Pomegranate Seeds & the Hearts of Men

“You should respect the old gods,” she said to him, to which he turned his ass in her direction, walking away with his tail lifted, as if to say, “Lady, I am the old gods.”

Writing by Featured Writer Shilo Niziolek
Art by Featured Artist Erica Peebus

Pomegranate Seeds & the Hearts of Men

If it wasn’t for the cat she adopted from the Humane Society, she wouldn’t have made it through the year. She named him Zeus, for he was haughty and full of himself, knowing full well he could demand affection and receive it, even if moments before he had rejected her advances. Zeus hopped off the couch as soon as she reached out her rogue red sharpened nails to pet his calico fur. 

“You should respect the old gods,” she said to him, to which he turned his ass in her direction, walking away with his tail lifted, as if to say, “Lady, I am the old gods.”

The fan above clicked tirelessly in its rotation, coated in a layer of dust. The September wildfire light cast eerie orange silhouettes on the peeling walls and fake hardwood floors. She despised this apartment and everything it represented. Human’s stacked one on top of the other, cage on a cage on a cage, and down in the soil below that, a burial ground lost to the peoples whose ancestors were buried there. The detritus of the building crumbling above them. The worst part is the humans rarely realized what they were. Animals in a zoo that nobody longed to look at, to look after, to feed or care for. 

Through the open window she could hear a neighbor watering the dying potted ferns sat in rows before her door. The sound of a shopping channel drifted down from somewhere, and she imagined perfectly the woman on the screen, hair locked in with too much hair spray, the scent practically wafting through the screen, and the look of utter derision, falsified as a smile, plastered across her pastel pink lipstick, the shade of loneliness and despair. The woman on the screen would be wearing fake pearls, a pastel button-up dress cinched at the waist to accentuate her breasts hoisted up in the grip of a nauseatingly tight bra, and the woman who watched the woman on the screen thought that maybe if she bought the product the tv woman held in her hands her husband wouldn’t breeze past her on his way in and out to work without a backwards glance. The woman would buy the product, and nothing would change and a little bit more of her would die inside. 

Lamia refused bras. She refused cosmetics besides her blood red nail polish and all jewelry expect for the scarab beetle ring she wore on her middle finger. She didn’t need excess and in fact abhorred it in others. The polish and ring weren’t excess though, they were warning, one which so often wasn’t heeded. The consumerism of today’s people made her sick. She waited tables at the local dive to pay the exorbitant rent on this rundown apartment that sat near the woods at the edge of town. She could have made her money the old-fashioned way, as single women trying to get by in the world had in a million lifetimes before. As she had before. But in her old age she had grown tired of the type of men who paid for favors. Weak. Often filled with equal parts cowardice and contempt. The meat on their bones was rancid, sick with the scent of desperation, or worse, soft-hearted entitlement. 

It wasn’t that the men she took home from the diner weren’t filled with this same putrid lust. They were often booze filled, homesick, heartsick, or worse by far, love struck. But at least she didn’t have to pretend to enjoy them. If they were tiresome, she made quick work of them, then padded out, her bare feet clacking like talons on floors, placing a tin can up to the electric can opener, the whir of the blade slicing through the silence, filling the void where before had been screams. 

A sharp wind rattled the used-to-be-white blinds in the window, and she calculated how many hours she had between now and her next shift. Grabbing the unopened pack of smokes off the coffee table, she tapped the top on her exposed upper thigh rhythmically before peeling off the seal. The cat came out of the bedroom and stared at her from the end of the hallway while licking his tender paws clean. 

“Now who is the one willing to take my scraps, Zeus,” she said, not to the cat. 

She cranked her zippo across her skin and took a long drag in, the cigarette end crackling to life. 

They used to say she went after men because of what was done to her, her children taken and left in their wake a lust for blood. That was just a rumor. The people always wanted reason, and what better reason than a woman being unmothered? The imagination of men was truly so small. As insignificant as the not yet children she had done away with herself, fluid filled sacs in the womb. They never grow out of it, those little boys. Generations and centuries of men and they still can’t conceive of a woman whose soul purpose in life wasn’t to burst forth more starving babies. More creatures to poison the seas, tear up the forests they needed in order to breathe. Their ignorance was laughable. 

It wasn’t what they did to her that made her ravenous. Really, they could do very little too her, though they never knew that when they climbed into the cab or her pickup. It was their utter complete lack of imagination that drove her to do it again and again. It had driven her all along. It wasn’t madness but it was something close to. She only went after the ones who, even if they tried to keep their true feelings secret in today’s modern world, their women standing next to them in their pink pussy hats, while meanwhile, bit-by-bit, they stole their women’s freedoms through catfish troll accounts online and on the ballots and through quiet votes, cast with their hands behind their backs, thumbs twiddling. 

She had no female friends, no friends at all, other than the cat. She loved women, their sensuous hearts and lilting laughs. Staying separate was a matter of self-preservation. She could not be weakened by her needs. Lamia had loved a goddess before, but gods were like men, maybe even more so, possessive and unyielding. This is how she became what she is, after all, what she had long now been. For her love of Hera and all Hera loved, she had paid with a thousand lives, a thousand more. And for this price, for protecting the sacred hearts of women, she was allowed a secret that even Zeus the cat would never be allowed in on. 

For it was in her sleep, after sucking the bones dry, that she fell into a deep sleep, a sleeping world where Hera waited for her, all silk and soul of her, draping around and through Lamia like a turbulent and soft wind. 

It was Zeus who had done it, who had caught them and turned her into what she was. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get to decide who she turned her rage on, who she became the protector of. By day she devoured the hearts of men, and by night Hera fed her pomegranate seeds in her dreams. 

Zeus the cat mewled quietly beside her, tilting his head inquisitively, and for a moment a blade of terror cut through her, imagining that this cat she named was linked the its namesake, transmitting her thoughts. She laughed at her own ridiculous paranoia and patted his head, not unkindly, before standing up from the couch. She slid her feet into red suede shoes and grabbed her keys and purse off the hook before unlatching the front door. 

“Don’t wait up,” she winked at the cat and could have sworn he winked back. 

She stepped outside into the smoky air. It filled her lungs. There was a thick layer of ash on her truck. She had seen more empires collapse than she could recall. It wouldn’t be long left for this civilization, at least not in the years of gods and demons alike. This world was ripe for burning and she’d be there on the side, the cleanup crew, waiting for the next round of monsters and men. 

Cranking the key a few times, she fired up the engine, lit another smoke, and drove to the heart of town where she would serve the people and then take out the trash.

About the Author

Shilo Niziolek’s (she/her) memoir, FEVER, is out from Querencia Press. Her chapbook, A Thousand Winters In Me, is out from Gasher Press. I Am Not An Erosion: Poems Against Decay, a micro chapbook of collage poetry was part of Ghost City Press’s online summer series 2022. Her work has appeared in Pork Belly Press, Buckman Journal, Juked, The Blood Pudding, Entropy, Oregon Humanities, HerStry, among others, and is forthcoming in West Trade Review, Phoebe Journal, Crab Creek Review, Wishbone Words, Sunday Mornings at the River and Pumpernickel House.  Shilo holds an MFA from New England College and is Associate Faculty at Clackamas Community College. She is the co-founder and editor of Scavengers.

About the Artist

Erica Peebus (b.1982) recently moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana from Portland, Oregon where she received her BFA with an emphasis in painting in 2013 from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Erica’s acrylic paintings can be described as both dark and whimsical. Employing a strong illustrative quality, she mixes realism with graphic details. Her works often represent plants, animals, bones, and the human figure exposing her fascination with life and death as well as her love for the natural and super natural world. Her work is heavily influenced by religious symbolism, renaissance paintings, mythology, folklore, and surrealism.

Leave a Reply

Blog at WordPress.com.