A work of fiction which imagines an alternate conclusion to the Myth of Sisyphus…
by: Meredith Wadley
I still trudge a damn rock up a damn hill, but these days, I’m entitled to twenty-five vacation days per annum, and Greece’s twelve paid public holidays are mandatory. Thanks to the efforts of our leftist party, I receive mid-morning, lunch-hour, and mid-afternoon breaks too.
Trudging began as penance for duping the gods. It got me eternity, sure, but at a price: outliving my wife and children, their children, and their children’s children. These days, the last of my kin live in the Mount Olympus area of Hollywood, California.
I even outlived Zeus — killed upon the arrival of Greece’s first Christian monks. That infernal hill in Hades up which I trudged, stone-weighted, became just another hill. What a miracle! You bet, I converted. To be relieved of my penance. To become another person.
Much good it did me. Guess who those monks conscripted to construct new temples to the new god? To carry every damn tumbled-down stone up even steeper hills? And whenever a mighty earthquake — God’s wrath — leveled their good works, guess who rebuilt them? Basilica after basilica.
Sundays and holy days, I’d spend at liturgical services, another kind of penance. Or hell. Honestly, the Christian faith became just another stone to push up another infernal hill.
Nowadays, I place my faith in protecting my rights as a worker. Off by five, I spend evenings at my local with pals. Weekends, I putter about the house and run errands. I might flirt with a market widow and occasionally stay the night in her bed. But when the church bells chime on Sunday mornings, I cover my head with a pillow. Lately, I’ve been saving up for retirement. I plan to spend my final days on cruise ships. Doing nothing. Not a stone in sight.
Today, I down the stone polished by my grip and worn kilos lighter than the day Zeus penanced me with it.
Today, I walk away from this hill and meet with the guys at my local, their hair as white and wispy as my own. They’re the sons and grandsons and great grandsons and great-great grandsons of generations of men I knew: roofers, masons, pavers, and equipment operators descended from stevedores who beat donkeys into sausages, loading them with stones, bricks, timber, and tourists to pack up our mercilessly rocky hills (fallen animals I’ve pitied as much as the men). Leathery-burned skin like mine. Callus-covered palms — hard and cracked like the surface of warts — like mine. Backs stooped, knees and hips arthritic, just like mine, they raise their goblets of retsina — Hurrah!
It is they who insisted I turn a penance into a pension.
I show them my bus ticket to Piraeus. I’ll board a ship cruising the Mediterranean ports, slipping out to the Canary islands off the coast of mighty Africa. An arduous, daylong hike up Tenerife’s volcano is encouraged, but I tell the men, “No more climbs for me.”
I’ll cruise the Cape Verde islands, debarking only to board a ship bound for Lisbon, a ship sailing up the coast of Europe, one to Iceland, Greenland, and Canada. I’ll sail to Bermuda, throughout the Caribbeans, and head for Brazil. From Argentina, I’ll brave the Cape Horn passage, travel up Chile, Peru, out to the Easter and Galapagos Islands. “I’ll cruise the Hawaiian Islands, the Alaskan Islands, the Japanese—”
The claw-like hand of a back-bent stevedore raises an empty goblet, which I refill. “We get it,” the old man snarls, twisting his head to a painful angle that he might consider my face rather than the monkey-fist knots of his own hands. “Some of us won’t live to see your return — but why cruise ships?” He spits.
I pocket the ticket. “I outlived the pantheon of gods,” I say. “For the early Christians, I built basilica after basilica. The Leftists paid fairly for my labor, but from today, I’ll truck no more stones. Touch as little land as possible.”
Locked themselves like mollusks onto family and community responsibilities, they nod in understanding.
I ride an eternity of waves rising and falling — like goblets of retsina. Like donkeys. Like men. Like gods.
The cruise ship Odyssey departs Glacier Bay, and the retired Sisyphus, half-comatose in a deckchair, mumbles, “Touch no stone, carry no weight.” Mortality attends him.
A crewmember discovers and gentles him by elbow and slow steps to the ship’s medical center. A nurse wraps him in warmed blankets and administers IV fluids for dehydration. She finds a note and sends for a Greek waiter to translate.
I demand a burial at sea upon my death. I have no kin. No possessions.
The captain is sent for. “Is death imminent?” he asks, nodding and handing the note back to the nurse. She bows, and he glances at his Omega wristwatch. Midnight, three hours underway, and far enough from the American shore to permit a burial at sea — one performed in darkness to assure no other passengers witness it.
Sisyphus shivers violently. He’s certainly old enough to die, the captain thinks.
Indeed, Sisyphus gasps. His head droops, and his jaw slackens.
The captain, raised in the Russian-aligned Orthodox Church of Japan, the Nihon Harisutosu Seikyōkai, crosses himself.
He’ll order weights added to the old man’s body bag to ensure it sinks and stays submerged for eternity.
Meredith Wadley is an American-Swiss living and working in a medieval micro town on the Rhine River. Her writing has been anthologized and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Read her latest work in The Woolf, The Disappointed Housewife, Mediterranean Poetry, Subnivean, and forthcoming in The Vincent Brothers Review. Her monthly musings about life, and her publication links, appear on her website, www.meredithwadley.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wadleymeredith. Instagram: @meredithkaisi.