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Guardian

Guardian
by K. A. G. Broderick




My name means guardian, protector.


So far, I can categorically say I have failed in living up to the hope my parents had in bequeathing me such a name. I cannot say I have protected anything—failing miserably at even the self-serving deed of protecting myself. I suppose I am a guardian, of sorts, of my current home, an abandoned temple to the goddess Athena—although she was the one to abandon it, not I.

To be honest, as I tell you this, I am staring at a pile of dust and molding debris sitting here openly and smugly, secure in its existence, as if it knows I can’t be bothered to muster the energy to clean it. I turn a scrutinizing eye to the rest of my abode. Things have become a little worn around the edges. I guess I have failed in my guardianship, too.

I don’t think you can really blame me, not entirely. Possessing a rampant fear of water tends to hinder the cleaning process.

But all of this must change, of course. He is coming today—the most important visitor we will ever have. We wouldn’t want things to be shabby for him. This place was beginning to look like a lair.

My eyes sweep over the deserted room once more. The flowers I had placed at the altar last week, a recurring and continually unanswered appeal for absolution, have begun to wilt. Their depressed green spines bend under the weight of their browning heads. A halo of fallen petals surrounds the offering, tiny white petals of from the narcissus plants that grow on the south side of the temple.

I have a particular affinity for the narcissus flower.  I can’t help but find the tragic story behind the flower morbidly appealing. Narcissus, they say, was the most beautiful youth imaginable: the living embodiment of what the ideal youth should be—tall, with skin lovingly painted gold by warm streaks of the Greek sun. He scorned the love of a nymph and was cursed in his hubris to fall in love with himself. He wasted away gazing at his own reflection in the shallow waters of a small stream. The narcissus flower with its white petals and bright yellow face is all that remains of the golden youth.

I remember what it was like to be beautiful. I was the golden child once, the favored disciple of Athena. I have not seen my face in years—long ago in a rage, I smashed the mirrors, taking savage delight in grinding the glass fragments underfoot. The few mirrors to survive the holocaust were covered.  I have not looked at them since, but I can imagine myself well enough, drooping like the narcissus flower, browning and wilting at the edges.

I turn from the depressing sight of the dying flowers, studying the other chores I must tackle before our visitor arrives. Frozen statues are haphazardly strewn about the room, their bodies of cold stone watching me with stony eyes of white, unseeing marble. How I hate them. Years of dust filled the cracks and crevices of the stone beings, diminishing their pearly white glow to a dull storm cloud grey. Usually I tried to pretend they weren’t there, ignoring their existence as thoroughly as they ignored mine—although there were a few I talked to, when I could no longer bare the hours of quiet solitude and longed to hear a voice, any voice, even if it was only my own break the deafening hours of silence. The continual hiss of whispers had long since ceased to provide any form of acceptable conversation.

Today I spoke to the Demostrate—the statue just over there and to the left—while I cleaned.  The scuffle of the broom against the stone floor hummed a scratchy melody as I talked.

“Demostrate,” I said as I swept. White clouds danced around my feet as I pushed the broom back and forth. “I will tell you something, if you promise not to be jealous.”

As usual, he was silent. His unchanging sympathetic gaze prompted me to continue.

“Today, at last, he is coming—the great hero who needs my help. His people are in trouble, and I am the only one who can save him.”

Generally, I try to be modest. But there is no point in skirting around the facts in this case: he needs me. If he had any other option, he would not be coming to see me. I know this very well. I am literally the only person in the world that can help him defeat the armies an unjust king is sending him against. I will be the reason history remembers him as a hero.

I make my way through the labyrinth of statues, dusting them as best I can while avoiding the gaze of their unseeing eyes. Finally, I reach the altar, surrounding by the wilting narcissus. I scoop the shed flowers up gently, the fragile, curling petals looking pathetic and frail in my palm.  A beauty quite literally faded, the delicate flowers breaking apart from the center. Finding their wilted state somehow more beautiful and tragic than before, I leave the drooping flowers at the altar, tucking the discarded petals within my robe—a talisman.

“Sometimes,” I tell Demostrate, “I would have liked to have been a flower. If only for a moment.” I wonder what type of flower I would have made, if I would have been placed on an altar, how it would have felt to live on in the green slopes of the southern hill. I stop this line of inquiry. It does not do to dwell on what might have been, if choices were different.

But something about the temporal beauty of the flower stays with me.

“Do you think,” I question my silent statue, “I could still be beautiful? Not beautiful like before, of course,” I quickly amend. “But I would like—I think—to be beautiful as I die.”

I take his silence as surprise.

“Didn’t I tell you?” I suppose I hadn’t.

“He’s coming here to kill me.”

I pour a small pool of water from which to wash myself off with. We must be clean for him. I tried to let the water touch me as little as possible. I hated the sensation of water crawling against my skin, pressing itself into the quiet places of me it does not belong. I remembered the day the golden girl that I was died, the day I was broken before Athena. I do not like water.

“He is coming,” I repeat, “with a sharp sword to scare me, and a bright shield to kill me. The king has decided I am a monster, and for that I am to die.”

“I am a monster,” I tell Demostrate, whispering the words into his stone ear. “I did this to you.” But I am not a monster of my own making. I press my lips against his unchanging stone smile, a final goodbye.

If it were the golden days, my hair would be sleek and obediently spilling down my back in a glimmering curtain of black. Instead, I order it to lie still, but, as usual, it has a mind of its own.

I am almost finished now. The temple is clean. I have polished myself as best I could without a mirror. He will enter next to Athena’s statue. I take my usual place next to her stern image. I had long ago forgiven Athena for abandoning me. I know that with my sacrifice, I will be returned to her side.
He will be here soon. These whispering hisses that have accompanied me for so long grow worried. I cannot calm them, but I feel at peace. He will bring his sword, and his mirrored shield, and I will look into it, as if compelled.

As a child, I was given to Athena. As a woman, I was taken by the god of the ocean. As a survivor, I was cast aside by Athena. As an outcast, I was cursed as a monster. All of these labels, and none of them of my making. Death approaches in the guise of a hero, but I will meet it as I decide. I will look into the mirror and see who I really am. I will make the sacrifice. I will make him the hero.

My name means guardian, protector. Not hero. Not monster. And so, dear reader, I will be my name. I will guard. I will protect. Through my sacrifice, thousands will be saved, a hero made. All I ask is that one day, when my bones have long crumbled to dust, for my story to live on. The story of a girl, not a hero, not a monster, not a victim, but a guardian that chose her own fate. Few people will understand my sacrifice. History will not remember me kindly. But that is okay, for I am a guardian, not a hero. My name is Medusa.


* * *

K.A.G. Broderick is an eternal student. Graduating in 2010 with her Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Florida Institute of Technology, she spent a year in Ireland on her Masters of Philosophy in Medieval Language, Literature, and Culture at University of Dublin, Trinity College, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Global Strategic Communication. She is the Student Services Coordinator for the department of Humanities and Communication at Florida Institute of Technology, Writing is her true passion and she hopes to have her second novel completed by the end of summer.



What inspires you to write and keep writing?

Writing to me is as fundamental as breathing. If I did not write, I could not live--well, I probably could, but I would be the miserable sort of person people try to avoid. I think everybody has a story living in them. I carried the idea of Guardian around for several years before I had the courage to put the story to paper. There is so much hesitation and fear in the creative process--you simply have to push through it. As a writer, you are the only person able to give voice to your stories; if you don't, the story will never be told.

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