by Catherine Proppe
The women each plucked a single leaf from the eucalyptus tree outside the amphitheater, crushed it between their fingers, and tossed it onto the hearth fire on stage, an offering to Hestia. Helen pantomimed lighting the hearth fire with the torch she carried and then posed center stage, still holding the torch overhead. Agnes sank into a seat near the tenth row while Sophia scanned the scene with a practiced eye.
Everyone looked busy, very busy, so busy that she suspected someone had alerted them to her approach, but that was okay. She had to inspire fear to get them to perform the heights of perfection required.
The chorus rehearsed under the practiced eye of the choreographer, circling and stepping in the ancient steps passed down for generations. The orchestra had broken up into section drills, lyres in one section, flutes in another, percussionists in the stands. Carpenters hammered and sawed away at scenery props, competing with the orchestra for dominance.
She clapped her hands twice. Instantly, the sounds fell away. The dancers ceased. All eyes turned to her, all eyes but Helen’s. She stood poised in front.
“That will do for now, Helen,” Sophia said. Helen relaxed visibly. She rushed over to join her grandmother in the seating area and rested her head on her grandmother’s shoulder. Agnes gently massaged her torchbearing arm.
“This is a disaster,” said Sophia, her clear voice carrying perfectly throughout the 20,000 seat amphitheater. “Nothing is right. Don’t plan on being home for dinner tonight. Let’s get on with it.”
Several stage managers approached Sophia with reports and she disappeared into her creation.
Scene 3 of #Torchbearer
by Catherine Proppe
Agnes moved silently through the dark house before sunrise, making her way to Eirene’s small bed on the main floor. She gently stroked the girl’s face until she woke, her eyes flickering, looking for meaning. This is how Agnes' own grandmother had woken her so many years ago, in the hour before dawn on the first morning of the crescent moon of her seventh year. She remembered it as though it were yesterday.
“Oma?” said the child.
“Come, my sweet. Today you begin your lessons.” She wrapped the child in a thick blanket and guided her through the house, the sounds of their footsteps barely making a sound on the polished floors.
They made their way through the dark streets, artisans and bakers greeting them on their way to the shore. The child looked wide-eyed at the sights of the village at this early hour. So many people up before dawn.
When they reached the beach, they removed their sandals. The sand felt cool underfoot. The wind rippled the water’s surface. Agnes sank down to her knees about 20 feet from the water’s edge, pulling Eirene beside her.
“It’s cold, Oma,” the child said, snuggling her face into the space between her grandmother’s face and shoulder.
“Yes. That is right. It is cold,” Agnes stated emphatically.
Agnes used her hands to smooth a level space in the sand, a space large enough to begin the first day’s lesson.
“Look out there,” Agnes pointed toward the burgeoning sunrise. “What do you see, Eirene?” she asked.
“I see the water, Oma.”
“And what else?”
“Yes. That is right. You see the water and the sky.” Agnes drew a long horizontal line in the sand in the space she had just cleared. “This,” she said, “is the horizon line. It is the line that separates the sky from the earth, the sky from the sea. Now, you may draw some waves below the line to indicate the ocean.”
She watched as the child drew little squiggles in the sand to represent water. When she broke through the horizon line she held her breath and looked at her grandmother.
“It is fine. See? You can smooth it over and start again.”
The sky above the horizon glowed yellow going to orange.
“It’s so pretty,” the little girl said.
“That is Auge,” said Agnes.
“I know, Oma.”
“That is good. You know. Now, soon, what will happen?”
The child looked at her questioningly.
“Helios will arise over the horizon!” Agnes said, as though it was the most wonderful thing on earth. “Now, an easy question: Which way does the sun go in the morning, my darling? Does it go up or down?”
“It goes up, Oma.”
“That is right. Everybody knows it. The sun comes from below the horizon and arises over it.” Agnes had no sooner said the words than the first rays of sun broke over the horizon, as beautiful and perfect as every day since the beginning of time.
“Now,” she said, “draw an arrow pointing up.”
The child drew an arrow in the squiggly area of the sand indicating the sea.
“Draw another one in the sky.”
The child did as she was bid.
“And now, draw an arrow that goes right through the horizon line.”
The child drew an arrow with its legs beneath the horizon line and its apex in the sky.
“You see? You have drawn the letter A. You have drawn the letter alpha!” Agnes clapped her hands together and hugged her grandchild tight. “You have learned your first letter!”