(A Time for Alexander short story)
Festivals took up a lot of time. There were rituals for every holiday, each god had to be honored, and some months were so full of festivities it’s a wonder the people got any work done. Maybe the secret to progress was ditching the deities, I thought one day, as I helped Chirpa clean the house. I was tired of always getting stuck with helping with ancient festivals. Fine, I was stuck in the past around 300 BC, but that shouldn’t mean I had to impersonate a goddess every time there was a solstice or something. Once, I’d blessed the fields — and couldn’t walk for a week. I wanted my kids to be civilized, not pagan. I’d have to install some of my more modern traditions in the family. The problem with being born in 2377 was that time travel had been invented, but children’s stories and religion had been banned. I would have to invent my own traditions to share with my children.
We’d been back in Alexandria for a few weeks now and the spring solstice was just around the corner. We were making sure not a speck of dust remained, so that the house would be ready for the goddess’s return. And who was coming back? Persephone, of course, my namesake — leaping from the cold arms of her husband, Hades, into the welcoming arms of her mother, Demeter. And since apparently Persephone wouldn’t come if the house wasn’t clean (I have had guests like that) we scrubbed.
I was getting sick of scrubbing. Axiom had gone to fetch the fresh herbs we needed to make the posies and bouquets, and I’d talked the boys into fetching eggs from our neighbor. In the back of my mind, I was planning a surprise. A real Easter egg hunt in ancient Alexandria — complete with dyed eggs, candies, and stories of the Easter bunny. I had been keeping the onion skins, beets, purple and red cabbage, turmeric and carrot tops for dyes. Chirpa, who had dyed eggs in Persia as part of the fertility festival, was my reluctant helper. Instead of cleaning, she argued, we were making more of a mess. At this rate, spring would never come.
When Paul and Chiron returned with the eggs, I sent them off on another errand with Brazza. Then Chirpa and I started boiling the ingredients and soaking the eggs. It was messy, slow work, and I was afraid Brazza would return with the boys before we finished. Chirpa was cross because the house wasn’t cleaned, and my husband, Alexander (yes, the Alexander the Great — he kidnapped me, he was the one who thought I was Persephone!), who came to see what “That awful smell was”, fled the house and went to oversee construction of the Great Library.
I put all the different colored dyes in separate bowl, and put the hard-boiled eggs in to soak overnight. Chirpa grumbled about wasting dishes, and it occurred to me we had none left for dinner. But since I’d wanted to get a new set of dishes anyway, I left Chirpa to clean up the mess (her glare would have frozen the real Hades) and went to the market. Free at last! There was the newscaster, standing on his marble soapbox, the sale on parrots by the fountain, and the usual heckling and haggling going on at every stand. I located the pottery and dithered over a set with dolphins or a set with a chap in a chariot. The dolphins won, and I gave our address for delivery that evening. There were no street names at this time, although I’d suggested to Alexander he might want to start that trend. Instead it was, “The hill over there, yes, that one. The big house on the top with the black front door — with the lion scratched on it.” (Chiron’s work. He got a scolding for scratching up a perfectly nice paint job).
That evening, after we’d hidden the eggs in the garden, I told the boys the story of the Easter bunny, which I didn’t remember so well. My parents had never read stories to me, but I thought it had something about a watering can, a mean farmer, a goddess called Mary, her son Jesus, and their pet rabbit, Peter. I was embroidering a little — getting to the part where the mean farmer was about to kill the rabbit — when Alexander, who always liked to listen to my stories, interrupted.
“Does the rabbit get cooked with estragon?” he asked. “Because I’m getting hungry, and that sounds good.”
“Of course not!” I was cross. “The rabbit escapes, Jesus makes him immortal, and the rabbit brings Easter eggs to good little boys and girls. He hides eggs in the garden and the children look for them.”
Our scribe, Pan, (short for Panteleimon) had been listening, and had written the story down. Before I realized it, he headed towards the Great Library to file it. I was worried, then remembered the library would burn in a few centuries. Maybe a fragment of the story would remain, but it shouldn’t change the timeline any. At least, I hoped.
The boys hunted for their eggs. Alexander found most of them. A few were found weeks and even months later. Chirpa liked the new dishes, (I gave them to her as a gift, for cleaning the house), and when I showed Chiron how to scratch drawings in the eggs, he promised not to scratch anymore lions on our front door. All in all, a good start to an Easter tradition, I thought!
Happy Easter from Ashley! 319 BC, Alexandria near Egypt.