‘You’d be much more attractive if you didn’t have that cloud of midges buzzing around your head,’ I grumbled, waving away the pesky insects. I smoothed out the frown lines that weren’t doing a lot for my wonderful Grecian brow, or high perfect forehead. I leant closer to the still pool, awed and lovestruck-
A fish jumped, disturbing the wonderful reflection in the limpid water. I wriggled, suddenly aware that the river bank was uncomfortably damp and I was rather stiff. I stretched and looked back down into the pond. Ah… That straight nose… those fine, flashing eyes… the strong jawline….
‘You’re so beautiful,’ I whispered, my heart thudding with desire as I stared into those mesmerising eyes. ‘I’ll stay here. Always. Just for you.’
The reflection rippled as my golden curls were ruffled by the wind. Which – come to think of it – was getting decidedly chilly. Blinking, I sat up and looked around. It was a shock to see that Apollo’s chariot was heading westwards, towards the horizon. Where had the day gone? Surely, it was only a couple of hours ago just after daybreak that I’d rushed to this spot on the bank and once more lost myself in the beauty of the face that stared back at me? No wonder my beautifully toned belly was growling.
I settled back on the bank and smiled down at the smooth surface of the water, realising that all too soon, I’d have to tear myself away from this vision of beauty as the light faded. Those finely moulded lips parted, showing perfect teeth as I wondered if Mother had started cooking supper. What was that drool doing dribbling down my chiselled chin? I sucked it up fast, hoping that the water nymphs hadn’t noticed such an unfortunate blot on my perfection. They often gathered to admire my heart-stopping good looks, sighing soft wordless sounds of love, while I gazed and gazed at the most beautiful sight in all the world-
“Nar-CIS-sus.” Mother’s warbling three-note cry split the air.
A rustling shiver from the nearby reedbed, followed by discreet splashes told me that I had, indeed, had an audience of admirers. Which Mother had now driven away. I sat up again, feeling thoroughly peeved. And wishing – not for the first time – that I had the sort of mother someone with my shining looks deserved. A woman full of grace. Slim, with moonlight-silver hair, who wore her matron’s robes with decorum and dignity-
“Oh, there you are!” Mother crashed through the vegetation with all the finesse of a water buffalo. “This nonsense really has to stop, son. You keep staring at yourself in the river all day, you’ll fade away to nothing.”
Gazing at her red, perspiring face, stout figure and frizzed hair was a horrible contrast after having spent so long engrossed with my own sublime looks. I shivered with disgust. Until, catching sight of my reflection, I realised my brow was wrinkled in an unbecoming frown.
“…cooked your very favourite meal, tonight.”
“Stuffed vine leaves?” I was a bit shocked at how croaky and unattractive my voice sounded. But then, I hadn’t spoken today. Other than whisper words of love to my own reflection.
Mother’s face split into a greasy grin. “And though I do say so myself, they are fit for Zeus Almighty. Ambrosia wouldn’t taste better. But don’t take my word for it…” She held out a small wrapped packet.
Saliva flooded my mouth. She mightn’t look all that special, but one thing Mother did better than anyone, was cook – especially stuffed vine leaves. The smell wafted towards me in the late evening breeze.
The reeds in the river rattled gently as, kneeling up, I took another long look at my reflection. For the first time, I noticed that those flawlessly smooth cheeks were looking a tad sunken. And – Zeus Almighty! I looked down at the muddy mess plastering the front of my tunic. How had that happened?
Mother tutted. ‘You go on staining all your clothes with river mud, Narcissus, you’ll have nothing decent to wear when you take Echo to the Festival next week. Do you want these stuffed vines leaves? Because if not…’ She started unwrapping them.
I glanced once more at the reflection gazing up at me… pleading… dribbling… The ache in my guts twisted sharply and I snatched the vines leaves out of Mother’s hand.
Of course, it was very gratifying to be so handsome. I knew that there would never be anyone else I’d love as much as my own perfect face. But the truth was, it was beginning to get just a little bit boring staring at it all day. And damp. And very muddy. As for those insects – flying up my nostrils and crawling into my ears.
The taste of the meat and rich sauce exploded in my mouth and I sighed with pleasure. This was beauty… perfection… heart-stopping wonder…
Mother gazed at me and for the first time, I could see the family resemblance. Her expression was soft and loving. ‘Come home, son. There’s plenty more vines leaves waiting for you to tuck into. You’ve been wasting away. Stuck here on this old river bank.’
She’s right…. I licked my fingers and followed her back home, resolving to stay away from pools of still water. Maybe,I’d get Mother to teach me how to make stuffed vine leaves, after I’d had some seconds. And thirds.
High on Olympus, Nemesis, shrew-faced goddess, kicked one of Zeus’s thunderbolts and swore. It was so unfair. She’d planned to gift the world with a small nodding flower, blooming by streams and rivers. Along with its showier golden cousin heralding Spring. And now an interfering mother had messed up her whole scheme and she’d have to think of another way of gaining everlasting fame. Honestly, this goddess business was a lot harder than these mortals thought.
While in another Time and Place, the struggling poet, William Wordsworth moodily trudged along a lakeside path, wondering why his poem Bluebells hadn’t sold….