The next morning Persephone woke up well-rested and excited. She’d missed the sun, and though she’d seen it only yesterday, she’d been too preoccupied by her mother to fully appreciate it. Now, however, nothing would stand in the way of basking in the feel of its warm rays on her bare skin.
At least that was what she thought.
“What is that?” Persephone asked in horror, staring at the garment Demeter held up for inspection.
“Why, it’s your clothes, dearie. Don’t you like it?”
Persephone could only stare in horror. She had always hated the fact that she’d never been allowed to wear colours or to show a little skin, but this time her mother had outdone herself. The garment was not only white, but it looked exceedingly heavy and constricting as well.
The fabric itself had to be at least half an inch thick and it was so high-necked that Persephone worried over her ability to breathe in it. The sleeves not only went all the way down to her wrist, but Demeter had also acquired some thick cotton gloves to make sure Persephone didn’t show an inch of skin. It also came with a veil, clearly designed to cover her golden tresses.
It would cover her from head to toe, only allowing her face to be shown to the surrounding world.
“Isn’t it lovely?” Demeter asked her, beaming.
“It looks awfully constricting,” Persephone said rather than answering.
“Well, I suppose a bit, but it more than makes up for it, don’t you think? No man shall feast on the sight of your flesh, least of all Hades. If only you’d worn this on that dreadful day where he took you.”
“Mother, I really don’t think it would have changed anything. Hades fell in love with me. I doubt a heavier fabric would have dissuaded him.”
“Well, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt not showing him quite so much skin, now would it?”
Persephone’s exasperation gave way to rage. On her mother’s request she’d always dressed conservatively. It’d never bothered her overly, though occasionally she’d been secretly jealous of her friends daring necklines and teasing glimpses of skin. And for her mother to suggest Hades had only taken her for dressing to provocatively! It was ludicrous, and Persephone fought to keep back a sharp retort.
Taking ten deep breaths, she forced herself to calm down. Her mother must have been sick of worry when Persephone had disappeared. Of course she would try to find something that she, Demeter, could have done differently, and Persephone wasn’t surprised that it was her clothes her mother had chosen to focus on.
Personally Persephone figured Hades hadn’t cared much if she’d been naked or covered. He would have taken her anyway, but this wasn’t something she was discuss with her mother.
Instead then she patiently allowed Demeter to dress her in one piece of fabric after the other. The clothes was as constricting as Persephone had feared. The neck made it feel as if someone was trying to slowly strangle her and even before she was fully dressed, she felt unpleasantly hot and sweaty. It was like carrying around a tent, and Persephone longed for the light fabrics she’d been given in the Underworld.
Suddenly her view was obstructed, and Persephone struggled to remove the half transparent fabric that had been placed over her head.
“Don’t fuss, Kore!” her mother scolded her, and Persephone realised her mother had put it there on purpose. Demeter didn’t even want her daughter to show her face, and Persephone struggled for breath underneath the many layers. She felt suffucated.
“Mother, I don’t want to wear this,” she said, trying once again to remove the offending fabric.
“Kore! Don’t act like a little child. I realise that it must be a bit uncomfortable, but don’t you realise that it’s for the best? I can’t have that man catch a glimpse of you. No doubt he is going to spy on you the second that we step out of the door.”
Persephone stopped fussing, considering her mother’s words. She wondered if Hades was going to keep an eye on her while she was above ground. A chilling thought indeed, though she couldn’t help but being slightly embarrassed by the clothes that he was going to see her in. Truthfully she didn’t want anyone to see her like this.
However, actually telling her mother this got her nowhere. As soon as Demeter realised scolding Persephone didn’t work, she started to cry instead, telling her daughter how she’d thought Persephone had been raped nightly in her imprisonment, and how she Demeter was only trying to protect her. Finally Persephone caved, and the tears disappeared almost instantly.
Outside Persephone could only stare in horror at the devastation that her mother’s grief had brought. She‘d seen it earlier, of course, and Hades had told her about her mother’s unwillingness to perform her duties, but Persephone hadn’t realised how bad it truly was.
When she’d returned from the Underworld the ground had been bare and the air had been cold, but now as Demeter brought her along to heal the Earth once again, Persephone finally grasped the horror the humans must have lived through for the past several months.
Everything was bare and dead, and an odd white substance covered the ground. Frozen rain, her mother explained to her when she asked about it, and Persephone knew that the Earth had suffered horribly since her abduction. She could only imagine how many humans had died at the hand of her mother’s neglect. The weak ones must have been the first to give up. The old ones. The sick ones. The children.
“Mother!” she exclaimed in horror. “What have you done?!”
Demeter looked around in indifference. “I refused to do Zeus’ bidding before he returned you to me,” she explained to her with a smile. “Thankfully it worked far quicker than I had thought it would, and I’m so grateful to have my little girl back.”
“Mother,” Persephone started, before hesitating. She truly didn’t know what to say. Sure, it was only humans, whose lifespan was already gone in a blink of an eye, but they must have suffered horrible deaths. “Mother, how could you do this? This is… this is wrong.”
Demeter frowned. “I didn’t do this,” she denied. “It was your husband. If he hadn’t taken you, this wouldn’t have happened. This is all his fault.”
Persephone stared at her mother in horror. Of course Demeter was right that Hades could have given her back as soon as he’d realised what her mother had done, but Demeter was far from blameless. She’d brought the cold and the snow and the hunger, and Persephone knew in that instance that she would never be able to look at her mother in the same way again.
Even if she’d lost her child, she had still been the cause of countless upon countless of parents losing theirs. It was selfish. It was immature. It was cruel.
Persephone felt a piece of her childhood crumble away. Her mother couldn’t be cruel, she just couldn’t, but the evidence was staring her right in the face, and Persephone didn’t know how to react to it.
“Mother,” she finally said. “Promise me you will never again do such a thing.”
“Of course, dearie, as long as no one tries to separate us ever again.”
“No, mother, even then. I will have to back to the Underworld in five months, and I cannot live with the knowledge that Death follows me down there every time.”
“Don’t concern yourself with this, Kore. I know you don’t like to see people suffer, sweet child like you are, but sometimes mother knows best. Leave it to the adults.”
“Mother, I am not a little child! If you ever do something like this again, I will personally go back to the Underworld, willing as a lamb for slaughter, and refuse to ever return!”
Demeter gasped. “Kore! You… you don’t know what you’re saying, he has brainwashed you, he has…”
“Done nothing as horrible as what I can see that you have done!” Persephone was painfully aware that this was the first time she had truly stood up against her mother, and for once she didn’t waver when Demeter’s eyes filled with tears.
“To think that my own little girl, my flesh and blood, would hurt me like this… it pains me to think of what he must have done to you to transform you so.”
“He has done nothing to me!”
“He abducted you! He held you imprisoned!”
“And yet he seems more compassionate than you!”
Demeter froze, and coldness overtook her features. “Do you not think he knew exactly what was happening? He saw the steady increase of the dead. He knew, and yet he refused to give you up. This is all his fault.”
“This is partly his fault, but do you really think that you’re blameless?! Mother, you have killed children!”
“If I couldn’t have my daughter with me, no one else should be allowed to either!”
Persephone gasped, disgusted by her mother’s selfishness.
“I’m leaving,” she finally said. “I’m going to Olympus to talk with father.” She tore the veil away from her face and threw it at her mother’s feat, before loosening the fabric around her neck. Finally she could breathe again.
“I forbid you from going anywhere!”
“I am not a little child! Stop ordering me around. There is no reason that my five months here has to be with you! I can just as easily stay with father. I am starting to think that it might be far more pleasant.”
And with these words Persephone turned her back to her mother for the very first time, and left her behind.
A/N: The discussion of the veil is a complex one and my thought is generally that people should be allowed to choose for themselves.
If they want to wear a bikini they should be able to. If they want to wear a veil then they should also be able to. But no one should be forced or cajoled to wear something against their wishes as Persephone was in this chapter.
It doesn’t matter if they’re uncomfortable with covering their faces or to show a lot of skin. It’s all about the choice.