For the Love of a Minotaur
Perhaps I am a wicked girl.
That is why I never listen to my mother, or my grandmother, or my great-grandmother. Every morning before school my mother packs my lunchbox—peanut butter and strawberry jam on wheat, an apple, and a thermos of grape juice—while my grandmother scrubs my face until my cheeks are rosy—Ivory soap and a cotton facecloth she knitted herself—and my great-grandmother brushes my hair and plaits it into two braids—boar bristle hairbrush and braids so tight it hurts my head.
And at the door, they send me off to school. A solemn composition in shades of gray—my mother in an ashen muumuu, my grandmother in a graphite shift, and my great-grandmother in a dress so black it creates a void. In unison, the same warning everyday, “Go straight to school! Don’t take the alleys or the back streets! Watch out for the minotaurs!”
On the sidewalk, with the other girls with their lunchboxes, rosy cheeks, and tight braids, we wave goodbye and make our way to school. Around the corner, out of sight, I undo my braids—because I am a wicked child—and let my hair do as it pleases. But the other girls, who are not wicked, keep their tight braids and migraines intact.
There are minotaurs along the way to school. They drive by in their cars, their big bovine heads sticking out of the windows, ties flapping in the breeze. Others pull out of driveways while waving in the rearview mirrors to their wives. In the doorway of their houses stand their normal wives, in curlers and robes with coffee in hand, waving back. My mother and grandmother and great-grandmother always say that only a very wicked woman would love a minotaur.
In front of the Five and Dime, other minotaurs—great shaggy heads gray with age, eyes dull with cataracts—sit in rocking chairs. They chew their cud, ruminate, and rock as a herd. One lifts his head, sniffs the air, and something like a memory flashes in his eyes. This moment passes and he resumes rocking.
Right before we reach school, we pass the pool hall. The minotaurs there, young and swift, emerge. They stomp the ground, snort great billows of air, and charge at us, while grasping at our skirts. The other girls shriek and stampede towards the school. Nimble, I flit past them. Only the hem of my skirt brushes their fingertips.
At the back of the school, past the swings and across the span of grass, stands a maze of hedges. It is called a “labyrinth.” I know this because it was a spelling word. I misspelled the word because it was too nice outside, and, honestly, if you’re wicked, what is the use of being a good speller? At lunch, I go outside with the other girls and we sit under the giant oak tree that spreads its shade over the span of grass between the swings and the labyrinth. The girls chatter as I watch the little children on the swings.
Randy stands in front of the entrance to the labyrinth. He is not a minotaur, though his hair is black and wild and hangs over his smoky eyes. The little girls stay far away. The little boys venture near to test their courage, but Randy throws stones at them. Thock, thock, thock! The stones hit their marks and the little boys run away, crying, and seek comfort in the bosom of their teacher.
Under the shade of the tree, we watch. The other girls conclude that Randy is wicked. They whisper behind their hands and steal frightful glances in his direction. I believe he is just hungry. The other girls cry in unison, “No! Don’t go over there! He’ll devour you!”
Randy’s jeans hang low on his hips and his shirt is tight across his chest like a second skin. I lift the lid of my lunchbox—an offering of peanut butter and strawberry jam on wheat, an apple, and a thermos of grape juice.
Randy holds my hand as we walk through the maze. His hair grows shaggier as we venture deeper into the labyrinth. Horns grow from his head. “This would be more exciting if you’d run,” he says and drops my hand. Nimble, I scamper away from him, allowing the hem of my skirt to brush his fingertips.
In the middle of the labyrinth, I wait and watch my minotaur through the hedges as he circles his way toward the center. A rustle of leaves and Randy stands in front of me, his great, horned head towering over me. I brush his hair aside to find his lips—they are soft and taste briny.
In the center of the maze, in the center of the universe, the minotaur’s breath warm and moist on my neck, he pushes through the undergrowth, into the labyrinth toward my center. I am consumed.
M.S. Gardner has perfected her impersonation of a normal human being well enough to fool the locals and hold a job at a community college. While her physical body resides on the Gulf Coast, she mostly lives in her head. Her work has appeared in Strangelet Journal, Altarworks, Hypnopomp, Page & Spine, Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Coastal Shelf, and Terror House Press.
“For the Love of a Minotaur” was originally published in Strangelet Journal, September 2016.