It’s spy vs. spy. Or a cautionary tale of “workplace” romance.
Berlin, May 2005
I knew he stood behind me before I caught his reflection in the window of a passing Mercedes. That sensation started at the base of my skull. The skin of my throat tightened. My heart thrummed—like it hadn’t in years.
I’d come back to Berlin to stare at the spot where Checkpoint Charlie once divided a city, a country, a world. Just me and all the other tourists, many of them so young they confused Berlin’s wall with Pink Floyd’s.
You are now leaving the American sector.
“So,” he said, at last. “Do you miss it?”
“The cold war.”
Of course. Why not ask Persephone if, during spring, she missed Hades?
“Do you?” I asked.
“It was easier to tell who the good guys were.”
Peace through superior firepower.
Only then did I turn to look at him. “Do you think so?”
I didn’t know what to think. What did you say to a man who looked like Cary Grant and spoke Russian with all the poetry of Pushkin?
“I knew the world was changing,” he said, “when I woke on January first, 1990 with the most amazing hangover.”
I knew months before The Wall crumbled that my world had shot off-kilter. A missed phone call. A missed meeting. A missed drop. Patterns. We were taught to look for them, piece them together, create a whole from a few lone indicators.
In those days, it was never a matter of who would betray whom, but when you played that card. I’d always wondered if I played mine too soon. Seeing as I wasn’t part of that amazing hangover, I knew. I’d been too late—a spy who didn’t know to come in from the cold.
Welcome to the new world order.
I found, after years, a cold sort of comfort in the old myths, about Persephone, about Orpheus and Eurydice. Clearly, there were rules for visiting Hades:
- If you find yourself caught there, don’t eat the food.
- If you’re leading someone out, don’t look back.
I did both.
On any given day, Vienna, or Prague, or Berlin could look a lot like Hades. And Persephone’s pomegranates were always in season.
“So,” he said. “Do you miss it?”
“Then will you have a drink, for old time’s sake?”
“You drink?” I asked. Amazing hangovers notwithstanding, he’d long ago lost his taste for alcohol. I still had my sources. And that much I knew.
“Occasionally,” he said. “I’ve always had a fondness for White Russians.”
A blush curdled beneath my jaw and spread across my cheeks. It’d been a long time since I’d seen twenty-five, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he looked at me—a look that worked on a thousand women, myself included.
“And do you still drink?” he asked.
“Occasionally,” I echoed. “Cosmopolitans, mostly.”
“All things American.” He laughed. “I’m not even sure what’s in one of those.”
“Oh, of course,” he said. “American with a twist.”
“And cranberry or pomegranate juice,” I added, just to be perverse.
“Which do you prefer?”
I thought for a moment. “Pomegranate.”
He offered his arm, a gesture reminiscent of Vienna, Prague, and even Berlin.
Gentlemen, we have détente.
I’d always believed that Persephone, like Eve, chose to taste the fruit. Now I wondered. Perhaps the fruit chose her.
I took his arm. We turned from Checkpoint Charlie, left it behind us.
This time, I didn’t look back.
Rules for Visiting Hades first appeared in the Flash for Big Cash Contest Anthology, March 2007. Hades placed third, and I won $50. So I guess you could say I flashed for moderate cash.
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