For the Love of a GodBy: Rosanna Leo
Maia looked around the conservation office. All the other conservators were already gone for the day. No surprise there. She was the only one who kept such ungodly hours.
Taking the stairs up to the fifth floor, she made her way to the new Gallery of Greece. This part of the museum wasn't open to the public yet, and the entrance was still shrouded by opaque drop cloths. She knew it wouldn't open officially until it passed muster with the new director.
His Lordship was due any minute, and everyone at the Toronto Museum was nervous. There was a reason for it. Eric Lord's reputation preceded him. He was from a family of museum experts, although she'd never met him in her travels. She'd read articles by his grandfather—another Eric Lord—when she was a student, and had been impressed with his keen insight into the ways of ancient Greece. But the current Eric Lord was known the world over for his slash-and-burn style of museum administration. She'd heard he was a downsizer, a ruthless one. Why, last year he'd eliminated a whole department at one museum in New York for their so-called inefficiencies.
Maia sniffed. “Well, Eric Lord's not the only museum royalty around here. And no one knows this place like I do."
Maia's father, Dr. Jim Douglas, was the famed archaeologist whose work formed the basis of the Toronto Museum's Greek collection. Maia had basically grown up within its walls. So if Eric Lord was planning a cull in Toronto, he'd be a fool to get rid of her.
Pushing aside the cloths at the entrance, she entered the Gallery of Greece. One of the cleaners was just finishing up in the gallery. She made sure to sashay around the trail from his wet mop. “Hey, Wally. How's business?"
The older man looked up. “Miss Douglas, what are you still doing here? It's Saturday night! How come a pretty girl like you doesn't have a date?"
"Tonight, I have a date with Poseidon's testicles."
Wally pulled a face.
"They're about to fall off,” she explained. “The statue, I mean. Poor guy has some nasty cracks on him. I've got to fix him up for the big opening."
Wally just waved her away with a smile. “I'll leave the fun stuff to you conservators. I'll stick to my mopping."
Maia made her way through the empty gallery, wondering why every word out of her mouth always seemed so awkward. But as she pulled out her collapsible stool and placed it in front of Poseidon and his cracked gonads, she didn't worry. Staff at the museum had long ago ceased their speculation about Maia's quirks. After all, she was Jim Douglas's daughter. She was excellent at her job, which rendered her many quirks negligible.
She knew the collection of Greek antiquities so intimately they could have been siblings to her. Quiet, somber siblings. Certainly there was nothing she valued more. She was an expert conservator, specializing in marble sculpture. After she'd completed her studies, the Toronto Museum administrators had been falling over themselves to offer Maia the job. Sure, there had been enticing job offers from as far away as the Hermitage and the British Museum. But she knew she'd never leave her beloved museum. It was her second home.
It was her life.
Before she began her inspection of Poseidon, she walked over to one of the other sculptures. It was the statue of Eryx, the Greek god of love. She stood before him and sighed, letting her appreciative eyes rake over his nude body. Absorbing the warmth he created in her. Feeding off his beauty.
This was her ritual and had been ever since she was a little girl. Ever since her father discovered the perfect statue in a long-hidden cove in Greece.
She remembered her dad's excitement after the find. He'd led her through the museum after hours. She could still hear the sound of her Mary Janes clicking on the marble floors. The museum had been shrouded in darkness, but Maia didn't mind. Even at five years old, she already knew every square inch of the place.
"Come, sweet pea,” Dr. Douglas had said as he walked with her. “I have something new to show you."
Green lollipop in mouth, she'd scrambled after him. She'd always loved these night-time walks. As a curator, her dad often brought her to the museum at night when the tourists had all gone home. He showed her all the ancient gold jewelry and terracotta pieces and told her wonderful stories full of myth and magic. To the little girl, being with her father was the greatest adventure on earth.
Especially since mother had left them.
"Is it a big statue, Daddy?"
"Life-sized. And in amazing condition. It's as if he was just waiting in the cave, hoping to be found.” He motioned toward the entrance of the Greek gallery. “And he's right through there."
Little Maia had spotted him right away. The sculpture was the new centerpiece of the gallery and had been given a prominent spot. Her jaw had dropped open and her lollipop had tumbled to the floor. Jim had grinned and picked it up, glad his little girl shared his passion.
She'd stared up at the statue of the man. He was so handsome. The way the sculptor had angled his head made it feel as if he were gently smiling down at her. Maia had smiled back, immediately smitten.
Jim walked up to her and placed a hand on her back. He spoke in hushed tones. “He is the god Eryx, son of Aphrodite. He was in love with the mortal priestess of his temple. And she was...?"
"Chloe, silly. I know that,” she'd replied. After countless bedtime stories, she knew all the myths.
"Good girl,” he'd smiled. “And do you remember the story of Eryx and Chloe?"
"The bad goddess Nemesis killed Chloe because she was jealous."
"He was sad. Forever.” She'd rubbed her little tummy. “Daddy, I'm hungry."
He'd laughed. “Of course you are. It's late, sweet pea. Let's get you some dinner. We'll come back and see Eryx again."
Maia's face had fallen. As much as her belly was rumbling, she didn't want to go. She liked the statue of the beautiful, smiling god. Even though, all of a sudden, he looked a little sad.
What happened next, Maia had never told her father. Never told anyone.
As she had followed her dad out of the gallery, she'd turned to look at Eryx one more time. Because she was five, and because it had seemed like a fun idea, she'd poked out her green-stained tongue and wagged it at him.
The statue had winked at her.
Now, as an adult, she knew the wink was probably just the overactive imagination of a precocious, little girl. Perhaps the fleeting shadow of one of the pigeons haunting the window ledges of the museum. But it had felt so real at the time. And now, every time she came to work in the gallery, she made a pit stop before the statue of Eryx.
Just in case...
"You're such a spazz,” she told herself as she pulled her long brown hair into a messy ponytail on top of her head, affixing it with two crisscrossed pencils. “Get to work."
She turned and seated herself before Poseidon and let out a sigh. With a gentle hand, she cupped the water god's balls and inspected the extent of the cracks. She'd have to fill them in a little, as well as beginning a general cleaning of the statue. He was starting to show his age.
Soon, between conducting her inspection and making notes, she was lost in her work, oblivious to everything else around her. Once again, she gingerly touched Poseidon's testes.
"How about inspecting mine?"
Maia jumped when the deep voice whispered in her ear. She snapped her head around, almost wrenching off the statue's balls in the process. “Who's there?"
There was no one. Beyond the entrance, Wally was still mopping, but had headphones on now and was mopping to the music on his iPod. He hadn't heard her cry. The gallery was empty, peopled only by the many statues.
And right in front of her stood the statue of the god Eryx, still bearing the same grin as when she first saw him years ago. The grin which now appeared decidedly randy from her perspective.
"You,” she breathed, feeling her heartbeat regulate after her scare. “If any of you old rocks could find a way to talk, I should have guessed it would be you.” Dismissing the voice as a symptom of overwork and stress over the incoming director, Maia turned back to Poseidon.
Even with her back to Eryx, she felt a warm sensation along her spine. As if she was being watched.