The Lorelei Signal
Hera and the Mulberry Tree
Written by Emmie Christie / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow
The mulberries tasted sweeter on June 22nd than on any other day. Hera tested this every year from seven years old and on. The best mulberry tree hid in the slice of woods between the rich neighborhood above and the creek that fed the river below.
Each year, she snuck over the barbed wire and tiptoed into the silent glen, where the sunlight filtered through as greenish-yellow, and the blue jays cooed instead of squawked, and the snakes slept in pretty piles. And there the sweetest berries lightened her step and softened her skin, and even pop tarts, her favorite dessert, tasted like cardboard on June 22nd.
Throughout the year, she pulled weeds around it and trimmed it to keep it healthy. And to her it seemed that on that day she twisted time back to childhood—full of wonder, and sweetness, and like the world didn’t have things like trailer parks, or men who talked over her and paid her for her silence, or mothers who had to work two jobs to pay for the dish soap.
At 22 years old, she finished her shift at the diner and dashed over, with the attitude of someone who had waited for a favorite book in a series. A new sign there read, “No Trespassing.”
“Screw that,” Hera muttered, and hopped over the low part of the fence as usual.
The sky darkened and spat rain, like her uncle when he lost at cards. The blue jays squawked, and the snakes uncoiled and hissed, and the trail she’d always used narrowed to a point. Hera wrapped her arms around herself and regressed ten years to when still believed in magic.
The birds’ language transposed into words. “No further! No further! This is the land of the gods!”
“I’ve been coming here for years,” Hera said, her voice bold in her own ears. Like hell she’d let the one place she loved, the one place she could speak without admonition, slip away from her. “It’s my tree, too!”
“She makes a claim,” the blue jays said.
“Dangerous, dangerous,” the snakes said.
Hera stepped closer, narrowing her eyes at the mulberry tree. Already much of the fruit had fallen and lay on the ground, wasted, staining it purple.
Lightning arced above, and a figure followed it down in a blink, huge as the tree itself. It landed with an explosion of light and wind. The blue jays and the snakes all tucked their faces away or ducked into holes. The figure held the shape of a man and the eyes of a storm.
“Human!” Its voice echoed through the little glen. “You are trespassing.”
“Why have things changed?” Hera asked, voice trembling, but unwilling to back down now. “You’ve never shown up before.”
“You’re the one who has changed,” the figure said. “You have aged. You show your mortality in a place for immortals.”
Hera scoffed. “You’re saying 22 is old? That’s a load of baloney. I’ll have you know that humans live to be, like, 100 years old now.”
The giant man cocked his head, then spread his fingers over his mouth. “What?”
“I’m saying you’re being a dick,” Hera said. The words free flowed from her, the ones that had simmered inside that she had always swallowed back down before. She refused to keep silent here, in her most favorite place. “Also, I’ve cared for this tree most of my life and you haven’t done a darned thing. I think I’m owed some back payment.”
Laughter erupted. “Well, you’re a forward one and no mistake.” His lips curled up. “Are you sure you are not of the gods?”
“What, because I’m not afraid of you?”
“Because you lay claim to what is yours.” His eyes shadowed, and clouds—literal clouds—! appeared over his brow. “You are owed for this task; I cannot deny it. What would you wish?”
She lifted her chin, thoughts wheeling in her head. The glen had always held such magic for her; if she didn’t speak now, she’d lose it forever. She’d have to return to the single-wide trailer and watch her mother waste away, and society’s rules would pull at her till she did the same, till her mouth disappeared because she hadn’t used it.
“I want this tree in my backyard,” she said. “I want to take care of it, and for it to take care of us.”
The figure bent his head. “It is spoken.”
And Hera and her mother lived on for years and years, and tasted the sweetness of the mulberries, and the tree’s fruit bloomed gold through the magic of the developing goddess. After 22 years, Hera ascended into the heavens; for the tree bore the fruit of wild immortality, and she had laid claim to it.
Emmie Christie’s work includes practical subjects, like feminism and mental health, and speculative subjects, like unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in various short story markets including Daily Science Fiction, Infinite Worlds Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013.
You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com or on Twitter @EmmieChristie33.