Wayne Michael DeHart ( May, 2020 )
Nothing of note happened in the valley town of Gnames on October 10, 1961.
But thirty miles west, at the fancy new hospital in Delfeye, a liberated little girl was delivered into the world By Hephera “Heffie” and Zachary “Zeus” Drillings. In truth, a doctor delivered the kid – Heffie just pushed when told to. Her dazed hubby sweated whiskey and water droplets onto his faded t-shirt, while murmuring unintelligible gibberish in a manner that seemed to calm his wife and amuse the young doctor.
Heffie wanted “Effie” for a girl because she was sure they would look alike and sound alike and Zeus favored “Hercules” for a boy because he’d grow up strong and tough like him, but each was dismissed by the other from the get-go, and any chance for agreement spiraled downhill from there. They agreed there was plenty of time, and there was – until there wasn’t.
Heffie was a twice-divorced, seasoned 33 year-old. Five years her junior, Zachary was immature, undisciplined and indecisive. She met him at a produce stand on a hot July afternoon and was immediately enamored with his big biceps, country charm and childlike naivete. For his part, he liked that Heffie was an experienced older woman with well-rounded assets. She was a typist and he was a laborer. (She was his “type” and he put her in “labor”, he told Lou the barber.) Though very different, they complemented and complimented one another, compromised often, and somehow kept their knot tied tight.
The attending nurse said they needed a name, now, for the birth certificate.“We’re still thinkin’”, revealed Zachary. Now three years into their marriage, Hephera had heard this refrain one too many times: at the used furniture store, in the concessions line at the Hesiod Hills Drive-In Theater, and the order window at Bacchus Burgers. After subtly sizing up the nurse, however, the new mom carped the diem.
“ZZ”, she offered,“this nurse is so pretty and I bet she’s smart too, like our little girl’s gonna be. I bet ya she can whip up a name that sounds real good, right Missy?”. The woman in white was indeed intelligent and well-read, and had a thing for Greek mythology, which was about to become unexpectedly relevant.
“Mr. Drillings, why did she call you ZZ?”, she asked, grabbing and holding his attention. “Ma’am, because of that Zeus guy that shoots lightning bolts and bosses people around and has statues and stuff. I’d do that if I could. Got no middle name, and I liked the zing of ZZ. Top-notch ring to it, It was a toss-up between Zeus and Zorro, whose show I like, but the guys at work would razz me if I picked a cape-wearing guy in a mask over a bolt-throwin’ beast, so I’m Zachary Zeus and proud of it. Ma’am.”
The Nurse’s face lit up like a blowtorch upon hearing his colorful explanation. Her own father had a fixation with Zeus! Diabolically delighted, she suggested the name of a beautiful woman that Zachary’s idol had tasked a friend to mold to perfection in every way. Zeus at first gifted her to everyone on earth, who all happened to be men at the time (“Wowza”, thought Heffie, imagining the possibilities). After tantalizing those guys for 317 days, she was given by Zeus to a feckless, fortunate fellow named Epimetheus, whose brother “Pro” had done something or other to capture Zeus’ attention. “Must have been something really good to fire up my man Zeus”, declared ZZ. The devilish Nurse was clearly on the scenic route to Hades now, but she couldn’t help herself.
She ventured onward, portraying the woman as flawless – a walking work of art who instilled in mankind feelings of endless joy and brotherhood, conjured up images of sunlit nights and double rainbows, and provided orchards of fruit and rivers of mead to all. Each of these blessings she bestowed by simply, and unselfishly, opening a beautiful box she kept hidden under her bed. A wide-eyed ZZ exclaimed “Yes, yes, we’ll take it.” Heffie cautioned “Slow down, cowboy, you haven’t even heard it yet.” Both waited impatiently as The Nurse, milking the moment, playfully simulated a drum roll.
“Pandora! You could call her Panny or Dora for short. It’s perfect, please tell me you like it?”
Pandora Drillings? This was all Greek to her, but sure, why not, mused Heffie, briefly distracted by a passing orderly. She and Zachary made eye contact and signaled a muted but mutual approval.
In need of a middle name as well, they asked for help again and Nurse Missy tossed in “Daphne”, a gorgeous water nymph whose suitors, including the Olympian God Apollo, rested on her laurels, whatever that meant. ZZ looked riled and said “no daughter of mine‘s gonna be a nympho!” “No ‘o’ at the end, ZZ”, she laughed. “Daphne was pure as morning dew.” The new dad came back with “Yessir, gotta admit I do like me some good, clean dew alright.” A ready-to-wrap-this-up Heffie grunted “Don’t mind him none, he don’t know no better. Go ahead and write it down.” Zachary poked back with a boisterous chant of “DAFF-NEE, DAFF-NEE”.
And so it was that Pandora Daphne Drillings became a person of record, thanks to the fanciful and fertile mind of The Nurse, who wished them the best and left the room with a gleam in her eye and a bounce in her step.
Growing up in Gnames, Pandora was proving to be charming, resourceful and inquisitive, though burdened with a manipulative and volatile temperament. She thoroughly researched the origins of her name before asking her folks if they knew who Pandora really was. Heffie regaled in telling the story of Nurse Missy describing an inspiring, celebrated, benevolent woman providing presents for all from a mysterious box back in the day.
But the disapproving girl in turn told them the story of a vengeful (or just irresponsibly curious, depending on the source) Greek Eve who opened up a big ol’ JAR of Nasty on the Earth, unleashing a myriad of misery on mankind. A spiteful icon of wicked intent, or simply an impulsive, irresponsible idol? In closing the jar, she had trapped Hope inside. Was her intent to suppress Hope, or rather to preserve Hope? The answers matter not; the result was the same. The deed was done, the damage lived on. The Drillings girl would forever be averse to a curse from a nurse.
Feeling played and betrayed, Heffie bounced a thick index finger off her husband’s forehead. “I TOLD you we should have gone with “Effie.” Flinching, ZZ said it was likely only an honest storytellin’ mistake and told his daughter to just stay away from magic boxes and don’t release bad things into the air and she’d be okay. “Easy for you to say, Dad, you’re not the one who has to put up with all the dirty comments from the boys at school. It was A JAR, dammit.” He tried to console her with “Hey, it’ll make you stronger, girl, make you tough inside. Zeus tough.” (She left the room, wondering what “zoo stuff” was.)
He was right though. Strong and determined she proved to be, pleasing to the eye, and at age 21, while working at Phycshun Plastics, she moved with a girlfriend to Ledgens, ‘bout halfway between Gnames and Delfeye. There she met one Apollo Augustus “Gus” Grissom, age 20, adopted at birth by Mr. and Mrs. Al Grissom. Born in the same hospital as Pandora. Delivered by the same laid-back doctor. Given his name by the same person …
Athena Grissom, a/k/a Mrs. Al Grissom, a/k/a “Missy the Nurse”.
Athena’s obsession with Greek mythology was inherited, her own name springing from her father’s head in tribute to Zeus and his daughter. This child-in-waiting was thus going to be an Apollo or an Aphrodite come hell or high water, and Al, as he did most of the time, simply and safely concurred. When a boy finally emerged out of the darkness with a triumphant victory cry, her cup did indeed runneth over. “Welcome to the Light, Apollo!”, she gushed in her dual roles as the attending nurse and adoptive mother. Hearing this, the doctor excused himself, and went to get a Snickers bar, which seemed acutely appropriate.
Al was a happy warrior as well, because Athena had begrudgingly thrown him a bone with the Roman middle name that could be shortened to Gus and thus be a namesake to the famous Mercury Seven astronaut Gus Grissom. Mom called the little guy Apollo. Dad called him Gus. Most people just called him “Paul-o”. He was well-liked, though generally excuse-laden and ill-prepared. Labeled “artsy” and imaginative, he was boyishly good-looking. The girls ga-ga’ed over him, but he never seemed to notice. His mind drifted on clouds. (More Wordsworth’s than Shelley’s.)
After high school, he went to Titan Tech in Thalia on a music scholarship for a semester, dropped out, and came back home to Ledgens. His paternal grandfather had set up a very hefty trust fund for him, with annual distributions starting at 21, balance due at 30. Good thing, as he wasn’t particularly ambitious or career-driven. Worked for his florist father at “Grissom’s Geraniums et Al”. Made deliveries. Played the cello and wrote poetry. Lived in the back with a cat named Python.
Hephera often told Panny that she should hang out at the Gnames produce stand in the summer so she could find her own ZZ. “No thanks, Ma. No offense, Dad.”, she’d say. Sailed right over ZZ’s head every time.
A delivery van pulled up to a pre-Valentine’s Day party on Saturday, February 12, 1983. The youthful driver stepped out, yellow roses in hand, and sauntered to the front door. Pandora answered his rhythmic knock. She had ordered the flowers for her roomie and wanted to be the one to give them to her. He was having none of it. “Nope. No can do, Missy.” Missy? Uh-oh.
The pair of nurse-named saplings each had one fist around the flowers and two eyes on each other. Party-goer Ernie Eros broke up the stare-down by suddenly nailing an unsuspecting Apollo with a plastic arrow right in what Forrest Gump would later describe as his “butt-talks”. When he looked back at Panny, he surprisingly went ga-ga, for the first time ever. She got an arrow too, but hers just bounced off her chest, giving her a bad vibe and nothing more.
“Name’s Zeke.” “Name’s, er, Dora.” He smiled. She didn’t. “No, I’m messin’ with ya, my real name is Apollo, like Apollo Creed in them Rocky movies, except I don’t box or nothin’ like that.” Damnnnnn, she thought, when she heard him say “box.” What are the odds, right? “Dora’s short for Pandora, like the lady with the box, except it was really a jar. Pleased to meet you.” (She wasn’t.)
Blatantly bewitched by Eros’ arrow and Pandora’s eyes, and wanting to immediately impress her, he blurted out that in a few months he was going to start getting lots more money than other guys his age, and her ears perked up like they had been caffeinated. Pickin’s were slim for young women in these parts, so she had to play this right.
In the next few months, everything fell neatly into place for her. Both shared the stories behind their unique names. He joked that the nurse that named her must be “as loony as my mother.” Pandora didn’t really like any of his names, but to her surprise, he liked saying “Daphne” and stayed with it. She alternated between Augustus and Gus, the lesser evils, depending on her mood.
Unable to sleep one humid June night, Panny recalled the story of her mythic forename bearer and her unheralded husband. She tried to make “Epimetheus” roll off her tongue, to no avail. The shortened “Theus” sounded noble and masculine (she had ruled out “Meth” for some reason) so she relentlessly called him that for a week and he cringed every time she did. “Theus, hon.” “Theus, babe.” Jeez, enough already.
“I work with flowers, I’m just not a Theus, Daph, that’s more fittin’ for an ironworker or a welder. How about Epi … Eppy?” Her eyes rolled back in her head. “Eppy”? You seriously want me to call you Eppy? “oh, make love to me, Eppy”, “let’s go to the park, Eppy” (they were IN the park at the time) or heaven forbid “Mom, Dad, this is Eppy, we just got engaged.” She calmed herself, then said “No way. You’re Theus. It’s settled. I’m going across the street to Bud’s Market. Make sure Eppy isn’t here when I get back.”
They sat silently together on a park bench as she broke him off a piece of her Kit Kat bar as a goodwill gesture. It didn’t work. Discouraged, he dutifully kissed her on the nose, got up, and headed for his van, leaving her alone and brooding. She cussed. Fumed. Seethed. Simmered. Smoldered. To let off steam, Pandora even boxed her own ears. (Whoa!) But all the while, she kept her eye on the prize – his trust fund.
Almost five months into this rocky relationship, deep into engagement and marriage discussions, it was undeniable that Daphne had degenerated into an intransigent and intolerant sorceress. She had become distant, mean-spirited, irritable, sarcastic, unpredictable, uncompromising and controlling in a way that was hard for Apollo to process. (To be fair, though, she did have perfect skin and nice nails, so there was that.)
It was almost as if she didn’t even like him, much less love him. Alas, an airtight, affable, amiable alliance was now awry, askew, ajar. (“It was A JAR, dammit!”)
Nevertheless, the pair struggled on. She kept calling him Theus just to burn his toast, and he would remind her it was Eppy paying for her ice cream. Meanwhile, their cuddlin’ time had become nothing more than fleeting cheek-pecks and one-arm hugs.
Though Pandora was in the process of loosening the lid of her own stockpile of searing lightning bolts, she suggested their parents meet in the park in Ledgens. Maybe if it went well, she and Theus could take that positive energy and get their soon-to-be-prosperous relationship back on track. He held out hope, yet feared Daphne was a simmering volcano, ready to erupt. The reason eluded him, but the tension did not.
A week later, in an idyllic setting right out of Camelot – chirping birds, clear blue sky, grass green and groomed, a picnic table somehow free of chirping-bird droppings – both parties of three approached the table from different directions, arriving at almost the same moment. It was Saturday, August 20, 1983. “Every Breath You Take” was Billboard’s #1. For an awkward few moments, breaths, deep ones, were all anyone could muster. The silence roared through the warm, lazy air.
When everyone started to speak at once, resulting in a garbled word stew, the ice was broken. There were smiles and a couple of chuckles. Each family sat down on their own side of the table, father facing father, mother facing mother, Dora facing dollar signs. Al stepped up. “Hey folks, how y’all doin’? Good to finally meet Daphne’s family.”
And with that, the awkward silence was back. At least on the Drillings’ side of the table. Panny grimaced. Eppy grinned. Though they had spent time with each other’s parents on several occasions, the Grissoms only knew Pandora as Daphne and the Drillings only knew Apollo as Augustus and Gus.
Zachary pumped his fist and let out a quick round of “DAFF-NEE, DAFF-NEE”. He had no idea why Al had called her by a middle name never used at home, and he didn’t really care. However, now that they were seated knee to knee, Hephera and Athena were able to study each other’s face closely. Both felt the leading edge of a deja vu cold front.
The Nurse had long since forgotten the “Daphne” part of the play because it was an Apollo-on-the-brain extemporaneous offering she had just thrown out there on a whim. In and out of her mind. Whoosh. Gone. When Athena got home from work that day, she told Al all about duping two unsuspecting strangers into naming their daughter Pandora, but she never mentioned the second act. So even when their son introduced this beguiling, intriguing lass to them as Daphne, it was deemed to be a case of superb serendipity, yet it didn’t come close to ringing a bell for Athena.
Heffie turned to her daughter. “Daphne”? “Panny, are you going by your middle name now?” The girl stammered and looked toward her Epimetheus, who volunteered to Heffie that he called her Daphne because he didn’t really like Dora. Athena quipped, “Daphne, Panny, Dora … how many names you got, girl?” Cognizance came a-callin’ when she heard the distinct inner echo of her own words – “Panny, Dora” – running together.
And that’s when the bell rang.
She turned to a weathered but suddenly-familiar Zachary. He, along with Heffie and Athena herself, had remained unnamed because Al’s opening mention of Daphne had derailed the introductions train before it even left the station. “And your name is …?” “Zachary Zeus Drillings, ma’am, but people call me ZZ ” Suddenly, Athena wished she was in Athens and I don’t mean Ohio. Twenty years is like two weeks when one hears a guy call himself ZZ. She didn’t remember Heffie’s own unusual first name but she saw in the face of this now 50-ish woman some bad karma coming down the road. One doesn’t get to type the name Drillings that often on maternity ward paperwork. It was a one-time, memorable, smiling-while-filing occasion.
Still, it appeared only Athena had figured it out. ZZ and Al were comparing hands and exchanging good-natured banter. (That’s what happens when a career laborer and a career florist spread their fingers out on a picnic table.)
Heffie volunteered that she and ZZ thought Gus was a nice young man who was treating her daughter with respect. “Gus?” repeated Athena. (“Gus Grissom, ya know, ZZ”, said Al, proudly, but sadly. “Astronaut. Died in the Apollo 1 fire. I said one hell of a coincidence, but the wife says it’s one of those foreign kismet things. Whatever, broke the boy up some, was only four.” ZZ was lost in space on this one, but figured he was safe with “Bummer, man.”)
Athena politely told Heffie she preferred her son be called by his rightful name. “I understand completely,” came back Heffie. “I’m the same way, so let me correct myself. Augustus is a fine young man, and seems quite well-suited for Pandora.”
“Augustus? Rightful name? Like Daphne?” Athena rose to her feet, aware now that dark clouds were rolling in. “Who’s Pandora?” asked Al, still staring at his hands. Athena bit off the words “It’s Apollo’s girlfriend, dear, it’s Daphne.” Heffie and ZZ looked at each other and in unison asked, “Who’s Apollo?”In the verbal chaos that ensued, a barrage of questions were asked and answered, but the two young people kept silent.
Eventually, Athena acknowledged that she had been guilty of “a bit of mischief” at the Drillings’ expense all those years ago, and tendered a decidedly insincere apology to them and to the girl. ( “You just had to call me ‘Missy’, didn’t you?”) An irked Pandora told her boyfriend that he was right – his mother was indeed loony. Athena pouted on hearing that, while Heffie smirked and ZZ made loon sounds to the best of his ability.
Pandora abruptly stood up and announced that she and her guy were going for a walk. “C’mon, Theus, now, and don’t you dare bring Eppy with you.” She was expecting a proposal today, and she wanted it on her own terms. She hustled him away to a chorus of “Who’s Theus?’’ and “Who’s Eppy ?” Al chimed in with, “Who’s on first?”
Pandora worried that her marriage/divorce/alimony plan was slipping away. Once out of view, she warmly kissed the cello fellow, her beau-with-a-bow, hoping to reach a high note and a rousing finale. She said she was so sorry for letting her petty, pent-up hostility diminish and distract from her otherwise full jar of positive attributes. She told him she would call him whatever name he wanted from that point forward, because, you know, what’s in a name and all. Followed by, “But not Eppy, of course, and honestly, that whole Augustus/Gus thing is kind of lame, Paul-o rings hollow, Zeke is a geek, and c’mon, Apollo IS loony. So are we okay now, Theus?”
Eppy nodded. He leaned forward and whispered softly into her ear, “It’s time.” He stepped back and double-tapped the bulge in his shirt pocket. She watched his movements through dancing eyes. He gently placed the box in her left hand, and told her not to open it.
Then, Apollo Augustus “Gus” Grissom winked, turned and, for the second and last time in that park, walked away from her.
It was Saturday. He had flowers to deliver and a cat to feed.
Shaken, she held, and beheld, the velvet-covered case in her hand. Her curiosity was tempered with caution, her resolve offset by uncertainty, her indignation fueled by fear.
Fate in hand, pausing, hesitating, clutching Pandora’s box … Pandora balks.
An eternity passed. She lifted the lid slowly, warily. Out flew Hope, escaping eons of captivity, emerging into an elusive earthly existence. Behind it, Pandora’s box sat hopeless and empty, devoid of marriage dreams and treasure schemes. The ring was gone, Apollo was gone and she was woebegone.
Though the book was forever closed that day on Theus and Eppy and a certain fabled catastrophic container, Pandora Daphne Drillings remains a person of record in Gnames and Ledgens.
And in Delfeye as well, where just days later, in a hospital room, a maternity nurse welcomed a request from an indecisive young couple. She was telling and selling them a compelling story of a mythical goddess, blending the names and qualities of a loving mother, Hera, and her robust, drop-dead handsome son Hephaestus, the husband of Aphrodite, his very loving and faithful wife. (Al was gonna love this one.)
As she simulated a drum roll, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” played in her head.
“Hephera! You could call her “Heffie”, for short. It’s perfect, please tell me you like it?”
She: “Wayne, good story, but . . . did you realize that you spelled Legends wrong in the title? No big deal, but you might wanta change that.”
Me: “You didn’t read the story, did you?”
She: “Ummm, gotta run. Have a great day.”
Pandora – Nicolas Regnier
Apollo and Daphne – Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Pandora and husband Epimetheus – Paolo Farinati
Hermes, on behalf of Zeus, giving Pandora to Epimetheus, while Eros looks on, with his magic arrow – Fedor Iwanowitsch
“… and I liked the zing of ZZ. Top-notch ring to it, “
“As she simulated a drum roll, ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” played in her head.”
ZZ Top – Sharp Dressed Man (Live) – YouTube
8 thoughts on “In Gnames and Ledgens”
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Nicely done Wayne, very enjoyable reading. Looking forward to the fiction contest in the Bulletin; it must be packed full of incredible fiction winners. What is Chip’s qualifications to judge fiction?
Thank you for the positive feedback, Kevin. Much appreciated. Guessing you got here from the NH Mensa website where I left a link. From what I understand, though I don’t know for sure, the entries are judged by a Mensan writer’s group. Chip’s notification e-mail states “I’m sorry, but your work was not one of the six stories selected, from among 107 qualified entries, for the Mensa Bulletin’s 2020 Fiction Issue. We appreciate you submitting, and as we look for fiction to include in other issues of the Bulletin throughout the year, we’ll keep yours in mind.” The “we” I guess is the real question ! Thanks, again. – WMD
What a crew … feel like I know these nuts😉.
Knowing them as well as I do, I can say that the crew in Gnames and Ledgens “mythed” out on the fact that adaptive folklore enraptures their stories, fractures their self-awareness, encaptures their names, and manufactures them as modern-day legends, thus enhancing their satirical stature- or at least I Hope so!
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