Books·Borders

Perseus/Andromeda/Medusa by Sarah Henstra

Sarah Henstra won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for The Red Word.

A story by the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award winner for fiction

Perseus/Andromeda/Medusa is a story by Sarah Henstra. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

I came late to the hero's tale but then so did he. I was pinned three days in the surf before he came along, holidaying, glutted already on monsters. He trod the air dragging a bloodsodden bag. He hid behind his godmother's shield so that only his golden shoes peeped out. He did the chivalrous thing but first he bargained with my father: if she lives she is my bride, yes? Yes, well of course yes.

That third day began pearl then garnet then gold. What sort of sanctity is conferred upon a sacrifice? And if the sacrifice is snatched from the altar, does she become profane again or even more sacred? The hero danced above me in the air, poking the sea-serpent's hide with his sword. Its gore spattered his golden shoes. He stumbled and cursed, and in anger he drove the blade through the beast's eye.

Someone has to have the final say.

Afterward the palace was an openmouthed kiss. The hero invited all my former lovers to our wedding. He wanted to see their faces, he said. When they threw back their cloaks and drew their swords, the hero untied the cord on the bag of blood. May my enemy defend me! he said, and they became statues. They say that once a man bathes in blood he cannot be a husband. Yet he spirited me to his kingdom and I was his wife.

Those first months he wouldn't come to bed until the last of our guests had gone, until the last of the slaves was sleeping, until even the dogs had left the boneyard and curled themselves by the dying fire. Why not, I wondered. Because I am the firstborn son of my parents, he said. Someone has to have the final say. It was my father but now it is I.

I knew better than to expect a quiet life with the hero for a husband. He was a quester, leading every charge, while I was left behind to listen to the spies' reports and be pitied. So, while he was away, I took a lover. Two weeks of careful surveillance to choose him. A coltbreaker. Lowborn. Brown skin, corded arms and lithe calves. Eyes that didn't meet mine when I approached, and then did, fleetingly, curious. Brave but not brash.

When the hero returned I was ready for him. I took him at daybreak, rising over his body golden and serpentine, pouring honey from my mouths. I can't breathe, he said. He gasped and bucked and gaped at me. His lids fluttered, incredulous. He spread his palms flat and pressed, seeking ballast, seeking earth, but I took him airborne, glimmering, gasping. Gorgon! he hollered, panicked.

Nothing lasts forever, except the myth.

I had learned to use my teeth, you see, how to grip him with my thighs. How to curl my fingers into claws. How to immobilize both his arms with the fingers of one hand. How to draw his tears and then lap them away.

There is nothing about the Gorgon that is not about bedplay, I assured him. But it isn't stone it's sand, he said. I am turned to sand. Yes, I said, and sand in the flames becomes glass. He melted and pooled and shone and mirrored, and I, I saw my face in him and was also transformed. We slept. We woke. We rose. Back and forth, tidal wave on sand, sea on shore. Astonished by ourselves. Nothing lasts forever except the myth. But we lasted long enough, we three, for our lives.


Sarah Henstra accepts the Governor General's Literary Award from Governor General Julie Payette on Nov. 28, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

About Sarah Henstra

Sarah Henstra is the author of The Red Wordthe 2018 Governor General's Literary Award-winning novel about sexual assault and feminist politics on a mid-1990s college campus.​

About the series Borders

CBC Books asked each of the Governor General's Literary Award winners to contribute an original piece on the theme Borders: lines that, when crossed, mark a change. Perseus/Andromeda/Medusa is Henstra's contribution to the series.

Read the rest of the series:

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