Mystery Schools by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
When gods didn’t have bodies, humans gave human emotions and human desires to the rain, and the dark, and the way that dust particles looked in the light that streamed in through open windows. First, there was anarchy. Then out of the emptiness of the universe, Erebus appeared followed by Night. And from the void, Love emerged from one of the dints in the great Nothing.
Cronus had womb-envy and swallowed his children. Kumarbi bit off dad’s genitals to become king in the heavens. Isis had to reconstruct Osiris’s penis with magic. Clusters of deities grappled with their role as exalted non-persons: a thunderbolt donning autocrat, a dick-consuming son, and a goddess that tends to her husband’s detachable penis. A given culture’s gods and goddesses that reflected their society’s neuroses.
Much later a new pantheon of gods appeared. They were born from the drops of salt that fell like rain coming off of the first burrito a girl ate from Taco Bell the day she stopped being a vegetarian. They were gods of calm, and colors manufactured in crayon factories, and of scent memories from those markers found in middle schools.
Apartment C104 in Wyncote, PA, was born out of the blackness of chaos. An unknowable place with a flat roof and red bricks that shared a parking lot with Michael’s Diner. The apartment was created in the absence of light in the under-dark of Tartarus, the darkness from the bottom of the underworld’s world. Rainwater leaked into the complex during storms. The kitchen sink never drained. When the sink was full of fetid water, the apartment cat, George, would drink from it to gain his powers of disapproval.
Russell is a baby-goat-god that lives in the apartment’s master bedroom, which is filled with novelty posters of 80s movies taped up 15 years after they were released. He sleeps on a chair stolen from Arcadia University’s campus lounge, a relic from Heinz hall that everyone on the floor would fight to sit on. Russet colored beard with a wobbly body like an exhausted puppy, the velvet of his horns are worn smooth and bare in certain spots like the over-loved fuzzy bodies of woodland creature toys you loved in your childhood. His kind of magic means that he is every one of the Sylvan family collection of forest friends™, even the ones that your parents couldn’t afford to buy.
In the silence of the apartment, Russell plays hide and seek in the piles of dirty laundry that dot the corners of the master bedroom with dust that takes the form of Tu’er Shen, the rabbit god. From the heaps of clothing that everyone affectionately calls, “clothes mountains,” Russell takes form and scuttles out from the lip of the mound kicking out his back legs with the joy that comes from being an eternal baby animal.
When no one is home, Russell opens the fridge with his prehensile lip and eats all of the sweets. After playing and eating, he returns to his chair and slips into dreams---the sleepy snores are the manifested god-magic of how it felt when you filled up a page in your sticker book during 5th grade. By the time a roommate comes home, they find the honey jar on the ground, and Hershey syrup on the wall, and say ughhhh Russell.
Because goats are fearless, Russell doesn’t shy from the thunderstorms of melancholy that regularly occur in apartment C104. He counts out Tylenol PMs in little blue china bowls and leaves them outside of every bedroom. He knits handkerchiefs from his wool that the roommates press to their faces, absorbing salt water sadness resulting from yet another human misery. Soft god breath cushions the bang! of a would-be slammed door.
Even generations after Tefnut was the result of Atum’s proclivity toward chronic masturbation, sex proves a problem---especially for mortals. No pantheon has been successful in providing a strong enough warning against the stickiness of sex with feelings. The mortals of C104 suffer in the proto-darkness, curled up in covers that won’t warm hollow limbs after Fleetwood Mac mistakes. Sniffling drunken mistakes, hands hovering over hickeys that you can’t hide from your partner. Heart palpitations from confessional, then romantic, then enraged whiskey-fueled texts to your ex two doors away that you only remember in the middle of the night---jumping out of the black of dreamlessness shouting the words oh fuck!
Russell finds you wet-faced, and butts his head against yours. He shakes out the sadness, the perfect god pet for the modern neurotic. The baby-goat-god slips his head under the crook of your arm, and the two of you sit in the warmth of the world of the apartment. With Russell’s breath synchronized with yours, you raise your finger to your mouth---mimicking the Egyptian hieroglyph in a gesture that settles you like a child.
Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is the editor of HOOT Review, a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, a cat fanatic, a contributing writer at SSG music, and a candy enthusiast. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it, and she's not wonderful at writing in the third person.