I discovered Greek mythology as an 11 year-old wandering around the stacks of my local library. One afternoon, I happened upon an illustrated book of Greek myths and was immediately struck by the photo of the frowning goddess on the book’s cover. Naturally, I grabbed the book and set to reading, quickly devouring stories about these gods and goddesses that manifested purely human traits for supposed inhabitants of a celestial mountain. They were very much fallible, yes, and some of the stories were uncomfortable to read, certainly. (Zeus was very much for the streets.) But I was intrigued, surely. This led to more readings about the Greeks; Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, for example, and other related works. I wanted to know more and more about them. By college, I was taking Classics courses on Mythology for that guaranteed A (I mean, yeah), and had read an arsenal of myths of other cultures, too. It was all so interesting to me.
In my fiction and poetry, you’ll find more than a few pieces inspired by Greek mythology. Sometimes metaphorical, sometimes allegorical, sometimes outright pieces spoken in the voice of a chosen character. This particular short story I’ve decided to share with you is brimming with mythological symbolism. Let me know if you can find the symbols (won’t be hard to find, tbh.) Anyway, the story was inspired by a myriad of things; I mostly wanted to write a story about the corporate world, which I know quite well, write from a male point of view, and throw in some suspense in my storytelling.
Here comes Part 1 of Cassiopeia. Enjoy.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Three months ago, we had the following conversation:
Me: Your name is pretty unique.
Her: Do you know the story behind the name? It’s from my father’s favorite Greek myth.
Me: No, I’m not familiar with it.
Her: You remember Perseus and Andromeda, right?
Me: I’m nodding but I have no clue.
She responded to my statement with robust laughter. The fact that I could make her do this, to throw her head back and laugh, thrilled me in ways I couldn’t even describe to myself, much less to you.
Her: Ok, so Perseus flew the horse with wings, Pegasus. Andromeda was almost sacrificed to a sea monster. Here’s where my namesake comes in. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, boasted that both she and her daughter were more beautiful than the nereids, who were sea nymphs. Of course, this didn’t sit well with Poseidon, who was god of the sea. He decided to unleash a sea monster onto the kingdom. Naturally, the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice their daughter, because how else do you appease mythological gods, right? Moments before the sea monster takes Andromeda away, Perseus swoops in on Pegasus and saves the day. But Poseidon still wanted to punish Cassiopeia for her arrogance. So, he placed her in the sky as a constellation, in the same position that her daughter had been in when she was chained to a rock at the edge of sea.
Me: Interesting. Your father named you after an arrogant woman chained to a rock…
Her[chuckling]: Well, Cassiopeia was a queen, so she was powerful in her own right. He loved that about her. She also refused to cower to the gods. He loved that, too. But it was the fact that she wasn’t just boasting about herself: she included her daughter in her boasting. To him, that signified a fierce, unapologetic love for her child. So that was the primary reason he gave me the name because he felt the same way about his daughter.
A few things.
1) She was almost out of breath when she was describing the myth. Her eyes gleamed the entire time, her hands moved to and fro as she described the scenes. It was dizzyingly incredible.
2) Her passion for the story quieted when she mentioned her late father. She spoke about him reverentially; it made me wish we weren’t standing by the coffee machine in our break room but that we were somewhere else, maybe in a holy place, a place worthy of the awe in her voice.
Finally, 3) If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m in love with Cassiopeia Benson.
Three months ago, I was walking down the hallway that Monday morning and didn’t realize that the empty office I typically passed by was no longer empty.
“Good morning,” I heard moments after I had passed by.
I reversed and peered into the office.
She sat on the edge of her desk, her attention on the folder in her hand. When she became aware of my presence, she looked up and smiled at me.
Initial thought: my God.
It’s just not enough to tell you that, in that moment and thereafter, I sincerely believed that Cassiopeia Benson was too beautiful for words. Beautiful couldn’t legitimately describe what I saw in that office. Perhaps essence or light or wonder were comparable, but in the end, every word fell short. Whatever it was that was emanating from her, I wanted it right then and there. Not merely for myself, but with me, next to me.
“Good morning,” I replied after locating my voice. I then gestured toward the boxes sitting throughout the office. “I’m guessing that you’re moving in.”
“I am—it’s my first day.”
“Welcome and happy first day. I’m Elliott Percy. I’m on the Wealth Management team.” I walked further into the room and extended my hand toward her, which she shook. I did everything to stop myself from lingering there, palm to palm.
“A pleasure to meet you, Elliott, and thank you,” she said. “Cassi Benson, Portfolio Management.”
“Stephen Worthy’s team. He’s a good guy.”
“I’m glad to hear it. But I was warned about eating in the cafeteria?”
I laughed. “There was an incident about four years ago. I won’t go into much detail, but it’s probably safer to consider outside options for lunch.” I paused then, quickly making up my mind on what next to say. “A few of us were planning on Italian for lunch actually, this afternoon. There’s a great spot close to the office. Feel like joining?” I was amazed by how casual I sounded, being that my heart was minutes from imploding. No, it wouldn’t be just the two of us at lunch, but it would certainly feel that way to me.
“I’d love to. You can fill me on other office-related things I need to know. Want to pick me up here?”
“Sounds like a plan. Again, happy first day.”
When I reached my office, which was a few right turns away from hers, I took a seat at my desk and stared dazedly at the blue screen of my monitor for what seemed like an eternity.
When I arrived to pick her up in the afternoon, her new nameplate was now emblazoned on her office door. CASSIOPEIA BENSON. I gazed at the curious first name and decided, before knocking, that “Cassi” was far too average for a woman who was nothing like the word. It was after our Italian lunch, in the breakroom, that I asked her about the origin of her name and heard that breathless, reverent, amazing story.
I started dreaming about Cassiopeia soon thereafter. The dreams usually consisted of the same scene: me standing silently before her in an unknown, shadowy place, the only light coming from the constellations that whirled around on her brown skin. A breathtaking, endless display of moving stars on her arms, hands, cheeks. The dreams rarely went beyond us standing still before each other—until the most recent dream. In that one, I reached out to touch the configuration of stars spinning around on her cheek. Before I could, however, she pulled me toward her and locked her arms around me until the stars appeared all over me, too.