He hammers on the door, drunk as a skunk: Dionysus, god of wine; Bacchus, the Frenzied; Bromius, the Roarer—epithets as time-worn as his sick-splattered shoes—making a God-awful racket—not unexpected, given there’s a deity at the door.

In you come, I say, opening up, let him topple through, grinning like a corpse with wine-blackened teeth while I carry him, slumped over my back, my burden.

Every night is the same; every night will be the same, for eternity, I fear.

* * *

But there’s something different about him tonight, I sense, as I dump him on the sofa; no 100 proof fumes rise from him; no stench of gutters and intoxicated, half-impotent sex; he’s drunk on something else . . .

Stories, he manages, his throat ruined by too much roaring. Drunk on stories. He’s sucked every word dry like the dregs from a box of bargain-bin wine.

What stories? I ask, crawling up beside him on the sofa, stroking his hair, which glistens like the Milky Way on a clear night, holding him tight as his tremors rattle the cosmos.

But he’s already gone, slipped into delirium, mouthing words in some divine tongue that I will never understand.

I get no more from him tonight. But I find a card in his pocket, with a name—Deities Reified—and an address to some unreachable dimension that the laws of metaphysics will not let me travel to.

* * *

“Death,” he murmurs, a week later. “Tonight Death spoke.”

Thanatos is a boy of twelve, who after making short work of most of the neighbourhood pets, killed both his parents before he’d reached the age of ten, and now exists outside of both society and time in a high-security institution for the criminally insane. Death, who has known nothing else but the absolute inevitability of his own self. Death, indiscriminate, wanting to quit.

He relapsed, reports my Bacchus, squashed several cockroaches, brained a rat, attempted to disembowel an orderly, but he feels bad about it—which is at least a step in the right direction.

* * *

Another night he trips and tumbles over Eros, screwing her way through an entire hospital, staff and patients, until she got fired for nearly busting the frail heart of a silver fox scheduled for a triple bypass. She went straight to a bar, dressed in her nurses outfit and screwed anyone who was willing, and there were many that were willing, before, sore and aching, she’d wished, momentarily, but momentarily was enough, that she could curl up with no one but herself.

* * *

I cradle him, Bromius, Bacchus, my lost boy, in my lackaday arms. He relapses so often that you’d think progress was nothing but an empty promise, and those nights, most nights, he comes home stinking of cheap Maenads and cheaper booze, his heart racing so fast that I think it will stop, shaking, cursing like his thunderous father, before switching to a silence as dark and brooding as a black hole. When he starts to sweat, to take deep, hoarse breaths, the scent he gives off is warm and yeasty, like the bread his mother, I remind him, used to make, slather with butter and proffer to him, her little almighty, before he broke her heart.

* * *

I am all War, War, War—he soliloquises one night (unlike him, I think, before I realise he’s mumbling dream-speak, mimicking a fellow member)—everything is War—unwashed laundry, undercooked meatloaf, a hair out of place. All he hears are screams, the screams of an infant that could be his or could be the weeping, dusty boy, bloody outside a bombed out house; the screams of newly limbless men. War, War, War.

My Bacchus, who has always had a talent for impressions, once wont to set a table on a roar, slips into Vesta, their sponsor: We are all of us more than just one thing, she tells War, the scent of bleach on her hands fading (but not quite faded), the glint of meticulously dusted bone china still present in her eye (but now more of a shadow than light)—your parts are greater than their sum. You are the thrill of fear, and of being feared; horror, loyalty and glory; blood and tears and victory.

My Bacchus opens his eyes for a moment, and begins, hoarse-throated, brilliant-eyed, a reverie as old as the first man:

I was born in the bottle—he whispers—in the wine sack, in the gourd. I am man’s first mover; frenzy, and revels, and roaring; I am creation and I am poetry, inspiration in ambrosia; but I am more still—he rattles on, racing like a mad horse—I am a hunch-backed fool covered in piss and shit; broken promises and disappointments and slurred words splashed around like acid in concerned faces; I am half-truths and so much hurt; a life lived for nothing but . . . oblivion.

* * *

We are all of us more than just one thing—Vesta tells War. Oneness is immutable. People are complicated; gods are not.

* * *

The next night, where normally he would reach for a fifth of whiskey, his hot clammy hands reach for me instead. Something in him is fuller where before it was empty, is stronger where it was once so weak. He acknowledges me. He hasn’t done so in what feels like centuries—he looks at me and sees a person, sees something of his old self, too, I’d warrant.

Dougie, he says, his eyes finally finding me. And I, his little piece of humanity, smile back from the mirror, see the tiredness in his face.

He sits and weeps.

Gods don’t cry, I whisper to him sweetly. Only men do.

END

“In the Flesh” © 2017 by Dafydd McKimm. All rights reserved.

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