“There was this moment where I was like, ‘Oh shit, I ate six of them,’” Persephone said to Ira Glass. She let out an incredulous laugh, throatier than I’d have thought.
“I was leaning against this rock outside the throne room. It’s kind of my spot?” She said it like a question and Ira Glass made “mmhmmm”ing noises in assent.
“I had this pomegranate in my hand,” Persephone said.
“The pomegranate?” asked Ira Glass.
“Well, yeah. I was looking at those pathways of seeds,” said Persephone. “You know how if you look at something long enough, it stops being what it is and becomes something else entirely?”
Ira Glass said he knew exactly, like how you sometimes get stuck staring in the mirror at the place where your nose runs into the rest of your face. I glanced at my reflection in the window above the kitchen sink: I was distorted under the recessed lighting, just broad strokes of myself.
“I was thinking how those rows of seeds look like veins,” Persephone said, “when I felt that current along my neck that meant the souls were gathering.”
“Wait, what?” said Ira Glass.
“They never came too close. Mostly, they’d cluster against the atrium wall.”
“You’re talking about what’s left of dead people? Spirits?” asked Ira Glass.
“Honestly, they’d been creeping me out for weeks,” said Persephone. “When I sensed them, I’d pretend to look through them, like they weren’t there.”
“Wow,” said Ira Glass.
“But this time, I don’t know. Something was different.” Her voice got quiet, reverent. I turned off the faucet so I wouldn’t miss anything.
“I really saw them,” she said. “Their faces were just there, translucent, looking right at me.”
“Were you freaking out?” asked Ira Glass.
“Their need was just so strong.” Music started playing under Persephone’s words, the rhythmic kind they put on to let us know that something meaningful is about to happen. “I felt like they really needed me. Me. Not the daughter. Not the girlfriend.”
“They were seeing you for yourself,” said Ira Glass.
“I mean, yeah. I hadn’t even known I wanted that. But for the first time, I felt such purpose. So I did it. I lifted a seed to my mouth and bit into it. There was all this tart juice. It stung the inside of my cheeks.”
“Wait,” said Ira Glass. “This is crazy. I’ve always heard that you didn’t realize what you were doing. Or that you were hungry.” Ira Glass was excited, speaking quickly. The cracks in his voice were multiplying, like the warning crevices that sprawl across a fault zone.
“Ira, I swear, once I decided to go for it, those seeds floated right into my mouth.”
“Are you serious?”
“Really. I pierced their little skins, one after another. Finally, I swallowed all six of them at once.”
Ira Glass switched to voice-over mode, marveling that Persephone had known that eating the pomegranate would tether her to the Underworld. He told us that she had expected to feel a major change after she swallowed the pomegranate seeds, “but actually?” said Ira Glass, leaving charged pauses between his words, “She felt. Exactly. The same.” It wasn’t until months later, he explained, after days of tending souls, walking the river bank, not until well after the wedding that she understood what she had done.
“This one afternoon,” Persephone said, “we’d just finished meeting with our last soul. I looked up, and there she was.”
“Your mother,” said Ira Glass.
“My mother.” Persephone let out a staggered sigh. “Her hair used to be so coarse, and now, the individual strands were still thick, but there were so few of them. I was fixated on her scalp, on the white spaces between her hair.” My breath caught at the waver in the goddess’ voice.
“I wanted to take it back.”
“To unswallow the pomegranate,” Ira Glass said.
“I’d been gone all that time, and I hadn’t even thought about my mother, about her need.”
Ira Glass began analyzing what it’s like when you realize your parents have grown old and I became lost in the rhythm of scrubbing the cast iron pan. I imagined that my hands were my mother’s hands and they were my daughter’s hands, all of us at once sifting the water through our outstretched fingers, lulled into an almost sleep, a river flowing about our necks and heads. I saw myself teaching my daughter to surf the rapids on a piece of driftwood without telling her that the current would take her too far downstream to ever make her way back; showing her how to avoid a turbulent eddy, but willing the panic out of my voice so she wouldn’t tense up and tumble into the whitewater; pretending that if she could maneuver around this particular set of boulders, she’d be certain to keep her balance downriver on the more treacherous runs when I heard Persephone tell Ira Glass, “I kept trying to say something to ease this charged tension between us. My mouth would make the shapes, but no sound came.” Ira Glass sighed, like he wanted to heal the cracks, like he wanted to keep what is fractured within us whole.
“We were almost to the gate when she got really still,” Persephone said. “And her stillness flowed through me, it drew me to her. My head settled into the hollow of her shoulder.” Everything went quiet then, a heavy silence that held Persephone’s longing.
I was reaching to check my headphone connection when Persephone finally said, “She would leave, I would stay. We both knew this. But first my mother whispered to me. She told me that we would have enough strength and enough love to hold all that is coming.”
“That’s lovely,” said Ira Glass.
”Enough strength and enough love to sustain us,” said Persephone, her voice growing faint; I strained to make out her words, “through our loss and our sorrow.”
Lisa Bass lives with her family, including three daughters, in Santa Barbara, California.