymore. The roads have changed just slightly, just enough so that you can’t find your way around yourself without a guiding light(ning strike). You are lost inside your own being. This deconstruction of the soul is not something gentle. It’s violence and salt water in your lungs, salt water in your eyes. You are retracing your steps, looking around the corners, seeing nothing but darkness and a heavy fog.

You see him in the deja-vus. Snippets of another life.

His name, carved above the doorframe, glimmering from your phone screen, etched on your tongue - a Pavlovian triggered response, entering small cardiac arrests at the sight of it.

‘75 bpm is the speed at which I think of you,’ you told Hades in your first winter together. He seemed surprised, looked down at his black sneakers. ‘Even Gods of the Underworld need to rule in style’, you told him once, while shopping for shoes together. He looked so handsome, so out of place.

‘I only have a pulse when you’re near me,’ he replied, opening a Gate to the Underworld in the empty parking lot behind the mall. Romantic, but unnecessary. You’d already decided you’d follow him to Hell long ago.

Diary entry, midsummer.

And if I were to keep a record of my days here, it would be by carving them on the inside of my chest, every heartbeat a slash in the dark.

Time is such a subjective, fickle thing - you count it in days, minutes, breaths, planets. It stops when it suits it best, when your heart is in your throat and the words don’t come out. When your blood in in your cheeks and the rushes of its torrents drown your hearing. It goes by fast, too fast, when you need it to stay.

The push and pull of the tides of time in the ides of summer - cold mango juice dripping through my fingers as I try to rip its heart out. A small revenge. Your presence, a rare singularity pulling everything into its orbit. My satellite heart.

Hold me against the sun

I am see-through

I am sea, I wade through

though I cannot swim

in your eyes I drown

I have lost my voice.

Hold me against your heart

before I return to foam.

You pulled all the poetry out of me and now I have nothing left.

I am barefooted as I walk through your cellar, careful not to stir up the dust.

You do not take your boots off as you stomp through my mind, love letters wedged between the floorboards falling into my mouth, asking to be read aloud.

Not to be dramatic or something, though.

His black curls unfurl on his sharp shoulders, a crown that nobody can see, but everyone can feel.

You sit in the attic, because it’s the furthest away from where he’d be. He folded up your pulse and put it in his pocket. Six months feel like eternity when you’re apart, eternity feels like a heartbeat when you’re next to him.

Your phone dings. Your heart is in your throat. His name flashes on your screen, a combination of letters that makes your jaw tighten involuntarily.

They recently set up an Internet connection in the Underworld. It’s shaky at best, and the video calls are one pixel away from severe myopia, but you’re thankful. Even the blurry shape of him is better than nothing. And some days, nothing is all there is. Some days, he doesn’t even see your messages. Other days, you don’t see his. It’s a strange tug of war, in which the two sides of the scale are never in perfect harmony - someone always misses the other more. It feels unfair, and it feels like needles stuck in your heart, and it feels like new people you’re getting sick of meeting, and things you no longer feel like doing. But it’s only six months, you tell yourself. Six months and you can go back. You’re not sure if you taught him anything, but you’re fairly confident he taught you patience.

Whoever decided on the linearity of time can go choke, you think, as you catch yourself staring into space yet again. If time is linear, memory folds in on itself like croissant dough - over and over again until you’ve revisited the same moment so many times it’s fading away.

Write it. Send it.


You assume he’s busy. Obviously, he is busy. He buries himself in work, just so that he could forget you are no longer there with him. Just so that time would pass faster, and winter would arrive. ‘Why don’t you just take a bath in Lethe’ you asked him one day. You were peeling a pomegranate, holding the phone between your shoulder and your cheek while the red juice flowed between your sticky fingers. ‘You know the rivers hold no effect over me,’ he replied, a hint of disappointment in his voice. ‘Yeah, but did you try?’ you insisted. He hated it when you assumed he was anything but perfect. There was a long silence. He often did that. Long silences, so long that you sometimes thought the signal was lost somewhere on its way down. But then you could hear his breathing and you knew he was just chewing on his thoughts. You hated it when he did that. What was the point of buying him a phone so you could talk if he only used it to shut up. ‘You know what, it’s impossible trying to talk to you!’ you’d snap eventually. And hang up. And then be upset about it, while he would probably go around the Underworld meeting the new Damned souls or going to parties at Zeus’ or something. You didn’t know, because he only told you half of the things he did, and mostly after he did them. It was quite unfair, you often thought, as you stared out the window at the first few snowflakes. An early sign. You still had a month to go. The snowflakes held no promise.

‘What did you do today?’ you often asked him. Hoping he’d tell you more than platitudes. ‘What are your plans for this week?’ you tried again. He was not a richness-of-details kind of God, nor did he seem to enjoy telling you about his exploits. You thought that was unfair, since you always told him everything about your day.

Fights are inevitable at this point. Sometimes, you hang up in the middle of an argument, hoping he’d call you back and apologize. Most times he does. The arguments are not always silly. Sometimes they’re heavy and serious and you don’t want to talk to him ever again. But you always work it out in the end. You know he loves you. If anything is certain in this shifting world, it’s his love for you.