Heroes of the First CitiesWhen I met the Nude Bearded Hero, he had two human-headed bulls on a leash. It was Gina’s birthday and the dress code was come as you are, though my opinion is that any party with a dress code, even a lenient one, is suspicious, and especially Gina’s parties since they always seem to end with a deity spewing rice wine all over an ottoman.

Gina had put a spaghetti spoon in the sangria, so I was holding a cup of soggy fruit when the Nude Bearded Hero came to the snack table and grabbed a handful of cornichons.

“They like bitter things,” he said. I watched as the bulls ate from his briny hands.

“Because it is bitter, and because it is my heart,” I said, because I’d read that poem somewhere and what I’ve learned about heroes is they love poems, can’t get enough of the epics. The other thing about heroes is they like to seduce artists—mainly to assure their legacy, a trail of wounded artsy hearts bleeding out battle songs and paintings and terra cotta pots crafted in mourning or lust or jealousy. I’m just a waitress but sometimes I moonlight as a model for art students, so maybe I wanted to be seduced.

“Do you think Gina will like them?” the Nude Bearded Hero said, and we both looked at the bulls’ oafish, slobbering faces.

“That one on the right looks a little like Bruce,” I said.

Bruce was known as the Kilted Hero and was currently standing by the stereo, presenting Gina with two feline trophies he had stuffed after vanquishing. The Nude Bearded Hero shrugged but I saw the little quiver of testosterone, a slight tightening in his shoulders.

“The loser with the skirt?” he said, and I could tell he had come here looking for a brawl. But then again, heroes are always looking for a fight, some excuse to prove themselves. 

“She’ll love them,” I said, and the bulls drooled proudly.

“It’s an appeasement,” the Nude Bearded Hero said. “Gina’s still pissed I vanquished that menacing vulture she was keeping around.”

“I know Gina,” I said. “She keeps animals around just for that reason. I bet she loved watching you.”

I was feeling quickly drunk off the brandy-soaked fruit, and I knew there was probably a slab of blueberry flesh across one of my teeth but I didn’t care.

“Want to go outside?” I asked the Nude Bearded Hero, but he gestured to the bulls and just then, Gina noticed him and shrieked, flung out her arms and swayed across the room, rearranging her veils as she walked.

I don’t know how she does it, Gina’s always simultaneously naked and swathed in layers of gauzy scarves. Always preoccupied with where the veils are falling, always an artful slip of inner thigh, half a breast. Gina’s just a minor deity but she’s good at knowing what flatters her: veils, heavy eyeliner, heroes. And there I was standing in a stupid discount dress that I’d hoped would make me look interesting. I’d even bragged to a coworker about the discount, as if the money I’d saved on the dress would somehow be transferred to a different kind of currency, one that could make me beautiful.

The Nude Bearded Hero presented Gina with the bulls, and she hugged him long enough that I began to understand how quicksand must feel. When they were finally finished, Gina looked at me and scratched her eyebrow.

“Huh, I didn’t think you’d make it,” Gina said, then gave me a peck on each cheek. Soon Gina was bringing the Nude Bearded Hero into the center of the room to dance. Soon, the reins to the human-headed bulls were in my hands.

“Just make sure they don’t wet on the floor,” Gina said over her shoulder. The Nude Bearded Hero didn’t even look at me, didn’t even tell me to feed the bulls a few more cornichons.

When I model for art students, the professor tells me to make my body ugly: to twist at odd angles, to show my folds of skin. The students need a good challenge, so it doesn’t matter that I’m a little fat, that my stomach bulges even when I arch my back. But what good is a model to a hero, when models can’t make anything at all—I will never write him a song, I won’t read a weepy poem in his honor.

It was then, when Gina and the Nude Bearded Hero were dancing, that I decided to leave. I had the bulls’ reins in my hands but the room was crowded enough that no one would notice.

Eventually Gina would set up a makeshift stage in her bedroom, have the female deities perform dances with veils, and the whole thing would turn into some funky ego-orgy, the female deities trying to out-veil each other, the heroes out-heroing. And in one ending, I’m walking home alone, the sky dripping water, and I’m wondering if it came to it, some kind of competition or performance, what I could possibly offer. But in another ending, I’m leading the bulls out of the party. I’m riding on a bull’s back over the Brooklyn Bridge. My hair is this glimmering river behind me and the city’s lights are blooming out over the water. My mouth is wide open, my arms are spread out. And the other bull is trailing behind us, the fierce musculature of its shoulders heaving. And it’s running, straining, trying to keep up.

Photo used under CC.