Charlie James Stephens

Zeus’s Fear

The other day my grandson told me about reading a story about how Zeus feared that humans were becoming powerful enough to take over Mt. Olympus. They were whole and formidable with their four arms and four legs, but he split them into the two halves, which became the two sexes. Everyone, including my grandson, understands this to be the basis for the  “looking for your other half” story. He’s fifteen, has braces, and thinks no one will ever love him like that. But what I know for sure about this story is that androgyny is what was powerful: that it is the accepting of all that is male and female about ourselves that creates true strength and understanding. What could be more powerful than that? Zeus knew that the splitting would wreak havoc, and it has. Our notions of the binary suffocate humanity with a blanket of our own anxieties.

My grandson, Jesse, calls me “Pops” and practically has to be beaten with a stick to get off his video games. I infuriate him by always choosing a female character when I play with him, which is less and less often these days, even though I am committed to proving my point. My thumbs are no match for his thumbs. I guess that’s always been true but lately I’ve started to care. Things aren’t working like they used to, but I try to keep my sense of humor. Even through his teen angst, I can still get a crooked smile out of him sometimes. Except with this Zeus story. He doesn’t like my androgyny theory. He likes the rules and finds my tiny attempts at sabotage exasperating. He doesn’t remember when he was five and only wore leggings and skirts to school. Oh, and pink rain boots! That continued for two years! Now he’s very attached to his narrow view of masculinity.

When he’s not around, I prefer wearing dresses and skirts, flowy things I’ve acquired on trips. Lately I find myself wanting to parade in front of whatever screen he’s on in the most colorful get-up I can put together. I wonder if he’d even notice. My son, Jesse’s father, knows I like to “dress up” (that’s what he calls it) and he does not approve. I like to call it simply “being myself.” Regardless, he asked me not to share that part of myself with his only son.

The other day though, stopping by after school, Jesse asked me to play a video game with him and I did. I chose a character I’ve named Tabitha who wears a red, purple, and mint green dress, similar to one I brought back from Oaxaca in the 70’s. Tabitha slits dragons’ throats with an easy swipe. “She’s cool,” Jesse said, not looking at me directly. “She can really fight.”

“I really just like her dress,” is all I say.

And unexpectedly, because I was anticipating one of his benign but tiresome eye rolls, Jesse instead smiles one of his easy, kind smiles. I smile too, turning away from him to stare ahead at the screen, and wonder if, somewhere deep inside, or even more on the surface, he remembers those pink rain boots after all and misses the way they held his small, determined feet.

Charlie James Stephens

Charlie James Stephens is a high school English teacher and creative writer living in Berkeley, California. Charlie has lived all over the U.S. as a bike messenger, bookstore clerk, and seasonal shark diver (for educational purposes only). Charlie’s written work has appeared in Cold Creek Review, 100 Word Story, Oakland Local, Instant City, Original Plumbing, and was just published in Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story by Outpost19. Charlie’s piece “It’s Just Too Late for That” made Glimmer Train’s top 25 finalists for their 2018 “Very Short Fiction Award.” Learn more at charliejstephenswriting.com.