If I could have swallowed the pomegranate whole, I would have. Don’t believe what the stories tell you. I, Persephone, was not sold to Hades by my father, Zeus. If it had not been for my father’s meddling and my mother’s crocodile tears, I would have happily stayed in the Underworld for eternity. But I only had time to slip a handful of rosy seeds into my mouth before my father’s dreadful servant Hermes arrived to snatch me by my collar and lift me forcibly from my new home. His greasy flapping winged feet drove us up through the barrier between the Underworld and the Earth. How he clutched me while I scratched at him, mocking me the entire way. Insolent girl, he said, you’re no Queen, barely a goddess. That was the true abduction.
On the day that I was swallowed by the Earth, my hollow heart was as desolate as the barren fields of winter. The season I inflicted on Earth. The one that drove my father, Zeus, to fetch me back. Every day I sowed grain and watched it spring to life under my fingertips, but every new seedling sapped something from me. I wondered if this was what it meant to be immortal. Every day I felt more and more drained. I couldn’t stand the idle gossip of Mt. Olympus, the shallow struggles for power over mortals too banal to warrant so much fuss. The mortals were fond of me; they filled their bellies with bread milled from my touch, and sometimes they even prayed to me. Yet as long as I was there, steady, reliable, unchanging, I was easily taken for granted, forgotten.
My mother, Demeter, would never allow me to slack, even for a day. Meanwhile she plotted against the poor women my father violated. While she meted her vengeance on those who were not to blame, she left me to do her work.
What if I dug my own trough in the ground and planted myself there in hibernation? What if I waited until the twinge of hunger touched the bellies of the mortals, and they clamored for me?
It was only supposed to be for a day. But when I excavated the dirt, I found the grave of a soldier. The mortals had buried him with his sword in his hand, his decaying remains feeding the life in the soil. I remembered that there was another kingdom that my father did not rule and where my mother could not watch me. I took the sword, and with a swift stroke, drove it into my side.
I must have fainted because when I came to, Hades was holding me in his arms, and we were on a ferry crossing a dark river.
“You know there are other ways you could have summoned me if you wanted to see me,” he said. He put his finger on my still open wound and tasted the blood that dripped there. His voice was cavernous, I could feel it vibrate my very being. “And you should know better than to try to kill yourself. You can’t die.”
“I must not be the first immortal to have a death wish,” I said, and I was surprised that my own voice sounded huskier in the golden darkness of this strange realm.
“You are the first immortal with the gift of life to try to take it from yourself,” he said. “I find that interesting. That’s why I went to find you myself. No one has ever received such treatment from the King of the Underworld.”
I begged him not to send me back to my father. He kissed my hand and told me that all I had to do was say the word, and half of his kingdom was mine. He gestured at the endless fields where the dead wandered, with wine-soaked rivers coursing through them. These mortals were now shadow creatures. No longer crying out for perpetual nourishment, they fed instead on the memories of the newly arrived, fueling themselves on the fumes of life. Here there were orchards filled with sour fruit, fruit that never ripened. It could be mine. Hades was willing to split it with me equally.
Not because of the dormant power in my fingertips, or even because of my beauty. What he loved about me, was the darkness that dwelled in my heart, the dusky chill that had been growing stronger in me every day. Here it was not an inconvenience, or a menace. Here, I could belong.
I said yes.
We had spoken our wedding vows, and he handed me the fruit as we had planned. I could not tie myself to hell until the ritual was complete. Then to prepare for our wedding feast, I plunged my fingers into the pomegranate, breathing just a hint of ripeness into it. It sweetened and puckered. I drew the seeds in my hand, dripping with the red juices of the fruit, juices that dripped like the blood from my wound that had now healed. The scar still twinged occasionally, a reminder of my journey to my destiny. I savored the taste of the seeds, which I had made heavenly with my powers, the perfect balance of sourness and sweetness.
When I unleashed the jolt of life in my fingers, even for a second, I gave myself away. That’s when Hermes located me. He grabbed me, delivering me back home to my mother like I was a sack of grain.
She wept when she saw me, out of delight she claimed, but I knew it was a show. Her grief, the devastation she swept across Earth, refusing to let a single field fertilize, had led the mortals to revolt. They tore each other to pieces as they fought over crumbs of bread left from the last harvest. She could have prevented all of it with a wave of her hand. But she wanted to teach me a lesson, to blame me for the famine because she thought I was selfish.
“And because you ate those seeds,” she said, even as she wiped her eyes, “you must go visit that horrid god once a year, just when the harvest ends, leaving the mortals to curse us again in your absence.”
“That horrid god is my husband,” I said. “And the mortals will muddle along just fine. You’ll see. They’ll save their grain for winter, and they will bundle themselves in furs and wool. It will be practice for them for when they come to my kingdom and live under my rule.”
Ever since I ate those seeds, I have not felt the same misery I did as a young goddess. Now, I have a change of scenery three months of the year. I often wish it were more.
When I am Queen, I rule with justice. Hades needs me by his side to keep the spirits in line and to sort them into their final destinations. Without me, he sometimes makes mistakes. He is, after all, a god and gods are careless with mortal lives. I am not. That is what makes me different, why mortals erect altars to me, who they call Kore, the Maiden, when they pray to me for a good harvest, and Despoina, the Mistress, when they pray for me to guide their loved ones in the afterlife. To them, I have two faces, but I am the only god who they can pray to in both life and death.
But I do not spend most of the year longing for the Underworld only for its throne. There are other, quieter moments in hell that I cannot have on Earth or in the heavens. I relish the solemn walks Hades and I take through the fields. Every moment in the Underworld feels like an age, yet somehow those winter months pass more quickly in the shadows. I want to linger there with my husband, to spread the glow of life into the realm of death. Every time I conceive, I fear that I lose something in the fruit that I bear, a bit of myself that I leave behind. The children stay with Hades, and I am the one who must say goodbye to them every spring. For the mortals, the spring brings the renewal of life. For me, the blossoming fruit carries the bitter taste of separation.
Hades is a good father, much more devoted than my own, and raises our children while I am gone. I am always torn between two worlds, bound by duty to wander between them. Yet I don’t think I could give up my summer months spent awakening the life in the earthly fields even if I could. I like to go where I am needed, even if it means I can never stay in one place for long. I am content to roam. Some years, Hades sends his servants to fetch me early, so I can take over his duties while he rests. Even gods need to rest sometimes. Goddesses, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury.