Monday, September 28, 2009

73. Tantalum


Consider Poor Doris!

Everyone knows how Tantalus was tortured—given cable TV without a remote, a telephone that stayed firmly attached to the wall, Internet access with the adult sites blocked, and forced to make do with an iMac when all the good games were written for Windows first. What most people don't know is that Tantalus had a wife.

If you think Tantalus had it bad, consider poor Doris! Every day it was the same thing. Moan, bitch, complain … Men are such babies! Morning to night, there was a continual chorus of "Oh cripes, the pop top came off without opening the can!" and "Wouldn't ya know it, the computer crashed!" and "Doris, the damned rock got away from me again—would you be a doll and fetch it for me?" It was enough to drive any woman mad.

And so it did.

One morning, Tantalus opened the garage door by hand (he was not allowed an opener), threw his briefcase into the SUV (he was not allowed to telecommute), diddled with the station settings (he was not allowed satellite radio), and turned the key in the ignition. Seven sticks of dynamite wired to the underside of the car went off, blowing him to smithereens.

Briefly—very briefly—Doris was happy.

But then the gods, unwilling to let his suffering end, showed up. With infinite patience and unbelievable efficiency, they gathered up all the scattered pieces and reassembled Tantalus just as good—or, depending on how you looked at it, bad—as ever. "Can you believe it?" he cried in exasperation. "I'm gonna be late for work!" And off he drove.

Doris broke down in tears. "Why, why, why?" she implored the immortal gods. "Why must I suffer so?"

Zeus, who was the chiefest grudge-holder of the lot, materialized in her kitchen, looking embarrassed. "You were supposed to be one of his torments," he said. "You know … like Xanthippe or Job's wife?"

"Well, I'm not!" she wailed. "I don't make him miserable—he makes me miserable!"

"You could get a divorce," Zeus suggested. "It would go on forever, of course, but …"

"That would be every bit as bad! Father of the gods, hear my prayer. If I can't have happiness, then at least grant me oblivion."

"Done!" said Zeus, relieved.

He turned her into an ottoman.

Now, every day, Tantalus's torment is doubled. Whenever his socks don't match, or he can't remember where he left the keys, or the toast comes out too dark, and he goes looking for his wife to make things right … she's not there. He can't understand it. He knows she's nearby. He can feel her presence. But no matter where he looks, there's she's not. Worse, every time he passes through the living room, looking for her, he trips over that damned ottoman! Sometimes he can't help but give it a good strong kick.

Of this, however, Doris is blissfully unaware.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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