Demeter stepped out of her silver Mazda Miata, tucking her keys back into the silver clutch that matched her shoes and light jacket. And her car. She glanced around, eyeing the closely packed row houses with distaste. The homes weren’t just packed cheek by jowl together, marching off down the streets: the sidewalk practically met the fronts of the houses. Many had basements, and a small patio, but no yards. No flower boxes. Nothing. There wasn’t even grass in the verge between the sidewalks and the street, nor yet any decorative planters.
And she hadn’t noticed the absence until she’d looked around.
Frightened, she tucked her purse under her arm, and hurried up the steps of her nephew’s home. She didn’t have an appointment, but since his car was here (and no one else’s was—not his sister’s nor their hussy’s), and it was an emergency, she felt it likely he’d be willing to see her.
With that held firmly in mind, she raised her hand and knocked. Then knocked again, harder. Then noticed a small button on the door frame and pressed it, resulting in a soft chime she barely heard from outside the heavy steel door.
Footsteps approached the door a few moments later, and Apollo opened the door. “Hello, Demeter,” he said, frowning a bit. “I wasn’t expecting company.”
She wrung her hands. “I wasn’t expecting to come here, but I didn’t know what else to do. I think there’s something wrong with me.”
Apollo stepped out of the doorway, gesturing her inside, then closing the door behind her. “You mean beyond your blatant alcoholism?” he asked distantly.
She flapped her hand, as if trying to slap his words out of the air. “Of course. I already know the rest of you disapprove of that. No, this is something serious.”
“It would have to be, to bring you here,” he replied. “I don’t think we even have a houseplant. Closest we do have are dry herbs and spices in the kitchen.”
“I know that,” she shrilled. “Rather, I didn’t know that until you told me just now. Just like I didn’t know there wasn’t so much as a single blade of grass on your entire damned street until I looked around.”
Apollo glanced at her sharply. “You’re right. There is something wrong with you. Why don’t you follow me into my office?”
She nodded, feeling her eyes smart with the tears she’d been holding back on the trip over by will alone. “Apollo, I’m scared,” she whispered.
He said nothing, merely ushering her into a beautiful, large parlor office, with a leather couch and a pair of armchairs around a low coffee table. “Have a seat on the couch. Take off your coat—I’m going to have to give you a short exam, at least, to see if it’s something physical.”
She nodded shakily, shrugging out of her jacket, folding and draping it across the back of one of the chairs. Out of habit, she kicked out of her shoes, nudging them under the table, and setting her clutch just over them. She almost immediately snatched it back up as she felt a sudden flash of heat wash over her. “Apollo, dear, you have an absolutely wonderful heating system here,” she managed, voice trembling only slightly. “I didn’t hear it kick on at all. But do you have to have it turned so high?”
Apollo froze where he stood hunched over his desk, rummaging in a drawer. “Demeter…the heat didn’t just kick on,” he said slowly, looking up at her. “How long have you been having hot flashes?”
“Hot flashes?” she snapped. “What do you think I am, mortal?”
He eased the drawer shut, standing up with a small black bag in his hand. He smiled, an empty, professional smile, and made his way over to her. “How long have you noticed people’s heating systems being out of whack?” he asked.
She settled a little. “A few months, now. And I can’t seem to sleep through the night anymore, and never wake up dry. I can’t tell you how much laundry I’ve had lately, all nothing but my sheets, pillowcases, and blankets, or how much shampoo I’ve gone through.”
He unzipped the bag, pulling out a tool that looked something like an otoscope, but with an odd diagram in runes etched into the glass on the back. “Open your eyes wide, please, and look at the painting of the ocean on the wall across from you,” he said softly.
She did as directed, wincing a little as the light burned into her retinas. Finally, he leaned back, crossing his arms and eyeing her. He said nothing, just eyed her like an insect on a pin in a science museum. She swallowed hard. “Apollo, what is it?” she whispered.
“Demeter…have you done anything against nature recently? Something that should be redressed in some spectacular fashion?” he asked slowly.
She shook her head, fiddling with the hem of her skirt. “Not that I know of.”
Apollo sighed, standing and placing the small instrument back into his bag. He set the bag gently on the small table between the two armchairs, out of Demeter’s reach, and sat down in the one that she hadn’t laid her coat over. “Rather, not that you’ll admit. I happen to know about Persephone’s problems, and her miscarriages. I’m caring for her current pregnancy. I’m going to ask you, point blank, here. Were you the cause of her previous miscarriages through your screwed-up ideas of what happened with Uncle Hades?”
Demeter clamped her teeth together, hissing. Narrowed her eyes and glared at her nephew. “What are you saying?” she snarled.
“I’m saying that stress, like the stress of somebody with acute agoraphobia being forced to sunbathe can cause a pregnant woman’s body to spontaneously abort a pregnancy. Killing an unborn baby. Did you, or did you not, force your pregnant daughter to go outside when she was so terrified of open sky that she was prone to panic attacks, which included hyperventilating until she passed out?”
“You sound like you are sure you already know the answer to that,” Demeter snarled. “What is the point?”
“The point, dearest aunt, is that Nature knew what you were doing. The world knew that you were ending life, rather than helping it to sprout, like your job was supposed to be. You were a goddess of weather and wheat, yes, but more than that, you were a fertility goddess,” Apollo replied evenly. “You betrayed your position when you caused your daughter to miscarry three times. Now, she’s pregnant again.”
“So? I’d heard that the little slut got herself knocked up by that good for nothing kidnapper,” Demeter said coldly. “What does that have to do with me, and my problem?”
“Your problem, dearest Aunt, is that you no longer have the authority and power of your former office. You are no longer a goddess of nature, weather, wheat, or fertility. You are going through menopause.” Apollo eyed her carefully, aware of the explosive temper she had, and wary of her reaction.
Demeter felt all of the breath leave her body in a hard gasp, and dimly noticed her ears starting to ring. She took a quivering breath in. “Are you saying I’ve become mortal?”
He shook his head. “No. I said you’re going through menopause. Going is the operative term, here. From what I saw, it’s going to be a permanent condition. And you’re still as immortal as I am.”
She didn’t remember getting her coat on, or her shoes. Didn’t remember the walk back through his house. Didn’t remember making it back down his front steps safely, or getting into her car, or getting the car navigated from New York to Las Vegas. Didn’t remember parking in her own driveway, or fishing out her keys, or letting herself into her house.
The numbness didn’t wear off until a sharp blow to the side of her face brought her back to awareness. She slowly turned back to whoever had hit her, ready to take her temper out on whoever the unlucky bastard was, but that faded into horror as she saw Hera sitting on the coffee table in front of her, her dark eyes even darker with concern. “Oh, gods above and below, Hera, what have I done?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” Hera answered. “What have you done?”
Demeter choked on a sob, pressing the back of her wrist against her mouth. “Betrayed my office, and my daughter,” she keened. “And now, I’m facing the judgment of Nature.”
Hera watched her carefully, then lunged for the small trashcan at the end of the couch, tipping it upside down to dump out the empty liquor bottles. She thrust it between Demeter’s knees just in time to catch the bile her empty stomach rejected, and held it there until Demeter subsided to occasional dry heaves.
“Come, dear sister,” Hera said soothingly, grimacing down at the contents of the trash as she set it aside. “I don’t think you should be here alone for a while. Why don’t you come stay with Zeus and me for a few days?”
Demeter nodded weakly, allowing Hera to help her to her feet, and guide her to her front door. “I’m going through menopause,” she whimpered. “Apollo said that I’ll be going through menopause for the rest of my immortal life. Hera, how do human women stand it? I feel like I’m going crazy with the hot flashes, and night sweats keeping me from sleeping. And they know it will eventually end—mine never will.”
Hera grimaced as she tapped a rune on Demeter’s front door facing, turning the exit into a portal to her own home. “I think there are herbs and things that help,” she said hesitantly. “I can ask Apollo. Right now, I think you need to come with me, and maybe go sunbathe in our swimming pool.”
Demeter nodded, grasping Hera’s hand like a child and following without a word.