The Devil Wears Pinstripes
Echoes of a Love Song
The agony is exquisite, is it not?
A broken heart. You think you will die,
but you just keep living.
Day after day, after terrible day.
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
The pickaxe fell with a jarring crash, the collision causing the hard stone beneath to crack. Eurydice bent to pick up the exposed brick and throw it into the wheel burrow. The gesture was weak, however, missing by several feet. She sighed. Turning around, she drew the pickaxe again. Specks of dust and soot flew into Eurydice's eyes as she wiped the back of her hand on her forehead, a heavy layer of sweat dripped from the gesture. It was always so hot down in the mines – no matter if you were near the boilers or over the way at the factory plant, Hadestown was a scorching pit of never-ending flame.
She wasn't one for the heat either. The air was sticky and humid, and she could feel the sweat covering the entirety of her body. Even her short black hair – cropped as it was – found ways to stick to the back of her neck. It was horrible and to put it plainly, quite disgusting. Eurydice often swore that she could almost call the heat her most hated thing about Hadestown.
She knew long ago she had once yearned for nothing but warmth. She knew this as the most potent images in her mind were that of shivering in the wind…pulling her thin cloak as tight as she could around her frame…her stomach rumbling…the trees whistling.
Eurydice tried to search for more; a marker of her life up above. Oh, what she would do to see what colour the sky was on top (for no one knew, though guesses abound), a picture of a trinket, a piece of clothing, a person…
She let go of that thought before the yearning could overtake her. It was that question that always tried to etch its way in, but she never let it stay. To let such a dangerous thought fester and breed would only lead her into darker despair.
Did anybody miss her? Was there anybody up above who even knew her name?
Her hand slipped on the handle of the pickaxe; she was so tired, and it was so heavy. There was nothing to do but cringe as the tool landed on the floor, the sound reverberating like thunder throughout the small, dense tunnel.
Heads wearily spun towards Eurydice. They all had the same hopeless and vacant expression on their faces. Is that what she looked like? Yet there was a tiny sliver of excitement, perhaps at the prospect of something different; the routine breaking in some way – even if it was minute.
She felt the Warden behind her even before she saw them. They were all the same; large and tall – their backs straight and their eyes bright. Not in an optimistic sense of the word, but more in the sense that they were awake. They were eyes that remembered.
What she would do to have those eyes. To remember something. Anything.
But there were rumours of what it took to become a Warden. One of Hades watch-dogs. One of the guards of this god-forsaken place. Eurydice had once wondered what else could there be, other than selling your soul? What more could one possibly give?
Some of the rumours claim that the Wardens give their absolute unwavering loyalty to Hades. Proven in their choice, thousands of years ago, to follow Hades from Mount Olympus after his failed coup against Zeus. Their reward for doing so? Power - absolute dominion over others – and to never have to endure hard labour again.
Others claim that they are mortals, mortals who have been here longer than the years spent above on Earth. The pain amounted so great that they chose to drink from the Lethe, the river of oblivion – and have forgotten not just their life up above, but the very essence of their being. They have lost the ability to love. To feel sorrow. To choose.
And as desperate as Eurydice was to remember, to know who she was before, there was no question that that was not an option.
'Pick it up' a high pitched, snake like voice demanded. The Warden was a woman, with beautiful bronzed skin and pitch-black eyes. She smiled with her teeth, her lips popping on the end of the word. Whether a god-like being or old mortal, the Wardens were terrifying. The whip she held at arm's length in her hand, even more so.
It was automatic, the way Eurydice bent down, picked up her axe, and threw it behind her head. Weakling, Eurydice scoffed at herself. She was one, usually, to stand in defiance. To talk back. Scream and kick and throw up a fuss as thought it might change something. But today, it just didn't feel worth it. No matter how hard the work was, how heavy the axe became, or even how much her very bones ached – she just couldn't. Not today.
But then again, she didn't know what any of this was worth, not really. And she never knew if today would ever really end.
'The music is too loud'.
Orpheus smiled a ghost of a smile – he never thought those words would ever cross his lips.
But they did. The music was deep and full, bellowing throughout the bar with enough vigour to rock the ground beneath. He could feel the vibrations moving throughout his chest. But rather than energise him, - uplift his whole body into the rhythm and feel of the steady drums and the high stringed guitar - all it did was remind him how empty he felt. All it took was a single chord to almost knock the wind out of him.
'Nonsense' Hermes stated firmly, grabbing hold of Orpheus' arm before he could turn, as he always tried to, out the door.
It had become part of the routine, much to Orpheus' dislike, to come here every night after nightfall. Many years ago, Hermes had seen Orpheus – poor and skinny and orphaned – and taken him under his wing. He had always been there, looking out for him, inspiring Orpheus to truly pursue his music – but now Hermes seemed to have taken his self-appointed role a little too seriously. This was just end of a well-structured day that Hermes was forcing Orpheus to implement.
'Hermes, please –'
'Tonight, is the night, boy. The band has agreed to let you play. They don't have a lyre, but I think –'
'No'. Orpheus pulled his arm back, hard. He couldn't sing. Couldn't play. It was too much. The whole world might have finally been brought back into tune, but he was an untuned, broken string.
The God of messages pulled his silver suit back into position, a grim look across his face. 'My boy…eventually you will have to play again'.
All Orpheus could do was shake his head. His heart was still, not even pounding. All his eyes saw was grey and more grey. All the colour and movement in the world was gone. Completely gone without her.
A tear slipped down his cheek. It was torture, absolute torment, but the only time he ever felt a skerrick of anything was when he brought the image of her to his mind. Soft lips and hard eyes that brightened at the sight of him. Dark hair that caressed the sides of her face with a wisp and twirl.
'Hermes, I-I don't think music is for me anymore' Orpheus said quietly. He watched as Hermes face fell. It wasn't a look of pity, more of an understanding, but a sad one at that. Perhaps he had known all along.
Hermes grabbed Orpheus by the shoulders, 'it's okay, Orpheus. It's okay.' But it wasn't, and the embrace that followed only cemented that fact even more. 'When – or if you are ever ready, the music will be there to welcome you home'.
He gestured towards the bar, of course – they would go in anyway. Hermes pushed Orpheus, had been forcing him to wake up, eat, wash – every day. But there was a line. And Hermes was careful to never cross that line. Orpheus was grateful for that.
Orpheus nodded, 'I just need a minute', and Hermes entered the bar with a nod in return. He was alone.
The music will be there to welcome you home.
But music wasn't his home. Perhaps it had been, once. But how could home be such an intangible thing such as that, something that came from himself, when the very reflection of himself in the mirror brought him nothing but disgust? No – home was her. It had always been her, from the second he saw her. It was why he was willing to go to hell and back for her, to be with her – forever – wherever that may be.
It was why he looked back.
He almost wanted to punch himself for the thought. To scream and cry and scream again. It was all because of him. He hadn't trusted. Hadn't believed. Now he would never be home again.
He stepped onto the soft grass and sat. Every day now seemed like an endless cycle of self-pity. Hermes had tried to help him move on, but he didn't deserve to move on. Not when he had condemned her to a lifetime of misery.
He had taken everything away from her.
Orpheus felt a something soft underneath his hand. When he saw the flash of red, he felt his heart move for the first time in almost six months. Beat. Beat. Skip a beat.
It was a red carnation.
He looked around, but there was no one. No one who could share in his amazement. How? It hadn't been there when he sat down, he would've noticed that of all things.
He held the carnation close to his chest. Eurydice, I love you.
Orpheus knew if he stayed too long Hermes would come and find him. He didn't know why, but he wanted to keep the red carnation to himself. There was no use in sharing it – however it had gotten there, it didn't mean anything.
She was gone, forever. He was to blame. The only place where he could find home now was this bar – the place they had met and sung together. The place they had promised each other everything.
Orpheus didn't care that it hurt. He deserved that, of all things. The reminder of her was worth it, it was the only way. He stuffed the carnation in his pocket, his heart sinking further and further down. Soon, it would be still again, and he would be right back where he started.
Hermes waved him over instantly. They sat in the back corner, as always. Enough to hear everything and see what was going on, but just far enough to not be included in the main action.
'I ordered our usual' Hermes said as Orpheus pulled out a chair.
Orpheus blushed, 'You didn't have – you know I can't pay –'
Hermes waved him off in silence. They had the same conversation, every night. Either Hermes was paid handsomely for the messages he delivered, or when you were a God, mere things like money didn't bother you. It frustrated Orpheus all the same.
The hot chocolate was warm when it touched his slips, the marshmallows powdery and sweet. It was, perhaps, the only time in the entirety of the day when he allowed himself to enjoy something.
Hermes began to talk about plans for the next day; a road trip uptown to some local tournament, where a young woman named Nike was favourited to win the whole day undefeated. Orpheus nodded his head absentmindedly. He often felt like this, that even though his body was rooted to the spot, his mind wondered through the air, searching above for something. Anything.
'Orpheus' Hermes was tapping his hand. The man before him took a deep breath, 'Orpheus' he murmured, when he knew he had the boy's attention. Orpheus thought he would go on, but he remained quiet for a while.
'What is it?'
'Young boy – young man, I should say – I cannot' Hermes stopped, gathering his thoughts. 'I cannot even begin to imagine what you have endured these past months. But – ' He stopped again.
'But', Hermes looked Orpheus directly in the eye. There was a calm soul behind those dark eyes, perhaps one of the greatest comforts of Orpheus' life. 'I wonder if the time will come when you will be able to live again, or if you need to decide when that time will be'.
Orpheus felt a burning in his chest. It was subtle. Small. A dull flame of anger that had been ignited but did not have enough fuel to spread. 'You mean, when will I decide to wake up and move on?'
'She wouldn't want this life for you, Orpheus.'
'You don't know what she would have wanted. No one ever will. Because of me'.
'Listen to me. You can't blame –'
'Can't blame myself' Orpheus interjected. That small ember had lightened up his whole body, an inconsolable anger coursing through his veins now. 'You've said that. Almost every day since. But I should. And I do.'
'You suffer worse than her, I believe.'
The boy's heart plummeted. What fire the broken poet had possessed but for a moment went out. For his still and empty heart – he felt it fall right through the floor, and there was nothing pumping anything through him anymore. 'You've…you have seen her?'
The God shook his head. 'THere have been no trains, my boy. You know this.'
It was several moments before Hermes spoke again: 'You cannot help her, like this, Orpheus. You cannot save –'
'Don't do that' Orpheus' tone was ice.
'Give me hope. Give me any belief that anything can be done. When we both know there is not'. He thought of a still and silent train line – tracks that he had tried to follow but only directed him in a circle. A wall whose stones were now immune to his song, unmovable by a tune or a note or a chord.
He felt Hermes truly grab his hands this time. 'You forget what you have done. What you have achieved. You have walked to hell and back, relatively unscathed. You have brought the devil to tears. You have spoken to him…seen him. No one, no mortal but you, knows what he looks like.'
Orpheus smiled - well, a fraction of one. 'And he really does wear pinstripes.'
'You never believed me.' Hermes teased.
'No' Orpheus agreed. 'I didn't.'