Hades was like the other men Evie had requested favors of; he asked Evie to explain herself before he believed that she wanted what she said she wanted.
“What is there to explain?” She rubbed her bare arms. She hadn’t known it would be so damn cold in the underworld. “I loved my husband. I want him back.”
“For what reasons?”
“Because he was my world,” she said. It was a lie. But how else could she explain it? He was half my world, except when he wasn’t. Except when I forgot him in the bliss of my body.
Hades rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He shooed her. “I’ll give you what you ask for.”
After Evie’s husband died but before she ventured to the underworld, she took a job as a lifeguard at Poseidon’s, the city water park. She had loved her husband for all the right reasons. The language of his inner life fascinated her—he painted surreal portraits of ancient monsters—and he made loving her seem easy when she knew it was not. She loved her husband, too, for what her romantic sister would call the wrong reasons; after college he had taken a job designing creatures for a gaming company. His salary allowed her to quit her minimum-wage job at the local hardware store. His support allowed her to audition for the local dance troupe and travel to weekend competitions across the south.
Poseidon’s didn’t allow weekends off.
Oscar fell for the sad woman who worked with him at Poseidon’s not only because she reminded him of all the mistakes he had ever made—if he could fix her, he could fix everything—but because she had a car and a house and she could buy beer.
That was how it started: he approached her after work. She was unlocking her car. He hadn’t meant to startle her.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t apologize.” She thumbed at the pepper spray on her keychain. “But also don’t walk up on women in dark parking lots.”
His friends had put him up to it; they wanted a twelve-pack for a party in the abandoned shed behind the community center. But now he saw her slumped shoulders, smelled her scent of chlorine mixed with the floral perfume she’d hastily sprayed, felt her restlessness radiating out so strong it nearly rippled the air.
He asked if she wanted to grab a drink. She laughed. “How old are you?” But she didn’t say no.
She bought him his twelve-pack. They drank two bottles behind the gas station. This became their daily ritual, as sacred to him as any religion.
She took him home once and only once. While she slept naked and still as death, he crept through her darkened hallway and into a closed room; it was full of monsters: half-completed, half-alive, perched on easels from wall to wall. He didn’t tell her what he found.
The boy was nothing like her husband. That’s what she liked about him. Those rushed moments behind the gas station. It was a relief that she could still breathe into another body, that she still remembered the steps to that waltz. But afterward he told her that he loved her.
“Don’t,” she said.
“Why did you love him?”
“He was an artist,” she said. The simplest way she could get him to shut up.
She didn’t think he would spend all of his college savings on canvas and paint. She didn’t think he’d paint her husband’s monsters. She didn’t think he’d leave them stacked on her front porch when she stopped responding to his calls, when she quit her job at the water park for her old job at the hardware store. She didn’t think he’d be as good as her husband had been, that his vision would be so similar. That someone could replicate not only her husband’s strokes but also his soul? It haunted her. Worst of all, she no longer loved those monsters. She buried them in the backyard.
She danced in his empty room.
Hades was like any other god; he didn’t understand most human desire. But ambition he understood.
Not long after Evie came to him, he met a young man who also reeked of chlorine.
“I want to be a great artist,” Oscar said. It was a lie.
Hades held up one blue hand. The dead lived cold beneath the world. “No need to explain.” He smirked. “I will give you what you ask for.”