From Hand To Hand
by Miriam E. Neiberg
There are living goddesses among us. Oh, not the beauties that stare at us from magazine covers or those gracefully-armed, ubiquitous Greek and Roman statues found in museums, forever stuck in random poses. No, I mean, goddesses: the real deal, who make it snow at the wrong time of year or change regular folks into animals at the slightest provocation. I mean, those ladies!
A legend on my island says that such a one walks among us searching for her heiress to take her place. It’s a secret that my village has kept for centuries. Although we are now modern, and our lives have changed since those days centuries ago, many of us still secretly hope for the goddess to cross our paths.
We believe that she is out there looking for her chosen one. Any of us could be her heiress, but no one is expecting to find her or be found by her. She is, after all, a mortal; even if we did meet her, we wouldn’t know it. Legend has it that she lives a modest life and that no one suspects her of being a goddess.
But sometimes we wonder...
One day, when I was going to throw out the garbage, my next-door neighbor opened her apartment door as I passed. I turned to say hello and saw the living room behind her. The expensive-looking art and heavy-set furniture in various hues of white and champagne attracted my attention. I stopped with my garbage bag in hand and announced, “Someone call the police. I think I’ve found the room that went missing in Buckingham Palace.”
Soft light from delicate gold sconces illuminated the apartment. They reflected off the sparkling brass cabinet handles. The apartment held an air of old-world luxury while still emanating warmth and love. But it was the magnificent paintings hanging on her walls that caught my eyes. My neighbor was an art lover with enough money to indulge in her taste.
Her wide smile was proof that she was giving me a chance to be her friend. I was instantaneously caught in her net. I wanted to get to know this enchanting woman with the snow-white, perfect teeth, a petite, slim woman in her early sixties with highlighted blonde hair and ebullient blue eyes who, without a doubt, was the keeper of a very active age-preserver. “You’re the new neighbor Apartment 2G was talking about. Come in after you’re through with your errand. Let’s talk.” Even her soft, moderately paced voice delivered soothing musical notes to my welcoming ears.
We sat, introduced ourselves and got acquainted. Amelia Rose was a retired nurse who spent her days doing the charity work she had always dreamed of. “The saddest day of my life was when I was forced to retire from my job and found myself alone. After so many years caring for people, I knew that I had to find a new life, a new purpose and a new ‘me’. Off I went and created new goals and new interests. Along the way, I met new people.”
After I had paid a couple of visits to Amelia Rose, she decided that my life, my clothes, and my world were too drab. She was going to fix things! Sundays were our days for shopping. “One should do everything in their mere mortal powers to stay cultured and beautiful,” Amelia Rose would constantly chirp.
Soon after, Amelia Rose decided I needed a different hair style and another diet overhaul. “From tomorrow, we’ll start you on a vegan lifestyle. I sincerely hope it will work out better than the last fiasco we tried.”
She wasn’t kidding; I had ended up gaining five pounds after following her last diet suggestion. Even so, I trusted her completely. It never occurred to me to disagree or resist any of her advice. I was so enamored with her confidence, manner and lifestyle that I willingly went along with her myriad suggestions. After all, I’m a Gemini with a Libra horizon, two air-signs that demand constant change.
Amelia Rose frequently said that changes were things I would learn to thrive on. “One should never remain stagnant. No one likes talking to boring people.”
And so the life-changing lessons began. If it existed and was beautiful, we discussed it. “What do you see? How do you feel? Don’t just use your eyes; there are other senses that you don’t use. Why not?” Amelia Rose’s long, disappointed sigh would say it all.
But it was the opera and classical concerts we went to that tore me apart and rebuilt me. “Close your eyes,” she whispered during one emotional performance. “Listen. What is the music saying to you?” I closed my eyes and heard the passionate tones of the violins surge into my ears in fierce, explosive waves.
Although my eyes remained the same, I began to view the world differently. My food choices consisted of new, bold flavors and vivid textures as I experimented with audacious herbs and colorful spices whose names I could barely pronounce. The shopkeepers in the specialty shops looked forward to my visits because of the laughter my mispronunciation of these new words would cause.
My ears also began to discern the hurt and joy in music. Soon I could detect the underlying tones in people’s voices as they spoke to me. How can one not be reborn after living through such overwhelming experiences?
I became aware of things around me. My world began to function differently. Daily mundane errands became adventurous expeditions with new purpose. Going to work meant choosing the new outfits I had bought with Amelia Rose. The unexpected attention and friendly smiles I began receiving from co-workers and strangers both energized and unnerved me at the same time. I was not equipped to handle all this newness. But Amelia Rose calmed me and gently navigated me through all these new situations that I was experiencing.
I inhaled all of this new-found delight. It never occurred to me to wonder why Amelia Rose was taking such an interest in me. Nor did I ever stop to think about how I might be taking advantage of her goodwill. If I had wondered at all, I would probably have credited it to her loneliness or, perhaps, to my own.
One excursion led us to an antique shop, where we saw pieces of jewelry elaborately crafted in various ancient Greek and Roman styles. This affected Amelia Rose so intensely that she remained quiet and morose the rest of the day. When I gently asked her about this, she looked at me oddly and mumbled something about being attacked by memories and getting a migraine headache.
She kept her distance from me for some time after that peculiar outing. I knocked on her door a few times, but she didn’t answer, so I left her alone. I missed her terribly and began mourning her absence in my world. I was amazed at the imprint Amelia Rose had left on my life. The loss of her presence began to erase some of the sparkle and joy she had created during her time in it.
I prayed that she would return to me and continue our fantastic adventures.
One day, she knocked on my door and resumed our weekly teas. A full month passed before she began talking slowly one afternoon, carefully weighing each word before she spoke.”Centuries ago, when the universe was still in its teen years, the most powerful gods would play merciless games with mortals. An unlucky beautiful maiden would suddenly die without any warnings or signs of sickness. Random farms would be hit with locusts that totally destroyed the families’ livelihood. Unexplained fatalities or plagues would strike towns and villages. All knew that these were sent from the gods for no apparent reason. There could be no other logical explanation.”
Amelia Rose stopped talking and took in a deep breath, her face immediately forming into a canvas of regret and sorrow, involuntarily revealing signs of advanced age. Clearly rattled, she nevertheless looked straight ahead and continued her story. “This offensive behavior angered one particular goddess so much that she began secretly helping mortals by coming to their aid. She appeared in a broken village as a healer with unrecognized herbs that healed wounds and illnesses.
“At other times, she came with numerous jars containing multi-colored liquids that fought unknown illnesses. Stories of a young female warrior helping fight off attacks of wild animals were also heard from various areas around the country, giving much-needed comfort to the unfortunate.
“When the other gods discovered this betrayal, they turned this renegade goddess into a mortal with all her powers intact but with the added burden of aging and death. It might seem like a wonderful gift to have all this power, but it wasn’t,” Amelia Rose continued to explain. “If the goddess was easily irritated, this irritability, combined with the added power, could produce unimaginable consequences. An innocuous lover’s quarrel during a cross-Atlantic cruise led to a disastrous meeting with an iceberg simply because Rose Leonor, my predecessor, couldn’t control her temper.”
As Amelia Rose spoke, I felt my eyebrows rise to my hairline. My mouth tried to speak but could only stammer an incredulous whisper, “The Tita...” I couldn’t finish the name; it was too absurd a thought.
But then it dawned on me that here, sitting before me, was the goddess of my people’s legend. Logically she couldn’t be, but her stories made me think the island’s secret was true. I tried to collect myself, but the best I could do was just remain quiet, try to breathe slowly and remain attentive to her.
Amelia Rose wasn’t in the mood for my comments anyway. She continued unloading the secrets that she had kept suppressed for too many years. “Then there was the episode of that fateful Hawaiian airplane whose roof got blown off mid-flight barely managing to land safely with only one fatality. All this mind-blowing chaos and pandemonium just to prove to a mischievous suitor that a heartfelt warning of ‘Stop or you’ll be sorry’ was for once not an empty threat! To be fair, history has its own explanations for these occurrences because my dear, in all honesty, not many folks would be able to handle the truth.”
I sat and listened to it all, stunned by the story’s sheer lunacy. The shock of this discovery and my alarm left me unable to open my mouth. How could I have misread Amelia Rose so badly?
When I could talk, I asked how she had become the goddess.
She looked directly at me and began answering slowly. “This power is not passed on genetically or inherited. It is passed on from hand to hand. When the goddess senses the approach of death, she takes the hands of her chosen heiress and passes the gift on to the young woman as her own life force passes out of her body. Along with the power, memories and experiences both bad and good from past goddesses are passed on to the newest recipient.”
I now understood her mood swings. Carrying the pain and frustration of all the women before her was an unimaginable ordeal; even, it seems, for a goddess. I finally understood why Amelia Rose would lock herself up for weeks at a time.
It now became clear to me why Amelia Rose lived in my apartment complex. On the hunt for an appropriate successor, she had found me. The tasks she gave me were tests. How would I face challenges? Would I run or stand to meet her demands head-on? She needed to be sure that I could handle power and responsibility without losing my clear-headed thinking or my humanity.
I asked Amelia Rose how she controlled her power, and if she felt she had ever used it foolishly. The youthful bloom immediately cascaded over her age-resisting face. She swore she had used her power only when necessary.
“Once the power is used, it’s hard to keep it in check. The power can consume its caretaker. My previous sister goddesses have proven the power’s seductive strength to overwhelm its possessor. We must be extraordinarily careful when we use it; we must have this in mind when we choose our successor.”
When Amelia Rose’s time had come, I took her hand and felt the tingly warmth pass through my nervous palms, into my arms, gliding gently into my torso, and down my legs and to my feet. At first, everything felt quite pleasing. Later painful migraines and frequent nausea began.
I became Regina Amelia, taking part of my predecessor’s name as my own, just as she had done by taking the name Rose from her predecessor. This custom signifies respect and links the present with the past. Our bodies might be mortal, but our spirit lives on in our successors. No one, god or mortal, has the power to take that away from us.
It’s been over forty years since the change, and I have been respectful of my powers. I haven’t used the power to harm. I’d like to think that somewhere a few unsuspecting folks are feeling blessed over some unexpected good luck; household bills paid by some unknown stranger; or medical bills paid in full.
Now I’m old enough that the time has come to begin my search for a special person whose life is about to get a total overhaul.
Copyright © 2019 by Miriam E. Neiberg