Body Shaming by Michael Aiken

9

Body shaming

 

Asterion

His father’s shame: born abnormal, head too wide for his mother’s hips,

the force employed to draw him out leaving it

squared and squashed.

Two protrusions the doctors assured them in time would recede

instead came to pierce the skin,

bony horns at the corners of his skull.

 

With time he discovered multitudes lived in their palace,

people he’d never meet: doors closing across rooms as he walked in,

scuttling feet leading folk away before he emerged each morning.

 

From the moment he could speak, he knew he was a monster.

Kept hidden in his father’s house, encountering none

but the few selected to keep him entertained.

‘Til one day, as any toddler might, he bit a playmate

and they lost their hand.

His mother was distraught; the king warned by seers and advisors

this child would bring ignominy, undo his father’s rule.

 

Some months on the grieving king took his son,

promising to show him a new creation,

an awful wonder at the centre of the mountain: the labyrinth,

specially built to take advantage of his child’s distorted depth perception,

that he might never find his way out; that it might hold him forever

without the insult of bars

or hideous chains.

“He needn’t feel imprisoned” Minos told the architect

“but you must ensure he can never escape.”

 

The king led his child down dark corridors, a spindle of string spinning at his side

for Minos to wind in again. “Be brave, my son” the king knelt

and patted the boy’s head.

“Wait here; fear not. I will always be nearby.”

Stifling tears as he snuffed the torch, Minos crept away

as his baby sobbed in the dark:

“Father!” the cry most cutting “Father! I am lost!

Please do not leave me! Father! I am sorry! I promise

I won’t ever hurt anyone again!”

Minos emerged from the mountain

never to return, nor look back as he resumed his throne.

*

One guard watches day and night lest the beast ever stumble out.

People pass the doorless arch to that dark and terrible place,

wonder if they could find a way out, wonder how horrific

to be caught by the monster within.

 

Lost and lonely, abhorred by family, in the dark he begs and pleads for a friend,

some company;

craves the insults of the playmates who mocked

him and his malformed birth.

For years he finds nothing: bare corridors, odd scraps of offal

thrown by his father through unseen hatches to absolve the king of that terrible crime:

infanticide.

*

One day in many since his father left, Asterion smells

the sweat of another.

Smells him first, hearing second, long before his eyes can see.

The salt, the wetness, drifting on an unfelt breeze

leading from the exit.

Following the scent, longing for human touch,

for rescue, daring believe his prayers answered – that some hero

from beyond his father’s court

had heard the plight of the poor abnormal prince,

someone who knew that a child could not deserve this fate;

some rescuer to find this innocent and bring him to the light,

take him far from the city

and the hatred of these people.

Or, perhaps,

his father himself now regrets and laments so greatly what he has done,

returns in person to gather and save his child.

 

Asterion stumbled with love in his heart, hope in his

head,

seeing the glimmer of firelight

where the visitor’s torch flickered.

He cried in joy

and the bellow bounced off the walls.

“I am not afraid of you!” the stranger called out in reply.

Asterion’s heart leapt – not afraid! Perhaps this man

would see him for what he was.

He ran toward the light, laughing tears

and squealing.

 

Theseus felt his glory approach, his legend

sealed forever.

Seeing the beast gallop, knowing it

uncontrolled, wild, illogical,

he set his spear and waited,

calm and well prepared.

 

The minotaur with outstretched arms fell foolishly deep on the spear,

eyes widening in firelight,

mouth agape.

The hero gave the spear a twist then reached for his sword to lop off the head.

 

Asterion felt it pierce his skin

and knew instantly his own idiocy: to think anyone

might tolerate a monster!

Dying as he lived: a plaything with no wit,

a prince with no control over anything in his life,

he fell in darkness and died in blood, pooling

around his sweet head,

while the stranger hacked heavily through his neck hair,

chopped at the fur

in chunks and wedges, heaving to reach flesh.

 

Asterion lie slow breathing, waited for the end,

hands slowly flexing.

He watched the man’s sandal-bound feet.

Unspeaking, this visitor still a stranger

despite their intimacy.

He tried to breathe, to say his name

and introduce himself:

“My name is Asterion, how do you do?” he practiced in his mind

like his mother taught him long ago.

But what emerged was a blood-filled gurgle

of bovine despair.

The stranger sweating as he continued to work,

hacking those over-thick tendons

to sever that bulbous neck.

 

Asterion watched from the floor:

“It’s alright” he whispered, and Theseus heard the lowing.

“I understand. My father sent you to spare himself the horror,

and to spare me more years of darkness. Thank you,

friend.”

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