By Lorraine J. Anderson
I was always told to stay away from the house at the end of the street. I was never sure why; the house was perfectly lovely, especially to my eleven-year-old brain. The house was sky-blue, colorful flowers skirted the exterior — dianthus, crocus, larkspur, and hyacinths each grew in their season. The grass was always impeccably mowed, even though none of us ever saw a mower on their grounds.
Three elderly ladies — the Chance sisters — lived in the house. They stayed to themselves, mostly, but they had the best treats on Halloween. I’ve been told that the afghans they knitted for the homeless shelter were of the finest quality. I still have one of their afghans, second hand, and it’s one of the best blankets to curl up under in a long Michigan winter.
I didn’t pay much attention to the old ladies back then — after all, I was only eleven — until one evening in November. It was a mild evening, and my friend Ellen and I were riding our bikes up and down the street. Snow was predicted later that week, so we were taking advantage of the seventy degree temperatures. I was a bit of a tomboy, so I was trying various things to do with my bike — wheelies, biking without hands, stuff like that. Ellen was more girlish, she enjoyed Barbie dolls and dress up, stuff I could take or leave. Left to my own devices, I would rather read a book or ride my bike.
We were just taking a turn at the cul-de-sac, when we saw him. Ellen saw him first. He stood at the edge of the old ladies’ driveway, just staring at the house. We looked at each other. Neither one of us had seen him walk up. There was no car for a block around. It was just as if he had appeared out of thin air. Which was, of course, impossible, at least to my eleven year old mind.
He didn’t seem to notice us, so we stared at him. He seemed incredibly sad. His hair was a strange combination of red and yellow and white, as if it were dyed badly. I knew about dyeing hair, my Mom did hers once every couple of months and I watched. He pursed his lips, as if trying to decide what to do, then strode up to the house.
“I want to get closer,” I said.
“I don’t know, Di,” Ellen said doubtfully. “Your mom said that we weren’t supposed to disturb those old ladies.”
“Yeah, I know. But I want to see what he’s doing there.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You can go home.”
“No, I can’t,” Ellen said. “Mom said I was supposed to stay over here until she came for me. She’s visiting my Great-grandma. I never see my great-grandma,” she said wistfully.
I had heard my Mom say something about a stroke and Ellen’s Great-Grandma, so I didn’t say anything.
The man knocked on the door. After a second, one of the old ladies came to the door. She smiled as she answered, and even from this distance I could see her smile turn into a frown. Her friendly wrinkles formed something more — I almost thought it looked hideous. “What are you doing here?” I heard her say.
“I need something from you. You and your sisters.” The man said in a low bass.
She looked around the neighborhood, saw us, and motioned us away. We moved away reluctantly, but not before she said, “Come into the house. This is too public.”
“One would think,” he said, “that you were afraid to be seen in public with me.”
“You don’t belong here.”
“Neither do you,” he said, “None of belong here. The others have joined me. Why haven’t you?”
“I must insist,” she said sternly, “that you come inside.”
He finally looked around and saw us. He smiled. It was not a kind smile.
“You three know better than everyone,” he said, “that if those girls were not meant to be here, they would not be here.”
Miss Chance dropped her chin. “You are right, of course, Mr. H. Come into the foyer and we will talk. Girls, you can sit on the steps.”
Ellen started to object. I grabbed her arm and walked her to the step. “We’re just sitting here,” I hissed. “If they didn’t want us to be here, they would call my Mom.”
“I don’t want to sit here,” Ellen whined. “I want to go to your house.”
“We’ll be all right.”
“What is he doing here?” said another of the sisters.
“It’s never a good sign when he shows up.”
“Why ladies,” said the man. “I haven’t visited you in centuries.”
“Yes,” said Miss Chance number one, “and the last time you visited us, Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash.”
“You do realize that wasn’t my fault. I don’t cause volcanic eruptions.”
“What about the Black Plague?”
He was silent. “Well, okay, that was my fault. Not a deliberate fault, but my fault.”
I looked puzzled at Ellen.
“What do you need from us?” said Miss Chance number three.
“My wife keeps leaving me.”
There was silence, then a couple of snickers. “That’s the arrangement, dear, which you agreed to. Peri goes down below for three months, then comes up above for nine months.”
“But each time she goes, she brings back something else. The last time, she brought back what she calls a transistor radio. I thought indoor plumbing was bad, but she listens to music all day long now.”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t brought a television down there.”
“She did that a decade ago.”
“Once again,” said Miss Chance number one, “what do expect us to do about it?”
And this was where the conversation turned weird. Weirder. I turned around, and the man was looking at us. “You are the Fates. I need… I need…”
He seemed indecisive.
“Spit it out, H.”
“I need a divorce!”
“Ha!” said Miss Chance number one. “You were the one who wanted to be married to her in the first place! It’s your fate to be married to Peri.”
“But I don’t want her anymore!” Now he sounded like Ellen’s little brother.
Ellen leaned over to me. “I’m going to your house,” she whispered. “He scares me.”
I just looked at her, and she sat back down.
“Too bad. When we say that this is your fate, this is your fate.”
He whirled one of the old ladies around, and I gasped. It almost looked as if he were smoking hot, and I don’t mean handsome. My crushes at that point were tall and dark — like David Cassidy. This man had extremely blond hair with icy blue eyes, but as I watched, his hair turned a bright red and his face darkened almost bluish.
“Hades! Control yourself!” said Miss Chance number one. She pulled out a pair of shiny gold scissors. “Do I have to use these?”
This was too freaky, even for me. I ran home and was there before Ellen had gotten a quarter of the way. I burst into the kitchen. “Mom! Mom! Miss Chance is going to murder a man!”
“Calm down, Diana. I doubt that Miss Chance would…”
“She’s going to kill Hades!”
Mom stood completely still. As I watched, her brown eyes widened, and she reached for something in the closet. I swear that those were never there before, but she pulled out a sword and a bow and arrow.
“Stay here,” she said, and was out the door faster than I had seen anyone run. She passed Ellen as she was three quarters of the way here.
I followed her out the door and yelled to Ellen. “Go into my kitchen. I gotta follow my Mom.” I ran down the street almost as fast as Mom ran, reaching the door a moment after Mom burst in. I crouched down on the porch, peering into the door.
She had her sword out. “Hades. What are you doing here?”
Hades bluish red hair lightened back to blonde as I watched, and his mouth dropped. “Artemis,” he gulped.
That wasn’t right, I thought, I thought my Mom’s name was Martha. Everybody calls her Marty. Marty Thea.
“That’s right,” she said, pointing her sword at him. “What are you doing threatening my neighbors?”
He glanced at the three Miss Chances. “You do, of course, realize who your neighbors are, right?”
“Of course I do,” Mom said. “As I said, what are you doing here?”
“Honey lamb,” he said. “I’m just asking the ladies for a favor.”
“I doubt that.”
“Actually,” Miss Chance number two said, “he was. He wanted a divorce.”
“You don’t know how it is,” he said, “married to Peri.”
“Not falling for that line. You tried it on me a hundred years ago.” Her voice turned bitter. “And I fell for it then because you reminded me so much of my Orion. Never again.”
“But…” He blinked, and looked out of the door. I ducked back. “Was that your child? I thought she looked like you.”
I squeaked and fell back on the porch. This man was my father? I thought she said my father’s name was Peter. Mom lied to me?
What was Hades? What was Mom? Suddenly, the mythology we had last semester in reading class came to my mind. Hades, Greek God of the Underworld. Married to Persephone, who lived in the Underworld only six months of the year. Artemis, Goddess of the hunt. The Virgin Goddess.
And my name is Diana, the Roman equivalent of Artemis.
What was I?
Chance. Another word for fate.
These were the Fates?
“We knew that,” said Miss Chance number three. “Just when were you going to tell her?” She glanced my way.
“Nice try,” Hades said. “But I still think…”
“Look again,” Mom said. “Do you really think you can force the Fates to do what you want?”
I peered around the corner again. One Miss Chance had a spindle in her hand, pointed at Hades. Another had a tape measure drawn out in both hands, looking as if she needed one good excuse to loop it around Hades’ neck. And then there was the one with the golden scissors.
And Mom. I wouldn’t want any of them facing me.
“All right,” he whined. “Can I at least see…”
“… your child. No. She is my child. You may have been the catalyst, but in the end, she is my child only.”
“All right. All right,” he said. “But this isn’t over.”
He turned to go, and I dove off the end of the porch, somersaulting and landing on my feet.
I didn’t know I could do that.
I crouched around the corner of the house and watched him walk down the sidewalk. When he hit the street, he disappeared.
This was my father? My father and mother were Greek Gods?
That would make me…
My mind wouldn’t let me finish that thought. I crept back on the porch and listened.
“Do you think he’ll be back, m’ladies?” Mom said.
I peeked in. Miss Chance number two looked contemplative. She looked as if she were in a trance. “He will, very shortly. But then not for another twelve years.” She shook her head as if she were shaking herself fully awake.
“But, my dear,” Miss Chance Number three said. “You have quite a different problem.” She pointed toward me on the porch.
There was no point in hiding. I stood up. My lip was trembling.
She turned to me. She was frowning, but when she saw me, she held out her arms. “Oh, my darling, I never meant you to find out like that. I had hoped to wait until you were sixteen.”
“Am I — a God?”
“The ancient Greeks called us gods, yes.” She sighed. “Over the centuries, we decided we didn’t need worshiping. Many of us are just living normal lives now.”
“Do I have powers?”
“I don’t know. We’re all different.”
I was starting to get excited. Questions tumbled out, one after another. The Chances — the Fates — smiled at me. “I think you have a daughter who has a lot of questions.”
“Where’s Ellen?” Mom said.
My face fell. “At our house. I think.”
“I’ll answer your questions when…” Her face changed and grew angry. I looked behind me. It was Hades, and he looked angry.
“Artemis, I think…”
I pointed at him. “Go away and stay away, Father!”
He had barely enough time to look surprised when he disappeared again.
“Diana!” Mom said. She looked astonished at me.
Miss Chance number one suddenly chortled. “Oh, my dear, and now we know why he won’t bother you.”
“I did that?”
“You did.” Mom still looked stunned. “I think… I had better call your uncle Sonny.”
“We’ll help, too,” said Miss Chance number three. “It’s been a long time since there’s been a godling around, so…”. She glanced at her sisters. I wasn’t sure what they meant. They nodded. “I think you would benefit with some after school instruction.”
The more I knew the Chances, the more I liked them. “Can I, Mom?”
“Thank you.” Mom sounded a little relieved. She sighed. “At least I won’t have to move this time.”
“I think we had better join your friend, Ellen.”
“Just a second,” said Miss Chance number two. She went to the kitchen and came out with a plastic cup. “I think you’ll need this.”
“Water from the river Lethe?”
“It will make her forget the last hour.”
“It won’t hurt her?” I said, suddenly afraid.
“No, of course not,” Mom said. “We’ll talk after she leaves.”
We walked back to our house. Ellen was hiding in the kitchen. After Mom talked to her, she took the cup, calmed down, then asked. “Can we go up to Di’s bedroom?”
“Of course, dear,” Mom said. She smiled.
I never heard her talk of that evening, so I guess it worked.
Mom explained a lot of things that night, which gave me a lot to think about as I grew up. Ultimately, I decided my special talents, I liked to call them, were useful in the police force. I took that up as my first career and moved to lower Michigan, where I kept under the radar.
Until Father showed up again and caused a pandemic before I stopped him. But that’s another story.