It wasn’t until eight grade that I properly learned to blush in shame.
I was nobody, but I was not alone in the library, when I carried home books large enough to make the woman behind the desk say things to me while my mother stood behind me such as ‘these are some interesting choices!’ And if my Mother doesn’t speak up, to say, ‘he doesn’t actually read them’ I can stand in the librarians presence and, since she, elegant and shining in the desklamp like a portentious ray of heavenly femininity, graceful and supple, would never say something so obnoxious and berating. She appreciates an adventurous, if precocious intellect.
And so I pour over Herodotus’s Histories beneath the blankets with a flashlight and learn of the adventures of empires and Kings. How delicately power flows and is destroyed, by fate and mistake. And how heroes make bold, how, despite the dangers of the world.
To see the queen in her chamber, where none should have entrance save the king, that was the agenda for the two sixth grade boys that day.
Shungyosai read from Herodotus’ histories to his school friend.
“Gyges, I do not think that you credit me when I tell you about the beauty of my wife; for indeed men’s ears are duller agents of belief than their eyes. Contrive, then, that you see her naked.”
The other made outcry against him and said, “Master, what a sick word is this you have spoken, in bidding me look upon my mistress naked! With the laying-aside of her clothes, a woman lays aside the respect that is hers! Many are the fine things discovered by men of old, and among them this one, that each should look upon his own, only. Indeed I believe that your wife is the most beautiful of all women, and I beg of you not to demand of me what is unlawful.”
“Would you do it?” Shungyosai asked Aaron.
“If the King asked you to hide in their chamber when his wife came in, and got naked. Would you hide and watch?”
“I dunno. Seems like a trap.”
“How? How does it seem like a trap.”
Shungyosai was curious at this.
That day after school they were walking near the locker rooms, and Shungyosai seemed to be leading them.
“I have an idea,” he told Aaron.
“While the girls are in practice, we sneak into the girls locker room, and hide in bathroom stalls and stay there until they come in and shower. We can just stay in there and watch.”
“What if they knock?”
“The doors will be locked.”
Aaron wanted to protest, but Shungyosai was more daring and asserted his plan by grabbing Aaron’s hand and pulling him through the gym door. Aaron might have said that it was a pretty weak plan, that if anyone needed to use the bathroom stall they’d surely be discovered.
“With these words he would have fought him off, being in dread lest some evil should come to himself out of these things; but the other answered him and said: “Be of good heart, Gyges, and fear neither myself, lest I might suggest this as a trial of you, nor yet my wife, that some hurt might befall you from her. For my own part I will contrive it entirely that she will not know she has been seen by you. For I will place you in the room where we sleep, behind the open door. After my coming-in, my wife too will come to her bed. There is a chair that stands near the entrance. On this she will lay her clothes, one by one, as she takes them off and so will give you full leisure to view her. But when she goes from the chair to the bed and you are behind her, let you heed then that she does not see you as you go through the door.”
The boys crouched on the two individual toilets in their separate stalls for nearly an hour, until their haunches burned. But when the girls came in, they had their view of the King’s lovely wife.
She knew what had transpired.
The bliss of my secret escape is so jarring I only hear the shadow of my mother’s disappointed eyes behind me when she enters the room, as I am called to the principle’s office for a special afternoon meeting the next day.
The Queen understood what had befallen her, and how the King had arranged the viewing.
“We have to talk about an unpleasant occurrence your son was party to, Mrs. Shungyosai,” the principle said as my Mother was sitting down next to me.
The principle, an older man, nearly fully bald, with a demeanor of constant apology, spoke in the tone of bringing bad news to an authority.
“In the girl’s locker room. We believe they were spying on the girls while they were undressing.”
She looked appalled. I had to offer a defense.
I wanted to tell her that Candaules wife was so beautiful that…
“She understood then what had been done by her husband; and though she was so shamed, she raised no outcry nor let on to have understood, having in mind to take punishment on Candaules. For among the Lydians and indeed among the generality of the barbarians, for even a man to be seen naked is an occasion of great shame. But she raised no word to her husband. Instead, she sent for her attendant Gyges, without letting on to her other attendants or to him before calling the meeting, so that he expected nothing.”
“Gyges, there are two roads before you, and I give you your choice which you will travel.”
As we left the Principal’s office, having been expelled from the school, my Mother said nothing.
The portentious moment has passed, and now the shadow of reality has come to fall on the faces of all around me.
“Either you kill Candaules and take me and the kingship of the Lydians, or you must yourself die straightway, as you are, that you may not, in days to come, obey Candaules in everything and look on what you ought not. For either he that contrived this must die or you, who have viewed me naked and done what is not lawful.” For a while Gyges was in amazement at her words; but then he besought her not to bind him in the necessity of such a choice. But he did not persuade her—only saw that necessity truly lay before him: either to kill his master or himself be killed by others. So he chose his own survival. Then he spoke to her and asked her further: “Since you force me to kill my master, all unwilling, let me hear from you in what way we shall attack him.” She answered and said:”
I had thought of myself as an adventurer in an epic tale. My feelings certainly were epic and adventurous. They were so lofty and gigantic that, how could they be wrong?
How could my mother tell me something that I felt, even if I didn’t want her to discover, to know these secret adventures of me and the boy I confided in, were wrong? How! When her own life, her face looking at me now so dour and disappointed, was so full of dullness, such boring passivity. Even the look she gave me now of scorn and disappointment seemed like it was deferring, handed down from the tangential, extraneously more assertive and authoritative Principle Higgins.
“She answered and said: “The attack on him shall be made from the self-same place whence he showed me to you naked, and it is when he is sleeping that you shall attack him.”’
The boy was barely a friend. The only reason we paraded around together was because we were both the most daring, the most called to offend the status quo. And now it turns out he was a snitch, a fraud who when things went too far would dive deep back under cover of comfort and order. He told them it was my plan and that I read to him from a ‘dirty book’ to get him to go along. He offered me my first cigarette, and it was fitting, since he had now offered me up to the wall. The firing squad was a betrayal, and the blindfold I had been wearing thinking another child could be confidante— fell when the sentence struck.
Transferred to all boys school. But having slaughtered the King at the behest of the Queen, the people would leave it up to the oracle to decide my fate. I stood by my Herodotus, the first historian, the man who mastered time. And perhaps, I would keep my kingdom. Time would tell.
The desire for possession is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive even love itself. To love, therefore, is to sterilize the person one loves.
Kill or be destroyed.
As my mother and father discussed the school I would be sent to at dinner, making brief glances over at their disgraced son. I filled my mouth with spaghetti. I overfilled myself. I smiled at them and chewed robotically. Until the spaghetti fell from my mouth, and kept chewing. Like a malfunctioning machine, smiling.
But? She was unamused. The queen was not satisfied with my antics.
It was greed.
Greed, it was, was uniquely hilarious.
It was like the drug.
To do too much was to do too much.
How simplicitly sinister.